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.