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A little manual labor is good for the soul. Breaking stone and digging soil, chopping firewood and carrying heavy logs is cathartic. Couple that low-tech, results-based exercise with a good running program and you’ve got something special; running legend George Sheehan said, “Sweat cleanses from the inside. It comes from places a shower will never reach.”

“Why are we less than happy? What about a reliable income, food in the fridge, and enough free time to practically meld with the new Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon game guarantees that we have so much trouble sleeping? The cure is some honest labor, and some euphoria-inducing long runs.”

Humans won a contest we weren’t supposed to win. Our food is comfortably at grocery stores (at least in the developed world), our movement from A to B is almost entirely mechanical, and we are free to sit around and enjoy massive amounts of ass-fattening free time. And yet most people, when asked how they’re doing, shrug and say the ubiquitous “Eh, not bad.”

Why are we less than happy? What about a reliable income, food in the fridge, and enough free time to practically meld with the new Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon game guarantees that we have so much trouble sleeping?

The cure is some honest labor, and some euphoria-inducing long runs. Hitting the gym and the treadmill are alternatives, but they fall short in the satisfaction department. After all, when we’re finished with our squats, we put the plates back and walk away from the rack, leaving it just the way we found it. Running for thirty-minutes on a treadmill is an exercise in tedium, unless you watch TV to take your mind off of the boredom.

Imagine instead the sense of satisfaction and accomplishment when you’re swinging an ax through a log; you start with a pile of big logs and finish with a stack of small ones. Grab a sledge hammer and destroy that old cement panel in the back yard that’s been driving you nuts. Pick up a shovel and spade and dig out that garden bed in the bed, turning over useless sod and replacing the patch with some vegetables. Hell, buy twenty-five cinder blocks and carry them from side of the yard to the other. A wheelbarrow and a project list beats any gym routine.

And running? Get off the treadmill and head outside. Yes, even when it’s hot. When you’re outside, don’t worry about pace or capping your distance at a predetermined number. Just run, explore the neighborhood, push yourself past your limits and don’t return until you feel like you’ve earned it.

Something magic happens when you embrace the misery of long running. As exhaustion sets in, and you’ve depleted your store of mental tricks to keep moving, you can find yourself suddenly reinvigorated. Your body becomes weightless, your lungs and heart are working at peak efficiency, and your brain releases an endorphin surge; you just experienced a running high. Nothing else in the world of fitness compares to this sensation, and you’re a Hell of a lot more likely to get there when you’re long running outside rather than on a treadmill.

The cure to modern maladies like a daily malaise is honest work, and endurance-straining running. Invest in some basic yard tools and make some backyard gardening and patio improvements your new exercise, even if its just for a while. If you can’t afford to do this, or don’t have the space, consider volunteering with a group of people who maintain trails in parks. It’s free, and you still have that “Look what I did!” satisfaction. More importantly you develop that nigh-mythical thing known as “functional strength”, the kind of strength our forefathers possessed.

Take a break from the treadmill and take your runs outside, if only a few times a week. The fresh air, sunshine, and (I dare say) spiritual satisfaction is unparalleled. Before long the idea of a long winter run isn’t a terror. You’ve grown accustomed to the outdoors again and welcome the unknown into that long run.

Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m right. This kind of advice is based on each individual.

There’s only one way to find out.

You’ll sweat away from the inside, and have something more to show for it.

Matt Suwak
About the Author

Matt Suwak was reared by the bear and the bobcat and the coyote of rural Pennsylvania. This upbringing keeps him permanently affixed to the outdoors where most of his personal time is invested in bird watching and hiking. He presently resides in Philadelphia and works during the day as a landscaper and gardener, and by night a freelance writer. He can throw a football ten miles from a stationary position and has grappled mountain lions and lived to tell about it. The lions cannot say the same.

His other writing can be found at www.mattsuwak.wordpress.com

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