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The Observer paper 12/24/14

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Story and photos by Chris Baxter of The Observer

So what do you think about running?

If given the choice between running a mile or having a root canal without Novocaine, would you have to flip a coin?

Do you believe that the term "fun run" vies with such venerable terms as "military intelligence" or "journalistic integrity" for the crowning, quintessential epitome of an oxymoron?

If you answered yes to either of these questions then maybe you should read on.

Personally, I started running just to burn off some of that seemingly inexhaustible excess of youthful energy that my very sedentary day-job couldn't begin to use up.

But now that those days of superfluous energy are but pleasant memories, I realized I had come to love running for many reasons.

I thought I'd list a few in hopes of, if not wholly reversing an anti-running mindset, at least softening the harsh edges a bit.

First the obvious.

I run because it brings me at least a little nearer to that, for me, fabled state of "fitness."

I've experienced various degrees of fitness in my life, even advanced degrees (the prefix "un" comes to mind here), and I can say without a doubt it feels physically and mentally so much better when I run even minimally.

"But is it worth all that pain and torture?" you might ask.

Sure, I will admit that there is a completely stupid and unfair natural law that states, when it comes to raising our fitness level, some amount of effort will need to be expended. But nowhere does it say it has to be of the "tortuous" type.

Actually I've heard it said by many fitness experts that for us average non-competitive types, if you are too winded to carry on a coherent conversation with a running partner then you are needlessly pushing yourself too hard.

Unless maybe you are Roger Bannister Jr. or are training for the next summer Olympics, running should be a painless, torture-free time.

Uncomfortable gasping for breath is not a requisite for physical benefit. Just get that heart rate up a bit for a while.

Another reason I love to run is because I'm cheap. Other than maybe an initial investment in some decent running shoes the activity is free.

I was considering taking up biking until I discovered how much a bike costs these days. Just a semi-decent one costs more than my first car did. (Come to think of it, more than my present car is worth.)

So with that knowledge I bought a pair of quality running shoes and with the money saved immediately upgraded my car.

But even otherwise disciplined, no-nonsense runners can find themselves manipulated by the latest Nike ads into spending beaucoupe bucks to keep up with the latest jogging fashionware.

That's where being fashion-challenged comes in extremely handy. Any t-shirt will do.

Unless, that is, you are running in a veritable Mecca for runners.

Yes, my running life began, probably not coincidentally, while living in the legendary land of Pre and Bowerman and Hayward Field — Eugene.

You can get away with being fashion-challenged in La Grande's running world but it's a different story in the cutting-edge running culture of Eugene.

As I ran the popular trails and streets of Eugene I could see out of the corner of my eye Salazar and Slaney and the rest of their world-class ilk and world-class wannabes sniggering and pointing as they flew by me. They in a neon-blur of their state-of-the-art Gortex and pairs of $900 Nike-sponsored Anti-Gravity shoes and me in one of my sweat-soaked 3-for-$10 logo-less t-shirts and one shoe with a little bit of the rubber sole flapping loosely.

I soon found myself a running pariah, which turned out to be a blessing because of where I found my running refuge: in the country.

From my first mile of peaceful, gently rolling, nature-lined country roads just outside of town I knew I'd found my running home for good and a reason to keep running.

Nature quickly began opening itself up to me. Instead of just passing trees I began seeing an oak an ash and a willow.

Instead of just passing flowers I began seeing wild roses, larkspur and foxglove.

Instead of just passing birds I began seeing kestrels, goldfinches and cedar waxwings.

Instead of just noticing whether it was warm or cold, wet or dry, I began seeing the weather. The clouds, wind, rain and sun, all continually mixing and blending to provide an infinite variety of settings in which to run and be amazed.

Spring's miraculous displays of new growth.

Summer's heavily scented fields and heavenly, warm evenings.

Fall's crisp days sprinkled with the silent falling of vividly colored leaves.

Winter's brisk tingle of snow-hinting breezes.

Every season dazzling the senses with its own unique magic.

Regardless of the setting, running gives me time and space to think and renew.

Problems have been solved, questions formed, goals set and peace of mind found during my peaceful hours of running.

And finally, I run because I can.

I have come to appreciate this amazing blessing of simply being physically able to do so.

I know this is a blessing not experienced by many and who would consider this blessing anything but simple.

In some ways I run for them.

So here are just a few reasons we run.

Hopefully it shows that we aren't necessarily sadists or crazy.

Now I'm not talking about those people, like a relation of mine for instance, who run those all-night 100-mile mountain endurance-type races just because they're there.

They passed the "Entering Crazy" sign around 95 miles back in my book.

I'm sorry.

I think that last crack veered from the spirit of mutual understanding I am trying to cultivate so I will retract it.

So anyway, now when you see one of those people out running the streets and roads of our towns and valley your first thought shouldn't be "what in the world possesses these people to do that?"

Because now you have a good idea of the answer.

And if you've never tried it yourself, you might give it a shot one of these glorious Grande Ronde Valley mornings or evenings.

You never know.

You might even discover a "fun-run" isn't quite as oxymoronic as you thought.

Bob Pickett — "For my heart. I had a bypass a few years back. I've just had a knee operation too and right now I'm just testing it and trying to get back into running carefully."

Jessica Hanley — "For my health mainly. But I love just getting outside and enjoying the fresh air in the early morning. Especially with a friend, although she ditched me this morning."

Paxti Waite — "I'm just starting because I can feel myself getting out of shape and I don't want to die of a heart attack when I play sports."

Arlee Hoyt — "I've been running about six years now mainly to keep in shape. It helps relieve stress. And getting married next month provides some nice incentive too."

"I started running in high school competitively but now I run because it keeps me in shape for hiking and my other physical activities. And it's easy to fit it into my day." – Hanley Jenkins

"I started running in high school to lose weight and have been running ever since. It relieves stress, gives me time to think and you can do it anywhere. And it's fun!" – Lisa Freeland


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