About that pause. . .

My son suggested some months ago that I write a post about running through menopause. I laughed at the idea. I’ve been told menopause will last about 10 years although, according to my last Doctor, some women experience symptoms for up to 30 years – in other words, the rest of my life. So I thought, what’s the point. I could write about menopause, but it would only be a one word post. Adapt. Really though, it’s a tough time in the world of an athlete. Not just menopause for women, but maturation in general, and the changes it brings along – both mentally and physically.

I’ve been toying with this idea of running a 100-mile week for about two years. A couple of summers ago was when I first hit 66 miles in a week. At the time, I even wrote that 66 miles in one week was enough. I had pushed the limit on how much time and energy I was willing to devote to running. Memories are short, as we all know, and this year, with labor pains well behind me, I upped the ante and wore myself plum out.

For years, I have enthusiastically tweaked my training using one formula or another. There have been twice-a-day runs, increased mileage, slower training speed, faster repeats, weight-lifting and every manner of core strengthening you can imagine. Nothing about running has intimidated me, and I’ve not only been willing, but anxious to put myself through just about any level of hell to become a better runner.

Then the last 26.2 bumper sticker fell off my Jeep this past winter. At the time, it seemed a little like an omen, and I couldn’t shake the feeling. When my energy swooped off the charts in a downward spiral, I was convinced my fate was sealed. I hit the wall in this last marathon, and for the first time I couldn’t recover. What has followed can only be described as soul-searching.

As usual, my husband helped me sort things out.

He reminded me how much I enjoyed running years ago when I first started. I remember those days.

There was no training calendar, no watch; not even music. Running was new, unchartered territory and I reveled in learning its nuances. Running further than I ever thought possible, in extreme heat or cold, and when my feet hurt worse than anything has ever hurt but I was still 10 miles from home with no phone – I couldn’t wait to go for another run. When I came home tired, hot, hungry and devastated from the effort – it was still exhilarating.

There were lonely, but beautiful runs through the mountains where dogs come out suddenly, barking so ferociously at my heels that I can feel the warmth of their breath making me quiver with fright. Whether you’ve survived or wilted was totally in your jurisdiction. No one was there to see whether you’d succeeded, or quit. It was just me and my newfound love.

Then my husband so thoughtfully compared my running to Tiger changing his golf swing, or Shaq working on his free throw average. . .

The Mike Douglas Show, 1978 CBS/Getty Images

In 1994, Eldrick ‘Tiger’ Woods had already conquered the world of junior golf when he did a curious thing; he changed his swing. Then he changed his swing again, again, and again – in 1997, 2004 and 2010. Nothing seems more sacrosanct in the world of golf than a golfer’s natural swing.

Scott Eden wrote a fabulously, comprehensive run-down of Tiger’s career swing changes for ESPN in 2013 where he says, “Among gifted players who achieve low handicaps, this notion is especially powerful. So much so that in many circles, to meddle with your natural swing is to meddle with your soul — to dive too deep and risk discovering things about yourself that maybe you’d rather not.”

San Antonio Spurs v Phoenix Suns, Game 3
PHOENIX – APRIL 25: Shaquille O’Neal #32 Game Three of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the San Antonio Spurs (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Hack-a-Shaq is a basketball strategy initially instituted in the National Basketball Association (NBA) by the Dallas Mavericks coach Don Nelson to hinder the scoring ability of the opposing team by continuously committing professional fouls against one of its opposing players, the player chosen being the one with the weakest free throw percentage among players on the court. (Wikpedia)

Some believe Shaq would have reached a 70 percent free throw average with a little fine tuning. Instead, he spent years re-tooling his free throw ultimately ending his 20-year career with only a .527 percent average.

At some point, athletes become conscious, aware. There are countless examples in every sport. This awakening evokes a sense of urgency to fix everything, or perhaps anything, which usually involves the complete disassembling, reconstructing, re-tooling, and re-mastering of the very God-given talent they were so fortunate to have bestowed on them in the first place – a structural overhaul. “We tore it all apart, and built it up,” Woods would say about initially changing his swing so that it wouldn’t get ‘stuck.’ For all its good intentions, the structural overhaul is rarely successful. But then, sport has become all about intensity – the ‘how hard can we push ourselves’ kind of intensity. How far can you go beyond normal? And by all accounts, it seems the human race is proving the upper limits of extreme to be negotiable into perpetuity. . . and it’s really easy to get roped in.

What most people likely missed in Tiger’s 1978 debut on The Mike Douglas Show was the club. At just under 3-years old, Tiger used an adult club that had been modified by Earl, his dad. To compensate for the awkwardness of the adult-size club, Tiger learned to deploy a move, a swing, or a ‘flaw’ as he saw it, that only someone with Tiger’s natural ability could pull off. Only Tiger could swing a club like that as a toddler, and it was that modified swing, the by-product of his own youthful talent, that he would spend his entire career trying to change.

Similar to Tiger – and David Gossett, Craig Perks, Scott Verplank, Chip Bank, David Duval, Ian Baker-Finch, and Seve Ballesteros who all underwent drastic swing changes – we become focused on changing ourselves. If we work hard enough, maybe we can turn back the clock. Or, if we work hard enough we can become something we were not.

I can’t imagine why it had to be now that I needed to deal with my age. Things were going along so well. There didn’t seem to be anything I could dream of doing that I couldn’t force my body into compliance to achieve. Until this past year.

This latest challenge, to run as many miles as I could without killing myself, has actually served as a much needed pause in running; a chance to re-group and re-assess my goals. Perhaps I dove so deep that I discovered things about myself maybe I’d rather have not, but the fact is I am entering new territory ready or not.

Our bodies change in menopause, which makes our clothes fit differently, which is probably alright because our preference in clothes has already started to change anyway. Our emotions run amuck. Maybe men go through some of the same things. They buy a sports car, start a new career, sometimes an entirely new life. What do women do? What do athletes do?

I’ve started paying attention to the articles on aging athletes. How we can adapt our training methods to continually improve well into our 70s. I try to buy into the whole thing. The truth is, I’ve had to forgive myself for getting old. I’m having to learn to improve my game without changing my swing.

In this whole conversation of the golf swing, I couldn’t help but think about Jim Furyk. He has one of the most unorthodox swings in the world of professional golf, yet it has a rhythm that produces one of the most consistent ball flights in the sport. He’s never attempted to change his swing.

I wouldn’t promise that the 100-mile training week is forever behind me, and I’m sure I won’t stop tweaking my training, but I’m learning there is a subtle difference between becoming the best you can be, and becoming something else entirely. I’m learning to own my own skin, wrinkles and all.



Stroke of Madness by Scott Eden, ESPN

Why Tiger Changed His Swing by Bill Rand, Eye on the Tour