How I Started Running


My non-runner friends ask, “How did you get started running?” And I tell them, “It was a ’69 Kawasaki 500 H1.”

The H1, for those not seeped in early Japanese motorcycling history, was the original crotch rocket. Its handling was nothing special – some would say evil – but its three cylinder two stroke engine was awesome. Take a twenty-something male, a motorcycle capable of 0-60 in three seconds, and you’ll get three speeding tickets in three months and a suspended license for another three.

So there I was, unable to drive, and with a five-day-a-week requirement to get from the suburbs to graduate school in Center City Philadelphia. Luckily, there was a train station about a mile and a half from our house. So every day, I would walk to the train station and ride the Reading into town.

Walt's stable of bikes.

However, “walk” isn’t really accurate. For I was chronically late and invariably, would have to take off down the street at a fairly brisk trot to catch the train. The vision of looking down the road, seeing the crossing gates descend as the train pulled into view stays with me to this day. This always necessitated a last chance sprint to make the train and avoid being late.

In a pattern which plagues me still, I was always trying to get one more thing done before leaving and consequently was always late. At first, the effort nearly killed me. At that point in my life, physical activity was confined to an occasional game of table tennis. Those games could be a pretty good workout, but as I learned quickly, inadequate preparation for my daily race. I would arrive at the station, out of breath and with my feet hurting (my running shoes were penny loafers). I might add that I garnered rather annoyed looks from fellow commuters as I would take my seat on the train, my shirt sweat-stained from the exertion.

Walt Max finishes the Sno-joke half-marathon.

But as you might guess, these daily efforts began to transform my slightly overweight and out-of-shape body to something that was quite new and very appealing. I began to run faster and stronger and wasn’t so out of breath so quickly. I began to feel light on my feet, to have a feeling of fitness and confidence that I’d never experienced.

And so, three months later, I was a runner. I continued to run, even after getting my license back. I didn’t run to the train station, but began to run around the neighborhood. I experienced the delight of exploring new streets and gaining perspectives unavailable while driving. A new world opened up to me.

Now, over thirty years later I still run. Not as fast as when I first started, but at least I haven’t gotten any more speeding tickets.

Well maybe one…


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Walt Max is a semi-retired computer professional who lives with his wife, Sue, and an undetermined number of woolly critters on Woolly Critters Ranch outside Alberton, Montana. When he’s not chasing goats or grandkids, managing tech projects, or writing the next Great American Novel, he’s probably running.