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Classic Chronicle Archives

Originally published in Runner’s World Magazine April 2000

Personal Record

I'm going to ask for a point of personal privilege this month. For those of you who don't have your Robert's Rules of Order handy, a point of personal privilege is when, in the middle of a formal debate, someone just has to speak passionately about a topic not on the floor. So, everyone moans and let's the person wax eloquently about something that is important only to him or her.

You see, this is the 48th Chronicle to appear in Runner's World. This is the end of my fourth year in this space. This is the end of my senior year, so to speak. And this feels very much like a graduation day. It is also a personal record.

For better or worse, my life has been divided into 4-year segments. There was the traditional 4 years of high school and college. Then a 5 year stint in the Army [only because I couldn't get out], 4 years as a free lance musician, 4 years on the faculty of both the University of Illinois and Oberlin College, and 4 years as Chair of the music department at Middle Tennessee State University.

So, it's easy for me to feel like this is then end of something. 48 months seems to be about my limit. Or, maybe, it's about the limit of those who have employed me. In either case, nearly every other time I've gotten to this point I've been packing my bags.

But, not this time. This space, which started as a journal of my journey, has turned into the aggregate story of all of us who are using running as a way of changing our lives. More and more, I feel like I am telling YOUR story, not mine. In fact, many of you who started running in the last few years, don't even KNOW my story.

Some of you don't know that I didn't start running until I was 43 years old. You don't know that I was a smoker for 25 years, and drinker for at least that long, and a confirmed over eater for most of my life. Food was comfort, food was celebration, and food was joy.

Activity was punishment. My first day as a runner I owned 9 motorcycles, 2 cars, a camper, a garden tractor, and a gas powered weed whacker. My favorite pastime was sitting. I was an expert at it. My most vivid memory of myself in those days was sitting in bed watching television drinking vodka over ice, eating an ice cream bar, and smoking a cigarette…. ALL AT THE SAME TIME.

I recently found the first email exchange with Amby Burfoot, editor of Runner's World. Sounded simple enough. Write a monthly column. Nothing technical, just the observations of a former couch potato. I'm sure the rest of the editorial staff was ready to have him committed for giving an entire page to a guy whose only running credential was that he was slow, but used to be much slower and whose only other writing effort was a woefully pedantic dissertation.

But here we are, 48 months later. And, for someone like me, for whom 48 months was like a mystical barrier, I don't quite know what happens in month 49. Like those who have trained for longer distances, each time we reach some new mileage, we've reached the edge of the unknown. I am at that edge.

As with so much in my life now, I'll turn to my running for both instruction and inspiration. I will look to my feet to lead my mind, and to my legs to lead my soul. I am past where I ever thought I could be, so I don't even know what to be afraid of from this point forward.

And more than ever, I will be looking to you. This year I will be on tour again. I will travel the country in search of the runs and the runners that will nourish me, that will guide me through new experiences to new insights, and to new understandings.

I invite you to join me. We'll run as fast as we can, or as slow as we need to. We'll run on the streets of your hometown, or with 20,000 other runners at a major event. One step at a time we'll discover each other, and ourselves.

Waddle on, friends.

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