Uppermost House: Running with the turnips

PeterLewisTreehouseCMYKBy S. Peter Lewis
BN Columnist

Most days, there’s very little difference between me and a laundry basket full of turnips. Sit said basket down on a cheap office chair in front of a couple of computer screens for nine hours (as I am so ensconced each Monday through Friday at my office) and the only real difference between the turnips and me is that the turnips will likely make fewer trips to the bathroom (although they may get more phone calls).

Experts tell me that I burn 62 calories an hour while I’m sitting on my butt at work, which is approximately half the rate of energy consumption as when I’m brushing my teeth and only a third as much as while I’m blow drying my hair. Not the most stimulating data, to be sure, but this column hasn’t gotten interesting yet, anyway.

So, in order to keep from turning into a laundry basket full of turnips, I’ve spent my entire life making up for my eight-to-five physical slothfulness by exercising relentlessly as soon as the workday ends. The whistle blows down at the widget plant and I’m out of my chair like a flash and am soon burning calories like an old locomotive burns coal on a steep grade.

Running is my exhaustion of choice and I’ve been doing it as often as possible since my twenties. I prefer running on steep, rocky, muddy trails in the mountains rather than, as they say, “pounding the pavement.” Trail running is tricky and precise and demands constant attention and lots of foot-to-eye coordination; and it also gets you to some fantastically beautiful places. Running on the road, by comparison, is boring to excess, painful on the knee and hip joints, and gets you to fantastically not beautiful places, like parking lots and strip malls.

If you don’t run on the road but want to know what it feels like, sit in a chair between two idling cars and prop your legs straight out in front of you on an old peach crate while a friend whacks the soles of your feet rhythmically with an old canoe paddle. You don’t need expensive running shoes for this. Do it for an hour (you may needs several friends; the whacking part is actually pretty tiring).

Sure, trail running is probably the more dangerous activity than road running, from a stumble-over-a-log-and-crash-into-the-underbrush standpoint, but at least you can’t get wanged in the head by some guy who’s got oversized mirrors on his pickup because he’s towing a boat he can’t afford and the kids are screaming so he’s not paying attention.

Over the years, I figure I’ve run something well over 10 million steps, and while I’ve crashed many times, I’ve only had two major injuries. Once, after a four-mile run up a rock-strewn old creek bed, I sprained my ankle severely while on the manicured tourist trail within sight of my car; and just this spring I stumbled while sprinting down a steep hillside and speared myself head first into a cluster of boulders — fortunately I put my face out to break my fall. About an hour later, I was at a friend’s house when my wife walked in. When she saw what was left of my face she just gave me that look...yeah, you know the one.

Anyway, as I slip further into my anecdotal years, I’ve found that I cannot grind the trails as hard as I used to. Sure, they’re softer than pavement, but I’ve just got too much mileage. My running times are just as good (I keep a spreadsheet), but if I go too many days in a row my right knee sounds like an old screen door and aches a lot. So, last year I decided to start cross-training — which allows me to continue my frenzied exercise regimen but without risking squirting synovial fluid and bits of cartilage out of my knee from the constant beating. So, I went and got myself a mountain bike, which I ride on alternate days (there’s no impact, so my knees get a break). Now my week looks like this: sitrunsitbikesitrunsitbikesitrunsitbikesitrun.

I ride on the same trails that I run on, so I get to crash in all the old familiar places, only now I’m usually going faster, am farther off the ground when things go haywire, and I carry 25 pounds of spinning aluminum and steel with me as I go cart-wheeling down into the ravine.

I sent an excited e-mail to a friend after I got the bike and his terse response was, “Please send X-rays.”

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