Sports

Karl Lindholm: 14,000 days in a row and counting!

THE COLUMNIST AND his pal hoary-pated Ben walking, not running, on the Middlebury College campus; Ben had already done a five-miler amid those brilliant autumn colors.

It’s simply second nature. You stop asking ‘will’ (I run today) and simply focus on ‘when.’

I ran a few times with Ben, quite a while ago. He worked at Redlands University in California and I was from here at Middlebury College. Our jobs brought us together on a nearly annual basis as we represented our schools in travels to universities in the United Kingdom, Ireland, and the Pacific Rim. 
He was a runner and I even at my fittest was a plodder. He was light and lithe; I was not. On our trips abroad, I told him, “I will run with you for no more than three miles at a 10-minute pace.” He would then take me on a loop that was twice that and push me to a pace that was at least a minute faster . . . .
He would cheerfully talk to me along the route, asking open-ended questions as he tripped lightly along while I, breathlessly, attempted to respond. That was so annoying, yet I got over my irritation quickly as he is at the same time a congenial Midwesterner (he grew up in Iowa) and a laidback Californian (he’s been in Southern California for five decades).
Though he’s a few years older than I, he still runs, and I, with replacement knees, have not had even a light jog in years.
He runs and runs and runs and runs . . . . 
When I saw an email message from him last November that read only “14,000” in big bold numbers, I knew exactly what that meant: Ben had run every day for 14,000 days — every day since August 19, 1981. 
That’s right: every day for nearly 40 years. He is now at 14,106.
He is thus a member of a loosely knit international group called “Streakers,” runners like Ben, who make this daily enterprise into an unbreakable habit. The “run,” for them, has become so much a part of their lives that “it’s simply second nature,” he says. “You stop asking ‘will’ and simply focus on ‘when.’” 
I was quite sure that Ben had a world record of some kind, but he laughed at the thought and pointed me to the streakers’ web page (SRI/USRSA — Streak Runners International/US Runners Streak Association) where his 39.6 years straight places him only 35th — and just three runners ahead of him are his age: he started too late!
Yet to me what is most remarkable about the streak is that running does not seem to be the centerpiece of his life. He has led a rich and varied, balanced life. He “adjusted” his day, as he put it, to accommodate his running “habit.” He and Darla, his wife of over 50 years, raised their family in Redlands (three boys), and now, finally retired, Ben dotes on his four grandchildren, plays golf, and grows beautiful roses. 
At Redlands, Ben was the Debate Coach, Professor of Speech, and Dean of Special Programs. In this latter role, he oversaw Redlands’ off-campus study programs all over the world. Also, in the spring and summer months, he offered teacher training programs throughout the U.S. (in 49 states overall!) 
His professional life then was decidedly peripatetic. His passion for running has provided him with innumerable adventures in striking settings. He listed for me just a few of his most memorable runs:
-Along the Salzach River in an early evening snow in fairy tale Salzburg, Austria.
-In the late evening mist in the eerie quiet of Peace Park, Hiroshima.
-Under the canopy of a Costa Rican rain forest.
-In Central Park, in a snowstorm, at Christmastime.
-On a morning run in Tokyo getting completely lost.
-In the indescribable beauty of Sydney’s botanical gardens.
-Around Diamond Head in Honolulu at sunset.
-In a howling wind along Chicago’s lakefront in winter.
-On the coast of the North Sea by the Old Course at St. Andrews.
-Along the coast of Galway, Ireland, in the soft daylight on a late summer evening.
He told me too of encounters with a bear in Mammoth, Calif., a mountain lion in home town Redlands, snakes and dogs (“everywhere, but never bitten”), monkeys and screeching birds in Costa Rica, a moose in Alaska, coyotes, and “drunken teens who get a kick out of coming up behind a runner and laying on the horn.”
So many stories: like the time he became lost on a run at a conference in Seattle and got a ride back to his hotel in the bed of a truck with bushels and bushels of apples and “two very large and mangy dogs,”
Or running in minus-30 windchill in Rochester, Minn., or running in place in his birthday suit in Atlantic City after the airline lost his baggage and his schedule was jammed (just that once though),
Or making the discovery that airports had showers, so, yes, he might have been that well-tanned fellow who ran by you in Miami in a colorful outfit, offering a smile and a cheery greeting,
Or running with a torn medial meniscus. The doctor said, “If you can tolerate the pain, go for it.” Took about six weeks to get better. 
Many of his favorite runs have been right here in New England. 
About 25 years ago, Ben approached his friends in the admissions office at Redlands and asked if they could use someone visiting secondary schools in New England during October’s on-site recruiting season — and, did I mention, also peak foliage season. 
So over two decades he spent the first two weeks in October, often with Darla, visiting schools and enjoying the glorious countryside of New England. I hope to see him again next fall this way. He still comes, now on his own dime. 
I asked him for just a few of his favorite New England runs, so he sent me 1,000-plus-word essays about visits to Lake Winnipesaukee (“There is no end to country roads . . . here Thoreau rules. . .you run till you’re tired.”), Woodstock, Conn. (Pulpit Rock Road . . . quintessentially New England country road . . . a nice loop of 5-8 miles . . . really, really quiet”), and East Burke, Vt., (“from the Wildflower Inn . . . a dirt road with ancient towering and arching trees”). 
I (he!) could go on and on. He still does his 40 miles a week, though he now “mixes in some walking with the running,” as he approaches his ninth decade of life. 
What will it take for Ben to stop running? What will that day look like? 
“Who knows,” he wrote recently. “It is unlikely that I will ‘choose’ not to run. Someday I won’t run because I can’t, and think I’ll be OK with that. 
“I’ve been very lucky — family, life, experiences. I was one of eight born to two Tennessee hillbillies who never graduated from elementary school. Grew up in a town of less than a thousand, graduated from high school in a class of 29. College was a gift. I loved my job. 
“I’ve had a great run.” 

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