Running is a panacea for troubled times


The COVID-19 pandemic has taken away so much from so many of us.

Livelihoods. Health. Peace of mind. And most tragically, lives.

But exercise is still a treasured blessing for those who enjoy participating in it. Stay-at-home orders from the government are the rule now rather than the exception, but the wonderful option of being able to get out in the fresh spring air and take a walk or a run is still available to anybody who is healthy enough to engage.

I’ve never taken my ability to walk or run for granted — especially after having suffered a leg injury in a fishing accident back in 2012 that required a surgical plate and metal screws to be implanted into my right knee.

I certainly don’t take walking or running for granted now.

When I embark on my 4- to 6-mile runs three days a week, I use running as a form of meditation, therapy, catharthis and even prayer for whatever happens to ail me.

In these troubled, uncertain times, there is no substitute for the exhilaration, challenge and sense of well-being that a long jaunt through this area’s gorgeous countryside affords.

And four runners who either live in Blair County or who have ties to it, and who competed in the 2019 Boston Marathon, all agree.

Although they put exponentially more time, distance and energy into the pastime than I do — with each customarily running at least 45 miles a week throughout the year, and one logging over 100 in some weeks — all four still get immense enjoyment and fulfillment from distance running, and each of them feels most grateful to be able to do it.

“Running is a gift,” said Jeff Bartlett, 55, of Bellwood, who has completed 16 lifetime marathons and has run in Boston four times. “I say a little prayer thanking God that I can run, because when you get into your 50s, you never know.”

This year’s race was postponed from last Monday, April 20 until Monday, Sept. 14 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Bartlett, like fellow area runners Kristen Gill and Mary Kowalski of Hollidaysburg, plans to be on hand in Boston again if the race is held in the fall.

“I plan on doing better in 2020,” Bartlett said. “When you have an opportunity to run Boston, you should do it.”

Gill, like Bartlett, took up distance and marathon running later in her adult life, and became hooked on the sport’s allure. She, too, is grateful for being able to lace up her running shoes and run any distance, let alone a marathon, at the age of 49.

“I’m very thankful that my body has held up,” said Gill, who made her third appearance in Boston in 2019. “I’m 49, not 20. You go around, and everybody is so stressed about this virus. But I always stress to be thankful for what I have.”

So does Kowalski, 53, who has run Boston five times.

“From the first time that I started running at all, as I kid, I was hooked,” said Kowalski, who competes in trail running and cycling competitions as well as road races. “It’s hard to look at (the current crisis) and not have it affect you. But I’ve always been thankful, and I’m even more thankful for what I have now.”

Dr. Ken Goodfellow, Ph.D, is a Hollidaysburg native who now lives and works in Pittsburgh. Last year at the age of 29, Goodfellow finished 49th among all men’s runners at the Boston Marathon with a time of 2:26.

He decided not to run in Boston this year — even though he had met the qualifying time for this year’s race — but he has already qualified for the 2021 Boston Marathon, and plans to run in that one.

Following social distancing guidelines, Goodfellow generally trains alone for marathons now, rather than with a group of fellow runners, as he did before the pandemic invaded this country.

“This has changed the dynamic of running a bit,” said Goodfellow, who puts in 100 to 110 miles a week during his peak training sessions for marathons. “Most of my running is now solo. But I’m still glad that I am able to do it.”

That’s a sentiment that anybody who is fortunate enough to be able to run today will certainly share.

John Hartsock can be reached at jhartsock@altoonamirror.com.


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