The next step: Reclaiming more of Turkey Mountain

Assorted junk someone couldn't throw in their own garbage can. So they used the woods instead.

Assorted junk someone couldn’t throw in their own garbage can. So they used the woods instead.

This weekend, the Tulsa River Parks Authority and the Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition conducted another cleanup day at Turkey Mountain, but this time it was a little different. For the first time, the efforts focused on newly acquired land that had once been pegged for commercial development.

In 2014, a 60-acre tract of land on Turkey Mountain’s west side was offered to a developer for the purpose of building an outlet mall, a plan which brought about strong local opposition. So strong, in fact, that the proposal was scrapped and the developer moved on to another site. Shortly thereafter, the land was part of a sales tax proposal that would include its purchase by the city and addition to the River Parks system.

This was a huge victory for local conservationism, and on so many levels. Green space is good for the air, prevents erosion into the watershed, and expands wildlife habitat at Turkey Mountain. More importantly, it represents a shift in thinking in terms of proper land use — where commercial development does not trump conservation, but instead works with it. And as a nice bonus, it boosts Tulsa’s growing outdoor recreation economy by expanding the trails on which people can run, hike and ride.

But a lot has happened to that parcel in the months and years since it was targeted for a shopping center.

Large vehicles used for surveying created sizable, rutted “jeep trails” throughout the property. Hundreds of trees were removed and underbrush cleared, seemingly a random. And its accessibility to a nearby road and highway made it a convenient place for illegal trash dumping.

Volunteers lift a discarded couch into a front-end loader. Old furniture seems to be a popular thing to dump in the woods.

Volunteers lift a discarded couch into a front-end loader. Old furniture seems to be a popular thing to dump in the woods.

There’s not much we can do about the first two problems. Nature and time will have to take care of that. But the three-dozen or so people who showed up for the cleanup could definitely work on the third.

The River Parks Authority brought in a tractor with a front-end loader, two commercial dumpsters and a pickup. Volunteers showed up with loppers and a good supply of elbow grease. And then we set upon the mess.

Large trash piles contained all sorts of refuse: Old tires. Discarded TVs. Children’s books. Broken appliances. Construction supplies. A couple of old couches, a recliner, and a mattress set.

Some unsavory items also littered woods, but I won’t get into that. We also found a football that still held air (a little fun was had with that) and a carpenter’s level that still worked (that one went home with me).

What I really liked, however, was the assortment of people who came. Some folks were those you would expect: trail runners, mountain bikers, nature lovers and more. But there were also people who had never been there before, but heard about the work day and decided to come. Pretty cool stuff.

Included in the trash we picked up was this old campaign sign from U.S. Sen. James Lankford's most recent efforts. I'm sure the senator isn't responsible for dumping the sign here, but given his track record on conservation, climate and public lands, it's sort of fitting. In a sad way.

Included in the trash we picked up was this old campaign sign from U.S. Sen. James Lankford’s most recent efforts. I’m sure the senator isn’t responsible for dumping the sign here, but given his track record on conservation, climate and public lands, it’s sort of fitting.

In the end, we filled both of those commercial dumpsters with illegally dumped trash. And in the weeks before, the River Parks Authority installed cable barriers and a locked gate to prevent future polluters from dumping their crap in the woods.

Back in 2014, a bunch of us decided it was not OK to mow down a forest to build a mall and a parking lot. Earlier this spring, voters decided to have the city buy the land to preserve it. And on Saturday, the reclamation project continued by cleaning it up. Years from now, the forest will finish reclaiming it, much to the benefit of local wildlife, the city, and its residents.

A glorious view on lands recently reclaimed from commercial development for natural preservation purposes. Setting aside this acreage for wild green space was a case of Tulsa doing things right.

A glorious view on lands recently reclaimed from commercial development for natural preservation purposes. Setting aside this acreage for wild green space was a case of Tulsa doing things right.

Bob Doucette

It’s past time to scrap ‘The Biggest Loser’

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If you’ve followed this blog much over the years, you understand that I take fitness and the outdoors seriously. Spending time in the outdoors is, I believe, critical to our physical and mental well-being as well as to our understanding of how the planet works. Being fit dovetails nicely into that, as being more fit allows you to do more (and thus enrich the experience) outside.

So I follow fitness trends carefully, partly to help myself, and partly to share things I’ve learned here. Let me say from the outset, I am all for anything that gets people moving, in shape, and healthier.

A little more than a decade ago, a reality TV show and competition emerged on NBC called “The Biggest Loser.” Its premise was to take people whose lives were hijacked and even threatened by their obesity, and to put them through a rigorous diet and exercise program to help them shed the weight, get in shape, and be healthy. The winner of the show was the person who lost the most weight. The promise to the viewers: inspiring stories of how these people, with the help of their trainers and nutritionists, took back their lives.

I’ve watched the show from time to time. And I’ve read quite a bit about it. And I have one conclusion.

I loathe “The Biggest Loser.” Despise it. And I have a few reasons why.

First, the training programs shown on the program are injurious. You can’t take someone who is morbidly obese and have them work out for six or more hours a day. This is a schedule even professional athletes can’t maintain. Contestants are shown running on treadmills, lifting weights and doing all sorts of metabolic conditioning exercises until they drop from exhaustion, all the while being yelled at by celebrity coaches to get off their butts and do more. No trainer in their right mind would ever put these folks on such a program. Their fat-to-muscle ratio is far too out of whack to put that kind of strain on their muscles, tendons and ligaments. Injuries – stress fractures, knee problems and more – have been known to pile up on the show (you can read about that and more here, in this story about former contestant Kai Hibbard). The contestants should be eased into a program, which can intensify as they get stronger and begin to shed weight. But no, that won’t happen because it doesn’t conform to a TV production schedule.

Second, the radical training programs and extreme caloric deprivation from the contestants’ diets create metabolic damage. A recent New York Times article highlighted a study in which past contestants of the show were tracked to see how well they maintained their new weight, and why things did or didn’t work. In nearly every case, they couldn’t keep the weight off after the show, often regaining 100 pounds or more. Many gained all their weight back, and then some. Even the best-case scenarios showed significant weight gain. Contestants who continued to exercise faithfully and maintain low-calorie diets piled the pounds back on. The reason? Their bodies were so shocked by the new regimen (daily food intake would be cut to 1,000 calories or less) that they reset their metabolism to a slower rate to conserve energy. If calories were cut back even further, the body reacted by putting the brakes on their already slowed metabolisms to match. This is metabolic damage, and it runs deep, all the way to the hormonal level. So for the sake of ratings and a spectacular reveal show at each season’s finale, producers set up the contestants to fail miserably once they were outside the “guidance” of their trainers and nutritionists.

Third, the show actually is more discouraging than encouraging to viewers. Winning a shot to be a contestant allows the “lucky” few to have the time and outside advice to radically (if not healthily, and definitely temporarily) transform their physiques. But for the rest of us, who has six months to take off from work and turn working out into a full-time job? Who has the sort of funds to hire expert trainers and nutritionists to monitor every rep, every step, and every bite? The answer: Almost no one. It’s unattainable. And even if it were, the extremes these people go through on the show will, to most sane people, look impossible. Imagine yourself as someone who is a couple hundred ponds overweight, and getting the message that you’ll have to spend the equivalent to a full work day every day doing nothing but hard exercise for half a year. It would be similar to asking a person who can’t run a block to log 30 miles a week right now. People need to know a healthy transformation can occur without these extremes, and be shown how. “The Biggest Loser” does the opposite.

"Give me another 100 reps! NBC demands it!"

“Give me another 100 reps! NBC demands it!”

Looking at all this, I cannot imagine celebrity trainers like Jillian Michaels ever putting their “real life” clients through something like this (to her credit, she recently backed out of the show, but not before cashing in on the fame it created for her). I can’t fathom any nutritionist cutting someone’s caloric intake so deeply as to induce a near-permanent metabolic crash. But they do it because the show can make them famous, and that can benefit their own businesses.

Few things would please me more than if the producers of this show would grow a conscience and end it. But “The Biggest Loser” is actively seeking contestants for Season 17, culling a list of a couple hundred thousand applicants to another crew of hopefuls wanting to change their lives. Sponsors like Planet Fitness, Larabar, and others will keep lining up to ride the show’s publicity coattails to profits.

What will happen is that the cast will be led into an unsustainable, unrealistic and probably damaging experience that’s been repeated far too often. And a televised version of frankenfitness rolls on, as long as we keep watching and enabling what is the opposite of health, fitness and well-being.

Bob Doucette

Everyday adventure: Go micro, go local to get your outdoors fix

Crags in Chandler Park.

Crags in Chandler Park.

Rock climbing in Yosemite. Mountaineering in the Rockies. Trail races in the Cascades. Through-hikes on the Appalachian Trail.

These are the things that make social media stars, best-selling books and outdoor ad campaigns. They make for great adventures, too. Lord knows I’d love to partake in these endeavors on a much more frequent basis. But like most of you, I also hold a full-time job, live far from these adventure meccas, and have people at home that would rather not see me leave for months at a time to pursue my outdoor fantasies.

There is something to be said for those who radically simplify their lives so they actually can travel the country — and the world — to hunt for adventure. Much personal sacrifice must be made. But for the rest of us? You’ve got to think local and micro if you want to get your adventure fix more than a couple of times a year.

I’ve got a number of friends who live in states where the playgrounds I mentioned above are close by. So it’s no problem for them. But living in Tulsa presents its own challenges. Ask anyone locally where the best and closest rock climbing is, they’ll tell you it’s in Arkansas. Drive four hours east and you’re there.

Johnny traverses across a wall before gaining the summit ridge.

Scrambling in the Wichitas.

In-state? The Wichita Mountains are about three and a half hours southwest of me. Anything closer? Robbers Cave State Park, in southeastern Oklahoma, is a little more than two hours distant.

And yet, even here in the Southern Plains, there are jewels in the making only minutes away.

When I first moved here, I heard about Turkey Mountain, a large, hilly park left in its natural state that has around 48 miles of dirt trails weaving through the woods. Places like this are rare in Midwestern cities, and yet here it was. Hikers, runners, mountain bikers and more flock to this park in increasing numbers, and it’s safe to say I would not have become a trail runner had it not been there.

I also heard of another park, this one even closer to home. Tulsa County manages a huge property called Chandler Park. There are your typical park amenities there, but there are also a number of hiking trails and, as it turns out, some crags on the side of the hill where the park sits. Tulsa, as relatively flat as it is, has a nice-sized system of bouldering and climbing routes within sight of downtown.

Testing myself outdoors has become a more important part of my life. So this past weekend, in lieu of high adventure, I got my fix locally.

Another 3.1 miles in the books. I'm slow, BTW.

Another 3.1 miles in the books. I’m slow, BTW.

On Friday night, there was the annual Cinco de Mayo 5K. Yeah, it’s a road race, but it was also a good excuse to go outside, run with friends, snag a couple of free, er, refreshments, and get my heart rate up.

Then on Saturday, a friend joined me to do a few scrambles and climbs at Chandler Park. I don’t climb a lot, and I’m not particularly good. But we had fun, I didn’t bust my butt, and you can bet more repeat trips to the park will improve my climbing skills.

My friend Thomas climbing one of the walls at Chandler Park. This was a fun one.

My friend Thomas climbing one of the walls at Chandler Park. This was a fun one.

Short walls that are good for bouldering, at Chandler Park. You can see Thomas traversing the wall at the top.

Short walls that are good for bouldering, at Chandler Park. You can see Thomas traversing the wall at the top.

In any case, these explorations have taught me a few things about microadventures right in my own city. On any given day, you can hike through the woods, or run trails, or go mountain biking inside the city limits. You can also go kayaking or fishing on the Arkansas River. And yes, you can go rock climbing or bouldering, inside the city, and not have to be resigned to a gym (though New Heights is a pretty sweet climbing gym in town). Rigorous trail races are held several times a year for runners and mountain bikers. You can see eagles soaring along the river, looking for prey in the waters below. And if you’d rather stay on pavement, there are loads of bike and pedestrian trails that attract runners and cyclists year-round (and have also helped grow the Tulsa cycling community which, by the way, hosts an awesome, all-weekend bicycle racing event in June called Tulsa Tough that gets bigger every year).

Turkey Mountain and the Arkansas River in Tulsa. Two natural resources that people are starting to value more.

Turkey Mountain and the Arkansas River in Tulsa. Two natural resources that people are starting to value more.

The Arkansas River, just south of downtown Tulsa.

The Arkansas River, just south of downtown Tulsa.

We bike here.

We bike here.

...And we run here.

…And we run here.

Sure, I still get envious of my buddies out west who are bagging peaks in the Rockies and whatnot. Same goes for the people on social media I follow who are killing it in the Cascades, the Smokies, and the Sierras. But if you don’t live in Boulder, Chattanooga, Bozeman or Bend, you owe it to yourself to do some deeper exploration in your own community. Maybe Omaha has some sick singletrack right in town. Perhaps Kansas City has some crags. And don’t look now, but you can hop in a kayak and challenge some whitewater courses… in downtown Oklahoma City.

Come out and play...

Come out and play…

Tulsa will never be synonymous with rock climbing, trail running or mountain biking, at least not nationally. But I know for a fact that you can do all those things here, because I’ve done it, and spent no more than 15 minutes driving from my urban doorstep to my chosen destination.

So what’s in your town? Give me a shout in the comments, and let me know what hidden gems are in your community.

Bob Doucette

The lesson of ‘5 reasons why’: Finding your thing

Finding your thing can be as simple as finding places like this.

Finding your thing can be as simple as finding places like this.

I had a little fun over the last couple of weeks making three lists of “Five reasons why,” focusing on running, lifting and hiking. The last of those posts got some really great responses from dozens of readers on Facebook.

Looking back, it’s important to note that these three activities aren’t the only things I do that help me stay healthy and happy. They just happen to be the biggest.

I climb a little, though not nearly as much as I’d like. I’ve been known to ski some (poorly). I ride a bike almost daily, but nothing to serious — to and from work, or maybe an easy weekend cruise.

For others, it’s different. I’ve got plenty of friends who spend a bunch of time on the saddle, pedaling their way over long stretches of road or on gnarly dirt singletrack. They get just as much out of their bikes as I do on my runs.

Other friends enjoy water sports. They kayak local lakes and rivers, and that time on the river is the tonic of physical challenge and mental peace they need.

And even more buddies of mine climb. They find local crags, they travel to famous climbing hot spot, they clip on at a climbing gym — usually, it’s a combination of all three.

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I remember one friend of mine, a fella named Nathan, telling me that climbing changed him. He played sports and lifted like a fiend all the way through high school. But it’s when he moved west and discovered climbing that he found his place, so to speak. Climbing is where he’s made friends, where he’s conditioned his body, and where he’s discovered who he was as a man. It’s not that climbing in itself is a noble calling. But by facing the challenges of a big wall, a tricky problem or a burly mountain, he’s discovered strength of mind and body he didn’t know was there.

He found his thing, and his thing helped him grow to who he is now.

I’ll close this with another story, one I shared on Facebook the other night. It’s another deal where a guy found his thing, and in his words, it saved him.

The man in question is part of a running group I’m in. We got through doing a two-mile time trial, a workout we like to get in the week before a race. All of us have been getting faster and fitter under the guidance of a coach whose running experience goes back to his 20s as a collegiate athlete (he’s my age now, and can still hit 20 minutes or less in a 5K).

Anyway, I got to talking with this guy after the run. He told me that getting back into running saved him. I asked him, “How so?” And with that, he told me quite a story.

He said before joining the run group, he was 75 pounds overweight. He was working 16-hour days, and then heading straight from the office to the bars until closing time. The work stress, physical degradation and heavy drinking put him in a downward spiral that had him thinking he might be better off dead.

So he got help. He found a group of men who counseled and prayed with him. He stopped drinking and quit his job. And he took up running.

Months later, he’s centered. Fit. And getting pretty fast. Running gave him a healthy outlet, one that beat his body into shape and calmed a troubled mind.

He found his thing.

I’m sure this man, and Nathan, and any number of people I know could come up with their own list of “Five reasons why…” like I did.

The routines of our lives — work, home, and whatnot — can drain the life out of our days. Career, family, relationships and money can curse as much as they bless. It’s easy to get trapped into orbiting these things and lose who you are, who God intended you to be.

The point of the lists I made is to show how life, or God, or whatever it is that guides you, puts things in your path to help you along. We all deal with trouble. Everyone’s got problems. But what’s your outlet for all that angst? What tools do you have in your toolbox to handle it?

For me? I run. I lift. And I hike.

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What do you do? If you don’t know, I encourage you to step back, think hard and find your thing.

Did you miss those lists? Check out the reasons why I run, why I lift, and why I hike and let me know what you do.

Bob Doucette

Five reasons why I hike

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A walk in the woods. A trek in the hills. A gnarly ridge traverse that leads to an airy summit. Short or long, easy or hard — or even dangerous — the venerable hike is as old as humanity itself.

We’re one of those rare creatures that get around solely on two feet, and there is no more reliable form of transportation that putting one foot in front of the other. Whether it’s a familiar path on easy ground or something more adventurous, hiking can be just about anything.

I’ve been a hiker for awhile now. As a kid, I hiked to places where I liked to fish. I tromped through the woods to see what was there. And into adulthood, hiking has taken me to destinations I’d never have seen in a car, on a bike, or on TV. If you’ve got an explorer’s heart, you should be hiking.

For me, there are lots of reasons why I hike. Here are five of them…

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Because it’s good for my body. Hiking up and down hills and miles through woods is exercise. Yes, it’s not like doing sprints at the track or cranking out as many reps as you can at the gym. But a well-paced walk through natural terrain works your legs, back and core. Throw on a backpack and the “workout” becomes even more demanding. And if you’re doing it on steep inclines or higher elevations, it’ll beat you down nicely. A good day of hiking, repeated often, will get you in shape.

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Because it’s good for my mind. I spend enough time in a chair, at my desk, staring at a computer screen. And even more lounging around watching sports or the latest episode of “Game of Thrones.” Taking in all the messages, tweets, videos, memes and other bits of bytes on social media is akin to drinking through a digital fire hose. Our minds are under constant assault from work stress, manufactured images and artificial blatherscythe. A walk amongst the trees or over the hills for a few hours does wonders to clear my mind and allows me to really think about the world, or not think at all, if that’s what’s needed. Hiking is a good time to pray. Or just listen. The sights, sounds and smells of the woods are said to have tangible health benefits for your mind. I believe it.

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Because of the people I meet. Some of the coolest people I know I’ve met through hiking. These are folks who are easygoing, non-judgmental and curious about the world. Most of the time, they’re smart. Wise. Grounded. The connections you make with hikers are different than those you make at work, at church, or at the bar scene. Maybe it’s because we’re all looking for the same thing, I suppose. In any case, your hiking friends might end up being the best ones you have. And if not, they’ll still be some of the most interesting and enjoyable to be around.

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Because I can. Thank God I’m still mobile and can walk. Having that ability is akin to having the hottest sports car you can imagine. You wouldn’t own that car and never drive it, right? That’s how I feel about hiking. If I can get out there and hike a short loop or go backpacking for days, I’m going to do it. My health and mobility is a gift, and to not use it would be a waste. If your choice is to use it or lose it, is that really a choice at all?

Because of the awesome places I see. Like this:

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Or this:

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Or this:

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Or any number of incredible forests, burly mountains, scenic vistas or jaw-dropping sunrises. You can live your whole life in the ‘burbs and see the same thing every day, and not much will change, even with the seasons. Or you can lace up your boots, grab a pack and find a trail and see where it leads. We humans crave a little adventure. When you’re talking about hiking, the adventure is ahead of you, one step at a time.

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If you’re a hiker, what do you like about it? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Also, check out my previous posts, Five reasons why I run and Five reasons why I lift. These have been fun!

(And thanks to Noel Johnson and Brady Lee for some of the photos featured here.)

Bob Doucette

Five reasons why I lift

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I’ve been a gym rat most of my adult life. Weights became a thing for me at age 17, and my affinity for the iron hasn’t waned.

Many people play around with weight machines, or tinker with free weights. Others shy away, bothered by the noise real lifting creates, and maybe the personalities a weight room attracts. Not me. I’ve never felt self-conscious about lifting when the real big boys were around. I’m not the biggest, strongest dude around, but that doesn’t bother me. I just do my thing.

But I often hear about how maybe I should do other things. That people of my age shouldn’t lift heavy weights. Or that being a gym rat is too “indoorsy,” and how you can get all that strength training doing stuff outside (sorry, but you can’t). And more than a few of my female friends have heard endless dronings about how they shouldn’t lift because they don’t want to get big.

Well, you can (and should) do resistance training deep into old age (way past my age for sure). And ladies, those barbells and dumbbells will do you a lot of good without making you look like a linebacker.

So in the spirit of my last post, here are five reasons why I lift…

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Because it’s a stress-reliever. Had a rough day? Someone tick you off? Get under a bar or pick up some iron and take out your aggression in the gym. The controlled violence of the lift and endorphin rush when you’re done might leave you wrecked when you leave, but you will feel awesome. It sure beats eating your problems, punching your boss or drinking your woes away.

Because it makes me a much healthier human being. Strength training builds up your muscles, and when done right, increases mobility, stamina and athleticism. A weak body is often a sicker body. Strong ones tend to stay healthier for much longer, and can leave you active and capable well into old age.

Because being strong is useful. A powerful body can do more things than a weak one can. That’s not an opinion. It’s an objective reality. It goes beyond opening pickle jars, too. The physical labor you can do, the punishment you can endure, the ability to take care of business in a dark alley — all these things are made easier when you’re strong. Strength isn’t the only factor, but it’s a damn important one. When it comes to the physical tasks and challenges you face, being strong is more useful than being weak.

Because I can. Sort of like what I wrote about running, I’ve been given one body and one life. If lifting heavy things can make that life better, I should do it. And if I see a heavy thing I want to move and have that ability, I want to because I can. Not everyone has that option, but I do. Might as well use it.

Because there are few things that will make you feel as boss as lifting something big. Looking for a confidence booster? Set a goal to lift a certain amount of weight you cannot do now. Train for it. And then do it. It may sound superficial, but when you accomplish that goal, it will make you wonder what else you can do once you set your mind to it. That’s how I feel every time I load a bunch of weight on the bar, walk up to it, and pick it up off the ground. And best yet, the process of getting to that point will leave you stronger, healthier and more mentally disciplined than when you started. There’s a lot to like about all of that.

Do you lift? What are your reasons for hitting the iron? Holler in the comments.

Bob Doucette

Five reasons why I run

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If you run much, you get a lot of interesting questions and statements about it.

“Man, I don’t think I could run a mile!”

“Dude, I don’t even drive that far!”

“The only time you’ll see me running is if getting away from a bear…”

That, plus many in the medical field — and even more outside of it — saying it’s bad for your knees. Personally, that last opinion is hogwash for most people, but that’s another topic for another day. The fact is, most people don’t like to run because it’s hard, it’s not as glitzy as other activities, or whatever.

Yup, running is not for everyone, and that included me up until about five years ago. But I took it up as a newer, cheaper form of fitness and I’ve learned a few things along the way. So here’s my list of why I run…

It’s good for me. Whether I’m doing a long, steady run, or plowing up hills, or burning up the track, running is good for my body. It burns calories, improves cardiovascular health and leaves me, physically speaking, better off. I stay leaner and healthier if I’m faithful to running at least four times a week. I also get sick less often and, believe it or not, improve athletic performance in other areas. The post-run endorphin rush perks up my day. In short, I’m a healthier person because of running.

It clears my head. Whether I’m getting in a quick two miles or forging ahead for twenty, running has a way of shutting down the noise of the outside world and bringing peace to my spirit. The routine of it is meditative. Many people pray while they run, or find some other form of calming themselves by focusing on the task at hand. There are plenty of distractions, devices and crises that will leave most people frazzled and tired. The antidote is some alone time on the run. Trust me on that one.

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It gets me outside. I love being in the outside air. It doesn’t matter if it’s hot, cold, windy, cloudy, sunny or whatever. Aside from the occasional treadmill workout, all my runs are outside. I get to know my neighborhood, my city, and my trails by lacing up and heading down the path, not by staring at the TV, my phone or otherwise planted on the couch.

Because I can. There are people who, because of their health, or injuries, or whatever, cannot run. But I’m able-bodied. I run long because I can. I run big hills because I can. I run fast (sometimes, sort of) because I can. And if I find myself lacking in any of these areas, I keep running until I can do it. I’ve been given one body and one life, so if there are things I can do that are awesome but choose not to, what a waste that would be. Carpe diem, right?

Its opens a new world. I’ve met awesome people through running. I’ve experienced the excitement of a race, the newness of a trail, and the secret spots of my city that I’d have missed if I only saw them through the window of a car. My world would be a lot smaller and far less rich had I not become a runner.

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Why do you run? I’d love to hear it in the comments.

Bob Doucette