I don’t recall what prompted me to lace up some cheap running shoes more than 40 years ago and start running laps around the University of Minnesota Fieldhouse in the middle of winter.
Was it guilt from too many keg parties? Or a realization that, at age 23 and with my college years nearly done, it was time to do something responsible — like get in shape?
All I know is I was among the 25 million Americans who started running during the 1970s and 1980s. It was a running boom. It changed my life, and maybe several others, too.
Now nearly 66, I’m still running. Only now I feel like I’m running for my life.
For some newbie runners, running can be drudgery and difficult. And at the beginning, it wasn’t easy for me, either. But I immediately embraced running not only as an excuse to get outside — which I craved then and now — but a time to be alone with my thoughts. There also was the euphoria, what’s commonly called the “runner’s high.”
Running was a stress reducer. It made me feel good. It made me feel healthy.
It became not just recreation but a lifestyle.
The impact of that impulse to run laps at the fieldhouse eventually expanded beyond me. A few years later, the woman who would become my wife was intrigued by my running. She tried it and got hooked.
My running led to a couple of Grandma’s Marathons (my best time was a 3:31). But injuries caused me to give up distance races. My body said yes to running but no to marathons. That was OK with me, because all I ever really wanted to do was run.
I quickly figured out that running kept me in shape to do other outdoor activities that I loved: hiking, biking, paddling, cross-country skiing, and hunting pheasants.
Meanwhile, my wife, Mary Lynn, picked up the marathon bug and ran more than 20 races before recently “retiring” to shorter distances.
We have three daughters. We took them to fun runs when they were little. They cheered their mom on the sidelines of many marathons, and then we cheered them on at their high school cross-country and track meets. Running became a passion for them, too.
Now it might be presumptuous to claim credit for getting my wife and three daughters to run. They may have done so without my inspiration. But it makes me feel good to know that perhaps I had an influence on helping my kids find a healthy lifestyle.
These days, I alternate running with biking to reduce stress on my aging body. And I mostly run through the woods on dirt trails instead of on paved paths or walkways. I cherish those runs, and appreciate that I’m still able to knock off four or five miles.
For now, the urge to run remains strong. That decision to run around that university fieldhouse track 40-some years ago is looking even better. Scientific evidence has mounted in recent years about the benefits of exercise. Researchers say it improves your mood. Helps check your weight. Is good for muscles, bones and even skin. Increases energy levels. Can reduce risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
In short, I could live longer because of all the miles I’ve run over the past four decades.
And there’s evidence that exercise is good for the brain, too. It might slow brain aging, improve memory, and lower risk of or delay Alzheimer’s, a nasty disease that I witnessed firsthand in my mother.
As Time magazine wrote recently: “If there were a drug that could do for human health everything that exercise can, it would likely be the most valuable pharmaceutical ever developed.”
So I run now with more purpose than I did those many years ago at the university fieldhouse.
I long for warm spring days when I can run through the woods with glee. Just like that kid of 23.
I’m older. And slower. But I’m still running — running for my life.
Doug Smith is a retired Star Tribune outdoors writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.