I’m just back from my morning “slog.” This is a word I made up for “slow jog,” which is all I can manage. Slow or not, it felt good. The weather is turning cool at last and it felt almost effortless. I turn 67 in another month and I’m grateful that I can still get out there and move my body.
Regular exercise has been a part of my life for the past 30+ years, even if “regular” became “sporadic” until I could get back to regular. Sometimes keeping from backsliding too much is all you can do.
But, as much as I believe in, and need exercise, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. I nearly got derailed. Permanently. I did my first long-distance walk at the age of 54. Eight miles. I was proud of myself. But the next day I bent over to pick up a squalling grandson, and felt a searing pain shoot up my spine. For the next year I limped. Sciatica.
I’d barely recovered from the sciatica when I found myself with a painful condition called Polymyalgia Rheumatica. Sometimes when it rains–it pours! My muscles and joints felt like I’d just run a marathon. All the time. Walking for even a few minutes nearly reduced me to tears. And I couldn’t do upper body work because my elbow and shoulder joints hurt like hell, too. I limped like an old woman, and if I sat for long I turned to concrete. It sucked.
I decided I didn’t want to deal with the side effects of steroids, so I toughed it out, hoping time and ibuprofen would do the trick. I kept walking. Ten minutes here, ten minutes there—as often as possible. It took four years to get over that hump. Little by little, I was finally able to walk longer distances without too much discomfort, but my walks were not exactly aerobic. I’d gained weight and was feeling sluggish. And old.
Then one day, a few months after my 60th birthday, I watched a NOVA special about regular, everyday people being trained to run the Boston marathon. Watching them overcome challenges as they trained was inspiring, and I wondered if I could do any jogging—my muscles still had some residual tenderness and I had very little stamina.
One of the NOVA participants training for the marathon was a 60-year-old woman, like me. I actually cried when I saw her cross the finish line. That was the turning point for me. I decided to try adding some easy jogging to my walks. I started by jogging for just one minute, then walking for two, until I had completed a 30-minute “jog-walk.” I went very slowly. No more than a spring-step, really. Those sixty seconds of jogging seemed like an eternity at first, as my lungs and legs resisted.
But little by little, it got easier. It even started to feel pretty good, and after a while I was “slogging” as much as I was walking. That was seven years ago. Some days my legs still feel more like wood than flesh, and it’s never super-easy, but it’s become a habit I look forward to, and now that I’m retired it’s a lot easier to make time for it. Early morning slogs when the birds are out-and-about are my favorites.
I’m glad I acquired the exercise habit at an early age, grateful that my “detour” was temporary, and thankful for the woman in the NOVA special who got me back on track. Thankful, too, for my determination to keep putting one foot in front of the other, even if they were just baby steps.