Off The Road – Longevity

by Russ Ebbets, DC

continued from home page

But how does this happen? You think back 10, 20, 30 years ago and there never was a concern. You could always bang out a quick five during lunch hour or brave the cold and dark for something longer after work and race and race and race.

But there got to be a point where it all just stopped. For most it wasn’t a one-step stop but more an accumulation of “things” that made seasonal performances sporadic, race highlights fewer and then there was the whole “slower” thing to deal with. For some there was the Biblical procession of injuries that begat injuries that begat injuries until you get tired of begatting.

They like to advertise running as a lifetime sport, but that is a stretch. That is really a stretch – life is the lifetime sport. Everything else is more a step along the way.

Poet Dylan Thomas talked about raging, raging “against the dying of the light.” Probably more poetic than practical but before we wallow in more self-pity let’s re-focus on that age-group winner – what’s up with them? These outliers have dodged the common ills, the almost certain injuries and exemplify the fact that for some running is a lifetime sport.

One trait all these runners have in common is good genetics. The flip remark here is that they chose their parents carefully. And while there is a ton of truth there it is not all that simple. Not only do they have the talent to succeed they also have the talent to endure the press of Time.

A second trait most share is that they are not “hard livers.” I characterize smokers and drinkers as hard livers. In many cases the hard livers started early and never stopped. Those that have attended their 25th high school reunion have seen the point. You scan the room, see some old faces, and realize there are some really “old faces” here – what happened? Everybody got old except you.

A third trait that aids longevity is the presence of some sort of plan. Some people intuitively know when what they are doing is contributing or detrimental to their long-term welfare. Others have had the benefit of role models, good coaches or families that have instilled values that through the good times and bad, thick and thin always provided an obvious choice.

No doubt the plan had a degree of balance and moderation. Decisions necessitate choices but if one’s value system, goals and objectives are well set the answers presented become a little more obvious.

The problem areas for a runner occur in what is called the closed kinetic chain of the lower extremity. This closed kinetic chain includes the foot/ankle, calf muscles, knee, hip and low back. These areas are particularly susceptible to the focal stress of running that if not properly prepped will breakdown with the certainty of the seasons.

Preventive measures such as foot drills, eccentric calf strengthening, quad strengthening, toning the dynamic stabilizers of the hip and core stability exercises for the low back can help mitigate the pounding of hard level surfaces to these areas as Time erodes the body’s regenerative ability.

Aging is a process. Life is a continual battle against gravity, environmental pollutants, psychological stress, poor decisions and accidents. They all take their toll. Without a plan one moves through life like a windblown plastic bag. A plan gives some direction.

Of late there has been growth of an anti-aging discipline to research and promote best practices to “add years to your life and life to your years.”

On closer inspection, there are some new nuances that may confront an old habit and present the opportunity for change. But the odd thing is that the more one studies the issue the more one becomes convinced that hydration, nutrition, sensible exercise, rest and repeat are still the cornerstones of successful sports participation. And that pretty much goes for life too.

I used to tell my athletes that it never gets easy, it is always going to be about work. The only time one gets to coast is going downhill. The future direction is decided by the choices of this moment, from this place.

Whether one’s “best days” have come and gone or are still a teasing possibility there is always work to be done. What one needs to determine is the where’s and how’s of each day and season.

Improvement necessitates change. So does longevity. What is working and what needs work? Both questions can be difficult to answer. And if the change leads you to a street corner, waving a flag see it as an important contribution to offer race direction as opposed to a hapless action signaling defeat.

Russ Ebbets, DC is a USATF Level 3 Coach and lectures nationally on sport and health related topics. He serves as editor of Track Coach, the technical journal for USATF. He is author of the novel Supernova on the famed running program at Villanova University and the High Peaks STR8 Maps trail guide to the Adirondack 46 High Peaks. Copies are available from PO Box 229, Union Springs, NY 13160. He can be contacted at

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