Author: dheacock

Getting old sucks

Well, duh. Nobody except a teenager really wants to get older. A few years ago I turned 40; last year turned 50; yesterday I turned 60. Well, that’s what it feels like, anyway. The truth is that I’ll be 61 in about two months. There for a while I was in a running groove, getting three runs in each week, increasing my weekly miles, losing weight, feeling more and more fit…and then I was injured (the IT band injury I’ve written about here before), and my running had to stop completely while I healed up. I tried to get back to it many times, and when I finally was able to run again without pain, I was so out of shape that I had to basically start over. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have begun the Couch-to-5K program, only to get side-tracked by weather or schedules or work–and now it’s been so long since I’ve run, and I’ve begun to see articles here and there that suggest that running is NOT really a good idea for people my age and older.

And that weight I lost while I was running? I’ve found a bunch of it in unflattering places on my body.

And the truth is that in the months since my injury, I’ve had more and more issues with my feet and my knees, and now I really can’t even imagine a 2-mile run, much less a 13.1-mile run. (I was training for a half-marathon when I was injured.) So I think I’ve begun to believe that maybe running isn’t a good idea for me, at my age.

There are other maladies that may be age-related–my skin has suddenly decided to revolt against me (I’ve just come through 40 days of contact dermatitis and my skin still itches maddeningly), and if I sit for more than 20 minutes at a time, it takes me several minutes to shake of the aches and stiffness that results. It seems like I just have to look closely at a donut and I gain weight. My memory is nowhere near what it used to be. My vision–don’t even get me started on that.

But everybody ages, and I’m not exempt from that. I need to learn to accept it and live with it and make the best of whatever’s left of my life–but I won’t lie: giving up running is a major discouragement.

And really, it shouldn’t be–I have always known that running was probably not going to be a life-long sport for me. Besides, there are a lot of other exercises I can do that aren’t as hard on my joints and bones as running, like cycling, swimming, walking, tennis, and plenty more. The issue is not in picking a suitable activity–the issue is in coming to the understanding that as an aging person, my priorities have to shift, and caring for my physical condition has to be much higher on my priority list. One book I read recently suggests that if you’re over 50, your fitness is your new full-time job. That may be an overstatement (or not), but I understand the sentiment, and I can’t disagree that my health needs to be a very high priority–one that must not yield to many of the other demands on my time.

Now it’s spring–I’ve got no more weather excuses (and now that our city has a free gym, the weather is no longer a good excuse), and it’s as good a time as any to start building a new habit.

Today, for the first time in more than a month, I got back on the bicycle for a short ride to my dad’s house (just a couple of miles, round trip)–to help him set up a blog. He’s 82 years old. He swims multiple times a week. He works in his garden all the time. He works in his wood shop all the time. At 82. He hasn’t let his age slow him down very much at all.

Yes, ageing sucks, but it’s inevitable, and I need look no further than my own father for an example of a man who is undaunted by his age, and who is living full, enjoyable life in spite of it. I want to be him when I grow up.


lastrunI’ve been out to run maybe five or six times total since my injury a month and a half ago–at first I ran just a mile, and the last few times I’ve run up to a mile and a half. I truly thought that I was seeing some improvement in my ITBS, but after my most recent run earlier this week (I couldn’t even make it to a mile and a half), I was hobbled again, almost as badly as when I originally injured myself. So honestly, I’m beginning to wonder if this condition will ever return to normal.

I miss running, but more than that, I miss thinking of myself as a runner. As the distances of my training runs increased, I felt more and more like I was accomplishing something significant, something that not just anyone could do. It is depressing to think that a 5K is probably more than I can do  for the foreseeable future.  It was enormously discouraging to let the Kansas City half-marathon go by without at least trying to run it, but given that my most recent run hobbled me, even walking the half would probably have been a very bad idea.

I hate just sitting and waiting for my leg to heal–it is difficult to find a physical activity that is NOT on the list of stuff you can’t do with ITBS.



IT-BandMy doctor told me that I messed up…and he was absolutely right. (If you read my previous post, you’ll see that the handwriting was on the wall, so to speak.)

The last day of August I completed a 7-mile run in preparation for the half-marathon my lovely wife and I are signed up for in October. Yes, I had a training plan, and no, I had not followed the plan particularly well, so as a result, I pushed my training a bit too hard the whole month of August, running roughly double the mileage of any previous month. Stupid rookie mistake, I know. And I knew better–I had read all of the warnings about not increasing your mileage too quickly, but I was behind schedule, so I ran and ran and ran, and after my 7-miler on August 31, my left leg buckled under me when I went down a flight of stairs at home. And my left knee became sore as I rested from the run. I could still walk, but something was wrong.

I decided to rest for a week and see how things went. I resolved that if I still had problems after a week’s rest, I would see my doctor. About eight days later I went for a three-mile run and did okay, I thought, until I stopped for a couple of minutes  to take a phone call around 2.5 miles into the run. When I started running again, my left knee really hurt. I finished the last half-mile or so, went back to my car and drove home. When I got home and got out of my car, I could barely walk. I immediately called my doctor and he was able to see me that same evening.

After a number of questions about my recent running history, and after some twisting and manipulation of my knee joint, he sat back and said with a great deal of confidence, “You’ve got ITBS.” He went on to explain what ilio-tibial band syndrome is, and said, “You messed up–you pushed too hard last month, and your IT band is ticked.” It turns out that one of the reasons he was able to identify my injury so quickly and confidently was that he had injured himself in the same way, and for pretty much the same reason, at some point in the past.

He prescribed a fairly strong anti-inflammatory medication, plus rest and ice for a week, followed by a very slow and gradual return to running as soon as I felt up to it. But he also said that I should definitely not try to run the half.

I was bummed about that, but not as bummed as I would become over the next couple of weeks, as it became clear that my recovery was going to take a lot longer than I expected.

After a week of ice and anti-inflammatory medicine, I decided to try a mile at the track and see how things were healing. I could walk without too much pain, so I figured it was worth a shot, and the doctor said I could do a mile every other day after a week’s rest if I felt up to it. After a 10-minute warm-up walk, I started jogging on the track, and the pain in my knee almost knocked me down. I gutted out a little more than a quarter-mile before I gave up and walked the rest of it.

More ice, more rest, and a week later I tried it again. This time I completed the mile, but the knee was still a little tender. It’s a little over a month now since my initial injury, and I’ve been out about three more times–my last run was a mile and a half, almost entirely pain-free. Next week I’ll try two miles every other day; the week after that I’ll try two and a half every other day, and so on. My goal now is to be able to run a 5K by Thanksgiving. And then, if all goes well, I’ll continue to train (much more slowly) for a half in the spring.

Here’s what is surprising to me about this experience: I really missed running for those two weeks, and I found myself wondering if I would actually be able to run again like I had been; the thought of giving it up was depressing. Running has been huge in my life for more than a year now–running has become a significant piece of who I am, I think–and I wasn’t ready to pack it in. Fortunately, it looks like I won’t have to, as long as I’m smarter about my training. Anyway, so far, so good.

We’re still going to show up at the half, and we may end up running the 5K instead (or as much of it as I am able to run without pain). And then I’ll start looking for another half to put in my sights.

Still at it…

One of the weirdest things about my life right now is that I am a runner. As of yesterday, I have run a little over 53 miles this month, and if my long run goes as planned tomorrow, I will have logged 60 running miles this month. A year ago I might have logged 60 miles on my bike in a month, but not a single mile had been logged running at that point. My running career began on September 3, 2012, so it’s almost been a full year. In this past year I’ve run five 5Ks and one four-mile race. My first 5K (last Thanksgiving Day, running with several members of my family!) was a hair over 40 minutes. My best 5K was 37:14 on Memorial Day this year, in a pouring rain. My four-mile time was something over 50 minutes. These are lousy times, but at age 59, I’m not worried about that.

Do I really care about the times? Hardly at all. I’ve been amused by the fact that in most of the races I’ve participated in, I have been the last-place person in my age class. I guess by the time you’re my age (59) you have typically been a runner for a lot longer than I have. No worries–I’m still a lot faster than the guy sitting on the couch. And in spite of my novice status and my less-than-noteworthy performances on race days, I LOVE the race day environment, and the atmosphere among my fellow runners, who are all so encouraging and supportive. I even love wearing the race bibs and I have saved every one, with my time written on it.

I love that in a race there are people cheering for you whom you have never met, who don’t know your name unless it happens to be printed on the bib, who are simply there to encourage you to keep on running until you finish. (And frankly, that’s my first goal for every race.) After a race, I love the feeling that by finishing, I have accomplished something that most of the people I know have never even attempted.

My lovely wife and I celebrated 30 years of wedded bliss last month, but our real celebration will be the weekend of October 19, as we have entered the Waddell  & Reed Kansas City Half Marathon together. It will be her third half, and my first. We’ve been training this summer, trying to get as much running done as our busy schedules (and weather conditions) will allow, and this month has been a big one. I have done two 6+ mile long runs; tomorrow we’re going to shoot for a 7-miler, which puts us on pace to have completed a long run of 10-12 miles a week or two before the day of the race. We’ve been shooting for around 10-15 miles per week; our weekly mileage will go up from here on out.

We have done quite a bit of our running in the evenings lately, to escape some of the heat (but none of the humidity). I have not sweat this much since I rode my bicycle to Wisconsin in the summer before my senior year of high school. It used to be that running more than 10 minutes was a difficult challenge for me. Now I routinely run 40-50 minutes, and my long runs so far have been more than 90 minutes. This implies that my half-marathon time will probably be upwards of three hours, but again, I don’t really care, as long as I finish.

Having a running partner (my lovely wife) has made a huge difference. I always run longer and better when I run with her (though I know she slows down a LOT for me), and we definitely enjoy being out there on the road together.

I have actually put over 300 miles on my very first pair of running shoes; after the half I will probably try to replace them. I suspect that for most runners, 300 miles in a year doesn’t seem like much, but to me it is HUGE, and more significant than I can say. (And my weight is now around 208–down from 296 in May of 2012.)

I am grateful for the opportunity to take on this new pastime at my age, and though I may never grace the winners’ stand, every mile, every breath, every drop of sweat, every sore joint and muscle has been worth it. For now, and for as long as I am able to do it, I am a runner.

More details on my progress

When I re-started this journey on May 3, 2012, I weighed 296 pounds. At the time, I had pretty much chronic back pain, difficulty sleeping, bad knees, and almost constant heartburn from my bad eating habits. My exercise regimen (if one could call it that) was an occasional walk of 20-30 minutes or a short bicycle ride now and then. Running was completely out of the question.

Today, April 11, 2013, I weigh 211 pounds, and I’m running about three times a week. I recently did a 2-mile run at an average pace of 11:56. I have run a sub-11-minute mile. I’ve been running for about eight months.

My back pain has decreased dramatically. I have no trouble sleeping (and I am told that my snoring has practically stopped). My jeans waist size has gone from 42 inches to 36 inches. My shirt size has gone from XXXL to XL.

When I started running, I could only run for one and a half minutes at a time. Now I can run for at least an hour.

I feel so much better, both physically and emotionally. My general outlook on life was never terribly negative, but even that has improved. I know I have a long way to go, but I’ve never been more confident that I can do better.

I never dreamed I would be able to say this: “Thank God, I am a runner.”

Still on track

Just a quick update, since it’s been a while: I’m continuing to lose weight, albeit a bit more slowly than before–I’ve backed off on the aggressiveness of my LoseIt plan, which is recommended once you get this close to your target weight (and I’m about 26 pounds away from my initial goal). This is the lightest I’ve been in maybe as much as 25 years–I’m pretty close to what I weighed when I got married in 1983. (Speaking of which…more on that later.)

Since November, I’ve run two 5K races: a Thanksgiving Day run in Lawrence (which I ran with my wife, my daughter, her boyfriend, and my son–who actually walked it), and another in late January in Lenexa (the Battle of the Bean 5K). I finished the Thanksgiving Day 5K in 40:09, and I finished the Battle of the Bean in 39:01. This Saturday my wife and I will run in the Rock the Parkway event in Kansas City–she’s doing the half-marathon and I’m doing the 5K. Then in June there will be a 4-miler (4 For Others) sponsored by my church, and possibly another 5K in July.

But the cool (and somewhat scary news) is that we will celebrate 30 years of marriage in July, and we have signed up for a half-marathon together in October in Kansas City. Boy, have I got some training to do.

Although there have been some lean weeks during the snowier winter months, I’ve tried to maintain a three-times-a-week running schedule since September, and that seems to be just about the right amount of running vs. rest for me. Now that the weather has started warming up, I may be adding some biking on the off-days, as a way to cross-train, I suppose. I haven’t exactly been tearing up the track–my average pace has been hovering around 13:30/mile (or a little better), but I have gradually been increasing my distances. My longest run so far has been 4.5 miles. After this week’s race, I will begin a training program for the half-marathon that adds a bit more to my long-run mileage each week (along with speed work and hills, etc.)

I’m excited, but apprehensive about the half-marathon. At this point, I’m simply trusting that if I am disciplined in my training, I will be able to finish it. But I think that I need to think of training as not just the runs, but also the rest, the hydration and the diet. So there is a lot of work to do, and a long way to go, but I think it will be a good journey.

I feel pretty good these days–I am wearing smaller clothing, my wind and endurance are improving, and I’m feeling like I have more energy and drive. Not bad for a nearly-59-year-old-gray-haired guy.

Back on track (so to speak)

I just got back from a workout at the track at the middle school a couple of blocks from my house. I ran 2.5 miles this morning, in anticipation of a 5K race that I will be running with my family on Thanksgiving Day, just three days from now.

If you’ve read this blog before, several questions may be entering your mind about now:  (1) Where has the author been for the last three and a half years? (2) Running? I thought this was about biking. (3) How’s the weight loss going?

In January 2009 I took a new job that ended up limiting my blogging time. But I also quit writing on this blog because I began gaining weight again, and frankly, that’s embarassing. When I began my weight-loss and fitness journey in 2008, I weighed about 305. I got down to 225 by February 2009–a loss of about 80 pounds. Then gradually I began slipping into old habits and by May of 2012 I was back up to 296. Not exactly a success story to write about.

A couple of things conspired in my life to help me turn things around again. My wife and I had a heart-to-heart talk about the fact that my choice to overeat and eat badly was tantamount to choosing an early exit from this life. This is important enough in itself, but now we have two grandchildren, and I was choosing to eat pizza and donuts rather than take care of my health so that I will be here to watch them grow up. Sounds a bit harsh, but it’s the truth.

The second thing that caught my attention was watching the difference in the aging process for two members of my family. My father turns 80 this week, and he swims three times a week, still walks a lot, works every day in his wood shop, and is active, sharp, healthy and fit. Another member of my family is a bit younger, maybe 77, and rarely walks farther than from his easy chair to the bathroom, needs assistance with bathing, watches TV pretty much all day, has to take handfuls of pills several times a day in order to stay alive, and will very likely die a slow, painful death in a hospital bed or nursing home before too long.  I’m in my late 50s, and I still have the opportunity to choose which of these paths I will walk. How stupid would I have to be to keep going the way I was going?

So I got the Lose It app for my iPhone and began tracking my food intake and living within a daily calorie budget, starting on May 3. I started making better food choices. I rode my bike a lot during the spring and summer, and then I decided that maybe I could try running. I had a brief running period when I was in my mid-20s–I ran one 5K race, then quit running for 30 years and got fat again. I have always excused myself from running, claiming that my knees were too bad, I was too heavy, it would be too hard on my body, etc. But my wife is a runner, and I’ve been to most of her races and seen men older than me and even fatter than me running. Back in January, at my wife’s first race of the year, long before I started my turn-around, I experienced just the tiniest bit of longing for a day when I could do what those runners were doing. It still didn’t seem possible, but the seed was planted.

Around mid-summer I attended another race with my wife, and by this time I had lost some weight, so the idea of me running started to seem less like a fantasy and more like a long-term goal. I’ve had issues with foot pain for years, so I started reading a bit about running as a beginner, and quickly realized that good-quality running shoes were essential, and most of the sneakers I had worn were cross-trainers, whatever was cheapest. My birthday is in July, so I decided to take a risk and see if maybe some decent shoes might make a difference.  So my wife and kids pooled their money and as a birthday gift, sent me to the local running sports store to get fitted for some decent shoes. I wasn’t sure I was ready to run right away, and I initially thought I would wait until October or November, when it was cooler (we had a brutally hot summer here), and after I had lost a bit more weight. But one Sunday evening early in September, I just decided to go for it, and I went to the track and did the first “couch-to-5K” workout, using another app (5K Runner) that coached me through the running/walking intervals. That first workout went really well, and I completed all 24 workouts in eight weeks. I’ve been running three times a week ever since (with one week off for a trip to the Dominican Republic). I’m signed up for my first 5K and will run with most of my family on Thanksgiving Day. I expect to finish it, and I will give thanks to God for allowing me another chance to get my health back, and for helping me lose weight again. Apart from his help, I’m convinced that none of this would have happened.

Today I weighed in at 227–I have lost 69 pounds since May 3. I have 42 pounds yet to lose before I have a BMI in the normal range, and I’m praying for the strength and discipline to get there (and stay there). And, as I noted earlier, today I ran 2.5 miles. When I started running, I could run little more than a minute without stopping. I couldn’t even do a full lap around the track. Today I ran about 10 laps without stopping. In a few days I’ll run 3.1 miles. Soli Deo Gloria.

I still might not have a lot of time to write here, but now that I’m about where I was when I left off before, I felt I should at least check in with an update.

Mid-winter update

Photo by Playingwithbrushes
Photo by Playingwithbrushes

There’s been a break in the cold here in northeast Kansas, but I haven’t had time to get out on the bike yet.  That might change this afternoon–my wife has asked me to get her bike out and air up the tires today, because we’re supposed to see an afternoon high in the upper 60’s (Fahrenheit), and we may try to get a short ride in this afternoon.  The nice weather won’t last long–it’s supposed to start raining tomorrow night, and I suspect we’ll be back to the typical Kansas cold winter within a couple of days, but my legs definitely need a work-out.

I want to thank those of you who have been so encouraging to me as I’ve reported on my weight-loss journey.  It means a lot to me.  Although the holidays were rough on my eating habits, and I did see my weight bump up a bit by the first of the year, it was only a few pounds, and I managed to recover and take off all that I gained, and then some.  This week I weighed in at 225 pounds, the lightest I’ve been in at least 20 years.

Over the holidays I had to buy some new clothes–and I was literally thrilled to buy a pair of Levi’s 501’s with a size 38 waist–I’ve been wearing 560’s (loose-fitting jeans with extra room in the legs and seat) for years, with a 42 waist, so getting back into the 501 button-ups was way cool.  I haven’t been able to wear those for many, many years, and I’d forgotten how comfortable they can be.

Photo by Terry Jacobsen
Photo by Terry Jacobsen

I also bought a few new shirts–I had been wearing the 3XL size for about 10 years, but I still had a couple of 2XL’s around, so a few months ago I started wearing those.  Now, even those are too big for me, so I bought a couple of XLT’s, and they fit great.  One of my daughters got married this past December, and I when I was fitted for my tuxedo, I was able to wear a shirt with a 17-1/2-inch neck size–the last time I bought a nice dress shirt, it was a 19 or 19-1/2.  I also bought a sport coat recently that was a 48-long…the last sport coat I bought was a 54.  (And just for the record, that’s my lovely wife with me in the photo at left, not my daughter!)

For someone who has had to shop at the big-and-tall stores (or in the limited big-and-tall sections of regular clothing stores) for the last 15 or 20 years, it’s kind of a big deal to be able to buy clothes anywhere I choose.

Believe me, I’m still a long way from fitting comfortably into a pair of real biking shorts–but by summer, who knows?  It’s not unthinkable any more–and it really was unthinkable when I began this journey.  (But I won’t post a picture until I’m sure it won’t gross anyone out!)

Anyway, thanks again to my friends and family and readers for your kind and encouraging comments.