Can one learn a new habit in their late 40’s? That too something one has never attempted before in their life? My answer is an emphatic YES. I started running for fun during the mid-2014, just about 15 months back, and I was 45 then.
I was so euphoric after my first half marathon at the Coimbatore Marathon 2014 that I wanted to write a blog of my experience of running… just 3 months old. I did not do it then partly due to writer’s block and mainly because I wanted to give myself time to see if the euphoria sustains. So I decided then that I will write after a year if I could continue my interest in running long distance. Now with 5 half marathons under my belt and preparing for my first full marathon next month, I am convinced of my resolute on this and hence the birth of this blog.
This is NOT a runner’s guide for dummies. Nor is it an expert treatise on running and its benefits. It’s purely the ramblings of an overly enthusiastic middle aged man, about his new-found love – running!
As I noted down my lessons from my running experience I noticed an interesting pattern emerging. So I decided to list them in the same order.
- One at a time: There are several ones that helped me to keep the interest alive and kicking.
- One step at a time: ‘Journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step.’ To my amazement I realised how the whole thousand mile journey is only made of single steps. We run with our body, but running is principally a mind game through our body. Whatever the distance I run, it helps to keep up the energy and motivation high throughout the run if I focus on the next step.
- One goal at a time: It helped me to get up from the bed early morning and put on my gears when I fixed a milestone, which was a marathon in the calendar. Once I have committed myself to the goal, it acted as a pusher-puller every day.
- One thank you: I’m lucky to have a body that cooperates with me so beautifully. Even at times when I did not have time to practice sufficiently I was able to run a 25km at the Bangalore Ultra 2014 without any difficulty. I ran the Ajmera Thump Half marathon 2015 in Bangalore with just 3 days of practice the week before since I was grounded for over a month due to a toe surgery. That’s when I realised how blessed I am to have a body that is so understanding and kind. I realised the need to respect it and not take it for granted. I also realised how everyone’s body is unique and so what works for one need not work for the other. That made me more respectful and appreciative of the individual differences as well.
- Two to tango: Running is an individual task, but it need not be lonely. Having company, even if it is one other person, helps to keep the spirits high and get me on my feet every morning. There were so many days even today when I just don’t want to get up in spite of the alarm ringing incessantly. But the very thought that my friend will be waiting there for me keeps me going. Even on days when I go to run, I run longer when I have company compared to days when I run alone.
We run with our body. But the mind plays a much more crucial role in running. Both the body and mind need to dance together to have a successful run. Often I’ve found that the body is ready and willing to go the extra mile, but the mind plays tricks and applies the brakes. On the contrary there are days where the mind knows I have to run a specified distance to be in shape for the next marathon, but if I don’t respect the body, I end up grounded for days and even weeks together. Running has increased my respect to listen to not only my mind, but also what my body says. We need both and mind to tango for a successful run.
- Three part run: Running is a three part act, just like any drama. It has a beginning, middle and the end. Warm up – running – cool down. Initially I just ran, totally mindless of the importance of warming up and cooling down properly. But it took me some time to realise the significance of the opening and closing parts of running as well. When I do not warm up properly I find the tiredness after the run and soreness on parts of the body used to be bad. Luckily I have not experienced any cramps or other injuries so far. But I realised how I cannot take for granted my body. One way of respecting it is to warm up properly with some basic stretches and pulls that work for me. I do not follow a strict routine, but anything that comes up that day. If I do not cool down properly, I end up with the same heaviness of the body. I do the same warm up routine for cooling down as well. Worse, when I take a bath without sufficient cooling down I end up with a nagging headache throughout the day.
- Four check points: Listening to my body, I have found how to know how far to push and when to stop myself. My four check points make it easy to take that call. They are: feet, knees, back and breath.
- Feet: A pair of good shoes and soft and absorbent socks to protect the feet is a basic requirement for a happy run. If the foot gets a blister or chaffed, that’s end of game. Taking time to explore options and invest in some good foot gear is a must. It is not about the most expensive or famous brands. What matters is what suits my feet; what feels firm and soft on my feet; what gives me a good comfortable landing position. That is the gear that suits me.
- Knees: Listening to the knees is crucial. Running on a proper surface is good on the knees. Even though mud or firm sandy topped surface is my favourite, most of the time I run on tarred city roads, for obvious reasons, living in concrete jungles. Till the knees can be protected by developing the right landing position. Initially I used to land on my heels with a thud and that caused a pain in my knees and ankles due to which I wore a knee grip during my first half marathon. After that I learned to land on the ball of my feet or flat on my feet, which has been a great relief to my knees and my feet. Voila, I discovered another secret about running! Now a friend of mine said I’m landing quite heavy on my feet. Now I have to learn how to land softly. I’m sure I will. If the knee starts to ache, I wear a knee grip. Surprisingly when I shed some flab and learnt the right posture and landing I’m not wearing the grip anymore. My knees feel good. If the knee continues to ache, then best to rest till it recovers and if needed consult a doctor.
- Back: Maintaining a straight and upright back posture helps me not have any form of back problem. I have noticed that if I run too slowly or if I slouch leaning forward while running it hurts my back. Running with right shoes and on the right surface is good for the back as well. If the back aches, it’s not advisable to keep running.
- Breath: I’m lucky to have learned very early in my running how to know the right pace for long distance running. I used to run fast and then slow down or walk till I recover myself. Thanks to Prasad, my first running partner and whom I consider my fitness guru, taught me how breath is the key to a steady pace. Now I run at a constant and steady pace throughout the run. My compass is my breath… the right pace is the pace at which I could have a normal conversation, where I do not have to gasp for breath to speak. That was a eureka moment for me!
- Five benefits: There are plenty of benefits in running regularly. I found these five the most important for me.
- Fit body and sound mind: Obviously running helps me maintain a sound mind in a fit body. It does not need any additional facilities… all it needs is a pair of shoes and a ready mind!
- Energised day: There is a marked difference in my energy level on days I run and those I do not. On the days I run I feel alert and energised almost throughout the day.
- Discipline: Prepping to run helps me to develop a discipline of doing something regularly on a sustained basis. It helps me to structure and manage my time effectively and beneficially.
- Networking: Running has gotten me in touch with people whom I would not have come across otherwise, from varied backgrounds. It gives the much needed social group (for real and not virtual) with whom I can share my doubts, successes and failures.
- Awesome: if not anything else, running gives me that sense of awe every time I complete a run, be it 2.5 km or 25 km – a sense of accomplishment and often achievement too!
Running, or for that matter any physical game or sport was not a major part in my life script. The only period I was engaged in some sports was during my6th to 8th standards in school. Before that, I kept off the ground due to ill health and after that studies took over. As I got older, I found creative reasons for not taking up anything physical. Oft repeated one was that was it not in my script. Thankfully, the universe has conspired to bring me to a point of rewriting my script in this aspect and I did start running. All excuses which I gave to myself earlier seem silly when I look back at them now. In my TA sessions and consultancy work I tell my clients there is no age bar to change. One can change at any age, provided one feels the need to change. If we are not changing even after knowing that we need to, either the current situation is not painful enough or we are not sincere about the need to change. It is the same in physical task like running too. One can start at any age, if and only if one feels the need strong enough within oneself. The other day a friend called me and laughed aloud uncontrollably saying, ‘Suriya, I could not believe you are running marathons!’ In fact I myself would not have believed if anybody told me 2 years back that I would.
For those who find excuses for not running, of which I was also one couple of years back, I am reminded of a post in FB, ‘It’s not that diabetes runs in your family, it’s that nobody runs in your family!’ Even though fear of getting sick could be a motivator to start running, I think to sustain it we need to start enjoying it. How long I will run is anybody’s guess. I will as long as the urge is on or till I find another interest. But for now, I’m not bothered about that. I’m just beginning to appreciate what an art running is, even though there is loads of science behind it. I’m enjoying it right now and that’s all that matters!
Disclaimer: If anybody told you running helps you lose weight, don’t believe that. If your purpose of running is to shed weight, there are other ways to do that more effectively, as running alone does not cut my flab. I have realised to shed weight along with running I need to manage my stress and diet too. Without regulating my food intake, running alone does not take off the extra fat. So what are my lessons about diet from my experiments with food? That’s for another blog, another day 😉