Category Archives: running

Thanks, but…

I think I’ll have to bail

I really do mean the “Thanks” part. I’m grateful to everyone who sent me messages of support. I wouldn’t have covered nearly as much ground as I had if you hadn’t been cheering me on. Also thanks to you, if intentions had been actions, I’d have covered a lot more territory.

But with two weeks ahead of me before my foot surgery, and a week of swimming and canoeing but no jogging behind me, I am giving up my running aspirations for the nonce. (Nonce = maybe just for six months, and maybe for longer. Time will tell.)

I’m not stopping because of my age: I know (because I have several friends who are doing it) that being over seventy is no reason not to run, unless there are actual physical restrictions. Which fortunately, I do not have. Essentially, in my case, given my appointment with the foot surgeon, I should have started this program in the spring.

On the positive side, my appreciation for walking has increased. 🤓 When you walk, you can take pictures more easily – like the ones I took (below) last week in Muskoka. So that’s what I’ll be doing for a while. Except when I’m sitting on the couch with my foot up.

Special thanks to Dan, for the words of support, and the running chart. At this point, I’m optimistically filing it for next year.

Slog Slog Slog

Week Two, Day Seven

Just a quick update tonight because we are out of town on a mini-holiday and it’s hard to focus on writing a blog post when you’re sitting on your hotel balcony looking out at a Muskoka Lake. Maybe by tomorrow I’ll have grown used to the change of scenery but after four months (!) of being mostly at home, it is a sweet break.

During Week Two (which ends today), running continued to be a challenge. I promised myself part way through it that if it doesn’t get easier within another week or two, I will switch to (fast) walking. My sister is doing that — five to eight km a day! – and has been since the pandemic began. I am so impressed with her. Mind you, she is a LOT younger than I am (not really. Just 18 months) but obviously she is staying in great shape and keeping her spirits up by striding all over the west coast, while I drag my sorry butt around a few city blocks in Toronto.

It wasn’t all bad. I did notice a bit of improvement: for a couple of minutes on my second and third running days, I did manage to find that elusive “zone” where I find it as easy to run as to walk. But it has been much harder to reach that zone this time around than on any of my previous attempts to re-start my running program. I am hoping that Week Three is the turning point where I finally start looking forward to going out.

In the meantime, for a few days I can swim! I love being in the water, and I have always preferred a lake over a pool. I grew up in London, Ontario and when I was a kid, many summers we came up to Muskoka for camp or to visit friends and relatives who had cottages. After spending decades in Alberta, where they don’t have what I think of as “real” lakes, I have thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to revisit Muskoka since I moved back to Ontario. It’s just the perfect place for me: evoking long-lost memories as well as making new ones.

The First Week Is the Hardest, Baby. (Or maybe not.)

Week 2, Day 1

As Week 2 began, I was hoping that I would be able to announce how much easier the second week was than the first. The start was promising: it was a lot easier getting up early than it was last Monday. In fact, I set my alarm for eight (since it was a holiday and all) but I woke up at 7, so I got up. In spite of that, it was almost noon before I prodded myself out the door for my run, and it was warmer and muggier out there than I had anticipated.

It’s cooler this week than it was last week, but it’s still warm when the sun is out. Between the heat and the humidity, plus the fact that the running time on my training schedule had increased from 2 minutes run/3 minutes walk (times six) to 3 minutes run/ 2 minutes walk (times six), it was a huge struggle to complete my assignment for the day.

But I did it. (My musical accompaniment was Pink.) And today I went for my walk, dodging raindrops. So I’m still on track.

Tomorrow I’ll go out when I get up. Difficult as it is, it’s really the only way, at least as long as the summer heat is on us.

I found an article in The Guardian last week that certainly might help get me out the door if my brain were functional enough at 6:30 in the morning to think about scientific evidence of any kind, which normally it is not. It concerns a report from the Lancet Commission on dementia prevention, intervention and care in the UK that reviewed a lot of existing literature and added some new studies of its own on the subject of dementia. The Commission determined that by addressing certain lifestyle factors, “up to 40% of dementia cases worldwide could be delayed or prevented.” Physical inactivity is only one of twelve risk factors mentioned in the report, but it’s one of the ones that individuals can do something about — unlike, say, pollution. (Note to younger readers: exercise is particularly beneficial in this regard when practised starting in middle age.) Since the report points out that depression is also associated with dementia, and since exercise definitely helps to lift the spirits, physical activity may thwart dementia on two fronts.

I am very grateful to my friends and followers for the positive feedback I’ve been getting on this undertaking. It helps a lot.

Photos from my walk today include an unidentified flowering tree and a snail – both enjoying the rain.

Week One, Day Four

Run a Day, Walk a Day

My goal at the outset of this new regimen is to get out there every other day for a total of three runs a week. I have read that muscles need an opportunity to recover, and for that reason running every day is not recommended. (Those who offer such advice are probably talking to people who run five k in half an hour, which isn’t me. But I figure I might as well keep the wear and tear on my aging joints to a minimum.)

However, running only three days a week creates a problem. I know that if I don’t get up at the same time on the other days as I do on my running days, I will never develop the getting-up-early habit, and rolling out of bed will continue to be a battle. So I’ve decided to try to get up at the same time on the other days as well and instead of going for a run, go out for a walk.

Guess what? Going for a walk turns out to be far less onerous than going for a run. You have more time to check out cloud formations and you can smell the trees. You can even give yourself permission to stop to take pictures of interesting things, which you can’t do when you’re running. Take this chair set in the back of someone’s yard, looking out on Sheppard Ave. It’s the kind of chair I’d love to sit in: it’s far from human activity on three sides, well shaded, and looks out on the traffic going by on a pretty busy street (albeit somewhat less busy during a pandemic than usual).

I also found a path heading off into the woods from that busy street, and I was very tempted to see where it led.

So far this week, I’ve done two runs and two walks. This is a definite improvement over last week, and the week before that, and the one before that, etc. Many steps in the right direction. I am grateful to all those people who I imagine are reading this blog, because you’re the ones who got me out there! Onwards.

Just fyi, my first week’s schedule is 2 minutes of running plus 2 minutes of walking, repeated six times, plus a warmup and cool down at five minutes each. The first day out I was accompanied by Queen, and the second time by Chris Isaak.

This little guy has been the highlight of my outings so far. I paused on the path when I saw him and asked if he’d stay where he was if I moved a bit closer to take a picture. Keeping his eyes on me, he sat still until I’d snapped this photo.

Well, That Was Dumb

or maybe not….

Your overheated scribe, post-run. Note steam rising from head.

So the alarm went off at 7 o’clock this morning, and I did what I always do: I turned it off and I went back to sleep.

When I woke up for real at 8, my immediate thought – of course – was that I had promised myself and the small corner of the universe that reads my blog that I would get up and go for a run, and I had failed to do that. Guilt set in immediately. My one hope was that no one had read the blog post yet… maybe I could take it down and repost it today and everyone would think tomorrow (Tuesday) was the day I had promised myself to start this new regimen.

No such luck, of course. My WordPress dashboard indicated that quite a few people had clicked on the post during the night (in addition to those who get the post whether they want it or not because they are subscribers). Someone had even commented already.

Although my first instinct was to throw myself off a very high escarpment somewhere, that seemed a bit dramatic even to me. My more realistic choices were: a) to confess in my post today that I had failed to get up and go for a run, and to say I would try again tomorrow (we’re all human, blah blah blah); or b) to go for a run today at some later hour than 7 a.m., and then to confess in today’s post that I might have failed to get up, but at least I had gone for a run.

The Don River was high and fast today due to the heavy rains, but it didn’t cool the air much.

There was, obviously, only one option available to me, and that was Option B. But the problems associated with Option B were almost enough for me to seriously contemplate settling for Option A. The first problem was that I could not go out until an hour after I’d eaten breakfast (because I don’t like running on a full stomach. I am such a delicate flower) and the temperature was already nearly 30° (that’s 86°F). By the time my oatmeal had settled, it would be several degrees higher. I was going to bake out there. Sunstroke. Ambulances. I visualized them all.

Don’t be a wuss, I told myself.

The next problem arose just after the oatmeal had found its happy place. This one took the form of a Severe Thunderstorm Watch that had now appeared on the Environment Canada website. I could see the clouds moving in. I weighed the heroics of having been killed by lightning because of my determination to get some exercise against the horror of having to admit defeat (see Option A).

Sure enough, we got a huge downpour — and then it was time for lunch.

And so it went all afternoon — heat and stormy weather. But by five p.m., I could delay no longer. It was still more than 30° and the Thunderstorm Watch was still in effect (as it is even as I write this post at 9 p.m.), but by now I knew I could not face this blog tonight if I had not gone for a run.

Not too many people were out on the trails today.

So off I went. I went down into the ravine by the Don River, where it was marginally cooler than on the paved streets above, and most of the trail was shaded. But it was still the hottest run I can remember doing in about ten years – and that one was in Edmonton, which is in a much drier climate. I was drenched with sweat when I got back. But I did manage to attain my tiny beginner goal for Week 1, Day 1: run (or “wog.” Thanks for that term, Lee. That is in fact what I did) for two minutes, walk for two minutes, six times. With a five minute warmup (hah!) at the beginning and a five-minute cool-down (hah!) at the end.

As I was dragging the weary puddle I’d turned into back up from the ravine, it occurred to me that given the heat and the weather warnings, I would never have gone out today — never never never — if it hadn’t been for this blog, and the people I knew had read it. So the trap I set for myself has worked, at least for today. I just hope that I have enough sense to avoid putting myself into such a hot, humid and embarrassing position again. Tomorrow is a walk day, rather than a run day, and I swear I am going out at 7, when it is still cool.

I do have an extra nudge to get me up and moving tomorrow. The first comment I received on last night’s post was from my son Dan, who does a hit on Radio 1010 about science and technology every morning at 6:50 a.m. He suggested I listen to the hit live (instead of tracking down the recording online once I am awake, as I usually do), and then head out the door. Thanks, Dan. If you can get up in time to do the segment, I can get up in time to hear it.

I think I can.

I hope I can.

P.S. Thanks to Lee and Ruth for their very supportive comments, too. Your feedback helped so much!!

Here We Go Again

At the start of this pandemic, when it came to looking after myself I did fairly well. I went out walking or running every other day, and I was watching what I ate. I was even meditating fairly regularly.

But the interminability of the crisis and the unpredictability of the future got to me after a month or so and I fell into an extended period of languor, disinterest and general malaise. I know I am not the only one to have had this experience because when I tell other people I have “Quarantine Brain” or “Isolation Brain,” they tell me they have it too.

In addition to Quarantine Brain, I also have Quarantine Body, by which I mean that I’ve gained a few pounds that I really didn’t need. And now I need to get rid of them – which, as we all know, is more easily said than done. (As you may also know, I have been fighting against excess body weight for long enough that I have written a novel about the challenges of dieting, trying to work out why almost any diet will do the trick as long as your head is in the right space, and why nothing will work when it’s not.)

I am not sure that my head is anywhere near the right space, but I do know that I can’t afford to put this off any longer. I am having some surgery on my left foot in early September to remove a bunionette, which will mean no running for six weeks. And we all know what comes after October in Canada: winter. If I don’t get around to addressing my lack of condition and extra pounds until after that — well, I don’t want to think about it. I am no spring chicken and if I let my body go, I might never get it back.

For several weeks, I’ve been absolutely determined to get up in the morning and go for a (slow) run before it gets too hot. The only problem is that I’m totally determined until the instant before the alarm clock goes off. When it does, I find myself quite undetermined to do anything but roll over and go to sleep again. My husband is kind enough not to point out what a lazy-butt I have turned into, so I need to build some external accountability into my life. So here we are.

Since we’re unable to travel, which means I’m unable to regale you with stories about our trip to Spain (which is where we were planning to go when COVID-19 raised its ugly head, or its nasty coronas to be more accurate), I will be giving you a tour of my running program in the days and weeks ahead. Enjoy. I hope you will find some humour and possibly even some inspiration here.

And if you’re engaging in your own Quarantine-Brain-and-Body Battle, share your experiences in the comments section below. As they say about masks and social distancing, we’re all in this together.

See you tomorrow.

One Senior Running (3)

Da Doo Run Run, or What’s in Your Headphones?

running-music

Sometimes I listen to podcasts when I run, but I find it hard to concentrate on a single subject when I’m out there. My mind likes to drift and become distracted, and I like to let it do that. Sometimes the drift leads me to solutions to problems in my writing or my real life, and sometimes the distraction draws me to ideas I’d never otherwise have had. Sometimes nothing much happens: my mind just drifts. Time passes. The run starts… the run continues… the run ends.

I find music to be a better accompaniment to running than a podcast[1]. It gives me something to focus on without requiring that I sustain that focus. I often listen to the words to songs for a stanza or so, for example, and then realize a couple of other songs have gone by and I haven’t paid any attention to the words for several minutes. Or sometimes I’ll try to get my feet to hit the pavement[2] coincidentally with the beat of the music, but I quickly get distracted from that as well. I find that the availability of such diversions is particularly useful when I first set out, before I hit my pace (when the going can be tough) and at the end, when I’m tired but still have several blocks to run (when the going can be tough).

Music also reinforces the runner’s high that I hope for every time I head out there (but don’t always find. More on that in another post). But when I am fortunate enough to start feeling like I’m floating above the ground, like I am strong, free and half my age, the pounding of “Go West” (Village People) or “Beat It” (Michael Jackson) or “Grace Kelly” (Mika) in my headphones is the icing on the cake. It makes a great run perfect.

Running music needs to be chosen in advance, of course. You don’t want to suddenly find your library has shuffled  you into Renee Fleming’s “Ave Maria” or Kris Kristofferson singing “Sunday Morning Coming Down” when you are trying to improve your speed.

When I first started running, back in the 1990s, my listening device was a tape inserted into a Sony Walkman, and the tapes used to take me hours to create: I’d put a record on the record player, press the “record” button on the system’s tape recorder, press “pause” on the recorder when the song was over, find the next song I wanted on another record, and so on. In those days, my lists included “Let’s Get Physical,” “Bette Davis Eyes,” Rita MacNeil, MC Hammer, ELO: a wide range. The Walkman wasn’t too steady so the music sounded like it was rolling around in an empty drum half the time, but it worked for me.

As the years progressed, I moved from the Walkman through the Discman to the iPod to the iPhone, which is where I am now. The music I listen to has moved through the decades, too – today, the latest Beyoncé and Adele are as likely to be out there with me as Gwen Stefani or the Black-Eyed Peas. I also listen to songs that I loved in my teens and twenties, and a few that were released even before that. But what has changed the most is the ease of creating a running list. Now I can just drag and drop.

In fact, I don’t even have to do that. Instead I can download a workout list that someone else has created on Spotify, or buy an album like Running Hits (image above. Not a bad anthology) from iTunes. If I were so inclined, I believe I could even figure out how to get my iPhone to play songs from my library that echo the beat I want to run to. Or keep time with the beat of my heart. The possibilities are limitless.

I wonder what the Crystals would have thought if they had known that “Da Doo Run Run” might one day find itself on in the wireless headphones of people who were running, and accessing the song on a phone they were wearing on their wrists.

Probably thanks to recent movies, I went through an ABBA/Queen phase when I started running again in August, but I’m ready to move on. In fact, am considering creating my own running list on Spotify specifically for baby boomers who still want to run.

What songs would you put on it?

[1] Many people think that runners should forego the music and just enjoy the sounds of nature. Not me. I get enough silence when I’m working, so being able to listen to music is a welcome part of the break. In addition I tend to run in busy areas where it’s safer, rather than in the river valley. Not too many sounds of nature out there on Sheppard Ave.

[2] People tell me that I shouldn’t run on sidewalks because they are harder on my joints than roads, roads usually being made of tarmac rather than concrete. See Note 1. Plus, if I ran on the road, I couldn’t listen to music. Because of all the cars and cyclists. 😉

 

One Senior Running (2)

Starting Out with a Zero to 5K Running App

Couch to 5K RunnerWhen I began to run the first time, at about the age of 40, I took a “Learn to Run” course at the Running Room in Edmonton.  It was a great way to start, and I highly recommend taking a course like that if you haven’t run before and one is available nearby.

There are many good reasons for taking a course. One is the information you receive during the pre-run talks on such topics as nutrition, hydration, pacing, buying shoes, etc. Another (very important) benefit of running courses is the camaraderie. Running with other people is highly motivating. In addition, running-course instructors know how to manage groups so that newbies minimize their chances of getting injured, and how to raise the spirits of those at the back of the pack.

Group runs in learn-to-run courses typically start off with “one-minute run, one-minute walk, repeat 10 times,” and then gradually build up over 8 to 10 weeks until the group is doing one-minute walk, ten-minute run, repeat three times” (or something to that effect). You’re expected to do a couple of runs between each weekly class.

In the years following that first running course, I signed up for several other courses – each of which had a target race at the end of it. I took the 5k course, the 10k course and the half-marathon course. When I moved to Saskatoon, after a long layoff from running, I signed up for the 5k course at the Running Room there, and met a whole new group of runners. Most of the courses have the same classroom content, of course, so after the first one or two, the main value is the motivation of being in a group to get out there and run: to run longer and longer distances, to run faster, to run hills, etc. And every instructor puts their own spin on it, so you are always acquiring new tips.

When I moved to Toronto at the age of 60, I signed up for another 5k course but by this time enough years had passed since I’d done any serious running, and enough arthritis had set in, that I felt I was slowing down the group. Please note that the group did not make me feel this way, and neither did the instructor: it was all in my own head. But I quit after a few weeks, discouraged.

 I didn’t want to get discouraged by a group of younger runners and quit again. Most of all, I didn’t want to be embarrassed.

On reflection, I suppose I should have started again with the learn-to-run course rather than the 5k class. But I was also getting tired of spending money to get the same “chalk talk” I’d heard several times before. Another option would have been to simply join the drop-in run clubs that go out from most running stores each week (check local listings for run times) — no charge for those — but I was feeling heavy and slow and old, and I didn’t know anyone who I could run with (i.e., not anyone as slow as I was).

When I decided to start running again this past August, I was living too far away from a run club to make that option viable, and I was also quite certain that I was not going to be able to keep up with anyone else at all. There are many people who walk faster than I could run. I didn’t want to get discouraged by a group of younger runners and quit again. Most of all, I didn’t want to be embarrassed.

So I decided that this time I would use a “Couch-to-5k” app for guidance and motivation instead of an instructor-led group. There are several apps that offer different options depending on what you want from them as you build your endurance, most importantly at this stage being verbal reminders of when it is time to stop running and take a walk break. Most also offer motivational bits of chit-chat (“Good for you for getting out for a run today!” Fortunately you can usually turn this feature off if you don’t want it).

Running apps are also useful for keeping track of where you ran, how far you went, how long it took you, etc., but keep in mind with your first app that it is going to help you achieve a definite goal: running 5k, for example, or running for 30 minutes without a walk break. After this stage, you will want another app as you continue to run further and faster. So the long-term dashboard options are less important in the first app than they will be in the one to which you will graduate after the first ten weeks or so.

My First Running App

I started with the Couch to 5k Runner. It starts out with 25 to 30 minutes of exercise in total, starting and ending with a 5-minute warmup/cool-down walk. As you work through the eight-week program, you go from from 1.5-minute walks alternating with 1.5-minute runs until you reach 30 minutes of straight running, and then you increase your running time until you are (ideally) at 5k.

I wasn’t that fast. But it didn’t matter. I went as far as I could in the allotted time, and stuck with the program, which was the most important part. By the time I’d finished with this app, I was able to run 30 minutes without a break. I started with a two to three minute warm-up walk and a similar time for a cool-down walk.

It’s important to note that the couch to 5k app never presented me with more of a challenge than I could manage. The only hard part was getting out the door.

One Senior Running (1)

The Author at the End of her First “Over 65” 5k

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.)