Monday, April 23, 2012

The Running Life

Guest Article by Dr. John Franson, MD

"Everyone is an athlete.  The only difference is that some of us are in training, and some are not."  George Sheehan

In the deepest part of winter, when the wind searches my bedroom window, I sometimes try to think of excuses to stay in bed.  Especially when the moon is remote, or hidden, or thinly slivered.  But soon the willing dogs stir, and we slip out to run the empty roads.  The morning ritual.  I'm not too fast, but I decided a long time ago in doctoring as well as running that a failure of will was not okay.

With registration just opening for the fall half marathon--the Soda Screamer Thirteener--I thought about running and life.  Cold black mornings aren't always easy.  Other times, though, the moon is out, the snow crunchy underfoot, and the sky full of shooting stars (nine on one dark run).  Another morning the first bluebird is back.  Sometimes there's a croaking raven, a moose ambling through the brush, or a coyote floating away.  Always there's stress release, patience, sensory awareness, persistence, and time to think.

About 150 lifetimes ago everyone was a hunter-gatherer, which pretty much amounted to a planet of long distance runners.  With the advent of agriculture running mostly stopped.  Crops don't try to escape like wild animals, especially when they're grown in the same convenient place each year.  And now we're at the tail end of another dramatic change, where the farmlands are more populated by machines than people and each person is fed by something like 0.5% of a farmer.  Most of the physical demands of our lives are gone, leaving us to shuffle behind grocery carts past the latest hundred types of breakfast cereals.  Inside, stairs are harder to find than elevators.  We work and get around not with our God-given engines but with the internal combustion kind.  Overfed and underworked, we deal with low back pain, high blood pressure, diabetes, sleep apnea, hemorrhoids, obesity, heart disease, and a host of other modern ailments.   And today's youngsters are expected to be the first in modern history with shorter lifespans than their parents.

Sports Illustrated once published an article by then president-elect John F. Kennedy, in which he expressed concern about the declining physical condition of American youth.  He also addressed connections between mental and physical activity when he wrote  "the knowledge that the physical well-being of the citizen is an important foundation for the vigor and vitality of all the activities of the nation is as old as Western civilization itself.  But it is a knowledge which today, in America, we are in danger of forgetting."  That was 1960.

In a world that is increasingly obsessed with technology, winning, and expensive gear, running can be refreshingly simple.  In high school I thought everything had to be measured and recorded.  For example, on this day in 1985 I ran 3 miles in 21:48.  And the temperature was 71 degrees.  But over time the regimentation died and disappeared.  Now I go to a fork in the road, or the top of a hill, or the end of a loop, with only a rough idea of the distance.  My time is however long it takes, and the pace is whatever my legs will give me that day.  Once a week I run for an hour or two.  The rest of the time it's about a half hour.  I treat myself to a new pair of shoes once a year, but my black Polartec winter shirt is older than Kayla.  This is, I suspect, more like running should be for most of us, at least a lot of the time. 

Later this summer there are 5K runs in Bancroft, Grace, and Soda, and in October the half marathon comes around.  Completing one or all of these runs is well within reach of many.  There's nothing wrong with walking either.  Think about it.  The more the merrier.  And goals are good as they bring focus and clarity to life.

In addition to his full-time medical practice, John Franson enjoys spending his spare time with his family.  He cycles to work, and loves to run, garden, ski, and has an ever-growing hobby farm.  He is a regular contributor to the Caribou County Sun, with his popular and insightful column "The Doctor's Corner."