The Obsessed Fortysomething Runner: Ways in Which Running is Useful

zombies hate fast food 2Whether we’re fast or slow, many of us runners love running for its own sake — the serenity and freedom of movement, the runners’ high, the sense of accomplishment. Or perhaps it’s the health benefits. Or it’s the thrill of racing.

But of course there are many other ways to achieve those benefits: swimming, cycling, weightlifting, and others. Are there ways in which running is useful beyond the physical and psychic benefits?

Here are a few examples that I’ve identified:

Survival of the fastest

Most readers are probably familiar with the joke about the two hikers who come across an angry bear. One of them starts changing into running shoes. The other one says, “What are you doing? You can’t outrun a bear!” And the first one responds, “No, but I can outrun you!”

Bears, crocodiles, zombies, whatever. . . . As long as you aren’t hiking with the likes of Brian Bernier or Joe Dudman, chances are that if you’re a runner, you’ll be able to outrun your hiking companions. Of course, if your hiking companions are non-running friends or family, well, it might be hard to sacrifice them. All the more reason to get your friends and family to become runners!

Getting away from the angry dad (mostly for teenage boys?)

Related to the idea of outrunning the bear is getting away from the angry dad:

Better hope that dad isn’t a dedicated Masters runner!

Escaping the police

I watch a lot of television, mostly serialized dramas or competitive reality TV (i.e., “Survivor,” which, come to think of it, is kind of a serialized drama). I particularly like action-oriented shows such as “24” and “The Shield.” Invariably in such shows, bad guys will try to flee from law enforcement. And even if it’s a uniformed police officer weighed down by 30 pounds of equipment, the bad guys get chased down.

C’mon, bad guys! You get a head start, and your adversary is running with 30 extra pounds? Remember, according to Runner’s World, every extra pound slows you down by about 2 seconds/mile. So roughly speaking, that police officer is running a minute per mile slower!

(Come on, William Shatner is awesome, but shouldn’t bad guys who train be able to outrun him? Based on the clip at the 1:20 mark, I guess not….)

Maximizing your time at Disney

On a recent trip to Disney, my family faced a dilemma. The stand-by line for one desired ride was tolerably long, but the “Fastpass” window for another ride was already nearing the realistic end of our day (given little ones). And that other ride was clear on the other side of the park.

Solution: have Daddy (me) run to the other ride to get the Fastpass and hope to get back before the rest of the family (still in line for the first ride) ended up inside the building, where it would be much harder for me to cut my way back in.

Here it was not just an issue of pure footspeed and endurance, for which the run would have been relatively trivial (it turns out that Disney parks aren’t really that big; they just seem that way), but more of one of having to navigate the crowd. Fortunately, the past couple of years of racing came in handy, as I was able to draw upon my experience in weaving in and out of crowds.

Running as self-defense

As an Asian dude who grew up watching cheesy kung fu movies on television (one of the independent TV stations in Los Angeles had a seemingly endless supply of Bruceploitation flicks that aired on Saturday afternoons), I was once infatuated with the idea of getting good at kung fu or karate. It wasn’t until I got to graduate school that I ended up joining the campus karate club, and I kind of liked it for about half a year. But I couldn’t see sticking with it and training nearly every day. (Nearly every day??? Of course, running nearly every day is totally different.)

But did you know that running can actually function as a form of self-defense? I read about it in two books. Sure, they’re fiction . . . but whatever.

In Pat Conroy’s The Lords of Discipline, the narrator is a smart-ass cadet at a military school (basically The Citadel, although fictionalized into the Carolina Military Academy) who has an mutually insulting relationship with his grossly corpulent military history professor. At one point, during one of these mutual jabfests, the professor slams his hand on his desk and barks something like, “McLean (the narrator), if we had a fistfight right now, who do you think would win?” McLean, I should note, is slender and on the basketball team, and I inferred that in a straight up fight, the professor would crush him.

McLean’s response was, “I would, sir, because before the fight started, I would challenge you to a race, and when you suffered a coronary after a few steps, I would return to strike you at my leisure!” (I loved the phrasing “at my leisure,” which I directly remember from the book.)

Similarly, in John L. Parker’s Once a Runner, the protagonist is a talented college miler who ends up being kicked off the team and goes to train by himself with the help of a graduate student/track star. One night he is running in a not-so-good part of town and his plan, in the event of any trouble, is to run away at a pace that will tempt the would-be assailants to follow (as opposed to unleashing his 4-minute-mile speed) and to keep that up until they are ready to collapse, at which point he would stop and fight them.

Or you could just run away (i.e., what the bad guys in the TV shows fail to do).

Running to your true love

What if you’re a lover, not a fighter? Well, this is for you:

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