In Which I Decide I’m Not Too Old to Run
Last summer – at the age of 68, osteoarthritis everywhere, and with one bout of foot surgery already behind me and another in my future – I was in a blue funk. I had (re)gained about twenty pounds in the year and a half since the foot surgery, and I needed to get up and out, to get some exercise. But I was discouraged by my options.
Swimming was one option. As everyone knows, swimming is very good for ageing joints because it doesn’t put weight on them. I love love love swimming, more than almost any other activity – but only in lakes, rivers and oceans. Out there, I feel wildly free. By contrast, I find few recreational activities as tedious and irritating as swimming lanes in a pool with two dozen other swimmers who are constantly smacking you with their fists or feet and are either determined to pass you, or to prevent you from passing them as they crawl along more slowly than you do.
Exercise classes and machines were other options. A few years earlier I’d joined the Y, and for about six months I’d gone over there religiously several days a week. But that was time-consuming – and it was also boring and seemingly pointless. Gradually I stopped going, at which point my monthly investment turned into a waste of money.
I’d tried yoga. God knows I’d tried yoga. Not my bag. Plus the downward dog was how I’d broken the plate the foot surgeon had installed to protect my big toe from further pain and damage, necessitating another round of surgery at a time still to be determined.
What I really wanted to do was to run. Every time I saw someone running, I longed to be out there too. I used to run, starting when I was about 40, off and on until I moved to Toronto when I was about 60. I had never been a fast runner (far from it) but I had signed up for 5k and 10k runs and had enjoyed training for them and running them. The best one was the Melissa 10K road race in Banff, a challenge and a half, set in the most beautiful location imaginable, which I did three or four times. I’d even once done a very slow half-marathon in Vancouver, way back in my forties. But now I hadn’t run for five or six years or more; part of the blue funk was me mourning the fact that I couldn’t run any more because I was too old.
What had made me decide I was too old to run? Well, it was partly a phenomenological conclusion: since I never saw old people running, I reasoned that most old people must be incapable of running (aside from the one or two centenarians who make it into the New York Times each year). But primarily it was my infinite capacity to imagine disaster that held me back. What if I wore out my hips and knees permanently and ended up in a wheelchair? What if I fell down while I was out there (seniors are always falling down, aren’t they?) and had to listen to the emergency medical services personnel say to one another, as if I wasn’t there, “What was she thinking????” Worse, or at least more embarrassing, I might drop dead on some nice young family’s front sidewalk in the neighbourhood, and traumatize them all.
It wasn’t as though I was in any shape to run, either. After I’d moved to Toronto, existing problems with my feet (bunionettes, a hammertoe, arthritic joint swelling) had grown worse and worse, and it had taken me five years to get in to see an orthopaedic surgeon for the first operation. I also had long-standing issues related to a pulled muscle in my thigh (still unresolved despite the assistance of several allied health professionals), not to mention large knots of discomfort in my hips and my lower back. I tended to walk lopsidedly, as my family liked to point out. (“Why do you walk like a penguin?” one grandchild had asked me helpfully.)
In short, “running” was not a recommended option for someone with my physical limitations. But I wasn’t interested in doing anything else. So I sat and moped and sat and moped and sat and moped. And ate. For months.
And then one day in August of this year, soon after I finally got a pair of orthotics that supported the toe with the broken plate in it, I decided to hell with it. If running was all I wanted to do, then running was what I was going to do. I’d already envisioned the worst possible physical outcomes, which meant (my years of experience told me) that they wouldn’t happen: something else would. And in the meantime, so what if I embarrassed myself in public? So what if I was the slowest runner on the planet? What other option did I have?
So I downloaded a “Couch to 5k” app, dug out my old running gear, tied on my running shoes – with the orthotics in them – and (without telling anyone what I was doing) headed out the door.
(Stay tuned for the next instalment.)