Many of you who read this blog probably know by now my love affair with running -- both as a leisure activity and a tool for weight management. I ran through my aging process, through full time and part time works, through sickness and health, through schooling for a second college degree, through disease-free status and then diabetes, through becoming overweight and then achieving appropriate BMI. I don’t have a single regret about it.
But it is one thing to praise and worship running as an enjoyable activity and another thing to face its ‘not-oh-so-awesomeness’ and contradictions . Running is both good and bad; it can lead to pain and relieve pain at the same time. Running can help your heart if done moderately and damage it if done extremely. Running can help you escape depression but skipping it for a couple of days might lead to depression albeit temporarily. People will talk about running all the time : how to do it correctly, how it should be avoided, how it should be embraced, how it could lead to one’s healthy life and how it can ruin it too.
Through all these multiple and conflicting claims and theories, what do I think about running?
My answer is based on my personal experience so there is nothing scientific and evidence-based in what I’m about to say. This is a blog and not a peer-reviewed article meant for scientific journal publication. This is actually a mere story. And it is very subjective.
Running for me was not some activity I picked out randomly somewhere to accomplish a certain objective. I chose running as a component of my quest to save my body from damages resulting from smoking, borderline obesity, carelessness with food choices, stress and being overworked. Running doesn’t require special skills as it only requires me to advance one leg after the other, or special equipment (except for good running shoes). It doesn’t involve targeted training, no need for a team play and best of all, I could indulge in it for personal leisure or competition (even if only beating my own running times). Running helps me control-alt-delete my brain and reboot it with fresh ideas on the business of the day. I believe that my running have mitigated the destructive complications of diabetes and helped me continue with my work as a PT without injuries, disability, or failures.
Now that I have reached my not-so-young age of 54, I have noticed that the baby boomer wolves who ran alongside me on my trails in my younger years have gradually vanished and were replaced by much younger x-gen and millennial wolves. I unhesitatingly slow down when my body tells me no matter how much these young ones lure me to keep up with their paces. In being left behind, I often wonder where the old runners went. Did they retire their running shoes to better and more enjoyable brisk walking or golf or swimming? Did they abandon the sport due to injuries or fear of injuries or in compliance to the advice of their primary care physicians? Am I the lone aging wolf left behind while the others have wandered to greener and more interesting trails? I entertain these stupid thoughts at times while I plod my feet on the road.
But one thing is true about me: I have matured gracefully with the help of my running.
Have I been injured? Of course I have but I recovered without disrupting my life. There were a few days or weeks I skipped regular running due to pain or very busy work schedule but I returned to it quickly. I have likewise gone through running technique experiments, committed mistakes, wasted time in over-analytics, unnecessary obsessions, frustrations, infantile knowledge and raw ignorance about running. I used to be the first one to buy new gadgets, latest shoes based on current fads - shoes for supinators, shoes for pronators until I realized the best ones for my feet were the neutral. I talked my ass off about running like a parrot, to the point of perseveration. Every day I shared unsolicited info about my running distances or improved times or improved endurance as if expecting some applause or expressed admiration from listeners who were, deep inside, rolling their eyes in utter boredom.
Yet my running persisted. But like anything else, time has the ability taper us all down. That unwelcome phenomenon called aging soon got a hold of me, and unwittingly crushed all my confidence and feeling of invincibility. At fifty I was diagnosed with diabetes and concomitantly its twin siblings of high BP and high cholesterol. You can not imagine how shocked I was. Me? How is it possible a man who had run at least 11 half marathons be positive for diabetes? I felt betrayed by running that I considered as my armor and shield against all form of maladies. I felt embarrassed when I came face to face with my non-runner friends who were actually much healthier than me.
But that did not stop me from running even when the kids ‘round the block yelled ‘Run Forrest run!’ at me at 6 am while they waited for their school bus. Diabetes did not stop me from tying my Mizuno shoe laces in early mornings to challenge my legs to cover the distance from point A to point B. I am just glad to listen to my Pandora and occasionally peek at my running app for a feedback on my distance, pace, frequency.
Through the years I developed my own personal running rules, revising them constantly, depending on current evidence-based studies. Here are the personal rules that I keep:
I still believe that running too fast, on elevation, covering a longer than usual distance done at the same time is a sure way to sustain running injuries. This can be solved by breaking them down, one day for speed, another day for elevations, another day for long distance with lots of resting days in between.
I still believe that abrupt increase of weekly mileage is akin to inviting injuries as well. One should not increase mileage more than 10 percent each week.
I also believe that modifications to running, whether incorporating intervals, increasing speed, lengthening/shortening strides, changing footwear, any experiment with running techniques should be done gradually paying close attention to how the body responds and responding appropriately to what it tell me.
It goes without saying that any sign of discomfort, especially the localized type of pain anywhere in the body should not be ignored, it should in fact be acknowledged quickly by stopping before it gets worse.
As I get older, I am getting more and more acutely aware of emerging indications, contraindications, trends, warnings on exercises and running. For example, having a medical check up is absolutely indicated before trying any form of intensive exercise. There is also a contemporary belief (by no less than cardiac specialists) that heavy-duty cardiovascular activities are increasingly associated with heart damages suggesting that moderation is the key to healthy and longer life. On a personal level, my aging process and diabetes are slightly affecting my muscle girth (atrophy ) and balance thus strengthening and balancing are also some activities I should indulge on top of my running.
Finally, life is not all about exercising and running alone. I also need to focus on relaxation, rest, proper nutrition, spirituality, financial stability and social interactions especially in my community. I must also work on challenging my brain constantly to keep a sharp memory, solve problems. I am not exactly thinking of Sudoku and crossword puzzles. Hey, this is the age of technology - people like me should code in advanced computer languages, create killer apps, design awesome graphics and blog like there is no tomorrow.