Running for Life: Perseverance, Joy and Yes, Maintenance!

Part three in my Why I Run series where I focus on my running as a senior masters runner, especially the required maintenance to continue to be a joyful runner past the age of sixty!

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CASA of Travis County Superheroes Run (10/2014)
CASA of Travis County Superheroes Run (10/2014)

In October 2014 I completed the CASA of Travis County “Superheroes” 5k run in sweltering, muggy, overheated conditions wearing a Wonder Wodman tee shirt and cape. It was my first race, in over a year, and my first 5k ever. my participation was focused on fundraising for this incredible organization that advocates for children in the foster care system in Austin, Texas.

The field was crowded with small children in costume only to be outdone by their parents joining in the gaiety of the early Sunday morning event. It wasn’t a competitive event per se, but when I saw the number 24:19 on the finish line clock I was surprised. I hadn’t run a 7:50 min/mile since before my hamstring injury five years before. The time was slow for good masters runners, but it provided a peek into what I might be able to do IF (and a big if) I could get pass the hamstring injury.

The days after the run were telling: more biting pain than usual, but it eased off after a week or so. I continued my Pilates class once/week where we gave the hamstrings a break until the tenderness disappeared while still working on strengthening my pelvis and core. Some good stretching of my shoulders, back, and calves helped, too.

Deep tissue massage, my “go to” therapy, helped unwind the knots in the hamstring areas, not only at the attachment point, where the original tear was located, but also along the mid-hamstring area. My quadriceps were tight so I began having the massage therapist focus on that area as well as the psoas area, which can add strain to the hamstrings if they’re pinched.

I slowly recuperated from the 3.1 mile run, taking more time than in the past, recognizing recovery is slower when an area has chronic injury and, I suppose, yes, because my muscles, tendons and connective tissues are not as strong or supple as they were when I was younger. Ah, so very hard to admit!

A few months later, I felt better enough that I registered for a May half marathon; it was time to determine if I could increase mileage and speed without increased pain or further injury and successfully run this very popular distance. My routine became more specific:

  • Strength training three day per week
  • Stretching after runs;
  • Pilates twice per week
  • Deep tissue massages every two to three weeks, where Sally, a very talented triathlete, yoga instructor, Chi Running instructor, and therapist, finds the tender spots and uses her amazing strength and sensitive touch to break apart scar tissue (I have yet to cry during her sessions, but I’ve come close).
  • SLOWLY increasing mileage and speed. I tried to be more consistent with tempo workouts, speed work at the high school track, and slow longer runs.  I can’t do all of this at once; it’s a recipe for disaster, too often resulting in a complete halt to my running.

A key difference in my current running practice from my earlier years is the plethora of information bombarding runners daily: podcasts; websites; tweets; emails; online coaching; running magazines. What’s more, each of these resources suggests a different diet, some unique style of running form, their training program, these biomechanics, importance of fueling with some or an other energy gel, drink, bean. It’s enough to make you want to scream!

There wasn’t much information when I started running almost forty years ago. We just ran. I’m not sure how anyone is able to digest all the information, discern what works for her, and then implement  proposed changes. I try to be cautious about what is suggested for elite or sub-elite, high-mileage runners and what might work for me, an above-average senior masters runner. My perspective has changed, too, realizing that much of what I do today is just good body maintenance, being able to move easily whether running, bicycling, doing the necessary activities of life, with an added benefit improving my running biomechanics, speed, endurance and strength.

I surprised myself by liking the speed work, maybe because it’s so measurable, whether 200, 400, 800 or 1200 meter intervals. The Run Less – Run Faster training plan, from which I tied the pacing of the intervals, tempo runs and longer runs to my targeted half marathon pace, seems generally suited for me. I can no longer easily run six days a week as in the past. My body requires more cross-training and recovery time, so I incorporate bicycling and swimming, two favorite activities, on alternative days.

All seemed to be going well, still some pain after workouts and longer runs, but it usually dissipated by the evening or the next day. I added longer runs, but not as long as the training program suggested, because I didn’t think I could handle those distances without eating into recovery time. Alas, as the half marathon date approached, my legs felt weak and the biting pain was lasting longer. ARGH!

I was so disappointed, realizing I should scratch the half marathon. I likely could have run the 13.1 miles at a slow pace, but my internal voice wavered, wanting to have a decent time in my mind, which doesn’t yet see me in the 60-64 age group. As you’ve likely read in my other posts, I switched to the 10k, ran a PR of over 2 ½ minutes, and repeated this scenario in August.

I emailed my Austin physical therapist, a man who is fully aware of my limitations and my goals, about the 10k results. He rejoiced that I was “back” and asked which exercise or course of treatment or training was the recipe for success. After much thought, I replied, “Perseverance!” I should have added joy, as these two characters guide me through this crazy journey called running.

I wrote an essay once about running with my dog, during my first years of running in northern California back in the late 1970s. The back-story: I’d been a chubby child during my grade school and junior high school years: the nickname, “Fatty Patty,” bestowed by my younger brothers, was an albatross for many years. We grow past these things externally, but internally, we are sometimes stuck in the image too long in our minds.

One day, my run was magical. My energy was boundless, my legs were strong, and my breath was even and deep. As I ran with my dog in the redwood forests on the logging roads behind our house, I found a lightness that was undeniable and unrepeatable elsewhere in my life. My attention wandered as the miles clicked beneath my feet, the syncopated movement of my body easy and secure. When the angle of the sun was exactly right, I saw a long, lean shadow emanating from me, a runner’s body.  It wasn’t my usual imprint of a shy, chubby, and self-conscious prepubescent child.

Redwood Trees: favorite places to run!
Redwood Trees: favorite places to run!

The answer to “why I run,” was very visceral that day. Through running, I find grace in body and spirit. I have friends and family with whom I share this sport, people so very important to me. Sometimes, it’s me, alone, on the trails, exalting in being able to move. I will continue to try to be a runner until my body reaches a point where running will exact too great a sacrifice to my ability to move generally with some ease.

Until then, I will do all that I can do, and should have done throughout the years, to make this sport a part of my life. Perseverance and joy!

Do you plan to make running a part of your life for the long haul? What do you think you do now that will help you still be running in the decades to come?

I'm a senior masters runner. I write about my running journey and topics of interest to runners of all ages. My current goal is to maintain of steady base of road and (new to me) trail running, with some 5k, 10k, and half marathons throughout the year.

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9 comments

  1. Yes! I definitely do, and your stories are very motivating and inspiring. I think part of it is being flexible in your mindset, and realizing that running can be different things to you at different times in your life. I would also highly recommend checking out Cathy Utzschneider’s book, Mastering Running, which is a comprehensive resource about running as you get older.

  2. Hi Sage! I can’t wait to share this with my mother – a 68-year-old runner who just took up the sport last fall after several years of competitive walking. She just completed her second half marathon (running – she’s done many walking) and PRd by over 15 minutes from her for first one!

  3. A 24:19 5K? I can only dream. I agree about the amount of information out there now, but what I look for in it all is what can apply to a senior runner. We are in some ways the first regiment of women runners in their 60’s – and 70’s and those women in their 40’s and 50’s will learn from how this has worked for us. Thanks so the reminder to get a good massage on a regular basis. That is a component of the self-care that I let slip by. Thanks for writing on this topic.

    1. The key pieces for me are to be mindful of longer recovery time, be very careful on increasing mileage and pace, and remember nutrition. Recent tests showed I am very low in testosterone, not unusual after menopuse, but a key ingredient in muscle recovery that I need to find in either other nutrition or self-care as you note. If I weren’t continually dealing with the chronic hamstring issues I’d see a smoother path…but need to deal with what we have.

    2. Yes Mary Lou! That’s exactly how I see you, Patricia and my friend Barb. All amazing women blazing the trail for the rest of us to a life time of running!