We are all athletes. That is the premise on which I have stood as a coach of cross-country and track for the past 35 years.

Not everyone views themself as an athlete, however, and perhaps for good reason. As an overweight 59-year-old, I don’t look nearly as athletic as I did in my 20s and 30s. By the same token, someone who has never really used their bodies beyond getting through 9th grade P.E. doesn’t view themselves as an athlete, but they are, nonetheless.

The human body has an uncanny ability to adapt to what we ask it to do. For the person who considers themself a non-athlete or for those, like me, who are focused on regaining fitness, there is tremendous hope that things can get better.

This week, the Sisters High School cross-country team will start its official practices for the year. Some of the students have been running all summer and will be prepared to do anything we ask of them, while others who have come out for the team have done very little. This is where individualization comes into play. Each runner must be taken from where they are and build from there.

This rule holds true for all runners, so if you are thinking of starting a running program or have already been running, it is vital that you take on this approach for the best results. This summer I read a book, “Running to the Edge: A Band of Misfits and the Guru Who Unlocked the Secret of Speed,” and watched a documentary called “City Slickers Can’t Stay With Me,” both of which chronicle the coaching career of Bob Larson. Larson started coaching at the high school level and went on to community college and club coaching before taking the helm at UCLA and ultimately working as an Olympic coach. In both the book and the documentary Larson’s athletes repeatedly comment on his ability to make them successful by dealing with them as individuals and helping them grow from their own strengths.

He also is a tremendous advocate of bringing these individuals together into teams or training groups because he understands the magic that can happen when a group of people joins with common goals.

I also read this week an article on racecenter.com by J. Carl Laney about tips for running as you age, many of which apply to this idea of individualizing as well as the social aspects of running.

There is a temptation to compare our progress to others. In this article the author warns us to not compare our current selves to our younger selves. He says we must accept ourselves in our current condition and go from there. Good advice.

 Another point of his article that rings true for all runners is to “mix it up” in training. You don’t have to run every day. A swim, a hike, some time on the stationary bike or rowing machine — these are all good options to running. And of course, a rest day now and then is perfectly acceptable.

Like Larson, Laney believes in the social aspects of running. He says that as you age and perhaps can’t run at all anymore, it is important to stay part of the running community. Now 70 and unable to run longer distances, he volunteers at marathons, crews ultra-runners, and acts as a superfan for friends in races.

 The connection between our physical health and our mental and emotional health is undeniable. Both Larson and Laney understand that the act of running is much more than a physical challenge. Adding the social component not only makes running more enjoyable, but likely will produce better results through camaraderie, accountability, and shared experiences.

 I have a friend named Mike Bauer, a high school counselor and coach, who started a morning running group in 1976 in Stayton, Oregon, at the age of 29. He invited anyone and everyone to join him for an easy 3.5-mile run around town beginning at 6:05 a.m. from the local community pool, Monday through Friday. Now 72, he is still at it, though there is more walking than running these days. There was always a “code of the road” that those who ran faster would circle back to those moving slower, allowing everyone to go at their own individual pace yet keeping the group cohesive.

 I am considering following in Mike’s footsteps. Is there interest in such a group here in Sisters, even if it were more limited in scope? I invite those interested to e-mail me at

charliekanzig@gmail.com or text me at 541-647-3314.