As a runner pretty much my entire life, I’ve always felt a little different. As a kid, I ran back and forth to school when nobody else did and was mocked for doing so. Even in college when everybody was drinking themselves under the table, I ran. And I’m still at it while plenty of my contemporaries have quit years ago.
Still, I’m pretty much an average guy in most respects. Average height, maybe a little on the skinny side, but I’m your basic normal guy.
Funny thing is I don’t feel normal. Never have.
Running always made me feel a little distant from everyone else—and it still does. But I like that feeling. To this day, this average guy, this very average runner, feels very uncommon.
The common guy is still sound asleep when I’m running. The common guy’s idea of fun is playing video games, while mine is a weekend long run. The common guy feasts on steak, burgers and ribs; I prefer pasta and salad. The common guy is wasted after climbing the 106 steps to Mt. Bonnell; we do it in the middle of a run. The common guy’s idea of sports is watching someone else do something remarkable. Mine is running a race.
Even when it comes to racing, most of us are decidedly average, well behind the leaders. I’m not fast, but you and I can outrun 99.5 percent of all Americans. For most people, driving 26 miles is a long way to go. But, I can run that far. I’ll bet you can too. In that respect, we are exceptional human animals.
So if we know that running makes us a bit different, do we also know that the simplest act of running make us better people too?
I think it does.
Here’s just some of the evidence:
Runners are smarter longer. Several studies have shown that 40+ runners who have been exercising for 15 years or longer have sharper minds than non-exercisers of the same age and education levels. For reasons unclear to researchers, exercise slows down the gradual breakdown of the “white matter” in our brains which is an essential part of our nervous system and constitutes the communication system of our brain. As people age, the breakdown of this white matter is one of the main reasons people lose memory and motor control. But consistent exercise, including running, slows the degradation of the white matter. One theory is exercise stimulates the white matter and keeps it active, rather than losing it through disuse. Even if you are not an older runner, running makes you smarter because it increases blood flow to the brain.
Runners are leaner. We burn a lot of calories while running (duh), but we also continue a caloric burn for an extended period after we stop. If you run at least five days a week for 30-60 minutes, you will reduce your body fat.
Runners have strong hearts. Our bodies quickly adapt to running and one of the greatest changes is to our heart muscle. As we run, our heart becomes stronger and increases its efficiency at pumping blood to the rest of our body. Cardiovascular endurance quickly improves as the heart doesn’t have to work as hard because it can pump the necessary blood with fewer beats per minute which, in turn, lowers our resting heart rate.
Runners have better circulation. As we run, our heart beats faster to keep up with the demand for blood and the blood vessels expand to provide more blood to the working muscles. The more we run, the fitter we become which is a simple way to explain the increased efficiency in the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. This improved circulation reduces our risk of arterial sclerosis and the blockage of arterial pathways that can lead to strokes and heart attack.
Runners have healthier joints. Every runner has heard time and time again that running is bad for your knees. Not true. Actually, it’s just the opposite. Running increases bone mass and slows age-related bone loss. Running not only doesn’t damage the knees and other joints; it also reduces the risk of osteoarthritis.
Runners live longer. Simply put, healthier people who eat right and exercise consistently can extend their lives anywhere from two to five years. Even smokers who quit and start exercising can add about four years to their lives.
Runners are happier. We just are. On average, we’re more positive and optimistic than sedentary people. Every runner knows how even a 30-minute run can elevate our mood. Even a depressed person who turns to exercise will discover it’s an effective treatment. Also, many runners discover the “runner’s high” which is a very real, post-run flood of feel-good hormones.
For us, being different is a good thing. And that’s one of the things that propels us forward every day.
O Lance Armstrong is now venturing into ultras (where he isn’t subject to a World Doping Association ban from competing). Last weekend at the wet, muddy Marin Ultra Challenge in Northern California, the former Mr. Yellow Jersey ran the 50-K and finished 12th overall in 4:19:46, good for fourth in his 40-49 age group. In the same race, Steve Zessin of Austin ran 7:05:51. In the accompanying 25-K, Meredith Terranova was 58th overall (14th woman) in 2:30:49, while Mark Higgins ran 2:39:56. The 50-miler was the main race and Paul Terranova warmed up for his ultra season by finishing fourth overall (first master) in 7:57:06. Berton Keith of Austin ran 12:11. The other big news of the day was Nicole (nee, Studer) Kalogeropoulus of Dallas broke the women’s course record and finished 10th overall in the 50-miler in 8:16:57.
O UT will have more athletes represented at the World Indoor Games in Portland this weekend than many nations. All in all, seven current or former Longhorns will compete in Portland, including two on this spring’s team. Current Longhorns running in Portland will be Courtney Okolo (4 x 400 relay) and Chrisann Gordon who will represent Jamaica in the 400. Former Longhorn UT women in Portland are Michelle Carter (No. 1 in the world in the shot put), Kendra Chambers (4 x 400) and Ashley Spencer (400). Two former UT high jumpers—Jamal Wilson will rep the Bahamas and Peter Olson of Sweden—will also be in Portland, competing in the heptathlon.
O Also competing in Portland will be Omar Craddock of Killeen in the triple jump, Michael Rodgers, who lives in Austin, will run the 60 meters and former Longhorn great Marielle Hall is an alternate in in the 3000 meters.
O The World Indoors begins tonight and there will be live online coverage on the NBC Sports Live Extra ap. NBCSN will also have coverage Saturday night and Sunday.
O The UT men and women had good meets at the NCAA Indoors last weekend. The Longhorn women finished fourth overall, while the men were fifth. But the big news was that the teams combined for five NCAA titles. A freshman—Teahna Daniels of Orlando, Florida—became just the second yearling to ever win the NCAA 60 and set an American junior record with her time of 7.11. All World Courtney Okolo won the 400 in 50.69, the third fastest in NCAA history. In the 4 x 400, UT took its NCAA record ninth title with Okolo, Chrisann Gordon, Ariel Jones and Moroloke Akinosun doing the honors.
O The UT men were led by seniors Zack Bilderback and Ryan Crouser (natch). Bilderback, who is from Celina, won the 400 in 46.03. Crouser, who will go down as one of the shot putters in collegiate history, won his fourth NCAA shot title with a throw of 69-9.75.
O Also having big meets at the NCAA Indoors were the brother-sister duo of former Austinites Ashley and Matthew Maton who both compete for NCAA champs the University of Oregon. Matthew, a freshman, led off the winning Distance Medley Relay team with a 1200-meter split of 2:58. Ashley, who is a senior, anchored UO’s DMR team which finished seventh.
O Occasional Austinite Scott MacPherson’s first race back after the Olympic Marathon Trials disaster was a victory at the St. Patty’s Day 5-K in Columbia, Missouri. It wasn’t exactly St. Patrick’s Day but his win was still a sweet one in 14:22.
O Monster race for former Longhorn Craig Lutz. The ’15 grad finished fourth last weekend at the Gate River 15-K (the USATF champs) in Jacksonville, Florida. The 23-year-old from Flower Mound (who lives in Flagstaff in these days) finished fourth (second American) in 44:49, good for $3000.
O The first race in the three-race Rogue Trail Series—the 30-K at The Maze—is on tap for April 3rd at Walnut Creek. The other two races are The Tangle (30-K) at Flat Creek Ranch near Pedernales Falls on April 24th and another 30-K at The Ranch on May 22 at Reveille Ranch. All three races have 10-K options. For more info, go to roguerunning.com.
O Austinite Gilbert Tuhabonye will be the keynote speaker at the Road Runners Club of America Annual Convention on Saturday in Dallas. Tuhabonye’s Run for the Water was selected as the 2016 RRCA 10-Mile National Championship. Tickets are available via rrca.org/convention/register-online.
O What I’m listening to this morning: “Step Inside This House,” by the great Lyle Lovett who is not playing SXSW this week. Heard him a few years back at SXSW playing on the pool deck one morning at the Four Seasons.
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