My Life in the Fitness Lane

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January 9, 2008

My Life in the Fitness Lane

Like many runners of my age I can point to the exact day I that I became a committed runner, September 10, 1972. That was the day I watched Frank Shorter become the first American in 64 years to win the Olympic marathon in Munich. The very next day I strapped on my sneakers (running shoes in those days were little more than a slab of rubber with a canvas top) and trudged over in the hot Texas sun to the local middle school track, determined to become a runner. I took off, 1/16 of a mile (not too bad), 1/8 of a mile (starting to hurt), 3/16 of a mile (this was a bad idea), ¼ mile (I’m done). How anyone could have run 26.2 miles in any amount of time much less 2 hours and 12 minutes was beyond me. My goal at the moment was to make it one time around the track without stopping. I thought if I could ever run a whole mile I would be in tip top shape and besides, why would anyone want to run farther than that? Somewhat to my surprise I found that I actually liked running and thus began my life in the fitness lane.

The second major influence in my quest for fitness was Dr. Kenneth Cooper. Dr. Cooper coined the term “aerobics” and in the late 60’s, as a colonel in the Air Force, he developed a method for assessing fitness that assigned “points” to aerobic exercise depending on intensity, duration, and age. For example if you were 20-29 years old and could run 1.7 miles in 12 minutes, then you were in excellent aerobic shape. For me, this was genius to be able to quantify a workout. According to Cooper I needed to get about 50-60 points a week to stay in shape. Although I dropped the point system years ago I have continued to keep a record of every workout that dates back to the second half of 1978. During that time I have logged over 23,000 miles in 6258 workouts and climbed 173,298 floors on the Stairmaster.

I know that is rather anal, but I have to say it has been a great motivator and also a journal of sorts. My notes tell about runs in far off places such as Cairo (the smog made me lose my voice for two days), Switzerland, England, Italy and almost every major American city. There are numerous 10K’s, 5K’s, five mile races, and even two marathons. I also can tell the years that provided particular challenges to my health as well as demands on my time. My fewest days working out and highest weight came during my first year as a college president. Go figure.

In the early 1970’s joggers were uncommon, and it was not rare to have a coke can tossed my way and an occasional epithet, but over time, joggers became a regular part of the landscape, shoes improved and I began to run farther and farther. I also piled up an impressive list of injuries including but not limited to Achilles heel problems, numerous knee problems (one requiring surgery) , plantar fasciitis, shin splints, tendonitis, illio tibial band syndrome, and some I cannot spell or pronounce. I have worn custom orthotics for thirty years, before there was a cool factor associated with them. Despite that, exercise has given me far more pleasure and good health than my injuries have given me trouble.

There was a time when I would talk about running and health for hours. Anymore, it is not much more interesting than brushing my teeth, that is, it is just a part of my life. I have long since given up any semblance of competitiveness, not that I was ever all that competitive as a runner anyway, and I have moved more to the Stairmaster, elliptical, and cycling machines to preserve my knees.

The latest influence on my fitness regime is Denny Rubin. Denny teaches a “slow lift” class at the YMCA. Runners are notoriously weak in the upper body for the simple reason that we would rather run or for that matter do almost anything else than lift weights. Actually, I have always hated lifting weights. But now even Kenneth Cooper has admitted to the wisdom of building muscle, especially for older people, like me. So it was that my wife and daughter convinced me to go along with them to a class for that purpose. The very first night that I reluctantly attended Denny said, “We are going to do something tonight that we have never done. We are going to do 100 repetitions of these exercises.” “Great,” I thought. The first one was 100 wall squats holding weights. He was kind enough to add that we would stop if someone said they needed to stop, like that was going to happen! It kind of went downhill from there. I was so sore for the next three days that I could hardly walk or lift my limbs. However, I was hooked. Now, work permitting I am at the “Y” on Tuesday nights doing push ups, wall sits, planks and the like. Denny has an infectious enthusiasm for this torture and since he is older than me and does these exercises along with the class without breaking a sweat, I can’t complain too much. I would not go so far as to say it is fun, but it feels great…… when it’s over.

I had the opportunity to meet both Kenneth Cooper and Frank Shorter. Kenneth Cooper came to our campus in Louisiana twice and I went to his clinic in Dallas once. At his clinic I stayed on the Balke treadmill stress test for 28 minutes which placed me in the superior category for my age at the time. During his visit to our campus I interviewed Dr. Cooper for a television program. We jogged along behind a truck carrying the camera while he answered my questions.

My Life in the Fitness Lane

Frank Shorter came to town to help promote our United Way fund drive. As president of the local YMCA I was invited to go on a morning run with him and a few others. I showed up wearing Moss Brown running shorts. Since he had his own running line then I took a little ribbing from him as he noted how much that dated me. I think Moss Brown had been out of business for some time. After about four eight minute miles that would take us over one bridge into Pineville and back across another bridge back into Alexandria someone asked if this was a typical pace. Surprisingly he said he ran at about that pace when training and did his fast interval work on a track. Someone then said, “how about kicking it up Frank. Show us how fast you run in a marathon.” The last time I saw Frank Shorter, he was a dot against the Alexandria skyline. I turned around and jogged back to the college where I took a shower and told everyone I had just come off a training run with Frank Shorter…. and I hung with him for about four miles!