What I’ve Learned From 45 Years of Running

When I started running around the age of 13, I knew very little about what I was doing. A number of my friends ran cross-country in high school, and it seemed like an interesting sub-culture, and I thought it would help me get fit for other sports. In addition, I had been a fan of the Olympics and Olympic runners.

The first day I set out to run for any appreciable distance, I made it halfway around my block. It was probably less than a half-mile before I found my lungs burning and my legs dead. Nevertheless, I kept after it and am still after it 45 years later. Here are some things I’ve learned:

  1. What works for others may not work for you

I sweat. A lot. In high school, some of my friends called me “Lake” because of my prodigious perspiration. In recent years, as my friends carried their bottles with them for hydration, I would do the same. And yet I still ended almost every significantly-long run dehydrated. From this, I concluded that I shouldn’t carry such a bottle because it didn’t help me. That was the incorrect conclusion. Instead, I need a bigger bottle and need to fill it up more frequently.

And the point is that you are unique as a runner. You can take guidance from others, but there will be aspects of the sport you’ll need to figure out for yourself.

2. Running is a team sport

I trained for my first three marathons pretty much alone. While I’m proud of the effort I made to do those, it was much more difficult because I wasn’t surrounded by others like I am now. By far, the most valuable part of your training are your teammates. They will keep you accountable, company, and informed.

On one relay, I was nursing an injury and my running partner, Jamie, insisted that we go as slow as needed and walk as much as I wanted so that I could cope with my injury.

Another time, on a 20-mile run, my friend Sarah, who is much faster than me, was willing to accompany me for the whole distance. And when I needed a push, she gave me a stern “No walking!” because she knew I needed that. After the run, I could hardly move so she grabbed some nourishment for me (and later confessed that she was wondering if a call to 911 was in order).

3. Runners are incredible people

Speaking of Jamie, we once ran a marathon and things did not go as planned. We had large number of people there to cheer us — really an overwhelming number — and despite us taking an hour longer than planned, they waited around and were so enthusiastic that you would not have known there was anything wrong.

After, I was overheated and dehydrated and felt woozy. Sarah’s then-7-year-old daughter ran and grabbed a chair (that was as big as she was) from a nearby vendor. I was taken to the medical tent and the EMTs decided I needed to visit the Emergency Room. My friend Susan joined my wife and me for the whole visit.

Runners will go to ridiculously kind extremes to help each other.

Runners are incredible people

4. The best vacations are runcations

There is nothing better than going with a group to run a race together. The race gives you a purpose and an excuse for spending the money. We have been to places as large as Philadelphia and as small as Fredericksburg, VA. Each trip writes itself indelibly in your mind, and even if people move on in their lives, you can always look back on those memories.

Perhaps best of all is the knowledge that many more destinations lay ahead. We’re already planning for a race trip 20 months from now!

5. Your goals are ever before you

At my age, I realize that I might not have a realistic shot at new personal bests, at least in most distances. That doesn’t stop me from seeing how fast I can run.

I had the honor once of talking with Bill Rodgers, who won four Boston Marathons and three New York Marathons in the 1970s. I asked him if, when he knew he wasn’t likely to win anymore, he accepted the fact or fought against it. He told me, “It didn’t matter. It was going to happen whether I accepted it or not.” I thought about this a couple of weeks ago when Boston Billy ran the Falmouth Road Race at a 8:19 per mile pace, very respectable for a 70-year-old. The 30-year-old Bill Rodgers would greatly outrun his 70-year-old counterpart, but the 70-year-old Bill was first in his age group. And so it goes.

There are few things in my life that have been with me as long a running. Check back in another 45 years and I’ll let you know what else I’ve learned!

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