The Joys of Running Pain at Middle Age

One of the reminders that you are getting older when you hit your mid-forties is the distressing regularity of the messages from your nociceptors to your brain informing you of the newest addition to your running list of nagging injuries and little aches and pains. Some of the items on the list are for all intents and purposes permanent line-items. The heel pain from your plantar fasciitis that waxes and wanes, but is never far over the horizon. Others are seasonal items. The tendon pain in your left forearm that makes an appearance on the list every spring and fall when the hedge shears come out. Still others are fresh additions, popping up out of nowhere, hanging out on the list for a few months, and then disappearing to never be heard from again. The IT band pain that arrives after a fall marathon, lingers through the winter and early spring, and then mysteriously slips off the list.

If you are a runner, your list is longer and each item carries a different kind of significance. You become a forensic accountant assigned to audit each item on the list. You collect, analyze and evaluate the evidential matter related to each entry in the ledger. What circumstances accompanied its entry? Pre-run rest, stretching, food intake, and pre-existing aches and pains. Time of day. Terrain. Elevation gain and loss. Pace. Mileage at the point of injury. Severity of pain. Persistence of pain. Post-run care. Your deliverable, a detailed mental report computing damages and settlement costs owed. Training days and races to be missed. Remediation measures required. A runner’s version of a revised quarterly earnings guidance, an announcement of a downward revision of 5K, 10K, half and full marathon paces for the foreseeable future.

After a 6-month installment plan of missed training days, cross-training, and hundreds of hours of stretching, I have finally paid restitution to my 50-year old body. I have at long last reconciled my ledger.

I can run pain free again.

I eased back into running intervals at the track. Four 400 meter intervals with three minutes rest a couple times per week. Yesterday, eight 200 meter intervals with ninety seconds rest. An early week trip up the two-thirds of a mile, 12% average incline trail to the top of the Tourne.

By yesterday afternoon my legs were shredded. My quads felt like they had been put through a meat grinder. My hip flexors no longer wanted to flex. My hamstrings barked.

Oh, the joy! It is enlivening to again feel aches and pains that come from pushing my body to do something grueling and unwelcome instead of falling apart. The joyous sensation of soreness acquired by tormenting an older body into doing the things it did when younger. The satisfaction of seeing mid-5 and 6 minutes per mile paces on the Garmin again, even if only for 200 and 400 meter segments with ample rest. The pleasing pain of envisioning a future that just might be a bit faster again.

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