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Ode to Jogging Joy: Run for Fun, Not Suffering

People are running around Jeff and Nancy Kirstein’s farm near Lennox. The Kirsteins host The Blood Run each year on their organic vegetable farm (vegetables! South Dakota farmers growing actual food for actual people! what a novel concept!). People come from miles around to run a 1.5-mile loop around the farm for 3, 6, 12, 24, or 26 hours.

KELO-TV covers the run and solicits the worst possible quote to encourage anyone but monks to participate in this challenging event:

“Ultra-running teaches you to suffer: you have to be okay with suffering and suffering teaches us to persevere and that helps us figure out who we are and what we can do,” said Natalie Stamp, who was running for 36 hours [Renee Ortiz, “Ultra-Marathoners Visit Lennox-Area Farm,” KELO-TV, 2022.09.04].

I have run distance for nearly 40 years (including some fine country runs chasing Jeff’s younger brother Sam on the Madison High School cross-country team in the golden autumn of 1986). I pushed my distance toward 14 miles in my youth, but nowadays I rarely crack 10 miles. I certainly don’t push for ultra: I’ll pound the pavement/gravel/grass/dirt for an hour and a half at most (although put me on the bike, and I can go for six hours, with a stop for ice cream!).

Maybe this is what I’m doing wrong, but never have I run to suffer. Quite the opposite: I run to feel better. I run to get away from work, from the computer, from sitting on my butt. I run to escape sedentary stagnation and stress. I run to restore my strength and sanity. I run to go outside, to get some sun (and sometimes moon), and see the world. I run so I can tease my wife about my resting heart rate of 38 beats per minute—I’m saving up beats for a long and vigorous old age. I run to make “fight weight” (on my good days, still the same size as when I was chasing Sam).

Running is work, but it is not suffering; it is an escape from suffering. Life provides enough suffering; we don’t need to seek out more. If suffering were the goal of running, we’d put rocks in our shoes. We’d run in our blue jeans. We’d run at industrial Superfund sites or the Empire Mall parking lot and not the Kirsteins’ green corner of paradise.

If I suffer while I’m running, I figure I’m doing something wrong. Suffering is my body telling me, stop, stretch, hydrate, walk the rest of the way, rest that bad leg, eat more protein and less Italian dressing before the next run. Suffering says, enough of this crap—let’s do something else. If you’re doing it right, running is not pain, only gain.

I get a pretty clear picture of who I am and who I want to be on my joyful runs (and rides, and hikes, and other joyful adventures). I learn what I can do in joyful labor, sweating and straining at tasks that make me want to sweat and strain more.

Running for me is like debate—in the immortal words of Huron High School debate coach Mitch Gaffer, “We’re having fun or we’re going home.” Life unbidden will provide enough lessons and suffering and perseverance without my embracing monkish self-abnegation.

Have fun running the Kirsteins’ farm today. Have fun running Lake Herman State Park, Richmond Lake, Leaders Park, Larson HillLookout Mountain, Black Elk Peak, or whatever other stretch of concrete, gravel, or dirt you have handy. But don’t run to suffer. Run to feel the joy of muscle and movement. Run so you can feel that joy again and again. Run to have fun.

Madison High School yearbook, 1986, p. 46.
Madison High School yearbook, 1986, p. 46.

Related Reading: 

Exercise increases the levels of endocannabinoids in the bloodstream, Linden explains. Unlike endorphins, endocannabinoids can move easily through the cellular barrier separating the bloodstream from the brain, where these mood-improving neuromodulators promote short-term psychoactive effects such as reduced anxiety and feelings of calm.

The mental benefits don’t stop when you finish your run — regular cardiovascular exercise can spark growth of new blood vessels to nourish the brain. Exercise may also produce new brain cells in certain locations through a process called neurogenesis, which may lead to an overall improvement in brain performance and prevent cognitive decline.

“Exercise has a dramatic antidepressive effect,” says Linden. “It blunts the brain’s response to physical and emotional stress.”

What’s more, the hippocampus — the part of the brain associated with memory and learning — has been found to increase in volume in the brains of regular exercisers. Other mental benefits include:

  • Improved working memory and focus
  • Better task-switching ability
  • Elevated mood

By making running or jogging (or any aerobic exercise) a regular part of your routine, you stand to earn more than just physical gains over time. “Voluntary exercise is the single best thing one can do to slow the cognitive decline that accompanies normal aging,” says Linden [David J. Linden, “The Truth Behind ‘Runner’s High’ and Other Mental Benefits of Running,” Johns Hopkins Medicine, retrieved 2022.09.04].

More Related Reading (more related than you may first think): Edward Abbey on frogs singing in the desert:

Why do they sing? What do they have to sing about? Somewhat apart from one another, separated by roughly equal distances, facing outward from the water, they clank and croak all through the night with tireless perseverance. To human ears their music has a bleak, dismal, tragic quality, dirgelike rather than jubilant. It may nevertheless be the case that these small beings are singing not only to claim their stake in the pond, not only to attract a mate, but also out of spontaneous love and joy, a contrapuntal choral celebration of the coolness and wetness after weeks of desert fire, for love of their own existence, however brief it may be, and for joy in the common life.

Has joy any survival value in the operations of evolution? I suspect that it does; I suspect that the morose and fearful are doomed to quick extinction. Where there is no joy there can be no courage; and without courage all other virtues are useless. Therefore the frogs, the toads, keep on singing even though we know, if they don’t, that the sound of their uproar must surely be luring all the snakes and ringtail cats and kit foxes and coyotes and great horned owls toward the scene of their happiness [Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness, 1968, Ballantine Books paperback, pp. 157–8].



  1. John 2022-09-04 11:00

    “Voluntary exercise is the single best thing one can do to slow the cognitive decline . . .” Probably not. Important, very. But diet is likely the single most important thing given the US diet of optional horribles.
    Human longevity is likely only 20-25% genetic. The balance is combinations of choices – diet (including what, amount, and how often), exercise, mental exercise (reading, challenging games / puzzles), and yes, luck.

    “lifespan – why we age and don’t have to”, by geneticist, David Sinclair is a worthy guide. asks: why do many other animals, some mammals, live hundred or hundreds of years, but humans do not? Why do some organisms live thousands of years (Joshua tree), and humans do not?

    Sinclair is finishing his second book. He also has a short series of youtube interviews: and others where he is interviewed. Also consider Andrew Huberman’s interview with Sinclair. Sinclair’s work appears to have restored sight in mice, reversed menopause in mice (mousopause?). Sinclair’s chronological age is north of 50. His biological age is in the low 40s.

    Listen to Sinclair on your next ride or run.

  2. WillyNilly 2022-09-04 12:03

    I’ll add to the list of causes of rapid aging and mental decline… chronic pain. One dumb move early in life can result in everlasting pain that alters diet, physical activity, social activity, and refocuses the mind inward rather than outward. The pain is a daily fight and so is maintaining any form of a positive outlook.

  3. grudznick 2022-09-04 13:35

    Oh, if only grudznick could run again. Back in my day I was brown as a nut and fit as a lathe, and could run like the wind tickling the tops of the aspen. Not so much now.

  4. Donald Pay 2022-09-04 14:55

    I wish I would have had you as a cross-country coach. I was NOT into suffering. I’d put in my three or four miles of moderately paced running, and that was enough for me. You wouldn’t catch me doing 10 miles EVER, unless I got to walk the last half of that run. I wasn’t into competing to win races, or even finishing them. Needless to say, it wasn’t enough for Lincoln High’s elite running team, so I was definitely on the Below B team side of things. We ran mostly for fun and to stay in shape, not to compete.

    I don’t run anymore, but I walk a good hour every day, sometimes more. I don’t push myself, never have, never will, but I do enough to get my heart rate up and my muscles and joints warm and limber. Add some weights and stretching. I tell you swing dancing is exercise, too.

  5. DaveFN 2022-09-04 19:47

    Am glad it works for you, Cory. Keep it up.

    As for myself, running has always seemed like a very jarring experience. People say it’s in the shoes, but I’ve not found that to be the case.

    Nonetheless I exercise daily: stepper and weight-lifting—-back/biceps, chest/triceps, shoulders/legs. In addition to exercise and diet, add a good night’s sleep. With plenty of dreaming.

  6. P. Aitch 2022-09-04 20:25

    What is suffering and what is enjoyment? Having lived in SD where it’s the “Germans from Russia Model” of “deriving enjoyment from denying yourself enjoyment” aka “discipline is all the fun we allow ourselves” and in cities where enjoyment is free form and completely the opposite of SD’s authoritative self-regulation, I can appreciate the individuality of fun. And then, in some places folks make their own fun by judging what others consider fun.

  7. leslie 2022-09-04 22:13


    “I run to feel better. I run to get away from work, from the computer, from sitting on my butt. I run to escape sedentary stagnation and stress. I run to restore my strength and sanity. I run to go outside, to get some sun (and sometimes moon)….

    Run to have fun.”

  8. leslie 2022-09-04 23:29

    I hiked most recently. Now I disc golf w/ one of my children, a young parent!

    Couldn’t agree more w/Cory!

  9. Richard Schriever 2022-09-05 09:35

    My regular employment keeps me exercised a plenty. Miles of walking and lifting of weights. In the “off” season, I do regular cardio, yoga and weight training – SNOW shoveling. When on my escapes to warmer climes, lots of walking, hill and mountain climbing. The last place I stayed in Ecuador required a 2 miles, each 1/2 distance of the path up hills at 9k plus feet to get groceries or go to the bank. Visiting the shops and sights on the lower level of the village consisted of descending and the ascending a stairway that had 535 steps. Resting heartbeat – same as it was in HS – 52. Chronological age 71, biological age mid 50’s.

    I don’t run, but I still have fun.

  10. grudznick 2022-09-05 13:22

    You fellows do know, don’t you, that frogs, cats and dogs can’t love or have joy, right?

  11. All Mammal 2022-09-05 18:06

    Mr. G! Surly, you jest. My canine furballs love me so much. I feed them plenty of bison heart and oxtail to ensure this. It also makes them so pretty. I take them to go sniff new things everyday. I think it is what burns up energy more than running. I have to run because when I was a kid, I imagined my blood getting all stagnant and muddy while I sat still. And when I stood up too fast, it made me dizzy. I’m too tall to let my blood turn to sediment and pool in my butt and feet. I always felt like running ‘sudzed up’ my blood by pumping it through my heart a bunch of times. Come to find out, the concepts I imagined when I was small are fact. Running without rubber-soled shoes is another concept called grounding or earthing these days. Physical connect to the good earth is an anti coagulant for the blood, among a number of other positive side effects. There is a documentary on youtube called Grounded. It is pretty neat.

  12. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-09-06 05:55

    Donald, that lack of competitive spirit is probably why I’d be an awful sport coach. My drive to be the fastest runner disappeared after 10th grade. I skipped cross-country my junior year, but I kept running for personal enjoyment. I ran with the team senior year just for the fun of being outside and seeing the autumn leaves along the gravel roads and out on the golf courses. (I also remember the state meet in Pierre that year was a dreary, cloudy day.) Running faster than someone else is kind of fun—I do enjoy catching up with some healthy runner on the trail. But I more enjoy having the trail to myself, running where no one else is, and having no one to distract me from my thoughts and the world around me.

  13. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-09-06 06:00

    Dave, running is jarring. I keep waiting for my knees to say, No more! When they do, I will switch entirely to biking, walking, and maybe some of the other activities you folks have mentioned.

    I love biking because I can cover more ground, see more world, and, when I’m not recreating, get to the grocery store and back faster with my meager provisions. I love running because it takes less equipment. If I go on a trip, I can pack shorts and shoes in my bag and see a few miles of the town I’m staying in on foot. Packing my bicycle takes a little more effort.

  14. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-09-06 06:06

    Thinking of Richard and his snow shoveling: I’d still rather shovel snow than stand around inside lifting weights.

    Whatever physical activities we prefer and whatever speed we prefer to do them at, we all agree that physical activity is good for us, and we can all see that more people need to engage in physical activity. Extolling the merits of suffering—No Pain No Gain!—seems more exclusive than inclusive. If we want more people to join us on the trails, the disc golf courses, and in Ecuador, we should point out that we are simply enjoying ourselves. If we want more people to run at Jeff Kirstein’s farm, we need to show runners coming across the finish lines with smiles on their faces.

  15. John 2022-09-08 08:44

    Choices. My boomer generation may be the worst US generation in a century, certainly we’re among the most selfish.
    Now China, yes China! is bypassing the US in life expectancy.
    The US is dropping out of the top 50 nations for life expectancy.
    Every single nation in the top 50 for life expectancy has a public healthcare option. Every. Single. One.
    The only silver lining is that US death rates are higher in red states and red enclaves.
    Adapt, migrate, or die — and the MAGA deplorables are apparently choosing to die.

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