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The Penitent Runner

Jay EllsasserJay Ellsasser has sent in a few of his articles for publication in the Your-Articles section.

The first is entitled The Penitent Runner.

The physical and psychological benefits of exercise have already been touted for years in everything from medical journals to McCall’s. But reaping these benefits on a long term basis is a phenomenon which continues to elude far too many of us.

For many people running is a form of penance not exercise. “I recommend three ‘Our Father’s’ six ‘Hail Mary’s’ and five miles!” intones the local town preacher from inside his confessional.

Jay Ellsasser

Jay Ellsasser

Exercise, and running in particular can be made enjoyable simply by pacing oneself.
A familiar running maxim states you should “run slower than you think you can and farther than you think you can. “Hurry slowly” is a catch phrase offered by world class Norwegian marathoner Greta Waitz.

Adds Waitz “getting fit is done by gradually and progressively increasing training because while the heart and lungs respond quickly to exercise, muscles and joints take longer. That is why those who go too far and too fast end up injured and unable to run at all.”

Again, exercise should not be commensurate with punishment. Too many people out there are running with pained expressions on their faces, and that’s just bad advertising.

Go as slowly as you need to in order to feel comfortable. Eventually that comfort level will expand as much as you allow it. In other words, run slow to run fast, and keep on running.

This approach or philosophy is also applicable to racing.

In the tradition of the tortoise and the hare, allow me to relate a personal anecdote. I began my first marathon at an unnecessarily fast pace and by mile 17 was struggling. By mile 22 I was down to a slow crawl, and after walking a portion of the final four miles, finished the race humbled and hobbled.

One year later and infinitely wiser, I returned to the Cape Cod Marathon in Falmouth and began the same course at a much slower pace. I grew stronger as the race progressed, ran the last six miles at a pace faster than the first 20, and finished several minutes ahead of the previous year’s time. All without the pain and disappointment of my last outing.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re in training to race, or just finding your running legs for the first time. Whatever running goals people set for themselves are best achieved through a program of patience and humility. Eventually you’ll stop asking yourself if you feel like running today? Because if you have to ask that question it means you’re not enjoying it, and if you’re not enjoying it, eventually you’ll stop.

“Just do it,” but do it slowly, and do it for life!