Go Out and Play!

“Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth.”
- Clinical report in PEDIATRICS, January 2007

“We run, not because we think it is doing us good, but because we enjoy it and cannot help ourselves ... The more restricted our society and work become, the more necessary it will be to find some outlet for this craving for freedom.”
- Sir Roger Bannister

When it comes to playtime, our society actually starts children out pretty well. It’s not until adulthood that things get screwed up.

The vast majority of elementary schools – including all of them on the Monterey Peninsula – include daily recess as part of the curriculum. It’s the time when kids leave the world of book reports and multiplication tables behind, and escape to a world of four square battles, double-dutch routines, JUST RUN, or any magical adventures they can imagine.

In middle school, recess is gone, but most kids have physical education classes every day, an “active break” where hopefully they are instructed in the importance of regular exercise and exposed to a variety of sports and games. When they get to high school, unfortunately P.E. isn’t required for 4 years, but there is a wide selection of athletic teams awaiting their participation.

Anyone who has played high school sports can tell you those memories are among the most cherished in their entire lives; every practice they attended, and every play of every game makes some tangible contribution to their experience and emotional happiness. Even for those who didn’t play sports, the fondest childhood memories are typically related to time spent playing outdoors: climbing to a tree fort, bike riding through the neighborhood, or splashing in a river or lake.

But when kids become adults and eventually take on jobs and families, they find that the world doesn’t place the same priority on recess and playtime. If they cling to those games they loved as children – by playing in rec leagues, taking lessons from a local club, or signing up for various races – they sometimes sense the “real world” frowning upon them. Parents aren’t supposed to leave their kids with a babysitter so they can work out; upwardly mobile career workers aren’t supposed to have free time for exercise; respected professionals aren’t supposed to be seen in sweaty running clothes.

Grown-ups gradually internalize these expectations and feel guilty or self-centered for taking time to exercise, even though it still stimulates their emotional well-being. And when life gets crazy and schedules get tight, exercise is almost always the first thing to drop off the priority list. “I just don’t have the time any more” is the most common remark you’ll hear from former lifelong athletes, and it’s the reason we hear most frequently when catching up with runners who used to train with us.

The irony, of course, is that exercise never ceases to be a necessary part of our happiness and healthy development. Adults can find the same satisfaction and enjoyment from games and races that they did as children. For the two of us, running offers the same escape from the troubles of the world that play breaks did when we were in elementary school. In fact, we find that whenever life gets the most difficult, stressful, or hectic, those are the times when we need our exercise outlet the most.

Exercise is recess, and it’s just as important now as it was when you were a child. Go outside and play!

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Honoring September 11th

“I ran. I’ll never forget the sound of the building crumbling behind me. I didn’t turn around. I just ran and ran and ran.”
One survivor of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

Mike gets personal about September 11th.

Screaming and running have always been our primal human fear defense mechanisms. Running away is the natural thing to do.

At some point in every race and often in daily runs every runner is faced with a moment of decision; do I keep on running hard and be physically uncomfortable or do I back off and take it easy? It is at these moments that each runner looks within and often discovers who they are or who they can be.
It’s at that moment and by that decision that the runner feels most alive.

In three days I honor the 17th anniversary of September 11th. No, that’s NOT a typo. Actually the story starts on Friday October 15th, 1993. My first wife Sue was running at the Hartnell College track in Salinas and suffered a cerebral hemorrhage due to an aneurysm. No warning signs, no behavioral changes, no headaches in the previous months. She required immediate surgery and an MRI indicated she had Glioblastoma Multiforme 4, a diagnosis you never want to hear, advanced brain cancer.

She was 46 and outwardly extremely healthy; maintained a healthy weight, a runner, a swimmer, never smoked, only drank alcohol occasionally and it was red wine. She ate all the recommended foods, with a lot of fruits and vegetables; never used extra salt, didn’t have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, always ordered dressing “on the side”. She maintained a fairly easy-going personality and we had three relatively stressless and wonderful children.

All of us runners and health addicts who think we are “bulletproof” should think again. Lifestyle choices are only one part of the puzzle. After the surgery, the doctor said the prognosis was less than a year and she passed away 11 months later on September 11th, 1994; a precious and vibrant life gone at a far too early age.

She and our family struggled during that 11 months, but my running thrived (as meaningless as it seemed), as I used it and my running partners for stress relief, strength, and comfort. I ran and ran and ran.

September 11th was our unique family day for memories for seven years until 2001. It still is, but we now share it with the entire country. Somehow it only feels right that September 11th should be a national day of honor and reflection.

We had 11 months to confront and face death and talk about it and the consequences. I can only imagine and pretend to feel the pain of those whose loved ones left for work on a “normal” day, or to take a plane on a “routine” business trip, and they never saw them again. No time to even think of goodbyes. Nearly 3,000 people died; 411 were firefighters, police, and paramedics who ran into the World Trade Center buildings and overcame their fear.

On September 11th, instead of re-creating pictures in our mind of the horrors of tumbling and broken buildings, and airplanes falling from the sky, we should think compassionately of those precious and vibrant victims that died and their grieving family members. Make it personal.

Before you go for a run on September 11th, and every day after, make sure you are running toward something and not away from it. And hug your family before you go.

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