Born 1945 - Still Running Strong

Thor May

Thor running, Zhengzhou 19 May 2010

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A high school teacher told me once that I would never win a race. Well, nobody has ever gotten away with telling me what I can or can't do. I've been distance running ever since. Sure, it wasn't Olympic stuff, just 10km runs up hill and down dale wherever I happened to be living. The real race is always the one against yourself. It's the personal challenge that you have to surmount. It isn't always easy, but the rewards for getting out of your comfort zone and doing it are always far ahead of wasting life away as a couch potato.

There's something about running that brings you down to earth, yet has you flying at the same time. Every day out there you come up against your own human limitations. You 'hit the wall', and then you get past it. It gives you a kind of confidence that no amount of talking can ever replace.

Occasionally of course there are small injuries - a torn muscle, a sprained tendon - but these are short term, temporary things. I've lost track of the doctors who have 'advised me' to give up running. Well, maybe they have an investment in sickness. Running has kept me young and energetic.

Nowadays I have discovered interval training. I've cut the 10km slog back to 5km in segments: 350 metres of steady running, then 150 metres at speed, stretch for a couple of minutes, then into the next set. The effects are amazing.

Thor May,
Zhengzhou, Henan Province, China
May 2010

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So Now You Want to Run?

run slob

Here are a few insights into running that have come my way over the last half century :

1. For a new runner, the first six months are the hardest, as your body gets over the shock of dedicated training. Leave your ego at home. Bravado is not the point of doing this stuff. It doesn't matter a damn what other people think you are up to. Mostly they won't even notice you. As running becomes a habit, like  sleeping and eating, you will make fewer excuses to "miss it today". Personally, I find it best to run alone. If your friend give up the game, you will be tempted to quit too.

2. On a daily basis, the first kilometer is the hardest, while your muscles warm up. As you become fitter, this effect is actually more noticeable. Don't give up at this point! Stretch for a couple of minutes, then run again. It will be easier.

3. Stretching is crucial, especially as your muscles become toned and taut. Never rush stretching. Muscle flexibility is the key to what you can do or can't do out there on the track.

4. Breath control is essential for getting enough oxygen into your blood and then to your muscles. Breath in to the count of three with your mouth closed; breath out to the count of three.

5. Remember to keep your upper body loose as you run. That will affect your breathing, and balance what is happening with your feet. You need to keep your upper body is reasonable shape too with separate, regular weight bearing exercise (I use dumbbells).

6. Try to keep your footfall gentle. The ball of your foot should touch the ground just slightly before your heel, to cushion the ground strike. Those photos you see of runners banging their heels into the ground first demonstrate a short route to bone fracture (sports medicine doctors took years to wake up to this).

7. If your knee or ankle joints give trouble, shorten your step. That will put less stress on everything, especially your knee cap, which acts as a fulcrum. For damaged cartilage, as in your knee, weight bearing exercise, such as running, is the only way to get a decent blood supply in to repair the problem (drugs only conceal such problems).

8. The muscles of a 60 year old atrophy around four times faster than the muscles of a twenty year old, and take about four times longer to regenerate. Therefore increasing age spells either accelerating physical decline (the norm), or a ramped up need for physical maintenance. It is perfectly possible to stay fit, but it takes more maintenance, not less, as you age. A good routine is two days running, one day rest from running (but do something else like a long, brisk walk on the off-day).

9. We are all made from a bunch of meat and bones, held up against gravity with muscles and tendons, and kept in sync with a network of nerves. Every muscle in your body is counterbalanced by another muscle. Where there is pain, the chances are that one of these balancing muscles is weaker than its partner. Find it and fix it. Sometimes this takes experiment and a bit of time. If some doctor tries to shut you up with drugs, walk out. You need proper fuel to run on. Avoid the hydrogenated oils they now use in most restaurants and processed foods (your body is not made to safely manage those molecules). I find that about 10 vegetables and 150 grams of meat or fish a day gives a good mix of nutrients. Microwaves are molecular death to food. Sugar is dangerous company, but you need a little mischief occasionally. Water is a friend.

10. Running is a great time to listen to an audio book, learn a language, or follow a lecture. On your feet, your brain is in peak condition.

Thor May,
Zhengzhou, Henan Province, China
May 2010

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