Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Running for my life

Today while I was at work I received a text from my mom. My dad, who has been suffering from back pain but has gotten much worse recently, saw a specialist in Chicago today. The news was not good. Per my mom (who is not a medical person), he has 2 crushed vertebrae, a bulging disc--basically a mess in his lower back. He will need surgery, which they were hoping to avoid, most likely a spinal fusion. It will be his second go round with back surgery.

My dad has had physical problems for quite a while. His first hip replacement was at age 55, twenty years ago. He had a spinal fusion about 10 years ago. The other hip replacement about 7 years ago. A knee replacement 3 years ago.  All these surgeries were the result of severe degenerative joint disease, or osteoarthritis. A "normal" part of the aging process, although I do believe he's having it worse than most.

My motivation for staying in shape has changed over the years. When I was in my 30s, I ran to outrun anxiety and depression. In my 40s, I ran to help me cope with the stress of child rearing and a career. And wanting to keep up with my boys. Now, in my 50s? All of the above. But more importantly? I run to stave off the aging process.

Yep, I'm running from old age.



I look at my dad and see what could be. Is this my destiny? Or can I slow the inevitable process of getting old?

Apparently I can! Science backs me on this. A large study in 2013 demonstrated that running significantly reduced the incidence of osteoarthritis and the need for hip replacement surgery. This includes participation in marathons! The researchers thought this may be due in large part to the reduction in BMI. Another study investigated why runners get less knee osteoarthritis than non-runners. Something to do with peak load and hitting the ground...apparently running has no more impact on the knees than walking. Best of all is a study that found running 3 times per week prevents premature aging in every organ in the body. Of course, the study was done in mice so say what you will about that....

And then there was this awesome study that shows how exercise can reverse skin changes due to aging...I'm all over that! Although the mirror tells a different story...



Now my dad has always been active, but not an exerciser. He always carried a couple of extra pounds around his waist. I have no doubt that contributed to his back problems.

Ironically, when I told my parents that I was running another marathon this year, they were both very concerned. Worried that I was going to hurt myself.

More than my dad is hurting? I hope not.

So yeah, my big toe pain is probably some arthritis. My knees crackle like Rice Krispies when I walk down the stairs. But they don't hurt. The first joint in my right hand is sometimes swollen and tender. And I've got more gray hair than anyone except my colorist will know about. But as long as I can, I'm going to keep on moving.

This is my motivation now.




19 comments :

  1. I'm sorry about your father. Mine got diagnosed with cancer recently, so I think I can understand a little bit about how you feel when your parents are hurting.

    Like you I run for stress relief! The fact that it's good for my health is a great bonus.

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    1. I'm so sorry to hear about your dad. It's so hard to see our parents suffer, isn't it?

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    2. Yes it really is. Usually they're the ones you can lean on.

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  2. Boo to back problems. Sorry another spinal fusion may be in your dad's future. My brother had spinal fusion due to a motorcycle accident and is again in a great deal of pain due to a work accident. I guess my point is, sh#* can happen whether or not we're old. All we can do it our best, right?

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    1. That's true! But let's hope all our hard work will help prevent some of these problems!

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  3. So sorry to hear that your dad is suffering so much. He really has been through a lot, beginning at a relatively young age. I love the studies you reference - I thought running was BAD for your joints, especially knees (ha ha I'm kidding of course)! My neighbor sidelined me a few weeks ago telling me that running is bad for your heart - I'm sure you know the couple of studies he was referring to. That study is concerning (although I saw some arguments that put the results into question) but generally speaking, the research supports the fact that endurance running and all endurance sports are healthy and delay (or reverse) aging. But people would rather believe the opposite so they don't feel bad about sitting on the couch. Good luck with your marathon training by the way! I am anxious to see how you fare with that training program - it's so different from mine. Generally I've been doing higher volume (small incremental increases each week) and mostly low/medium intensity, only a little cross training in the form of biking and swimming (but not a lot of either). Yours is pretty much the opposite but there's more than one way to skin a cat :) Good luck and I hope you have a great experience on race day!

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    1. I read that study you're referring to..I think they determined that extreme distances were harder on your heart. But my motto is everything in moderation!

      What marathon are you running?

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    2. This article explains the problem with the study - that they statistically adjusted (controlled) for factors such as BMI and cholesterol that are influenced by exercise, thereby inappropriately eliminating some of the benefits of exercise from the data - http://www.runnersworld.com/health/will-running-too-much-kill-you. I'm still not 100% sure I will do a marathon. My last one was 7 years ago. I am running a 1/2 marathon in Princeton NJ in the fall and plan to make a decision at that point about running a marathon in the spring. One I am looking at is the Ocean Drive Marathon in NJ - it's definitely convenient location wise, and flat, but there is a good chance of running into a headwind for 26.2 miles. My plan is to continue slowly increasing mileage and gradually adding more speed work in until the 1/2, and then follow a traditional plan that I will probably tweak.

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    3. I always said one and done but as time passed, I really wanted to revisit that challenge and see if I can do better. Especially since this year has been the best running year of my life--since I've been working with my trainer.

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  4. Sending prayers for your Father...it's so hard to see our loved ones suffering. Keep on outrunning all the ick! You are an amazing inspiration!!

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    1. Thanks! I wish I had a magic wand to make him all better...

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  5. sorry to hear about your dad-hope he is ok. I do think all of our crazy exercise keeps us from aging and makes us stronger to cope with whatever aging brings. Keep it up my friend!

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  6. I'm sorry your dad will need surgery, especially when he has already had a spinal fusion. Could be both a plus and a minus for him to already know just what the recovery will involve. The studies on running not being bad for the knees are for populations without a pre-existing knee injury, right? I'm just glad I can do my exercise (skating) as much as I do, considering the various bodily issues I've dealt with it's lucky that I can still jump and train moves like the sit spin.

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    1. Thanks so much for your kind thoughts. I'm not sure about the studies but it would make sense that they would only include people without a pre-existing knee injury. That's a great questions. I'm so glad you have skating! It seems like such a joyful activity!

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  7. I'm sorry about your dad--poor man has been through more than his share. I am right there with you--I know that my exercise does wonders for my health and I know that I will be much better off than my sedentary parents as I age.

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    1. We can learn a lot from our parents, can't we?

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