Fitness means different things to different people. I would have regarded myself as fairly fit. I had some minor blood pressure issues some years back and elevated my level of exercise to the point I went to the gym almost every day and the blood pressure improved after just a few weeks. Exercise really worked. And the sauna afterwards was the reward for the effort.
I have a few physical niggles, like a problem with my knees from my teenage years. They would twist and swell and sometimes lock up. Lots of physio didn’t really sort it. Running was never fun as it always hurt. I also had a minor neck injury and a rotator cuff (shoulder) injury.
A few years back everything got worse but after self-referral to our local town hospital, an excellent physiotherapist worked with me to set up some physio I could do at home. It was effective and improved my knees and neck dramatically and eased the rotator cuff problem to just the odd niggle.
Lesson 1: If you do the exercises, physio really works!
Work travel didn’t allow time for exercise and when I retired (early by choice) my only exercise was a regular walk into town. Our local gym was expensive and inconvenient and no rewarding sauna. So before the pandemic, I was in a limbo, ‘sort of ok’ but not really keeping fit.
Then lots of things happened. First off, my friend’s wife died of cancer quite young, which was a warning that today does not assure tomorrow. My wife who is also fighting cancer herself started attending ‘Fitsteps’ in the local village hall, she encouraged me to go as she knows I like dance (but not fitness classes) and thought it would work for me. I loved it! It was fun. I was the ‘cheeky chappy’ surrounded by lots of ladies although my wife was there to make me behave. It was a joy albeit I could not see our lovely instructor’s legs through the crowd.
Then Covid hit. This was bad enough. But soon after my friend whose wife had died had a serious heart attack and passed away. He had been about to embark on a new life by marrying a lovely lady. A wedding was replaced by a funeral. This was a real jolt to our group of friends who had grown up together and are very close.
Lesson 2: Life is good but you don’t know how long you’ll have it.
Motivation to do a bit more to stay healthy was pretty high now, so I started with a simple goal to use my exercise bike that I previously regularly stared at for some years but rarely used. I do not like the bike at all so I set a simple and low goal of 15 minutes every morning before breakfast watching the news. And it gets better! Our lovely Fitsteps instructor decided to do three sessions of 45 minutes a week via the now ubiquitous zoom. We did every one we could and it complemented the bike well. I started feeling quite good.
Lesson 3: Do what works for you.
Then shockingly our instructor passed away after an unexpected accident. The emotional trauma of that was significant and not easy to find something that worked. The lady’s personality was a key part of our engagement.
Lesson 2: Again.
However I did not want to give up. I had gained motivation to do something. My middle child is quite fit and likes to run. Now you may remember running was not my thing but I thought I’d give it a go. So I ordered a pair of decent running shoes, did lots of stretches and tried to run 3 km. It felt like I was running uphill but when I finished I felt really good, a feeling which lasted into the next day.
Lesson 4: Limber up every time, no excuses!
I had already decided that to have a couple of rest days between running, so I set a twice a week goal and try and get to 4k. I also invested in decent running clobber: base layer top and bottom, a main running top and a rain jacket over the top. That’s three layers, but it is winter after all. Being a cheapskate I found a specialist store that sold branded clothing at a really low cost. I was up to just under 5 km by week three and it was getting really, really addictive.
Lesson 5: Get good gear.
This running was going well. I even did two runs with my daughter and was easily able to keep up. Importantly an expectation that soreness and injury would creep in did not happen.
I then got a Facebook feed from AgeUK, they were doing a thing called ‘Run your Age’. “Run, jog or walk a distance based on your age throughout January 2022”. I decided to try 61 km. It meant running every other day and I tweaked my route to just over 6 km. By the second run I started to get an Achilles tendon issue, not significant but panic set in as I was committed to my 61 km. That actually took the joy out of my running. It was not the injury itself but the fact the injury might prevent me achieving my goal. It was starting to feel like a chore, even a bit demoralizing. But one thing I do not like is failure, so I looked up how to work with an Achilles injury and found (via a medical website) some specific exercises and purchased some orthotics (muscular and skeletal support). By the next run it didn’t hurt much and I was back to normal by the run after that. My injury was clearly not that bad but I am sure it could have worsened, as I always had a little pain before. I hope to complete my run and hopefully beat the target.
Lesson 6: You will have setbacks but try to find a solution.
At 61, or frankly any age, you can get your fitness level up. In practice it took me nearly two years to get to a running level of fitness. But, because I didn’t overdo it, had the right gear for the task and listened to my body, I feel better in myself than I have done for 20 years. It is heart-warming to hear others stories on the AgeUK forum and you start to get competitive about your times.
So yes, I’m now a runner. Who would have thought!
Ed: Please note that not everyone can achieve such fitness goals. If in doubt seek medical advice.