Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Aging Up-A Runner Looks at 40… and Beyond

We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face... we must do that which we think we cannot. 
Eleanor Roosevelt

Runners never get older, we just “Age-Up”, right?  Ah the benefits of denial, pride and vanity…
After blowing right  through the 40-44 age group without a hitch, I woke up one day, smack in the middle of the 45-49’ers.  And then it happened.  Shortly before my 47th birthday we’d gone out to dinner to a local restaurant.   I was finding it difficult to read the menu and attributed it to the dim lighting and poor menu design.  My vision had always been perfect, so the thought that I might need glasses never entered my mind.    Shortly afterwards a coworker teased me about the size of the font on my cell phone text messages.  Denial and compensation could only carry me so far I guess.  It was time to visit the eye doctor.    As I sit here typing this story I’m using my shiny new reading glasses.  It annoyed me for the longest time that I needed them but I have come to accept it as normal.  Besides, it’s nice not to have to struggle to see what I’m doing. 
As runners when we experience the changes to our bodies wrought by age, denial and compensation kick in almost immediately.   Early morning stiffness, new aches and pains can all be rationalized away for a while.   We blame everything but age.  We try to ward off the effects of getting older with all things new: new shoes, new socks, new workouts, new gear, and new food.  Some of it does help but the inexorable toll that the years exact on our bodies will eventually show.  As runners we are better at warding off the effects of aging compared to the portion of society that doesn’t exercise, but eventually we all succumb.  This doesn’t mean we quit, we just need modify our expectations.
Years ago I had been able to roll out of bed, throw on my running shoes and shorts and head out the door.  Nowadays, it takes much longer for me to wake up, hydrate and “take care of business” before I get out the door. I can run just as far, but now I have to wake up earlier to prepare to cover the same distance.  Perhaps the biggest change I’ve had to deal with has to do with stretching. I was having the type of pain that was keeping me from running and it had gotten to the point where I was willing to try anything to fix it.  I’ve never been very flexible and rarely stretch much.  Face it, very few of us probably stretch “enough”, whatever that magical amount may be.  Yoga had often been recommended to me over the years.  I’d give it a half hearted try and then completely dismiss it.  It annoyed me and I bad mouthed it for years but had no idea why.   Why did yoga make me so angry?  I have come to realize that it was because doing yoga made it painfully obvious to me that I was not very flexible and needed to stretch more.  Yoga was hard and didn’t come easily to me.  It exposed my weakness, my vulnerability. Strength and endurance has always been my pride and vanity.  I imagine it’s a very human trait to avoid working our weak areas and playing it safe with the strengths. Don’t believe me?  How many times have you heard about runners avoiding hills because “they hate hills”?  We know hill work is good for us and makes us better so why do so many runners “hate” hills? Because they are difficult, they require hard work and expose our weaknesses.  So many runners miss out on the benefits of hill running by sticking to level ground where they feel competent, though remain unchallenged. 
Recently I thought about yoga again.  Deep down I knew it was exactly what I needed. I felt that old anger rise again but this time I thought about my reading glasses. I had disliked the idea that I needed them but was grateful that they made reading easier.  I realized that there was a lesson in that for me.
With a different mindset I decided to try yoga again.  I had resolved to view my weakness as a challenge rather than a threat.  It was time to face down my demons with hard work and a positive attitude. 
Turns out they helped- both the new attitude and the yoga. I found that the more I did the yoga stretches, the less painful my running was.  Nothing succeeds like success.  Each bit of forward progress fed into a positive feedback cycle and suddenly I found myself looking forward to doing yoga because it made me feel good and because my runs were so much better.  The big discovery here was that anger and denial had been replaced by acceptance and… improvement!

The old cliché is that with age comes wisdom.  I’d like to expand upon that for runners and say that “aging up” requires strategy.  Our bodies will weaken with time-we have no choice, no say in the matter.  What we do have control over is how we deal with it.  Challenging rather than denying weakness was the attitude adjustment I needed. We may have to do things a little bit differently; to adapt to aging in ways we never might have considered.  I dare you all to confront the weakness in yourselves. Do something you don’t usually do.  Get off the level ground and go run a hill, do a trail run, try some speed work, stretch a few minutes longer than usual. If you really want a challenging stretch-call me- I can show you a few yoga moves.

Om Shanti!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Personal Growth

“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress and grow.”

Dear My Oncologist,

This year was my 11th anniversary as a breast cancer survivor. For the past 6 or 7 years I have visited your office every year. I graduated to yearly check-ups after I passed my 5 year anniversary, as you well know. My annual visit is usually sometime during the month of April as that coincides with when I received my diagnosis. Each year, during the weeks leading up to my appointment, presumably like most cancer survivors, I feel pangs of anxiety that manifest in various ways. Mostly I do a great deal of remembering, feeling and thinking about those miserable days during my illness.

Nasty memories of severe nausea intermingle with fond memories of the warmth, competence and compassion of “Mary” and “Jane”, the nurses that worked with me.

The recollections of pain caused by surgeries, endless needle sticks and physical therapy are assuaged because I recall the warm smile, genuine care, concern and skill of “Rita” who ran the lab.

The fear and panic I experienced from the initial diagnosis gave way to hope and confidence because of you, my physician. You were always candid, honest and direct with me, which I greatly appreciated. Despite the fact that my pathology report was concerning to you, I never at any time felt that you considered my long term survival in question. That attitude rubbed off on me as well and while I was frightened (ok more like scared shitless!) and knew I was facing a tough haul, I never doubted for a moment that I would survive.

Later on, I came to regard my yearly visits with you as more of a chance to receive a joyful hug and bring each other up to speed on the year’s personal highlights, rather than the medical visit that it was.

This year was different for me. I actually forgot my appointment that had been set the year before. This past April, I was out of town, traveling on business and something I saw must have brought it to mind when I suddenly realized…I had forgotten! I called your office and as it turned out, the person that answered said that they were in fact, about to call me.  I had missed my appointment that had been scheduled for that very day!  I forget many things, and often have to resort to relying on lists and calendar entries to keep my days in check, but I never had to make a note of an oncology appointment.  I guess something about me has changed and that somehow, the date didn’t loom as large as it had in the past.

I have finally come to the realization that I truly did kick cancer’s ass. I no longer require the services of an oncologist and the time has come for me to move on.

In many ways I have looked forward to writing you this letter for a very long time.

Dr. Oncologist, in so many words, what I would like to tell you, with the utmost love, humor and triumph I can muster is ....

You’re Fired!!!

Please accept my deepest appreciation for all that you and your staff have done for me over the years. I hope they too, understand and celebrate along with me for the reasons that I will no longer be returning as a patient. 

As I have mentioned in the past, I will always be more than happy to speak with any of your patients that you feel may need a pep talk or advice from a survivor, especially the ones just starting out on the arduous journey.



Contact info inserted here

P.S. Perhaps if you decide to change your specialty to Geriatric Medicine I would be delighted to utilize your services in the distant future!