I’ve been away from my blog. The following Piece was written in late October, 2007, about two weeks before I moved to Columbus, Ohio, about which I will more to say at another time.
I invite you to view some pictures of the Bally’s indoor track I run at on my Web site. Allow time for the index page to load the thumbnails. From there you can click any one or scroll through them.
Sometimes a seemingly small event will have life-changing consequences, but we are unaware of it at the time.
On December 26th, 1994, I was on vacation, enjoying a year end break. The previous June I had rediscovered “jogging.” At first I could barely run at all. By the end of the year I could run an hour and fifteen minutes without breaking to walk or cursing the day I was born. That was already a longer distance than I had run on any regular basis years before, during my first personal running boom, which began in 1977.
Prior to June 1994 I had also been struggling with weight. One day my wife tactfully pointed out that I wasn’t looking as trim as I once did. She was right. By late December my weight had come down from a high of 220 to something still over 200. Like a thousand trombone players at the bottom of the ocean, it was “a good start.”
Suzy has had a gym membership since before I knew her. I never paid much attention; she would just go do whatever she did. I hadn’t been inside a gym since I was in college. It never occurred to me to do such a thing. At the time, Suzy went to US Swim and Fitness, which was later bought and renamed Bally’s. USSF offered a plan where family members of existing customers could get free three-month trial memberships. Suzy suggested that I go with her the morning of that fateful day of December 26—it was the day after a holiday for many people—and afterward we could do other stuff we had planned.
I had no interest in the aerobics class she was in, but thought I’d try out the other resources. Somehow, I had never run on a treadmill in my life. But all the treadmills were full that day, since the day after that particular holiday gyms are typically jammed with people vowing to work off the consequences of their seasonal abuses.
But I discovered to my surprise that this gym had an indoor track. There was a sign posted that said it was 155 yards on the center white line, about 11.4 laps to a mile—not exactly a round number, but at least it one by which to measure activity from run to run.
To my surprise, I enjoyed loping four miles around that track, which on that day was crowded, then tried out some of the machines. In my college days we had only benches and free weights.
I had so much fun that I resolved to come back the next day—and the next, and the next. And I ran longer — and longer, and longer — often longer than a marathon, and on occasion as far as 42 miles in a single day.
I’ve been going to that gym five or six days a week ever since, without any breaks in training. In the process I became first a runner, then a runner who participates in races with “K” in them, then a half marathoner, then a marathoner, and in 1999 an ultramarathoner.
Over the years I did a great deal of training on that indoor track, with nearly the equivalent of three trips across the US in officially logged mileage, and at least another thousand in miscellaneous runs and walks of oddball distances that were not noted in my logs.
As I reflect back on it all, I recognize wistfully that going to that gym on that day became one of the three or four most significant turning points in my life, as it marked the time of my transition from overweight couch potato to healthy athlete in training.
Few people are as blessed as I have been with an opportunity to regain a measure of youthful vitality, along with the self-discipline to make it happen, after years of unhealthy neglect. When I started back, I was significantly overweight, with high cholesterol and high blood pressure, potentially a walking stroke or heart attack who might not be alive today if I hadn’t taken the advice of my doctor to bring it under control. It is by far the commoner experience for people to drift from youth to premature death without a struggle.
It is having an appreciation of that reality that has led me to be adamant about exercise, particularly running. It’s a priority in my life of equal stature with eating, sleeping, working, maintaining spirituality, and good relations with others. It’s not optional, not ever. My insistence on making room for it has sometimes—though rarely—caused persons close to me, mostly persons who do little or nothing to care for their own physical health other than just to hope for the best, to wonder why I regard it as so important, and why I can’t, for instance, just go to dinner with them at some exorbitant restaurant for gluttons after some affair in which I’ve done nothing but sit all day, until I have first gotten in a run. Runners understand. Others do not.
The time is rapidly approaching for me to say goodbye to the track at Bally’s, and to the many people I have met and who know me there, as I am preparing to uproot the life I have cultivated for nearly thirty years to move across the country to Columbus, Ohio and a largely uncertain future. Therefore, yesterday, to create a photo memoir for my own pleasure, by means of which to recall the place where I have worked so hard for so many hours, I took my digital camera to Bally’s at a low volume hour and discreetly took some pictures from which I created a slide show.
I’m getting older, I’m slowing down, a bit of the weight I lost (53 pounds at max) has returned, so has a bit of the cholesterol and the blood pressure, but I’m fighting it. I’m determined that I will never, ever go back to the way I was in 1994, not even in my new life in Columbus.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.