One time while running with a couple friends, I posed the question: “Do you think everyone has a preset limit as to how many miles their body can log before they can’t run anymore? Or do you think we all have the capacity to run our whole lives?”
I asked this because you always hear stories about how so-and-so so used to be a runner but wrecked some part of his or her body, and either lives in chronic pain or had to have surgery, and now can’t run anymore. It’s as though each of our bodies is built to tolerate a certain amount of stress from running or some other physical activity, and once we cross that line the game is over.
And then there’s my chiropractor’s colleague, who believes running is the worst thing you can do for your joints and that no one should run. There is a general sense that running poses a hazard and that runners take a calculated risk when they choose to pursue the activity, which I can accept. But hearing someone deem running a categorical no-no shocks me. In a society that struggles with obesity, permits people to drive around in cars, and commemorates life occasions with alcoholic beverages, why the antagonism towards running?
There is a recent study that suggests running does not contribute to osteoarthritis and can actually benefit our joints. I’ll leave the scientific debate to those who are better informed than I am, but what I know empirically is that I have never been more fit or felt stronger than I do now. And I attribute that to long-distance running. I’ve picked my poison, and lo and behold it hasn’t killed me.
In fact it was three years ago this month that I dove into the half marathon training program that sparked my current passion for running. I went from someone who had to be dragged out on a 1-2 mile run to a runnerd with a bucket list of places to run and races to do before she dies. A fanatic who buys 10 times more running clothes than normal clothes. And follows the Olympic marathon trials live on Twitter.
Where am I going with it? What do I hope to gain?
The simple answer is: I’m in this for the long haul. I want to run in this body for a very long time. I want to get to the point of winning my age group at races not because I’m fast, but because I am the only one who still manages to show up and run. Yep, I want to be that crazy old lady.
As my friend Beth said so poignantly in response to my question: “I think everybody’s got a forever pace.” A run-forever pace that ultrarunners are so expert at locking in. The one that enables them to trot with zen-like focus over hill and dale, from sunrise to sunset, until they get to their destination. But I think the forever pace is about more than just how fast your run. It is about dialing back your approach to running overall, being patient, foreseeing what it will take to be able to run at age 50, 60, 70 or whatever your heart desires, and figuring out how to preserve yourself for that.
I wonder what my forever pace is. Is it one marathon a year, or one good one and that’s it? Is it running no more than 3 times a week? Or running soft surfaces only? I took up long distance running at the inopportune age of 39, with old bones and worn ligaments. Whenever something feels off or downright painful, I often wonder if it’s indicative of a middle-aged body just needing more recovery time, or a major systemic screwup. I don’t always figure it out but I am definitely always thinking and being attentive to my body. Listening, reevaluating, and honoring where my body is at today. Forever pace. Sustainable running.