Author: Richard Weil, MEd, CDE
"That day, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a little run. So, I ran to the end of the road, and when I got there, I thought maybe I'd run to the end of town. And when I got there, I thought maybe I'd just run across Greenbow County. And I figured since I run this far, maybe I'd just run across the great state of Alabama. And that's what I did. I ran clear across Alabama. For no particular reason, I just kept on going. I ran clear to the ocean. And when I got there, I figured since I'd gone this far, I might as well turn around, just keep on going. When I got to another ocean, I figured since I've gone this far, I might as well just turn back, keep right on going. When I got tired, I slept. When I got hungry, I ate. When I had to go, you know, I went. My mama always said you got to put the past behind you before you can move on. And I think that's what my running was all about. I had run for three years, two months, 14 days, and 16 hours."
That's from the movie Forrest Gump, when Forrest (played by Tom Hanks) runs in scene after scene after scene. The idea symbolized, among other things, the beginning of the running craze that spread across the country in the 1970s. Since then, running has captured the attention of millions of Americans. Thousands of road races and marathons occur each year, and running is the sixth most popular exercise in the United States. But you don't need to run marathons, or run continuously for three-plus years like Forrest, to gain the benefits of running. Thirty minutes a day will do! In this article, I will tell you what all the fuss is about. I'll review the history of running, how to get started, what to wear, proper posture, where to run, the risks of running, and one or two more quotes from Forrest.
What is running?
Here's the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of running: to go steadily by springing steps so that both feet leave the ground for an instant in each step. That's the key: both feet are in the air at once. During walking, one foot is always on the ground. Jogging is running slowly, and sprinting is running fast. I'll discuss both jogging and running in this article.
What's the history of running?
Human beings started walking and running some 4-6 million years ago when we evolved and rose from all fours. Ten thousand years ago, hunter-gatherers like the Tarahumara Indians in Mexico, ran 15-75 miles a day on the hunt. But it was Pheidippides (490 BC), an ancient "day-runner," who put running on the map. Pheidippides is purported to have run 149 miles to carry the news of the Persian landing at Marathon to Sparta in order to enlist help for the battle. Scholars believe the story of Pheidippides may be a myth (if the Athenians wanted to send an urgent message to Athens, there was no reason why they could not have sent a messenger on horseback), yet the myth had legs (no pun intended) and was the genesis of the modern marathon. It was the first running of the marathon (26 miles 385 yard) in the modern Olympic Games of 1896 in Athens that commemorated Pheidippides' historic run. Throughout the latter part of the 19th century, track and field, including running, took a prominent place in the field of sport. By the late 1800s, children in school were competing in running races. In the 20th century, it was the famous black sprinter Jesse Owens who, in the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany, shattered Hitler's dream of proving the superiority of the Aryan race by winning gold medals in the 100-meter dash, 200-meter dash, and the 400-meter relay. More American were spectators of running than they were participants during the era of Jesse Owens, but that has changed in the past 35 years. Runners like George Sheehan, Bill Rodgers, Jeff Galloway, Alberto Salazar, and Grete Waitz (winner of nine NYC marathons from 1978-1988 and inspiration to all women to get out there and run!) promoted running through their athletic success, and now running is solidly a popular activity for exercise as well as for sport.