I have found myself dead tired after every fight I have ever been in, including gunfights and other intense emergency situations encountered through military combat operations or as a firefighter. One particular situation that occurred in Iraq in March 2003 stands out clearly in my mind because it changed my life.
After conducting a successful raid on a bridge, my platoon began breaking contact under light enemy fire. I don’t know if it was adrenaline, lack of training, or just a follow-the-leader mentality, but instead of bounding to break contact, the entire platoon began a full-out sprint to the rally point. I happened to be in the rear because I was at the far end of the bridge providing security for a Marine who was working on silencing an enemy mortar position with well-placed M203 rounds. My headset said break contact to the rally point, which was about 300 yards away, so we began bounding as a buddy team back to the main element that was already on the move. Then we saw that everyone was running. I tried yelling at them and yelling in the radio, but the train was moving and it wasn’t going to stop. The Marine with me was faster and started to pull away.
What changed my life was when I – a very fit 23-year-old Marine – became so fatigued that I decided I would rather risk being shot in the back than run another step. My life and possibly the life of the young Corporal with me depended on us continuing to run. I wanted to run so bad, but with the gear and ammo I was carrying, all the chemicals that my brain had dumped into my bloodstream and all the heart in the world couldn’t make my body do what it just couldn’t do. Finally, I got some folks bounding correctly. Afterward, some thought I was brave directing people and walking in gunfire, but the truth was that my body had quit and my mind had let it.
I think about that day all the time. The day I could easily have died. I’d thought I was ready for that day, but learned I should’ve done more to prepare. I never want that to happen to me again and I cannot ever let that happen when a loved one needs medical attention or is fighting off assailants at distance X.
Becoming a Runner
To make sure it doesn’t happen again, the exercise I used to hate the most has become my favorite—running. I find that running is a lot like fighting. Some days I want to be lazy and not go run, just like some days I’m lazy and don’t want to throw blows on a mat. But once I get going in either one, an internal switch flips to the “on” position. After a good run, I have a huge sense of accomplishment that feels similar to (but to a much lesser degree) feelings I shared with friends after enemy engagements. It’s the feeling that I’m fairly certain I’m willing and able to do something, but won’t know for sure until I’ve finished that 15 miler or taken that first step to be the number-one man through the door. The problem I had to get past was that running was incredibly boring to me.
I started seriously running when I realized I was getting a belly, and two flights of stairs had me breathing heavily. I tried to approach it the way I teach people to approach gun ownership for personal defense. As gun owners, first and foremost we need to learn and practice safe weapons handling. After all, we bought the thing to protect ourselves and our families. You will be unloading, disassembling, and cleaning your gun much more around your family than you will be shooting bad guys. You bought the gun to protect them, and your safe handling of the weapon protects them every day. The same can be said for safety in running.
I got serious about running while living in Japan. I would battle cars at intersections—they were small cars—while I ran three to 15 miles in heavy foot and bicycle traffic. I learned very quickly that I needed to change my clothing or I wouldn’t be around very long to defend anyone. I like bright green and yellow because those colors really stand out and are easy to spot at long distances while being obnoxious at short distances. I also like reflective items because I may go for a nighttime run if I can’t sleep or if it’s too hot to run during the day.
Let’s look at what gets me running and what keeps me safe while out doing it. First, you absolutely must have the correct pair of shoes. I find that the New Balance Minimus series is like a party in my shoe and my foot is invited. They are incredibly light and extremely durable, with reflective material all over them. My trail running pair has over 1,000 miles and I climbed Mount Fuji in them. If you’re climbing a mountain and your choice is between Minimus and Vibram 5 Fingers, it’s like 9mm vs .45. The answer is they are both wrong — get a rifle.
Go to your local sport shoe store and ask about fit testing for shoes. They will videotape your stride and analyze it to find the shoe that will most likely fit you. The correct shoe will feel right when running and won’t cause pain or excess leg fatigue around the shin. Just like the bin of holsters you have that’s full of ones that didn’t work, keep looking and you will find the right pair of running shoes.
Always run with a buddy or, if you’re like me and hate running with other people, run with a Bodyguard. I tried a few small pistols and didn’t like any of them for various reasons, but the S&W Bodyguard suits my needs for a small lightweight pistol to carry while running. For me, carrying is a must at all times. I carry mine because there are evildoers everywhere, but you’re more likely to need it on a rabid dog or wild animal. In any case, the need is there, so run with the inanimate buddy that you like.
I keep my Bodyguard in a cheap bellyband holster I picked up at Gander Mountain for about $19. There are a few options made specifically for running, but I can’t bring myself to wear a fanny pack or spend $70 on a neoprene holster made for exercising. The bellyband also has two elastic magazine pouches that I use to hold a SureFire G2 when I run at night. The flashlight is a must to be noticed by cars at night when crossing intersections, or traversing more topographical terrain than a sidewalk.
Headphones and MP3 Player
My headphones are made by Sennheiser and co-branded by Adidas. I like the around-the-head style better than ear buds, because they stay in my ears but can be quickly pulled down and secured around my neck if my Spidey sense goes off and I need full hearing. It’s probably better not to have headphones on at all, but nobody’s perfect. I must have entertainment on a run or I won’t do it. I keep the volume as low as I can while still being able to hear what’s playing.
The Sennheisers are said to be merely weather resistant, but I have had them completely soaked from sweat and running in hard rains. They also add a rear reflector that provides one more way for drivers to spot the wearer on the road. They come with a nice carrying case and cable extension with inline volume control. They’re a bit pricey at about $60, but mine are still working great after a year of being rained and sweated on.
My hundredth generation or whatever it is iPod Nano with Multitouch probably needs no introduction, but what’s on it is important. I used to listen to hard rock and heavy metal, only to find myself speeding up during good songs and slowing down for less-good songs. Now I listen to an audiobook from one of my favorite authors, a book on whatever I’m trying to learn that week, or episodes of one of the many great firearms podcasts. I sometimes get so into what I’m listening to while taking in the scenery that I forget I’m even running. It’s like when you think back after driving for awhile and feel like you were on autopilot.
Sports Watch with GPS
The last piece of gear on the list is the one that really keeps me running. It tracks my location, pace, time, and even asks me if we can go running today if I neglect it for a few days. The incident in Iraq changed my life, and the Nike+ SportWatch changed my running and overall fitness. I hold the button down for five seconds, it locates a few satellites, and I’m off. If you decide you want nine-minute miles today, you can look at the watch to make sure you’re staying below a nine-minute mile, while viewing total distance on the same screen.
It does more and has plenty of options, but what it does best is it challenges me and connects me to friends who are virtually running with me. Once I cool down after a run, I plug it into my computer and upload the data to the Nike Plus server. Signed in on Nike Plus, runners can track their mileage, average pace, average distance per run, and see how they compare to the rest of the community and people their age.