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Published on January 1st, 2014 | by Daniel Feinstein

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Running: Nature or Nurture

My father was, and remains to this day, the greatest single influence on my life with respect to running and long distance endurance sports in general. That’s not to take away from all of the great achievements of such runners as Haile Gebrselassie, Ron Clarke, Moses Kiptanui and Billy Mills; it’s just that I hadn’t heard of them.

Growing up in New York in the pre-cable 70’s, you weren’t looking at a whole lot of options when it came to TV. There were just a small handful of networks and, with the exception of the New York Marathon and the Olympics, track and field just didn’t get a whole lot of air time. Had the sport been a more popular one such as baseball then I might have said that I was influenced by “my dad and Reggie Jackson” or if the sport were football then I might have said “my dad and Joe Namath.” With running it was just my dad and…I’m drawing a blank. That having been said, I probably would have gotten into whatever sport my father was involved in, especially having seen him do it at such a young age. For better and for worse, parents’ behaviors are imprinted on their children. Running worked out well for me, I just thank God that he didn’t box, rock climb or roller-skate.

My dad began running daily, quite suddenly, on his 30th birthday and continues to do so until this day. I was just 5 at the time and I still have memories of watching him run around in circles at the Glen Cove High School track a few blocks from our house. I think that my father would be the first to admit that he didn’t have much of a history with organized sports but he really made running a part of his lifestyle.

Not much time thereafter, my parents got divorced; my father moved to Park Slope, Brooklyn and my mother, brother and I moved to Bayside, Queens. My brother and I would spend weekends with our father and I remember him taking off in the morning for his run. It didn’t matter whether it was raining or snowing, hot or cold; he would do “the do.” If you haven’t had the pleasure of spending the winter in NY, it can get quite cold. There were some mornings that he would come back and there would be icicles dangling from his hair which, at the time, seemed pretty nuts. The other thing that I thought was odd was that every time that he returned from a run, irrespective of the weather or temperature, he looked as if he had been taken on a private, 1 hour tour through hell. It intrigued me so that I figured that I would join him.

I began running at the age of 10. Looking back, I’m pretty impressed with myself. I would set the alarm for 5:45 and head out to run. I honestly don’t know whether my mother was even aware that I was doing it. I started slow, running just a couple of blocks, and soon found myself running close to 3 miles per day. I actually still remember the route: I’d leave the apartment building, heading up towards Bell Blvd. where I’d hook a right. Continuing on Bell Blvd, I’d hook another right, under the overpass towards Fort Totten and turn right, yet again, onto the running trail along the Cross Island Expressway. It was a pretty nice running trail, as long as you remembered to face left towards the water, away from the manic traffic. Anyway, I would go up the first over pass, continue straight towards Bell Blvd where I would turn right and head home. As the years went on, I added to the run but that was my generic route until the age of 14 when I moved to New Jersey.

After a couple of months of running, I started to join my father on his runs on the weekends. I was a bit nervous at first that I wouldn’t be able to hang but it worked out OK. My brother, who is 3 years younger than I, joined my father and me on runs soon thereafter.

I really started running because I wanted to be able to run with my father on weekends but then it turned out that I really loved it. I’ve always been a day dreamer and if I am disturbed by something and my mind locks on to something, my thoughts can often get away from me. I love the meditative aspects of running and it always seemed to smooth everything out. As the years passed, I haven’t been entirely consistent with my running. I guess that you might say, I have, at times, take a “binge and purge” approach to running in the sense that I would run hard for a couple of months and then stop. I am fairly sure that I can blame this on my military service which did a very good job of associating punishment with physical exertion in my mind. What I can say with the utmost certainty is that my life is always better when I am running…far.

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About the Author

Dan began running at the age of 10 and ran competitively through high school participating in both Cross Country and Track. He later found himself in the military where accumulated a great deal of knowledge and experience in hiking, camping and survival. Dan continues to run and has become an avid cycler, taking extended tours on a regular basis. He is currently training for the 2015 NYC Ironman.



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