by David Beaty
I have been running now for more years than some of you have been alive. With the exception of the last 15 years, my running was relatively pain/injury free. My first “running” experience was in the 6th grade at Veale Elementary School in southern Indiana. The School District had a track meet for all the 6th graders from the surrounding grade schools. I was the fastest in my class and got my first taste of track running the 660 yard dash. From there it was Jr High track and the 440 and 880 (before metric), then High School track and the 800 meter race. On one of the walls of my High School was a mural of Mark Lutz, an alum who had run in the Olympics. I played basketball and tennis in college for coaches who believed in running hard and long.
I ran on and off for several years until my son was born, which for some reason inspired me to start running the streets. My first big race was the Tulsa Run, a 15K. That was followed by more years of on and off running, a lot of 5K’s and 10K’s. My first marathon was in ’91, the old St. Louis Olympiad Marathon, run in February. From there a string of Chicago Marathon’s, then Disney, another St. Louis marathon, and a bunch of half-marathons. (I lost track after 30.)
But what changed my running life was driving down Hwy. 50 and getting hit by a drunk driver in 1999. My car was totaled. Even though I had my seatbelt on, I sustained bruising to my abdomen, which would later lead to two hernia surgeries. What I did not know at the time was the damage it had done to my lower back. The pain showed up a few weeks later. The diagnosis was that two vertebrae had been smashed down onto each other and the “goop” in-between was now pushing on my spinal cord. Up to this point I had simply taken a few days off when things really hurt and then got back out running. Everything changed from this point on. Having now gone through 17 surgeries and procedures over the past 15 years (back, shoulder - 2, hernia - 2, eyes - 3, abdomen - 4, 1 kidney stone removal, 1 lithotripsy, and knees - 3), I have come back and started running again each time. There was always the recovery time, the “can I run yet” time, and the “I’m going to start, just don’t tell anyone” time. I continued to run marathons and half-marathons.
Only one time did I seriously entertain the idea of quitting. About four years ago I had reached the point where the back pain was constant and severe. The neurosurgeon sent me for an MRI. When we went to his office to see the results, he showed us what my lower back looked like. Where you would normally see vertebrae L4, L5, and L6, there was something resembling a giant balled up fist. Arthritis has now mis-formed my lower back. Upon seeing the pictures, my wife Aleta started crying. Until that point she did not know how bad it had gotten. At that point I quit running, believing I had no choice. The surgeon suggested therapy. We tried nerve killing procedures, cortisone shots, PT., and pain killers, but after several weeks of inactivity, in which I was driving myself and everyone else crazy, I decided I had to get back out on the road. So I went back to running. I have been told by several doctors to give up running or choose another form of exercise. For me there is only running. I have always loved to run. How do you explain that to someone who doesn’t run?
There is also the contemplative side of things as running is the place where I work out deep thoughts and life direction. It’s amazing that Aleta and I can run together and still allow each other space as we run. Running is also literally a spiritual experience for me. Eric Liddell, whose life the movie Chariots of Fire chronicled, said, and I agree: “When I run I feel His pleasure.” The countless sunrises and sunsets, running on roads and trails and through cities all over the US, being the first set of footprints after the new snow, have kept me in touch with my Maker. All that to say that the reasons I keep coming back to running are the same reasons I run at all.
I admit that at times I like doing something that someone tells me I shouldn’t be able to do. I hurt and I get tired. But I never get tired of running. I would run farther and faster if I could figure out how to get this body to cooperate. My current challenges are knees that have no cushion left between the bones. We’re working on that. My other challenge is that after four abdominal surgeries in 18 months I literally have no muscles in the area where most of you work so hard to have a flat stomach. Needless to say, I’m still at it. Plan to be as long as I am physically able. John Bingham made a statement that means more to me with each passing surgery. He said, “Everything changed the day that I understood that if I was to become a runner, I would have to run with the body I had.” After each surgery or procedure I take stock of what I’ve got and I get back out there and run.
Want to get to know David better? Check out his Runfie Questions!
What is your favorite distance to run & why? The half-marathon is probably my favorite distance. Because the marathon is so much harder for me to run now, the half gives me the opportunity to run, recover and enjoy the rest of the day with family and friends. However, I still like the marathon distance because you really feel like you've proven something to yourself when you run it.
What is the strangest thing you’ve seen while running? I don't know how funny it will seem to others but while running the Katy Trail we had to stop because the trail was covered with what seemed to be hundreds of baby frogs. They were jumping everywhere. We were afraid to go forward because we couldn't take a step without stepping on the baby frogs.
What is your favorite running book? My first running book was Jim Fixx's "The Complete Book of Running". It was from an offer on a Quaker Oatmeal box, way back in the day, but it started me off and got me running regularly. Second book was Dean Karnazes' "Ultramarathon Man". We had the opportunity to meet Dean as he was running across the US. He was actually running down Hwy 50, outside of Union. We (Aleta and I, Drew and Stephanie) stopped along the road to cheer him on. He insisted on stopping, talking to us, allowed a couple of pictures, and then headed on. The way he writes a story is very inspiring and just down right fun. I also recommend anything by Dr. George Sheehan.