A ‘How Not To’ Guide.
Confession time. I am a MAMIL (a middle-aged man in Lycra). And I’m not sorry about it. Not one little bit.
Two years ago I hit my half-century. I know a lot of our readers have encountered this milestone. It’s part and parcel of the AUK demographic after all; let’s not kid ourselves. And I was, physically, in terrible shape. Heart rate, blood pressure, BMI, weight – all close to the red zones where sirens and alarm bells commence to ring. I’d been a fit and healthy, sporty young man. Tall and strong. But a comfortable, sedentary lifestyle had ‘eaten’ its way into my very being.
So, I needed to do something about it. I had to. I’m not a complete idiot. Advancing years and poor physical health are not a good combination.I thought I’d run a little and see what it might do for me. When I say a little, well about a minute’s worth of running was my limit. There first time I ventured out with the ‘C25K’ app on my phone & in my ears, well I spent the rest of the day in bed and thought I might have permanently injured myself. I was in far worse shape than I ever thought a living creature could be.
But something strange happened. As genuinely awful and terrible at running as I clearly was, I wanted to keep trying. And keep trying. The first few weeks, even months, were just filthy awful. A minutes running, then maybe five minutes walking. My distances improved, but painstakingly slowly. Then, about two months into the run, I started out on one of my mammoth-slow runs – and found that two, three, five minutes later I was still running and hadn’t collapsed by the roadside. I could run – a little – maybe half a mile. It was a ‘eureka’ moment. It felt good. It felt good to be able to run. That slow release of endorphins felt good. It felt better than the quick buzz of sugary food (that bit proved to be really important.
So, steadily, over weeks, that half mile stretched out to nearly a mile, then a whole mile, then almost two miles. Over approximately six months I’d journeyed from 100 metres almost killing me to 5 kilometres not quite almost killing me. Still glacially slow, admittedly. But I felt fitter, my trousers were a slightly looser fit, I’d lost around ten pounds in weight. All of this before and during 2020’s ‘unpleasant situation’, when like many of us I spent a lot of time at home, not working, not going anywhere really.
Well, 2021 started and I was still running. I’d even bought a fancy treadmill for the mornings when it was too dark and cold to contemplate leaving the house. However I hadn’t really bothered to consider what I was eating. That was a task too intimidating for me to face. I was a junk food junkie and I didn’t want to quit. However, around Easter time, I had another ‘eureka’ moment. That slow endorphin release that exercise can provide; it really was more than a substitute for a carbohydrate or sugar high. I didn’t need the junk nearly as much as I needed it before. So, to quote Joe Strummer, I ‘cut the crap’. Or maybe three quarters of the crap. And replaced it with the healthy stuff. And it started to make one hell of a difference. Combined with the regular running, the weight started to fall away. And the distances I could run increased too. 5K slowly stretched into 10k. Personal best times were improving at a rate too. And honest to goodness that MAMIL attire started to fit okay and not look too embarrassing on me.
So, two years have now passed. Maths whizzes will have worked out my current age. I’m no longer anywhere close to any of those scary red zones in terms of health indicators. I’m a transformed man, honestly. Food tastes better, because I no longer bombard my taste buds with sugar. I feel, generally speaking, bloody brilliant. More alert, more ‘alive’. Now I’m not going to come on all ‘motivational speaker’ here. Running might not be your thing. Fitness might not be. Swapping out the crap from your diet might not be. The takeaway, if there is one, is that I didn’t think any of these would be for me either. But it turned out they were.
Lastly, please for the love of God do not follow any of my advice. The web is chock full of really good, free, professional guides to exercise and diet. However, if you are truly out of any other options, then here are a few words of advice. Firstly, get the running shoes that work best for you. The wrong ones will skewer your feet and make the job much harder than it is already. You can buy a perfectly good pair for about £50. Or you could spend £200 and get a pair that will pretty much do the running for you, from a specialist running shop who will analyse your gait and advise you. Secondly, stretch to warm up and warm down. The older you are, the more you stretch. Lastly, don’t be disheartened if your fitness regime hurts your knees/back/pinkie fingers. Work through it, find a way around it, keep going. Nothing truly terrible is likely to happen to you. Which is the best most of us can ask for on any given day.
Now go away and listen to some good Americana.