The Planet Wave: Are You A Running Addict?

May 15, 2014 Posted By: Bob "Wish" Wischnia

Words are just words, but two of the words I detest the most when referring to you and me are “joggers” and “addict” (as in running addict or even worse, “running junkie”).   I’m not a jogger—I’m a runner pure and simple—and recoil whenever I am labeled as such.

Jogger is bad enough, but what really gets to me is when some non-thinking, non-runner labels me as an addict because I happen to run every single day. I draw a distinct line between my healthy, joyful habit, and drugs, booze, tobacco and all sorts of other substance addictions.

Whether addiction is a sickness or a weakness is something for the experts to decide. Thank goodness I’m not addicted to anything, but obviously plenty of people are and get sucked into an abyss that is difficult—if not impossible—to climb out of. Running simply isn’t one of those addictions.

This distinction between a true, real-life deadly serious addiction and what I do were brought into clear focus a few weeks ago when the reality of true, rock bottom addiction smacked me right in the face.

I was on my typical easy morning run on a beautiful golf course where I do a lot of stealth running before the sun comes up. Just as I was about to finish up with some strides up and down a fairway before heading home, a guy in the grounds crew rolled up in a cart and cut me off before I could slip out a nearby gate. The maintenance guys never say much to me, other than an occasional “Buenos dias” as I cruise by. We have an unspoken truce. I never touch their greens and as long as I don’t, they don’t seem to care if I run on their manicured fairways.

“Hey man,” the maintenance guy said to me in a non-threatening way, “I see you running out here and–”

I cut him right off. “Yeah, I have permission.” (This is a stretch. I did get permission several years ago from the head of golf who has since left, but this always seems to work whenever I get questioned.) “Don’t worry about me. I’m long gone before anyone gets out here to play.”

“No, no I don’t care about that. I’ve just noticed you running every morning and really seem to enjoy yourself out here.”

“What? Well yeah, I do and make sure never to break anything–.”

“I can see that,” the guy said. “It’s just that I used to run in high school and I’m trying to start up again. But it hurts and I can’t seem to go any longer than a mile without hurting.”

The guy—I’ll call him Mark—quickly went through his back story. He had been a prominent golf course supervisor at some of the more prestigious courses in Texas, but had lost everything—family, job, dignity—and ended up living in his car. He explained he had been a crystal meth addict for 20 years before finally winding up in prison.

“That must have been awful,” I offered, not having a clue about addiction or prison.

“It saved my life,” said Mark. “Prison was the best thing that ever happened to me. I got clean and joined Narcotics Anonymous. Been clean and sober for two years. Now at least I know I am an addict.”

I’m not, but I have known all sorts of addicts in which the dependency was so overwhelming, normal existence was near impossible. Thank goodness, I don’t have an addiction personality, be it running or anything else.  The only thing I know about crystal meth is what I learned on Breaking Bad and I know it wasn’t pretty.

However, this guy knew all about it- and went on to tell me that all he ever thought about was getting high. If he wasn’t high, he thought about scoring. If he was high, he thought about getting higher.

That was then, this was now and Mark was straight and had started running, but it was slow going and his feet hurt. I could believe that. He was wearing crappy, broken down sneakers— all he could afford—so I offered him a pair of running shoes to get him going.

Something must have clicked. The next time I ran into him on the course he bubbled over about doing his first 5-Kand although he had to stop a few times, it was the first time he had completed a race since high school.

He was so pumped by his first race that he was already making plans to run another one, and another. Now, he wants me to draw up a training plan so he can run a marathon next winter.

Was he merely substituting running for his other addictions? Maybe. But something he told me has stuck.

“I never knew my great grandfather, I was told he was an alcoholic. So was my grandfather. My father was a bad drunk. I’m not blaming them or anyone else for my addictions, but this cycle of addictive behavior isn’t going past me. I will not pass this on to anyone else. I am the last member of my family who is an addict. This stops with me.”

Hopefully, it does. Maybe running is all Mark needs to get on the right track and halt the spread of addiction. But please don’t lump me with him by calling me a running addict or junkie because I’m not. I’m not an addict and don’t have a running addiction. Even suggesting that any of us do, trivializes the seriously addicted who if they are lucky—are taking one step at a time.

To bring it home in a very real way, this poor, but well-meaning guy is a shining example of what we at Mizuno are talking about: The possibility of a different world if everybody ran.

Even former crystal meth addicts.



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