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!


Dede said...

Great blog, Stacey! Welcome, finally, to your 40's!! (But I was silently hoping the yoga would take away the need for glasses!)

Steph said...

Well said girl!!