Get addicted to exerciseBy RICHARD EDMONSON,
After arriving at our Gulfport destination at 6:15 a.m., about 2,000 plus runners got to stand around. It was still dark outside and the temperature was below freezing. I quickly grabbed a protein bar, put on shorts and a couple of light t-shirts and headed out the door. Buses were waiting to take us to Gulfport, about 14 miles to the start line of the second annual Mississippi Half Marathon. Those running the full marathon were transported to Pass Christian, another 13 miles.
I was jarred awake by the alarm at 5:30 a.m. in the hotel room at the Beau Rivage on December 10, 2017 in subfreezing weather waiting for the 7 a.m. start. When the starting signal sounded, all 2,000 plus half-marathoners charged down Highway 90 for 13.1 miles from Gulfport to Biloxi. A woman was holding a sign which read “smile, you paid to do this.” It took me 2 ½ hours to cross the finish line. That is certainly not an elite time but depending on your condition and age it is respectable. The reward at the end: a finishers medal, a banana and a cup of beer. There were a few other food vendors, but you get the idea. At least the temperature had warmed up to a toasty 45 degrees.
Fast forward to January 1, 2018. Again, I was jarred out of bed at 5:30 a.m. to join a hardy group of about 30 runners at the Overlook on the Natchez Trace for the annual Peas and Greens Fun Run. The temperature was 17 degrees and the wind chill was one degree. Now that is cold. At 7 a.m., the runners took off down the trail to run any distance they could stand. I ran six miles. The reward at the finish line: peas, greens, Jimmy Juice (don’t ask) and beer.
Fast forward again to January 14, 2018, in Baton Rouge. Once again I was awakened at 5:30 a.m. to prepare for the Louisiana Half Marathon. The temperature was below freezing and never really got much higher. I was able to walk from my hotel to the start line with 15,000 other marathon/half marathon runners. The course went through the semi-beautiful LSU campus and surrounding neighborhoods. I was impressed by the number of spectators along the course to cheer us on in the subfreezing weather. I finished in 2:20. The reward at the end: finishers medal, a banana, and lots of Abita beer. Are you detecting a pattern here?
Once again fast forward to the Mississippi Blues Marathon on January 27, 2018. The temperature was slightly above freezing and pouring rain. About 8,000-10,000 marathon/ half marathon runners participated and we all got soaked. In spite of the conditions, I finished the half marathon in 2:23. The hills in Belhaven and dodging potholes made the course a real challenge and we paid for the privilege of doing it. The reward at the finish line: a finishers medal, a banana, beer and pizza. This was my seventh time to run the race.
I have been running for 11 years so I guess that makes me a “seasoned” runner. I have logged several thousand miles in all kinds of weather. I have suffered a stress fracture in my foot, plantar fasciitis, two torn hamstrings requiring surgery and a lumbar spine fusion. They love me at Mississippi Sports Medicine. While running I have encountered dogs, snakes, wasps, potholes and an alligator. And I was hit by a car.
By now you are probably thinking, “Why on earth does he do this?” Most non-runners would say, “There is not enough money to pay me to run 13.1 or 26.2 miles, especially in adverse weather conditions, and I certainly don’t intend to pay someone to allow me to do it.” Those were exactly my thoughts before I became a runner. Sane intelligent people just don’t do that. But as I found out, they do. Okay, maybe we are not completely sane. It helps to be a little crazy to do what we do.
In my running groups are doctors, nurses, accountants, engineers, lawyers, bankers, journalists and others from all walks of life. These are educated motivated people. So why do they choose to become runners and thus subject themselves to inevitable pain and discomfort that comes from miles and miles of pounding the pavement day in and day out?
Well, it’s complicated. Once you start, it can become addictive. The first race I ran was the Watermelon 5K on a hot July 4, 2007. I didn’t have the slightest idea what I was doing, but I came in third place in my age group. I was hooked. The competitive juices started to flow and I determined to work hard to place first. I was not always successful, but running is not about winning races. Quoting from Amby Burfoot, former winner of the Boston Marathon and past editor of Runners World magazine: “Winning has nothing to do with racing. Most days don’t have races anyway. Winning is about struggle and effort and optimism and never, never giving up.”
This pretty much sums up how I feel about running. It allows you to go out every day and challenge yourself physically and mentally. It’s learning to be comfortable in your discomfort. It’s about keeping on in the face of struggle and never giving up. It’s about mental toughness even when your body wants to quit. That’s how 30,000 people stepped up to the starting line to run the Boston Marathon in near freezing weather with a 25 miles per hour bone chilling wind and rain. That’s how 50,000 runners step up to the starting line every year for the New York Marathon.
Other benefits of running include: improves health and prevents disease (exercise has actually been called a miracle drug and running is the best exercise, but I won’t take that on in this article), boosts energy, relieves stress and helps reduce depression. Running is something you can do alone or with a group. I do both, but I much prefer group runs because of the camaraderie. Runners are friendly, gracious, encouraging, non-judgmental and just fun to be with. It does not matter your race, sex, age, politics, religion or sexual orientation, if you run you are welcome.
A recent study concluded that Mississippi is the least active state in the United States. We can do better. We must do better. Our well-being depends on it. So come join us. Get addicted to exercise. Any kind of exercise will do as long as it gets your heart rate up including walking/running, swimming, biking, hiking or most any type of sports activity.
Oh, and by the way, I am 80 years old.
Richard Edmonson is a Northsider.