How to Start Running When You’re Well Past Your Prime

It was not one thing that got me to start running at an age well past my prime.  (No, I’m not saying how old I am.  Suffice it to say that when I told my doctor, who I hadn’t seen in several years, that I started running the year before, he said, “You started running last year??!!”).

The first impetus was that a year and a half earlier I had a bout of back pain so bad I was actually wishing I had a walker so I had something to lean on as I walked – and I am decades away from actually considering a walker!  Feeling like I was 90 when I still had decades to go before that age was a pretty good motivator to figure out how to get out of that situation and not get back in it.  This incident brought Fear of Spinal Surgery (slipped disc) into the forefront of my brain.  I know from both parents, a couple of brothers, and a few friends that the lack of abdominal and back muscles are the path to the knife.  The Fear was enough that I started doing yoga again, for the first time in decades, with a focus on poses that strengthened my back.

Yoga eradicated my back pain – thankfully it was muscles acting up, not a disc – and was definitely making me feel much better than I had felt during the several prior, completely couch-potato, years, but I kept thinking that I needed to do more, to fight the onslaught of age-related problems rearing their heads.  I was mostly hating doing the yoga for two reasons.  First, because it was really hard when it had been so easy for me when I was in my twenties.  OK, I know, that’s a no-brainer.  But I was living on arnica, struggling with each session.  Two, because I was making it very hard work for myself, pushing during every pose, constantly striving for more, constantly remembering how easy some poses used to be.

I was moaning to someone about this and she suggested that I find exercise that I liked.  I replied that that was impossible, there was no such thing.  But then I realized that I used to like yoga, way back when it was easy and felt good.  I realized that if I backed off a bit, I would like it again.  And I did, mostly, enough to keep at it, realizing the enormous benefits, in particular keeping The Fear of Spinal Surgery at bay.

And then I stumbled across this article from the New York Times:  Happy to Be the Tortoise in the Race to Fitness.  A couple of excerpts sum it up:

I’ve gotten used to the fact that when I’m huffing and puffing my way along the road, anybody else who is running the same path is probably going to pass me. Graybeards pass me. Teenagers pass me. A pregnant runner has passed me. Once, on a blazing afternoon in Austin as I ran along Lady Bird Lake, I noticed that the two women who had just passed me were walking.

What I do know is that I have lost the weight and gotten off the blood pressure medication that I’d been on when I first started running. At my checkup last year, my doctor said, “You’re the healthiest person I know.”

The author of the article has absolutely no ambition to be faster.  He handles being passed by walkers; he handles the jokes his friends make about his pace.  He just sticks to that pace, which he describes as what would make a marathon take seven hours.  I read this and thought that I could make running something I didn’t dread, that I could do that if I didn’t care about my speed, took the dog along, ran around my neighborhood and the Olmstead-designed campus of Smith College, both of which are gorgeous, and listened to a podcast or book.  In other words, no pushing, lots of distractions – what’s not to like?  Whenever I felt physically stressed, I slowed down, sometimes in the beginning to a walk.  My pace at that point would have made a marathon take well over eight hours.  The guy in the Times article would have been passing me!

I started out with some Keen’s knock-offs for shoes, in jeans, even in summer, because they have pockets for my phone, Kleenexes, dog-poop bags, and my house key.  No special equipment, no special clothing, no app.  I just went.  And I’m still going more than a year and a half later.

And when I’m consistent, running at least three times a week, I feel so good I can hardly believe it.  At least 20 years younger.  I don’t huff and puff going up stairs, even long, steep flights, I’m stronger and happier and there is this feeling of power that I get after almost every run, an incredible energy.

I started this blog because I wanted to share how to start, the benefits I’ve gained, the mistakes I’ve made, the things I’ve learned to make the experience better, safer, and to make me fitter.

I’m certainly no expert.  As a kid I was absolutely abysmal at anything remotely athletic other than long jump, and that merely because I was taller than most of my peers.  Doing team sports, as I was required to do from ages 6 to 15, was pure torture and humiliation.  I have tried to exercise through the years and have been successful at it for spurts during my 20s and 30s, but I have never had a years-long commitment to it.  I am weaker than most children, no athletic ability at all, nada.

I am particularly not a health expert (please see disclaimer at the bottom of this and every page of this site), but as I gleaned when my doctor expressed shock at my starting running at my age, I don’t think it’s terribly common for a near-pensioner to begin to run.  I have read and bookmarked a lot of articles and figured out what works for me and what doesn’t and want to pass that along to anyone else who wants to fight back against decline, to feel twenty years younger by adding one simple practice to their lives.

I intend to add posts about a wide variety of subjects: how to start running later in life, how to take care of your knees, why I run instead of walking (I want to scream every time someone tells me it’s better for you to walk instead run), Morton’s neuroma (a foot problem), how to run with your dog, equipment for yourself and your dog, running in less-than-ideal weather, research on why running is so good for you, my experience with running and weight loss, injury and avoiding injury, running a 5K, my changing aspirations and methods, and much more.  I will start with posts about my current thoughts, and go back and fill in revelations and experiences I’ve had along the way.  So stay tuned!


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