RELIGION: The runner

Driving the bus early in the morning, watching the sun rise, I see a lot of runners out on the streets. One I see quite frequently is my fellow columnist Jeremy DeGroot getting his mileage in before he begins his duties as lead pastor of the First Baptist Church of Siloam.

When I see him, I experience a brief moment of nostalgia and then angst. The nostalgia? Many years ago I was an avid runner. While I never did marathon distances I could go 12 to 14 miles without any lasting detrimental effects. I would usually go four to six miles before supper on weekdays and eight or more miles on Saturdays. I ran local 5k and 10k races, and although I rarely took home any trophies it didn't matter. I loved being out on the roads, in all kinds of weather, testing myself against the elements and the limits of my own physical capabilities. And there were other benefits, of course. Being in top physical shape was an important one. But the one I loved the most was the ability to eat like a horse and not gain weight.

And then I turned 40. And I began to notice several problematic running "issues" all happening at the same time. I began to get slower, and although I didn't really view that as a serious problem, it also limited the time I could spend on the roads, and thus limited my mileage. The result was a cascade effect, each issue leading to another until my mileage was reduced to a couple of miles a day, two or three times a week.

And, on top of it all, I began to gain weight.

I could live with all of that, and did for a while, until a new problem presented itself: pain. When I hit 50, my hips began to hurt after running sessions. I tried to ignore it, but eventually it became incessant and began to affect other areas of my life.

The final epiphany came one Sunday morning while I was sitting in church. I had done heavy mileage the day before and my hips were letting me know it had not been a good idea. I kept shifting in the pew, but couldn't for the life of me get comfortable. Finally, Tammy elbowed me in the ribs and whispered, "Stop moving around. Everybody's staring at you." Apparently my Baptist brothers and sisters were thinking I was about to go charismatic on them and were getting a little nervous.

And then it hit me: time to stop running. And sitting in that pew I made the sorrowful decision to hang up the running shoes. Within a week the pain in the hips went away never to return. And while I can't say the decision made me happy, it did open up new possibilities for maintaining my health that didn't result in constant discomfort or attracting unwanted attention in church.

But still, watching runners on the street makes me want to be out there with them, feeling the fatigue, wiping the sweat from my eyes, smelling the flowers and loving every moment. To be alive and immersed in creation. I really miss that.

Doug Chastain is a retired teacher and large-vehicle transportation specialist for the Siloam Springs School District. (OK, he drives a bus.) He is also a grass maintenance technician at Camp Siloam. (Yeah, he mows the lawn.) You can contact him at [email protected].