Step 1: Tried compression. There are days when using compression calf sleeves felt great, but there were as much days when a few minutes would make the run unbearable. Again, “it” was not a pain or injury, but a heaviness that forced my stride to be even less than a foot apart. One Sunday, having a mindset to do 21K, I used my old reliable body tape (on calves, shins, knees and quads). Although the body taping helped me overcome fatigue in the second half, I still clocked in a terrible 2:47. No matter how poor my math is, this 21K marathon-predictor says I will finish MORE than 6 hours.
Step 2: ..and the rest of RICE: Rest, Ice and Elevation. More rest days (and I mean NO RUNNING) didn’t make me run faster but helped me coped with running longer. I’m not even sure if these other factors (icing, elevation) had any impact but getting slower motivates you to practice negative splits as often as possible.
Step 3: Warm therapy, not cold. Since I was neither “injured” nor in pain and nothing was swelling, for the first time, I tried using the traditional warm compress over my legs and thighs at nights. As expected the heaviness in my calves gradually dissipated and this made the runs more bearable, but not faster.
Step 4: Got a thorough medical check-up. The bad thing about being 55 is having to theorize often that age could be the reason for anything. The good thing about being 55 is not having to talk much about what’s going wrong with you during a medical consultation. But I had plenty to say, even if this time, I decided to just play patient for once.
Diagnosis: High cholesterol (that can be easily controlled with low-dose statins); no other co-morbidity as I was neither diabetic or hypertensive. I also tested negative in my thyroid parameters and I got the optometrist changing my contact lens grade.
Other than this, I seem to be a healthy and fit 55, whose running pace has slowed by 1 minute per kilometer. No offense meant to slow runners, but I think you would also panic in disbelief to realize that a full marathon would now take you more than 6 hours to complete, instead of 5 hours (or a little earlier) that you had been used to for the past 5 years.
I also tested the idea that being on months of statins (the drug of choice for dyslipidemia) could have produced some heaviness on my legs. Conflicting literature show myopathy-induced symptoms with people on statins, so I wrestled with my doctor to allow me to get off my low-dose rosuvastatin for 2 weeks. Surprisingly, my pace improved significantly as I was already managing 10K at 1hour; 15minutes.
And because I didn’t want to be an irresponsible fool, I immediately increased intake of cholesterol-lowering foods like oats and pineapple.
Step 5: Watch the weight-gain! Age creeps in into your mid-section and packs the fats there, especially if you’re a woman. You can’t kid yourself when the jeans don’t fit or the tank top produces bunches of you everywhere. But when the added pounds negatively affects your running, it’s time to stop widowing my workouts and food intake — and start recording things again, for better planning.
I know I must have been also gaining due to lack of exercise (or lack of intensity) that my body was accustomed to getting. So even if I started to watch my diet and bring back my fruits and veggies, I motivated myself to work harder and longer.
Step 6: Is your treadmill changing your stride? Research show debatable sides on whether treadmill running shortens or lengthens the stride. Since I’m mostly used to road-running for years (guesstimate 95% of the time) when I got super-busy and couldn’t kick of an early day, resorting to the treadmill became weeks and months of denial. It was only when I finally got back on the road that I knew my strides couldn’t open the way they used to and this significantly contributed to the huge decline in speed and mileage.
Step 7: Age and hormonal changes. This abstract from Runners World is both intimidating and scary for runners in my age group: The reasons for this decline are mixed and not terribly well-understood from a basic physiological level. What is known is that age lowers VO2 max and decreases muscle mass. Accumulated wear and tear makes you less flexible. All forms of healing take longer, including recovery from hard workouts, something you can’t ignore unless you want to spiral into an endless cycle of overtraining and injury. (http://www.runnersworld.com/masters/mastering-running-as-you-age)
My obstetrician also agrees that this menopausal stage I am in, may be causing factors of declining running performance that I have not seen in recent years: excessive sweating, slower recovery and weight gain. All because of lower estrogen levels. Never have I, in my 6 years of active lifetsyle, wished I was male till now. Hormonal-replacement therapy could be an option but I might as well accept that my faster times could already be behind me.
HELP comes from within. Last of the series: Change is inevitable.