There are Challenges to Overcome, but Keep at It

10/03/2017 - 05:20

By Richard Ferguson, Ph.D.
Many of us have been running for a very long time. Products of the running boom of the late 70s and early 80s, we began our running journey with Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers and Joan Benoit-Samuelson as our role models. Through the years and decades we continue to run, because we still enjoy it and derive varying sources of satisfaction from our running. However, this is not to say things in running are all peaches and cream and are getting easier as we age.

No matter how long you have been running, there are challenges to overcome. Injuries, bad weather, recovery from hard runs, low motivation, disappointing performances and maybe even brief periods of dropping out from running. If you run long enough you most certainly have met these challenges multiple times and overcome them.

On the other hand, years of running bring many, many satisfying moments. New personal bests at different distances, feeling great on a long run, successfully finishing many marathons. Not to mention all the health benefits of running, like optimal body weight, stress reduction and lowered risks of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease, are all benefits of a long running career.I would venture to say that all the positives you have gained from running far outweigh any temporary negative setbacks.

If you’re over 40 years of age you would most likely agree that running is not quite as easy as it was in your 20s. This is not to say you don’t still love running, but running is a little more challenging. If you’re in your 50s or 60s, running is probably more challenging than it was in your 40s. Honestly, are there times when you wonder if running is still worth the effort? Have you stopped running or are you considering giving up on running? Well, I’m telling you to keep at it!

Sure, time is marching on and like a competitor in a race; time is not going to wait for you. Running is becoming more challenging as you get older and it’s not just your imagination! It takes much longer to recover from any hard effort. What once took a day to recover from may now take five days. Any little injury seems to hang around forever, even if you take time off. You just can’t seem to do the volume of training you used to do and if you try, you feel so tired that it takes weeks to feel right again. Probably, most painful of all is seeing your performance times slowly decline. I always say that I run just as hard as I ever did, but it sure takes a lot longer to get there now. You might think, “how can I work this hard and run this slow?” It happens, it just does. Sometimes you maintain your performance levels for a year, or months and other times your times slow drastically in a matter of just a few months. Sure, it’s normal that these declines can lead to some negative emotions, but there are certainly many major reasons to keep at it and continue your running career.

There are the obvious physical benefits like better bone structure, decreased cholesterol, decreased body fat percentage, maintenance of lean muscle tissue and so on. But there are many other benefits to keeping at it! There is a growing body of knowledge that postulates intense exercise like running may actually slow down cognitive decline that is often thought to occur with aging. If you have a normal, healthy brain running may very well help you maintain brain function, memory and cognition. No question about it, running can have physical, psychological and social benefits as you get older.

As you age maybe performance becomes a bit less important than it used to, but other aspects of running may become more important. The shear enjoyment of running in and of itself may become more important. You may find that it’s great just to get out and run, with less worry about heart rate, miles per week or average pace. The social aspects of running can come to the forefront. You get to meet new people and hang out with other runners you have relationships with from your past years of running. An often overlooked benefit of running is a better sense of self-worth and a more positive identity. Running can help you feel good about yourself because it gives you feelings of accomplishment and a sense of being competent at a task. When you complete a training run or race, you just feel good about yourself. In a way, running can indeed keep you thinking young. Always ask yourself, “how old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?”

Running is not the same for you as it was 20 years ago. No matter what you think, your body has aged and your running has changed accordingly. But keep at it as long as you can because running still has a lot to offer. Obviously, adjust your goals. Maybe begin to focus more on the actual process of running and a little less on the results. Get more in touch with enjoying the actual run than using the run to attain some kind of future goal. Be more in the present with your running and less in the future. Of course those competitive juices may still flow and that’s why age group competition becomes paramount. It might be emotionally risky to make performance comparisons with a 19 year old if you are 60. Look at overall performances as gravy.

Above all, don’t get frustrated that you can’t run as fast as you did when you were 20. Things just take longer now. You’re still a runner, just a different runner. Still dedicated, still talented, just more experienced and a bit more like the tortoise than the hare. So you can’t run as fast or as much as you used to, but just maybe you can actually do less and enjoy it more! Flush those negative, frustrating thoughts about getting old and getting slow. Just keep at it!

Richard Ferguson is Chair of the Physical Education, Wellness and Sport Science Department of Averett University and is an AASP Certified SportPsychology Consultant. He can be reached via email at ferguson@averett.edu.

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