Five things I learned about coming back from a serious illness

Me a few days before pneumonia had set in. I weighed 180 pounds in this photo. Now imagine that person with 18 fewer pounds on that frame. Coming back from the illness and the damage it caused was a long process.

A little over ten years ago, I had what was one of the most eye-opening sessions I’ve ever had in the gym. Following a weeks-long bout with pneumonia, I finally felt healthy enough to get back into the weight room and rebuild what I’d lost.

When I’d fallen ill, I was 180 pounds and in pretty decent shape. And then I dropped 18 pounds in a span of just 10 days. It would be several weeks later before I felt good enough to return to training.

I knew I’d be weak, and I was. But what was most stunning was how I looked. I was ridiculously skinny. And from the side, I looked like I was barely there, like a gust of wind could carry me off. It was almost like I was completely starting over, back in high school when I was a scrawny little twerp with more hair than muscles.

But I had a few things going for me, namely, a lot of knowledge built up over years of training. Still, it was a long road back. And I learned a few things along the way.

If you’re coming back from being sidelined because of injury or illness, then this one’s for you. Let’s start:

You’re going to be weaker. Don’t expect to move nearly as much weight as you did before. I remember doing bench press sets with 225 pounds before I fell ill. Coming back several weeks later, 165 pounds felt like I was trying to lift a Buick. So don’t push yourself past your new limits because of pride. Ease back into it.

Your conditioning is going to suck. Strength ebbs more slowly than conditioning. If you’re a runner, a cyclist or some other form of athlete that depends on a high level of conditioning, be prepared to feel almost like you’ve never ran/biked/swam before. Yes, it can be that bad. Once you accept that, you can get on with regaining your form.

It’s going to take some time. Maybe you squatted 500 pounds or ran a 20-minute 5K when things were good. But now that you’re two months removed from your training, please understand that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was that squat/deadlift/5K/marathon PR. Or whatever. It took a long time to build up to all of that, and rather unfairly, a short time to lose it. Rebuilding it will be an exercise in patience.

But eventually, muscle memory will take over. Too often we see our past athletic performance as purely exercises of strength and conditioning. It is all that, but it’s also skill. Lifts are skills. Running is a skill, at least if you’re doing it at a higher level. Your brain hasn’t forgotten these things, and once you get back to it, your cranial neurons are going to fire up and tell your body what to do. That’s going to help in your recovery process.

This is a great time to learn new things. Often, we get stuck in our routines when things are going well. When you’re not chasing PRs (because you’re a shadow of what you were), this lets you take a new look at training and methodologies. Things you may not have tried before might be worth looking at now since your ego is solidly held in check. You never know what secret sauce you’ll unlock to eventually make you better than you were before.

I won’t lie, there’s nothing fun about being in the middle of a comeback. But once you’re healthy enough to start down that long road, there is opportunity. You might become stronger. Faster. Able to go further. It’s hard to believe when your fitness is in its nadir, but there is always a chance that you might climb out of that valley to a higher peak than the one you fell from.

Bob Doucette

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Summer is coming. Here are six tips on how to make hot weather running work for you

Summer is coming. (Wikipedia Commons photo)

Yesterday I went out for my weekly Wednesday 5-mile run. When I left the gym, it was sunny, breezy, and 90 degrees. May is sort of the unofficial start of the summer sweaty season for me, when hot showers go away and some really tough outdoor training begins. It will likely persist through mid-October where I live.

I’m not a hot-weather runner, and the last couple of miles of yesterday’s run were miserable. I’m not acclimated for the heat yet, and frankly, I wasn’t ready for it. My bad.

But hot weather training has its merits – it builds toughness and will pay off in terms of overall conditioning. Running in the heat taxes your heart and lungs in unpleasant ways, but if you do it right, it will pay off when the temperatures cool down.

That said, training in the heat does you no good if you end up getting sick or worse from heat exposure. So this Sun Belt guy has a few ideas on this subject.

So here are six tips for training in the heat:

Hydrate. A lot. Before you go to bed, drink some water. When you get up, drink some more. And throughout the day running up to your workout, be drinking more water. Bring some with you (hand-held water bottle, hip belt or hydration pack) or be sure your route has drinking fountains available. Don’t wait till you crash to stop for a water break. Heat-related illnesses and dehydration are no joke. Is a gallon a day excessive? Not if it’s summer and you’re outside training.

Shade your face. A ball cap will help you keep a little shade on your face and direct sun off your head. If it’s a moisture-wicking cap, it will help you stay cool.

If you can, pick routes with trees. I love trail running, and many of my trails are in wooded areas. You’ll lose some of the breeze in the woods, but the shade will help keep you cooler.

Pace yourself. Your body will not be able to maintain the same intensity at 98 degrees as it does at 78 degrees or 58 degrees. But you will still be working hard, and that’s what you’re going for — putting in some hard work. Which leads me to the next point…

Watch your heart rate. Whether it’s just listening to your body or wearing a heart-rate monitor, those beats-per-minute will be very telling in terms of how hard your body is working. In the winter, you burn more calories because your body is trying hard to keep your core temperature up. But in the summer, it’s fighting — and losing — the battle to keep you cool. If your pulse is pounding in your temples at 180 bpm or more, maybe it’s time to slow down and walk a couple of blocks. No shame in that.

And finally, and this might go without saying, pick a cooler time of day to run. This means running pre-dawn or after sunset during the summer, but those hours will be cooler and easier to manage.

This week, I did well on these except for the hydration part, and I paid for it. Guess I should follow my own advice! Enjoy your time out there.

Bob Doucette

Why I hike: Three reasons that are off the beaten path

Whether it’s a dramatic scene like this or something more ordinary close to home, the real reasons I hike run deep. As seen on Mount Sneffels, Colo. (Noel Finta photo)

There have likely been tens of thousands of articles, blog posts and other testimonials describing why people hike. I wrote one a few years back. All of them have similar reasons, from gaining peace and quiet, to exercise, to getting close to nature, and so on.

Less frequently reasons include achievement (some hikes are hard, and even risky) and promotion – you know, doin’ it for the ‘Gram.

Being transparent, I’ve gone on hikes to take photos. Any 14er or 13er hike I do comes with the goal of achieving a summit, so sure, accomplishing something difficult is sometimes implied. You could say these, and any number of reasons mentioned above apply to me as well.

But I got to thinking about it recently and I realized that some of the best outcomes for any hike – even those aimed at photography, summits or training for something bigger – come with benefits far more valuable. Often those are what keep me coming back.

One big reason I go: to think. It’s been said that time, slowed down to the pace of nature, gives people a chance to step away from our distractions and let our minds wander. I do some of my best thinking on a hike, particularly when I’m alone. It doesn’t matter if that day calls for double-digit miles or is something far shorter. Unloading my mental bucket on the trail allows me to ponder what needs to be pondered. Rumination does the body good, I believe.

Another reason: to intentionally notice the details. My life, just like many of yours, is a rushed and regimented thing pinned down by routines and schedules forged by family, employment and a sizable miscellany that requires my attention. When I’m on a hike and I’m not crashing down the trail for training purposes, I try my best to look around and see the terrain. Maybe it’s an emerald shade from the birth of spring. Or a splash of floral color bursting from a sea of green. Going over a creek crossing a couple weeks ago, I peered into the shallows and saw movement: tadpoles, darting between rocks, feeding, swimming and hopefully growing into the full-grown frogs they’re designed to become. Looking around has helped me spot lizards in the brush, armadillos rooting around in fallen leaves and a massive owl swooping through the trees toward some target unseen by me.

And it’s not just the sights, but the smells. And the sounds. The woods have a sweetness to them in the spring, and a different but no less pleasant aroma deep into the fall. On the auditory side, the chirps of marmots echoing across a huge, stony Rocky Mountain amphitheater on a crisp fall day remains one of the most indelible memories of what was already a remarkable day in the alpine for me. Had I been enveloped in some digital playlist or the din of conversation, I might have missed that haunting  cry.

One last reason I’ll mention: to heal. And I mean that in a comprehensive way. During the week, I exercise hard. A casual hike helps work out the soreness and hasten recovery. But also, healing comes from the non-physical wounds of life. We’ve all suffered loss – the death of a loved one, the ending of a friendship, a past trauma – that leaves us emotionally battered. A single hike is no cure-all, but as a habit, it can be medicinal. I speak from my own experience, and I know many, many others can do the same.

Looking over this list I notice one more thing. These three reasons, absent of the more popular motivations, are sufficient. If all I gained or experienced were an opportunity to think, to notice the details, and to heal, that would be enough to keep me going back. I’ve learned I don’t need a summit or some super-rad mileage count, or even an epic view. I don’t need a pic to blow up with likes on Instagram, and I don’t need some electronic doodad to congratulate me on the number of steps I took, calories I burned or vert I gained. There’s nothing wrong with any of that. But without the deeper experiences of a hike, it would feel more like long walk absent a soul.

Bob Doucette

A snapshot of the fall race season

Those fall long runs.

I do this thing every year when once the summer mountain trips come to a close, I get more serious about running and start training for fall races.

It usually goes down like this:

Step 1: I create a training schedule. It’s usually a mashup of something Hal Higdon has built, customized with a few things I think I need, and studded with weight training workouts. I wouldn’t advise following my lead. I’m not a running coach and am a confirmed midpack runner. If you really want to be successful, hire a coach. Or experiment like me and see what happens. The former is probably going to have a higher rate of success; the latter will be more interesting.

Step 2: Spend the first month of training bitching about how out of shape I am, bitching about the heat, and bitching about being too heavy, too beat up and too old to do this anymore. But I do it anyway because the thought of quitting a training program for any reason other than injury is abhorrent to me.

Step 3: Gradually peel off a few pounds, get more miles under my belt, see slight improvement in my running and continue bitching about the heat because autumn in Oklahoma is weird like that. Sometimes we get 80-degree days in November.

Step 4: On the last Saturday of October, toe the line at the Tulsa Run 15K. Up until then, I’ve felt too roly-poly to race, but I feel compelled to do this one. And then I realize that once it’s over, I can actually run a longer distance at speeds that don’t resemble a zombie shuffle. I wasn’t all that fast this year: 1:35:56, which isn’t my slowest 15K, but definitely not my fastest. If nothing else, it tells me that I can kick it up a gear or two when race day arrives.

Step 5: Suddenly reap the benefits of cooler temps, higher mileage volume, speed workouts and the mental edge that seems to appear every year after the Tulsa Run. The hill climbs aren’t as daunting, the flats breeze by and I bomb the downhills. Everything feels like it’s coming together. And maybe that half marathon at the end of November won’t be so bad. Maybe I won’t totally suck. That’s pretty much my goal for the Route 66 Marathon half every year: Don’t suck.

And so it goes. Running is funny like that. I’m a man of routines, so training schedules and daily rituals dovetail nicely into how I do things, and every fall I emerge fitter, faster and leaner than where I was in the summer. It shouldn’t be this way, of course. Ideally, I’d be in peak condition when I’m trying to will myself to 14,000 feet. But again, routines. And a not-so-productive affinity for tacos, barbecue and brews.

I’m looking forward to this year’s race, but I also recognize that I need to change the way I do things. I can’t destroy myself in the weight room for nine months of the year and expect to remain uninjured. My personal history alone tells me that. And I can’t eat everything in sight while dialing back my training. I mean, it’s great fun and all, and an awesome way to build a gut and love handles if that’s your thing. It’s not my thing, though sometimes I wonder.

Anyway, I’m less than two weeks out from my fall goal race. Knock on wood, I’m feeling good. The plantar fasciitis of the spring seems to be gone. So is the weird hip pain I’ve been nursing for more than 18 months. Once that race is done (however it turns out), I’ll need a new plan. Let’s just see how that goes.

Bob Doucette

Here’s what happens when a non-crossfitter does Murph

I have a basic approach when it comes to fitness. Do some running. Hike. Get on your bike. Lift heavy things. Lift, run, bike, hike for short.

But I like taking on different challenges, even if they’re out of my wheelhouse.

On Memorial Day, a lot of people like to do a Crossfit workout called “Murph.” I’m not a crossfitter, and I’ve got no plans to be. But they do some things right in the Crossfit world (they’re getting more people into barbell training than anything else right now), and some of these workouts are definitely worth trying.

So on Monday, I decided I join the legions doing Murph. For all you curious non-crossfitters, this one’s for you.

FIRST OF ALL…

Lt. Michael Murphy, aka “Murph.” (U.S. Navy photo)

Let’s get this straight, because it’s important: What is “Murph?”

The more accurate question is not what, but who.

“Murph” is Lt. Michael Murphy, a U.S. Navy SEAL who was killed in action while serving in Afghanistan in 2005. If you’ve read the book “Lone Survivor” or saw the movie of the same title, then you know his story and that of his team. If you don’t know it, look it up. A small group of SEALS fought like hell against huge numerical odds, even while gravely wounded.

Murphy invented this workout, which he called “body armor.” Following his death, the workout was named in his honor.

So what’s the workout? Glad you asked.

THE WORKOUT

It’s simple: Run one mile, do 100 pull-ups, do 200 push-ups, do 300 body-weight squats, then run another mile.

Simple, right?

Well, there’s also this: In its strictest form, you also do this with a weighted 20-pound vest.

The goal is to do it in less than an hour. Really fit people can do it in 45 minutes.

Here’s what I figured: I run plenty. I lift several times a week. And I’m getting decent at pull-ups. Why not give it a shot?

SOME CAVEATS

I’m also a realist. I don’t own a weighted vest and didn’t have access to one. Being the first time I tried this, I decided to skip the weighted part.

Crossfitters will kip their pull-ups. I refuse. I’ll do them as strict as I can as long as I can.

I doubt there are many people who can do 100 pull-ups in a row, even if they’re kipping. Same is probably true of the other exercises. I’d be breaking these up into manageable chunks, hoping to make good time.

WHERE I DID IT

I went to a high school track/football field. The track offered me an easy way to measure out a mile and stay close to some water I brought.

The track was a good idea, but this plan had its problems. For starters, it was 91 degrees and mostly sunny, with a heat index of 95. That sort of heat will elevate your heart rate far above what it would normally be indoors or, say, any other time of year. Since I’d be doing the non-running exercises on the field, it would feel even hotter.

Also, there was a lack of decent places to do pull-ups. I settled for a soccer goal crossbar. The steel tubing didn’t offer much grip; it was fat enough that I was more “palming” the bar than gripping it. So that was working against me.

But hey, who cares? If you’re going to do Murph, don’t bitch about your problems. The workout will be hard enough as it is.

HOW IT WENT

The first mile run was a breeze, mostly because I didn’t push too hard. Maybe a 9:30 pace, trying to conserve energy for the work to come.

Once that was done, it was time for the pull-ups. I started doing sets of 6 to 8 reps, taking short breaks. But soon, the sheer volume was killing me. So I scaled it by switching from overhand grip pull-ups to underhand grip chin-ups. I know, lame. But I needed to get reps to move on.

By the time I got to 52 reps, I realized I’d be out there forever unless I found ways to knock out reps in the other exercises. So at the point, I supersetted chins with pull-ups and squats. That helped.

But dang, if this isn’t a whole other kind of fitness. I do all sorts of conditioning drills when I run, but this is just different. The steady flow of work and the heat radiating off the artificial turf surface I was on spiked my heart rate something good. By the time I was done with all that mess, it was time for that second mile-long run.

A zombie shuffle ensued. Maybe one of the slowest miles I’ve ever “run.”

When I was finished, I missed that 60-minute goal. By a lot. I definitely was not physically up to the task of making that goal. I shuffled off the field and into my car a sweaty, beat-down mess. Lesson learned. Murph is legit.

AFTERMATH

The next day, I was sore in some expected places, mostly in my shoulders and upper back. But not in my legs (you’d think 300 squats would have done something, but nope). But I was surprisingly sore in my abs. I wasn’t expecting that. Perhaps I should do more core, eh? Anyway, it was a built-in excuse to not lift the following day. I ran three miles and called it good.

THE TAKEAWAY

What I’ve learned about fitness is that when you do something different, expect to suck at it. I’ve learned this many times over.

I used to play a lot of basketball, maybe three or four times a week. And not that half-court BS, either. We ran the court, fast breaks and all. I got to where I could handle that. But run more than a couple of miles? I might as well have been trying to climb Mount Everest. Two different types of fitness.

Another example: Back when I was doing jujitsu, we had a new guy come in. He told us he’d be fine in terms of conditioning: The dude ran six miles a day. When the workout was over, he was outside puking in the parking lot. Once again, a different kind of fitness.

The same is true here. I know Murph is not indicative of everything Crossfit, but it is a good example of the type of training crossfitters do. Murph is not a strength test; It’s a conditioning test with some elements of strength involved. So while I lift frequently and hard and do my fair share of conditioning drills (400-meter intervals and negative split workouts come to mind), what I do is not going to go that far with something like Murph.

Crossfit bills itself as preparing its trainees to be fit enough to do anything at any time – they pride themselves as fitness “generalists” and through their Crossfit Games, aim to crown the winners as “the fittest people on earth.” There’s some truth to that, although Crossfit programming seems to create a lot of people who need shoulder surgeries.

But there is value in trying new things, and finding your weaknesses. On Monday, on that steaming hot high school track, Murph helped me find a few of mine. I might have to try it again.

Bob Doucette

Eight awesome people at the gym

The gym can be cursed with d-bags, but it can also be populated by solid citizens.

I’ve written about the gym characters that annoy us. A couple times, actually.

But to be fair, most people who head to the weight room aren’t preeners, meatheads and creeps out to ruin our workouts. In fact, there are some pretty good souls out there who make those gym sessions great. So this one’s for them.

The good trainer: A decent gym is going to employ trainers. Some of them are OK. Some of them suck. But some of them are great at their jobs. They’re knowledgeable, helpful and encouraging. They’re good teachers who not only talk to the talk, but walk the walk. Working with these folks usually leads to positive results. Sometimes they’re pricey, but when it’s all said and done, they’re worth every dime.

The reliable workout buddy: If you’re the type of person who trains with others, you know the value of having a workout partner who shows up, works hard and pushes you. Accountability matters to these people. There may be a sense of competition, but not in a weird or negative way. Instead, it’s fuel that makes both of you better. Iron sharpening iron, as it were. Both of you benefit.

The real-deals: We’ve all seen them. The powerfully built dudes. The rock-hard gals. They’re the ones who aren’t just regulars. They’re mission-oriented, working hard to create the strongest, fittest, healthiest versions of themselves that they can. You can take them one of two ways: Be jealous or be inspired. A lot of times, the real-deals are friendly enough to talk training, nutrition and whatnot to help you on your way. It’s not a bad idea to get to know them. You might learn a thing or two.

The elliptical dudes: These guys/gals might also be on some other machine where you work out, but at my gym, it’s three fellas who meet at the same time, mount up on three neighboring ellipticals and watch “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” while they break a sweat for 40 minutes or so. They’re old friends, they’re always there, and they know everyone by name. I don’t know how fit they’re getting, but there’s nothing but positive vibes from this trio as they do their thing, day after day. Keep on keepin’ on, fellas.

The spotters-in-a-pinch: To me, these are they guys who are doing their own thing, but we all know each other, all talk to each other and generally keep each other motivated. Occasionally, when we’re working on the same thing, we’ll lift a few sets together. And when the bar is loaded at a challenging weight, they’ll gladly spot you when asked. We’d all be workout buddies if our schedules and goals were more in sync, but even so, these familiar faces are often the ones that push you to go a little harder and get a little better. In a pinch.

The treadmill grinders: Not everyone likes to run on pavement every day, but they like running as much as they can. So you’ll see the treadmill grinders pounding out six miles in one workout, or doing their 8x400s, or perhaps some other run-based workout as they gear up for the next big race. Why are they admirable? Because it takes a serious amount of dedication to mount that treadmill and run on it every day. Once or twice a week is about all I can handle. More often than not, they’re better runners than me.

The exceptional instructor: Spin class. Cardio kickboxing. Group strength training. Zumba. And a bunch of other variations of the group exercise classes designed to make you sweat and push your heart rate through the roof. Most of us have been to one or more of these, and you can tell when the instructors are on their game. Learning how to lead these classes is a bunch of work, and the fitness level to not just lead the class, but to talk folks through it as you go takes a high degree or conditioning most of us don’t have. The best of them challenge you, encourage you and make you want to go back. What’s that? You can lead us to the edge of cardio-induced  insanity and back, do it with a smile on your face and keep us coming back for more? Yes, please.

The old warhorses: Years have given these folks a wealth of wrinkles and gray hairs. No matter. Decades of their lives have gone by and they’re still showing up, working hard and living awesome lives because they refuse to give in to the couch. Guy or gal, it doesn’t matter. A lifetime of fitness has endowed them with knowledge, experience and a brighter future than most of the world. They may even outlive you. Hell, they might even outlift, outrun or otherwise outdo you altogether. If you’re lucky – and consistent – maybe you’ll be an old warhorse one day, deadlifting twice as much as the young buck in his early 20s two stations down.

If you work out at a place with a lot of these people, consider yourself blessed. Stick with that place, because you know there are others that are too often filled with folks who don’t know the Gym Rat Code..

Bob Doucette

The fellowship of the run

Sitting in the lobby of my gym, I wondered who might show. I quit scrolling through Twitter long enough to check the weather. Twenty-six degrees with an 8 mph north wind. It was close to sunset, and truth be told, I wouldn’t be surprised if no one showed up for the night’s planned group run. Besides, it was Friday night. Don’t people have anything better to do on a Friday night?

But a few minutes later, Jen showed up. Tall, lean, and every bit that you’d expect from a marathoner. Minutes later, here came Donald. In his youth, he ran cross-country to stay in shape during soccer’s offseason. A decade later, old habits gave him a new incentive to get back on the road. It would be just the three of us, stumbling out into the cold, ready to tackle a planned five-mile out-and-back.

We walk for a block, get the blood working, and take off out of downtown, chatting it up as the first mile got underway. We’re a small group. But given all the reasons not to be there, I’d call us small-but-mighty.

***

Years ago, I didn’t like running. It was time-consuming, uncomfortable, and far less fun than a game of hoops. But that changed over time, largely when I discovered some of the benefits that running imparts.

For starters, it’s a great way to blow off steam. Run yourself ragged for 30 minutes, or an hour, or four hours, and you’ll likely come back having exorcised a few of the daily demons. In their place is normally an endorphin rush most people call a “runner’s high.” Most of us feel it when we’re done; a lucky few enjoy it as they go. I usually fall into the former camp, but it’s good enough to keep me coming back.

Running is also great for people who need some time alone. You know who you are. People are great, but there are moments when they need to be held at bay. Pound out a few miles and you get just that.

Being the type of person who is comfortable in solitude, I usually run alone. This is not sad or otherwise detrimental. It just is. Fact is, most people run solo.

But there are merits to having a running buddy. Or buddies. You can learn from other runners, and push each other. I find that I usually run faster when in a group and get lazy when I’m on my own.

A few years back, I joined a weekly trail running group. I knew precisely none of the two-dozen or so people who were there. But I ran with them, got to know a few of them, and picked up a lot of knowledge about trail running and our local trails. When we were done, we’d all head to a burrito place, snag some tacos and down a beer or two. Some of that group became friends, folks I can still hang out with even though I can’t go to those group runs anymore.

The fast runners were the ones everyone looked up to. Or those who had a few hundred-mile ultras under their belts. Often, these were the ones leading the groups, usually broken down into different paces to suit whoever showed up. Whoever they were, there was a sense of accomplishment that followed them. It was understood. They were “qualified” to lead a group on those gnarly, twisty trails, regardless of pace.

Years later, one of the trainers at my gym, an ex-college track guy with the resume of a serious distance runner, asked me if I would like to lead a weekly run group. “Sure,” I said. “I’d love to.”

But keep in mind, I’m about as pedestrian as they get when it comes to running. No podium finishes. No hundo belt buckles. Just a smattering of mid-pack finishes in races between 5K and marathon distance. If anyone ran with me, I wouldn’t be shocked if they thought, “Lame” and never came back.

But we’re more than a month into it, and folks still come. It’s funny to me that anyone actually shows up. That is, they show up to run with me. But I’m glad they do. Running is great solo. But it’s also great with good company.

***

A few weeks back, Donald and I were on the back side of a five-miler when we got to discussing a mutual love of hiking. He started talking about a trip years back when he was ascending Mount Elbert in Colorado, the highest peak in that state and the second-highest in the Lower 48. It’s a mountain I summited many years ago, back in 2005. We groaned about the numerous false summits we encountered, and he went on to describe how he and his hiking partners had to high-tail it down the mountain on the account of an approaching storm.

Yup, I can recall similar instances in the Rockies.

A week later, when Jen joined us, she started talking about a recent four-day excursion she and her boyfriend took to the Grand Canyon. I marveled a little that three random people seemed to have an affinity for outdoor adventure. But I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised. Lots of runners also hike, climb, backpack and otherwise find themselves drawn toward the suffering and joy of pushing themselves outdoors, be it on the run or with a 50-pound pack on their backs.

More important, though, is the manner in which I’ve gotten to know people’s stories. I knew Jen as a runner, and know her now as a backpacker, but she’s also a mother of a daughter getting ready to graduate college. Donald was an Eagle Scout back in his younger days.

And there are others. Paige, one of our younger runners, competed in college cross-country and is a die-hard Patriots fan (I try not to hold that against her). Steve, our elder statesman, isn’t just an accomplished trail runner. He’s a Pikes Peak Marathon finisher.

I never would have known anything about these people had I not run with them. I wouldn’t know them at all if I wasn’t a runner.

***

The last run I led just a few days ago, another new runner joined us. Her name is Kathy, and like Jen, she’s been at this running thing for a while and can hold her own. And she’s also the mother of a soon-to-be college grad.

I promised the group a scenic run, which is code for “I’m going to make you run to the top of the biggest hills in Tulsa because I find this weirdly fun.”

I try to plan routes that I think people will enjoy, ones with some scenery, some history, or maybe both. Other times, I’ll take them on a route I use for training, with the idea that if this sort of route helped me in one of the local races, it might help them, too.

That night’s “scenic route” took us north out of downtown, toward a college campus, and then up a sizable rise called Standpipe Hill. It’s one of the highest points in the city, and once you top out, it has a spectacular view of downtown. The sun was going down, setting the clouds overhead afire with yellows, oranges and purples, a colorful background against the shiny glow of the skyscrapers a mile to our south. The city was putting on a visual show.

“I like to stop here and catch my breath and take in the view,” I told the group. “It never gets old.”

Everyone seemed to agree. In Kathy’s case, she saw parts of the city she’d heard of, but had never seen with her own eyes. It’s an all-new experience, and in this case, one you must earn. I know I earn it every time I run this route (the hill is steep), and it never disappoints.

A few moments later, we headed down the hill, climbed another, then dropped back down into downtown’s meandering streets. One steep overpass, then another hill, and finally a quick dash back to the gym and we’re done. High-fives were exchanged before the group broke up and headed out into our own lives. But not before everyone made a little pact.

“See you next week?”

Absolutely.

Bob Doucette