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Run For Your Life: Can old runners and societies improve?

The answer to the headline is “yes,” when the change is essential and worth the required price. New tricks for old runners and for changing our society’s values are surprisingly similar challenges. Let’s start with an easy case.

Running is a simple sport. My junior high school coach captured its essence; you put one foot in front of the other. Do that as quickly as possible and repeat as necessary to finish the race. We never worried about warm-ups, warm-downs, or general strengthening, flexibility and/or stretching. You relied on your legs and lungs and determination.

But I shouldn’t be unfair. The running standards of the era were hardly enlightened. For example, athletes were not allowed to drink water during workouts, and running more than a few miles was unhealthy and idiotic.

This minimal cross-training did me fine for decades; get dressed, run, stop, shower, repeat. I was proud that I finished every race without resorting to the humiliation of walking — well, there were two exceptions: one involved a helicopter rescue to the ER and the other knee surgery. I kept that record for countless short races (3.1 miles, 5K’s) and half a dozen marathons.

Sadly, all good things do come to an end. The rest of my body could not keep up with my legs and lungs. Age is the great equalizer. Running into your 40s, 50s, 60s (and even beyond, gulp) requires rethinking. Too many folks make this the decision point to turn in the running shoes and turn on ESPN. I did not.

I learned the word “Core,” defined as developing a strong, well balanced body that reduces the risk of injury and increases general performance. The core is holistic. Instead of one set of muscles, it develops ways for the whole body to work together. The new muscle patterns give you stamina in sports as diversified as skiing, tennis, even golf and NASCAR drivers. There is, however, a practical problem with Core. The price is high and staying with it is usually tough.

In January, I saw a flyer for a Core class on the FIT Center Bulletin Board. Trent, the instructor, offered group programs of an hour twice a week. I was all in. I took every class for three weeks and made clear progress in strength, balance, stretching and endurance.

Trent is a professional instructor with meticulous organizational skills and enthusiasm that encourages every student, regardless of ability. If you recognize the need and are willing to commit to the effort, this is for you. Learn more by contacting him through: Emily Kraus, FIT Center Manager, 631-749-0978.

Can we then apply a change in athletic performance to changing society? The fundamental questions are the same: Is change essential? Can we pay the price?

Consider the examples of labor unions, women’s suffrage, school desegregation, civil rights, ending the Vietnam War. All met both requirements. Now we have unrest added to a pandemic. Anger is not valuable at solving core problems. The easy analysis is wrong, because this is about more than playing police brutality against mob violence. The essential need is an opportunity, and the price is how we redefine success in America.

My 1950s America was great. A factory line worker could support a family and own a house. Public schools were fine. Kids went home for lunch because mothers working was an option, not a requirement.

Today Americans are slaves, bound to work via electronics more restraining than chains. Since 1973, U.S. productivity has increased by 242%, but little of that benefit has gone to workers. The problem is income distribution. Change is essential, but will we pay the price?

Depressed? Well, consider the lessons of our history, amid the Civil War, Longfellow could write: “ …the wrong shall fail, the right prevail.”

He was right then and now.