by Claudia Murphy
I’ve been struggling lately with my exercise routine. In the last couple of years belonging to a fitness group has helped me to avoid a pit of depression, so I have been feeling perplexed that what seemed like a lifeline has now become quite a challenge. Even if I can get myself to show up, I don’t enjoy it or even enjoy having done it.
I am 65 and have been working out with a group of long distance runners for a couple of years. They are a great group of people. They have been very kind and accepting– downright encouraging. Even at my bluest, there is something amazing about high intensity workouts at 5:30 am with positive and affirming people.
But in the last few months, I have been facing motivation issues. There could be several reasons.
First, I have been dealing with a chronic and persistent pain in my left hip. I have pursued multiple diagnosis and treatment options, including orthopedics (MRI, cortisone shot), physical therapy, massage, chiropractic therapy and acupuncture. The consensus seems to be that my left hip and adjacent areas need strengthening. But in the meantime, running, walking, and yoga, and even sitting all hurt. It is easy to feel discouraged.
Second, internalized ageism has become a significant force in my mind. I am one of the oldest in my fitness group. Still quite competitive, I often feel as if I’m losing. I can’t run as fast as I used to run. I can’t run as fast as most of the younger people in the group. I haven’t yet figured out the antidote to this aspect of aging.
Third, I’ve been fighting a giant battle against oppression in the workplace. Here, I’ve had to be very deliberate in guarding against internalized sexism and ageism. I have had to consciously remember my own significance and value. I have had to repeatedly decide to quash the oppressive thinking. My vigilance has been focused on this fight.
In the middle of all of this, without awareness, negative self-talk crept into my exercise time. I found myself thinking “you are too old, you look ridiculous, you are embarrassingly slow.” And these thoughts seemed true at the time, even justified. I looked for evidence to support them. Is it any wonder that my routines became less fun, less satisfying?
I’ve had to become more vigilant about this self-talk. I can be my own coach. I can replace my own negative feedback with something more positive. I find it helps to aim for messages that are somewhat neutral while still being encouraging. My mind revolts against “you are the best” But “go Claudia” or “you can do it!” work pretty well.
I recently tried this strategy in a 10K race, with some mixed results to be honest. I had signed up to run as a member of a relay team in the 2017 Fargo Marathon. About a month before the race, we discovered that the legs of the relay were not very even. One team member would have been required to run 8.5 miles. None of the team members wanted to run that far. So we decided to switch our registrations to the 10K. Even this decision felt like a bit of cop out. Last year I had run a half-marathon at this time. While it is true that I had only been able to do so with the help of a cortisone shot, I still struggled to feel OK about running a 10K.
The night before the race I was still struggling with feeling positive about running. My husband held out the perspective for me by reminding me that not that many women my age could run a 10K. He also agreed to drive me to the race and to cheer me on. The day of the race the weather was perfect. It was cool and clear. We arrived early enough to witness the start of the race for both the marathon runners and the half marathon runners.
I had a good start and ran well. I kept my mantra forefront in my mind—“go Claudia.” Since we shared the route with either the marathon runners or the half marathon runners, there were people out cheering us on for most of the route. There was music blasting or bands playing, even though it was quite early morning. I had two young women tap me on the back as they passed me by telling me that I was doing well for someone so old. (BTW this is not a very helpful way to support an older runner.)
I finished in 1:12:09, 8th in my age group of women 65-69, 37 of us running the race. I was staffing a women’s leadership development conference that weekend and decided to wear my hoodie and medal throughout the day to force myself to celebrate my achievement.
Ageism is nasty. But it helps if I do not participate in my own oppression. This is an ongoing battle for me. I would like to be able to be my own best supporter. What strategies work for you?
Claudia Murphy is a philosopher who is semi retired but still teaching part time at Minnesota Technical and Community Colleges. She is also likes to run, bike, garden, cook and knit.