Run for your life! Sport offers more than just exercise

Posted: Sunday, October 14, 2001

I have had the privilege of running for 25 years, injury-free.

To commemorate this milestone and to celebrate the excellent health I have been blessed with, I decided to run a marathon.

Last October while returning from a meeting in Portland, I was reading about the Portland Marathon and decided that would be the one for me.

As with many pursuits, much of the joy was in the journey. While I was training between May and September, I enjoyed some incredible long Sunday runs.

One Sunday I observed moose, caribou and at the end of my run a lynx ran across the road. My senses seemed heightened while running. I was treated frequently to the scent of woods and highbush cranberries.

Achieving this goal was not without sacrifice. I had no idea training for a marathon would require such an investment of time. In the 25 years I have been running, I wish I had worked on running faster.

Since I am not a competitive runner and my goal for the marathon was to finish the distance, I trained at a 9-minute per mile pace. This meant on days I would have normally been hiking, canoeing, camping or picking berries, I was building up miles toward the 26.2-mile distance.

Even though I trained alone, I wasn't without support. Fortun-ately I have a longtime friend who is an exercise physiologist. I couldn't have accomplished my goal without her.

Because I have run all these years without injury I wasn't about to risk hurting myself over what was supposed to be a celebration of good health. When muscle fatigue was the problem, she recommended I eat more food. That solved that.

When I built up to 20-mile runs, I started having various aches, but she had solutions for those as well.

Incredibly after 20 miles, it felt as though I had crossed through a threshold and all the aches subsided. Not only did my friend keep me injury-free, she was my cheerleader.

Running the marathon with 7,000 other people was an incredible feeling. I felt as though I was in a river and all the energy was moving in one direction -- toward the finish line.

While running in the marathon, I reflected back on the 25 years I was celebrating. I don't remember making a conscious decision that I was going to begin running. What I do remember is that in 1976 when our great country was celebrating the bicentennial, I was living in Mexico and my friends would drive me to the country so I could run in the woods.

I have had so many experiences over the years running with friends, my pet dogs and exploring interesting places on foot. As I reviewed my history and I recognized that I truly did have cause to celebrate, I never questioned that I would finish.

The temperature in Portland was warmer than what I had trained in, so that day I set the goal first to finish and secondly to complete the marathon in 4 hours and 15 minutes.

My finish time was 4 hours, 11 minutes and 18 seconds.

As I crossed the finish line I celebrated this accomplishment in the same tradition in which I've celebrated each daily run for the past 25 years. Whether it is 3, 5, 10 or 26.2 miles, I reach my hands to the sky saying out loud, "We made it!" and I give thanks for the health I've been given to enjoy this wonderful sport -- running.

Linda Athons is an agent at the Alaska Cooperative Extension office on Kalifornsky Beach Road in Soldotna. She is a home economist and involved in the 4-H/Youth Development programs.

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