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Personal record

Still waddling after all these years.

This month I'm going to ask for a point of personal privilege. For those of you who don't have "Robert's Rules of Order" handy, a point of personal privilege is when, in the middle of a formal debate, someone feels the need to speak passionately about a topic not on the floor. So everyone moans and lets that person wax eloquent on a subject that's only important to him or her.

This is the 48th Chronicle to appear in "Runner's World". It is the end of my fourth year in this space - the end of my senior year, so to speak. It feels very much like graduation day. It is also a personal record.

For better or worse, my life has been divided into four-year segments. There were the traditional four years of high school, then four of college. That was followed by a five-year stint in the Army (because I couldn't get out in four!). Then came four years as a freelance musician, four years on the faculty at the University of Illinois, four more at the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, and finally four years as chair of the music department at Middle Tennessee State University.

So it's easy for me to feel as though this is the end of something. Forty-eight months seems about my limit. Or, maybe, it's about the limit of those who have employed me. In either case, when I've reached this point before, I've packed my bags.

Not this time. This column, which started as a journal of my journey, has turned into the aggregate story of all of us who are using running as a way to change our lives. More and more, I feel as if I'm telling your story, not mine. In fact, many of you who started running in the last few years, don't even know my story.

Some of you don't know that I didn't start running until I was 43 years old. You don't know that I was a smoker for 25 years, a drinker for even longer, and a confirmed overeater for most of my life. Food was comfort, food was celebration, food was joy.

Activity was punishment. On my first day as a runner I owned nine motorcycles, two cars, a camper, and a garden tractor. My favorite pastime was sitting - sometimes in (or on) gas-powered vehicles, sometimes not. I was an expert at it. My most vivid memory of myself in those days was sitting in bed watching television, drinking vodka on the rocks, eating an ice cream bar, and smoking a cigarette. All at the same time!

I recently found my first e-mail exchange with Amby Burfoot, editor of "Runner's World" magazine. His proposal sounded simple enough: Write a monthly column. Nothing technical, just the observations of a former couch potato. I'm sure the rest of the editorial staff was ready to have Amby committed for offering this to an untrained writer whose only running credential was that he was slow - but used to be slower.

But here we are, 48 months later - at what has been, for me, the mystical barrier. I don't quite know what happens in month 49. Like those who have trained for longer distances, each time we reach some new mileage, we've reached the edge of the unknown. I am at that edge.

As with so much in my life, I'll turn to running for both instruction and inspiration. And more than ever, I will be looking to you. This year I will be on tour again. I will travel the country in search of runs and runners to nourish me, to guide me through new experiences and to new understandings.

I invite you to join me. We'll run as fast as we can, or as slow as we need to. We'll run alone on the streets of your hometown... or with 20,000 other runners at a major event. One step at a time, we'll discover each other - and ourselves.

Waddle on, friends.

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