Today I ran my final pre-NYC Marathon training run. It was an easy 4-mile jaunt around a part of the loop that winds through Central Park. The weather was perfect -- chilly and sunny. Leaves had started turning glorious shades of red, orange and yellow. I was giddy with excitement, running faster than I had planned.
The park (and the entire city) is teeming with people who are here to run in, or watch, the NYC Marathon on Sunday. Large groups of runners from all over the world were competing with space on the loop with locals like me, and I couldn't help but notice how many were from Italy. We all smiled at each other, beaming with pride that we were among those lucky enough to get the "golden ticket" to be in this premier sporting and spectator event. "Ci vediamo presto!" ("We'll see each other soon!") I called out to many as they waved and yelled "Ciao!" Magical.
I am ready... as ready as I'll ever be. I decided to run in the 2011 Marathon last year when a friend succumbed to pancreatic cancer at the age of 48, leaving behind a devastated husband and 13-year-old daughter. Not knowing what else to do to alleviate my grief and anger, I started running again. I let a few months go by to see if I was really up to the task of running in a marathon. When it was clear that I could do it, I contacted the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, joined their team to raise money for pancreatic cancer research in honor and memory of my friend, and started to train.
Our small group (34 people) has generated the largest amount of donations in the history of the organization. I know that when we all cross the finish line on Sunday we will carry in our hearts the memories of our friends and family who succumbed to pancreatic cancer. And we will beam with pride.
But, I have another reason to be proud, a very personal one: one month after the NYC Marathon, I will turn 55. Even better: I started running after I turned 50. But, not just any running. Running with walk breaks, a technique created by Olympian, marathoner and author Jeff Galloway.
Like many people over 50, I was worried about running, because I had heard that running, or even strenuous walking, can hurt our joints. Research shows, however, that it won't, if done right. After 30 years of following his own program, Jeff has never had an injury. The reason is simple: it calls for slow, gentle running, with scheduled walk breaks. Distance, not speed, is the goal. It's easy on the joints, and yet gives a high performance cardio work out. People pass me all the time when I am running, but that's okay with me. They'll be the ones looking for an orthopedic surgeon someday.
Running, at any age, offers so many positive benefits: reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, depression and dementia. Contrary to what many people believe, running does not predispose joints to arthritis. In fact, studies show that walking and running can help even chronic health problems. You can do it anywhere, anytime, and it's free.
A few months into Jeff's program, I was hooked: happily running three days a week (with our rescued dog, Gunther, at my side), burning calories, losing weight and having a lot more energy. On the non-running days, I started walking for 30 or more minutes, even climbing up and down my building's staircase a few times, giving my body a reason to move every day. No gym, no trainer, no cost.
But something else started to happen.
When I turned 50 a few years ago, I wanted to pull the proverbial blanket over my head and hide away. Post-menopausal pounds were piling on, I hadn't exercised in years, and everything seemed to be changing all at once. It was a terrible feeling of being out of control, and out of touch with my authentic self. I wasn't sure how to get fit and healthy and stay that way, and I knew that if I didn't do something now, I would just continue along this path.
That's when I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and said "Enough is enough." I grabbed the reins, researched and wrote my first book, The Best of Everything After 50, and started to run. Now, I run for health. I run for joy. I run to meditate. I run to keep the weight off. I run because I can. It's almost as though running (with walk breaks) fuels my power.
I am no longer afraid of anything. I am fearless.
When I made the decision to run in this year's NYC Marathon, the idea came to me when I was on a run. My body and mind kicked into a perfect meditative rhythm, and at that moment I had no doubt that I could not only handle the physical endurance that would be required to train and complete a marathon... but I would embrace it as a symbol of my new-found physical and mental power as a fearless post50 woman.
So what will I wear? In addition to my broken-in sneakers, my new running sunglasses, mid-calf black running tights, and a black tank, and the purple "Team Hope" team t-shirt with my racing bib (#59967) proudly pinned onto the front, I will wear a smile that will tell the world:
I am a post50 woman who has embraced her age, is fearless, confident, and not afraid to try.
My greatest hope is that every woman over 50 reads this post, and understands this fundamental truth:
If I can do it . . . so can you.
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Staying connected is a powerful tool: "Friend" me on Facebook and "Tweet" me on Twitter (BGrufferman)! For more information on living your best life after 50, please visit www.bestofeverythingafter50.com. Turning 50 is more than an age . . . it's a movement.