I’m going to admit it: I’m a runner and I can’t stop.
How bad is my addiction? This bad:
A couple of weeks ago while driving from Santa Barbara to Goleta, I was looking at the mountains instead of the road ahead of me (something we are all doing these days since we’ve had three fires in our hills in the last year.) I noticed there’s now a very wide fuel break (fire break) bulldozed up a ridge leading from the floor of our coastal valley up to the top of the ridge behind us. Hm, I thought, that’s a clear continuous trail, all the brush has been burned off it so it’s complete accessible, and I could run that! Of course I fired up Google Earth and measured the break (it’s somewhere between three and three and a half miles—with probably 2,500 ft elevation gain).
And I can’t get it out of my mind: I’m going to run that sucker before the summer’s out.
My point is that running has become a core part of my lifestyle. I run four days a week: five to six miles on the treadmill at the corner gym on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, six to eight miles along the ocean bluff on Saturday morning while my ten year-old does her swim team workout, and another three to four miles easy at the gym on Sunday. I plan my week around my running time.
Please don’t get me wrong; I’m not an "elite runner". I’m what I call a middle-aged, middle-distance, middle-of-the-pack runner. I started in my mid-forties and I’m still running at fifty-seven. I’d like run into my eighties, which for me is a miracle: almost three years ago I found a lump on the side of my throat that was diagnosed as cancer spreading into my lymph system. Turned out I had stage IV cancer at the base of my tongue. My treatment was eight weeks of daily radiation, the last two weeks twice a day, and seven weeks of chemo, plus surgery to strip the lymph system on the left side of my throat. It was, in a word, intense.
I willed myself through it with a smile and joke and some pain meds, just taking each day as it comes—like every cancer patient I know. We all do it: we get over the shock and then take a page out of Lance Armstrong’s book and crank out today, pain and all. But my doctors and nurses all told me I sailed through better than any throat cancer patient they’ve had. Why? I think it was because I was fit when I went into the treatment and stayed fit through it. While I had to stop running in week three, I walked several times a week and took a long walk on Sunday. I was able to start running again (jogging really) about three or four weeks after the treatment ended. It hurt like hell and was nasty, uncomfortable, and generally awful, but I looked at my treatment like a marathon: just one foot in front of the other and lookie here: I've run another mile!
I have a friend with a tee shirt that says "Eat well, stay fit, and die anyway". While being fit didn’t stop me from getting cancer, it helped me so much to get through the treatment and stay alive and be functional in my life. And like any training regime, I learned a tremendous amount from my cancer treatment, lessons I use every day.
I think we—as a species--are made to be active. Running, walking, jogging, biking, swimming; we are made to move. There’s a terrific new book out by Christopher McDougall called "Born to Run" that discusses our evolution as a running species. It’s also a wonderful read, telling the story of the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico, one of the last tribe of natural runners in the world, and how they are helping us understand how we run, how we can continue to run without injury, and how it can help us gain—and keep—health. It's worth a look if you are a runner or thinking about jogging, running, or for that matter walking.
Back to Fitness Monday, here’s where I'd love for you to jump in:
How are you staying fit?
Have you found that your fitness, whatever level you are, has helped you overcome or deal with sickness or physical challenge?
If you run, how’s your running? Have you found ways that help you run better with less chance of injury? Have you studied the new concepts of running that have come out of the Tarahumara Indians and the ultrarunners, and if you’ve changed your stride or running style (or shoes), what’s been the result?
And I’m really interested in this: in McDougall’s book, he mentions the theory that if you exercise regularly (in his view running), you naturally eat better and often less. Your diet changes—your behavior changes—because you exercise, without a lot of effort on your part. (For me, I notice when I'm training hard that I eat a little smarter, consciously eating to fuel my running, but mostly I notice that I can have that evening brownie without worry since this week I'm running about 20 miles.) Have you experienced this at all, or is this not true for you?
Thanks in advance for all your contributions—see you on the road!