Four times a week, for the past 20 years, I’ve gone out for a seven-mile run. I do this so I can avoid diseases like phlebitis, a circulatory problem that plagued Richard Nixon.
I decided I didn’t want to have anything else in common with our former President. Especially after a sarcastic friend said I already possessed his warmth, sincerity and ethical standards.
Still, jogging’s been good to me. It has kept my weight and blood pressure stable and has even had a positive effect on my cholesterol — whose numbers, 20 years ago, had started to resemble my yearly income. Running has been my salvation. Except lately.
An Unwelcome Change
One recent morning, the day after a seven-miler, I woke up and simply put my feet on the floor and let out such a high-pitched shriek, you’d think I had just had surgery done by Joni Ernst. So I had a problem.
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Jogging was essential to my health. But, as a middle-aged guy, it was causing me unspeakable pain. And unless a kindly circus performer could teach me to run on my hands, it looked like I might have to quit.
Now, I happen to be one of those stubborn guys who ignores his body when it talks to him. It’s how I’ve gotten through math tests when I had terrible colds, passed job interviews while nauseous and driven friends to the airport with gruesome migraines. Not to mention that time, not long ago, when a voice inside told me I was experiencing hot flashes due to menopause.
‘I Wasn’t Listening’
So I certainly wasn’t about to let my body tell me to stop jogging. The next day, I decided to try and run through the pain.
By mile four, my arches were on fire and my shins felt like I was being kicked by a vicious toddler with steel-toed booties. Luckily, my right arm still worked. I raised it to flag a cab to take me home.
I’d been wrong. My body was trying to tell me something important and I wasn’t listening. Depressed, I put my feet in Epsom salts. Then walked on my hands to bed.
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I wasn’t ready to abandon exercise. Maybe a talk with a professional would help me find a 50-ish man’s approach to the sport.
Nervously, the next week, I limped into Dr. Claypool’s office an absolute wreck. I was certain that any more inactivity coupled with the comfort foods I was consuming would change my looks completely. I’d no longer seem as sleek and lean as Daniel Craig and would start to resemble The Michelin Man.
No Longer 30
Dr. Claypool, a sports medicine savant, saved my life. He asked me my age. I told him. (I’m 58.) Then, he wondered how long I warmed up before I began to run. I gave him a look so blank, you’d have thought he was asking me to explain differential calculus. I then confessed my warm-ups consisted of walking a few steps, touching my toes, belching and taking off. Dr. Claypool smiled.
“That might have worked at 30,” he said. “But you’re not 30 anymore. As we age, our warm-ups need to age, too.”
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I nodded. Dr. C. then gave me the best news I’d had in weeks. I didn’t need to quit running and join an aquasize class. I simply had to take more time preparing. Especially since I hadn’t been 30 since Bryan Adams was popular.
I listened carefully as the doctor told me that from shoulders to shins, I needed to warm up for 15 minutes before I took off. Stretching was key. I was to stretch hamstrings, quadriceps, even my groin.
I worried I might forget all these instructions, possessing, as I do, the longterm memory of a fruit fly. Dr. Claypool offered to show it all to me. Put together, these moves would resemble an interpretive dance, illustrating man’s search for meaning in a cold, pitiless universe. And his personal instructions would double his fee. I settled for a pamphlet.
On the Road Again
It’s been a month since that visit. My warm-up time has increased considerably, which I accept as a concession to age. But this new approach has me running again. And more importantly, saved my sanity. After stretching, my entire body is so loose, I can do my seven miles without shrieking so loudly it sounds like the climax to Madame Butterfly.
I suppose, someday, I’ll have to switch over to aquasize. But not for a while. I’m flexible, pain-free and back at my favorite outdoor activity. So spread the news. Get the kids off the street. Peter Gerstenzang, the middle-aged terror? Well, look out. He’s running again!
Peter Gerstenzang's humor piece, My Education, Repossessed, was just published in the third edition of the W.W. Norton College Anthology, Back to the Lake.