Restoration and Renewal
By: Judy Phillips
I set a major challenge for myself for the end of August, my birthday weekend. Four months ago I devised a regimen aimed at reversing some of the effects of last year. After breaking both wrists on the way/during the Gate River Run in March, I was dealing with severe pain. When your hands hurt, it’s much as when a foot is injured: the pain is difficult to ignore, because you’re constantly using them. I got discouraged and, for the first time in my life, didn’t exercise.
I began exercising a minimum 75 minutes daily, a mix of light running and machines. I had some setbacks in the Spring, got really sick, and then “adulting” meant skipping some races to attend to house issues.
So we’ve only done a handful of races this year, nothing like previous years. Some races are still not being held in-person, but we have some scheduled next month. We did a favorite four miler this past Sunday in Maine. Traditionally, this race attracts a tiny field and there were just a handful of runners this year. I was guaranteed to be last - by a lot. I did not disappoint. I checked at registration to see if they’d keep the finish up for me, and they assured me they would.
In May, after our last 5k, I developed an odd, nagging pain about the right knee. I say “about” because I’ve been unable to localize the pain. I’ve only done shorter runs just to keep moving and because I miss running, but nothing like the longer distances required to train for my big goals. The first three quarters of a mile of Sunday’s race I was running at a pace over four minutes faster, much like my younger years. It was effortless. Then the knee got barky and my pace gradually slowed. I know the course, having run it 6 times in the past, so I didn’t worry about getting lost as I could no longer see the runners in front of me. The pain became progressively more intense. But I pushed through, running each step, albeit incredibly slowly. I persisted. I just didn’t want to give in to the pain. As an older runner, it just makes me think that that will be it for me. I was very happy and grateful at the finish….then went immediately to Walgreens for a knee brace and an ointment or two.
I decided that in addition to cross-training on the bike and elliptical, and weight training twice weekly to regain strength in my legs and core, I should add yoga to the mix to increase flexibility. I have done Pilates for over 15 years and love it, but my teacher suspended her work during Covid. I’m currently looking into other studios, particularly as I begin to travel again. I’ve never been much of a yoga practitioner, but one of my goals which I’ve been working on is to set up a “home studio”, as well as to start attending classes. So the past few days I’ve attended vinyasa classes, which were excellent, but I thought vinyasa was “flow” yoga, less rigorous than these classes. But I loved the challenge, and the teachers were kind and welcoming, and affirmed my adaptations to accommodate my pain issues.
This new regimen has me feeling energized and more optimistic about the future. I can see the results in terms of improved tone and upper body strength. A stronger core improves running performance, and I’m working on strengthening my arms and core.
It does take longer to heal and regain fitness as you get older. I resisted this theory into my late 40’s. I do feel grateful that the first 20+ years or so of my running were injury-free. Most of my injuries are not overuse or running-related, but due to the car accident or the two falls last year. I had two “athletic” injuries over the past 20 years - a stress fracture and torn meniscus.
So for decades I got away with running races well, including my only marathon, with little or no training (my work schedule did not allow time for serious training). It’s much harder to get away with that in recent years. I’ve been injured badly over the last ten years, so I’m often running through pain. Sometimes the pain is a showstopper, and I’ve had to say “uncle”. In 2019, back pain from injuries sustained in the car accident ten years before caused me to quit over a half dozen halfs at the 7-8 mile mark. That November, after several PT sessions, I was able to complete my first half that year.
It’s been a very long time since I’ve done a run over 6 miles….but I’m beginning to have confidence that, despite my age and pain issues, I will. I’m determined to meet this birthday challenge.
“The heat is on”.