Sciatica. Arthritis in one knee. A broken rib. A sprained big toe. Posterior tibial tendonitis. Oh, and my first colonoscopy.
These were the lowlights of the past 12 months for me as a daily runner. Other than the aforementioned, it was a great year for physical fitness.
When I joined the ranks of “streak runners” — no, not people who run naked, those are streakers; but rather people who resolve to run a mile or more every day without ever taking a day off — I envisioned the challenges to maintaining a daily running streak would include blizzards, heat waves, thunderstorms, and pre-dawn flights to catch.
I was right; all of those have indeed proven to be challenges, though not insurmountable ones, when it comes to daily running.
I did not imagine the many minor aches and pains that have befallen me over the past year. Nor, heaven forbid, the requisite colonoscopy prep.
But that’s because I was 40 at the time I started my daily running streak. And although it feels like only a few months ago, it was in fact 11 years. So of course I didn’t think then about what the challenges would be when I was over 50. That absurdly daunting milestone number seemed much too far in the future — a whole decade away, at that point! — to give much thought.
Yet time has a way of passing by, steady as the asphalt under my feet as I crank out the daily run. And while all the obstacles I originally envisioned — the storms and hurricanes and blizzards and heat waves and road trips and fevers and family obligations and deadline panics — have indeed materialized in that time, I definitely was not anticipating the aches and pains that began emerging just after I turned 50.
Yet resolving to be a streak runner and get that mile or more done every day means not letting any of that stop you. The ice storms didn’t stop me, the heat waves didn’t stop me, and I discovered over the past couple of years that the ceaseless reminders of an aging body need not stop me, either.
They did, however, slow me down. And although those would have been fighting words to me as a 40-year-old runner — Slow down? Why, I was just getting started, as I built toward my first half-marathon! — these days they are words I treasure. Ultimately, what I’ve learned from my daily running habit is, more than anything else, moderation. I’ve discovered that not only is it all right to slow down — it’s fortifying.
Because it turned out that while aging may have caused some of the problems, practicing a little bit of moderation was what fixed them. When I stopped trying to churn out a 10-miler every weekend and held myself to a reasonable 3 or 4 miles per day instead, the sciatica went away. The arthritis in one knee subsided also, just as the orthopedist assured me it would. The tendinitis disappeared. Other little pangs and twinges were pacified by my gentler approach to running as well.
The broken rib and sprained toe, I must admit, had nothing to do with aging; they happened when I sailed over a rut in the roadway and landed on my face after turning my head to look at a landscaper who was climbing out of his truck on the opposite side of the road, which in retrospect seems more like a foible befitting a teenager than a middle-aged mom.
And with the physical issues having been mostly resolved by my milder approach to my daily workouts, the mental benefits seem to only grow stronger. When asked why I’m so committed to running every day, I say it’s easier than deciding every morning whether or not it’s a good day for a run. It’s just something I do; no decisions or judgments required as to whether and when I’m going to do it. It brings me a dose of daily peace and serenity, an interlude every day in which I put problems and anxieties on hold to think about nothing but putting one step in front of the other.
And so with 11 years of daily running as well as my 50th birthday and my first colonoscopy well behind me, I’m feeling confident that I can continue into my next decade. There’s no way of knowing, of course. Fate could intervene at any time, in the form of illness, injury, or random catastrophe. Or there could be a new landscaper in town causing me to ogle, trip, and break more ribs, in which case I think I should probably end my running streak for lack of judgment if for no other reason.
But for now, I hope to be running well into future decades. Not marathons. Not even 10-milers. Just the moderate, steady, consistent few miles that age and time have taught me to value far more than any distance.
Nancy Shohet West can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.