Aging and running: managing expectations, capturing that feeling of joy

What brings people joy from physical activity varies from person to person. One person’s passion is another person’s horror. For example, the few times I have downhill skied I have experienced little beyond sheer terror, whereas many people pine for the slopes and regret the day when their bodies no longer cooperate. I know many people who share my enthusiasm for running and then some, but more people I know don’t understand the allure at all. Whatever turns your crank.

I haven’t written a blog post about running since March because until recently my heel was still causing me problems. Achilles tendinitis, plantar fasciitis, something like that. Of course, there’s an additional challenge as well … it’s called getting old! We get slower, we don’t recover as quickly as we used to – from injury or just from the effects of exercise, and so we either decide that we’re too old and we’ll just remember those times fondly or we figure out how to continue the activity with the “new you”. Figuring out how to choose the best plan to continue to enjoy your favourite physical activity is not made easier by most trainers, instructors, magazines, or online advice. It’s all geared to the 20-40 year-old set, written by trainers who are the same age. And the advice is mostly geared to becoming super-athletes. Running magazines are starting to include the occasional article about the older runner, but that’s usually about someone who’s turning 50 or very infrequently 60. So those of us who aren’t ready to give up and are able to keep moving need to come up with our own rules.

I am a little rare in that I started long-distance running with commitment when I was already past those ages. It was my retirement project to try running a half marathon, and then I got carried away! Some readers of this blog will have read previously of my brother and I running our first marathon – the utterly amazing NYC marathon – in 2011, when I was in my first year of the women’s 65-69 category. A much younger friend of mine – and far better runner – just finished the NYC marathon this past weekend a full 2 hours faster than we did it, but there is absolutely no way that she could have had a more exciting, exhilarating, or personally rewarding experience than we did. And through several more half marathons, the Chicago marathon, and 10Ks in many great locations, my brother, my husband, and I, along with our own traveling cheering squad (my sister-in-law), have enjoyed some very special times.

My husband and I have recently celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary (see, I told you I was old!); in recognition of our craziness for this activity a very long-time, dear, and talented friend – and former runner – painted this wonderful surprise painting for us (a composite of 2 Facebook pictures I’d posted from different races). This Robert Brown original captures just how much fun running can bring to people at any age!! 🙂


What I really miss when I’m not able to run is not so much the destination runs in awesome places as the feeling of freedom and peace – sheer joy, actually – that I get when I’m running by myself, usually with my 50s-60s playlist, on our beautiful local trails. That’s it. For me it’s not about how fast I can go (thank goodness, since that would be a big downer), it’s just about going. It’s not about how long I can go running without walking or whether that even matters, it’s about being out there on the trails, smiling at people as we pass each other, admiring the scene, and thinking my own thoughts. If I couldn’t run at all anymore – and at some point that will obviously happen – then I’d feel blessed that I had all those experiences and all those trails to remember, but I have to say that I’m not planning on caving in easily!

I have a new self-designed plan. I’ve tried going back twice since March and each time I’ve broken one of the cardinal sins of returning to running: too fast, too soon. Keep in mind that when I say “too fast” I do not mean fast by most people’s standards. But very few people seem to still be running in their 70s, so that doesn’t really matter. Slow means slow. The usual guideline in the running world is that you should run at a “conversational pace”. In other words, you should be breathing easily so as to be able to chat with your running mate while running. Since I don’t run with a running mate – the pressure to keep up would kill me – I try to sing along with my playlist or just entreat myself to pay attention. Don’t. Go. Too. Fast. And don’t go too far. That’s what gets my heel hurting again. So instead of the well-entrenched Long Slow Distance (LSD) of serious running programs, the once a week run that doesn’t push your body too hard but gets it used to long distances, I am now introducing a new running term, the Short Slow Distance (SSD)! No long distances for me for the foreseeable future. No medium distances for the foreseeable future. And not every day. But a few times a week of light jogging along 5 kms of beautiful local trails is working well. Fingers crossed. By managing my expectations and paying attention to my body, I hope to continue to capture that marvelous feeling of being alive as I run – slowly – along the trails of the St. John River Valley.  So far, so good.

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16 Responses to Aging and running: managing expectations, capturing that feeling of joy

  1. jennypellett says:

    You go, girl! Your joy of running is evident in this post, Jane. Congratulations on your 50 years together. That, in itself, is a marathon!


    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks, Jenny. Just as the first rule of writing is “bum in seat”, with running it’s “feet in sneakers, out the door”. But as one ages, the writing rule of “leave caution and doubt behind” may not be quite so wise with physical activities! Caution is probably useful. Re 50 years of marriage, who knew it could go so fast!


  2. Maggie says:

    Jane, I very much enjoyed reading about your evolving running philosophy. I think the motto ‘short & slow’ can apply to lots of the fun things we want to continue well into our years of maturity..


  3. Roy McCarthy says:

    Here you are Jane, just the thing for you Bruce was a childhood hero of mine. It was a proud moment when I stood to introduce him as our athletics club’s honoured dinner guest some years back. He’s now 92.

    I love how you’re still enjoying running. I’m fortunate in that I’ve remained injury free and I still love both the group social runs and the races, in which I can still push hard if not too quickly 🙂 I’m still a spring chicken at 64 though.

    Hopefully I’ll be reviewing my 2017 running year after a last (15k) race at the end of the month.


    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks a lot, Roy, I will give Bruce Fulloh’s book a try. So far my favourites have been from long ago that was just for women, which I found helpful when I was starting. Then a friend recommended Danny Dreyer’s book on Chi Running, after I had posted a few blogs about injuries when I started more heavy-duty training. Chi running techniques pretty well made all the difference for being able to keep running – one the physios had helped me heal, that is!

      You’re right, you’re a young’un! I’ll hold you to your post reviewing your 2017 running. Hmm. I wonder if I could build back up to 15K?! 😉

      I can’t remember if we originally connected because of running posts or writing posts, but I love the combination. I love the way you were able to incorporate that feeling of joy and release that running brings in your Barry book. Barry used running to get through tough times. It worked so well! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Jane, I know a lot about talking to yourself about pacing yourself and sometimes forgetting to listen to yourself. Good luck with the running!


    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks, Cynthia. In fact, I am halfway through reading your thoroughly engaging book A Good Home as we speak and, having read the prologue, I think I know what you mean. I was delighted to have found out about Myrtle from Jo, and ordered A Good Home while ordering Myrtle. I’m definitely going to be ordering your follow-up book after this! And I’m taking Myrtle to read to the children in a local Syrian family I work with next week. Three cheers for the blogosphere! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. johnpersico says:

    I can not imagine life without running. Awesome blog.


    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks a lot, John. I can’t either! I know it will come some day when I can’t, and at that time my plan is to give thanks for having been able to experience that joy and sense of achievement. I’m glad I found your blog!


  6. Very inspiring Jane, congrats on your 50 years anniversary, and keep having fun running!


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