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Old Instincts Die Hard: Benefits of Running with Age

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Ben Kaplan

Dawn run: I’m heading east, into the sun. Coyotes yelp along the river, crows crank out their rusty mating calls, and all is well. . .well, I’m slower than I’ve ever been, and often these mornings there’s a different glitch, in my knees or elsewhere, but that’s all right. I’ll take this day and this run as it comes, enjoying even the headwinds and the hills before I turn my back to the east wind after 5k and head back home.
Nearly four years ago I put together an item on running. At the ripe old age of 75 years and after a half-century of running, I felt that it was time to reflect on what running had given me and how my attitude to my “positive addiction” had changed over the years. I was gratified when iRun Magazine agreed to print that article, “Time’s Arrow”: Reflections on a Life in Running Shoes,” and other runners, several of them who were younger than I was at the time, responded positively. I thought that I had said it all, that the article would be my final, verbal shot on the joys of running.  
But much has happened in the past nearly four years, some of it possibly instructive to other runners who may be tempted to wear those shoes for something other than running.
A year or so ago after having some blood work done, I was told that my PSA was elevated. My nurse practitioner said, “You’re too fit for prostate problems. They seldom happen to folks who get the exercise you do. That’s just not in the cards for you.” It was. I had tests and met with an oncologist in London. Guys are just made for this, it seems. Most of us already knew this, but like other inevitable events in our lives, I thought that such things always happened to someone else. Hearing that I was among the afflicted hit hard. 
The upside? Because I was in reasonable shape, the doc. said he could find the money for brachytherapy, and I’m now the somewhat proud bearer of 45 radiated seeds in my undercarriage. That expensive approach is most often offered to much younger patients, but the therapy went well, and the oncologist, the brilliant Vikram Velker in London, ON, even left me a handwritten note saying that all had gone according to plan. The point that I’m making is simply this—running, and likely any activity we do, has benefits that go far beyond the obvious weight management, better appearance, and feeling of well-being that we daily associate with our running. 
My oncologist will be in touch on June 14th after I have had more bloodwork done, and I’m hoping that the news will be good, but even if there’s a downturn in my situation, these past months have given me more time on the trails and roads, more time to reflect and be thankful that I had the level of fitness that running had given me. I’m also grateful for the wonderful health care I’ve received, for the patient understanding that everyone from receptionists to nurses, to specialists have afforded me throughout what was, at times, a trying predicament.
I’m now more convinced more than ever that frequent exercise can, and does, have psychological and physiological benefits that go beyond the elation that comes from the activity, and this goes for everyone of any gender, age, or ability level. 
The procedure happened in December, just before Christmas, and I’ve been running—jogging might be closer to the truth—but I’m out there, grateful for those many decades of running, encouraged by the lack of side-effects, happy for every, now purposeful step as I move through my hometown. I now regard my situation as being more of a “condition” than an “affliction,” but that’s quite possibly just a rationalization on my part. And I do recall that the venerable, even saintly, Ed Whitlock who died of prostate problems at the age of 85 when he ran a 3:15 marathon six months or so before his death. 
Old instincts die hard, and my long-time great friend and running partner, Phil, is even teasing me into agreeing to run the Clarendon to Winchester Marathon in the U.K. as a way of celebrating my 80th year on the planet in October of 2025. That run on trails, by ambiguously marked signposts, beside cathedrals, and in front of ivy-covered pubs may be just the thing for an old lad who can use the excuse of getting lost as a reason for his not finishing in the top half of the field. 
 Time’s arrow will eventually have us in its sights, but a moving target is a harder thing to hit, and I plan to keep on moving as much and as vigorously as I can for some time to come. 
Heading west now, my long shadow in front of me, I’m already thinking about changing up my run a little tomorrow—maybe a trail or a loop down by the harbour to see if any of the huge lake boats have come in overnight. And while the moon prepares to take her morning dip into Lake Huron, I know that for the moment all is well, and with the heavier thuds of my runners and a solid 10k in, to start the day, I pull into my driveway, once again. 

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