ESSAY--Still Reading, Still Eating Ice Cream, And ... Yes, Still Running

"Are you still eating ice cream?" Yes!
(8-18) I began running over 60 years ago as a high school trackster, continued running on my college track and cross-country teams, and have never stopped. It was a bit lonely back then, well before the first running boom. We had the occasional road race, with maybe two dozen entrants, all men. But I persisted.

Now, at 78, when I meet old friends I haven’t seen for some time, I’m always asked the same question: “Are you still running?” I find this strange, because no one ever asks me: “Are you still reading?” Or: “Are you still eating ice cream?”

Reading, eating ice cream, listening to
Beethoven, seeing good films … these are all things I look forward to and enjoy. Likewise for running.

When these same (usually inactive) old friends say, “I so admire your discipline,” I feel torn. I’m torn between accepting an intended compliment, and admitting that there’s actually no discipline involved--not when it comes to running. I associate discipline with distasteful chores I’ve put off too long. Like, mowing the lawn.

Running doesn’t require discipline because it’s my playtime and my therapy. Here’s how I sometimes put it: “There’s nothing like a nice run in the sun ... except maybe a run in the rain. Nothing like it, except maybe a run in the snow. Nothing like it, except maybe a run in a howling wind. Nothing like it, except maybe a nice run in the sun.”

The point is, for me running isn’t a lifelong goal or commitment or discipline. It’s simply part of living--like eating, sleeping, sex, or sipping a good Porter beer.

When friends tell me that they’ve tried running, but never enjoyed it, I say, “Then stop trying.” Find something you do enjoy--walking, biking, weight workouts, skiing, shooting hoops, dancing, and so on. None of us can continue very long with an activity that we don’t enjoy. And we certainly can't be happy.

With age, we lose both speed and endurance. These are inevitable. We no longer alternate “hard days” with “easy days.” We’re more likely to settle into a pattern of hard/easy/easy/barely moving. I've been there.

Some stop running at this stage. They don’t see the point any longer. I take a different view, more like what George Sheehan wrote many years ago: “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.”

He was referring to back-of-the-pack runners, noting that they don’t have to be Shalane Flanagan or Galen Rupp to find great value in what they are doing. You don’t have to be a Pavarotti to enjoy singing. You don’t have to be a Baryshnikov to enjoy dancing.

So what if I’m not fast anymore? It still feels good. And on those rare days when it doesn’t feel good every moment (“I’m just dragging today, for some reason.”), it always feels good afterwards.

Repeat: It always feels good afterward. One hundred percent of the time, fast or slow. What more can anyone ask than that?--Roy Reisinger
Running a Portland Marathon with
daughter, Marina.

Reisinger first ran high school track in Pennsylvania, lived and worked for many years in Anchorage, Alaska, and now lives in Bend, Oregon.