We all did crazy things in our youth. Some people I knew drank more than they should have, some did drugs, others rock climbed (well, actually, I did that one). My craziness rested on the fact that I liked to exercise. When I say exercise, I mean exercise a lot, and HARD. I constantly made pacts with myself – the only person I competed against – to ride up the Poplar Plains hill to St. Clair Avenue (a long, gradual climb that many cyclists dread) without shifting once to a lower gear, or to hike the West Coast Trail with a backpack that was considerably heavier then it should have been for what has been aptly termed the most difficult hike on the planet. Or go for four-hour trail runs. In sum, I could exercise harder, and longer, than most. And I loved it. When I was younger, I had standards for myself which I never would have had for any client. I was always a high achiever, and my athletic life was no exception.
Alas, I am no longer in my 20s – or my 30s. While regular exercise continues to be a source of pleasure, escapism, and stress reduction, at the age of 45 (soon to be 46!) I am no longer able to make every workout hard. My body would break down surely and quickly. It now takes me much longer to recover from the track repeats and high intensity treadmill intervals I do in order to stay fast as a middle aged runner. I need days off exercise, and have learned to see recovery as an integral component of the training program – something I have always taught to my clients with fibromyalgia and chronic pain. I need to space out my runs to stave off fatigue and overtraining syndrome. These days, I rely on my bike for healthy doses of moderate intensity exercise during which I can pleasantly hear my heart beating, but not beating outside my chest. I save this sensation – which I absurdly love! – for hard runs. This approach led to my second best half marathon time at the Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon in 2014 of 1:36:16 - 10th in my age category! - and two of my best 10k times ever.
My many years of practice as a medical exercise specialist impart a deep appreciation for the healing power of exercise - of any intensity. I have seen time and again how a lack of physical activity truly damages the human body, and conversely, how exercise has the capacity to heal.
So, as a middle aged sub-elite long distance runner, I have learned to embrace moderation. And I have stayed fast – and injury free - because of it.