Thursday, June 30, 2011

Charleston Gazette feature on "why I run"

Even on the worst of days, his running feels good

RUNNING great distances is one of the fun activities of Jason Pyles' life. But it can be painful. He knows it and is wonderfully indifferent to it.

He especially remembers running a marathon in Cleveland. "The last four miles were pure pain,'' he recalled recently, noting that cramps in his calf unleashed knife-like sensations through his leg.

As he crossed the finish line that day, he shouted out in agony.

But the rewards far outweigh the occasional discomforts. He not only enjoys the competition but finds it exhilarating to run through Kanawha State Forest at sunrise every day, not missing a single day in 2011 and averaging between 80 and 100 miles a week for the last 10 years. Even on days he describes as "easy,'' he runs 10 miles.

When he begins work as a substitute teacher this fall, he plans to arise at 3 a.m. each day to do his running and get to school on time. After all, he's a morning person and running is a priority.

"It's hard for me to imagine not running,'' he said. "It's something you can feel so good doing. It's just the enjoyment of doing it and how good you feel afterward. Sometimes even in the hardest workouts, that feeling of pushing, pushing, pushing feels good in a way.''

Pyles' passion is something that others shun. Athletes in the more traditional sports generally do it only as a mandatory part of their conditioning and, given a choice, would rather lift weights and stretch. Health specialists continue to emphasize the wondrous benefits of vigorous exercise, but most folks yawn.

The 5-foot-9, 138-pound Pyles, 30, is a Point Pleasant and Marshall graduate who was the University of Charleston's track coach for the last two years but expects to work in Kanawha County Schools in the fall.

Last September, he won the 15-mile Charleston Distance Run in one hour, 25 minutes, 44 seconds and expects to run the race again in September and for many years to come.

He once ran the Columbus Marathon in 2:29 and usually runs two or three marathons a year, as well as five or six half-marathons and races of other distances. He looks forward to them, despite the inevitable pain.

"The last 10 kilometers of a marathon are no fun. It hurts,'' he said. "That last mile of any race is going to hurt. And really the last half of a race may really hurt.''

But he's found ways to cope.

"A lot of it is mind over matter,'' he said. "If you're out there thinking that this hurts or this is hard, it won't be as enjoyable. But you have to keep a positive mindset, even on the roughest days. I just tell myself how truly blessed I am to be able to do it. I pretty much love every moment of it. With running, a lot of it is just staying positive. That's not to say there aren't rough periods and rough times. On the toughest days, not a single step feels good. I have those days where I just put one foot in front of the other.''

The rough times, he said, may be the result of fatigue.

"It might be pushing the envelope a little too much with training and getting a little too worn down,'' he said. "And you can hit periods where it's not enjoyable because your body is really, really worn out. And if you're really competitive, it sometimes can kind of play with your mind a little bit and you start wondering, What's going on.''

On workout days, he often sings songs in his head. On race days, he closely monitors his running pace on his high-tech stopwatch, knowing that running a few seconds too fast or too slowly per mile can have a big effect on his performance. He also knows that falling the slightest bit short of optimal fluid intake can cut two to five minutes off his marathon time.

Growing up in Gallipolis Ferry near Point Pleasant, Pyles showed an aptitude for running at an early age. Instead of riding his bicycle to the basketball court a mile away, he would run, either carrying or dribbling the ball. When the students in his grade school were required to run the fitness mile, he took pride in beating the older kids.

He plans to run the San Francisco Marathon on July 31. The air will be cool and the humidity low. He expects to have a great time.

Reach Mike Whiteford at 304-348-7948 or

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