Where did it all start – this addiction?


By Myrna P. Unger

Standing at the start line at the Brick City 5k in Ocala, a 68 year young man said to me “I remember when I started running, all the races were 10K’s and the fun runs were 2 miles – I am sure glad they’re mostly 5K’s now!” The gun sounded and I missed the opportunity to find out just how running/racing started for him – I bet it would have been a great story!

I became a runner in 1979. Like me, many of you have run for so long that you probably don’t think about “why” you started running. Most of us are just happy – thankful – that we can still run. Regardless of the person, age, skill level, or gender a common theme is found among runners. Running, in some way, shape, or form becomes a magic pill that helps us to more fully live our life. Running cures some very personal and important needs. Emil Zatopek at the 1979 NYC Marathon said, “It’s just good to see running, this most natural motion, be enjoyed by so many. It’s medicine, I think, for whatever is wrong with you.”

I know runners who chose the sport for health reasons. Looking in the mirror and noticing your body is redefining itself without permission and before its time gets many people on their feet. A GWTC runner remembers just that, “It’s scary when you are in your 20’s and find it hard to get up and down from the bathtub while trying to give your daughter a bath. I simply was not going to get old before my time, that’s why I started running.” Running keeps the years at bay. We, as runners, seem to mock old age – after all its’ got to catch us first!

Likewise, if health reasons didn’t start your running career early then maybe middle age did. When middle age comes crashing on the scene many people make a lifestyle change and often exercise is involved. They run, they swim, they bike, some even do all three, to turn the clock backwards, to stop the second hand from turning so swiftly. And in the process of trying to stay young, many of us discover that we can define what old is – not by numbers – but instead, by how we feel. Running reminds us that youth is a state of mind, not an age! Running allows us to rediscover something we thought we lost – our youth. The elixir is like no other.

Other runners start running to improve their mental health. Single parenting, divorce, death of a loved one, or a major lifestyle change could be the factor that makes us reassess our “mental fitness.” Exercise- running – psychologically strengthens us. It not only prepares us for what’s ahead, but it assures us we can meet, and in our own way conquer the challenges we might face. I overheard a runner say, “I never knew I had so much energy to do other things until I found the energy to run.” It’s the same with me. I need my run. Days we, as runners, take our medicine it’s clear that we feel more in charge of our lives and are less likely to “sweat the small stuff.”

Spouses, male and female alike, join the ranks of runners to feel included, be involved, or just spend more time with the person they love. What a great reason to run. Who doesn’t want to belong? Who doesn’t want to share in the joy they see in other runners? Running is addictive – but it’s also contagious. Not only spouses, but also our families can catch the running “need.” Children model after their parents. They like to get involved. Some children run because, whether they realize it or not, admit it or not, they want to be like Mom and Dad. Joy and pleasure, involvement and inclusion are powerful draws to the sport of running.

Running is also a sport many of us choose to express the athlete inside. Running helps to cure this void. Running fills the need to move, to do, and to be an athlete. When we run we can be any athlete or person we want to be – often the fantasy is better than the reality. Then there are the runners who have true talent. I think great runners “do it” because they can! They run to give the rest of us the goals and inspiration to keep striving to be better and do more – to find the right prescription. Then again, maybe they are simply addicted too. Steve Prefontaine said “”You have to wonder at times what you’re doing out there. Over the years, I’ve given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes down to self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement.”

Regardless of why we started taking the magic pill of running – it cures, relieves and satisfies so many of life’s symptoms. Running is a friend, competitor, counselor, teacher, trainer, nutritionist, and guide. But mainly, it is such a part of us that it defines who we are – and usually in very positive ways.

I’ll meet you at the finish…