In 1978, at age 28, I weighed 220 pounds. Too many burgers and fries? Not enough marathons? In 1979, in an attempt to get healthy, I started running — and increased my mileage over the summer from 1 to 3 miles on each run. I read about fitness, training, shoes, health and wellness. I began logging my miles and weight each day. My weight began to decline, as did the size of my jeans.
I was a teacher at Orchards Elementary School, and when I went back in late August to prep my room, the secretary, whom I knew pretty well, did not recognize me and said, “May I help you?”
I no longer weighed 220. My runs became easier and my speed increased as my weight decreased. In 1981, I ran my first marathon — 3:23:29.
Pretty early in my running life, I became obsessive over things I encountered. First was picking up nails or screws that I’d find on the road. I’d stop, pick them up and toss them in the bushes. And pennies! If I found a penny face-up, I’d keep it (and I still have a large jar of those). If it was face-down, I’d put it in a pocket and spend it.
I found tools. One day, I found a large JH Kelly crescent wrench. It has served me for almost 40 years! I’ve also found hats, coats and shirts. I may have worn a hat or two.
One day, a friend named Ken and I were running on Salmon Creek Boulevard. A car came screaming around the corner behind us. Apparently we did not move over fast enough. The car passed us and screeched to a stop. Ken figured it must be a friend of mine, and put his foot on the back bumper to tie his shoe. The driver jumped out of the car with a rifle. He hollered at us. A guy got out of the passenger side, ran around the car and grabbed the rifle out of his buddy’s hands. The first guy hollered some more, then got in the car and sped away.
A problem: lots of aggressive dogs. I began carrying a sturdy wooden pole. One day an Animal Control van came to a stop ahead of me and a young lady got out, asked if I was carrying the stick for dogs, then handed me a small spray can. “Try this,” she said. “If they get close, spray toward their face. It will keep them away.” So, I became more confident. The dogs sensed my confidence and never came near me again.
I usually run solo on early mornings. I enjoy the reflective time — feeling the sun or rain on my face, listening to the wind. I gaze at birds, read bumper stickers on cars, greet moms and kids at the bus stop. When I was an elementary school teacher and principal, I’d prepare for the day; today I ponder life’s great gifts to me. A huge benefit to me each morning!
I’ve had numerous runs with others, too. Social benefits accrue from running, and so do mental and physical health benefits. According to my doctor, I am “data” that support the health research.
But, early one morning in 2000, I took a tumble while running in the dark. I injured my back. I bought a treadmill to walk on at a slight incline, which burned calories. I could also listen to music. After a few months on the treadmill, I got back outside, running more slowly and being more cautious. I’m back on the treadmill whenever a minor injury occurs.
Today I am 68 years old and 165 pounds. Too many marathons and not enough burgers and fries? I’ve run in Vietnam and Vegas, Venice and Victoria, Boston and Bellingham. And I still jog, saunter or stroll down the road each morning. My goal is to run 5 miles on my 90th birthday.
George Sheehan once said that running is “not a test but a therapy, not a trial but a reward, not a question but an answer.” Running has provided the answer for many of my life’s questions.
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