Tomorrow, for the 27th time since 1983, I will be joining 55,000 of my friends and neighbors in the annual Atlanta ritual known as the Peachtree Road Race.
I ran my first Peachtree half a lifetime ago. I was 28. I was still new to the city, just starting out as a tech freelancer. I ran alongside an editor I was trying to impress, until he blew by me. I never wrote for him again.
The Peachtree was a little different then. There were only 25,000 of us, for one thing. I also remember a pep talk from former baseball star Boog Powell at the start line. He was working for Miller Lite and promised us all free beer in Piedmont Park.
I had several. Then I walked home to our apartment four miles away. Then I passed out. And woke up with a hangover that swore me off light beer forever.
Thanks to the Peachtree, I have watched Atlanta's journey first-hand. I remember, on that first run, passing a sign in front of the Darlington condos, showing the region's population as about 1.8 million. We're now at 6.6 million and still growing.
I've developed another habit. After each Peachtree I haul my old shirts out of the closet and wear as many as I can, until they are too small or tattered for use. I can go through nearly the whole month now.
For many years I marked my health through a Peachtree pattern. I would increase my running until by the 4th I could easily go six miles without breathing hard. A few times I kept going until the Thanksgiving half-marathon. Then I would relax and, by January, would stagger through a half-mile.
That ended with the 21st century, soon after my dad passed, when I learned I had inherited his high cholesterol and hypertension. Now I exercise a little nearly every day, modestly. Usually a half-hour at a time. Sometimes an hour of walking, or lifting small weights many times.
Our YMCA is tied to the Fitlinxx system. I've become a platinum member, with over 500,000 points accumulated.
My point is that the Peachtree Road Race started a lot of good habits for me. It became a goal. This decade it has become a family event, my son and daughter doing the route with me. It's part of my life's circadian rhythm.
And it keeps me healthy.
One of the important lessons taught by companies like Virgin Healthmiles and Shape Up the Nation involves the importance of goals, and of social pressure in promoting wellness. I happen to think the latter is a more powerful force than your will, than even the government.
There was once an Internet rumor that the late Kurt Vonnegut had done an MIT commencement. He didn't. He did, however, once do the commencement for my own alma mater, Rice University.
What he said that day has stuck with me. You probably won't be rich or famous. But if you can become part of a community, you will have power and joy and influence enough for any lifetime.
So it will be for me tomorrow. Long may it continue. And if you want to be thinner, or healthier, find a goal. Not necessarily a 10 km run (with a mile of walking on either side), but something doable, something you will do with people.
Train for it, do it, but most of all enjoy it. Make health a pleasure and it won't be a chore.
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com