Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Road work

The doctor’s words hit him hard.

At the age of 46, Jeff Clark’s doctor told him he had serious heart disease.

Within days, he began exercising, and long walks turned into light jogs. Jogs turned into runs, and one year later he’d completed his first marathon.

Few things will wake a person up and clear your head for the day quite like those steps down the road.

Whether it’s a gentle walk down the street or a quick run, millions of Americans enjoy a little exercise in the crisp morning air before heading to work.

It’s easy for many to sneak workouts in if they work close to home and know the best routes in their neighborhoods.

For millions of professional truck drivers, however, fitting in exercise time can be downright difficult.

Besides ever-changing job conditions, truckers have to consider the sometimes less-than safe areas they’re forced to park in and the availability of post-workout showers.

On Tuesday, I met Jeff, an OOIDA member and avid Land Line reader who has completed six marathons and even authored a book about the health of truck drivers. Jeff started exercising to gain control of his health, and found since that running has given him more energy throughout his day and helped him to get to know many friends.

Jeff has pushed his three runs per week total to four this summer, successfully adding more weekly maintenance miles that aren’t intense but help him keep extra weight off.

Jeff, a 50-year-old grandfather of five, has hauled reefer loads since this spring, and found time between stops in Iowa and south Missouri to run five miles with me.

Jeff knows of many routes among certain truck stops, and can rattle off certain trails near truck stops in Illinois and Michigan as well as places he would like to run such as the University of Alabama campus in Tuscaloosa.

At home in rural Wisconsin, Jeff enjoys a good run before showering and preparing for the day.

Most of his weekly workouts, however, are run near truck stops, amid truck traffic and don’t always include a post-workout shower.

“This is about as good as it gets sometimes when it comes to running for truckers,” Jeff told me as we circled a small warehouse district adjacent to a Kansas City, MO, truck stop.

Jeff’s passion for running and for improving driver health has led him to correspond regularly with Amby Burfoot, the 1968 Boston Marathon winner and now an editor at Runner’s World magazine.

After we ran, Jeff showed off his chocolate lab mix, Jack, his roadside companion who “still can run like a deer,” Jeff told me.

The driver has a goal to run a marathon at the age of 70, and filters training and all other goals through the lens of his 20-year effort.

Training for his seventh marathon, Jeff knows nothing would have been possible without taking those first few steps – and I’ve got a feeling he’s just one of many professional drivers who have their own workout methods and routines, despite news stories and stereotypes that say otherwise.

I’ve spoken to several drivers recently who have used diet, exercise or a combination of the two, and swear they’ve improved their lives because of it.

If you’re a trucker or you know a trucker who enjoys working out, please shoot me an e-mail at