Ron Marinucci January '23 Column: Here's to Another Year in our Lifetime Running Journeys

Ron Marinucci January '23 Column: Here's to Another Year in our Lifetime Running Journeys

The month of January is named after the Roman god Janus, the god of doors and gates. Janus
had two faces, one looking forward and one looking backward, looking to the future, but also to the
past.

Many runners use January to set their goals for the coming year. They look forward to running
certain races, favorites perhaps, or certain distances which might require special training. They might
set monthly or yearly distance goals or seek to run PRs. Then they map out plans to attain those special
goals.

I also like to use the end of one year and the beginning of the next to look backward, sometimes
even farther back than the previous twelve months. Perhaps it’s the historian in me, that is, in looking
backward at my running. And recently I’ve found myself looking way back.

2023 brings my 48th year of running. In some ways, those 48 running years seem like a
marathon, a long haul. In others, they seem like a sprint, tempus fugit. Over the years I’ve had
discussions with several of my running friends about our various running starts, our running Januaries.
Although many of them couldn’t remember their exact beginnings, I do recall mine very vividly, with
details.

Maybe it’s because many of them 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 sort of 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 at
all, although I was running with my teammates and buddies.

Not quite three years after college, I found myself considerably overweight, at least for me. I
was about 50 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 workday started
much earlier than hers.) One summer afternoon, hot and sunny, awaiting her arrival, I decided to go for
a run. I don’t remember 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 remember that 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 I used while coaching, and a pair of basketball shoes. They were red Bata Bullets!
Remember them? Oh, and I carried an old Davy Crockett wristwatch, carried it because its band was too
small for my wrist. That Davy Crockett watch had been given to me by a favorite aunt maybe 20 years
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 not why I chose that. I watched old Davy Crockett, turned around as
planned, and finished. I don’t recall any special finish, no celebration or sense of accomplishment. Nor
was I gassed, crawling to the apartment door. I just finished—for that day. I kept at it for 48 years now.

I continued to run because I came to enjoy it. 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, often would sarcastically remark, “There’s another guy having fun.” He never
enjoyed it as much as I did.

I ran for the same reasons I still do. There was the health factor, of course, with losing weight
and all the benefits that go along with that. But there were more important things. I have always enjoyed being outside. Running provided that opportunity. I have always been active, especially in
sports four seasons a year. Even while adding all those post-college pounds, I still played a lot of
basketball, weightlifted, and scrimmaged with the high school kids after school in my off-seasons--one
night against the basketball team, another on the ice with the hockey team, and still a third rolling
around on the mats with the wrestlers.

And I like being alone with my thoughts. I’ve never understood the critics who insist, “Running
is boring.” How can one be bored with ones own thought?

My dormant competitive juices wouldn’t reflow for another dozen years or so. But I continued
to just run. I also coached high school football and baseball and officiated basketball between seasons
in those early running years. Karen and I were starting our family with Mike and Matt soon arriving.
That, teaching and coaching and raising the boys, left little time for running. So I ran before work, rising
before 5:00 AM to run and then get cleaned up for classes. For a number of years, two of my coaching
buddies, Bruce Gilbert and Bittinger, joined me at that ungodly hour. I learned a lot of football from
those two on our runs! Sometimes we ran on the school grounds. Sometimes we headed off down dark
country roads. Every Friday we’d charge up a killer hill, long and steep, doing repeats; it became a
weekly ritual for us.

Finally, in 1986, I ran my first road race. It was the now-defunct West Bloomfield Half
Marathon, with all its hills and twist and turns. “Wait…” I was later asked more than once, “Your first
race was a half marathon?” Yep, it was. What did I know? But I enjoyed it a lot and a few 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.

What about you? When did you start running? How and why? Were you influenced by the
running boom of the 1970s, by the books of Jim Fixx and Kenneth Cooper, by the exploits of Frank
Shorter and Bill Rodgers, or by Joan Benoit [Samuelson] later in the 1980s and the advent of the
Olympic women’s marathon?

Do you still run for the same reasons or for new ones and get the same satisfaction? Has your
philosophy toward running changed? Have you grown?

I can’t help but think of words from one of my favorite running writers or, as he might prefer,
writing runners of the past, Joe Henderson. To him endurance running meant more than running long
distances as measured by miles or kilometers. It meant running for life, measured by years. In this
sense, I’ve been lucky enough to be one of these endurance runners.

Happy New Year! I wish a healthy and prosperous 2023 to all.

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