A treatise on Just Do It. Now. Because later you’re gonna need this.
I was clearing out the seeding weeds long the animal path when my down-the-hill-from-me next door neighbor came out with Roxy, their German Shepherd. We were exclaiming about how dry the grass was, now that it was cut, and how huge her blackberry bushes were. She’s been hinting at me to help with theirs.
I’ll call her Laura. Laura drives to work early. The How on Earth was referring to the fact that I run up Timberline Road, which is witch-steep. Run. Not hike. Not fast, but I run it. Greentree Way, my street, is about twice as steep. Bitch-steep. She sees me out there chugging uphill.
Sometimes people park on lower Timberline just to run it, it’s that hard, and that serious a run. It’s a lung-buster if you’re not used to it.
“I can’t do that,” she said again.
I grinned at her. Not mockingly. You gotta start somewhere.
How I do that is simple.
I’ve been running since I was a kid. Never fast, although I did compete for a while until I got my butt kicked by a whippet-fast girl named Valerie. You gotta know when you’re done. I was done competing, but not done running.
In 1971 or so, memory fails me, I had a severed Achille’s tendon. I was a five- pack-a-day smoker. My mother’s doctor, Willy Steel, made two pronouncements:
“You’ll smoke the rest of your life.” and
“You’ll always limp.”
I have him to thank for rebooting my boots on the ground. That was the day he took the cast off my right leg. The next day, that peg a thin, white ghost of its former self, my lungs tarred from smoking, I dragged my 19-year-old butt to what was then Westwood Junior High School where I’d been a student. They had a track.
I forced myself around it several times, coughing and vomiting, my right leg screaming in agony.
The next day I did it again.
And the next day. The next.
I’d already thrown all my cigarettes away. Never looked back. That track was where the storied Valerie had whipped my ass just a few years prior. Now I was whipping it back into shape.
Never limped, either. Not once I got around that track for the first time without screaming in pain, making that tendon do the work to knit itself and learn to stretch again.
Willy Steel MD probably died of lung cancer. I won’t. Or more fairly, it sure won’t be from smoking.
I’ve been obese. Never quit running. Anorexic, never quit running. Took breaks to hike or bike, but never quit exercising. Got my eating disorders solved. Never quit running.
Fast forward to 2011. I developed knee pain. Long, long, story short, I had knee surgery. My VA surgeon, a white guy in his sixties, told me:
“You should be happy with an 80% knee.”
When I woke up from anesthesia, the very first thing I did was drag myself out of my hospital bed, grab my IV tower and start doing slow, painful laps around my hospital floor.
Several months later I started running stairs at Red Rocks, long a favorite of locals for exercising.
Eighteen months later, I took a photo, sent it to my surgeon. I was standing on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. The note I sent him:
“This is what an 80% knee looks like.”
Within seven months after Kili I had also done Macchu Picchu and the Everest Base Camp. Never looked back. Never slowed down since, either.
I would continue to run those stairs, 2600 to 3600 at a time, rain or shine, snow or sleet, hot or cold, month after month, at 6200 feet.
Last year I trained myself to run trails, because I had seriously injured my knee in Ethiopia and was way too scared of falling. This time last year, just before my house sold, I was running the mountain biking trails near my old house since Red Rocks had been shut down during the pandemic. Running on the rocks, which scares me stupid, right about the same time most folks are telling me to slow down, take it easy. You’re getting older.
Yup. Sure am. What’s your point?
For years, I would face the long, steep walkway that we had to climb to get to the Red Rocks stairs on the south side. I envied those folks who could run it. At some level I guess I’d decided that I couldn’t do that. Funny how what we decide we can or can’t do has so much to do with our reality.
Yet here we are today.
When I finished my run this morning, I also ran the extremely steep blocks to my driveway. While it’s not quite as long, it’s steeper. To be fair, I also have a lot more oxygen here at 300 feet.
Look. My neighbor’s aging Chihuahua can walk faster than I can run up that hill. Does it matter? No.
I ran it.
Lest you think this is some kind of brag fest, please. I WANT my neighbor to get out and run. I want YOU to move. Here’s why:
From the article:
Percent of non-institutionalized persons with obesity (2015–2018)
- Men aged 65–74: 41.9%
- Men aged 75 and over: 31.8%
- Women aged 65–74: 45.9%
- Women aged 75 and over: 36.1%
Percent of non-institutionalized persons with hypertension (measured high blood pressure and/or taking anti-hypertensive medication) (2015–2018)
- Men aged 65–74: 66.7%
- Men aged 75 and over: 81.5%
- Women aged 65–74: 74.3%
- Women aged 75 and over: 86.0%
Leading causes of death among persons aged 65 and over
- Heart disease
- Chronic lower respiratory disease
These stats do not take into account anything concerning Covid, which is a whole other issue, especially long Covid, which brutally affected those who were already unhealthy, as above.
These stats also don’t explore the fact that so many women (and men) my age are taking too many prescriptions, suffer from polypharmacy, and all the side effects of over-medication and combining prescriptions with common Over the Counter drugs. Our problems are far more likely to be lack of exercise, bad food and a slew of other bad habits. All fully within our grasp. That isn’t to say don’t take meds for your health. It does say start doing things which may well pay off in your not needing the meds in the first place because the improvements you get from moving and eating better clear up so many lifestyle diseases.
To that, in my own family: my last surviving aunt, in her early nineties, was on multiple medications. She was morbidly obese. She dropped more than one hundred pounds, got herself off all the medications and was able to swim again. She died of natural causes, but enjoyed her final years in far greater health than the previous twenty. It’s not easy but it’s possible. That’s not luck. That was hard work.
Nothing “lucky” about taking your health in hand and managing it like you would a complex corporation.
Because it IS a big business, the only business that really matters for your entire existence. If you are body-bankrupt at 65 or so, chances are very good that a fair bit of it could be self-inflicted.
Is that blame? No. It ‘s an invitation. DO something about it. Unless you are in your deathbed full of tubes, you can indeed do something about it. So can my neighbor. The habits you put in place right now pay off for life. While you can indeed change your direction at any point, the earlier you and I start, the more fitness investment in the bank that pays off as we age and really, truly need it.
Your health is a whole body enterprise: mind, body, spirit, intellect. All of it. If there is a bigger business for us to manage in our lifetimes I have one hell of a hard time figuring out what is. Work on it. Challenge it. Improve it.
You are in one race and one race only: against yourself. To that,
I have an aging body, and if I have any say about it at all, and I do, there is no way I am going to end up in the statistics, above. Beating someone else isn’t the point. Beating the odds IS the point.
I’m not lucky. Not at all.
Luck has nothing to do with it. Sweat, tears, blood, pain, loss, dedication, discipline, and never ever ever EVER letting some doctor or anyone else dictate to me what I can or cannot do.
Our general health later in life is about 75% in our hands, the rest up to accidents, genes, our general stupidity and the like.
I like those odds. So to my neighbor, and to those who simply love to bark at me that I’m so lucky, here’s my response:
How can you NOT do that when you’re half my age? How can we choose to not care for our bodies, find ways to move that give us joy, eat like we give a damn about our heart, organs and our skin?
How can you NOT?
See you on Timberline tomorrow morning.