I’ve known for years that I’ll never run as fast as I did as youth, but now I know why.
Back in 7th grade, some level of peer pressure coerced me into trying out for my junior high cross-country team. To my utter dismay, I was just fleet enough to survive the cut, and I spent the next three months getting comfortable with the idea that I would despise running forever after.
The idea has stuck: I never embraced the whole jogging craze in the ‘70s and, while I’ll admit that I ran a 5K on consecutive sub-zero New Year’s Days in 2013 and 2014, I think I can make a persuasive argument that I was temporarily insane at the time. As someone smarter than me once said, “I could see running, but only if you were in a hurry to get somewhere.”
Every so often, though, I’ll climb onto the dreadmill at the club and slog a mile, just to prove to myself I can still do it. But it’s slow going — not just because I’m terrified to dial up the speed; as I get older, I’m getting slower.
We tend to take it as a general consequence of aging that we’re unlikely to gallop as quickly as we did in our youth. (Need some empirical evidence? The world record for the marathon, held by a 30-year-old, is nearly an hour faster than the fastest ever run by someone in their 70s.) But, until recently, it wasn’t completely clear why that had to be the case.
In a piece published last week in the New York Times, Gretchen Reynolds reports on a new study from Wake Forest University and the United States Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine that explains in sobering detail the physiological changes occurring in the aging body that slow us down.
It’s long been known that our aerobic capacity diminishes as we climb into middle age and beyond, but this new study showed that the older we get, the less we’re able to use the muscles in our lower legs — especially those in our calves and ankles. We push off more weakly and stay much closer to the ground.
And because those muscles are more prone to injury as we age, explains study author Paul DeVita, professor of kinesiology at East Carolina University, our body simply decides it’s more prudent to slow things down. “It may be a protective adaptation,” DeVita says.
Don’t you love how the body takes care of us as we roll into Geezerville? I just wish mine would’ve spoken up before I made that cross-country team.