Ron Marinucci January 2013 Column
by Ron Marinucci, Jan. 2, 2013
As I’ve written before, the month of January is named after the Roman god Janus—the god of gates and doors. Janus had two faces, one looking forward and one looking backward, looking to the future, but also to the past.
Many runners set goals at the beginning of each year. They look forward to certain races or distances, to a number of miles, to PRs, etc. Then they map out their plans to attain those goals.
I also like to use the end of one year and beginning of the next to look backward. Perhaps it’s the historian in me, that is, in looking backward at my running. And, recently, I’ve found myself looking way back.
2013 brings my 38th year of running. In some ways, those 38 running years seem like a marathon; in others, they seem like a sprint. For whatever reasons, I’ve had conversations with several of my running buddies about our running starts, our running Januaries. Although most of my friends couldn’t remember their running births, I do recall mine very vividly, with details.
Perhaps it’s because they trace their earliest running days to high school and even college track and cross country. Some of them strayed after graduation, but came back to running later in their adult lives. But that isn’t my story.
I ran a lot as a kid, but it was always chasing some kind of a ball—a baseball, a football, a basketball. Running was merely part of those sports for me or, worse I thought at the time, a necessary evil to get in shape for the ball sports. In fact, my first distance running was long jaunts of up to half an hour through the bird sanctuary at Amherst College, training for rugby. I don’t remember enjoying it, although I was running with my teammates and buddies, too.
About three years after college, I found myself considerably overweight. I was almost 40 pounds more than I weighed in my college playing days. Karen and I had been married for just a few months. She arrived home from work much later than I did. (Of course, my work day started earlier than hers.) One hot, sunny, summer afternoon, awaiting her arrival, I decided to go for a run. I don’t know why. It was the first time I ever ran for the sake of running. I suppose my intentions included getting rid of those extra pounds, but that wasn’t my primary motive. At least I don’t think it was.
We lived in an apartment. Some fields led to a wooded area behind the complex. That’s where I decided to run, on the trails behind the apartments. But first I slipped on a tee shirt, some athletic shorts that I used while coaching, and a pair of basketball shoes. They were red Bata Bullets! Oh, and I carried an old Davy Crockett wrist watch, carried because its band was too small for my wrist. That Davy Crockett wrist watch had been given to me by my favorite Aunt Dolly, maybe fifteen years or more before, and it still ticked.
My plan was to run out into the woods, on its trails, for eleven minutes and then return. I remember “eleven minutes,” but I don’t remember why I chose eleven minutes. I watched old Davy Crockett, made the turn as planned, and finished. I made it, twenty-two minutes. But I don’t recall any special celebration or particular sense of accomplishment. Nor was I gassed, crawling to finish. I just finished--and kept at it.
I continued to run because I came to enjoy it. At first, it was interesting. And then it became fun. Later, my coaching buddy and frequent morning running partner Larry Bittinger, upon seeing another runner on the roads, would sarcastically remark, “There’s another guy having fun.” He never enjoyed it as much as I did.
I think I continued to run for the same reasons I still run. There was the health factor, of course, of losing weight and all the benefits that go along with that. But there were more important things. I liked the opportunity to be outside. And I have always wanted to be active. Even while adding all those post-college pounds, I still played lots of basketball, weight lifted, and scrimmaged with the high school kids in my off-seasons—one night against the basketball team, another night on the ice with the hockey team, and still a third rolling around with the wrestlers.
My dormant competitive juices wouldn’t reflow for another dozen years or so. But I continued to “just run.” I also coached football and baseball in those early running years. Karen and I were starting our family, Mike and Matt arriving at this time. That left little time for running. So, I ran before work, arising before 5 AM to run and then get cleaned up for classes. For a number of years, two of my coaching buddies, Bruce Gilbert and Larry Bittinger (Boy, did I learn a lot of football from them!), joined me at that ungodly hour. Sometimes we ran the school grounds. Sometimes we headed off down dark country roads. Every Friday we’d charge up this killer hill, long and steep, doing repeats; it became sort of a weekly ritual for us.
Finally, in 1986, I ran my first race. It was the now-defunct West Bloomfield Half Marathon, with all its hills and twists and turns. “Wait…,” I was later asked more than once, “your first race was a half marathon?” Yep, what did I know? But I enjoyed it a lot and several weeks later ran my second race, an 18-miler at the also now-defunct Chai Runs at the West Bloomfield Jewish Community Center. I guess I had no idea what this running and racing thing was all about
Regardless, I enjoy thinking about my running and racing Januaries, unorthodox as they may have been. How about you? When did you begin running? How and why did you start? Do you still run for the same reasons and still get the same satisfaction? Have your changed your philosophy of running? Have you grown?
I can’t help but think of the words of one of my favorite running writers or, as he might prefer, writing runners, Joe Henderson. To him, “endurance running” was not necessarily long distances as measured by miles, but running for life, measured by years. And I’ve been lucky enough to be an “endurance runner.”