05.09.16

Pounding the Treadmill in Later Life

I am getting into the gym! I have joined a bunch of young things in lycra tights and brief vests, pounding treadmills and pulling rowing machines to the blast of disco music and the trainer’s amplified exhortations. Like demented mongeese, we move from burpees to power-planks, drenching ourselves with sweat, pursuing the holy grail of fitness and the body beautiful.

I admit I have questioned the sanity of this experiment with my own body. For one thing I must be twice the age of some of my fellow class mates (they are mostly in their late twenties to mid-thirties whilst I approach 72). Despite not being particularly self-conscious, I feel nervous of the tricky things going on with medicine balls and the like; I might just fall over, making a total fool of myself and revealing a faltering sense of balance.

And am I really to exchange awkward “high fives” of pseudo congratulations with my class mates at the end of each session and bear the constant rap and disco music which numbs my thoughts and prevents me even hearing the instructions I am supposed to be following?  This is hardly my world!

Such regimented running and leaping over hoops has never appealed to me anyway. (Who needs a trainer bellowing like a sergeant major when you have had the wind in your face and the open heath to run over for the past fifty years?) Like the air we breathe, running is free.  There is no contest between the commercialism of the modern gym and the freshness of a morning run with the sun rising in the mist.

I recognise of course that a revolution has occurred - subsidised gym membership is now a standard perk offered by large employers as well as a must have for young people leaving home. Most high streets have gyms vying for your attention; Pure Gym, Virgin, David Lloyd and the rest. All have their fee structures – mostly a monthly membership, varying around £30 to £40.

Like all runners I have had my set-backs. Those professional athletes and footballers who struggle through rehab time and again, have my sympathy. My latest problem was an excruciating attack of sciatica through which I could barely walk, let alone run.

I have followed the stretches, visited podiatrists, had sonic vibration therapy on my tendons, done whatever I could to throw off these ravages of age, but inexorably I have ground to a standstill.

The answer, I was urged, was “give up.”  Bloody mindedness has inclined me to try harder, but there has to be a limit to the sanity of this. “Try running on a treadmill,” I was told by my local physio-therapist – a woman of somewhat advanced years herself. “What you need is a softer landing. You must keep the muscles moving, keep stretching and using your body. Stopping is the worst thing to do.”

So I have joined the David Lloyd Orange Fitness Studio, around the corner from the office. It practices “Orange Theory” - a geeky approach to the task of getting out of breath.  After each session I receive emails telling me I burned so many calories, what my average heart rate was and its percentage of my age related maximum.

My text message also tells me that I scored 26 “splat points” – marks indicating I will continue burning calories even after I have finished working out. A little graph shows my heart rate in colour coded zones. It is designed to maintain my interest and enthusiasm. It is so modern!

The treadmill is an arthritis-friendly surface. (My Achilles tendons haven’t complained so far and my knees don’t seem to notice that I am on the move.) A cockpit of dials allows me to adjust my running speed and the gradient incline. By discrete adjustments I seem to hold my own, running at the same pace as many of the younger class members. A large TV screen shows our names and effort levels with percentage efforts and the “Orange Theory” colour graphs. An adjustment for each of our ages appears to put me in the lead. No one asks my age!

It remains to be seen what benefit all this will bring, but I am happy to have got going once again! My limbs ache a bit but I will stretch and bend and double-stretch those inelastic tendons, knead every muscle, discover stretches I never knew existed.

Eventually I may take part in the Park Run once again, aiming to better my personal best. Perhaps I will run a sponsored 10K run, do a half marathon, or a sign up for a bike ride to Paris. Well maybe - I am waiting to be asked, and hoping I don’t give up.

Comment: chris.ball@shaw-trust.org.uk

@taen_uk                           @crystal_balls                   @shaw-trust