Signs of Decay

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This is a treacherous territory that I’m about to venture into, and I know that.

There are hazards galore. Self-pity, hypochondria, grumpy old man-ism.

Furthermore there is no redemptive story yet. I have not overcome but am only in the early stages of trying to overcome a minor and rather undramatic challenge. The ending is but a guess at this point.

So let’s get into it.

The saga of this old milk fed cardiologist trying to run continues.

As you may recall I started the year with an ambitious goal to run every single day.

Within two months my ambition was exposed as foolish when I developed a stress fracture in my midfoot and was sidelined for a couple of months.

60 days later, chastened, and eager to restart, I began a new plan which involved running every other day and hill walking on off days.

Once again I settled into the rhythm of daily exercise and begin to think of myself as “a runner.” But within two weeks I began to develop shinsplints in my left ankle.


My kind of self help book…

Having learned nothing from my prior experience with my stress fracture, the obvious solution was to just push through the pain and keep on running. And within a few days of this approach my left ankle blew up like a balloon making it incredibly difficult to walk even short distances in my daily life.

Once again I was sidelined.

Three weeks later my ankle is just starting to recover.

So let me delve into the lessons that I am just starting to learn from this latest chapter of the world’s most uninspiring athletic journey.

Lesson 1: “no pain no gain” doesn’t work anymore.

I seem to have crossed some invisible barrier where my body has become less resilient.

When I was younger the only thing that stopped me from becoming more fit was my own laziness.

But now, as I’ve become more patient and more willing to accept small doses of pain doled out over long periods of time, I am finding that pain now means something else entirely.

Whereas pain used to be my body’s way of telling me, “you are lazy.” Now pain seems to be my body’s way of telling me, “you’re doing it wrong, and you are damaging me.”

Lesson 2: Youth is wasted on the young.

When I was younger that old saw just sounded so lame.

What I heard when older people would gripe about youth being wasted on the young people was basically just “wah, wah, waaaah.”

But now I realize the truth of that statement, and it has to do with time, and the perception of time.

When I was younger I had no patience. I didn’t really believe in the possibility of people changing, because I was completely insensitive to the potential of slow incremental changes over long periods.

What did not happen in a day or two did not seem real, possibly because I hadn’t yet experienced enough fleeting triumphs, or shortlived tragedies.

But now I’ve seen some really bad days that have turned good, and vice versa, so I am more attuned to the idea that what I am experiencing now is fleeting. This realization  has opened me up to the possibility that small changes repeated overtime can have big effects.

Compound interest, as an example, makes sense to me in a way that it never did in my 20’s. Even though I still can’t experience compound interest in my daily life, I have enough faith in the exponential power of small gains over time that I am now open to the possibility of its power despite it’s seeming invisibility.

How cruel then that in this moment in my life when I am becoming more sensitive to the power of small changes over time, my body begins to reject repeated small bits of pounding over time!

Lesson 3: Shit! I’m Mortal!

This one has to sound overblown at first glance.

After all this reflection comes from nothing more than a soft tissue injury of my ankle.

We’re not talking pancreatic cancer.

But hear me out anyway.

The fact is that something has changed in my body. I’ve experienced two hobbling injuries within a couple months as a result of some pretty minor exercise.

I didn’t attempt to run a marathon. I didn’t try to hike the Pacific Coast Trail. There was certainly no Ironman attempt on my part.

But there I was hobbling around on a swollen left “cankle,” and it wasn’t (literally or figuratively) pretty.

I felt as if I was on the down slope of my life for the first time. The accuracy of this observation is open for debate, but the feeling was a real one.

My body had acted in an unexpected and disappointing way to a minor challenge. And on a deep and existential level it felt as if I had been given the first small taste of my own inevitable decay. It felt like a betrayal.

Lesson 4: The canary in the coal mine.

There is another side to the coin of this whole decay angle however.

Much like a canary in the coal mine, this minor pesky injury has the potential to ward off bigger dangers, more serious injuries, and immobility as an old man.

To extend the metaphor if you are a coalminer and your canary falls over dead, it’s time to get back to ground level. And if you are a 41-year-old cardiologist who injures yourself twice with recreational running,  the lesson is clear: it’s time to start working on your own mobility.

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Perhaps I should stop heel striking you say?

The only thing I can assume, and I may be wrong, is that I’ve been running with really poor mechanics.

When I was younger I didn’t injure myself running simply because my tissues were more resilient to injury. But the “benefit” of aging is that I am now able to feel the slow grinding that my poor technique has been subjecting my joints too.

So now I will start working every day to learn how to run right.

At the suggestion of my friend Brad Barrett I picked up the book “Ready To Run” by Kelly Starrett.

And I am now starting to work 10 minutes every day on things like hip mobility, ankle range of motion, posture, hydration, and flexibility.

The lesson that I have learned, (and I which can only hope that is it is the right one at this point) is not that I should stop running. It is that I should work on my running technique to make it more sustainable and less destructive to my body.

For now I am once again hill walking every night and working diligently on my own mobility. But at some point when I feel I have made significant progress, I will start running again in order to see where I am in the process.  Running has changed from a goal in and of itself, to a tool that I can use to measure my own progress.

I hope that the byproduct of this will change in focus will be greater health, mobility, and vitality going forward as I age.

And this is really all that I can hope for. Trying to avoid getting old is never a smart strategy. But trying to learn how to age better is not a story of decay at all.

It has the potential to be a story of growth.

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3 Responses to “Signs of Decay”

  1. mohammad June 7, 2015 at 10:49 am #

    Awesome that you are sticking to it and awesome that you are working through your failures. I mean maybe I shouldn’t call them failures but to me failures are great, it’s how I learn.

  2. Rochelle August 9, 2015 at 6:04 am #

    Alexi, I clicked over to read about the reconsideration process from our miles class and found your post. I started running in February of this year at the age of 55. I started with Couch to 5K and injured my unprepared body with too much, too fast. I went back and, like you, researched a better way to start including specific exercises for knees, glutes, core and IT band. I ran my first 5K on July 4 and finished with a better time than I planned. I’m still not fast, but I’m working toward a 10K now. I can tell you that one of the most important things you can do is to be fitted for running shoes by a professional at a reputable running store. Do not skip this step! Have fun. Enjoy the process. I wish I had started at the age you are.

    • Miles Dividend M.D. September 3, 2015 at 11:32 am #

      Thanks Rochelle,

      I did get fitted for shoes ata reputable running store. I think I just have some hip issues that need attention. I’m loving hill walking after dinner each night for now!

      Good luck with your running!


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