Physical exercise has some value (1 Timothy 4:8, GNB)

Financial advisors tell us the advantages of investing early: compound interest works better over time.

I think the same principle applies to exercise. Start early for greater benefits. If you haven’t already started, start now. That’s the earliest time you have.

I started running in the summer of 1969. I’d been away from my work for two weeks. When I returned home, my dress pants wouldn’t button. I decided it would be cheaper to lose weight than to buy new clothes. I started running to help.

I’d never run except for what football and basketball coaches made us do during practice. 

I read Aerobics, by Kenneth H. Cooper. My “mustard seed” idea from that book: if you run more than fifteen miles a week, you’re not running those extra miles for your health. You can be healthy by running or walking fifteen miles a week.

I wanted to be healthy. My goal was fifteen miles a week. For ten years I ran if it wasn’t too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry, and I felt like it. That means I ran some but not consistently for my first decade of running.

Two things happened that changed my attitude.

  1. My wife gave me a pair of Adidas running shoes for Christmas 1978. I’d been running in Converse low-cut tennis shoes a half size too big I bought on sale for $5.00. The running shoes were great.
  2. In the winter of 1979, I read The Complete Book of Running, by Jim Fixx. It changed my attitude. His enthusiasm for running came out of the pages.

As he prepares to discuss the importance of stretching, he adds:

(I’ll confess that when I’m in a hurry I often neglect to stretch because I’d rather spend the time running. I hope you’ll be more sensible than I am) (page 61).

Remember that you’re running not just for fitness but for fun. Running is a vacation from everyday chores, a special treat for your mind and body. If you concentrate on the fun, the fitness and style will take care of themselves (page 65).

During the winter, after I worked up to fifteen miles a week, I set a goal of running 725 miles a year. That’s fifteen miles a week with three and two-thirds weeks off. I also started paying myself 40¢ a mile for running. I use the money to buy new suits and sport coats. Over the years, people ask me if I’m still running. I reply, “I have to. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have any clothes to wear.”

I started entering some 5K and 10K races. I’ve never been fast. I won my first trophy in 2007. I came in second in the men’s division of a two-mile run. The other man won.

In the fall of 2003, I stumbled across The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer. I’d never considered running a marathon. All I wanted to do was to stay in shape. I was healthy and felt great. But the title attracted me: The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer. Non-Runners? By this time I’d been running thirty-four years. If a non-runner can complete a marathon, I should be able to do it. 

I read the book, followed the instructions, and completed the 2004 Music City Marathon in Nashville, Tennessee.

I ran it again in 2005 and 2006. On the reverse side of my dog tag with contact information in case of injury, there is this quote:

There may come a time in my life that I may not be able to run a marathon. There will be a lifetime knowing that I have.

I’ve been consistent. I take off the week of family vacation in the summer. I read a great essay in one of my favorite books, The Runner’s Day-By-Day Log and Calendar, saying rest is as important as exercise. I finish my goal for the year by December 15 and take the last two weeks off from exercise. I look forward to January 1 for my first run of the year.

I have forty copies of this book. In 1984, I couldn’t find it. I bought a generic off-brand and had to fill in dates. This was before Amazon. For years, this book has been a Christmas tradition in our family. My daughter, Christi, would ask me what I wanted for Christmas. My consistent reply, The Complete Runner’s Day-By-Day Log and Calendar. Since I had Amazon prime, I ordered it from Amazon and had it shipped to her house. She’d wrap it and bring a check to reimburse me at our Christmas celebration. She now has prime and orders it herself.

In 1998, I got a cruiser bike for Christmas. I always wanted to ride the Natchez Trace from Franklin, Tennessee, to Alabama on a bike. During the next four years, a group of friends from the church where I was preaching and I rode a hundred miles on a Saturday eight times. To reach my running goal for the year, I give myself credit for one mile running for every four miles on my bike. That was a thrill. We made it clear it wasn’t a race. We had support for breakdowns and fatigue. People prepared lunch for us about halfway to our destination. A delicious evening meal was ready at the end.

An accidental notice of a blog entry in the fall of 2009 on barefoot running brought another change. As I read the blog, pleasant memories of my childhood came back. I thought of the scores of spring conversations between my mother and me. “I want to start going barefoot.” 

Mother, “It’s too early. You might catch a cold.”

After several weeks of this conversation, I received permission and enjoyed playing much of the time during the summer without shoes.

My thoughts reading the blog, “If playing barefoot was fun when I was five, why wouldn’t it be fun when I’m sixty-five?”. 

During the winter, I read Christopher McDougall’s book, Born to Run and two or three how-to books on running without shoes.

I started gradually in March.

My weekly routine at this time was to run three days a week: six miles, five miles, and four miles.

  • The first week, I ran each day, returned to my apartment, took off my shoes and socks, and walked my cool-down time of about a quarter of a mile on the driveways and sidewalks. That didn’t hurt.
  • The second week, I ran to a quarter of a mile of our apartment, took off my shoes and socks, and ran the rest of the way without shoes.
  • The third week, shoes came off a half of a mile from home.
  • The fourth week, no shoes for three-quarters of a mile.
  • The fifth week, the last mile was shoe-free.
  • I added a mile a week until I was running every day and every mile barefoot.

I ran the Franklin, Tennessee, Classic 10K on Labor Day of 2010 without shoes and every year that I’ve run it since then. 

As winter approached, I decided to put on shoes at 39º. That worked well.

The next year, I lowered the shoe temperature to 34º. That worked well.

During the next summer, I read a book by a man who said he ran in sub-zero temperatures in ice and snow barefoot. I thought if he could do it I could do it. The next winter, I was preparing for a half-marathon. I was doing a nine-mile run in West Tennessee. The temperature was 17º and the wind was blowing hard. When I returned home, my feet were dark purple. I felt sick in the shower. I lost a layer of skin on my toes and feet. I returned to an old rule — shoes for 39º and below.

In the last couple of years I’ve raised the shoe threshold to 49º and below. I’m seventy-six years old and I set my rules where I want to.

During the years we were riding bikes on the Natchez Trace, I told my friends, “I’m going to save my money and when I get to be an old man of sixty, I’ll buy a bicycle with gears. I stopped bike riding when I started training for my first marathon. I didn’t start again until about two years ago.

I woke up one morning and realized I was nine years past my goal of getting a bike with gears! I started shopping and bought a seven-speed cruiser with the gears in the hub, coaster brakes, and a hand brake for the front wheel. I have a generator that powers headlight and taillight. I’m living in McMinnville, Tennessee, now. The longest ride I’ve had on this bike was sixty-four miles last fall.

One of the unexpected pleasures of barefoot running is getting stopped by the police in each town. I’ve been an interim preacher for the past fourteen years. I change to a new location about every eighteen months.

Usually, it happens soon after coming to a new town. An officer will stop and ask, “Sir, do you realize you don’t have on any shoes?”.

I drop my chin and with a blank look on my face, I say, “I kept thinking I left something at home.”

The next question, “Are you all right?”.

I then give my elevator speech:

My name is Jerrie Barber. I live in Nashville, Tennessee. I’ve been running fifty-two years. Since 2010, I’ve been running barefoot. If I felt better when I was twenty years old, I don’t remember it.” 

I was in New Orleans a few years ago. I ran Monday morning. A policeman stopped me. I gave my running elevator speech. He thanked me. I thanked him.

Wednesday morning I ran out three miles and was returning to my hotel. A patrol car was approaching with his lights on and pointing for me to join him in a parking lot. He asked the two standard questions. I repeated my prepared speeches.

He then said, “Have you read the book?”.

I asked, “Are you talking about Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall?”.

He said, “Yes.”

When I told him I had, he said he was from Peru and a member of the tribe Christopher wrote about in the book.

As we were talking, a police SUV with a lady officer and lights flashing was joining us. 

As she was approaching, I told my new friend, “I’m about to break a World Record. I’ve been running barefoot since 2010. In every town, the police have stopped to check on me. This is the first time in the history of the world I’ve had backup called in on me.”

Both the officers said they had calls from several people that morning about an old man running down Manhattan Boulevard without shoes. They were concerned that he might have been mugged.

I thanked them for their concern and for the people who had called.

After the first ten years of hit and miss, running and biking have been good medicines and a pleasure. I enjoy the scenery. I solve problems. I count my blessings. I get ideas that help in my work as a preacher. 

In the spring of 1985, I was on a five-mile run and started getting ideas for a sermon on dealing with conflict. As soon as I returned, I grabbed a yellow legal pad and started writing. About twenty minutes later, I had a sweaty legal pad and an outline for seven sermons. I’ve had many other times of great ideas coming during a run.

I prefer running alone. I don’t mind running occasionally with a friend. I don’t listen to music, books, or podcasts. I like all those at other times. Running is my time to let things rattle in my head and come out in pleasant and unexpected ways. 

I’ve preached on what I’ve learned from running.

Sermon outline: What I’ve Learned about Life From Barefoot Running

PowerPoint for sermon: What I’ve Learned about from Barefoot Running

Audio sermon on Running: Some Things I Learned from Running

I made the front page on both sides of the Cumberland River January 6, 2017. A little before daylight, I noticed a photographer about the middle of The Big Four Bridge from Jeffersonville, Indiana, to Louisville, Kentucky. He took pictures, asked questions, requested my permission to to print it. I ran across, put in some miles. On my return, another photographer in about the same position, replicated the first.

My plan is to continue for several more years.

If I don’t live longer, the fifty-two years I’ve run have been delightful.

(Visited 350 times, 350 visits today)
Jerrie Barber
Disciple of Jesus, husband, grandfather, preacher, barefoot runner, ventriloquist

2 Responses to “Physical exercise has some value (1 Timothy 4:8, GNB)

  • I loved this! When I grow up, I want to be like Jerrie Barber. (But still not sure I’ll try barefoot running.)

    • Keith,

      I know you are making your investments.

      I didn’t start barefoot until I was 65 years old.

      You have plenty of time.

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