Boston Marathon runners at mile 23 (Photo courtesy of Stacey Sowards)

EL PASO – I can’t help thinking that joggers should pick up trash along their chosen route. It’s a small thought, only a little serious. Of course, runners are going too fast to do that, and carrying a bag would slow them down or make them lopsided. Still, it seems like a shame to use all those calories and all that energy and not accomplish something more… than image, than a cardio workout, than discipline, than a shin splint.

Boston Marathon runners at mile 23 (Photo courtesy of Stacey Sowards)

Seriously, runners have very high rates of musculoskeletal injuries, ranging from one in five to three out of four, depending on the study, time frame and seriousness of injury. One study reported that about half of a random sample of 10K entrants had an injury in the last two years.  If we just slowed to a walk, we could pick up litter and get some exercise.

One part of the compulsion I understand.  We evolved to run to escape bad things like tigers and avalanches, and to catch good things like food, or to send urgent messages over mountains and deserts with no roads. We didn’t evolve, I don’t think, to buy fancy shoes to plant our feet, with the full weight of our bodies above them, repeatedly on pavement for a frivolous purpose.

Louie Long, of Cloudcroft,  WORKING on cutting down a dead tree. (Cheryl Howard/

Louie Long, of Cloudcroft, WORKING on cutting down a dead tree. (Cheryl Howard/

People ought to be fit and healthy, and it isn’t just running that annoys me in some small way.  Gym memberships do too, or rather the culture of them. If a person wants to be buff, I say work for Habitat for Humanity and build houses for people. Perhaps I am of the generation that attaches real and visceral significance to the word “work.” It could be housework, yard work, or any other physical task. We should all do more of it; it was how we were designed. And we should all play a sport or a musical instrument. We should dance and move and be delighted with our muscles.

But now, work is associated more with sitting, and even physical tasks are increasingly performed by power tools. In the yard, there are riding mowers for large spaces and weed whackers for small ones. I have seen the push mower of my childhood be unrecognizable to a younger and more privileged generation. On the construction site, there are power saws, drills, and nail guns. In the kitchen, there are Cuisinarts to chop, grind, blend and knead. But do we really “need” them?

Richie David Marrufo, UTEP alumnus, PLAYING his saxophone. (Cheryl Howard/

Richie David Marrufo, UTEP alumnus, PLAYING his saxophone. (Cheryl Howard/

Since we no longer “work” we have to “work out.”  We have to turn what used to be “play” into the science and serious business of the “work out.”  You can no longer just run, ride a bicycle, play tennis or golf. You are applying for membership in the club of runners, cyclists, etc. In order to be accepted you have to present with the right gear: shoes, clubs, racquet, bike. There’s a new language to learn and lots of statistics, and always more gear to buy, to try, to critique or promote. It isn’t just “play” any longer; it’s a whole lot like “work.”

Here is the problem. We still eat as if we are doing physical labor and we still cook as if we had larger families. Obesity and diabetes are galloping across the country, trampling us like wild horses, and we don’t have the money or the leisure time to join the club of the “noveau fitte.”  We aren’t fluent in the language, and we aren’t certain we really want to become citizens of this fanatical country.

Meanwhile, everywhere we look, there is real work begging for able arms and legs. But wait!  We have a day for that. Keep El Paso Beautiful Day. Make a Difference Day. Arbor Day. Neighborhood Cleanup Day. That’s one way to “get ’er done.” Or maybe, that’s somebody else’s job.

2 thoughts on “Workout

  1. I don’t jog, and if I did, I don’t think I’d want to
    carry a trash container and interrupt my jog to pick
    up trash on public paths.

    But, I have volunteered more than once to go with a
    group to pick up trash.

    The first time was many years ago when a group led by
    organized trash pickup sessions.

    We went out to the west mesa along the edge of the
    escarpment and picked up trash. Some of it was wind-
    blown plastic bags, and much of it was broken glass.
    For eons, cowboys, would-be cowboys and those with a
    cowboy mentality would go out to the west mesa and
    shoot at the petroglyph images, or take bottles and
    tin cans to shoot at, presumably for target practice.

    I am grateful to Ike Eastvold and his friends for part
    of my education about the religion of native people and
    the deeper meaning of the petroglyph images which I have
    seen in many places in New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona.

    My second trash pickup volunteer job has lasted many
    years and is connected with my sports car club. People
    in our club who were community-minded suggested that we
    get assigned a mile of public highway to keep clean of
    trash. The mile we were assigned was on NM 333 heading
    east from Albuquerque. NM 333 is one of the routes of
    the old US 66 highway system, or “Old Route 66.”

    I vividly remember the first clean-up session. I was
    astounded as the stuff people will thoughtlessly toss
    out on the public roadway. I became highly irritated
    and was ready to get the legislature to pass laws with
    intense consequences for thoughtless littering! In fact
    I was ready to propose hefty jail time for deliberate
    littering. It is such an uncivilized thing to do.

    But over the years I have come to accept littering as
    a thoroughly “human” thing to do. All my observations
    and studies of human societies around the world and
    throughout history lead me to conclude that the major
    occupation of humans is to litter and destroy. Those
    who build and conserve and protect and clean up, in
    my opinion, are definitely in the minority. I used to
    think that civilization was progressing, if by fits
    and starts, to a better world. I no longer believe
    that. Nearly all of us in our own ways are making
    haste to destroy the planet as a habitable place
    for human beings.

    But even so, when our trash clean-up days roll around
    four times a year I almost always find myself out
    there helping the five or six or seven others from our
    club who will drive out to where Old Route 66 crosses
    the I-40 freeway and spend one or two hours picking
    up wind-blown plastic bags and thoughtlessly thrown
    out beer cans, whiskey bottles and fast food packaging.

  2. Cheryl, you made me think about it. I have lost 23 extra pounds in 2 mos. by eating less since i cannot do much exercise as i used to. My bmi is in normal range again. I gave up my gym club and spinning that kept me in check. So the issue of obesity and obesity-related conditions is better address through an energy balance approach: how many calories in, how many out, no matter what gets you to be close to 0 if you are in normal weight, or be negative if you need to shed the fat. It is not a job, but takes an effort to walk against the dominant winds

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