BY CHRISTINE BLANCHETTE
Many observers – athletes and couch potatoes alike – long ago concluded that runners like me are just a bit, uh, unique. How can anyone enjoy running for an hour in the middle of a monsoon? How much fun can it be pushing yourself to exhaustion in a half-marathon. And let’s not forget the blisters, missing toenails and shin splints.
Woo hoo! If that isn’t fun, what is?
But I really do get joy from running. Whether it’s simply another addiction for an obsessive-compulsive or the pure enjoyment I get touring scenic splendor on foot, running has become a cornerstone of my lifestyle. And I’m not alone. Running is about socializing at races or in coffee shops. It eventually brought me confidence, allowed me occasional indulgence (“I’ll run it off tomorrow!”) and even provided an endorphin rush that makes it difficult to run away from.
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When it’s over, though, it can feel like losing a best friend, the one who’s always balancing body and mind. Telling a runner like me to ride the bike or lift weights is like telling Lady Gaga, “You’re very good! Can you sing country, too?” Unlike Lady Gaga, runners need to adapt when they become injured. For the dedicated runner, withdrawal symptoms happen after a couple of days. Voila – enter a grumpy, edgy person with a stretching compulsion.
There are, however, other ways to emulate running, starting with the elliptical machine. It allows runners to mimic the motion with no impact. Unfortunately, no fresh air, no scenery and no vitamin D is also part of the package. Think of the elliptical as the electronic vapor cigarette of workout machine.
Lynn Kanuka ran her way through the pool to the podium in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, winning an Olympic bronze medal in the 1,500 meters despite suffering a stress fracture while training.
“I trained super hard in the water, doing the exact workouts I would have done on land,” Kanuka told me recently. “For example, 10-by-400 on land would equate to basically 10-by-1-minute efforts in the water, with a 1 minute recovery (half what it would have been on land because with the water pressure your heart rate does not rise up as high, and the recovery is quicker).”
Dr. Doug Clement, an 80-year-old former Olympian, found a way to stay fit despite a knee replacement in 2006.
“I was told not to run as this would wear out the hardware,” Clement told me. “I had run most of my life but, surprisingly, I was able to adapt to cycling, power walking, Concept 2 rowing ergometer and weight training with no difficulty.”
How fit is Clement? “Now, as I approach 81 years this July, I was able to power walk the 10-kilometer Vancouver Sun Run in 80 minutes, 44 seconds and still finish in the field of 45,000,” he said.
Invest in a bike and try the same routes that you used to run. Instead of hitting the trails you will be riding and covering a lot more ground. Join a bike club and meet new friends to go on long rides. In the winter, try cross-country skiing or snowshoeing, both low-impact sports.
Whichever activities you choose, you’ll be able to stay in shape so you can hit the road or trails again when the injury heels. And you’ll reap the same benefits you received from running.
First of two posts. Tomorrow Seattle Times sports editor Don Shelton, a lifelong runner, writes about trying to stay in shape after arthritis brought ended his running days.
Christine Blanchette is an avid runner and freelance writer who lives in Burnaby, B.C. Follow her blog at christineruns.com.
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