Saturday, February 13, 2010

Restoring your body and soul with exercise

I was reading a Runner’s World magazine this morning on the treadmill. My knee pained me yesterday so I took a couple days off from running and was doing a nice, slow paced walk so I could read. The article is by John Bingham and is called Rust Buster. I couldn’t find it online to provide a link but I’m going to copy a couple paragraphs here. I think this could apply to any kind of exercise that we embrace. (The whole essay is on page 50 in the Best of Running December 2009 issue.)

In a column a few years back, I wrote that I had come to think of my running shoes as erasers. Each footstrike rubbed away damage from earlier years, when I had smoked, drunk, and eaten too much. Little by little, I was wiping the slate clean. Now I realize my running shoes are more powerful than erasers. They are the steel wool that scraped away years of rust that had accumulated on my body and my spirit- and kept it from coming back.

George Sheehan, one of our sport’s great philosophers, wrote that running, especially running hard, galvanized his soul. He believed putting all your strength into the final moments of a wholly exhausting run or race was powerful enough to transform you into a new and better person. I wouldn’t argue with that.

I would argue, though, that for someone like me, who let his body go to waste for the first half of his life, the experience is slightly different. Before running can galvanize you, it must first restore you. When you can move your body for only eight seconds before gasping for air, it’s hard to imagine running long or hard enough to reach a running high. Like that tractor, my body has lost its ability to do what it was designed to do. As much as I wanted to experience the joy that comes from hard effort, I had years of work to do before getting close to that point.

Running, more than just erasing, is an act of restoration for me. It has restored my muscles, heart, lungs, and joints. More important, it has restored my soul. It brought back hope to a hopeless spirit by showing me that if I made changes to my life, change would occur. As I ate less and moved more, I saw results. As I learned to set reasonable goals and achieve them, the sense of failure I had lived with started to fade. I was running further and faster. I was succeeding. Even if I would never be a great runner, I was becoming a better one- and a better person, too.

Now, I'm a beginner so I'm not making any great claims. But I have gotten up at least five times a week for more than a year. I guess that's something.

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