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Dr. J. on Running

Let's Go

When Will You Run Today?

Published September 25, 2000 in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

When I wake up in the morning, I take inventory of my surroundings, and decide if I have had a good night's sleep. I make note of where I am, the time of day, the day of week, and what my commitments are for the day. I suspect most of us travel through a similar checklist.

We are creatures of habit and societal expectations. We collate the spatial and temporal attributes of our surroundings to a compartmentalization of our lives. By the time we are adults, we are conditioned to a rhythm that defines who we are and how we live. Most of us plan our days around our commitments and our role in society. We are in charge of the work of others, we manage systems, we operate machinery, we control our destiny. We spend a great deal of time optimizing our time and becoming proficient at our work, which in turn defines who we are. Whatever happened to the child in each of us?

As babies, we lived by the rhythm of our biological needs. We ate, slept and excreted on schedule. The consistency and timing of these activities allowed our parents a few hours of sleep each night, or at least a few hours spread over the work week.

When we became toddlers, we learned to control many of our bodily functions. Some of us were more successful than others, and that forced us to get out of the house to develop our motor skills. We learned to crawl, run, walk, and run again, often with our parents in pursuit.

Before we could attend school, we were tested for our ability to remember important facts, dress ourselves, use a toilet and sit for long periods of time. As we matured, the length of time we were required to sit became longer. Our attention span in grade school went from fifteen minutes at a time, to fifty minutes by high school. Even with short breaks; our young bodies were kept in relative non-motion for too long.

By college, many classes increased to one and one half-hours long. For laboratory studies and graduate classes, the length of time required for mental composure and inaction can reach three hours long.

Studies indicate that the average student, and all of mine are above average, has an attention span of 12 minutes. I suspect that is why I remember only 12 minutes of Sunday morning's sermon, and why I feel the need to startle my students with a joke or a quiz every 12 minutes.

Our educational system has evolved to require a physical education component. We require our youth to become active and maintain healthy lifestyles, as well as develop mental acuity. We award course credits to encourage students to relearn motor skills, yet we celebrate spectator sports during homecomings, and reward inactivity throughout college.

By the time we become adults, we learn to control our bodies' motion. We reward ourselves by eating fast foods that allow us to get to the next location quickly, so we can be motionless again. We watch sports on television and read about physical fitness from self-help books. We may occasionally chase our children as they learn to manage the natural urge to run.

It is time to take back our lives, to give up obligations, and to relinquish automatic control.

I have added an item to my morning mental reality checklist. Whatever my day holds in store for me, my schedule revolves around running. When will I run today? When will I eat to avoid fainting or vomiting? Will I shower after my run, or will it keep my meetings short? Will I coincide my run with that of friends and partners? Will I have the right clothes to wear? I must run today.

When you wake up tomorrow morning and take inventory of your day, will you make time to reclaim your natural urges to run? Let go. Let's go. When will you run today?

Kamal Jabbour runs and writes on the hills of Pompey, New York. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. Dr.J. created, webcasting live Every Lap of Every Race. He receives email at

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