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Kathleen Murphy column: Lessons learned in a lifetime of running

It’s all about forward progress, my friends, no matter how small.

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Kathleen Murphy
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DULUTH — Last week, I left my house wearing exercise clothes and an old pair of sneakers I’d fished out of the back of my closet. As many of us feel when the weather inevitably turns to spring just when we were beginning to fear it would not, I had a bee in my bonnet and wanted to get some fresh air and exercise.

My dog was ecstatic, though his eagerness quickly turned to frustration at the slow pace. My dog, when I run, walks ahead of me. Read that again, it was not a typo. His walking pace is about on par with my running pace, which I more accurately call a waddle. We have a code where I tut at my dog if he stops to smell something; I run so slowly that he has time to take one final sniff, then with one or two long strides settle back into an amble in front of me. I try not to take it personally. But I also don’t try to pick up the pace.

I ran toward the neighborhood elementary school, the same school I attended as a child. Since I live mere blocks from my childhood home, the route I took was pretty much the same route that I walked to school all those years ago, a distance of about three-quarters of a mile.

I walked this distance from the age of 6, every day, twice a day — unless my parents were feeling generous and offered a ride. Which was rare back then. Could you imagine a 6 year old walking that distance alone now? Egads.

Regardless, in my elementary years the walk took me about 15 minutes from doorstep to school grounds. Last week, I ran it (waddled it?) in 14. It only took me four plus decades, but I managed to shave an entire minute off of my time.

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It’s all about forward progress, my friends, no matter how small.

In my peak years I was slightly faster, but not by much. Now I am almost 50 years of age, and my body takes every opportunity to remind me of this little tidbit. In fact, a few years ago I wrote about an attempt to get back into a running routine in this very column space. At the time, I lamented how the East High School track team lapped me in a spectacular fashion. I slowly sulked home, then sat on the couch and iced a bunch of body parts that included, for some inexplicable reason, my elbows. It all made me more determined to get back out there. I was solidly in my mid-40s then, and still feeling cocky. Age is just a number, you know. That mindset.

I didn’t stick with a running routine back then; I’m unconvinced that I’ll stick with one this time either. I’ve always been an on-again, off-again runner. I would do things like spend an entire summer building up to a 12-mile trail run, then stop running altogether for two years. But the long gaps feel different now, as though they are flirty with permanency. Age isn’t always just a number, I’m learning. Sometimes aging means … actually getting older.

And, coincidentally, feeling older. A few years ago, after that initial run, I had to go home and ice my elbows. This time I had to do that, plus slather my entire body in Icy Hot balm just so I could fall asleep that night. I know I can build up my endurance and eventually enjoy a run devoid of pain. Both in my 20s and my 50s, this takes time, which means I would have to be more consistent and dedicated to the sport. Unfortunately, I have a lifetime of experience that suggests it will not happen. To expect otherwise would be optimistic to the point of foolishness.

I might be inching closer to the point where my body can’t handle running. Even the waddling gait I try to pass off as running. I’m OK with that.

Besides, I think at a brisk walk I can still make it to the school in less than 15 minutes.

Kathleen Murphy is a freelance writer who lives and works in Duluth. You can reach her at kmurphywrites@gmail.com .

Related Topics: DULUTH
Kathleen Murphy is a freelance writer who lives and works in Duluth.
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