Recently I saw a car sporting a bumper sticker that read, “I run so I don’t kill people.” I guess to most people that might sound bizarre and creepy but to me it’s pretty funny. It’s another way of saying, “To keep my mental state somewhat stable I have to run; I have to run. that’s all there is to it.” I can certainly relate to that.

I’ve been running regularly for oh, fifty years or so now. In my history of this pastime I’ve run fast and strong – and other times slow and weak, but I’ve still run.

And I still run. Almost every day. I’ve even been known to run very long distances, hour upon hour. I know that’s a bit strange.

My friends are some of my most prized possessions. One of the things I love most about them is that they graciously put up with my odd attributes, of which I have many. Not the least of which is my deep penchant for running.

Of course, friends are kind of like grandchildren, you know. After playing hard, at the end of the day they can send me home to my handler. But spouses and significant others – the handlers – sustain long term exposure to one’s idiosyncrasies. They can’t just send you home – because, after all, there you are.

Case in point – my poor wife. Disturbing her before dawn as I rummage around / leaving sweat-soaked clothes and stinky shoes strewn about the premises / me saying, “I have to run” when she has other things she’d rather I do . . . That kind of thing.

She’s an angel. Don’t let me forget that.

A few of my friends are actually runners themselves, taken by it as much as I am. Sometimes we run together and that’s fun but not the usual; the pursuit for me is more of a solitary kind of thing. Solitary yes, but I do feel the tight bond with my running brothers and sisters.

What in the world do I get out of running? Why would I voluntarily subject myself to something as uncomfortable, as potentially painful – not to mention inconvenient – as running? (“This better be good,” I hear you saying.)

Well, there are some physical benefits. It’s common knowledge that running and similar pursuits are good for the cardiovascular system. That’s nice but it’s not really why I do it. Nor is it to live longer, as some people mistakenly query. In fact my jogging may make me live shorter, who knows?

I do know that of the cultures around the world that are known for their longevity, none feature in their repertoire long-distance running. I am convinced, however, that one must move the body in order to maintain it; sedentarism is the last thing we need. Gotta keep moving. I learned that from my dad, and at 94 he’s still doing just that.

The physical benefits are nice, like I said, but I’m sure I wouldn’t run very much if that’s all there was to it. Nope, I do it mainly for my mental health, for the assistance it gives me in organizing the ridiculous stacks of thoughts in my head.

I discovered a long time ago that for me running unlocks mechanisms that allow this psychic rebooting; emotional settling, calming. The pursuit helps me keep my head above water, helps me keep the incessant chatter in my brain down to a manageable hum. You could say running helps me cling to whatever sanity remains.

Besides discovering years ago that running clears my psychic slate, I’ve also found that in a related way it allows for my best creative thinking. It serves as an incubator for various schemes, hare-brained and otherwise. Another way to look at it is for me jogging down some wooded trail serves as moving meditation.

At the core of the matter, running is my secret to joy, to happiness. I love the beauty of the woods on my jogs through the seasons. I love running in the bracing air of winter and in the thick, rich air of a forest in summer. I like seeing the dawn come as I pad along. I love the feel of movement. That’s why I run.

That’s why I have to run.

And you know what? The joy of running can actually transcend the discomfort. Through practice the body becomes conditioned to it and it can actually feel good – and not just the getting-it-over-with part. In my running experience there have been times when I have felt the blah of my legs melting into the ground in a storm of long-distance running despair, but much more often I have felt like a free animal loping effortlessly through the woods, strong and invigorated, like I could go on forever.

I’m a two-time cancer survivor (so far), and I’m relatively old and my body doesn’t work like it used to but I still run. Maybe instead of “run” I should describe it as “mild jogging,” but you get the picture. The point is I still – positively – feel the benefits of it.

So, you see that running suits me very well, but I don’t recommend it to just anyone unless they feel the tug. One is either a runner or not a runner; that’s the way I see it. And most people of course are not runners. Ok I take that back. Actually, according to scientific inquiry, humans have been running for about 2 million years. We as a species are built for it, but the fact remains that most modern-day humans have lost the knack – the inclination – for it.

That’s understandable. I am strongly convinced, however, that everyone should have something in their lives that does for them what running does for me.

People jokingly point out to me that, “alcohol is much easier, Johnny!” but alas alcohol does not do it. No, it’s got to be physical. And for others I’d say it might be gardening or walking or judo or yoga or fencing or bike riding or surfing or square dancing but I’m convinced it’s got to be something.

How can one cope and be happy in this chaos called life otherwise? I truly wonder.

The running physician-philosopher Dr. George Sheehan captured something to think about when he wrote, “Running, or some other form of exercise, is essential in the drive to become and perpetuate the ultimate self.” Now don’t tell me you wonder what the doc was smoking.

Anyway, in the long run – haha – the pursuit of running sure has been good to me.

Johnny R. on the Appalachian Trail.

– Johnny Robinson

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