This article was originally published in the December 2022/January 2023 issue of UltraRunning Magazine. Subscribe today for similar features on ultra training, racing and more.
I don’t think I’m any different than most folks when it comes to aging—we want to put it off, not let it affect our lifestyle and when we slow down, we want to do it with some sort of grace. Because honestly, we don’t get to do it on our own terms.
For years, I took some pride in my ability to train year-round at high mileage—anywhere from 80–120 miles per week, hitting the track at least once, and back-to-back long runs on the weekends. Summer would come to an end, and I would hear talk of the “off season” and think “Meh, not for me!” I loved training and my body seemingly complied.
But lately, it seems I am in an off season, and according to my Strava training log, it’s been going on for several months. My weekly mileage hovers around 30–40 miles per week, I feel tired on most runs, and would’ve happily (and have) skipped it entirely to noodle around on the saxophone, walk the dogs, paint some walls and work on the house. I had COVID in July, and although mild, not entirely sure if some of the ennui is long COVID. Anyway, whatever it is I’m experiencing, seems something akin to a perfect storm and perhaps the end of my delusional sense of invincibility.
This storm I speak of consists of the following: the pandemic, a divorce, single parenting a puppy, menopause, moving back to Oregon, getting COVID and remodeling to make room for my adult daughter. I found myself unwilling to leave for super-long runs, and with no racing going on, what was the point? Gradually my mileage decreased and a lot of my runs with dogs were more like interval training. But the intervals were slow, and the recovery sections were doggy pee and sniff breaks. When races started to open up, I had gotten out of the habit of signing up and going, and I had lost my obsessive desire to train and perform.
Now I wonder if I’m in a permanent off season. Why is it so hard for the mind to accept a slowing body that is slightly loath to run every day, and easily convinced that moving boxes, mowing a lawn and walking the dogs is “enough?” What has happened? It’s as if my eternal delusional optimism is finally getting a wakeup call, but I don’t want to answer the phone.
I mean, let’s just take a myriad of explanations why one might be slower and do them all at once. Yes, for sure, we all hit an age where we can’t run as fast as we did yesterday. But to the point of feeling so tired that a 40-mile week was followed by a big fat zero week while moving my daughter seems so disproportionate to where I was a couple of years ago.
Well, therein lies the rub: comparing my “now” me to my “young” me. Mark Twain and others put it brilliantly, and I preach it to my athletes all the time: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Dammit.
As I write this, it feels like complaining and unloading excuses for my seemingly “Groundhog Day” experience with running—everyday feels pretty much the same, like I’m recovering from a 100-mile race. And yes, I listed and gave voice to the reasons, as surely all these variables play a part. But none of it changes where I am with my running. If I want to rekindle the love I have for our sport, I must redefine what a good run is, who I am as a competitor and what my role is in it.
So here is how I intend to stay relevant, engaged and gracious:
Changing my expectations vs. lowering my expectations. Stay positive, respect my body and meet it where it is. Those hills I used to run up every time will be hills that sometimes I hike up, sometimes I jog up and always with a sense of gratitude for the ability to get to the top. And to also respect the paces I used to hit back in the day.
Be an example to aging athletes facing the same frustrations. We can quit running altogether or we can find a way to meet the challenge and remain a part of our sport.
Put more emphasis on what I can do for the sport vs. what the sport can do for me. Running has given me a life unimagined, and I’d be disrespectful to walk away because I’m not as fast as I once was. I love volunteering at races, doing trail work and mentoring others.
Accept that I’m in my off season for an undetermined period. Any flashes of “pep in the step” shall be celebrated, but also recognized as a temporary gift.
Do not whine, whimper or bore my friends with all these details. If they ask, share. I will share my hormone replacement therapy regime with other aging women and the benefits I get from that. Otherwise, show up as my best self and practice gratitude for what is.
Remind myself frequently that I live a very privileged life. I run because it brings me joy. I have the luxury of the time, the means and the relative safety where I live to pursue an activity that can seem to an outsider as rather pointless and painful. But when all hell breaks loose and someone needs to run for help, I am at the ready.
Finally, I hope to maintain my love for racing and be an example to all aging athletes. I want to hold onto the excitement, adrenaline, fellowship of shared suffering and most of all, a shared accomplishment of a job well done, resulting in stories, friendship and a sense of awe for what the human body can accomplish.