Written by a woman who began running marathons at 50 years old, this inspirational guide describes the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of exercise. It confronts the problem of obesity today—nearly 60 percent of Americans are overweight—and emphasizes that weight control becomes an even greater challenge with age. But as this handbook asserts, it's never too late to get fit. In nine easy-to-follow steps, the mechanics of an exercise program are clearly explained to help fitness first-timers devise their own regimens and become healthier in all areas of life.
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Fit After 50
Getting Up and Running Physically, Mentally, and Professionally
By Ruth K. Wassinger
Addicus Books, Inc.Copyright © 2008 Ruth Wassinger
All rights reserved.
Yes, You Can!
I tell people who inquire about my running history that I was born "too early." While I was attending Friend High School, in Friend, Nebraska, from 1964 to 1968, there were no women's athletics. Girls participated in a "Pep Club," the cheering squad for the boys' sporting events. Girls were not given equal status in athletics until Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. This thirty-seven-word law enacted on June 23, 1972, states: "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefit of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."
Given my lack of physical prowess in high school, maybe girls' sports teams wouldn't have made a difference in my athletic development. Then again, maybe working with an encouraging and skilled coach would have been just what I needed. All I know is that was then and this is now. I know you can begin running after age fifty and achieve success.
Success is doing what you have set your mind to do. Some women say that they are too old to run. I say: Begin by walking. Walking is great exercise. Pump your arms and walk with assertion. Walking with a brisk step will challenge you. Your heartbeat will increase and you will start to sweat. When you feel like running, run a few feet and then return to walking. Ease into running. Find a friend who would like to run with you. You will be accountable to each other and be disciplined to work out together.
When I started running I observed the other women running and their running "moxie." I could tell those who had run for years just by their competitive spirit. When I first started running I was amazed at how fast some of these women ran. But I knew that I needed to be concerned with only one runner. That runner was me. I knew that I was running to improve my health and to stay in shape. Because I like to eat, I was also running so that I could burn off those calories and continue to enjoy eating!
My husband, Richard, has been an athlete all of his life. He knows the psychology of competitiveness. Early on when I started running, he would remind me that I was competing against myself and no one else. If I ran a ten-minute mile, that was all right because other runners had more experience than I did. As I continued to enter races, I became more and more comfortable with the competition.
It's Never Too Late to Start
It is never too late to begin running. Runners are a nurturing, encouraging group of people. If you have a running trail or a city park that you choose as your running route, you will find that there is room for one more person, you. Runners greet each other with a head nod or a quick "Hi." Each person is there to enjoy running. Runners are positive people. If you run or walk at a certain time, you will see the same people on a daily basis. When one of you misses a day, the next time you will probably ask or be asked "Where were you?" You will start forming a bond with people whose names you don't even know.
Part of my morning run is through a park. Two retired gentlemen are there every day. One rides a bicycle and the other one walks, sometimes using a walking stick. We look forward to seeing each other and usually joke or tease each other. If they haven't seen me, they will ask the usual question, "Where have you been?" My reply often is that I had to run "really, really early" to accommodate my work schedule.
Sometimes women are self-conscious about what other people will think. Don't worry about them. You are doing this for you. Running is working out. Instead of being at the gym, you're out in nature.
Don't worry about your makeup and hair. I've seen women at the starting line of races with great hairdos and makeup, but most women don't bother much with these when they're running. When you are running or entering a race you are going to sweat. Your makeup is going to melt. So when you're running, don't worry about this aspect of your appearance. And for heaven's sake, don't let it stand in the way of your running. When you finish your run or race, you will have an incredible glow. Your facial coloring will be that of a person who got a great workout.
The Fifties: A Perfect Time to Start Running
Fifty is such a perfect age to start running because you don't have as many excuses.
Young mothers raising a family have an obligation to their families and also to themselves. Finding the time to work out can be challenging for them. Later in life, many women are in the "sandwich generation." They have children as well as elderly parents, and are responsible for some aspect of their care. But many women fifty and older are likely to be "empty nesters." If they have children at home, the children are probably old enough to care for themselves. This gives many women fifty and over an excellent opportunity to be able to run.
The number one reason that people tell me that they don't run is that they don't have the time. But we all do what we want to do when we want to do it! It's as simple as that. We prioritize.
You are about to embark on the most incredible "sweeping of your mind" experience through running. Running is going to help minimize your stress because it will help you clear your mind. Running is your time.
You will be cleaning the cobwebs out of your brain. You'll find yourself coming up with solutions to problems — both professional and personal — that you have had on your mind. Several times when I have been perplexed by a problem involving a client, as I'm running, something in my mind clicks. The solution to the problem becomes so obvious.
Change Your Attitude, Change Your Future
In the 1960s, Roberta Gibb and Kathrine Switzer paved the road for the rest of us to run competitively, if we choose to, even in the prestigious Boston Marathon. They refused to accept the commonly held belief that women were too "weak" to run.
When Roberta Gibb wrote to the Boston Athletic Association in 1966 for an application, she was turned down because women were not allowed to enter. That policy had been in place since the running of the first Boston Marathon in 1897. Undaunted, Gibb went to Boston anyway, riding a bus for four days from San Diego. She slipped into the race from behind some bushes near the start of the marathon and ran the race in 3:21:40.
Even before Gibb, a few women had run marathons. In 1896, a young woman named Melpomene supposedly ran the Greek Olympic course. However, there was very little glory given to these individuals.
In 1967, Kathrine Switzer entered the Boston Marathon. Switzer completed the registration form signing her name as K.V. Switzer so as to not identify herself as a woman. The weather was cold and sleeting the morning of the Boston Marathon, and no one noticed Switzer in her baggy sweat suit. She was two miles into the race before the press truck came by and realized K.V. Switzer was a woman. The media began taking pictures and the race codirector, Jock Semple, lost his temper and attacked Switzer, trying to rip off her race number. Switzer was running with her boyfriend Tom, who threw a shoulder into Semple.
Interestingly, unknown to Switzer, Roberta Gibb was also running the Boston Marathon that year; Switzer finished the marathon almost one hour ahead of Gibb.
Switzer was banned from running any future competitions. Why? Because women were supposed to be able to run no farther than 1 ½ miles! Even in 1967, they were to run with a "chaperone." Switzer's objective had been to run and finish her first marathon. The photos that flashed around the world showing her in the Boston Marathon represented a monumental breakthrough for women. Millions of people realized that women could run long distances.
In response to Switzer's achievement, Jock Semple changed the Boston Marathon application to say "Men Only." However, women ran the course without getting a race number, thereby not officially entering the race.
Women would not be able to officially enter the Boston Marathon until 1972. At that time, they had to have their own starting line and were scored separately from men. Women also had to be able to finish the race in 3:30 — what a difficult challenge! But on that hot day of the 1972 Boston Marathon, seven women started and finished the event. Nina Kuscski won in 3:10. She became the first woman to officially win the Boston Marathon.
By 1973, women would be able to concentrate on being athletes and finally realize that they would not be scorned for looking hot and sweaty but be applauded for their athletic ability. Considering the extraordinary efforts early female runners had to make to get "in the game," it's no wonder that many women did not have the confidence to run. But the challenges that women met and overcame proved irrefutably that they were not the "weaker" sex. Their bodies could withstand running far more than 1½ miles.
The Sky's the Limit!
Today, not only are there no gender restrictions for running the Boston Marathon, but age categories for runners have no limits either. Just check out a local running Web site on your computer and you will see categories for race results going as high as the age of the entrants. If someone eighty years or older enters a race, he or she will be acknowledged in that race category.
Although there are no rules that place an age restriction on running, fewer women age fifty and older enter races compared to other age categories. In 2006, my first Boston Marathon, 4 percent of the finishers were women fifty and older. Boston is the only marathon that you have to have a qualifying time to enter, so the percentage of women fifty and older finishing other marathons is higher because women who run, walk, or do a combination to finish the race will be counted.
You Can Do It!
But I don't want you to get ahead of yourself. At this point, don't be concerned with running a marathon. Less than 1 percent of all runners will ever complete a marathon. As a new runner, you are running purely for the joy and fun of it. If you decide to run a race (and I will encourage you to do so throughout this book), there are many lengths for races, ranging from one mile to the "ultramarathons." (Yes, there are races longer than a marathon!)
I'll never forget the look on my children's faces when their dad, whom they had just congratulated after seeing a new trophy on the kitchen table, told them to take a harder look at the trophy. It was a female runner with a ponytail. Mom's trophy. They were shocked! I was exhilarated! Your memories are there for the making. Yes, you can run!CHAPTER 2
My Life As a Nonathlete
I was the kid who was chosen last for team sports in grade school. You know how the "jocks" in the class get to be team captains? Well, in baseball I was the one who couldn't catch or hit the baseball. I was lucky to even be able to throw it. In the odd event that I did hit the ball, I ran at the speed of a turtle, afraid that I might get hit if the ball and I arrived at first base close to the same time. I was a shoe-in for last choice on anybody's team.
I was born in 1950 and attended high school from 1964 to 1968. There were no women's sports at that time. Of course, I tried out for cheerleader (didn't everyone?), but I didn't get selected. And like everyone else who didn't make it, I felt rejected and cried for days. So, I resolved to be involved in leadership roles and served as president of our class, a member of the student council and Pep Club, and anything else that I was offered at Friend High School in Friend, Nebraska. My graduation class size was twenty-seven, so everyone had to be involved in something.
Dating my husband-to-be confirmed the theory that opposites attract. For Richard, playing sports was natural. He liked to play tennis so I thought that I would impress him and take tennis lessons. All the lessons did was reinforce to me and anybody watching that I was not athletically inclined — to put it mildly. I spent more time running after the ball than actually playing tennis.
Perhaps golf? We joined a country club shortly after getting married. Nine holes would exhaust me because it took me so many shots to finish each hole. I even stopped taking practice swings. I figured that I "practiced" enough during all of my regular swings and more practicing wouldn't help an already bleak situation.
Then came racquetball. I played for fun. I enjoyed wearing the coordinated outfits, goggles, and gloves and looking like a racquetball player. How can I ever forget the time when Richard entered me into a coed tournament? He said they needed more women to enter. Anyway, it was just for "fun" and afterward everyone would go out for beer and pizza. My stomach went into a frenzy. I didn't sleep for nights, worrying about the tournament. The hour came. I was seeded against the best player. She didn't even take off her warm-ups. She just stood in the middle of the court and beat me 21 to 1. I can't remember the "fun" part of that tournament unless it was being eliminated immediately, so I could look forward to the party afterward.
Our first child, Kristine, was born soon after that, and our son, Andrew, almost four years after Kristine. I was completely satisfied to be a dedicated mom and cheer the kids on from the sidelines, no matter what their sport. For gymnastics, dance, swim team, baseball, basketball, soccer, or any neighborhood pickup game, I was there to be the official "cheerleader mom," fully equipped with the sliced oranges, fruit juices, wet washcloths and bandages, or whatever I thought would encourage them and reinforce the great accomplishment of their being involved in sports.
Years later, in July 2000, Richard and I were walking at a local track on a beautiful early evening with low humidity. We were rounding the curve and ready for the straightaway when I turned to him and said, "I'm going to try to run. My heart rate isn't increasing from just walking, so I'm going to do it — I'm going to try to run." I ran three laps. The next evening I ran five laps. I had amazed myself.
I was so excited right after my big three-lap run that I called Daniel, my older brother. I felt like I had run a mini-marathon. Daniel was encouraging. In fact, Daniel would become my trusted mentor as I transitioned into a runner.
For fifty years, I had been conditioned to believe that I could not succeed at athletics. I was always the spectator. What right did I have to think that I could be otherwise? I had failed in the "athletic ability" arena and believed that while others were naturally born to be athletic, I was not. What I didn't realize until that day at the track was that all that I had to do was to prove something to myself and to no one else.
It didn't matter how slowly I went, what my running style looked like, or how I compared with anyone else. It was just me and the only person that I needed to be accountable to was ME!
For fifty years, I had thought that I was supposed to compete against others to show my athletic ability, but I was wrong. The key was not others; it was me and understanding that accomplishments in life, regardless whether they are athletic or otherwise, have meaning only if you compete against yourself and become the best that you can become. No one can hurt you by passing judgment on you or holding you against another's standard unless you let them. The key is to push yourself and having ownership in your accomplishments.CHAPTER 3
In the Beginning and Forever: Daniel, My Brother
My older brother, Daniel, was my biggest fan when I was growing up. I remember vividly my first day of kindergarten when I was six and Daniel was sixteen. That morning before I left for school he looked at me with pride and astonishment. He couldn't believe that I was old enough to attend school.
How well I remember the day that he sent me a set of encyclopedias for my birthday. Another birthday brought the Reader's Digest Classic book sets. He was always encouraging me academically.
Excerpted from Fit After 50 by Ruth K. Wassinger. Copyright © 2008 Ruth Wassinger. Excerpted by permission of Addicus Books, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 Yes, You Can!,
2 My Life As a Nonathlete,
3 In the Beginning and Forever: Daniel, My Brother,
4 Why I Run and Why You Should, Too,
5 Step 1: Finding Your Catalyst,
6 Step 2: Get an Attitude,
7 Step 3: Know What You Need to Run,
8 Step 4: Decide What Constitutes Winning,
9 Step 5: Start to Run, Plan to Race,
10 Step 6: Know How to Choose Your Races,
11 Step 7: Get in the Game,
12 Step 8: Understand Watches,
13 Step 9: Handle the Hurdles,
14 Reaping the Rewards: Trophies Aren't Everything,
15 When the Race Chooses You,
About the Author,