This Is What Running in My 40s Has Taught Me

This Is What Running in My 40s Has Taught Me

Once upon a time I was a fast runner (think, like, 25 years ago when I was 18 and solid muscle). My personal best for a 5k was a little under 19 minutes! I could leg-press as much as half the guys in my class and didn’t back down from a race or competition. I was tough, strong, and extremely competitive. Fast forward almost 20 years, add a career-ending injury to my ankle, three babies, a husband, and a life of contentment, and I was bored. I hadn’t really exercised in two decades, unless you count a brief stint chasing my middle child who was an escape artist as a toddler.

I Made a Goal Despite the Challenges

Before I turned 40, I wanted to run a marathon. I was fast once, I was certain I could be fast again. How hard could it be?

Well, my knees, back, and ankles told a different story. I course-corrected to running a half-marathon, and my sister-in-law, who is a phenomenally fit woman and excellent cheerleader, joined me. She slowed herself down and ran at my pace for most of the race until I told her to just go because I knew I was holding her back. My knees were screaming at me and for the last mile I couldn’t even feel one of my legs. My sister-in-law finished her race several minutes ahead of me and came back and ran the last ½ mile with me because she knew I was struggling. (Find yourself a friend like her!)

After that race, I could say I did it (about 10 minutes slower than I wanted to), and then I swore off running. I didn’t bother to fix the damage or exercise. I just quit. No walking, no biking, nothing.

I Changed My Mindset
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It’s been five years since then, but I have more free time right now than I have had in years so I decided to pick it up again. I’m still not entirely sure if this was a moment of clarity or insanity. I purchased new shoes, laced them up, and…went for a walk. Yep, I was a chicken. However, I kept trying, almost daily, to increase my walking distance, getting to the point of walking close to two miles every day.

Finally, I put on running shorts and ran for a whole two minutes! I didn’t even get to the end of the street (huge eye roll). But I did it! I walked a little farther, then ran again for another two minutes! Okay, it was official, I felt free and even a little alive when I ran. Not free like I had just escaped jail and was running for my life free, but free as though I could do something difficult, something most people don’t start at 44 years old.

Most people I know who run or bike or exercise seriously have all the gear, the fancy shoes, the clothes, and the GPS watch. I run because I don’t want to be old, to feel old. I run in the same clothes I ran in five years ago when I trained for a half marathon. I have fun new shoes, but beyond that, I have the same socks, shorts, t-shirts, and sports bra. I don’t have a watch to keep track of my time. I don’t think about solving world hunger or listen to podcasts like most hobby runners I know because I’m too busy worrying about the squirrel that’s perched on the light post ahead that’s staring me down—fearing it will jump off and attack me. Squirrels are scary when you run at 6am! Seriously though, my mind simply wanders and it has nothing to do with anything significant. It’s mindless and refreshing.

“Progress Over Perfection” Is Working for Me

A few weeks have gone by and I’m now running about two miles straight without stopping. (It’s more of a shuffle-jog, but we’re not going to split hairs on the true definition.)

Am I fast? Haha, nope, not even close. I’m slower than I’ve ever been. My sister-in-law, bless her, is holding me accountable as I very slowly increase my time and mileage. After all, I’m in my mid-40s and injuries come fast and furious. I have knee pain regularly and spend more time exercising and stretching my joints than I do actually running. My son runs cross country for his high school team and he just smiles and nods when I tell him about my “victories” running each day. He’s probably thinking, “I did my warm-up faster than that.” Once upon a time I was young and fast, too, kiddo. Someday, he too will tell stories of his prowess while running.

Overall, exercise is good for the soul—I happened to choose a form of exercise that pounds on my joints but makes me feel alive. If you can find something that lights you up, makes you passionate to go out and try again, do it! I’ve learned over the COVID-19 shut down and stay at home orders, that you’re never too old to start something new, even if you stink at it. Find that new passion, make your heart pump, and let the blood flow. (For more positive pandemic takeaways, click here!)

Be Inspiring—It’s Contagious

Pick a pace or activity that fits your lifestyle. I couldn’t pick sailing because I don’t have a boat or access to a body of water, but I have two legs that (mostly) function, so running was a great option for me. I don’t run at the same time every day; I run when it fits into my schedule. I also notice life metaphors while running—our neighborhood streets are all under construction right now and it isn’t lost on me that I, too, am under construction, and sometimes it has to get a little messy and inconvenient to get to the end result. (Okay, maybe I do think about profound things when I run sometimes…)

It is a valuable lesson to all around you when you tell them you’re starting something new. It encourages people and it excites you. It creates an energy that is contagious. Don’t quit before you start—remember, I bought fancy running shoes and then went for a walk.

Maybe it won’t turn out like you want, but maybe, just maybe, it will be better than you could have ever imagined. My journey is just beginning, but I’m excited about the challenges and the victories along the way…watching out for rogue squirrels every step.

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