Category Archives: Senior Running

One Senior Running (3)

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


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.)