Treading Lightly

Running took hold of me in the late 70s. I actually got started at Ashland High School, in Ashland, Oregon. I joined the girl’s JV cross-country team (remarkably, we had enough female runners for two teams in that relatively small school). It wasn’t long before I was pouring over the annual shoe issue of Runner’s World. On special occasions, I began receiving accessories, such The Complete Runner’s Day-by-Day Log and Calendar by James Fixx. And I could generally be found – rain, ice, or shine – running through Lithia Park.

I learned a great deal from that cross-country season. In the end, however, I decided I wanted to run for the joy of running—not racing. Though I occasionally entered a road race after that, I spent most of my time appreciating the scenery. Indeed, some of my fondest memories of Ashland center on running the back roads.

I continued running in Eugene, where you could actually cross paths with the likes of Mary Decker and Alberto Salazar, as they trained in residential areas. You could also view Salazar’s shoes in the Oregon Electric Station, a popular restaurant co-owned by the said runner. Sadly, I missed out on the Steve Prefontaine phenomenon by half a dozen years or so. Believe me, I know I missed out, because I kept hearing stories about how the fans went wild whenever he burned up the track in Hayward Field. People in Oregon still tell these stories.

At the University of Oregon, I discovered dance, and after a few years of trying to run and take dance classes, I let go of running. I figured my Teutonic build (my Teutonic joints) could handle only one of these activities. The years passed, and dance also had to go. I was living in Seattle then—quickly becoming a couch potato. I did make weak attempts to stay in shape on a Stairmaster. Of course you can only do so much walking in the rainy weather.

Since I’ve moved to San Diego, I’ve been in and out of the Y at predictable intervals. I’m not sure I’m getting anywhere. As menopause approaches, so do the pounds. I finally decided to pull myself up short and tune into the sixteen-year-old runner. My Teutonic joints no longer allow me run on pavement, but I thought I might get a good routine going on a treadmill (with the second thought that if I built enough strength and flexibility, I might be able to take an occasional run on the beach).

It’s been a long time since I was sixteen.

Back then I quickly learned that if I could slog through the first three weeks, a runner’s high would finally show up. From that point on, running would actually be fun. This time, however, the first three weeks found me struggling with plantar fasciitis (a problem that surfaced five years ago), not to mention sore knees, and overall stiffness.

As an older person it is tough to know just where to place your edge. You don’t want to give in after the first morning that makes you feel like you’ve been hit by a truck. Soreness and stiffness can be handled with age-appropriate workout goals; though it certainly becomes discouraging to remember a time such challenges did not come up. There does seem to be a happy medium between a rigorous fitness routine and debilitation. I’m still trying to figure out where that line is.

Meanwhile, my thoughts drift back to those athletes in their sixties and seventies who once ran in the same road races I entered as a young adult. Perhaps my Teutonic build will prevent me from enjoying such achievements. For now, I’ll relish the abbreviated runner’s high that has finally decided to appear as I try not to watch the minutes pass on the treadmill monitor.

Running on the Oregon Coast.

Running on the Oregon Coast.