Aged 57 or 58 I looked at the results from my first public run and I was astounded to discover that everyone over 40 is considered a ‘veteran’! The running fraternity used to discriminate against women; is ageism also rife in the sports community?
The London Times newspaper is fond of health and fitness articles especially in the weekend editions. Not Iong ago I read that it was important for older people to load their joints in exercise and running is one good way of doing this. A week later a ‘fitness expert’ advised 40 year-old to transition away from running to other types of exercise.
Sprint-racing is undoubtedly the preserve of the young. But this is hardly an amateur pastime. Recreational running – with slower speeds and longer distances is a valid and rewarding activity for all ages with or without competition.
I started early morning jogging in my 40s. It was good to alternate this with swimming which I was doing a few mornings a week. Running took me around a nearby park with the early dog walkers. I found a swimming boring, and the drive to the pool was prone to rush hour traffic so this fitted nicely.
Exercise before work makes a good start for the day – energising and preventing stress.
I soon had a problem with my ankle. It was probably a loose bit of bone (I had broken something there as a teenager) causing an intermittent pain in the joint. I was referred to a ‘specialist’. An arthroscopy was prescribed and he duly made a hole into my ankle joint and sucked out a bit of bone.
This stopped my running ambitions for a few years and it was only after shoulder problems from swimming that I tried running once more. I soon graduated from 3 times around the park, to running out into the countryside. 30 minutes, then upto 50 minutes.
Seeing nature and the changing seasons early in the morning is a joy. Sometimes I needed to run with a camera to capture images of what I saw. But usually it was impossible to get an image that matched my experience. Highlights included albino squirrels, and birds, strangers in our neighbourhood, which were eventually identified as lapwings. This was not serious Running; it was a private quiet time, time for reflection early in the day, sometimes even in darkness before day-break.
When I had a knee problem running stopped again. Again the specialist I was referred to was a surgeon. And again the solution was surgery. A small tear of cartilage was removed.
A year or two after the repair I did my first public run. This was a culture shock. The noise and chatter beforehand; the silence of everyone when they started running; and the hard road surface which made up most of this course even though we were in the countryside – were all surprises for me.
I went back to my meditative early morning runs 2 or 3 times a week, down the local trails across the fields and did not think about another public run. Then a problem appeared in my other knee. Now I felt vulnerable. Two injuries in a short period of time seemed like a wake-up call. Walking, and walking in the mountains is much more important for me than running. I was not prepared to sacrifice many years of walking holidays for one or two seasons of running.
Giving up running was not difficult – I turned back to swimming. I bought a bike. But exercise became a chore. And joy came from walking out in the landscape. The ultimate being the TGO Challenge coast to coast walk in Scotland. As I checked-in at the finish in 2018 following 12 days of walking and wild camping I found two old-timers swapping stories about running. About fell-running, about running a marathon ‘for fun’ without proper training, and about the Park Run. This stayed with me in the back of my mind.
The following year would be a break from the TGOC and I looked for a different sort of challenge. Something led me to a continuous walk or run in the hills of the UK Lake District. I applied for a place on a 50 mile walk – more that twice my daily dose on the Scotland coast to coast. How would it be? How long would it take? It is not so difficult to find descriptions of people’s experience for events like this and there were quite a number on the internet. It slowly dawned on me that although this was advertised as a walk or run, the majority of entrants set out to run both the 50 mile event I was registered for and a 100 mile event that took place on the same course at the same time.
There was almost a year to prepare and I resolved to run cautiously. If you read on you will discover it actually took more than two years before I finally got to do this event.