So much of what we see online is an unrelenting positivity. I like to focus on the positive, too, but sometimes all that cheerleading can be intimidating in the face of life’s more mundane or difficult days.
People know me as an athlete who used to be fast. Sometimes I post here or on Facebook about runs and workouts that are still pretty good given my age and limitations imposed by my bad knee.
But I feel it’s important to be real—to tell you about the days when it’s hard to believe I ran 20:10 for 5K earlier this year.
A few days ago it was raining lightly when I started my run in Mundy Park. I didn’t mind that—it wasn’t cold, and after a summer of countless sunny days, I was ready to welcome a new season and the freshness of the forest when it rains.
But I knew right away that this wasn’t going to be a great run. No, it would be one of those days when I felt like an old lady. I had to start tentatively, with small, cautious steps. I was aware of my wonky knee, worried about my lower back (which had become very sore after my previous run, when I skipped my usual post-run stretching routine). As my hesitant steps slowly took me past Lost Lake, I was somewhat reassured—nothing seemed to be hurting. Yet I felt sluggish and tired. I could only conclude that I still hadn’t recovered from the all-out workout I’d done with Doug and Suzanne four days ago and a couple of subsequent bike rides.
I decided that I wouldn’t push myself on this run. I would simply let my legs take me on a new route through Mundy Park, not worrying about my Garmin numbers too much, until I had covered 6K or so.
As I warmed up, my pace increased but more gradually than usual. When I was circling the flat, easy trail around Mundy Lake, I was able to lose the awkwardness of my body’s fatigue and settle into a relaxed rhythm. Once again, as I do on every run, I repeated my mantra of thankfulness for still being able to do this. I enjoyed all the sensations of running in Mundy Park; the aromas of the moist forest, the sounds of rain and dripping trees and my own deep breaths, the far-in-the-background hum of highway traffic reminding me of the chaotic, busy world outside this oasis.
I ran 6.5K. I won’t tell you my time.
According to my Garmin, that was a mediocre run, a run that reflected the limitations of my 58-year-old body—a body that has gone through Achilles surgery, two knee surgeries, and femoral bypass surgery on both sides—a body that has been running, with some short or long injury breaks, for 42 years.
But I’ve grown more accepting of mediocrity, both physical and mental. That might sound bad, but it’s not. As people age, they have no choice but to accept some declines and limitations. I’ve found that both mental and physical slowness can be overcome by some degree of acceptance. You work with whatever you have (as I did on that run). Usually, very gradually, improvement happens. Brilliance is replaced by doggedness and simple endurance—by not allowing oneself to sink completely.
I’m fascinated by the psychology of aging. What is it in people’s makeup that allows them not merely to endure, but to find and cherish real joy, at any age?
I think it’s the capacity to enjoy whatever you have; to pay attention to and be appreciative of the smallest things. It involves a change in both perspective and the measurement system. After all, what is the alternative to slowing down? People my age are dying, or suffering from terrible chronic diseases. Others are overweight or unfit and probably can’t even imagine feeling good in their bodies.
As for changing the measurement system, that means accepting that most runs won’t be fast. I pay a price for the hard days, and I need longer to recover.
Oh, I love the times when I get high from running. Part of my gratefulness comes from knowing I still have those times.
Last week, near the end of my grueling workout with Doug and Suzanne, I stuttered-stepped down the last steep hill because of my knee. But after that, I knew only a minute or two of running remained before my “finish line.” I lengthened my stride and pumped my arms, using all the strength of my body, and as I accelerated to near-sprinting speed I automatically started running on my toes. It felt fantastic to be running so fast! —and I thought to myself, “I’m a real runner again!”
Those brief moments of speed had brought back my body-memory of so many victorious sprints to a finish line, all those moments of physical glory and triumph.