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Bitten by the running bug once again



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May 06, 2014 | 03:02 PM
My first job out of college paid me $140 a week. I couldn’t imagine how I’d spend that much money.

I found out. I could buy all the beer and junk food I couldn’t afford in college. I gained 30 pounds.

So I started running, a hobby that lasted 30 years.

I’m the typical distance runner — someone who always loved sports but was never much good at them. Running long distances is our way of telling ourselves and the world that we’re athletes, too.

First, it was around the block — in the big combat boots favored by ex-hippies of the day.

Then, I ran down a rarely traveled road into the sunset and felt my first runner’s high.

Eventually, I graduated into racing.

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At 54 I had a mid-life running crisis.

I recall cooling off after a run one day when I asked myself what I wanted to do before I died. I could only think of two things — see a Van Morrison concert and run a marathon.

I did both that year, and a second marathon for good measure a few months after the first.

During that second marathon, I was way ahead of the goal I’d set for myself when I hit the so-called wall at 20 miles. It had reached 80 degrees by then and I ended up walking most of the last six miles.

Afterward I got in the car with my youngest daughter who had cheered me on that day.

“Where is the stick shift?” I asked her.

For starters, the car had an automatic transmission. There was no stick shift. And if there had been one, I should have had no trouble finding it.

It was at that point that we both realized we were in trouble. Within an hour I was in the hospital being treated for dehydration.

I ran two other marathons the next year but only trained enough to finish.

I continued to run for the next decade and entered a handful of races every summer.

But by then, my son had turned into a pretty good high school runner and it was more fun watching him than running myself.

About three years ago, I had a minor ailment that put me in the hospital for a week.

That gave me an excuse to stop running all together.

For a few weeks a couple summers ago my interest rekindled briefly and I bought a new pair of expensive running shoes.

I told myself it would be fun to run just one more marathon.

I reasoned that if I could cut 18 minutes from my best marathon time 10 years earlier, I could qualify for the Boston Marathon.

That excitement lasted for a week or two when the absurdity of my calculations sunk in.

I’d pretty much left running behind ever since.

But this spring, I started again. A race soon followed.

The first race I barely made the 3.1 miles, before having to walk up a long hill near the finish line.

My time was so embarrasingly slow I couldn’t even brag about it.

Then I ran another 5K and did good enough to win a second place medal for my age group (there are advantages to growing old).

Last weekend, I took two minutes off that time at a much bigger race.

A couple things have remained constant through all the years, through all the races no matter what the distance.

A few hundred yards into the race, my mind starts telling me to stop no matter how long I’d run in training.

I spend the rest of the race using mind games to keep myself from thinking about how much it hurts. I’ll recall the starting lineup for the 1957 Braves or count to 100 over and over again.

The other thing that’s a constant is that runner’s high.

It’s a rush, too, to try and find something I like to eat at the post-race buffet full of bananas, orange slices and bagels.

And to see friends I’d raced with years before.

After the last race, I stopped by the van of a runner who had once been one of the best in the state. He has a white beard now and he was doing a post-race stretch.

He grimaced.

“Now I run 9-minute miles that are as hard as the 6-minute miles I used to run,” he said.

Asked about a mutual friend who was a runner back in the day, he reported that our friend has had two hip replacements and had retired to riding bikes and walking.

Right now, my girlfriend, an ex-runner herself, has been very supportive.

We both indulge in our passions. While I’m running she’s tending to her garden.

But how much longer can that last before she reminds me, in her subtle way that maybe the lawn needs cutting or she needs my help in trimming a bush?

And how much longer can I cut two minutes off my previous race? I might have hit my limit already.

After the last race, I felt a twinge in my hip and wondered if a hip replacement or two was in my future.

But after each race this year I saw the other side of the coin, too.

Coming in only a few minutes after me is an 83-year-old woman from Janesville where I used to live. She comes from a running family. Her son runs competitively and her 81-year-old husband usually comes in a few minutes after she does.

In her 70s, she set several national records for her age group.

She’s outlived cancer and a stroke.

And she’s still running.

When I look in her face, and see that healthy shine, I know that’s what I want to do, too.

Run until I can’t any more.

Halverson is editor and general manager of the Regional News.

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