Monday, July 7, 2014

Running, at 44: Why?

Last week I turned forty four. Today I ran five miles. And as one does when on a training run, I did some thinking about running. So here's my version of the listicle genre, all about why I'm still running thirty years after I first started.

1. I like to be able to run. And I like to have run. 
Even though I don't like running much anymore, really. Two out of three are enough to keep me going. The first sentiment is about being in good health and feeling like I can still do something that I used to do when I was young. The second thing is about feeling accomplished and feeling tired in a good way - something that solves another problem lots of people have but which I am blissfully free of: sleep issues. Plus, you never know...

2. I am an athlete. And running is a core ability for athletes.
There is an identity thing going on with me and running, even though I'm not a straightforward "runner." I once was that. Today I ride bicycles more than I run, but I still like to think of and conduct myself as an athlete. I like to train and prepare for things, even if I don't compete all that often. And running is important to lots of other sports, of course, so it's useful on the rare occasions where I do one of those.

3. When I do compete, I like to do well.
I still enter a race every now and then. At least two a year for the last several years, and sometimes a few more. And while I haven't gotten faster as I've gotten older, I have gotten relatively faster compared to the others my age. Most of that is due to the fact that fewer people my age run at all, and those that do enter races likely don't train. I do not do much running-specific training, but I ride a lot and that has been enough to keep me competitive in my age group.

4. I like to suffer.
Yeah, I know, it sounds sick to say it. But the truth is you can get to a place where you enjoy going to a place that most people avoid when it comes to engaging in intense physical activity. A lot of that is the thrill of exploring your own limits, mentally and physically. And some of it is being out of your head and in your body in a truly physical way. The ability to push hard and then a little harder is something you strive for, and the discomfort (not really pain) is feedback. How hard can I go? Can I do a little more? It is hard to beat running for a pure physical test of your ability to go and keep going. It is so simple that it takes very little skill to get to your limit. And with no mechanical advantage, just you and the road, it's go or no go.

5. A good workout doesn't take long, is portable, and is really effective. 
If I have the shoes and proper clothes, a run is something I can do just about anywhere I go. And unlike a bike ride, I can squeeze one into a half hour and feel like I've got a thorough workout in for the day. 

So there are five reasons I'm still running after all these years. I go a little slower than I used to, but I don't really miss the speed relative to the clock like you might guess. I don't suffer any less for going slower, and as I said in #3 above, I actually do a little better in races these days so I don't care about the time so much. I do miss being able to recover from running fast - like the next day - as I used to when I was young. And I miss the ability to thermoregulate so effectively so that it isn't quite so tough on a hot day. But I imagine that despite these things, I'll still be running in another thirty years if I'm able to. The age groups are really thinned out in the 70+ category!

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