Why are so many people running?

Running is a fad. You’re admired when you do it. You admire yourself.

Running is more than a fad. People are sticking with it. I hear proclamations of. “It’s changed my life.”

Why do I run? I hardly miss a day of running now. There’s no finer way to know a day than by running it.

Sweat feels good.

The wind feels good.

The sun feels good.

My lungs feel good. I breathe clean. I breathe hard. The ground feels good. The dirt, the sand, the grass, the track.

My legs feel sore.

Can I make it? Why not slow down here? No.

Why not stop here and just blow my nose? No.

Running is discipline and running is pain. I’ve learned no better way to come face to face with my own vulnerabilities. And by pushing through the vulnerabilities I come into strength. I take my measure. Come on, are you gonna give in? Stick it out. Keep going.

Running can be competition. But, finally, you’re competing against yourself.

Running. We do it all the time anyway. It’s a condition of the century. Our power lies in our choice of how to run. If we take up the discipline of the sport, as a result we may start running slower through the rest of our lives.

Chapel Hill is a favored area for running. The clubs are getting stronger. Collegiate track is exciting. There have been big International meets here and there will be more. There are beautiful trails around town. There are comfortable city streets. There are lots of fellow runners no matter what one’s level of achievement, ability, effort, or gift.

What’s the difference between running and jogging? “It’s an attitude,” a friend says. “Jogging is the fad. Nothing bugs me more than to bust myself out for an eight mile run one day and to bump into someone the next day who says, ‘Oh, I saw you out jogging.’ ”

Running is a good way of letting myself know I’m living. Running is freedom itself. Just barely though, because I’ve only recently gotten into good enough shape where I can sustain a two or three mile run at a loose and open, relaxed and consistent, attentive and strong stride. Running teaches me the tricks of mental mastery. Daily I’m shown that weaknesses can be firmed. Daily I’m renewed, daily I’m released. With running now, the very act of holding myself together and pushing myself forward also allows me to let myself go. I pour forth. I plod through. I work. I push. And it’s all just pure me.

* * *

If in junior high school Peter Klopfer ran at all, it was as punishment for misbehavior. In high school he ran to get in shape for soccer but he never found running especially pleasurable. In college and graduate school, he went through a long period of inactivity. He became a faculty biologist at Duke. On a field trip he barely escaped being trampled to death by a charging, 3,000 pound bull elephant seal. He resolved that he had to get fit. Around that time, Al Buehler (who later became coach for the U. S. Track team in the ’72 Olympics) became head track coach at Duke. He introduced Klopfer to cross-country running. Klopfer’s students dared him to enter a local 4th of July road race and to his surprise he placed fifth out of a field of respectable competitors. Klopfer got hooked on competition. That was twelve years ago. He is now 48 and considers his best event the 10 kilometer or 6.2 mile race. His best time for the mile is five minutes, one and a half seconds; for the 26 mile marathon it’s two hours, fifty-two minutes, and twenty-seven seconds; and for 10 kilometers it’s thirty-six minutes and six seconds.

Klopfer has a highly developed scientific approach to training. He now uses computers to help him determine the types of exertion needed to reach particular goals. He is generous, conscientious and competent with advice to fellow runners, of all levels.

Martha Klopfer started running more than ten years ago at the age of 32, largely, she says, because of Peter’s enthusiasm. She’d managed the family farm, done a lot of heavy outdoor work and rode horses often. She didn’t think at first that she especially needed running, but she, too, was soon hooked. Coach Al Buehler describes her as one of the best women distance runners of her age in the world. She’s a manager for the Duke Track Club and a mentor for many women in the area. She’s beautiful. She has raised three daughters, who run too. A few years back she won a gold medal in the 1500 meters ( the metric mile) at the World Master’s Competition in Toronto. (The equivalent of the Olympics for those over forty.) She considers the 1500 meters her best event. Her best time for the mile is five minutes, thirty and two-tenths seconds; for the marathon it’s three hours, nine minutes, and eleven seconds; and for 10 kilometers, it’s forty minutes and eleven seconds.

SUN: There’s been an enormous interest in running the last few years. Why?

PETER: A combination of reasons. Certainly it’s become a fad. To the extent that people have been fenagled to run as part of the modern social scene, the number will diminish. A certain number of those people who have been seduced by the fashionable aspects of running, the sporty shoes and clothing, probably will stay with running. Because the physical benefits are demonstrable and unequivocal. Once you get over the threshold of the initial pain and boredom, the benefits of running are so obvious and so palpable that the activity is going to persist even in the absence of the secondary reinforcements.

A second major factor I think contributing to the recent rise in running is a very effective educational campaign by a variety of organizations dealing with the need to overcome through exercise the ill effects of sedentary lives. While there are a lot of ways that the effects of sedentary lives can be overcome, running is the least complicated, the least costly, requires the least amount of planning, organization, physical coordination, and skill. You can’t play tennis without many lessons, a tennis court and costly equipment. You can realize very quickly that there are jolly few things you can do to get some physical activity that are as easy and as inexpensive as running. The increase in running is attributable to this growing consciousness of what a high-fat, high-alcohol, low-activity diet does to one’s ability to enjoy life. At Duke, for example, I’d say 50% of the people down on the track are motivated by a desire to be healthy. Some of those come to find running relaxing, enjoyable and a satisfactory end in itself. Probably a great number of them don’t get any pleasure out of running per se. But they will persist in running because it’s a means to an end, the end being living longer, feeling better, having fewer diseases and other malaises.

I think then there’s a third factor that’s contributed to the increase in running. And this factor probably accounts for the smallest proportional increase, though it’s still a very potent one and that is the growing excitement in competitive athletics at an amateur level which is seen in this country as a result of the increased exposure given to olympic and collegiate events. It’s not just running. The coverage of the Olympics the last three times has been increasingly more complete and more lavish than previous years. This has turned more and more people on to participant athletics as opposed to just professional spectator sports. You see this in the increased number of children who are participating in competitive swim programs, and soccer leagues. So it’s not just restricted to running, it’s general. More young people in particular have been induced to train seriously because they sense the pleasures that are a part of participation at these highly competitive events such as the Olympics.

Locally there’s been a particularly potent spur given this development because of the several world class meets that we’ve had. There were the Martin Luther King Games, the Pan African Games and the East German-Russian meet. These events have had a tremendous impact on the community. The community is so small, the participants are not as remote from the spectators as they would be if the meets were in New York or in Philadelphia. In the last meet the spectators swooped down on the fields and snake danced with the athletes. There’s no question but that these sorts of events have focussed attention on track and have incited a lot of people to come out and run who might otherwise have never dreamed of doing it except perhaps at a doctor’s prescription. So here’s a purely local factor that’s tended to reinforce these national trends.

SUN: What kind of advice can you give for someone who is just starting out?

MARTHA: Get a good pair of shoes.

SUN: How do you decide on a good pair of shoes?

PETER: You talk to someone who knows about shoes and who knows about feet.

SUN: The two don’t necessarily go hand in hand, do they?

PETER: No. But there are people who know both.

SUN: Where?

PETER: Well, Jeff Houser at the Athletic Attic on Franklin Street, for example.

There are certain characteristics you look for in a good running shoe which apply across the board. For a beginning runner in particular you look for good shock absorbing quality. You look for a slightly elevated heel, you look for a very stable heel cup, you look for a good solid shank, you look for a certain resistance to flexion in the metatarsal area, you look for reasonably good wear and longevity. Shoes that meet those criteria most satisfactorily in my judgement are the Brooks Villanova, New Balance, the Lydiard Road Runner or the Etonic.

Beyond that, I think it’s necessary to recognize that the early stages of running will often lead to a false euphoria. Initially it hurts, it’s painful. And then very quickly it becomes effortless and painless. That phase often tempts people to accelerate their training schedules. When injuries occur with beginning runners it’s almost invariably at that point. It’s very worthwhile to get a beginning running program, and a fairly conservative one, and then stick to it religiously. There are many programs. Martha and I have developed one which takes a sedentary person and presents the goal of running three miles in 25 minutes or less. We take twelve weeks to get the runner to that point. You could achieve the goal in half that time or less, but the probability of injury would be vastly increased. Some might be injured only temporarily, but some might have cartilaginous injuries that would take a long time to heal.

So the second element, after shoes, is guidance from someone who knows about training programs. The guidance can be achieved from books on the subject. You don’t have to have a coach. Runner’s World for example, has a number of books. Beginning Running is one. There’s not just any one formula to be followed. There is a certain degree of consistency required, though. The program should achieve a balance between training for endurance, training for speed, and training for strength. These are terms which refer to totally different physiological systems. One refers to the ability to handle anaerobic stress, one refers to the ability to store glycogen, one refers to the ability to move a certain amount of mass in a short period of time. The exercises that are involved in enhancing these abilities are very specific. A good training program will balance those so you get an enhancement of all three abilities at an equal pace and in a way that’s gradual enough to minimize injury.

The third factor that’s important for a beginning runner is socialization. You don’t want to do it alone. It’s very hard to sustain the program during a period when there is a little bit of discomfort unless you get someone else to run with you. Continuity is terribly important. If you’re drumming it in twice a week you might as well forget it. You’re doing it four times a week? Well, you’re still taking three steps forward and two steps backward. Six times a week is okay. Seven times a week is best.

The fourth thing, to which I am increasingly giving greater emphasis, is an examination early on by a competent sports podiatrist. I’ve been impressed with the high proportion of individuals who seem perfectly fit and who, in fact, have seemingly minor asymmetries or deformities in their lower limbs. One foot may be slightly shorter than the other, for example. Fairly trivial disabilities which you’d normally never expect to give you trouble until you’ve started running.

SUN: Are there some good podiatrists around here?

PETER: There are very few podiatrists who know about running in particular. The two best are located in Boston and San Francisco respectively — Sheenan and Subotnik. One of Subotnik’s former associates has recently opened an office in Chapel Hill, Richard Lotwin (888 East Franklin Street). He’s incredibly helpful to vast numbers of runners in this area.

SUN: Martha, do you have anything to add to this advice?

MARTHA: Yeah, one thing I’ve noticed. While the training program has got to have consistency, still, it has to have built into it a certain amount of flexibility so that one can enjoy it.

PETER: The program that I’ve worked out, for example, never has the runner doing the same thing on consecutive days. If it’s on the track one day it will be cross-country the next.

MARTHA: On the track workouts there are options too. There are various ways of getting at the type of exercise that you need. You can choose from a range of distances and speeds. Also, it’s basically a matter, when you’re committed to running every day, or most of the time, that you’re not really worried about the occasional day off, because you know the next day you’ll come back and run again.

PETER: I think with the beginning runner, if you don’t feel like you want to do it, you should still put on your running shoes and just go out and jog slowly. The putting on the running shoes and going outside and moving, that has to become automatic. If you get into the habit where you stop and ask, “Well, am I going to run or not?” then the decision is one added decision that has to be made above and beyond the decision of what you’re going to do when you run. The more decisions that are in your way, the less pleasurable it’s going to be, the more difficult it’s going to be to sustain your running during the or inevitable down periods. So I strongly believe that if you make your commitment to be a runner, even if it’s only three miles in 25 minutes, you tell yourself “I’m going out there every day rain or shine.” This is for the beginner who’s not yet hooked. Once you’re hooked it can be a different matter. Until you get to that point I think it’s certainly much easier to give yourself the freedom of not having to decide, “Well, am I going to do it today or not?”

When I got to a certain level of fitness, where I could get long distances without pain or strain, the mere physical sensations of moving freely without encumbrance in an environment of my choosing became absolutely addictive. I’m sure that every distance runner you’ve talked to has expressed the kind of joy that comes from having the mastery of body that allows you to float freely through pleasant areas. There are very few other types of activities which give one that total freedom.

SUN: What’s your assessment of the local running scene?

PETER: It’s very lively, there are opportunities for peope of all ages, sexes, levels of ability or interest. You can be a clinically obese patient at the Duke rice clinic or you can be a 3:57 miler looking for an Olympic berth. There’s a place to run and a coach to work with no matter who you are.

SUN: A coach to work with? You have a coach to work with because you’re at Duke. But what about someone who’s not connected with a university?

PETER: You can still find help. If you’re a youngster there’s the Junior Strider program in Durham. If you’re an older person you can join the Du-Pac program. You don’t have to have university connections. The YMCA has a jogging program. And then the clubs. While they themselves don’t provide formal coaching, through them you can meet the people who can inform you, can provide you with the kind of guidance and companionship that’s necessary. The Duke Track Club, for instance, is open to anybody at any level. We’ll provide coaching assistance for the rank beginner and for the highly competitive varsity runner. In Chapel Hill, just go to the track, and I’m sure you’ll find someone who’s knowledgeable and experienced and willing to help you. I think the scene here is just terrific. Things are getting better all across the across country for running but my experience has been on university campuses that the opportunities for running, for getting help with running, for companionship and for competing are as good or better right here than anywhere else.

MARTHA: The general acceptance of running around here is very high. And the weather factor is good. You can pretty much run all year round.

PETER: Ten years ago it was a rare sight to see runners on the road. People used to throw beer cans at me as they drove by. Now runners are given the right of way almost. Here motorists are so used to seeing runners on the roads at all times of the night and day, they’re alerted to them, they look out for them, and by and large they’re very courteous to them. Runners aren’t hoo-haaed any longer.

SUN:What’s the value of competition? Why compete?

PETER: Let’s assume in the beginning that the important thing for you as a runner, apart from the purely physical aspects, is the grappling with the question, how good can I be? How far can I push myself? Of course you can’t ask yourself that question but occasionally, because it’s quite a feat to get the answer. In fact, as you improve more and more, it becomes so painful that the pain is too much to bear alone. Some runners can do their best times when they’re all alone on the track with someone holding a stopwatch. They are the minority. For most of us, the pain of making that occasional effort to answer the question — have I gotten any better — is too great to bear alone.

Competition distracts you from the pain. You’re coming around that last turn, your lungs feel like they’re going to explode. Your muscles feel as if someone has hit them with a sledge hammer. There’s this guy next to you with his jaw hanging down and his eyes glazed, his arms drooping as if they were made of rubber. You say to yourself — boy, he’s hurting even more than I am but he’s still pulling ahead of me. If he can do it, I’ll be darned if I can’t. It’s not a matter of beating the other guy. There are very few runners I’ve known, hardly any, who have the sort of vindictiveness you’d see and have to expect among say tennis players, where you can’t win a match unless you’ve defeated someone else. Among runners, the desire to do a little better is really a reflection of one’s own belief that one is just as good as these other guys. So if they finish ahead of you that’s a reflection upon your own inner strength and capabilities. It’s, “By golly if they can do it why can’t I? They’re hurting as much as I am!” So you make yourself go that little bit farther, that little bit harder. And it hurts. But you can bear the pain because you know that everyone else is hurting too. Competition is just the means to aid you to push yourself to the zenith of your abilities. While I don’t deny the ego satisfaction I get from winning, and I do enjoy the recognition, it really isn’t terribly important to me. I’d much much rather lose a race where I’d been pulled along a little bit faster than I otherwise would have by someone better than me than I would win a race with a poorer time because there was nobody there making me bear a little more pain and work a little harder.

The beauty of track is that you have that watch which is the absolute arbiter of performance. So everybody can win in a race, you see, if they’ve all improved their personal records. You’ve seen this in track meet after track meet, there’s the guy who comes in last but it’s a personal record for him. He gets as much applause from his buddies as the guy who won.

MARTHA: Granted there are moments during a race of very heavy stress. Still, your overall reason for competing is self-improvement. I would say fun. Satisfaction. Or something in between.

To me it’s come as a surprise to find that I have a competitive streak in me. I’ve always liked to do things well. Competition for me isn’t so much beating someone else as it is doing the best that I can. But it’s really through running that I’ve discovered an aspect of myself on the physical side that I didn’t know.

SUN: What have you discovered?

MARTHA: Well, I guess it’s the business of finding limits and pushing yourself farther than you thought you could. Next time you push a little farther and you find that that’s not the limit either and you discover a new strength. And also just the fact that you learn to really enjoy the feeling of running. On a good day when nothing’s hurting and you’re feeling strong, and going along with a good sense of rhythm and balance, there’s nothing like it.