Body Of A God

I’m nearly 54 and I’m still punishing myself with exercise. When will I accept that I can’t have a young person’s body any more? 

A fat Buddha statue

I’M JUST BACK from a run and in some trouble.

We’re talking pain.

We’re also talking regret here, but mainly we’re talking PAIN!!!!!!!

There’s discomfort in the hip and groin, a bit of a twinge in the right buttock *

But in the right lower back, and the right knee, it’s Bare-Feet-On-Hot-Sand-Level torture – only without the option of picking your feet up and hop/running away.

I am bearing up nobly, however, and currently fighting my symptoms with nowt but a hot water bottle pressed against my back – while reserving the right to deploy one or all of: Nurofen, ice pack, hot bath, aspirin, analgesic gel or heroin, should I deem them necessary.

Right now, I think it could be some time before I return to normal life.

A few minutes ago, I had to climb up on onto a chair to rescue a bee about to trap itself in a life-threatening nook in our conservatory.

And when the brainless insect proved resistant to being saved, some of the agony-induced names I called it were, in truth, un-bee-coming. 

Of course, I’ve got no-one to blame for my suffering but myself: I set off with the aim of running at least three miles, and five at the most.

It was hot, my various hurty bits hurt, and I was uncomfortable after 5kms, so I should have thrown in the towel then.

But I wasn’t having that. I struggled – just – to four miles, pushed on to five and then kind of… watched myself still running, almost like an Out Of Body Experience.

Up to six, then six-and-a-half miles, and a little bit more on top. Despite the yowls of protest from divers body parts. Despite knowing that it was going to hurt like Hades for the best part of a week afterwards.

So why did I do it? I knew I was in danger of injuring myself and, afterwards, I didn’t feel elated but barely satisfied.

If you asked me why I run in general, I would say: ‘For my mental health.’

Running makes me feel better about myself and has pulled me back from at least a couple of brinks.

But, I have to admit, there’s a dark side to my running, too. I have to accept that I don’t just run for mental health reasons…

I know this because the most important measure on my Strava display isn’t miles or kms, or speed per mile, or even time spent running. The most important measure is Calories.

Calories is the first thing I look for because Calories Burned = Slim. And Slim = Young Looking.

So I run too far because I am trying to hold back time. To have some control – a brake of sorts – on the ageing process.

Because I don’t have much hair, I want to have a young person’s body, at least, and I discount the combined effects of almost 54 years of wear and tear on my frame.

I disregard middle-age spread, and shortening hip muscles, and years and years of beer and crisps and pretend that they don’t affect me. 

And so I push myself places I know I shouldn’t really go; I do six miles rather than three or five and I’m still not satisfied with it afterwards. All because I’m terrified of getting old.

And yet the signs of my ageing are everywhere, including my Strava Feed.

Thanks to the App I know that, when I was younger, I ran further than I do now and that the general direction of my performance graph is down.

Since I injured my knee in February, I am running slower. I am also running shorter distances, but they hurt me more and my body feels constantly like it is ready to break down on me, perhaps forever.

So how am I going to accept getting older and start acting my age?

After all, if I last for another year I will be the longest-lived of my family in two generations, as both my Mum and my Dad were gone by the age of 54.

It’s common, I think, for people to feel younger than they truly are nowadays, but I wonder if I’m a more extreme than most in the way I relate to getting older.

For one thing, it’s difficult to age gracefully if you have mental health issues.

And I wonder whether I’m particularly immature when it comes to self-confidence and self-worth – as my negative self-image was fixed when I was young, during a tricky childhood when I was often criticised.

So, even though I’m actually in my mid-50s, my response to ageing is that of a frightened child, desperate for validation. And one of the few ways to find that validation is to hit the track.

I didn’t like the way I looked all that much when I was young, and now that I look demonstrably worse, I like myself even less. 

Which was a shame back then, a shame now – and it’s going to be a right pain in the arse when I’m 90.

I wish – I really do – that I had the wisdom to accept the way I am.

I wish I could find it in me to accept, as others do, there is truly nothing wrong in ageing, nor in looking older.

I appreciate the wisdom that comes with ageing in other areas of my life, and I could tell my younger self a few useful things about – say – love, money, or work were I able to go back in time.  

So maybe the next morning I’m out in the park and struggling, I can persuade my Inner Child that he’s done enough running – before he puts his fucked old back out once and for all.

*Since Shrek 2 came out in July 2004, I have favoured adopting a camp Scottish accent to articulate the word ‘buttock’.

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