The Octogenarian: 5. Jogging

You heard right. He was still jogging. At 87.

How could that possibly be? 

He had been running on and off since he was a freshman in high school. He liked the way he was tired after a workout. He liked the sense of accomplishment when he was able to run faster than the week before. He liked running at night when it felt like he was running a lot faster than he really was.

In his early 70s, he spent time researching brain health and dementia. On that quest, he discovered that running helped protect your brain and significantly reduced your chances of dementing. Fear of dementia was a strong motivator, so he re-committed himself to keeping his body in motion.

Achieving that goal, though, wasn’t all that easy. When he was 50, he had challenged himself to be able to run 2 miles when he was 80. No special reason for the distance or the age. Like a lot of things he did, it just seemed to make sense at the time.

He was sailing along until he got COVID. The after-effects included feeling weak and having a diminished lung capacity. Jogging wasn’t so much fun then. It was a real challenge just to complete one loop of the trail around the nearby park. His heart pounded violently just to keep him moving when he came to a hill. He started to worry about overdoing it. He thought about the irony of working so long and hard to protect his brain only to have his heart crap out on him.

You thought about things like that when you were in your 70s.

And that was just about the time when the good chemists at Eli Lilly announced their breakthrough.

Lilly had missed the boat on COVID vaccines and treatments, but their related research into helping patients who had breathing problems had finally paid off in a big way. They came out with a time-released oxygen pill that by-passed your lungs altogether. It was intended for hospitalized COVID patients and those with sleep apnea and asthma. One 100mg dose raised your O2 level up into a healthy range for 8 hours.

Sales took off, though, when the athletes found out about it. Talk about a performance enhancing substance! And one with no known side effects, to boot.

Alex was skeptical when he first heard about it. Skepticism, in fact, was his first reaction to most new things. He was definitely not an early adopter and he absolutely detested fads.

So he waited until he could find no more excuses not to try it. That first dose changed his life! He ran like the wind (or so he felt). The drudge, the slog, the fear were gone, replaced by the simple joy of running.

As long as he was making changes, he added one more element to his routine: he took 2 Advil along with his oxygen pill. He had learned about this trick from friends who had broken bones when they fell and used the analgesic to make their physical therapy sessions bearable. He figured that pain was pain and he didn’t need to break something before he could try it, so he did.

The combination was like a fountain of youth. When he ran now, he didn’t feel a day over 75. Life was good!

But what, exactly, does it mean to jog at 87? It’s definitely nothing like running at 17 when you can go forever with long, loping strides and recover in minutes instead of hours. It’s nothing like the confident striding of middle age when you can strut a little bit because you’re still healthy enough to do it and your friends have all given up and turned to golf. It’s not even anything like the clipped staccato of your 70s when you shortened your stride to keep from falling.

He worked out every other day instead of every day to give his body a fair chance to restore itself. Nonetheless, each workout took the starch out of him and he was worthless for the rest of the day unless he took a nap after cooling down and re-hydrating.

No…what he was doing was a different animal altogether. In fact, it required a little poetic license and suspension of disbelief to call it jogging at all. Technically, it met the dictionary definition of jogging, and that was good enough for Alex.

He knew he wasn’t walking because there was only one foot on the ground at any time. But just barely. And his arms weren’t dangling by his sides. He pumped them vigorously (or at least what felt to him like vigorously). He made a point of raising his knees, but that was to protect against falls, not in pursuit of good running form. His stride was measured in inches, not feet.

He was in constant motion…but going nowhere fast. His pace was only a little bit quicker than what was considered normal for walking. 

Bottom line: he was maintaining a really good illusion of jogging…and he was ok with that.

Regrettably, the hills now bested him. In his earlier days, a hill was an opportunity to challenge yourself. Keep your head down, look a few feet ahead and not up at the top, shorten your stride, pump your arms…and don’t stop until you feel the terrain level off. That’s how you conquered hills. He used to own every hill he encountered, but now they were his nemesis and, even with his O2 pill working full blast, they were winning every contest.

He had placed 3 arch supports in his running shoes. They helped him keep his balance, avoid falls and take some of the pressure off of his knees. His running shorts had no corporate logo on them; they were just plain black and hung mid-thigh, albeit more than a bit on the baggy side. His tee shirt was uneventful. He wouldn’t be caught dead in a ‘World’s Greatest Grandpa’ shirt and wasn’t inclined to advertise anybody’s product. On his own, he just would have worn a plain gray tee, but Sally said it was boring, so he bought some brightly-colored solid tees and wore them. But he stuck with his gray wrist and head bands.

He wasn’t all that tall and he didn’t weigh all that much, yet he still sported a little paunch around his midsection. His legs had never been muscular, but now they were downright spindly. The skin on the backs of his hands was thin and papery and the network of veins beneath showed prominently. He noticed them when he was pumping his arms especially high to climb a hill.

Although he had escaped male pattern baldness (which should have been his hereditary destiny), his hairline had been receding for decades. His bare forehead now extended 3 inches above his headband. He combed his thinning hair straight back so that when you looked directly at him, it formed a kind of halo close to his head. He liked that. It didn’t quite cover the bald spot at the top of his head, but he couldn’t see it, so he didn’t care.

Apparently, the disappearing hair had migrated to his ears and nose. Sally was fastidious in attending to them, but like weeds in a big garden, there was no keeping up with it.

He kept his beard fairly short and trimmed his eyebrows whenever he shaved. They, too, had gone rogue in recent years. His hair, no matter where it appeared, had seen the end of its salt-and-pepper days and was now working its way through its gray en route to white phase.

But his eyes hadn’t changed. They still smiled…just with a few more crow’s feet in the corners and a few more wrinkles above in his forehead. If you didn’t notice his neck, you’d think he was younger than he was.

Part elf, part leprechaun, part hobbit, he cut quite a figure as he ran on the trails in The Community. All the walkers recognized him and said hello or waved when he passed by. For the younger residents, he was a role model. For the older ones, he was a reminder of days gone by. As for himself, well, he was just happy as shit to be out there!