Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sat, 19 May 2007 05:13:38 -0400

Out and About


(rerun from May 1999 RC, with updated opening)

Norm Lumian, who died in spring 2007, was one of life's ultrarunners. He ran for more than 60 of his 78 years.

Post-polio syndrome gradually took away the use of his legs. Anticipating his future, he adopted an unusual routine in the late 1990s: a run one day and a wheelchair session the next. No one I met on the streets and trails of Eugene appeared to enjoy mornings more, even as the speed and scope of his runs decreased.

Norm, a retired college professor, often phoned to "grade" my columns and to "assign" new ones. He said in 1999, "Why don't you write sometime about the simple pleasure of getting outside for a run each day?" Suggestion taken, Prof.


A regular run of mine passes along a creekside path. On one side is a botanical garden, on the other a fitness center.

Side-by-side treadmills look out, through a floor-to-ceiling window, onto the creek and garden. Both treadmills are always occupied at the time I run past their users' window to the outside world.

The treadmillers might be more fit than I am (and surely are younger, better dressed and better looking). But I think while looking in on them that there's far more to running than fitness, and they're missing almost everything but the workout. Running only for the exercise is like eating just to build up the jaw muscles or writing to strengthen the fingers.

The run that touched off this column came on a springtime morning. The chilly air still carried a bite of winter, reluctant to depart.

But the day's dawning came early enough now to let me see what I passed through and not just trust it to be here. This morning exploded with the sights, sounds and smells of the new season.

Treadmillers miss most of this. The climate and light inside their club never change. They hear the grinding of their machines, or the background sound of music and news. They smell only themselves and the deodorizers that mask the aromas of human effort.

I applaud the treadmillers for their effort, which probably is greater than mine. But I wish they would step through the plate-glass window and experience the wider world of running outside.

Exercising indoors, and in place, is like watching the natural world pass by through a car window. You see it but don't feel it. You're apart from it, not really a part of it.

In the gym, every day is much like every other. Outdoors, no day is quite like any other.

I'm out nearly every day of every week at dawn or before. I run most of those days. But even when the day calls for a walk, I'm still out at the same hour, in the same clothes and on the same routes, for the same length of time.

Boring? Never!

That's because running days never exactly clone themselves. Conditions of weather, qualities of light, varieties of sight and sound are forever remixing into something new. Without stepping outside, you can't know exactly what freshness the day holds.

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