Re-emerging, Finding Motivation

As I mentioned in my last post, for over a year of our Covid adventure I let my running languish along with just about everything else. I was still running while we were all in strict lockdown, but it was wimpy running, 30-35 minutes and at a rate that was not raising my heart rate enough. I did the same dull thing every time I went out. I was jogging, and while it’s better than sitting on the couch, it was not anywhere near enough for me to feel really good and keep my body in its best condition.

Which has led me to mull over the subject of motivation. And to realize that I have one basic motivation but many ways to keep that motivation strong enough to get me doing the work I need to do to stay as healthy as I can be.

My basic motivation for running has been there since I set out on my first run, over six years ago. That is to age as well as possible. This part of my motivation is, unfortunately, heavily influenced by counter-examples as well as positive examples.

Counter-examples abound, of course. Anyone who is 50 or older and feels their age, they are a counter-example. Me before I started running, for one. I was always tired and almost everything was an effort. Geez, I had to go all the way down the basement stairs to get a new roll of paper towels. This was something I actually thought about, pre-running, as a chore to be put off or foisted onto someone else if it could be.

But one of my main counter-examples has been my dad. My dad never exercised after doing crew in college, ever, even with constant nagging from my step-mother in his later years. And it showed. He had a TIA (essentially a mini-stroke) when he was about 70. Then got type 2 diabetes, which his mother also had. He took scads of pills, dozens. In his mid-80s his cognition declined to where he was basically a very old nine-year-old. It was heartbreaking and terrifying to watch him decline.

You could say he just had bad luck, bad genes. Was his mental decline genetic or due to the huge number of medications he took? Who knows? But I have read over and over and over and over and over that running (or another aerobic activity done vigorously) can help avoid dementia, loss of cognition, Alzheimer’s, and cancer, not to mention type 2 diabetes and heart disease. And my dad became unable to travel and eventually even to go out and do things in his neighborhood far earlier than if he’d kept himself at least minimally fit. So gradually he was forced to be more and more sedentary and for the last few years of his life, almost entirely house-bound and unable to really connect and communicate with people, certainly not on an adult level, due to dementia.

My mother was not a counter-example until she turned 98. Until then she did Zumba (I kept asking for a video but was denied) and fairly rocketed around the halls where she lived. She was cognitively all there and physically quite able. She lived in an apartment in her assisted-living community, self-sufficient, doing her own cooking and laundry, driving until she was 97 (!!!), going out shopping and to lunch and dinner with friends on and off the premises of the community. She was living well. When she stopped exercising she started to go downhill. First she suffered stress fractures in her spine, which were extremely painful and caused her to be on painkillers for the rest of her life. They also made it impossible for her to care for herself, and so she moved from an apartment to one room, having meals prepared for her and being taken out of the environment where her apartment was, where her friends were steps away, where she had lived for over a decade. And I don’t want to live 10 minutes the way she had to live from when she was 100 to 101.5, when she died. With each stage of the decline she lost cognition, mobility, and most of all freedom. She wrote her autobiography in Word in her 80s and at 98 was still emailing, sending and receiving photos, following the news and politics, and able to communicate with ease. By the time she died, she couldn’t use the TV remote or even talk on the phone, much less dial it. Yes, I know, she was very, very old. But please read on.

Here is a sequence of pictures of her on her 98th birthday, while she was still in her apartment, still fully capable. She is opening a gag gift from me, a tin of teabags with a Harry and Megan theme. My mother was English and had respect for the Queen and for her father, the King, but she was never over-the-top for the royal family and never had or coveted anything kitschy like a Harry and Megan tea tin. You can see by her reaction that she knew right away it was a joke. She was completely all there even at that advanced age.

Again, you could say, well geez, she got to 101.5. Yes, she had very good genes. Both my maternal grandparents lived to be 100, in a generation when that was far more rare than now. But I think there’s a very, very good chance that if she kept exercising she would have had a much higher quality of life during her last three years. Here are some people who might convince you that I’m not completely crazy:

Take a look at “Hurricane Hawkins”, a 103-year-old runner at the time of this story.

Here she is at 105!

A mile or two a day. In her 100s. No walker, no wheelchair, and she’s still thinking. If I get that old, I want to be in that kind of shape.

Marathons at over 100. He started running in his mid-eighties. His first marathon was at 89.

BBC went to the London Marathon in 2012. There were 7,000 runners over age 50 and 7 who were 80 or older. The reporter talks to some of the older runners, including Fauja Singh.

What I think it’s important to notice is the freedom of movement of these very old people. How many people over 70 do you know who can even run a mile? Yes, Mr. Singh walked for part of the London Marathon, but he ran a good part of it. His time was not shabby.

Mr. Singh is extraordinary, but the 7,006 people over 50 running along with him show that it’s not just one or two people with great genetics. And what they’ll tell you is that it’s the work they’ve put in that kept them mobile.

The motivation I get from these very old people is having freedom of movement and excellent cognition and what comes from those two things, the freedom to do things that can’t be done without them. The freedom to have a good old age.

In spite of the huge motivation of both the counter-examples and the stellar examples, I slacked off during the depths of Covid and recently for about six weeks. It was a huge mistake, but thankfully one that I didn’t let go on for too long.

In fact, I have been out there in the snow and slush and temperatures in the teens for the last few weeks. Here’s a shot I took while on a five-mile run around the neighborhood and through Smith Campus on Sunday. That is Paradise Pond with skaters on it in the distance.

I will follow this post with posts on how I have been able to rekindle motivation when it has eluded me. No promises of 100% effectiveness with any of them, but the more the merrier. And it turns out there are quite a few.

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