Richard Benyo: Articles and Columns

Beginning Running

Runner’s World

January 1979

Can we talk about something else?

Most of the mail that flows across the desks of the editorial staff of Runner's World deals with the joys of running and the change it has made in people's lives. There is an apparent need to express these feelings to someone who is of like mind.

I enjoy running very much. So much so that I'm willing to spend a week recuperating from a 50-mile mountain race. But I often get tired of listening to people talk about running because once some of these people get going they don't shut up. And, to be quite frank, it often gets b-o-r-i-n-g. I often sit back and wonder how it is for someone in the discussion group who is not interested in running.

I can understand where the impetus for the diarrhea of the mouth can come from. People who discover running find so much for themselves in it that they assume everyone either does or should share the same feelings. Unfortunately, not everyone does. Running, to those people, becomes a Something that fills a tremendous void in their lives. If this magic Something is treated in a healthy manner, that's fine; it's one more thing in life that makes life worth living. When it begins to eclipse all else in a person's life, it can be just as bad as becoming addicted to gambling, drinking, or drugs. Even a positive addiction can go too far.

Some of the fanatic runners feel that obsession is the only road to success, yet the people they admire, although they work diligently at running, are not obsessed by it. Frank Shorter is an attorney, a businessman, and a cross-country skier. Bill Rodgers collects butterflies. George Sheehan is a prodigious reader of classics and is the father of more children than there are miles in a 10,000-meter run. Running becomes part of them, but it does not destroy them in the process.

It destroys some people.

We occasionally receive a letter that makes us want to take hold of someone's shoulders and shake him until his head rattles. We received a letter recently from a woman in New York whose husband has been running 10 years and who ran the New York City Marathon last year as his first marathon.

She has made several attempts to begin running in order to be more a part of her husband's life. She has repeatedly failed on those attempts because she tries to do too much at one time and becomes injured. She has constantly supported her husband and other runners by going to races, helping at the races, cheering on all the runners. She is understandably frustrated.

Following her last series of injuries from attempting to become a runner too fast, the frustrated woman took other positive steps. "I went back to light jogging and walking for one mile‚...besides other forms of exercising like warm-up exercises before jogging, which my husband calls nonsense." She continues: "I was proud of my attempt of getting back to running only to be ridiculed again. I ran and walked that mile in about 12 minutes. And I thought that was good, but not for him. My legs are strong and don't get tired, but my lungs do not have the strength they should have."

The initial response to the woman's problem would seem to be to have her husband run a mile on a half-mile pier. But looking closer, the problem is simple: The poor woman is trying to become a runner for her husband and in spite of her husband's lack of interest in her efforts. Many male runners would be putting a halo on the woman's head and would be making time to help her along instead of frustrating her.

Our advice for the woman is simple: Dear Lady, you go out and run at your own speed, when you want to, and make your running your running. Don't do it for your husband's sake. Do it for yourself. Find your own limits and push beyond them gently. Taking up running to be a shadow of your husband is taking up running for the wrong reason. Run to run and to enjoy. Run/walk at a 12-minute-per-mile pace. I do some running at a 12-minute pace and I do some of my running as running/walking. I'm not ashamed of it. Joe Henderson and Tom Osler aren't ashamed of it. There's no reason you should be ashamed of it. Ignore your husband's ridicule.

And don't allow yourself to fall into the running traps your husband did. Don't become an ugly runner.

And when you're ready to do your first marathon, get in touch with us. We'll be happy to run it with you - at your speed.