100 And Counting
This is the 100th installment in this series of articles on injury prevention and treatment. Over the past 20 years, I have strived to focus on providing readers with the latest, most up-to-date information on a wide variety of ailments and conditions that commonly (and sometimes not-so-commonly) affect runners.
On this occasion, I ask that you allow me to indulge in a bit of personal reflection and pontification on the changes I believe I have seen in the public’s attitude toward running that have occurred over the duration of my running “career,” which has now lasted consistently for 35 years. To illustrate my point, I would like to tell you about a single person I consider to be representative of this shift in perception and feelings.
My mother passed away this past June at the age of 89. I don’t know that she ever engaged in any form of exercise during her adult life,other than perhaps any that would have been required when she served in the Women’s Army Corps (WACs) during World War II. A product of her times, the idea of exercising for its own sake must have seemed as foreign to her as the cuisine she encountered when stationed in New Delhi, India. The physical benefits of regular exercise were largely unknown then, as were the physical detriments of smoking, which she took up at the age of 20 along with most of her contemporaries.
My running track in high school and college may have seemed reasonable enough to my mother, but when I started running again five years after graduating college – just for “fun” – I could tell she thought that was a bit strange. She didn’t voice any objections or concerns, though … until I started running marathons.
Some of my mother’s worries were due, I’m sure, to the anxieties she understandably developed after suffering traumatic losses of her father (she was 7), and her husband (she was 40, with three young children to raise alone). For a long time, she was sure I was destined to perish prematurely (none of the men on my father’s side of the family have ever made it out of their 50’s) and I know she believed that the exertion of running so much was certain to make that prophecy come to pass.
(Whenever she read or heard a report of a runner dying during a race, she would call or send me the clipping; when I heard one day during work that the author Jim Fixx had died of a heart attack, while running, at the age of 52 – same age as my father! – I remarked to the patient I was treating that I might have to excuse myself in a few minutes, as my mother would be calling. Sure enough … )
Whenever I went out to run while visiting with her, I would see a look of disapproval on her face. Eventually, though, as the years passed– and I hadn’t – that look became one of resignation, which later gave way to bemusement, on the way to a glance of quiet respect. Thirty years ago, upon my return from a run, she would ask how far I had gone. Invariably, no matter what distance I told her I had run, she would ask, “Why so far?” As the years went by, however, her attitude seemed to slowly mellow and her comments became less and less caustic and negative; the day before she died (from the effects of that 40-year habit of smoking, despite her having quit nearly 30 years ago), when I came into her room after running, she simply asked “How was your run?” When I replied “Good” she simply smiled and said, “I’m glad.”
Much has changed over the past several decades in the knowledge and practice of physical therapy. Much has changed as well, I believe, in the general populace’s attitude toward the practice of running. The percentage of people in this country that runs is still relatively small,despite the contradictory impression one might have from the increases in race entrants. It does seem, though, that those who remain sedentary have become a more silent majority; you don’t seem to hear the ridicule and derision directed toward runners that seemed prevalent years ago.
I think you might agree that my mother was a microcosm of that transformation, that evolution of attitude, which has occurred over the period of time that I have been writing this column.