Lessons from Running for Over 38 Years

This is a guest post by Freddy of Freddy Smidlap Lets Off Some Steam. You can find Freddy on Facebook, and Twitter. As with my regular writing, guest posts will cover a variety of topics, today’s topic is running! If you’re interested in writing a guest post, fill out my form.

I was reading Kate’s post and thought: I know a little about this and I also have gained some weight and lost some fitness over the past winter.

Unlike Kate, I don’t have the time constraints in my life like a busy work schedule or raising a young family that keeps me from just going out running or hitting the treadmill right at my job where they pay me to work out on my lunch break. I got to wondering what has kept me from doing something I’ve always enjoyed and benefitted from? Kate has been kind enough to allow me to kick around some ideas on her blog. Here goes!

I used to be a pretty decent runner in the 1980’s and 90’s. That was a long time ago. Holy crap! Is it 2018 already? The last time I ran a 5k under 18 minutes was 1994 and I was wondering where the change happened when I couldn’t just roll out of bed and enter a little race and do fairly well. I want to tell you about the transition from competitive runner to recreational or just fitness runner. I can’t recall exactly when or where the change really became complete but I’m pretty sure it’s here now so it’s time to embrace it.

In the beginning, I was just a skinny country teenager in Upstate, NY looking for something to do. To make a long story short I was able to win a few track and cross country races for my little tiny school and complete a hilly 30k race in my teens. I wasn’t a star by any means but did try those sports in college with varying degrees of success.

Really, it was a fun and social activity but I never put heart and soul into it. That would have meant giving up beer in my teens and twenties and that was a deal breaker. Pretty soon life happened and friends dropped out of the sport due to injury or disinterest and left me with only one nemesis in running.

I was never motivated by beating strangers but loved competing with my friends and especially with Roy the Welsher. We bet 20 bucks on a Corporate Challenge one year and he never paid up so to this day he’s saddled with that name among friends.

Around that 1994 period, the few running friends I had no longer lived nearby so running and keeping very fit became less fun and social and more like vanity and work. I probably still weighed around 150 pounds (5’10”) at this time but that weight went up when I started eating lousy Chinese takeout regularly at my first “real” job. I must have gained 20 pounds in the next 5 years that never went away.

I was always a lone runner and never ran as a team. I didn’t start running until juinor year in college on my own. What I can say is that when I did have a running buddy for over 10 years that ended our standing running meetups, it did feel a little more like work for vanity’s sake than the social enjoyment those long runs came to be!

That’s a cautionary tale for any young people who first start working and “adulting.” Not only is it bad for your wallet but regular junk food at work is bad for your overall health. Oh, and regular happy hour beers and other adult activities that come with employment of youth can affect your fitness too. I’m somewhat of an expert on this so you can take my word or learn it the hard way.

Even with the bad dietary choices, I don’t think I got much above 180 pounds, even in my two years living in the French Quarter of New Orleans in the early 2000’s.

Man, I miss those beignets for sure!

I was still fit enough to enter and finish 5K’s at that time without having to formally train for them. Things pretty much stayed that way until I started working a swing shift in Buffalo after I got hitched up with Mrs. Smidlap around 2004.

Those crazy hours of working overnight and weekends can be really bad for your overall health, but that is no excuse. It’s even less of an excuse considering we have a gym with bikes and some high-quality treadmills right here at work! All I needed to do was go in there and use them.

So far all you have is a story of a guy getting older and heavier and having enough dollars to have more of the “good life” in terms of having a lot of good wine around the house. The blessing and curse of this new job were that it paid a helluva lot more than I was used to making and suddenly we had a lot of discretionary income in the house, especially with lots of overtime available.

When I look back on 14 years at this job I can remember feeling I owed myself these luxuries of rich food and good wine in exchange for doing a demanding job (the hours are demanding, the work is just laboratory work). That is the part that went off course. I did part of the right thing by putting our finances on a great track by saving and investing diligently. The half of the equation I neglected was the health part.

I find sometimes life ebbs and flows. My money management skyrockets and my running falls aside. Or I run more often, but then need to buy more gear. Same with weight-lifting vs. running for me. I can’t seem to keep up the intensity in both areas.

It wasn’t all terrible, though. A couple of times over those years I worked out regularly in a good routine and was running 5K on a treadmill in under 22 minutes and weighing around 170 pounds.

Getting near age 50 I was pretty happy and felt pretty fit at this base level. It felt like I could start training from this level and work up to around 10k or a faster 5K from this jumping off point. But after this past winter, I found myself kind of fat (not a good look on a skinny frame, my wrists are like pencils) and around 200 pounds and asking myself why is this when the gym is only a 150-yard walk from my desk?

Here is what I came up with:

Ego

I still insist on running my treadmill miles around 7:15 per mile but they feel a lot harder now than 20 years ago. I need to remind myself that age happens and it’s better to get in there and do something rather than nothing. I don’t want to completely abandon that pace and even running a little faster because I don’t want to lose that range of motion as I age, but maybe it’s time to accept that some slower miles and longer runs could be beneficial when getting back to a base fitness level.

This is why I accepted the Run-Walk-Run model that not everyone loves. It encouraged me to stop and smell the roses, and not push hard each time and worry about a clock. I have found a few other people who did embrace it after my encouragement to try it have come back to tell me they are enjoying running more often now. For me, it’s finding that love of running again for a lifetime, not just a period of time in my life.

Reason for running

I no longer need to compete with anyone or don’t have any race goals or time goals. I only want to run now to feel good and healthy. Even with a diet that includes plenty of wine when I run 4-5 days a week, I can still maintain a healthy weight and I sleep like an Olympic champion when I’m fairly fit. I’ll bet it works the same for you too.

When you get high quality rest almost everything is better in your life. I know my mood is overall better too when I’m feeling good. Those are the new reasons later in life for doing the workouts and those old pace standards probably need to be retired. This is a shift I didn’t see for a long time but one that Kate’s article made me think about, so thank you for that food for thought.

I’m glad I helped you shift an idea Freddy! Running for me has always been something I want to do “for life” instead of ending up like so many others that have to give it up later in life. Taking the pressure off makes it so much better for the mind and body. Lord knows, I’ll never win a race, but I’ve got a shot in the 90-year-old age group in the future!

Life in general got too easy

That nasty shift work ended in 12 months ago and life got much easier. That’s a blessing and a curse. I’m glad for the free time and for being home each and every evening and sleeping normal hours every day but when things got easy I got soft.

Have you ever heard the expression “if you want something done, ask a busy person to do it?” The same applies to my situation. I find myself with few obligations from day to day and as a result tend towards doing even less. It might be counterintuitive, but true. It’s time to take on a new challenge when you find yourself slipping into Mr. or Mrs. Softy territory! I sure am going to try to hold myself to this better.

Every summer my husband and I are mini-retired for two months. Without heading into the summer with a plan, we have found ourselves skipping getting exercise or even simple things like filling up and finishing water bottles each day. When you have endless time, it seems harder to make as much use of it when one does when they are bounded by duties.

Winter

I live in Buffalo, NY and winters can be cruel and brutal here. I never minded the cold when I lived in the country but needing sidewalks to be somewhat navigable (shoveled, lazy neighbors) keeps me from getting outdoors to run sometimes. That might mean driving to the park where a 2-mile loop is cleared in the future or hitting the treadmill.

Our winter in NJ always hands me a few setbacks, but I have tried getting out at the beginning of a snowstorm and that adds an air of fun to it… though sometimes I return with frozen eyelashes.

I know what you’re thinking

Boo Hoo for you, Freddy! It’s not really about that but just putting the words out there for accountability and maybe somebody might learn something from my life and take an easier path.

These are some things that I’ve learned in 38 years of running:

  • When you’re starting out it might seem hard. I would worry about good form over the distance in the beginning. You don’t want to get hurt because of bad form.
  • Buy good running shoes and the right ones for your form. A good running store for your first couple of pairs is worth what you might save online or at a footlocker. These running store people usually know what the hell they’re talking about.
  • Once you can run 20-25 minutes the jump to about 45 minutes is fairly hard. Add distance a little at a time and take a day off now and then if your joints start to get very sore. Swim or ride a bike if you don’t want to have a day off from working out. Your joints will thank you for the break.
  • Doing something is usually better than doing nothing. If you’re just trying to stay healthy and fit enough to enjoy life then some pushups and sit-ups or stretching are better than a whole day off and a bag of Cheeto’s and a few beers.

These are all great tips Freddy! I always try to focus on the doing something is better than nothing these days. I’ve stopped running due to lack of enjoyment for now, but I am focusing on weights and walking each day. I probably work out more (and have had more soreness in growing muscles!) than I did a few months ago stressing over running.

Age happens. Don’t give up, but maybe adjust accordingly.

It’s a lot easier to maintain fitness than to let it get out of hand and then have to turn that big boat that is your metabolism around. It takes a lot longer to get back the older you get.

I remember others telling me to keep running during pregnancy because it’ll make it that much easier to return to it regularly. I did that well with the first pregnancy and was better for it. With the second, I had some complications and it’s been 3 years of struggle to find my groove back. Thanks for the motivation and reminder Freddy!

That’s all I have for today!

Have you ever been through the yo-yo that is weight and fitness level?

Yes, it’s always been an up and down since having kids. I know now as the kids grow and mature, it’s now the time to get back to a regular fitness schedule. Prior to kids, I was on point, and that’ll come back now as I focus my energy inward a little more each year.

How about playing a sport or activity and coming back to it after some years away and realizing your new limitations and having to adjust to a new reality?

That happened to me with soccer. I played over 11-13 years and then didn’t play in college. Two summers throughout college I joined a U23 league and it felt far different from the time off. It was good though, to know I could still defend decently.

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Thank you, Kate Nesi, for allowing me to let off some steam.

15 thoughts on “Lessons from Running for Over 38 Years

  1. Freddy, I keep being struck by the similarities in our lives, both the chemical plant work and now running. I have been running since my thirties and I’ve estimated I’ve now run over a mile for every day I have been alive since birth. I was never fast like you but I ran some decent marathons and currently run 18 miles a week with my wife and running buds. But tennis is the thing I’ve done since I was 12 and I’m much better at it than at running and am playing on four teams including one composed of 18 year and older players, which for me at 60 plus isn’t bad at all. Also I guest posted on Kate’s site the post prior to yours! The challenges to continuing to lead an athletic life really start to accelerate in your late 50’s and I expect the hills just keep on getting steeper but being in the game is what counts, doing something. Excellent post my friend!

  2. thank you, steve. aging is an interesting beast. we’re not crying about it in our house, just observing as best we can. 18 miles a week is plenty. i would be 20lb lighter with those miles and if you decide to go crazy and run a 10k it’s not too hard to ramp up from that base. i’ve been fortunate to never have gotten injured too. all the best, amigo.

  3. I try to tell people who are in their 20s and 30s who are eating and drinking everything and anything and not really working out, then it WILl catch up to them…and then it’s harder to change those big gnarly habits then. You think anyone listens? lol! OK I was young and stubborn once too. Luckily I’ve always had a steady workout routine. I’ve been various levels of fit and toned, but always healthy. Food in my 40s definitely has been the biggest challenge. Sorry to say self but you HAVE to be on point if you want to maintain a figure. Bleeping hormones! But I think it’s all worth it!

  4. I am so impressed you can still do a 7:15 pace on a treadmill. Wow! My husband was a pretty good marathon runner way back when we met in the early 1980s. His PR is 2 hours and 23 minutes. I joined in and got up to 40 mile weeks, but I have always been really slow. My best was a 10K at 45:15. I still remember the time! It sounds like you can still to that now on a treadmill training run. You are awesome.

    As for that thing about “giving it to a busy person”, you are right. Now that we are retired, it can be easy to drift into ineffective and unproductive things and then I ask myself why I have not yet done my exercise. You are very motivating. I’m thinking of making a purchase for a Garmin Vivosport. Buying a product, yeah, to save me something. In this case, maybe save my health, huh?

  5. that’s a fast marathon and a fast 10k for you! i can still do that pace but only about 3 miles of it. consistency is what it takes. i would like a decent HR monitor just for when i’m running or biking. i need a nemesis for motivation.

  6. I love that you’re connecting via your stories! It is inspiring to also see those older than me still staying strong and fit. So many give up at a certain point, but I hope to be running at 92 and beyond. It’s my only shot at winning my age group!

  7. I can definitely say I was told those things when I was in my 20’s and while I was super healthy, I see how the body changes beyond 30 and children and how weight shifts or becomes harder to drop.

  8. I have to say, my husband and I both bought Vivosports this spring and I love my watch. I enjoy the step feature, but I also love how quickly it records for running gps and a variety of other features. I highly recommend it, and it was an upgrade from my Forerunner 10 from 5 years ago that is still going strong!

  9. The Garmin Vivosport does a pretty decent job on the wrist for HR and isn’t at a huge pricepoint compared to more detailed watches. I’d love to be able to hit any of those paces 😉

  10. loved this freddy, great story and advice!

    The last time I ran a 5k under 18 minutes was 1994

    well there’s a sentence ‘ll never write – you’re fast dude! i think my 5k PR is around 19 but that was a good long time ago and i probably just felt great that day. i don’t think i’ve ever gone under 20 since but i haven’t done a 5k in a while, i enjoy the longer races.

    age happens and you do have to acknowledge it. i’m dealing with a bit of sciatica pain now which has slowed my pace down but i’m still running. for me running is therapeutic, it’s cleansing.

    lastly, kate apparently made you use capitol letters in the post – how’d it feel? they’re not bad once you get used to them… 🙂

  11. i only ran that time in ’94 to impress a girl. the capital letters don’t come easily as i’ve been writing like this for so long, probably 20+ years. I had to start using proper capitalization on the blog and i wouldn’t want my poor style choices on somebody else’s baby. i was looking around for summer rec. track meets a couple of weeks ago. wanted to see if any 50 year old’s could whip me at 800m. thanks for reading.

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