Columns

Run for your life: How running was pushed off the front page

May 6, 1954: Roger Bannister’s 4-minute mile leads news around the world. 

In the 1950’s, track and field events had huge followings, and national pride was on the line for every Olympic sport.

Times change.

If running has been pushed off the stage, that only means you can make a personal commitment to the essential exercise of walking. I want these columns to provide you incentives and methods to make walking a personal responsibility. Keep reading.

You could argue that running deserves higher status. It’s core to so many sports that everyone enjoys. Baseball, football, soccer, basketball — all require the fundamental ability to run. Nonetheless, spectators want home runs, touchdowns, goals and incredible feats even if they’re near misses. 

To appreciate running or track and field requires more insight than popular spectator sports. In contrast, the rules of baseball and football constantly change to broadcast more commercials. I rest my case.

For glory, money and excitement, running is a sad runner-up to most sports. Almost any sport is more exciting than watching a group of runners cover a given distance in the shortest time. I have a theory that running does not naturally connect with our competitive instinct.

I helped organize the “Kids Race” before the start of the Shelter Island 10K. Kids, grouped by age, lined up for a “race” of a couple hundred yards. Some would stop and wait for friends even a few feet from the finish. The group sense was more important than crossing the finish line.

I attended a high school where sports were football and everything else. The cross country team was not idolized in the halls; in fact, it wasn’t even recognized.

The only people who showed up at a cross country race were coaches and the runners. Running is a sport for nerds that brings people who have running skills but little or no interest in broader team sports. 

Career expectations (i.e., money) are a critical decision factor that parents often consider in encouraging their children’s participation in sports. All sports offer the potential for college scholarships.

If you do the math, the gap between high school to college to pro is astoundingly challenging to bridge. Runners avoid that issue. It’s almost impossible to make a professional career based on running. But outstanding runners can continue even at an elite status after education.

Those skilled in the broad array from rowing, water polo, fencing or wrestling etc., can continue their sports, but only with access to training facilities and supportive jobs or incredible dedication. The majority of Team USA in Tokyo this summer are in this class.

Finally, the lack of excitement is a factor. When people follow the basic warm-up, training and common sense, running and walking, even more so, is low risk compared to most other sports. If you’re concerned, yes, there are injuries in running.

Their frequency and severity rates are much lower than overall and a fraction of football. If safety is your concern, then stay in the water since swimmers have the lowest accident rates.

I am a runner. My love comes because of what it does for me, not the process of running. Running is not fun. In tennis, there is that perfect, down-the-line un-returnable shot or, in golf, that special drive. The joy of running is like bouncing a bowling ball off your foot.

It only comes when you stop.

For the sports we most admire, participation ends for most people by their early 30s. Then, they channel their interest to watching instead of doing. That’s a heck of a model for our Island with people living to a hundred!

These columns are a step to re-think the whole process. Regardless of your previous sports glory or lack of any, you can open a new career by walking today. We’ll show how and where.

All you must do is: Do it.