On the brink of my 45th birthday, after a lifetime of Olympic-calibre inertia, I am astonished to find that I am, in fact, a runner. In the last year, I have somehow turned into one of those people who puts on their shoes and hits the road in all kinds of weather and actually enjoys it! After several months of walking, then walk-run treadmill workouts and finally running outdoors regularly, I ran my first 5K at the urging of a beloved running friend in November and was ecstatic to see my 11:36 overall pace. In January that same friend suggested I join her for a half-marathon in May; instead of collapsing in giggles of disbelief, I signed up. I ransacked the Internet for training schedules, bought really good running shoes (and cushy, moisture-wicking socks), started cross-training on the circuit at my local Curves, and cleared my weekend schedule so that I could devote Saturday mornings to gradually-increasing long runs. I downloaded GPS-driven running apps to my phone so I could keep track of how far and how fast I was running. I learned that my left knee gets impossibly sore if I skip cross-training, but that it responds beautifully to exercises that strengthen my hip abductor muscles. I iced and elevated that knee and took ibuprofen after long runs and found that it performs better and better over time, the stronger I get. I ran the half-marathon and loved every minute of it; my average pace was 11:16 over the whole 13.1 miles, not a racer’s speed by any stretch, but I was pretty darn proud of it then and I still am!
This summer I’m trying to maintain the conditioning I built up for the half-marathon. I run 20-25 miles a week, 10 in a single Saturday long run. My average pace over 5 miles has dropped to about 9:45. I’m going to try to run a 5K in under 30 minutes later this month, and plan to register for another half-marathon in October. I want to incorporate yoga into my running routine to improve flexibility, mental focus and core strength, and to establish a routine of walking a couple of miles on my cross-training days to give my legs some variety. I don’t think I’ll ever win a race, slow and easy runner that I am, but I intend to finish a whole lot of them. I don’t mind a bit not being competitive with other runners, because external competition is the reason I’ve avoided sports my whole life. I like beating my own PRs, but couldn’t care less what other people are doing out there. When I’m passed on the road by a runner with 20 years on me and a graceful, effortless stride, I’m inspired, not crushed. Hopefully someday I will be one of those!
Every day I bask in the rewards of running. I fall asleep within moments of my head hitting the pillow. I get to enjoy a healthy, widely varied diet without gaining weight, my energy level is higher than I remember it being even as a child, my skin looks fresh and healthy, and I handle stress better than ever before. And of course my body is beginning to look more like a runner’s body; leaner, stronger, more compact, more resistant to the pull of gravity. My body is accustomed to the rush of endorphins, the fabled “runner’s high,” that accompanies prolonged intense exercise, and it likes it…I actively look forward to it even when the weather or my mood or life’s other complications make it difficult to fit into the schedule.
It really never is too late to start to run, or to call yourself a runner. Bodies are made to run, to ease into that gentle, loping stride that feels like it can go on forever, or to lunge forward in a burst of speed that energizes every fiber of muscle, joint and senses. Our sedentary, stress-filled lives are crying out for something active to burn off the anxiety, for time in the open air, for chances to reconnect with the natural world, our thoughts, our bodies. Running doesn’t have to be fast to be beneficial; my favorite running mantra, stolen from an unremembered article, is “No pace is too slow for a training run.” Common sense prevents the vast majority of running injuries: take it slow, don’t increase mileage by more than 10% in a week, stop doing what hurts, be generous with rest days. It pays off. I’m here to tell you that it can be done, even in midlife, and that it can change your world for the better.
©Mary Braden 2013