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Dr. J. on Running

On the Tenth Year, I Ran

What Else?

Published May 3, 1999 in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

Ten years ago, at the conclusion of an intense academic year, I scheduled my first physical examination. My doctor summarized my health in one sentence: "At age 31, you have the body of a 60-year old."

My vital measurements - weight, blood pressure, glucose, cholesterol and resting high rate - were all above normal. He gave me a simple choice: "Exercise or die."

On that fateful morning, I started running. I wore sneakers and walked out of the door. I jogged a couple of blocks when I saw my neighbor running in the opposite direction.

"May I join you?" I asked. "Sure."

We ran together an entire city block before the pains in my lungs and legs convinced me to call it a day. Embarrassed but not defeated, I went out early the following morning. I jogged and walked alternate blocks. Two days later, I joined my neighbor again. This time, we ran two blocks before I went into oxygen deficit.

Over the following four weeks, I alternated lonely jogs under the cover of darkness with heroic runs with my neighbor. Gradually, I built up my jogs to two miles. My neighbor convinced me to enter the two-mile Strawberry Run. The winner was a 60-year old colleague. I finished in 16 minutes, 48 seconds.

That first race transformed me from jogger into runner, and gave me courage to tackle my first 5K. On the Fourth of July, I stood in the back of the Cazenovia race. I finished the race in just under 25 minutes. I was hooked on running.

The summer of '89 transformed me from an overweight intellectual to an obsessed runner. I approached running with the same tenacity I approached tenure. I read my first running book. In the weeks that followed, my neighbor became my running partner.

We gradually increased our daily runs to four miles. We ran hill repeats Tuesdays and speed intervals Thursdays. We increased the Saturday run to a long six-miler on odd weekends, and entered 5K races on even weekends. On Sundays, we walked for an hour. My compulsion transformed us into racers. I planned the workouts and selected the races, while my partner ran away with the trophies.

On my first running anniversary, I returned to my doctor for another checkup. The results were different from the previous year. I was 25 pounds lighter. My resting heart rate, blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol levels were at the low end of the scale. I was ecstatic; my doctor was puzzled.

A few years later, when my fortunes changed and my days turned into trials, running remained the one constant in my life. I switched from reading training manuals to reading George Sheehan's running theology. Every morning, I ran for an hour, seeking redemption for my body and peace for my soul. A shower after the run provided a physical and a spiritual cleansing, and prepared me for the day.

Life is a lot kinder today. I continue to run and to race. The initial euphoria of meeting my partner in the morning has worn off. The obsessive compulsion of setting PR's on the weekend is gone. I run regularly, but I feel no guilt when I take time off.

I still race occasionally. Racing is the moment of truth when body and soul come together to reward commitment or punish laziness. My recent performances have been mixed, at best.

My partner has retired from racing, but continues to run. Our paths have diverged, but we still run together occasionally. The energy that fueled our morning workouts turned many people around us into runners. In our footsteps, our children have carried the flame onto the trails and the tracks, and through their running, we celebrate missed opportunities and live out unfulfilled ambitions.

Kamal Jabbour commemorated his tenth anniversary with a nostalgic 4-miler for old times' sake. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. He maintains The Syracuse Running Page and receives email at jabbour@syr.edu.


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