Ron Marinucci Feb Column: "Autobiographical"
by Ron Marinucci, Feb. 8, 2021
Several times recently I’ve been out running in less than optimal conditions. That’s not an unusual situation in Michigan. I faced icy back roads and trails, several inches of freshly fallen snow, pretty heavy rains, and strong winds (my least favorite). I surely smiled to myself and asked, “What are you doing out here? You’re nuts!” No doubt any others who saw me had the same question.
The Greeks (Socrates through the writings of Plato) were fond of saying, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I imagine a lot of folks today think that’s a bunch of hooey, but I’m a big believer in it. This pertains to my running life, too.
Perhaps I’ve become more interested in examining my life as I climb farther into my 70s. Reading Randy Step’s book, Get Your Butt Out the Door, reinforced my interest. Why, exactly, do people run? More specifically, why do I continue to run? Socrates and Plato would think that’s an important question.
More than one of those dark, inclement mornings had me chuckling as I remembered Step’s book. I could be home, nice and warm under the covers of my bed, instead of looping the icy trails in single-digit temperatures. I could be pounding the keys of my laptop, writing, blogging, and sending myriad e-mails—all of which I love to do—instead of battling that hard rain and strong wind. To me, these aren’t idle questions. They help me to examine my life, to “Know Thyself,” as the Greeks also recommended. I suppose an updated version, relevant to runners, came from the late running philosopher Dr. George Sheehan. We’re all “an experiment of one.”
People run for many reasons, quite a variety of them. I’m not sure many or even any of them apply to me. I guess maybe they do, to different degrees.
For instance, some of us run for our health, a very good reason. Running helps our heart and our memory. It strengthens bones. Running has been shown to improve our mental health, our self-esteem. Of course, it can be a great way to assist in losing and managing our weight.
Some run for the social aspect of the sport, to meet people. We find some of our closest friends while sharing the miles. Along the way, especially in this day and age, it can help with our stressful lives.
Compared to other sports and activities, running is relatively inexpensive if we want it to be. We can run for causes, to help raise money for those who need it.
Competition drives some of us, too. We enjoy competing against others and with ourselves. The journey, training for competition, also provides impetus.
Coping with some of the curve balls life throws at us leads some to running. There are many stories of people who have given up drugs and alcohol, smoking, and other addictions with the help of running. In effect, they trade a bad addiction for a good one.
I’m not sure any of these continue to play a role in my running. I initially ran, in part, to lose weight. I did, for a number of years, enjoy competition and training for it. I still treasure my long Sunday runs with my running buddy, Bob Drapal. We’ve been running together for almost 30 years and I enjoy it as much as ever.
I’ve never considered my running to help me through tough times, to cope with stress, etc. No, those were never reasons. I’ve had no addictions.
As an aside, here’s this personal story. In 1993, my mother died three days before the Free Press Marathon. On that Friday morning, while waiting to make final arrangements, my sister and one of my brothers noted the marathon insert in the newspaper. My name was listed as an entrant. One of them, I have forgotten which, asked, “You aren’t going to run, are you?” I replied, “No, I don’t think so.” My father had walked into the room during the conversation. He asked, “Why not?” I think it was more of a demand to explain myself than a question. Why wasn’t I running? I mumbled something akin to “I can’t, all things considered.” “Have you trained?” he wanted to know. I said that I had, all summer. He responded with a simple “Then you’ll run it.”
First, my dad was one of those who thought even a 5K or 10K was “a marathon.” Second and more relevant, even though I was in my mid-40s, when my father told me to do something, I did it. So, after a full Saturday on my feet at the funeral home, I ran and finished the Free Press, just a little slower than I had planned. I didn’t run “in honor of my mom,” but because my dad said I had to run it. On the drive back home to clean up for the second day at the funeral home, I stopped by his house and gave him the finishers medal. He was very satisfied and, in fact, brought it to the funeral home later that day.
Although running helps to keep my weight at least somewhat at bay (I really like to eat!), I don’t run for that reason. In fact, I am not running any more than I usually do, but I have dropped close to twenty pounds since last summer. That’s due, I’m sure, to my walks and very short runs with Andy, about fifteen or twenty miles a week, more than running.
Competition was once a running goal, mostly not against others, but to push myself. I was never a particularly fast high school and college athlete. Running faster than I might expect was a real challenge for me. Plus, perhaps masochistically, I enjoyed the hard workouts. Time goals were set at this distance and that and I strived to meet them. But I haven’t done that in years, maybe even decades.
It’s not that I don’t appreciate what I refer to as the residual benefits of running. I do. But they are not the reasons I run. If they were, I’d likely stop.
“So,” Socrates or Plato might ask me, “why do you still run?” I’m not completely sure other than I enjoy it as much as ever, but maybe not for the same reasons. It remains an important part of my life. What importance is that? I don’t think I have a definitive answer.
I love being outdoors and always have. Treadmills are not for me. I’d much rather run outside in snow or rain or single-digit temperatures or even strong winds than inside on a treadmill. Outside is liberating for me. I enjoy being active. Television, movies, and video games are not for me. (OK, I do love to read and write.) While I can’t run all day or even for as long as I once could, I can still bike, lift weights in the garage or driveway, throw batting practice to my grandson, mow the lawn, shovel the snow, work in the yard, etc.—they’re outside.
Although my weekly run with Bob is a highlight, I treasure running alone, alone with my thoughts. It’s always perplexed me when people ask, “Isn’t running boring?” They obviously think so. But I always wonder how one can be bored with one’s own thoughts and ideas.
I am not certain exactly why I run, but I remember this story from a few years ago that helps me explain it. I was running hill repeats one morning, struggling with each successive one. A woman was watching me huff and puff from her driveway. I said to her, “This hill gets steeper each time!” She replied, “You know, you don’t have to do it more than once.” I smiled and nodded, thinking to myself, “Yes, I do.”