I ran a ten-mile race last weekend. I didn’t win the race, but I did win.
I’m reasonably new to running, I started running at the age of 48, just four years ago. I’ve run a few half-marathons and one full marathon, so far. I didn’t win any of them. I’m registered for a couple of half-marathons and four full marathons over the next year. I won’t win any of them. But I still win.
Why run in races if you’re never going to win?
Running, for me, fulfills a couple of very primal needs I discovered I have rather late in life; it makes me feel free and it fulfills my competitive spirit. If I’m not in it to win it, how does it fulfill my competitive spirit? I compete with myself, I strive for continual improvement.
Fitness is a lifestyle I believe in, it is a lifestyle I foster, it is a lifestyle I create for myself. Let me clarify fitness and what it means to me:
Fitness is a lifestyle that facilitates good health, well-being, continual self-improvement, self-confidence, and self-worth. Joy.
Fitness is not getting skinny enough to wear that dress to the high school reunion. Fitness is not losing weight to look good, to catch that guy, to attract that girl, to get the engagement ring, to fit into the wedding dress. Fitness is not bulking up enough to win a body-building competition. Fitness is not racing once to prove it can be done. Fitness is not about doing it for someone else.
Fitness, your health, your well-being, are only ever about you. It is a choice and one you choose because it brings you joy.
I run as part of my fitness-focused lifestyle. It is hard, but it brings me joy and a great sense of accomplishment. I race because it’s fun, I enjoy the fanfare, I enjoy the people, I enjoy having a measure of my personal improvement.
In this past weekend’s race, there were 540 finishers. I came in 309th. Clearly, I didn’t win the race. I wasn’t even in the top 50%, but I’m still a winner. I finished. I ran ten miles. I did, however, run at a faster pace than any of my previous races, though this was the shortest race I ever ran.
I poured over the results, the results of others, knowing everyone runs, and races, for different reasons, for very personal and individual reasons. Some folks do run to compete, to win, to be the fastest. Others run for the sheer pleasure. Other folks run because they can. Sadly, some folks run to please someone else.
The fastest finishers, the winners of the race, the folks who took home the purse and the prizes, ran a full five minutes faster per mile than I. One such man was 72 years old. Winning. I reviewed the field of finishers near my finish time, I came in a couple of seconds behind a woman who was 74 years old.
I looked at the people who came in last, and these folks were, in my perception, the true winners of the race and should be awarded the highest purse, the biggest medal, and the most recognition. In the last ten finishers was a woman, 99 years old. Winning. Finisher 540 of 540; a woman of 83. Winning. How blessed to be of such good health at that age to complete a ten mile running race, and, judging from their pace, they were moving along fairly well. They eclipsed my rather ridiculous hiking pace. My rather ridiculous hiking pace elevates my heart rate to an aerobic level, it causes me to sweat profusely, it makes my muscles all wonderfully sore for the next couple of days. A 99 year old woman and an 83 year old woman and a smattering of other octogenarians maintained that pace for ten full miles. Think about it; many folks that age aren’t able to drive ten miles, or walk ten feet. When I grow up I want to be 99 years old and finish a ten mile running race! Run because you can.
I am speculating, but I’m pretty sure those elderly runners aren’t running that race for anyone but themselves. To live to be 99, or 83, is accomplishment in itself. To be able to run ten miles at that age obviates a commitment to fitness, a personal desire for a fit lifestyle. They aren’t running to get in shape to fit into that dress, to get the proposal, to find a date, to please someone else. They run because they can and because it is their choice, their lifestyle, and, I’m guessing it brings them an incredible amount of joy, confidence, self-respect, and self-worth.
And that, my friends, is truly winning.
I do it for me. Do it if you want, but do it for you.
I’ve decided that letting your age define you is a sure way to limit your happiness.
I had a marvelous day not acting my age; I drove a little too fast, listened to loud music, hiked along the coast to a sketchy, steep, poison oak covered trail, down a cliff, to the beach, where a fresh water waterfall spilled into the ocean. Well, me and hundreds of other people. As I descended the steep, slippery trail down the cliff to the beach, I found myself behind a gentleman and, I assume, his wife, probably not too much older than me. There were two younger men with them I’d almost have to assume were their sons. The woman, with much trepidation and some assistance, made it down one section of the slipperier part of the trail and halted at the next, and the last steep portion, before the beach below. There, she gave up, stating she was too old to do stuff like this. I went ahead, when offered, but I showed her how I used my arms to lower myself down to the next level and assured her she could do it. I went on my way. Later, after a brief stroll along the surf, I noticed the woman, with her family, enjoying the beach and watching the water spill down from the cliff she’d descended, she was all smiles. What a pity it would have been to act the way you think you’re supposed to act at whatever chronological age you happen to be and miss out on a great experience.
After my hike, I drove home with the windows down and the sunroof open, a little too fast, and I listened to really loud music, and I felt the age I want to feel, and I felt alive.
I am a proponent of healthy eating, yes. I eat mostly organic food, when possible, and as clean as possible when organic isn’t an option. I love food, and eat very, very well. I am careful to include the appropriate amounts of lean protein, whole grains and fresh veggies and fruit in my diet. And, in my opinion, a balanced diet also needs to take into consideration what we drink; I like to make sure I have one glass of wine for every beer I consume, just to be well balanced!
I am also very diligent about balancing my nutritional intake with my physical activity. I don’t count calories in and out, like I used to when I was trying to lose a ton of weight, but I have a rough idea of what goes in and what is expended, and it seems to be working, for the most part, I’ve maintained my weight for about three years, with about a seven pound swing through my busy travel/eat in restaurants every meal time of year (nine months) and my work from home, eat nutritious, home cooked meals time of year (three months).
But, believe it or not, I don’t want to talk about food, or beverage or exercise, right now. I want to talk about “balance.” And, no, I don’t want to talk about living a balanced life, I’ve talked about that a couple of times before. I want to talk about “balance”, you know, like not falling down!
Gravity is real, undeniably, unarguably real. Some of us have a run in with the law, the law of gravity, more often than others. As we age, sadly, it is gravity and our deteriorating balance that can get us into pretty deep doo doo.
My grandfather lived to be 100 years old. He was in excellent health at 100 years old, and, in fact, still lived on his own in his house and even mowed his own lawn with a push mower, you know, the kind without the motor. Every day, he’d walk a few blocks from his house to the nursing home to have lunch, not with his friends, as they were all long gone, but with his friends’ kids, who were now residents and in need of assisted living. It was on one of these lunchtime jaunts that Grandpa got into trouble with the law, the law of gravity. He fell, broke his hip, went to the hospital and died of pneumonia in short order. Otherwise, I’m pretty sure he’d still be kicking about.
I listened to a great audiobook recently, and have shared it before, “Younger Next Year (for Women): Live Strong, Fit and Sexy Until You’re 80 and Beyond” by Chris Crowley and Hendry S. Lodge, M.D. With a title like that, how can you resist, right? The book is funny and loaded with great advice and information. This book also addresses the importance of maintaining strength, and thereby, improving your balance, rather than allowing it to deteriorate with the rest of our bodies as we age, or “decay”, as Chris says throughout the volume. As we age, it is falling that is most likely to put an abrupt end to our ambulatory days, if not our life. I don’t know about you, but that’s not in my script, if I have anything to do with writing it!
I am often surprised at how few people I meet that have really good balance. I don’t mean people who don’t work out at all, either, all sorts of people. I am in a running club and I run with folks who regularly compete in 5ks, 10ks, half and full marathons and even ultra-marathons. After our workouts, we dutifully stretch. One stretch we do, of course, is the hamstring stretch, where you stand on one leg, bend the other leg behind you and grab your foot. These fit, runner people are hopping all over the place, falling, leaning on each other and against trees, struggling to stay on the right side of the law. Fit, strong, healthy people totally unable to balance on one foot for thirty seconds. Lawbreakers!
Try this; stand up, move away from anything you can hold on to like a wall, a chair, a table, the couch, a loved one, the dog. Now stand on one foot. How long can you do this? How long does it take before you have to set your foot back down, or grab onto something I told you not to stand next to?
Balance is strength. Good balance requires good core strength and it also requires the use of all sorts of tiny little muscles and ligaments in the lower leg and feet. Try this! Stand up, (yes, again), bend over so your hands are as close to your feet, or the floor, as possible. If you can, grab one ankle with one or both hands, now lift the other foot off the ground and balance. Can you feel all the little, minute adjustments your standing leg is going through to try to keep you from losing your balance? So, to improve balance, to avoid getting into trouble with the law, just strengthen all those little muscles and ligaments, oh, and your core, too!
Personally, I find yoga to be extremely beneficial in developing core strength and in fine-tuning all those little muscles and in perfecting your balance. Ballet is good, too, or gymnastics, tumbling or calisthenics. I like yoga because I get to work on my mind a bit, at the same time. Yoga is a practice. So is balance. Balance takes practice and I combine my balancing practice with my mindfulness practice with my yoga practice. It’s the most productive hour I can squeeze into a day!
But, still, I practice balance even more. I have always been a law-abiding citizen, except for highway speed limits, but I consider that sport, not deviance, a game of cat and mouse, predator and prey; I’m the mouse, the CHP are cats, and I’ve been winning for the last thirty years. Knock on wood. Anyway. Practice. There are so many opportunities for practicing balance that you can incorporate into daily life; no gym membership, no expensive workout equipment, no gimmicky gizmos as seen on TV. Consider the following.
I am avid about dental hygiene. I like to brush my teeth. My childhood orthodontist would be so proud of me now! I was driving through the middle of Indiana some time last year. There isn’t much to see. Grass. Highway. Trees. Grass. Highway. Trees. And billboards. One billboard I passed presented a big, happy, cheesy smiling face and a caption that read, “Brush for two minutes, twice daily.” It struck me that someone, somewhere, paid money to advertise what we should’ve all known, and been doing, since we were two years old. But, whatever. Later that night, as I brushed my teeth for the third time that day, I thought about “two minutes”. I got my iPhone out, opened up the clock app, and set the timer for a minute. As I brushed the teeth on the right side of my mouth, I stood in tree pose (stand on one foot, bend the suspended leg at the knee and rest the foot either just above or below the knee. And hold). I brushed and balanced and brushed and balanced. When the timer went off, I set it for another minute and did the other side, teeth and tree pose. I do this every time I brush my teeth, now.
I ran six miles today. I ran eight miles a couple of days ago. I like to run. Every time my demons start to catch up with me, I go out and run, it keeps them at a distance for a while. It works, I swear by it. I plan my run so I after I complete the planned mileage, I have another half mile or so to walk back to where I’ve parked, that’s my cool down. Then I stretch when I get to my car. I have been running in a suburban neighborhood area, near a park, quite routinely. The other day, after my eight-mile run, I felt so fantastic! The weather was perfect, it was a Saturday morning, so the whole world smelled like pancakes and bacon, and every friendly fitness fiend was out and about, all calling “hello!” and exchanging other kind remarks. I finished my eight miles and as I walked the last half mile, I found myself walking on the curb. I walked the curb, you know, the narrow strip of elevated concrete between the landscaping and the gutter and roadway? It’s like a balance beam, but not so scary high off the ground. I walked a half a mile, on the curb, without losing my balance. After running eight miles. I did it again, today. When was the last time you “walked a curb”? I walk every curb I come close to; in parking lots, even carrying groceries, even carrying my half-caf, soy latte that cost five bucks, I walk curbs in neighborhoods and in the city, but only if I’m not going to get hit by a bus or a garbage truck!
Being well balanced just requires a regular diet of, well, balancing. Find fun ways to incorporate it into your daily life. Do the dishes standing on one leg! If you have to stand in line at Target or the grocery check out, or at the bank, if you’re app resistant and still actually go to the bank, stand on one foot. You don’t have to be real obvious about it, you don’t have to do a hamstring stretch or an arabesque or anything, unless you like to draw attention to yourself. Just lift one foot casually off the floor and rest it atop your other foot. Then switch.
I know, this all sounds pretty loopy, but, seriously, I’m just looking out for you. I don’t want you to get into trouble with the law. Try to stick to a “well-balanced diet” and maybe when you’re 100 years old, you can walk the curb all the way to the old folks home to visit your friends’ kids for lunch!