by Michael McCarthy
John Burt, the former Dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Maryland and a dear and wise friend I met later in life, recently recommended a book, as he often does: The Good Life: Lessons from the World's Longest Scientific Study of Happiness by Robert Waldinger, MD, and Marc Schulz, PhD. The book was the product of an 80-year longitudinal study by Harvard University that made an interesting revelation: Close personal relationships, more than genes or anything else, are the strongest predictor of life satisfaction or, put another way, happiness. Reading the study as I approached my 90th birthday inspired me to ponder my own life and history, and perhaps made me more fully appreciate how much the relationships I made through the running community contributed to a happy and fulfilling life.
In the 1970s, I was a middle aged, up and coming official with the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets consumed with building my career and raising my five children. Life seemed generally satisfying both personally and professionally, yet, in retrospect, I was living in a silo with little interaction and few close relationships outside my wife and children and colleagues at work. I knew I had long neglected my health, and when I moved to Albany to assume the position of Director of Marketing, I vowed to dedicate myself to physical fitness. But at the time, I had no idea how that commitment, and my association with the running community, would so richly contribute to my life and fill in holes I didn't know were there. My first step was to join the Albany YMCA, where an eighty-year-old showed me how to put one foot ahead of the other. He called it running, which at the time was a foreign concept to me. Later he introduced me to Bill Shrader, a legend in his own time and very well connected with the local, regional, and national running scene. Through Bill, I learned of HMRRC.
Reading The Good Life and looking back, I now realize that I was too isolated and that I lacked the important outside relationships necessary for a satisfying and healthy life. How fortunate I was to have found the HMRRC! It was there that I met and connected with some extraordinary people: some with PhDs some with GEDs, publishers and authors, brokers and investors, lawyers and judges, entrepreneurs and bureaucrats, Democrats and Republicans, professors and students, laborers and craftsmen, rich and poor. There were people of every age group, every religion, every ethnicity, every gender, and while some were much faster than others, more talented or less talented, we were all equals in an honest sport, one where the clock is judge, jury and executioner, one where it is what it is, no more and no less. We congregated during the blistering heat of August, blizzards in January, blinding thunderstorms and those perfect autumn running days. We were "diverse" before that term was a part of our daily cultural lexicon. Those people were my friends, training partners and friendly competitors during times of glory and disappointment, and not just on the road. We became closer than siblings: A great deal gets shared on 20-mile training runs, perhaps more than gets revealed in the confessional or therapy session.
Reflecting on my life and career, I have been blessed with many honors. I was recognized by the New York State Agricultural Society, a 191-year old organization where I was privileged to serve as secretary for more than ten years. I was President of the National Association of Agricultural Marketing Officials. I was Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Albany YMCA and served for eight years on the executive board of the Capital District YMCA. I have humbly accepted many awards and certificates and plaques. And while I am grateful for every honor and the entity that bestowed it, only one award adorns the wall in my den: The HMRRC Hall of Fame plaque I received in 2019. That is the most meaningful, the most important to me, because of the relationships from which it stemmed.
The Good Life - which has nothing to do with running, and everything to do with running - concludes that "people who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to community, are happier, they're physically healthier, and they live longer than people who are less well connected." I suspect one year with the HMRCC would have taught the researchers just as much as they learned in 80 years of longitudinal study.
Ed. Note: Mike originally submitted his article as a poem, and I asked him if he could flesh it out into a longer article. He did and I loved his article, but I also realized that his poem should be included as it adds more insight into his powerful message. Thank you, Mike!
When I returned to the Albany area after nine years in Rochester, I knew few people. There was, however, a group in the Capital District:
male and female and in between
young and old
black, white and other colors
married and single
rich and poor
professional and working class
Who met weekends:
rain, sunshine or snow
hot, cold or windy
For: twenty mile training runs or perhaps to run 6.2 miles as fast as their legs could carry them or a slower amble of various distances.
That is the group I wanted to be with. Since it was open to all, the talented and less so, I was welcomed. They called themselves HMRRC and they were my friends for the next forty plus years. While I no longer run, I still meet with a few of those warriors to reminisce and talk of the future. It is a good life.