Green Fields headmaster Rick Belding has been on the run every day for more than 14 years

By the time the Weekly hit the streets this morning, Rick Belding had already hit the pavement with a precise number of steps in a ritual he carries out with a dedication that goes way beyond passion or religion or any form of rational thought: Today was the 5,181st day in a row that Belding has gone for a run.

First of all, other than breathing, eating, sleeping and visiting the smallest room in the house, can you imagine doing anything for more than 5,000 days in a row? I'm betting that most of us haven't even done all four of those aforementioned things for 14 straight years. There had to have been a day in there where you didn't eat or a night where you didn't sleep, not to mention that entire week after the Cheese Fest.

If a teenage boy decided to make out with his girlfriend every day for that long, by the time it reached 5,181, they'd be in their 30s. Now, if they're still making out every day, good for them. But you have to figure that, no matter how much fun it is exchanging spit samples, somewhere along the line, one of them would have said, "Aw, Baby, my lips are numb. Can we take a break and pick this back up Saturday at the movies?"

(Actually, have you noticed that people don't make out at the movies any more? It's probably because it's too damn expensive to get in to waste time on tongue action.)

Other trivia:

· If you attended the UA for 5,181 consecutive days, your tuition would be 10 times higher than it was when you started.

· If George W. Bush tried to pick his nose every day for 5,181 consecutive days, after about 200 days, his head would have completely caved in.

· If American military forces were in Iraq for 5,181 days ... well, we'll just have to wait and see how that turns out.

Rick Belding, who is the headmaster at Green Fields Country Day School (where I coach), hasn't always been a runner. He was a "little chubby kid" when he was young, but then went on to play football and baseball at Princeton University. He took up running in 1971 and became pretty dedicated. In 1988, he missed only about 10 days. The next year, he only missed three or four days. But in 1990, he snapped completely, maybe because he was in France at the time. As he recalls it, "I got off the plane in Paris, and I didn't run that day. I got up the next morning and I was so mad. I said, 'Either you're going to make excuses, or you're going to run.'"

For some ungodly reason, he chose the latter.

The streets are littered with people who think running is somehow good for them. Remember that Jim Fixx guy, the formerly overweight smoker who became the guru of the running craze in the late 1970s? He probably would have liked to run for 5,000 days in a row, but when he got to around 3,000, he dropped dead of a heart attack. And what was he doing at the time? RUNNING.

It must be noted that educator Belding shares his name with the high school principal on the cheesy teen comedy Saved by the Bell. He thought it was funny at first and then figured it would fade away when the show's teen actors grew long in the tooth and the program went off the air. But, thanks to the curse of syndication, he'll be hearing about it for a long, long time.

(The influences of that show are everywhere. The new, big male character on All My Children is named Zach Slater--apparently named for Zack Morris and A.C. Slater on SBTB. And don't ask me how I know about All My Children, not to mention Saved by the Bell. We're talking about somebody else's illness here, not mine.)

Belding says that he has been fortunate to remain relative injury-free and healthy during the streak. His knees used to hurt, but then he lost weight from running, and the knee pain pretty much went away. He has had a bad back for quite a while, but it actually feels better while he's running. And a few years back, he was sick with bronchitis for a few days; all he did was run and then lie in bed all day.

Oh yeah, as if running every day for more than 14 years isn't madness enough, he counts his strides! It's a Monk-mathematician-Richard Feynman kinda thing. It's just something that his brain does naturally (or unnaturally, as the case may be). However, when he got into his 50s (years of age, not number of strides) he found that the length of his stride was shortening somewhat; it took more strides to run a mile.

That's actually a pretty common phenomenon. For most aging former athletes, the amount of available strides levels off right around the number necessary to get to the refrigerator and back.

Now that he's passed 5,000 days, does he have a goal? "My goal is just to run tomorrow." Oh, the insanity!

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