Pain is not always weakness leaving the body

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If there’s one thing I truly miss at this point in life, it’s running. When I see people jogging down the street, I’m so envious. I used to run every day, sometimes twice. Now, I run only in my dreams.

Following many years of running-related injuries, the collapse of the arch bones in my left foot was the death knell for my running days. After two months of being unable to walk without a boot cast and four months of physical therapy, my podiatrist laid it out: You’re never going to run again. Deal with it.

Thus began my zero-impact life, and it was fully another three months before I had a milestone achievement of walking around the block without pain. That foot injury was the most severe in my cycle of injury-weight gain-injury-weight gain.

Add into this the random achy joints and tight ligaments that come along with turning 50, and it’s a cocktail of increasing challenge when it comes to exercise. You have to get creative. And be flexible. Literally. Yoga is my new friend.

For folks who hate exercising, chronic injury would be welcomed as a free pass to just ride around on one of those stupid little scooters for the rest of their lives. But I’m one of those freaks who ranks exercise right up there with sex. Exercise is joy. It’s freedom. And the harder and sweatier the better.

So, when a little health club opened here in Winters, I was elated because suddenly I had access to some low-impact cardio equipment after a year’s worth of nothing but walking and yoga. When Anytime Fitness opened, I was there on Day One.

It’s a great little no-frills place. I like having a key fob and 24-hour unfettered access. I can come and go without interacting with anyone. When it comes to working out, I’m a total misanthrope. I don’t like to chat or work out with friends. Exercise isn’t a social activity to me. It’s a moving meditation, and I prefer solitude.

So, all in all, Anytime is perfect for me. I hate their slogan, however: “No more excuses.” I don’t like the preconception that exercise is drudgery and torture, and you must force yourself to do it. For me, a day without exercise, even if it’s just walking, is a miserable day indeed.

It’s a travesty that the dislike of exercise is instilled in childhood, when running laps is often used as punishment. What a horrible message to give children! If anything, running should be a reward: “Yay! Everybody who got an A on their spelling tests gets to run across the field and holler and shout and be free! First one back gets a gold star!”

If exercise was approached as a reward at school, it’d take a bite out of childhood (and eventual adulthood) obesity. Kids would learn that moving your body is joyful. And, side bonus, teachers: Letting kids out to run would burn off some energy, and students would be calmer and more able to sit in their seats and study afterwards. It’d be particularly beneficial for ADHD kids.

Maybe take it one step (ha ha, me funny) further: “Hey kids! Everybody gets to run across the field and holler and shout, and if you got an A, you get to do it twice!” Trust me (and I know this because I raised an ADHD child), you do this and your ADHD kids will become the best spellers in class.

Ah, if only I liked other people’s children more. I would’ve made such a great teacher.

Anyway, back to the gym.

Being the exercise beast that I am, and on the heels (ha ha, me super funny) of a year of low-impact limitation, on the first day Anytime opened, I hopped right onto an elliptical and charged off on a 30 minute stretch. OMG, usually you have to get the sheets messy to feel that good. That said, the elliptical had a stationary pitch I wasn’t used to, but it didn’t hurt my foot, so I kept going.

But the next day, my knee felt tender. Like any good exercise beast, I came back the next day and got right back on the elliptical, and my knee felt worse. So, I did it again the next day, because it’s painted right there on the gym wall:  Pain is the sign of weakness leaving the body.

Or not.

Turns out, after you hit about 45, pain while exercising means only one thing: Stop. This was explained to me while getting two more months of physical therapy for the knee tendonitis I gave myself that my first week at the gym

OK, body, I get it. It’s a new game now. You’re calling the shots.

I finally got it through my thick head that when you hit midlife, if you feel the pain and do it anyway, you’ll trigger the injury-weight gain-injury cycle, and injury, my exercise-lovin’ friends, is your worst enemy.

So, while others at our new gym focused on weight loss or strength-building, I had only one fitness goal: One whole year with no injuries. And I did it! As of this month, it’s the first injury-free year I’ve had in years. Now, little by little, I push a little harder, a little longer, ever so carefully, mindful of any body part that bends and treating them like glass.

Pain = Stop. I get it now.

But who knows — if I’m super careful, and patient (not my biggest virtue), maybe, just maybe, I could run down the block someday. And maybe, just maybe, I could do it again the next day, but five sidewalk squares further. And maybe the next day, to the light post.

Baby steps, literally. But only if there’s no pain.

— Email Debra at; read more of her work at, and

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