I took up running in my late 40s after looking hard and long at a picture taken in New York City during a family vacation, a picture in which I truly did not like the way I looked.
Out of shape. Tired. Overweight. Neglected. Dark rings under the eyes. No juice. And that big belly which I didn’t notice before… hmmm…
Clearly, dieting and exercise was the only way out. But dieting has never been something I was very successful at. So that left me with the only other option available – exercising.
But what kind of an exercise? I felt too old for a lot options and almost for all team sports. I didn’t have too much spare time either.
It had to be something that I could start doing right away without much preparation or driving around and would then allow me get back to my daily routine with the same ease.
As I was meditating on the issue, as luck would have it and as it usually happens by divine arrangement in situations like this, my eyes happened to fall on this very elderly gentlemen, easily in his 70s and perhaps even more, RUNNING past my window with a stilted but comfortable gait!
I pressed my nose to the glass to take a second look just to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating or anything.
Nope, the white haired gentleman was slowly but surely inching his way up the street where I lived, looking smart in his great looking sweat shirt and pants and matching jogging shoes.
I was embarrassed in a way. If this guy could run in that very advanced age, what excuse did I have for self-pity and inaction?
So that very same evening I did what I always do before embarking on a new project – I hit the bookstore.
While perusing the racks of books and magazines I found what I needed. The latest issue of the Runner’s World magazine which had a 10 week startup program for the absolute new beginners. I checked it out while still standing there in front of the magazine rack – it was built around a “walk 2 minutes and then run for 2 minutes for a total 10 minutes” type of idea.
Certain that I could walk and run in 2 minute intervals, I purchased the magazine right there on the spot.
While driving back home I almost ran a red light because in my mind I was already off and running like a cheetah up and down gorgeous hills and mountains and across all over God’s green earth. Boy, was I ready for some glory.
The next morning, with my old plastic watch strapped to my right wrist, and wearing my almost brand spanking new running shorts and jogging shoes, I was out in front of my house, feeling really nervous and excited like a little kid about to join a new game.
The first 100 yards I thought I was doing fine until I was stopped in my tracks with an excruciating pain that stabbed me on the side. And that was the end of my first “run. ” I walked back home holding my side and cussing at myself for failing in my grandiose “becoming a runner” project.
Was this for me really? Was I going to be able to run, ever, for 2 MINUTES straight for god’s sake?!
The next morning I did not feel any better when I saw the same old gentleman cruising past my house, this time in an even better-looking jogging outfit.
In ten minutes I was out again, making it past the 100-yards mark and welcoming the familiar side-stab at about 200 yards. But I felt I was doing it. At long last, yes, I was exercising, one killer side-stitch at a time.
Let’s fast forward to a year later…
My runs were now always over the 30 minute mark and I was running like 3 or sometimes even 4 times a week. I was feeling great, lost some weight (not a lot though) but in general I was really feeling charged the way someone throws off a switch in a dark room and turns on the lights. The sensation of renewal was really remarkable. The fact that my wife also commented on how better I looked and how she was also inspired herself by my new routine made the rewards even sweeter.
Since then running became truly an addiction for me. I can now run for over an hour at a slow comfortable pace and easily do four or five miles at a stretch. When I feel rested and especially energized, like perhaps once every other week, I also combine some after-run sit ups and bicycle-kick crunches for some extra conditioning.
Within the past few years I’ve even participated in a 5K and 10K race with mediocre times nothing to write home about (33” and 72”, respectively). But I feel peaceful, strong and about 20 pounds lighter. I know I probably have another 20 pounds to go but it is a process. An up and down process that I’ve learned to manage.
Some days I feel tired and ragged, and I’ve learned how not to force myself on days like that because, thanks god, my body does not care for my ego.
I’ve learned to respect my limits and not to injure myself. So I never got injured so far, knock on wood.
On those magical and rare days when I feel this inexplicable energy roaring out of nowhere in the third mile of a 5 mile run, I’ve learned to let it rip and open up downhill like a child while praying inward that my knees would hold up and not let me down for one more day.
I’ve learned to appreciate the beauty of running and all runners young and old, fast and slow. I’ve learned the proper form to run efficiently and how not to be arrogant when I saw fellow runners with bad-form, and how not to be upset when those same runners with bad-forms easily left me reeling in their dust.
I know what a privilege and blessing it is to be able to run. I cherish it with an almost religious reverence. I’m truly grateful. I remember all those who cannot run even if they wanted to for one reason or another and I send them all my heartfelt silent prayers. I hope they are accepted.
If you are already a runner, I’m sure you’re already familiar with my experience. And if you are not, first of all let me slip in the obligatory caution that I’m not a doctor and I strongly recommend you see your doctor before undertaking any exercise program, including running.
But having said that, I heartily recommend running for everyone, within their own limits and capacity. Take it very easy at first. Walk a minute, and then “run” for 30 seconds, if you need to. There’s nothing wrong with that. Who said you need to run like Alberto Salazar as soon as your New Balances hit the ground?
It’s all about circulation and sweating out the toxins. I think running is unique in revving up our circulation to its maximum and that’s why it’s got so many health and psychological benefits. But that deserves another article of its own.
Do it and you’ll like it. And the more you like it, the more you end up doing it, no matter how old you are. That’s how this positive addiction grows on you and becomes a new friend.
Oh, by the way, I later happened to learn the name of the same white-haired gentleman that unknowingly became my inspiration and silent mentor because I ran in a 5K with him. For the first 4K he was ahead of me. It was only within the last klick that I pulled even and passed him.
If I did not pass him in that 5K race I might seriously consider quitting running altogether because I also learned his age from another fellow runner that knew him pretty well.
He was 84 years old and he is till running up and down my street. God bless him.
Ugur Akinci, Ph. D. is a Creative Copywriter, Editor, an experienced and award-winning Technical Communicator specializing in fundraising packages, direct sales copy, web content, press releases, movie reviews and hi-tech documentation. He has worked as a Technical Writer for Fortune 100 companies for the last 7 years.
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