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Why run?

March 2, 2012 - John Stack
I’ve run for a good portion of my life. I started running in Jr High track in 8th grade back in Mohawk. I had a lot of fun, but was completely clueless. I ran the mile. I’d sprint the first lap, hold on for dear life the next 2 laps then sprint the last half lap in a wild blitz for victory. At 13, this worked for me. Our coach would just send us out on the road and have us run. He never offered any advice or training tips. But I did like running.

The next year, I joined cross country. I found out I couldn’t sprint for 3 miles over hills. But a bunch of friends were on the team, and we had a good time. Unlike here in Saranac Lake, for our races, we were lucky if one kids parent’s showed up to watch! But we just ran because we liked it. I admit that it helped I was good at it, running varsity for 4 years, and never being one of the ‘back-of-the-pack-ers’.

Then came college, and an extra 40 pounds. I was never quite so fast, but kept running the 15K Boilermaker on minimal training. I ran on and off for 15 years until I came to Saranac Lake. Living here is heaven for a runner. There were fun races allthe time (still are). Bill Peer restarted the Fun Runs in town where it didn’t matter if you were a 6 minute miler or Bob Seidenstein. Everyone has fun. Bob’s life is not defined by how fast he runs, and neither is mine. Back 10 years ago, I was still running fast (er). I met a lot of great people who were runners. I met my friend Nancie, who just up and runs when she can (and is still very fast in her late 50’s) and doesn’t worry about her times.

I did ramp it up to ‘11’ for a couple years when I trained for the Ironman. I could tell you every course I ran in town to the .01 miles and my best times. I could tell you my pace within 5 seconds per mile. Then I ran the Ironman, making lots of friend along the way. The people I run with, or people I meet running, I don't know their political affiliation. How much they make. Their religion. We are just RUNNERS. And that's all they think of me. A number of times, i have ran long distances in races with the same person I just met. I ran 10 miles with Karen Delaney in 2003 Lake Placid Half. Nancie for 5 miles in 2004. In a marathon in Columbus, I ran with a 19 year old gil for over 10 miles. 2 years ago, amidst a turtle paced 2:30 half marathon, I ran the last 8 miles with a woman from the Utica area. Miles 18-22 in the Boilermaker some guy I never will see again. Great times all.

Then, I got hurt, and gained another 20 pounds. What the heck? In my 40s, 5’9” and I’m over 210? I started running a lot more a couple years ago. I got back with my best running partner ever, Phil Gallo. Phil has never been particularly fast, but he also didn’t start running until he was about my age now.

Now we run trails as much as possible. We only run streets when we have to (like this winter). We don’t have killer workouts. No suicide sprints. No monster hill repeats. Then, Sarah Keyes started up weekly fun runs up at the VIC. The runs were about 5K every week (give or take a half mile). I hadn’t run a hard 5K in years. But, running on the VIC trails is sublime. Racing or just training on those trails is just about running Nirvana.

But now I’ve found a new passion. Extreme distance running. At one of the VIC runs, Sarah tells Phil and I about an Ultra Trail Marathon (50K-31 miles) up in Dannemora. I thought, ‘Ah its 9 weeks away. Lets think about it next year’. Not Phil. Phil just turned 60. He has a wild look in his eye. Hmmm> That’s not good news. He says ‘John, I’m not getting any younger’ with a smile. We were on our way to running a ridiculous UltraMarathon – with 9 weeks to train. But, we didn’t kill ourselves. No getting up at 5 AM for 2 hour runs. No running 7 days a week. We would run 2 or 3 times a week, and a good long run on the weekend. And we were enjoying running more than ever. At the last minute, Sarah decided to run the marathon – her first – and she did incredibly well. Phil and I had a riot, running the who 31 miles together. Now, Phil can TALK. But, at mile 28 of an Ultra, the last thing you want to be doing is obsessing about how your back and feet feel. When there was a rare moment when Phil didn’t talk for 20 seconds, I would chastise him and remind him that’s why we were running together! During this time, we picked up a new friend, Beth Donnely. She shares our undying belief in trail running, and pushing yourself, ..and not running too fast. All 4 of us are signed up for the Damn Wakely Dam run in July – 55K, over much harsher terrain, with no support except what is on your back (The Dannemora race was awesome in its support all the way around). We are still only doing 3 or 4 runs a week, with a long run on the weekend. Come spring, we will throw in some swimming and biking (Phil and I also have done a number of mini-tris and Phil has finished Tupper Tinman a couple times).

I’m feeling better about running than I have ever in my life. I am running much farther, but enjoying it more. The opportunity to run and clear your mind and leave your worries behind is priceless. I’m even getting injured less than ever. Can’t wait until these trails are dry!!


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