Trying to outrun a scary enemy

Back when I was still physically able to run, I did so. A lot. Sometimes I would describe that day’s run on Facebook. Once when I did, a friend jokingly asked, “Who was chasing you?” My answer: “The aging process.”

With another birthday upon me, I am thinking about how my celebration has changed. In my early 30s, I finally accepted that I’m not immortal and began to get serious about taking care of my health. My primary form of physical exercise was running. Soon, I started entering road races as incentives to run regularly. Over time, running regularly became its own incentive.

I decided I would mark my 33rd birthday by running a mile that day and I would add another mile each year to my 40th birthday, on which I would run eight miles. I knew it would take some work to increase the distance I could run, but surely I could get from one mile to eight miles, gradually building up my strength over that many years.

I ran two miles on my 34th birthday, three on my 35th and so on to eight miles on my 40th. Exactly as planned.

It didn’t take me eight years to work up to being able to run eight miles, though. In fact, I ran a half marathon a few months before my 36th birthday.

After 40, I did not keep adding miles to my birthday celebration. For my 41st, I ran for 41 minutes, then 42 minutes on my 42nd. I don’t remember how many years I continued this specific plan, but for a number of years I came up with something along these lines.

I also don’t remember when I began letting my birthday be a day of rest and relaxation. Probably around 60, which is when my knees began to complain. I still exercise regularly and at a level appropriate for a septuagenarian, but I take my birthday off now.

I’m continuing to run from aging, mostly via a bike in the gym, but certainly not from birthdays. Continuing to have — and enjoy — birthdays is kinda the point.

Easing back in

When COVID restrictions were finally eased enough so that I could get back into the gym, I struggled to complete “workouts” that before the pandemic had been “warm-ups.”

In my younger days, my primary and preferred way of staying in shape was running outside. That begin being more difficult in my 60s and nearly impossible in my 70s. My knees and back rebelled, and with age came less tolerance of cooler and warmer temperature. I did more walking, which can be boring to a runner. Another drawback is that it takes longer to burn off calories than running. And that too has to be restricted to my ever-narrowing window of comfortable weather.

So I’ve grown to depend on the climate-controlled gym, with its variety of equipment that allows me to measure how much work I am doing. During the pandemic, it became too easy to vegetate. I began to enjoy being lazy. Eventually, though, I did not enjoy getting out of breath merely walking up a few stairs nor the extra pounds that far exceeded any amount I’d ever imagined possessing. Then I began to remember and miss how good I used to feel after a thorough physical workout.

Yet, of course, I couldn’t pick right up where I left off. The less exercise you do, the less you can do. I had to start slowly, increasing workouts by small increments. I don’t have a timetable for getting all the way back to where I was, but I’m moving toward it.

The experience is similar as I am becoming able to shift from Zoom to in-person encounters with others of my species. I’ve always enjoyed interacting with other people in a variety of contexts, but I’m among those whose social interaction batteries run down more quickly and need longer to recharge. I find now that, just as with my heart, lungs and muscles, my battery needs to build back its strength. I can’t immediately fill my social calendar as full as it was before the days of sheltering in place. I’m sure this is true for many other people.

I admit that the sheltering may not have been as difficult for me as for more extroverted individuals. It was, to an extent, a respite from social anxiety. Eventually, though, I began to miss specific people and specific activities. I remembered how good it felt to be together in person. I’m sure you know what I mean.

So as I gradually increase the time on and speed of the treadmill, bike and elliptical machine, I’m incrementally increasing the frequency and length of opportunities for human contact. In both cases, getting back into shape to be able to enjoy it once again.


UPDATE, Oct. 19, 2021:

Easing back into exercise is going as well as I’d hoped. Easing back into in-person encounters is more difficult, so far, than I had hoped. No major problems, but more social anxiety at times than I’d prefer. And my interaction batteries aren’t holding a charge very well.

I posted a brief comment recently on Facebook, referring to this blog post and noting that it is proving more of a challenge to return to social interactions than to get back in the gym regularly. I took it down after the first two people to react used “ha-ha” emojis. This told me I had not communicated well. I failed to make it clear that this is a disappointment rather than a whimsical comment. I don’t find any humor in the struggle.


UPDATE, April 2022

I suspect that many others have had and are having similar experiences. Now, our calendar has started to look more like it did pre-pandemic. At this point, four social events in five days leaves me feeling emotionally similar to the way I feel physically after that same grouping of vigorous gym sessions, though I can recover more quickly from the gym.