The Old Runner

Years ago, when I was running all the time and entering a race or two every month, I’d look at the results and think, “boy, I can’t wait ’til I’m in the 60-plus age group.” While  I was battling it out with miraculously strong runners my own age, those older guys had a lot less competition, and could take home trophies with much slower times than the guys I was competing with.

Well, now that I’m just a couple of years away from actually being with the 60-plusers, let me just say that if you’re over 60 and you even just finish a running race, you DESERVE a trophy. It’s dawning on me that there’s a reason there aren’t that many competitors in the older age groups, and that reason has nothing to do with them getting tired of the sport and dropping out; it’s that our bodies were not designed to be running a lot, on pavement, after six decades.

I don’t want to over-generalize; there are definitely people who can keep training and racing well into their 80s and beyond. But for most of us, judging by those local race results and my own experience, the runner’s body just starts to break down somewhere in the 40s or 50s. And the rate of breakdown, I’m coming to learn, accelerates the farther you get from 40.

The last few years have not been good ones for my running. I started with some knee problems a decade or so ago that landed me in physical therapy. Not long after that, I had some lower-back issues—more PT. In In the last five years or so, my muscles have gotten into the act, and I’ve been fighting a series of hamstring and calf injuries, each episode requiring a longer recovery time than the previous one. In 2017, I’ve pursued a strategy of alternating days running and working out at the gym, and my running mileage was way down from what it was a few years ago. In mid-July, my back suddenly started to hurt again, and in September, I went for a run and my right calf began to hurt about halfway through. Calf strains are the worst, so I hung up the running shoes for a while, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to run without pain until it healed.

Last Saturday morning, I felt like I’d sat out enough—about five weeks—and it was time to test out the calf. I wrapped both calves up in compression sleeves, which, the lore goes, are supposed to protect them from strains.

For the first half-mile or so of my run, things felt pretty good—at one point, my left knee started to hurt a little and it was actually kind of nice to feel that sensation again after so long. But one hill later, I felt that familiar twinge in my right calf, and I knew it was all over. The pain steadily got worse, and I ended up walking the last half-mile or so back home, by now with a pronounced limp.

So that calf is definitely not healed, and that means I’m through for the year. I’m going to hang up those new running shoes that I spent a depressing amount of money on just a few months ago, and give these legs plenty of time to heal before—and if—I try running again. I’ll get up to the gym to try to stay in shape in other ways, but to be honest, it’s kind of difficult to keep a positive attitude about exercise when I can feel my legs disintegrating beneath me. I have a nagging suspicion that I may already have outlived my body.

 

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