Scenes from some of my recent runs/walks.
My brother-in-law RG accused me of writing too much. I would not accuse him of doing too much dentistry, but alas, neither of us mince words. I trust him to be honest with me. If he thinks I’m writing too much, I probably am.
But the trouble with writing is you must write to keep the juices flowing. When you stop, it’s always harder to write. Back in my reporting days, we had to come up with the goods every day. We couldn’t sit back and rest on our laurels because there was a newspaper to fill. And unlike other jobs where you can have a lazy day or two, it was pretty obvious when you were slacking off. You had nothing, and it showed.
So I guess what I’m trying to say (drumroll, please) is writing is all or nothing, feast or famine, if you’ll pardon the cliche. Better to write too much than not at all. Better to use a skill or talent than let it wither and die. Better to keep up a writing practice or fitness routine than abandon it.
Things have a way of getting away from you if you’re not careful. One minute, you’re on a roll while the next, you’re at a standstill. As my old editor John used to say, life is like a shark – keep moving or you die.
I was in great running shape last year. I even became an ambassador for Sound Runner, a running store in Branford, CT. I got up to five miles, a miracle for someone with lead in her pants. And then, just like that, my running routine fell by the wayside, replaced by writing and other activities.
My fitness has suffered – a lot. I’m in terrible running shape, as witnessed by my pathetic walk/run/stagger last weekend at the Song Strong 5K, a road race to raise money to prevent gun violence and keep kids safe. The race was organized by the family of 15-year-old Ethan Song of Guilford, CT., who died from a gunshot wound in January.
Time and performance were the last things on my mind because of the big picture: the Songs have lost a child, every parents’ worst nightmare. They’re working tirelessly to prevent other children from senseless deaths from guns. I was there to support them and their cause.
But my stagger was a wake-up call: I haven’t been putting in the time or effort to run and it shows. Just like an empty hole where a story should be, it’s very obvious when you haven’t been running. It’s humbling when a man in his 80s is managing to run while you have to stop and walk.
I’ve been running, and I use that term very loosely, on and off since I was 15. I started during the jogging craze in the ’70s, and often ran during high school and college to let off steam. I’m a plodder. If I were a car, I’d be a ’70s Dodge Dart – nothing to look at, but slow, steady and dependable. My comfort zone is about 3 miles, and I’m slower than dirt.
I stopped running while trying to conceive in my late 20s and early 30s, when exercise was cited as a possible cause of infertility. I’m not sure where the experts are on that now, but back then exercise was suspected of making you less fertile. So I shifted to walking, a pleasurable and less intense alternative. I didn’t get pregnant, but I became a dedicated walker.
I began running again in earnest in my late 40s. We live in a wooded area with hiking trails in every direction. I found trail running a great outlet, a way to steep myself in nature and get a good workout. It was safer than running on the road, and I didn’t have to deal with people looking at me while I run. I despise that part of running because I always feel I’m on display and being judged.
How do I know this? Because I often do it myself: Do I look that bad when I run? Am I that slow? For goodness sake woman, pick up the pace!
I got myself back to about 3 miles a day and was competing in a few 5Ks when I was mauled by a dog on my favorite trail. The dog bit my thigh and hand as I tried to push it away. Hospital workers at Yale-New Haven’s emergency clinic told me it was among the worst dog bites they’d ever treated. All I know is the pain in my thigh was excruciating on the first night, like nothing I have ever felt.
I couldn’t run for two months because of deep puncture wounds that wouldn’t heal, and subsequent surgery on my right thigh to remove a humungous hematoma. Being sidelined threw me off my routine. And when I finally recovered enough to be able to run, it was the last thing I wanted to do.
I began trail running again about two years ago. Running again at 57 was great because I had no expectations, no lofty goals except covering the distance. One foot over the other. It’s so simple. We destroy ourselves when we’re younger for failing to meet time or distance goals. But when you’re knocking on 60, you’re just happy to be out there. You know too many people who aren’t around, or can’t run due to physical problems. You realize being able to run is a blessing.
So many women tell me that they hate running, but enjoy walking. I love to walk and hike too, and I don’t love running because it’s harder, frustrating and humbling. I’m a terrible runner. But for me, it’s a means to an end. I can eat more, my clothes fit better and I have more energy and less anxiety. I feel a little stronger mentally, having done something that I was dreading, but still managed to do.
I’ve learned that I need to run in the morning, that leaving it until the evening means that I won’t do it because of other commitments or fatigue. People talk about winning the morning and it’s true. Put it in the books, and there are no excuses or beating yourself up for skipping it.
Having a goal is good. Mark off a 5K a few months down the road, and vow to get in shape for that race. If you can’t run it, you can walk/run or just walk it. I ran the Labor Day race in New Haven last year, and have marked it on my calendar as my summer running goal.
Chip away, realizing that you’re not going to be able to run three miles without building up to it. I’m using a 5K running app (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/couch-to-5k-run-training/id448474423?mt=8) on my phone that promises to get me from the couch to a 5K in two months. What I love is it’s a combination of walking and running, and I don’t feel discouraged. The app takes things slow.
I wish I knew about this app over the past 6 months when I’ve been trying and failing to do my runs. One of the problems “runners” have is we want to be able to run three miles (or whatever distance we’ve been running) even after a long layoff. This app provides a sensible training program that gradually moves from walking to running. I can’t wait to see if it actually works.
Of course, I’ll have to wait until the pain in my right foot subsides. I was enjoying the app so much that I overdid it and strained something yesterday. The app solves a lot of problems, but it can’t turn back time.
Note: I have not received any compensation from the Couch to 5k running app.