About my blog

Welcome to my trail running site. I enjoy being on the trail where I can take in nature and clear my mind. I prefer running in the mountains, but anywhere rural will do. I have completed four 100 mile trail races and many other ultramarathons. I'm a member of Team Red, White and Blue. "Enriching the lives of America's veterans."

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Why I Run

Too Much Running Tied to Shorter Lifespan, Marathon Runners are no Healthier than Couch Potatoes, The Hidden Health Risks of Jogging. These are just a few running related news headlines I saw in the past year. Why do I run for so long then? People ask me this all the time. Most articles in the news and on the internet seem to assume several things about people who run —that they run to live longer, get healthier or to lose weight. After all, running is such a miserable activity that no one of sound mind would ever do it for fun, right?

Mammoth Rock, Franklin Mts State Park

Well, I can’t speak for others, but I will explain why I run. The first article assumes that we run in an attempt to live longer. Running for longer than an hour at a time or more than 20 miles per week is too excessive. Hah! I ran for over 32 hours last month. IN-A-ROW! I often run more than 50 miles per week so, according to this article, I will die sooner than the moderate runner. Lucky for me, I don’t run to live longer.

The second article posits that marathoners aren’t any healthier than non-runners so we should only run a little bit. The author assumes that we run to become healthier. Some recent studies have attempted to show that too much running causes heart problems such as atrial fibrillation. While I don’t run to necessarily get healthier, I enjoy the many benefits of leading an active lifestyle. 

The third article highlights jogging’s effect on testosterone levels and the immune system. The author assumes that we jog to increase our testosterone level which perhaps some do. However, he explains that jogging has been proven to actually lower testosterone levels. As for me, I don’t run to increase my testosterone, but nevertheless, am glad that I’m a runner and not a jogger. (ba-dum-bum)

These guys can run really fast —Collard Lizard
So, if I don’t run to live longer, become healthier or to increase my testosterone, why do I run for so long? For many people, the image of running is a repeated loop around their neighborhood or going to the gym to grind away on the treadmill. I can’t remember the last time I ran on a treadmill and I absolutely loathe the gym. 

I prefer this vantage point of my neighborhood while running
When I was a boy growing up in Virginia I was allowed to ride my bike or wander up the road to Franklin Farms, a large cow pasture hemmed in by pine and hardwood trees. My friends and I would ride our bikes or hike along the hard packed dirt trails in the woods or play around in the creeks and marshes. In our minds, we were pioneers or great explorers discovering new lands. Of course these were the days before the epidemic known as “stranger danger” — parents being arrested for letting their kids walk home from school. 

Check out this blog: Free-Range Kids by the World’s Worst Mom.

Anyway, the day finally came when we rode to the woods only to discover that bulldozers and heavy machinery had been brought in to clear the land to make way for an office park. That was one of the saddest days of my childhood. Now, this may seem a roundabout way to tell you why I run so much, but stay with me anyway.

Spotted Towhee
When I’m out on a 30 mile training run on the trails of my favorite state park, I’m actually Lewis or Clark navigating his way west. When I run a mountainous 100 miler, I’m Ernest Shackleton on his 36 hour foot crossing of South Georgia Island to get help for his stranded crew. Trail running is just an excuse to be a little boy again just like the days when we used to run around in Franklin Farms.

Sweet Acacia
There is so much nature to take in and so little time that the only way I can see it all is to run long distances through the backcountry. I prefer trails over roads and like to climb high to see spectacular views. Sometimes I run for hours and don’t see or hear a thing, but there is a saying amongst ultramarathoners that goes; “if you run long enough, something is bound to happen.” Therefore, I’ve had many occasions when exciting events happened like the time a herd of javelinas ran across the trail right in front of me. Once an owl swooped out of a tree and hit me on the back of my head with it’s talons. Luckily I was wearing a hat. My personal trainers, aka my dogs, interact with coyotes on occasion and rattlesnakes have stopped me dead in my tracks. The sight of red velvet mites after a rain, the smell of sweet acacia in the morning and the sound of coyotes yipping on a moonlit night are just a few reasons why I run.

Red Velvet Mite
Enjoy the yips of a coyote:

Western Diamond Back Rattlesnake
Running is the most natural activity we can do. In fact, if we lived several thousand years ago, we would most likely have traveled long distances on foot every day in search of food, water and shelter. My favorite person in the world (besides my family, of course) is Bernd Heinrich. He is a naturalist, best-selling author, artist and world record ultra marathoner who, in 2001, wrote a book called Why We Run: A Natural History. He explains how man was built to run in order to chase antelope into box canyons to get a hearty meal. In an attempt to win the 100K National Championship in 1981, Heinrich experimented with various foods and drinks that other endurance animals; i.e. camels, butterflies, canines, birds, etc; use as fuel. After many failures, he decided cranberry juice would get him across the finish line and indeed, he set a new world record. Dr Heinrich, now in his 70s, still runs most afternoons.

Read Running Times article:  Bernd Heinrich: The Natural

I too hope to continue running into my 70s and beyond. Not so I can live longer or healthier (although I believe running helps), but just simply because I love it. I feel physically and emotionally charged after running and the sense of accomplishment after completing a long training run can’t be beat. Even better is the euphoria felt after finishing a 100 miler even though parts of the race itself are very trying. 

If one day, it is proven through peer reviewed scientific study that running too much will shorten my lifespan; guess what? I will continue to do it because I love the challenge and the mental strength I gain from it. The solitude, scenery and wildlife keep drawing me back out onto the trails and I can’t seem to get enough of it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I heard Billy the Kid was heading towards Baylor Canyon and, If I run fast enough, think I can catch him at the pass. 

See you on the trail.

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