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Crawling From The Wreckage

By: Judy Phillips


“(Just Like) Starting Over”

Thoughts From An Older Runner

I’ve been running and racing for 40+ years, so indulge me in my old rock song references. These are the lyrics that resonate as I, once again, attempt to restart my running after injuries. I was quite blessed that the first 20+ years of my running were injury-free, despite high mileage and frequently racing (including a marathon) on little/no training due to my work schedule. I’ve written about various injuries before, so I won’t detail the list, just note the most significant were various broken bones and back injuries sustained as a passenger in a car wreck 12 years ago, and two broken wrists on the way to the start and during a 15k a year ago. Suffice to say, I’ve never regained my pace prior to the accident and it’s a struggle to get my level of fitness and endurance back. The adage that it takes longer to heal as you get older is one I resisted until that accident, and I’ve since learned it is true.

But I persevere. I always say - and I’m not selling my abilities short, just being truthful - I have zero athletic ability or talent, but I am blessed with determination. Any accomplishments I’ve attained - running, professional or otherwise - just reflect hard work and focus. This is why I always advocate running as an “accessible” sport, particularly to younger folks looking to get fit. It’s simply one foot in front of the other, with a modest investment in equipment (shoes), and no reliance on another to participate. It’s a solitary effort, to me. It’s wonderful to have a running partner - I did for years before I moved to the Upper Valley after marrying and joining my husband and his son in Vermont. I miss that, but I gained something else by sharing my love of this sport: my husband started running and racing 11 years ago, and it brings me so much joy when we do a race. We’ve only run together twice, however; once at our college campus when back for a Notre Dame reunion, and a few years ago he slowed his pace in a local race because he worried I’d get lost. That is a real possibility, as injuries have slowed me and in smaller races I’m often alone (which I love! When I was younger and faster, I would actually slow my pace to run in a “hole” by myself), and I have a terrible sense of direction in races as I get lost in my thoughts. He’s a natural athlete, it turns out, and far more competitive than I, plus his legs are about as long as I am tall, or so it seems, so I run alone. But I am so grateful for each step, no matter how painful due to residual issues. As I’ve written before, “not quitting” while running through pain is a victory for me.

The downside of being an older runner can be the well-meaning but sometimes off-putting remarks from the sidelines. I get more “atta girl”(s) these days as my white fringe poking underneath my cap and struggling gait reveals me, as well as “you can do it!” (Yes, I KNOW! And I actually have, HUNDREDS of times...) and “good for you!” (Why, thank you for your vote of confidence in my ability!)....but the one that gets me every time: “way to go, young lady!” The latter especially rankles - and this is not a feminist statement, just me - because I hated that condescending expression when I was a young always seemed to preface a reprimand from an adult. Ugh! I admit, these comments can bring out my inner feistiness. I did say in response to the latter term at a race a couple of years ago: “thanks, OLD MAN!”. I’m not proud of that, I should note.

This past weekend, we did our first 10k in a year in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. It was Millennium Running’s St. Patty’s 5k/10k Pub Crawl. MR has organized several Covid-compliant, in-person events, and we’ve participated in three so far. I truly believe MR’s are the best races, for all the reasons we runners appreciate. MR welcomes runners of all ages and abilities, the events are fun and exceptionally well-organized, the races attract the friendliest runners, and the MR team is always kind and supportive, which means so much to this older runner.

The race was originally supposed to be held in Salisbury, Massachusetts but the logistics became complicated so John Mortimer, MR Owner/Founder, quickly (and seamlessly for participants) moved the course to the Pease Tradeport in Portsmouth. We’ve run many races in this multi-corporate campus, and it’s ideal - plenty of parking, typically closed to traffic, some modest variation in elevation; offering easy-to-follow, well-marked courses. The only drawback is that it’s wide open, and Saturday was very cold with high winds. Apart from the fact that we both are not in the same physical condition as a year ago, this was especially challenging to run, fighting head- and cross-winds the entire time. But we did it, and we’re thrilled! We needed this to get us back on track. We had begun a moderate training regimen the weeks before - for me cross training on the bike and elliptical, low mileage running on the treadmill, just the latter for my husband - and we each did a four mile run the day before under similar but slightly warmer weather conditions, and were fine. Not so, so far this week, as we are both ridiculously sore still, but I chalk that up to the calendar. I had a miserable showing but I ran every step at an awful slow pace. I just found out I took third place in my age group - I’m guessing there were just three of us. 

I’ll take it! Every step brings joy, and is a blessing. I’m so thankful that that shy, unathletic young woman decided to take up this sport all those years ago. “Way to go, young lady!”

Happy running!

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