by Rainer Wosnitza
I turned 40 in 2001. Like others who reach a milestone age, I spent time reflecting on aspects of my life—my health, in particular. I was in okay shape, and naively assumed the good health generally accompanying youth would continue. That attitude was wrong. The wheels on my cart were starting to wobble, and as much as I tried to ignore it, I knew my body was sending me subtle wake-up calls.
My father died of heart disease at age 46, and two uncles died when they were barely into their 40s. Genetics, it seemed, may have dealt me a concerning hand. To scare me even more, my brother-in-law had heart bypass surgery. I did not want to experience any of those scenarios. There’s nothing I can do about my genes, but after serious reflection I knew I could and should do something about my behaviour. If I died young because of a genetic predisposition to heart disease, so be it.
What I didn’t want, however, was those left behind to think, “If only he had taken better care of himself…”
The first change I made was to quit smoking. I smoked off and on for years. I had tried quitting before, once making it smoke-free for
two years, but I never managed to shake the habit for good. This time was different. I knew I was done. I could feel it.
I cleaned off the dusty stationary bicycle in the basement and started exercising. After two months, I was in a groove and could see and feel small, positive changes. Then, the control panel on the bicycle suddenly seized and it became useless. I contacted the bike’s manufacturer; a replacement part was on back order and wouldn’t be available for six weeks. I had no intention to sit idly by and watch the positive gains I made slip away. I looked for a replacement exercise.
My kids, then ages 12 and 9, were on a swim team. The sports complex where they trained also had a cardio exercise room. In addition to a few stationary bicycles, it had a number of treadmills. “That’s interesting,” I thought. “Maybe I should give running a try.” Coincidentally, right across the street from the sports complex was a Running Room store. I was fitted with a pair of running shoes by the store’s knowledgeable staff, who also recommended the book Running: Start to Finishby John Stanton. The pointers in the book helped me get started on the right foot. It was mid-February in Winnipeg then, so I confined my running to the treadmill, only migrating outdoors once the weather warmed up.
Health concerns got me started in running, but many other positive aspects of the sport came to light in the years that followed. First, running provides me “alone time” so I can think. I can sort through life events and concerns. Sometimes I get so caught up in thinking that I forget I’m running. Runs like that are almost therapeutic.
In contrast, on some runs my mind zones out and wanders off to a distant place I can’t identify; it takes a mini-vacation. I get to the end of my run and wonder how I got there as my mind was in some far-off place the entire time. It’s as if my body ran on autopilot. I don’t know much about meditation, but I imagine it’s a similar feeling.
Running has taught me about my body’s physical limits. I now listen to my body, not only when it’s screaming at me, but also when it subtly whispers. I know when to dig down deep and push, and when to back off and take it easy. I treat my body with respect and reverence. I’ve learned that diet and rest are critically important.
Running motivated me to learn more about the foods and drinks I consume, and I continue to learn more each day. I eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains. The meat I eat, which is not much, is lean. I limit saturated fats and salt, and avoid white sugar, flour, and processed foods. I avoid trans fats. I try not to drink my calories.
I have been running since 2001 for all these reasons. The challenge is what makes running special. If it were easy, everyone would do it. At the end of each run, I feel like I have accomplished something. Running is important to my health and well-being. The most important reason why I run, however, is that it makes me feel good. Whether running a half marathon with 2000 other runners, or running solo around my neighbourhood—it always feels great. I can count on feeling better at the end of a run than I did at the beginning. This is why I run.