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Thursday, 29 June 2017


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We have a similar story, except I'm 51. I also was best at middle distances and the long jump, but ended up in cross country, where I was so-so. And now I also live in a place with good hills for walking, which I do. I have to force myself to not bring a camera (other than a phone) because if I get into photo mode my heart rate never rises. If I'm doing my best, I lift weights 2-3 times a week, and walk fast or bike all the other days. Just got back into "best" mode, and feel good. Also started using the sauna at the fitness club, which is new for me, and feels very good.

I have a parallel experience, for years I compared myself to a friend who was seriously fast (fastest in the school, fastest in ths city for his age, etc etc. I just dont have fast twitch muscles. Then, when I was 21 I did a fitness test and found out I was fit, as fit as an Olympic water polo player. It took me another 25 years to get that in perspective. Pity I dont swim well.

I see you've hit on the same solution I did - uphill walking/hiking. I need more strenuousity than walking on the level, but I can't pound my joints any more with running (or biking either). My artificial hip doesn't let me rock climb any more. But uphill hiking ... that does the job.

I'll second the brisk walk over hill and yonder as a terrific way to get exercise. So much less boring than the gym, and once in awhile you're rewarded with something photogenic.

Here in hilly Seattle my route consists of a loop through Chinatown - guaranteeing photo-ops and an increased heart rate by the time I claw my way back up to my hospital of employment.

Hello Mike
I am glad you have found your hill. My wife and me do something like you too (Running 2 miles, walking the dog 1 hour with one nice steep slope near the end. Only 160 steps, but what steps!). We have re-entered running after 35 years and after our entry into our retirement and were surprised to be able to run ar all. My wife tried once or twice to jog with me (40 years ago), but stopped always after 100 meters. "Jogging is stupid" she said. She just could not run more slowly than at full speed then. Just to be sure: A stern warning regarding stationary bicycle! Alone in one's own cellar it is not boring, it is deadly! I tried it, I know. Take care of your knees.

Long time (very slow) runner here, transitioning to more hiking. My friends with knee issues find it very helpful to use a trekking pole, especially on the downhills. It cushions the shock on the knee. Using two poles also provides a great core body workout at the same time as every time you push off with the poles, it activates your core muscles. Keep up the good work!

I didn't "re-enter" exercise in early middle age; I hadn't "entered" it to begin with! I never ran a mile without stopping until I was 39 years old, when I started doing Crossfit. It beat the hell out of me, but it worked. Within a year I was in the best shape of my life. In the last three years (after stopping Crossfit because it wasn't a good fit with my schedule anymore) my exercise routine has been on and off, but I can now put up vaguely respectable running times over distances up to about 10 km. I have arthritis in one foot (the arch is all wonky for reasons that aren't clear, and that screwed up the big toe), and running actually helped the arthritis by strengthening the muscles that stabilize the joint. As I get older, I'm sure I'll have to tone down the running in favor of something less punishing (bad knees run in my family, and while mine are fine now, I'm sure that won't be true forever), and your hill climb sounds wonderful. Too bad I live in Evanston, where the "hills" aren't exactly strenuous...

Get a pair of hiking poles. They are great at relieving the downhill stress on your knees. Here's a good resource: https://sectionhiker.com/top-10-backpacker-recommended-trekking-poles-2017/. I use the $44 carbon fiber poles from Cascade Mountain for backpacking.

Mike, wonderful recall and telling of your younger years. You may want to think about getting a FitBit so you can monitor your heart rate on those climbs. Do a little research on max heart rate for our age and the range you should stay in.

Walking is great exercise; I've been walking 1.2 miles myself daily for the 5 weeks because some of old back problems tha thave flared up again from all the business (read: airline) travel I've had to do over Q1/Q2. Like you, Mike, I've been walking up and down a pretty steep hill near where I live.

Just a word of advice/caution: With respect to your routine: mix it up a bit. At our age (I'm in my early 60s, too), I found that doing the exact same 1.2 mile walk up and down a steep hill daily for the last month has resulted in some muscle imbalances in my hip that are now causing some (new) problems. I'm now seeing a neuromuscular therapist who is now working on those new muscle imbalances; he recommend walking on the flats to change things up as did my doctor. What I've taken to doing as an alternative is snorkeling (i.e., kicking) in the pool at my HOA for a 30 minute stint, which my therapist REALLY likes the idea of. Cheers, Stephen

Been riding my bike a lot less these days- but walking a lot more to compensate... and always with my GR.

Kate Bush is singing in my ear. Good on ya, Mike. Maybe I'll take the family to Sugarloaf tomorrow (Crowded on a summer Saturday? Nah.)...

I smiled throughout the column as I've had similar experiences. In college (in the late '60's), I opted for track to fulfill my gym requirement. I was just moderately fast and my knees always hurt. The coach of the college team ran the 400 meters in the 1932 Olympics and he taught me what he said was the proper way to run that distance. I was never fast enough for sprints nor did I have the endurance for distance races, so the 440 was perfect. His method was ball of the foot, then lightly touch the heel, then ball of the foot pulling - not pushing - the ground. All of a sudden, I posted times much, much better than I had before. With the lower impact, my knees hardly bothered me at all.

As to another point you made, there was a somewhat steep road near where I used to live. Before going on a hiking trip, usually to a national park, I would hike up that hill for a week before transitioning into a jog for a week. Not only did it strengthen my legs with less pain than doing this on a level surface, it did so in less time.

And to think that I appreciated your OT columns only to learn about Miatas.

Walking uphill is great exercise, you can push yourself if you want in a way that is difficult on the flat. Walking down can be tough if you have knee problems. (walkimg poles might hjelp)

I enjoyed your tale of running as a youth. I was trying out for the high school basketball team when the coach called me over and said I should consider another sport.

I ended up on the track team running the 1- and 2-mile races and did quite well. I thought I was pretty good until my first week of college. I went out on a 5-mile run with the cross country team but lost sight of them after a few minutes.

I'm a few years older than you, Mike, and I still run. Not as often and shorter distances but I still enjoy trail running. Most of my runs these days are "Personal Records" as in "Slowest Ever." No matter—I keep running.

Sometimes I even take a camera along and snap a few photos of my friends running.

Ummm, you might think about taking a dog and a tennis ball along, too. Sometimes it's hard to manage a dog, a leash, a camera, a tennis ball, and a bag of poop, but hey, those are the sacrifices we have to make.

Get some trekking poles. They'll offload some weight from your knees and can be readjusted to help with the downhill sections.

Sounds like snowshoes would be a great assist for the winter.

Good thing you never had to race Jerry Seinfeld.... (referencing a show where he has a re-match with a high school competitor).

What an unexpected, treat of a post! The bit about aging requiring shifting focus from performance to injury protection particularly hits home. And also that there are sensible approaches to being able to continue in our athletic endeavors. My 70-year-old rower's body feels encouraged. Thanks!

Any hiker can tell you that going down is a lot harder on your knees than going up, especially if you're carrying weight. If the hill ever starts to seem like too much work, go buy a pair of those hiking poles and sling your veggies into a backpack. Hiking poles are a huge help when descending because if you have to shift the point where your leading foot is going to land, the only way to do it is to apply torque through the knee that's still connected to the ground. This is unkind to one's knees.

Yep, you will probably look slightly ridiculous. Not as bad as one of those Hoverounds, though. (For non-USians, a Hoveround is one of those electric scooter-chairs you can purchase when walking from your car to the supermarket is too much for your decrepit self.)

Good to hear you found a form of exercise that suits you. Steep declines are treacherous in winter, but there are studded winter running shoes that I hear are great. I always felt that running on slippery ground was easier than walking, simply because the constant forward motion makes it easier to lurch forward and correct an imbalance. Still, if I was to now get back to winter running, studded winter running shoes would be my choice.

“As a kid I could throw a softball farther than only half of the girls …”

Oh God, I’m with you there, brother. In school, it seems we were always playing softball, from recess in elementary to “PE” in junior high. Thank God, marching band saved me from PE in high school.

Then, in my 30s, I played a couple years of church league softball. I was good! It’s all relative. My Texas leaguer line drives just over the infielder’s heads would put me on base every time. I just had to remember not to run too hard to first! (Yes, I hurt myself the first time out.)

Now, I’m 66, and walking is it! We must know our limits and do things in context. Cheers!

In my seventh year as an undergraduate I took a mandatory phys. ed. course. A half mile run was required and while it wasn’t the near-death experience I remember it was certainly a life-changing experience.

That was followed by 40+ years of mostly daily four and five mile runs plus one marathon, three half-marathons and many 10k events. Running has kept me happy, healthy and fit.

I ran for 7 years in my 40s. I never felt better in my life and wish I could do it today but at 72 with arthritic knees, running is a no-no. Once when I was running 4.25 miles every day a nephew who was running HS track was visiting and announced he wanted to run with me. I think he planned on showing me up but he was trained for the 100-yard dash and the quarter mile.

He took off like a shot and was soon far ahead. At around the end of the first mile, I caught up with him and we ran together for about a mile until we came to a narrow bridge with traffic coming so I told him I was going to pull ahead so we would be single file. I did and that was the end of his run. He walked the rest of the way demoralized. He had burnt himself out on the first mile instead of pacing himself for the distance.

When I started running I did what you mentioned, walking first, then I interspersed walking and running but my aim was always to be a distance runner so I never sprinted, I always paced myself until I could easily run 4-5 miles/day. I even ran a marathon once in just under 5 hours. It may not sound like much but try running 26.219 miles. I'm proud of my "finishers medal".

Now I walk, hike and (occasionally) climb mountains in the Adirondacks, carefully and always pacing myself. My knees hurt but there is something magic in both the exercise and being outside, especially a hike in the woods. Like the line in Psalm 23 says, it restoreth my soul. Keep it up. It is worth whatever discomfort you experience in the process. The rewards are greater than the cost.

A long-winded way to tell us you're over the hill?

[Very funny, young fella. --Mike]

Well you did it and here I go in pedantic mode.
Disclaimer: I am a freshly retired rheumatologist who ran distance not well in high school, injured his left knee playing pickup football, ran a bit recreationally in college, and had 2 arthroscopies including a complete meniscectomy at age 34. I walk the dogs about a mile quickly now, the poorly trained Doberman dragging me down the gravel road.

Before I retired I urged people with knee pain and/or early osteoarthritis to 1) swim 2) use an exercycle 3) bicycle but never to use a stair stepper.I termed the latter a commie plot. Many of my patients were limited by lack of availability of an indoor pool or their general debility but done right this can be very helpful.
The observation that the downhill gait is more uncomfortable than the uphill gait is born out by testing and by my knees left greater than right.

See for an example: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/537f/cac9d4b94cd54d989cbc690d18a4a02898fb.pdf
Just read the abstract, much of which should be easily understood by those in this forum.
Impact loading, which walking and especially running and downhill walking represent are effectively much more than static loads. The peak standing (static)load was measured at 107% body weight(BW). Stair descending puts 346% of one's BW as a load on each knee successively. Uphill the load is only 316%.
Water exercise: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0171972#pone-0171972-g004

This has been very well studied and is really outside of my core expertise but suffice it to say "Be careful out there" As one ages "No pain, no gain" may not be very wise...

My regular walks were doing me good until I decided to take a camera along. Bad idea! I became too distracted taking pictures to get enough exercise :(

I was pleased with the pictures, however.

Hi Mike, I'll second Alex's comments.
Just a couple of additional thoughts to aid you in your research - I won't presume to tell you what to do or offer advice:
- some walking poles can double as a mono-pod, if that's to your interest :)
- as others have already said, mix it up, which means (& I know this may seem contrary to what others have implied) primarily using the poles when needed, or for that core wor-out. Please be wary of using them all the time when out hiking/walking. Humans are bipeds, not quadrupeds.

In June of 1967, I was finishing basic training at Fort Dix, N.J. and because I had no upper body strength I failed the final PT test. The penalty for this was to be recycled through basic with an ungodly emphasis on PT. They gave the 20 or so of us losers one last chance to pass, a mile run in our combat boots. I came in first. A week later, I was on in a standby, first class seat on a jet from Newark back home to Chicago. I will always remember the wonderful steak they served us. The reason it took a week to be released was that they put us all on hold because of the war between Israel and her Arab neighbors. We were told that if the U.S. needed to intervene, we would all be converted to infantry (I was headed to code school). Of course, the Israelis kicked ass in six days, I got my steak and learned Morse code. The only code I can remember fifty years later is the obscene ..-. ..- which is handy to tap out on your car horn when someone cuts you off.

Mike - similar but slightly different story here.

Remove running and replace it with swimming. Not yet 60 (51), and replace alcohol with food. At 45 was just shy of 140 kg and after I was worried I'd had a heart attack was told by my doctor I was fine, nothing had happened and I had a good 10 to 15 years left. Yeah, I was going to be dead somewhere in my late 50's.

I needed something concrete to aim for and a mate suggested triathlon. Great sport for old, fat men. You've got to swim, run and ride so risk of overtraining is small and if something is hurting just back off for a bit and focus on the other exercise for a while. Oh - and never forget the gear (photography and triathlon - gear lovers heaven).

Slowly but surely I made progress and when I waddled through my first tiny little half sprint I was both elated and addicted. I watched the same mate that introduced me to the sport finish an ironman and seeing his face crossing the line all I could think was "I have to feel that".

That said, its hard. In this world getting access to the things that will kill you is so easy (for me that pretty much any food that is golden brown - ie baked or fried). Not doing what will keep you in good health is even easier. But its being hard that makes the finish line, and even more, the run (or walk/stagger/crawl in one case) down the carpet so valuable.

Now I just make sure I'm always entered in an ironman race. I finish one, take a month off, enter another, train, race, rest, repeat.

So a couple of ironman races done (to your point - my marathon PB is a run/walk), I'm at around 90 kg, just ran the fastest 1km time trial of my life at age 51 and feeling better (and am healthier) than I did in my 20's.

Mike: each of us have a our stories. I am about your age and embraced running for many years, simply reveling in the daily opportunity to be outdoors. I ran for the first two decades of my adulthood; it turned out to be a very bad idea of me orthopedically.

I now know that i am an osteo patient. As a lasting memento of those years i have both a prosthetic hip and ankle ("yes", they do those now, and MUCH more delicate to recover from than a hip).

If you have joint issues you should seriously consider two 30 minute sessions a week of carefully calibrated strength training. The machines now are quite good and, if used properly with, say, a super slow protocol, do not overload the joints while building supporting muscle tissue. The latter is the ONLY way to delay the onset of further joint problems.

Sadly, the operative word in that last sentence is "delay" the onset . . .

Well, if you have found something you enjoy, something that motivates you, then the hard part is over and the exercise becomes fun. Maybe even addictive.

But yes, if you re-enter any sport after any layoff, you have to start slow. Even a scheduled winter break of a few weeks means you have to start working on a base again (endurance sports---cycling/running).

I cycled for well over 15 years from 3-5000 miles a year, but every winter I slowed down and stopped serious training. Then in February, I'd start long slow rides to build my base up slowly again. That would take 6 weeks at a minimum. Got no solid base then you're gonna get a solid injury when you ramp up or else be weaker than you should be. There are a number of cycling/endurance sports books about "periodization" that explains this process.

I had to give up so much cycling a few years ago due to a harder schedule and moving further away from the riverside course I used. I started seriously running this year to replace cycling, and started with long slow jogs and steadily increased length, speed or difficulty at about 5% a week. No problems, no strains, no sprains, just aching muscles from a new sport. And aching muscles are motivating. Aching joints, painful tendons, are reasons to stop and see what's wrong.

Build a solid base over several months and add challenge and difficulty to that as your body gets stronger and remains injury-free. Age matters not in this.

I'd love to go up that hill with you, Mike, but the return trip might be a bit difficult for me. I'd bring OCOL. OK, two lenses because it would be the Rolleiflex. :)

I'm another walker. Living in the UK the weather is never really awful enough to prevent a walk - sometimes it might be wet, and on a few days some winters it might be icy enough to be dangerous, but it's been three winters now (2014/15) since we had any snow. There's a 35-minute round walk that my wife and I do whenever we can - starts with 10 minutes or so downhill, then a 3/4 mile solid pull uphill, followed by a warm-down short downhill stretch.

If I feel like some real exercise I walk in the Peak District. I'm still able to do up to 12 miles across the hills, taking a good 5 hours or more to do it.

I hear what you say about the downhill stretches hurting worst. I did the Samaria Gorge walk in Crete a year or so ago - great experience, stunning location - and that starts with a 2,500 foot steep drop, often down steps. 48 hours later I could hardly move.

Another alternative is to get a recumbent bicycle. Then you lay back and jog.

There's a lot in that post, Mike. Thanks.

As I remember it, the thinking in my early 60s high school track team days tended toward a mindless "No Pain No Gain". I rowed in college, but with better coaching. After grad school I regularly ran cross country by myself and sometimes with a few friends. Those were good years. I took time and was patient with myself.

Now I'm 70 and there's arthritis. Most days I get up on my area's steep and trailess ridges or paddle the steep rivers. Photography.

My arthritis stays under control as long as I keep at it. In fact, I feel good.

When I come off the ridges at the end of the day I do 15 easy sprint starts and then stretch. Before I started that routine my knees would stiffen and get sore in the evening. I'd be ready to go the next day. But the sprints and stretching have made a big difference. I think that using my knees' full range of movement does good.

Some torso work helps everything. A little light weights keep my upper body paying attention in the off season, when there's no paddling and little farm work. I go slow with the weights, but my dream is to once again clean and jerk my body weight. 3 years.

What's fun about this stage of life is figuring out solutions to problems and then by taking it very easy, with a "no pressure" attitude, see them through to eventual results. I avoid burn out from doing too much and expecting too much too soon.

Both of the star atheletes in my family became couch potatos. It was the competition and the glory that motivated them. I'm the marvel now. 😎

OK, we (three brothers) got pretty good genes from our parents, as we're all over or nearly 70 and energetic, haven't stopped doing what we love. Our parents lived to be 75 and 81, but three packs a day and four ounces of whiskey every evening made the last ten years of each of their lives quite miserable. As a result, none of us have smoked, and are light beer/wine drinkers. My sister is the exception, as she died of lung cancer in her 50s, we suspect as a result of second-hand smoke.

Never competitive in high school sports, I discovered rowing, skiing and sailing in college and got competent at all three. But my approach to exercise has been to indulge when the occasion presents itself. This has left me with two artificial hips (they really have this down, painless, and a quick recovery) and knees which limit my skiing or hiking to a few days at a time. Hills are great, especially when you reach the top.

I always hated President Kennedy for his grade-school physical fitness program. I guess because I was a very rules-conformant kid, I actually tried to do well on the tests, which is what made them unpleasant. But there was this one thing called the "600-yard run-walk". It was right there in the name, I was allowed to walk, so I did -- and a bunch of geeky friends walked with me as it turned out too. PE teacher was disgusted, but apparently knew better than to try to argue with me (high-verbal and pretty unrestrained here!). My high point in public school PE. I wish there hadn't ever been PE classes, it would have made my life far better.

I'm not sure if this will cheer you up or cast you down, but I recently heard a radio interview with English immunologist William Frankland who said he starts his day with an hour of stretching exercises because the body gets less supple as you get older. He is 105 years old and still working and publishing papers. See: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Frankland_(immunologist)
If you think he must have suffered no injuries in his life, I would point out that he spent three and a half as a prisoner of the Japanese in Singapore which was no picnic.

Hi Mike:

Here's a link to the University of Calgary's Running Injury Clinic.


By strengthening your hip muscles, you're enabling them to stabilize the knees, thereby reducing, and in many cases, eliminating the problem. Works equally well for running or walking.


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