Why To Exercise Today: The Man Who Ran His Way To Sobriety

I’m already feeling inspired.

Tune in to WBUR’s Radio Boston by about 3:45 p.m. today for a segment on Cambridge writer Caleb Daniloff’s new book, “Running Ransom Road: Confronting the Past, One Marathon at a Time.” Even if you don’t have an alcoholic past or a marathon-running present, you’ll be able to relate. You can also read an NPR post and interview with Caleb here.

I’ve just opened my brand new copy, and am grabbed. It begins:


It’s still dark out. Rain smears my bedroom window and pours off the streetlamps into icy puddles below. Drops pelt the sidewalks, splashing furiously off sheets of water as if the world has been set to boil. It’s been several days since my last run and the extra weight I’m feeling is more than last night’s pepperoni pizza. I throw back the covers and tug on socks, windpants, and a jacket. I hear that shiftless part of me whisper, This is stupid; just go back to bed. The voice that had gotten me into trouble over the years — that assured me I had room for another drink, another party to crash, could see straight enough to drive — is still persuasive, especially when the mercury reads a raw 34 degrees. Continue reading

Why To Exercise Today: If A 400-Pound Man Can Run The L.A. Marathon…

…then carrying a few extra pounds is no reason to slow down, is it?

Don’t miss this story in The Los Angeles Times today. It’s not just that sumo champion Kelly Gneiting is over 400 pounds and yet planning to run the Los Angeles marathon this Sunday. It’s that he’s facing all kinds of adversity, from lost jobs, to separation from his wife and five children in order to be able to support them, to discrimination based on his weight. But in the midst of hardship, he has set himself a goal and is working stubbornly toward it. He has something to prove. Times reporter Kurt Streeter writes:

The Fat Man is a three-time national champion sumo wrestler.

Now he has willed himself into something far more unlikely: He has become a long-distance runner. On Sunday, at the 26th Los Angeles Marathon, he wants to set a Guinness world record. Of the roughly 25,000 entrants, most of them honed into taut and sinewy shape, he hopes to be the heaviest to cross the finish line.

By far.

If he does, he says he will be sending a message to a society obsessed with being thin. “Big people,” he says, “can do the unimaginable.”

For photos of Kelly training, go to The Los Angeles Times here. And here’s a 2010 YouTube video of him doing a split:

Why To Exercise Today: Relief From Life’s Pain

Picture a Brooklyn beach in winter, bleak and melancholy. Now picture a determined older man chugging along the sand, then swimming in the dark ocean. Through his mother’s death. Through unemployment. Working to keep his demons at bay.

Life often hurts Exercise can often help. I thought this beautifully done New York Times piece on that running and swimming man, Gary Atlas of Brooklyn, captured perfectly the pain and the remedy. It’s titled “Workout for a world of grief:”

“I watched my mother die a slow and torturous death, and it wore me down mentally and physically,” Mr. Atlas, 58, recalled. “The running and swimming became my escape from the pain. She had trouble getting oxygen, so these runs and swims felt like I was breathing for both of us.”

Enid Atlas died in 2009 at age 82, but Mr. Atlas has kept up his routine in her memory. Wednesday was his 1,201st consecutive day.

Each day he runs six miles — always shirtless — up and down the length of the beach, from Brighton to Sea Gate, and then plunges into the ocean and swims out past the jetties.

Why To Exercise Today: So We Outnumber The Stony-Faced Boston Runners

This is a rant I wrote last spring just for catharsis, and today’s warm weather reminded me of it. My point: Sharing exercise with others can be a uniquely uplifting, warm feeling. Too bad more of us don’t do it with the strangers we pass on the street.

Explain this to me. We’re running around the reservoir, you and I. I’m going clockwise; you, counter-clockwise. As we approach each other, I see you, and I see you see me, and I smile in greeting. You look away. Or down at your feet. Or over my shoulder. Deadpan. Your lip doesn’t even twitch.

My first thought tends to be, Maybe you sat on a tack this morning and it’s still in your fleshy parts.

Then: Maybe it’s a chewing-gum-while-walking thing. Maybe your brain is working so hard to pump your legs that it can’t handle a smile or nod at the same time.

Maybe you’re so deep in Marathon dreams or Zen meditation that you don’t really see me. You look like you see me, but really you don’t.

Or maybe you’re suffering and don’t have a smile to share. You’re troubled or depressed, or have shin-splints and lower back pain.

Or maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m a fool to expect any answering warmth in a city known to be one of the unfriendliest in the country. If I want people who smile and greet strangers, I should move to the South or the West. I’m violating a social norm by meeting your eyes and smiling at you, and you may just find me weird.

So since I can’t understand you, I’d like to explain myself.

When I smile at you, what I’m trying to say is: Here we are, you and I, both human beings, out fighting the good fight for health and fitness and fresh air and endorphin highs. The water is sparkling and the swans are fluffing their feathers; the sky is big and the air is good and we’re so lucky to be alive and in decent enough shape to run. Yay, us!

If you don’t feel that way, that’s fine. But I’d like to let you in on a little secret. I’m not the only weirdo out there who smiles or waves. There’s a cabal of us, a club that’s always accepting new members, and we know something that you don’t:

There’s a magical moment that may come only once or twice on the long dusty path around the reservoir, but that buoys us and carries us for miles afterward. When one club member approaches another club member, and we both smile, and we look into each other’s eyes for a second, we cheer each other on as surely as the crowds who line Commonwealth Avenue cheer on the marathon front-runners. We connect. We acknowledge each other as fellow creatures both struggling to wring the best out of our resistant bodies, and glorying in the sky and water, and sure to die but right now feeling very alive.

I swear, even as I huff and puff and plug along, I experience this meeting on the path as a wash of pure pleasure that warms my laboring heart. The words that come into my head sometimes are “That was a live one!” Meaning, I suppose, that I saw a lively spirit peeking out from those eyes, and when it greeted me, I felt energized. And briefly blessed.

I’m not sure it makes sense for me to invite you to join this club. I’m not sure you can. But if you want to, there’s just one little thing you have to do….