by Elayne Freeman
For the past four decades, exercise has been my steadfast partner; over the years we’ve both changed. In my twenties and thirties, jogging was my passion. It most easily fit into my days of parenting and work. When my children were young, I could get up early, meet a few friends, talk and jog, pick up a coffee and return home before anyone was awake. It all took about an hour, required little to no equipment and was wonderfully social. For me, those early morning runs were more about elevating my headspace than controlling my body weight. It just so happened they did both.
A young mother once asked me, “Do you ever NOT feel like getting up in the morning and going for a run?” to which I replied, “Every Single Day.” But that never stopped me and I never regretted a run, once it was done. Somehow that motivated her to give it a go.
The summer that I turned forty, I decided I wanted to run a marathon. I’d been a casual runner for years, completed a few 10k’s but nothing more. That August, my aunt, a veteran of many Boston Marathons, came to our cottage for a visit. On Saturday, we ran for 12 miles; I felt fine. On Sunday, we ran for 16 miles; again, I felt fine.
The Toronto marathon was less than a month away. I registered, but did nothing more than my regular runs of 5 to 10 km, 5 or 6 times a week. I vividly recall my nervous excitement the morning of the Toronto Marathon. One of my jogging buddies joined me for the first 6 miles. My husband and daughters spotted and waved at me along the way and were there when I crossed the finish line. My 9 year old, asked me, “Mommy, did you win?” My time was not stellar, but I had finished the course and that, I told her, had made me a winner. The emotional high of completing my first marathon was almost the same as what I’d felt after giving birth for the first time. Both accomplishments were very concrete: with a beginning, middle and end. Both were physically and mentally demanding. Both evoked and relied upon the support and encouragement of family and friends.
Two years later, I ran the New York Marathon. This round, I trained a bit more consciously and may have made better time. But honestly, I don’t recall. Speed was never my goal. Finishing was. After those two marathons, my goal changed. I decided I wanted to run another 26 years, not another 26 miles.
In the two and a half decades since, I’ve continued to enjoy my frequent, short runs. For variety, I’ve included aerobics, weight training, biking, spinning, yoga, rowing, Pilates, downhill and cross country skiing, snow shoeing, and even snowboarding. I’ve never had issues with my knees or hips, however, I was diagnosed with osteopenia – not unusual for someone “white, slight and female.” That put an end, only, to my brief and somewhat brutal snowboarding career.
In 2008, I committed to a 100 km bike ride and to raise funds for Baycrest, an academic health centre with a focus on geriatric care and diseases of the brain. This deeply resonated with me as my father had suffered from Lewy Body Dementia, a ruthless form of Alzheimer’s disease that erases cognitive ability, emotional stability and physical agility. The ride was challenging but paled in comparison to running a marathon.
Around this time, I noticed a change in my bones. Between the ages of 57 and 59, I broke 10 of them. When I stubbed my toe, it broke. When I missed a stair, I fell and fractured three bones in my ankle. It took two surgeries to stabilize my ankle, left me with a 6-inch rod running up my left leg and I spent three months in a cast. Needless to say, this curtailed my regular exercise regime profoundly. The one activity I could continue was Pilates. I had already been training at a specialized restorative studio and they taught how to effectively use crutches, how to strengthen my arms, how to improve my balance and once my cast was removed, how to restore the strength to my ankle and leg. Just going to these sessions, five days a week, allowed me to continue my daily physical routine and to feel in more in control. My osteopenia was reclassified as osteoporosis and I started treatment to strengthen my bones.
This injury forced me to slow down. It made me to realize that the ability to walk and to run is a gift – a true miracle of human engineering, something not to be taken for granted. The power of the body to heal itself is equally astounding. It took a couple of years before I was able to resume running. That didn’t stop me from walking, weight training, yoga, spinning and Pilates. Today, my ankle is stronger than ever – I can stand in high heals longer now than before my fracture. And once again, I’m back to jogging 40-60 minutes a few times a week.
Since 2013, the Barrie to Baycrest Bike ride has become my primary annual endurance and fundraising challenge. I train hard at spin classes during the year and on the rugged terrain at our cottage in the summer. I’m one of the oldest riders but feel as fit and strong as I did years ago. I’m also proud to have to have raised thousands of dollars for Baycrest’s Brain Research and therapeutic and wellness programs for seniors.
Both long distance running and riding have taught me many lessons in life:
· It’s a nicer journey when the sun is shining.
· Although it’s wonderful to have a friend by your side, the path you take is your own.
· Along the road there are lots of potholes, flat plains and steep hills.
· The downs go by in a blink; the ups seem to last forever.
· Don’t look too far ahead. If you take one step, one pedal or one day at a time, the road ahead takes care of itself.
· When you face the toughest climb and can’t gear down anymore, the extra push comes from within.
· Whatever point you’re at, remember, “This too will pass.”
Exercise continues to be my steady partner. Although it may not allow me to live any longer, it has allowed me to live better. It’s the soundtrack to my journey and one that I plan to keep on playing.
Following a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science, I worked as a librarian until our first child was born. During my years as a stay at home mom, I studied typography and design at the Ontario College of Art. This morphed into a 30 year career as a graphic designer Today, mostly retired, I’m a proud mother of 2 wonderful and accomplished daughters and a devoted nana to a 3 year old grandson and 10 month old granddaughter.