by Carl Strang
A few years have passed since I last reported on my experimental return to running as my primary exercise. Increasing stiffness and pain in my early 50’s had forced me to switch from running to bicycling for a few years. Running had been a part of my identity, however, and I missed it badly. Then I read about barefoot running. What appealed was not the barefoot part, but the reduced-impact running style: shorter strides, quicker cadence, and a forefoot to midfoot plant rather than the jarring heel plant with every step that I had been taught in my youth was the proper way to run. At age 59 I gave it a try. I have been running ever since, except for a few episodes of frustrating injuries, none of them caused by running, which nevertheless forced me to take time off and start over again after healing was complete. Those incidents helped, in that they sent me to physical therapists whose core exercises and stretches have made me stronger and helped me avoid running injuries.
So, now at age 64, I continue to enjoy running. Yes, joy is a part of it. In my ideal world everyone is an athlete, finding a form of exercise that is enjoyable to them (that would be running only for some). Running feels the same as it did in my early 20’s, thanks to the injury-avoiding measures outlined above. I’m slower, in part because I respect the limitations of an aging skeletal-muscular system and train at half the weekly mileage I put in when marathoning in my 20’s, and in part because the body’s ability to absorb, transport and process oxygen diminishes significantly with age.
Up to half a dozen times a year I enter races in the 5k to half-marathon range. Races are exciting, provide goals that focus training, immerse participants among other runners, feed the undying desire to compete, and provide standard measures of progress (or, in an older runner, gauge the inevitable slow decline in speed). Thankfully, most races acknowledge that decline with age-class categories that allow one to compare results with peers of age and gender. Also, there are on-line calculators that compute one’s young-age equivalent time when age and gender are entered. Perhaps it seems strange that someone my age would think of himself as an athlete, but I am grateful for all of this support, and happy to contribute to the worthy causes of race sponsors with my entry fees. I am a happy runner again.