When I think of myself getting older, I only think about how I age mentally and emotionally, how my actions and my opinions mature. But I never think about the physical effects of aging. I guess I still imagine myself to be that seventeen year old soccer star who could run and sprint and tackle for ninety minutes straight, who endured two practices a day during pre-season in august, who was just young and fit and never injured or in much pain. Now I'm not seventeen. I'm only 23 so I know I don't have much to complain about. I still sit cross-legged for hours at a time and run 8k without training for it. But I feel different. I feel a little more creaky. I feel more stress in my joints and I feel scared that it's all downhill from here.
Over the summer, when training for Ragbrai, my left knee started to hurt me some. This was, in part, due to my seat height that I just couldn't seem to get right. It didn't hurt too much while I was riding but I'd feel the effects afterward. I would sit with my knee bent for a long time and when I'd straighten it to stand up, there were little pains and I couldn't put much weight on my leg at first. When I'd complain about it, Josh would say "See, now you know how it feels." Because he is an old fart, always having problems with his knees and shins. He's in a vicious cycle because he thinks if he loses weight, his joints will hurt a lot less. But he's got to do some more hardcore exercising for the weight to come off. And it hurts so he runs less far and takes more breaks during sports. So the cycle turns. Anyway, I always make fun of him for complaining. Because he's twenty five and he needs to get over himself. But now here I was, 23 and in the same boat. I worried this would be an issue on Ragbrai but I must have adjusted my seat properly because it ended up not bothering me.
So all was good until last Tuesday when I went for a run with Nikki and Hadley along the hilly sidewalks of DC. These girls are serious runners, each training for a half marathon in March, so I was in over my head. The only reason I jumped ship was because I was scheduled to run an 8k on Sunday with Ingrid that I hadn't trained for in the slightest. When I asked Nikki how far the route she'd mapped was, she said "um, it's like four something". This should have been my first clue that she was lying because google maps gives you the exact distance of any route. But I liked my veil of ignorance and, not having run since Labor Day weekend, four miles was more than enough for me. During the last mile, they revealed to me that we were really running 5.3 miles. And it wasn't bad at all except for all the dumb pain my body was in. I could have kept breathing for miles but my entire left leg was throbbing in pain. It started in my knee, probably around mile three, and by the end my ankle was feeling the effects of pounding on concrete as well. But we finished and it was comforting to know I could run five miles and that, if everything stopped hurting by Sunday, I could successfully complete the 8k.
Everything stopped hurting within a day or two and I ran fine on Sunday. Not fast because I was in less, but similar, pain. It took me 49.05 minutes to be the 229th person to cross the finish line. Six years ago this would have been atrocious but, today, I am satisfied. Back in the day my stamina was simply a matter of how much breath I had... I could run and push until I was on the verge of vomiting. And being on the verge of vomiting was my only cue to stop. So it is really frustrating to exercise now and know that I could keep going if it wasn't for the stomach cramps or the achy legs.
I still have yet to determine whether the pain will subside if I continue to run and my body gets used to it. Or if I'm truly too old to do what I used to and the pounding will hurt no matter how frequently I run. Either way, I need to keep this body young and in good health as long as I can. That is why I agreed to run with my superstar running friends again tomorrow after work. That is why I biked to work today. And that is why I want to bike tomorrow and the next day and every day that it doesn't rain. I will not fear the cold or let laziness prevail.
I try to love running and I do enjoy it when I'm in good company and/or fortunate enough to do it in a pretty setting. But, to be honest, I wouldn't run if not for exercise. My senior year of college I started running a lot again and I lost at least 10 lbs. I also felt really fit and the endorphins were great. And that is why I run. I like to have a hobby that science claims will make me happier but I'm just as vein as the next girl and the skinniness is a real added bonus. But I also like to have a hobby that I love and I have that in biking. I would still bike if it was bad for me. I really love it. Especially when it is on an open country road or through a path in the woods. It is hard to LOVE love it when there are a million cars around and I'm stressed about getting to work on time. But it's not like I LOVE love walking to the metro and crowding in with a bunch of sweaty commuters either. So what is my problem? Why have I been so lazy? I don't know and I'm going to put an end to it. Next time you see me I'm going to be fit and my body will be as young as ever. Unless, of course, you see me every day or you are running with me tomorrow and then you'll probably see me walking around with an ace bandage on my knee.