Thursday, June 26, 2008

Running! (Okay, jogging)

After a very long hiatus, I have decided to start jogging again. Last week I started running a mile on the rubberized track at a nearby college campus. A mile is a short distance but I thought it best to start slowly so I can really make this a habit. I did four days in a row! Now I am in Boston, but when I get back today I will start up again. Not sure how I will continue this new routine when I am out at Brushwood as it is hilly and tends to be very hot during the day, but I did used to go for jog-walk sessions there (before I broke my leg) so I will try it. I am eager to get back to it, actually.

I used to be a runner, you see.

Starting as high school was ending, all through college and graduate school and beyond, that is to say, from ages 17 through 35, I was a regular runner. At my peak I was running 5-6 miles every day. Not much compared to marathoners, but it kept me in very good condition. At one point in graduate school, when I had taken up smoking after a bad summer studying abroad, I was a jogger and a smoker! (William Hurt in Body Heat anyone?) Then, I started to get injuries. Not running-related ones: clumsy accidents that resulted in sprained ankles broken toes, etc. And then the running would stop, to maybe be replaced eventually by brisk walking, maybe careful jogging, hiking, cross-country skiiing and augmented with yoga and Nordic Trak. I always thought I'd get back to my regular habit of 3 miles a day, six days a week. Then I broke my leg in two places, requiring surgery. That was in 2004, and since then jogging has been only very tentative and brief, and only after a year and a half had passed. I hope I will be spared the early onset of arthritis, but this is always a danger with broken bones.

But I finally feel like my bones have fully healed, the occasional pain and swelling I get at the injury site is minimal (except in winter), and I am ready to add some high-intensity exercise to my life. The last couple years, commuting between Albany and Boston, I have found myself doing less walking just as a mode of travel. So I have added walking for exercise, plus my usual gardening activity, and also occasional use of my Nordic Trak. But it has not been enough. Damn this post-40 metabolism! I recently read about "postman's plateau" or something like that. It refers to the fact that postal carriers who get a fair amount of daily exercise (say, 3-4 miles of walking per day) reach a point where the activity becomes the norm for their body, and they start to put on weight. A sedentary person could add 3-4 miles of walking per day and drop pounds and firm up quickly; but poor postal carrier then has to add extra exercise, and usually of a much higher level of cardio intensity to see any difference.
I just read an article in The New Yorker by a Japanese novelist who wrote about running and writing. He said he was thankful he was someone who tends to put on weight because if he was naturally thin, he would not have started running and might be living a much less healthy life. That made a lot of sense. Some of the naturally thin people I know are not very healthy: they smoke, eat fatty foods, and are inactive. And when we get older and our metabolism slows down, we have to add new lifestyle habits to maintain our level of fitness.

I realized that the postman metaphor was where I was at. My daily walks, gardening, etc. which I considered part of an active lifestyle, were not intense enough to jump-start my metabolism. And despite enjoying the occasional challenge of fasting on fruit for a few days, I do not in general think dieting is a good way to lose weight (it lowers the metabolism). I just try to eat right as well as I can. Of course, I am sure I still eat too much of the wrong stuff, but I'm not going to become a vegetarian again. But despite trying to be healthy, I still managed to put on 15-20 pounds in the last 2 years. Hence, adding jogging back to my life.

I had forgotten how much I missed it. Of course, right now it is painful and horrendous. But I have missed the rhythmic, meditative quality it has, the raised amounts of energy it gives me, the satisfying muscle tightness in my legs. It will take a while but the raised levels of endorphins will kick in soon, too. They say you have to do something 21 times (or every day for 3 weeks) for it to become a habit. So I am working on jogging 4 days a week for the next month. If I keep that up until we leave for Brushwood, I will get myself some new shorts and a jog bra (my running wardrobe is pretty much non-existent right now). And if I keep it up until September, I will get new shoes. I have some walking shoes from New Balance that are decent and working for the moment, but a bit small (I got them on sale), so I want to get something better fitting and designed for running. Don't expect me to get matching outfits or anything! I used to run in polypropylene leggings in winter and nylon short shorts in summer, and gods help me, I used to jog in these heavy cotton tube tops I had in high school. They worked fine, then again my breasts were smaller then. Being older and heavier now, I need to be a bit more comfort and decorum in my gear.

Anyone else out there have experience of jogging or running after 40?


Luna said...

This is unrelated. Have you heard about the Urban Orchard Fruit Picking project that's going on in Boston next week? We're picking fruit in the city and then J.P. Licks is going to make ice cream out of it. Check it out:

Peg said...

wow that sounds amazing! I wish I could be around for it or had known about it sooner...keep me in mind for next year!

I wonder if the Emack and Bolio's that just opened up the street from us in ALbany would go for this? I just picked wild blackberries in my neighborhood but probably not enough for ice cream.

Bo said...

Jesus Christ. You are inspiring, Peg. As an ex-fat child and then skinny, miserable young adult, and now (again) fat man, this is a wake-up call. I intend to have a good stab at this. I'll let you know how I get on. And congratulations on your handfasting!

Peg said...

Thanks, Bo! I have always believed it is never too late to start good habits. Since you are moving soon it will probably work well for you to start a new routine. You know, it was in England that I started smoking one summer! And was jogging there, too, in a park with cinder paths near Trinity College. Strange. I used to think living in England would make it easy to stay in shape, but of course now the UK is second to the US in obesity. Must be all the fast food restaurants imported from us.

I am glad I took good care of myself when I was younger, but the last decade or so has showed me it is very easy to let things slide. I'm still jogging the mile 4 days a week, it's actually starting to have some impact I think. I don't much like to weigh myself as a measure of weight loss but I did drop ten pounds or so over the last month. I love food too much to be too obsessive about dieting, but I find food combining helps me to not put on so much weight.

Do let me know how it goes for you! You are young and malleable, after all.