Truckin’ Runners and the Positive Power of Facebook

Facebook is a tool. So is a hammer. Millions of times everyday, they get used properly. No one notices. It is only when one is used improperly that anyone notices. Let me discuss something good. Something that would not exist without Facebook.


Truckin’ Runners is a Facebook group of nearly a thousand people in the trucking industry who walk or run for exercise. One thousand is a large number, but we are still tiny. There are about three and a half million truck drivers out there covering nearly forty-seven thousand miles of interstate highway. The odds of us finding each other by chance become huge.


We came into existence as an idea from Misty Bell Matthew and Carolyn Magner Mason, editors from Truckers News magazine. They approached me with the idea. At the time, I was writing a monthly column for their magazine about trucker health. 


Drivers lead notoriously unhealthy life styles, not because we’re a lazy group. When we work 14 hours a day and we only have a 30-minute break every eight hours, we are just too tired to exercise. Truckin’ Runnerscame into existence by chance. 


I became a runner again in my late 40s by chance. Rates were low, and I was a one-truck trucking company. Owner operators like me were struggling to stay in business. Then I partnered with a company who would pay me well to unload huge truck loads of paper by hand (about 30,000 pounds per load). Unloading three of these loads a week would help me make the payments on my truck and stay in business. Unfortunately, I was out of shape, my back was killing me after each load, and I still had to drive 500 miles home.


As I drove between two loads in Wisconsin, I spotted a YMCA, and I joined. My workouts weren’t about cardio. The idea was just to get strong enough for a better back.


One day, on impulse, I jumped on a treadmill. I figured that I could run a 5-minute mile in my high school days, I should be able to run a 10-minute mile today. I could only hold the modest pace for about 4 minutes, but I was hooked on the simplicity of running. 


Motivated by fear, I signed up for a 5K with six weeks to prepare. It was a little embarrassing. During the last mile, I walked a lot. Every time I walked, this 70-something woman would pass me. I would run a little and pass her. Then walk and she would pass me again. Proudly, I finished ahead of her, and there were no hard feelings.


The post-race spread was pretty awesome. I hung around and talked to the other runners. They had never seen a trucker who ran before. Then they would introduce me to another runner and make them guess what I did for a living. I feel like a museum piece. All of these runners thought that it was pretty cool to have a truck driver join them.


My wife Roxanne was encouraged by my new hobby, so she gifted me a subscription of Runners’ World magazine. The first issue I received listed the ten coolest marathons in the country. One of them was right in Green Bay, so I signed up. The next spring, I became a marathon finisher.


It was frustrating never seeing another runner on the road. I left the CB on in my truck sometimes. It was basically hearing other truckers ridiculing me. I thought it was funny. Sometimes I even joined in. Who knows, maybe I was able to recruit a driver or two. 


Not anywhere near what I could with Facebook.


We started with nine people, most of them from the magazine. My friend Scott liked this idea and had his friends Meredith Ochs and Chris Tsakis talk to me on SiriusXM’s Freewheelin’ Radio. We grew. Satellite radio and the SiriusXM’s Road Dog channel have been very good to our little band of truckers.


I am not this great organizer. We didn’t have rules or goals, but we had cooperation and a shared purpose. I really had no idea of the good the Facebook could do. Misty was the one who knew how to start a group. Carolyn was the one who encouraged it. I went along for the ride.


We encourage each other. One of the nice things about having a thousand of us is the shared information. There could be a great place near parking, and we don’t know it. Sidewalks and trails are hiding all over in plain sight.


There are other “sister” Facebook groups. For instance, one for truckers that carry bikes with them. There’s also a group for more of our hidden discoveries called “Trucker Trails.”


One of the most gratifying things is when another member will write:

“Hey I will be there, Let’s run together.”

That would not be possible without Facebook. 


Each fall, we have our group 5K. Obviously, we’re scattered all over the country, so members smarter than I came up with the idea of a virtual 5K. We have a week to run it, and we take a picture of our time on a treadmill, watch, phone, etc. Each year, we raise a little money for a trucker charity called Saint Christopher’s Fund and get ourselves T shirts. It’s almost like an in-person 5K.


One of the measure of our success is in Austintown, Ohio. There is a Pilot Truck stop at Exit 223 on Interstate 80. Immediately behind that Pilot is a paved trail. There is a fence between the truck stop and the trail. 10 years ago, it was a struggle through the weeds to get to the trail from the truck stop. Now, we have worn ourselves a path.


Over the years, I just made up rules for the group. We don’t really have formal rules. Instead of rules, we’ve developed a philosophy. We exist to help each other and cheerlead. We can exchange information – like where to run, what shoes we like, or what type of glove to wear in colder weather. We cheer equally for a driver who just walked a mile at pace for the first time in years as we do for a driver who just ran a Boston qualifying marathon time. We understand the challengers of exercising on the road. We know that it’s worth it.


Facebook is under a lot of criticism right now. We are hearing about Cambridge Analytics. We are learning about Russian interference in the election. Yes, these are bad things. A mechanic may only see the trucks in the shop and thinks trucks break down all the time. That mechanic may never look up and see the thousands of trucks driving past the shop. Like that mechanic, we should occasionally look up and see where Facebook is not broken and what it makes possible.


Thanks to Facebook, my health is slowly but steadily improving. I may not be the faster runner at a marathon, but I’m crossing that finish line with a smile on my face and a feeling of accomplishment.