Running from Aging

Five years ago, at age 50, instead of slowing down my exercise routine, I ramped it up. My regular runs went from three miles to five. My speed went from a comfortable, and therefore not too effective, ten minute mile pace to a 9:30 or better. For a couple of years, I maintained the improvements and even got a little cocky–I was defying age!

But in the last two years, my body has begun to act like a lagging child who won’t catch up no matter how much I urge her on, bribe her, even punish her. Now a ten minute mile is untenable. It’s a pace I only aspire to as a last quarter mile pick up in my five mile run. A quarter mile warm up has become almost a necessity to ease my legs into action. I work up to, very gradually, a pace that only comes close to what, only two years ago, seemed effortless. I default to treadmill runs, year round, instead of restlessly waiting for the weather to become mild enough that I can run outside, for now outside runs, with their wind resistance, small hills, crowned roads, are now sizable obstacles.

I hate it. I hate it because I told myself it would never happen to me, not on my watch. I resist believing that at age 56 I am already on the downhill slope of physical ability. I refuse to admit that I will not only not ever again get faster or have more endurance, but that in fact I will get even slower than I am now as each year passes.

Others my age try to encourage me. “At least you’re still running,” they say, and inside I reply, “It feels like plodding.” “At least you’re still maintaining five miles,” they say, but the voice inside responds, “But I’m at the edge of my capacity.”

This year, for the first time in a decade,  I did not have at least one half marathon on my calendar. It wasn’t entirely intentional–it sort of slipped up on me. When the first weekend of May came up, I felt . . . omitted. A little panicky, a bit frustrated with myself. Was this a milestone, an acknowledgement that a half was beyond my abilities?

Heck, no. Within a week, I signed up for a half in September, so 2015 wouldn’t be the Year I Gave Up. Even as I did so, I doubted my ability to do it. Not because I had dropped out of Running Mode, because I had run a half just last year, but because this year seemed so Different. I feel aged five years in one. Maybe I just need something to push me further than five miles, to demand something more of me than an 11 minute pace.

I have a running shirt that reads, “Someday I won’t be able to do this anymore. Today is not that day.” So, as my daughter says, “Boom, baby!”

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