Commentary: Running gene? No, habit-forming persistence

Miserably out of breath, exhausted, searching desperately for the balloon arch at the finish, I ran a 5K around Fashion Island 35 years ago.

"Never will I sign up for another race." I resolved.

I longed to be home with my husband and baby son, breakfasting in our cozy kitchen.

Fast-forward to May 18 and running coach Bill Sumner's Magic Shoe 5K Race around Eastbluff.

In my element, I located current running partners, recognized old friends and, after the gun sounded, ran with joy. I completed 3.1 miles at a pace of 8 minutes and 15 seconds a mile.

Racing around Fashion Island in my mid-30s, I was in the fitness prime of my life. So why, approaching 70 , do I love what I hated at 34?

I've learned it. My brain has experienced 5Ks (3 miles) thousands of times since 1979. All my cells, synapses, mitochrondia are trained to understand distance, duration and completion.

Have you heard that it takes 300 repetitions to form a habit? I am not a natural exerciser. I ran after the birth of my son because I was a dumpy little mama, getting rounder.

"Athlete?" Not in my genes. Eater, yes.

Over the years, I hung in, bumping down the road at a jog-trot because at 5 feet tall, I couldn't afford to be 5 feet across. I made friends with the runners I met, and over many slow and sluggish workouts, habit formed. I began to have a good time — mostly.

My finishing time May 18 was 25:39, second place behind Jeanie, the same runner who beat me at the OC Half Marathon. When Jeanie turns 65 and enters my age group, I'll never win first. She's faster.

However, winning's not important to me. Here is what is: I read Susie Orleans' May 20th New Yorker article quoting research that says women who move around are 40% less likely to die than those who sit for six hours a day.

Running keeps me from sitting. I thank running when I shop for a size 2 rather than the size 8 I once wore. When I sit with the clipboard before my yearly physical and neither check a single illness nor list one prescription, I'm grateful to running.

I conquered many demons to pull myself out of bed for the Magic Shoe: the overeating demon, the sleeping urge, the inertia gene and the resistance to uncomfortable exertion.

Most importantly, when I got up early Saturday to go to Sumner's race, I felt the happy anticipation I remember as a kid going out to play with my friends. And I didn't even care if I got beaten.

Newport Beach resident CARRIE LUGER SLAYBACK is training to run the Los Angeles Marathon at age 70.

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