Last week, I wrote about 11 reasons running gets harder as you get older. I got quite a bit of feedback, much along the lines of “glad I’m not the only one.”
In that post, I also promised to follow up with ways running gets easier as you get older. I’ve been running since 15, so I’d like to think I’ve picked up a lesson or two -- or, in this case, 11, along the way. (Note: As before, these are completely unscientific, just anecdotal.)
- You know your legs better. This is probably the most important point of all. You know the difference between “I can keep running” pain, “I need to slow down” pain, “I need to walk” pain and “I need to collapse on the side of the road” pain. This can’t prevent injuries entirely, but it can help keep them from getting serious.
- Your know your body better. This is different than the first point. When I was younger, I often pushed myself to the point of exhaustion. Sometimes it worked, but it often didn’t -- my high school team always seemed to peak in the middle of the season, not at the end. As I’ve aged, I’ve come to discover the difference between being genuinely fatigued (in which case I take a day off, or at the very least a nap) and simply tired (in which case I suck it up).
- You know yourself better. If 90 percent of baseball is half mental, I’d be willing to bet 90 percent of running is all mental. When you’re just getting started, you question yourself at every turn -- about the distance you’re running, the clothes you’re wearing, the goal you’re setting and so on. Over time, these doubts subside, and you’re increasingly able to trust your training -- and yourself.
- Passing people younger than you at the end of a race is far more embarrassing for the passee than when it's the other way around.
- You’ve experienced disappointment, whether through running or life itself. By now, we’ve all bonked a race -- or an exam, job interview, first date, home improvement project, sales presentation or heaven knows what else. Needing to skip a workout or missing a race goal no longer induces panic.
- You know how to set goals. Scott Fishman suggests setting three goals before a race, paraphrased here as the ideal, nothing-goes-wrong goal, the realistic goal based on your fitness level and the everything-hurts-and-wait-is-that-snow? goal. I nodded many times as I read Fishman’s post. Anyone who’s been running for a while knows that roughly 10 million things can affect how you run on any given day, so setting a single (often lofty) goal is shortsighted and counter-intuitive.
- You really can eat whatever the heck you want. Within reason, of course; I embrace a pretty healthy diet. But the amount of food I consume in a single sitting, especially in the midst of marathon training, literally frightens the uninitiated.
- You can afford it. Yes, running is a relatively inexpensive sport, but to do it right -- with the proper shoes, clothes, watch and other equipment -- you do need to spend a bit more cold, hard cash than you likely had back when you drove a crappy car and lived in a crappy apartment with crappy roommates. Plus, what’s the fun of running without racing every once in a while?
- You’ve accepted who you are. I am not a before-the-crack-of-dawn runner, so I’ve all but given up trying to wake up while it’s dark out to run. It took many years, and many failed attempts to run early in the morning, to realize this. I don’t plan for morning runs (unless I’m racing, of course) and therefore can’t feel bad about missing them.
- You can help others. As I get older, more friends take up running. Many have questions -- about shoes, pain, speed, racing and so on. Having been around the block, I can (and happily do) offer advice when and where appropriate. Really, it’s the least I can do.
- Above all, you’re not an idiot. Once, after a bad high school cross country race, I decided to punish myself and do my cooldown barefoot. That was pretty freakin’ dumb.
Having outlined how running is both worse and better when you’re older, I’ve decided to take some time and think about an answer to the question that these two posts have sparked: Is running more fun when you’re younger or older?