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Fitness Files: Checking out the pre-marathon pace

Carrie Luger Slayback
Carrie Luger Slayback
(Handout / Daily Pilot)

At 5:12 a.m. Saturday, I awoke, dressed and headed for the kitchen. “Lots of time to empty the dishwasher,” I thought.

Nope! Evie’s taillights shone through my blinds. “Swiss are always early,” she likes to say.

We’d planned to leave at 5:30 a.m. but got a Swiss early start for our Carlsbad adventure — a dress-rehearsal run along the Carlsbad Marathon route. The run is coming up, on Jan. 17.

Whoooa! Evie squealed. A blast of wind on the 73 Freeway moved her low-profile station wagon toward the center rail, but no matter. We continued chatting.

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Arriving at the Carlsbad Starbucks, our chat froze as we swung our feet out of the car and into 40-degree temperatures and 10-mile-an-hour winds.

The jacket I’d packed to wear post-run went on over my sweatshirt. My visor, achieving instant lift, came off. We dashed into the warm coffee shop.

Coffee downed, Evie drove a few miles of marathon route and parked on Grand Street.

And then, like jumping into a pool before you can think, we jumped from her car into a chilly, windswept run down Grand to Carlsbad Boulevard, where the marathon path enjoys six miles of expansive Pacific Ocean view.

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I had settled into a geriatric trot while admiring the inky Pacific when a powerful gust, like the one that moved Evie’s car, interrupted my ocean oogling, nearly lifting me over the bluff’s edge. From then on, I hunkered down, concentrating on forward motion, allowing only furtive sidelong glances at the whitecaps.

We turned up Palomar Airport Road, intent on the hill between Mile 5 and Mile 9. As promised on CarlsbadMarathon.com, the climb was gradual, doable.

Evie and I covered the same pre-marathon miles but at different speeds. “The wind makes me go faster,” Evie said, clocking 9:10.

Whether the wind was behind me or I was running directly into it, my pace hovered around 12-minute miles. My new theory regarding my disastrous slowing is that I take ever-smaller steps as I age. The tighter steps are an instinctual adaptation to protect my knees. When I keep my legs under me, knees operate well, but stride ahead and they hurt.

At 72, running 40 years without surgery or serious injury, I’m intuitively self-protective. I run for weight control and endurance, so I plan to keep running no matter the pace.

I remember the rhythm of a 10:30 pace, legs churning, arms working. Today, my arms and legs are working hard, and I expect my pace watch to read 10:30, but I am a minute and a half slower. I really hate to be the one every runner passes. I have no idea why Evie invites me to run when she has to wait for me to catch up.

I put myself to sleep at night visualizing a rapid pace and expect to match it when I awake. My legs have other plans. Gretchen Reynolds investigated “Why Runners Get Slower With Age” at well.blogs.nytimes.com. She discovered an answer in Paul DeVita’s study.

DeVita, a kinesiology professor at East Carolina University, found that “with each passing decade runners’ stride-length and speed dropped by about 20%.” Older runners did not rise into the air, nor did they push off as strongly as younger runners.

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Older runners use lower leg muscles much less. “There’s evidence that these muscles age earlier than other muscles of the body,” leading to increased injuries of the achilles and calf, he wrote. “Perhaps the body … recognizes that it has to work much harder to run as fast as it once did, [so] it opts against speed.”

DeVita recommends calf/ankle strengthening exercises from The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons at orthoingo.aaos.org. I already do most of these, having learned from past physical therapy for knees.

Though the professor and I don’t come to exactly the same conclusion, we agree that slowing “may be a protective adaptation.”

Whatever!

Writing this I’ve reached a conclusion: Getting out yesterday and fighting the weather thrilled me. Few septuagenarians would accept Evie’s invitation to run 10 miles in Carlsbad’s early-morning chill with an excited, “Sure, I can do that!”

I’ve lost speed but gained enthusiasm, filled with gratitude for my lasting ability to take part in the fun.

Newport Beach resident CARRIE LUGER SLAYBACK is a retired teacher who, since turning 70, has run the Los Angeles Marathon, placing first in her age group twice.


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