Old Fat Lady Gets Fit ... Again (#YEG)


Karen Gartner

Like most people, I did some running in school for phys-ed and track meets. My distance was the 440 (and I honestly can’t remember if that was yards or metres). I was not fast as I was saddened to learn at my one and only track meet competition in grade 7. So that was the end of that.

I tried again in University, running a single mile (which in my mind was HUGE) and trying to lose weight only to have my doctor belittle me with, “one mile is nowhere near long enough to lose weight.” So that was the end of that.

I was doing a show at a theatre (yes, I’m an actor as well as other descriptors) with a fellow who was running marathons. I’d never known anyone like that before. I watched him do a marathon before the Sunday matinee (which blew my mind) and over time, my competitive nature started to kick in. I was still smoking at the time (yes, hilarious in hindsight).

Over time, I continued to run, quit smoking, built myself up to half-marathon distance (13.1 miles or 21 km) — and training for that was where the key to weight loss was for me. I was described as “gaunt” at one time which tickled me no end. I didn’t race, I just wanted to have the fitness and endurance running provided. I always ran outside. To this day I cannot run on a treadmill, nor do I want to. God bless them that can, but I am not among them.

Hiccup #1 – 1994

I had squished my SI joint in rehearsal for a show and was put on a serious amount of ibuprofen to deal with the inflammation and pain at the base of my spine. After a few months I was told before I did physical things like gardening or running, to take a couple of ibuprofen beforehand and that would decrease the discomfort of the activity.

About a mile from home, running with my two dogs, like flicking a light switch I couldn’t breathe. I was wheezing and checking my fingernails for blue tinge as I walked to take my dogs home and get to a medical centre. As it turned out, my allergy history made me prone to ibuprofen causing asthma (exercise induced in my case). So that was the end of that.

Hiccup #2 – 1998

After things asthma-ish became well-controlled, I re-trained myself to run and was also playing competitive tennis. I reached placing 4th in the province in the ladies “B” division. I was doing really well.

Finals at the St. Albert tennis tournament – if successful there was a t-shirt and maybe a trophy in my future. I leapt for an overhead smash, but bounced off the fence and came down unexpectedly with my shin bone heading in one direction and my thigh bone heading in the opposite direction. So I got an ACL reconstruction instead. So that was the end of that.

Hiccup #3 – 2006

Once the knee was happy again, I re-trained to run up to 10K. The work situation was not booming, so I couldn’t afford to go back to playing tennis. ☹️ But I could run and so run I did.

I was putting in about 15 miles per week — and gaining 12 pounds per month!! Believe it or not, it took the medical profession more than 3 months to figure out my thyroid was blown. At that point I was too heavy to run; my knees could not handle the added tonnage. So I get a lifetime prescription of Synthroid. And that was the end of that.

Hiccup #4 – 2016

This hiccup actually started in 2011. Because I was under 55 at the time, my doctor would not do anything about my hip pain. Instead, I was diagnosed, sans x-rays, with bursitis and given a cortisone shot. That took care of my pain for a full year. Still too heavy to run, I did make an effort to do something … I had a rowing machine in my basement and filled a couple of big salsa bottles with water to use as weights. That didn’t last long. I like playing games, like tennis or volleyball or basketball or golf, but I am not a happy person standing still doing repetitions of an exercise. Down went the mood and up went the relationship with my couch.

A new doctor and I still was being deemed too young to have anything wrong with my hip. Three years later, I suspect in order to shut me up, I got sent for an x-ray. The phone call came. “With these results we have to ask you a questionnaire. Can you walk a block without pain?” I said, “About a year and a half ago, now I can’t make it from my bed to the toilet without pain, as I mentioned.” Silence.

Three months later, on T3s and Celebrex, I had my triage appointment at the Hip and Knee clinic to see if it was bad enough to warrant surgery. Yup, it was. I was huge. At the triage visit I was put on a scale for the first time in ages. I topped out at 220 pounds. I have a photo of myself holding my first grand-nephew and my own sister didn’t recognize me.

Waiting list was a year, but I told them to slide me in if there was a cancellation and I had the surgery nine months later on March 9, 2016. The x-ray taken the day before the surgery revealed I’d been walking on a dislocated hip for sometime as things were left so long before action was taken. And that was the end of that.

Hiccups #5 and #6 – 2017 and 2018

My mom’s feet had started to do insanely weird stuff; and mine started showing an inclination along the same route. Both big toes were starting to angle towards their minor siblings. In my mom’s case they had lain down behind the two next toes, forcing her to weeble and wobble.

I reckoned if the good Lord is willing, I have a few more decades on this planet and I’d like to live them as non-mobility challenged as possible. So I got set up with a podiatric surgeon who straightened me out one foot at a time, nine months apart.

😊 Both feet healed up fine. June 2019 was the anniversary of the last surgery. That is the end of the hiccups.

The New Normal

I had not run since 2008. But I was healed up from everything and was into my 11th year of an intimate relationship with my couch. We were still getting along as well as we ever did, but I felt like a blob.

I had a fake hip. Could I run? The physiotherapists at the hip and knee clinic said no. (They told me I’d never be able to cross my legs again, too.) The physiotherapists where I did my rehab looked at me strangely when I asked if I could go back to running. Apparently no one had ever asked that question after a THR before. (I think most of their THR patients were a tad older than me.) They looked some stuff up for me and said it would be fine. Recent studies had proven it did not damage the new joint any more than day to day wear and tear. To top it off, my surgeon had told me to let the hip tell me what it would tolerate.

Late spring 2019. I’m thinking I could give it a go, but instead of training myself like I had the previous umpteen times I’d started over, I should take a class. The most basic class offered and see if the hip had opinions about the whole exercise thing. Plus, if it dislocated on me, I’d have the whole class to help me back to my car! I wasn’t worried about my feet at all. My foot strike had adjusted nicely and I usually experienced little to no pain.

I should look it up and see. Maybe in a month I’d be ready to get some shoes (actual ladies’ shoes instead of men’s that accommodated my wide-foot bunions!) and some age and weight appropriate apparel. I don’t expect to look good — that’s not gonna happen — I just don’t want to run naked and scare anyone.

I emailed the Running Room for the Learn to Run class. Did they have a class for old farts?
– Our classes are for all ages. (I’d like to state here, no they’re not.)
– I’d like the Learn to Run course, please.
– You’re in luck! The course at your location is starting next Monday. You can register online.
– (Trying to remember how to inhale.) OK. Thanks lots.

Decision time. I can continue my comfortable sloth-like life, in which case I will have cured my physical ails so I could be the bride of La-Z-Boy the rest of whatever, or I could tell the couch I just want to be friends going forward and take the plunge. And, hey, maybe the hip doesn’t want to run and I know the couch will always wait for me. Registration done. And that’s the end of that.

Learn to Run – Week 1

The program is 10 weeks with class after work on Mondays and two more running sessions during the week. Monday always starts with a 20 minute talk on a different running or fitness topic.

There are only 6 in the class and they’re all women as is the instructor. I’m the eldest by about 10 years. Adrenaline and some “way to go — you’re doing it!” endorphins. Happy times.

This week we start with running for one minute and walking for two minutes and do that a total of 10 times. Starting with a couple of minutes of warm up walking and a similar cool down walk at the end means the whole running thing will be over in about 35 minutes.

Omygod, omygod, omygod, omygod, omygod, omygod! I thought I was gonna die! (And at this age that is a distinct possibility!)

What had completely slipped my mind was cardio-pulmonary fitness. I had been all hip all the time and completely forgot how completely, totally and utterly out of shape I was. My fitness level was zero and I had no idea how low zero really was.

And the hip hurt — well not really hurt, it was just sore LIKE EVERYTHING ELSE IN MY BODY. Got home and somehow convinced my poor legs to lift me up the stairs of the deck and get into the house. They were rewarded with an extra-strength ibuprofen and an Epsom salts bath. (I don’t know how or why Epsom salts work, I just know they do. Thank you, Jesus.)

Went to bed knowing I had actually done something and was moving in a good direction … and that I got to do it all over again on Wednesday after work. Oy.

The Rest of Week 1 & Week 2

Survived the first week. It was hard work, but doable and, in my mind, worth it.

If you’ve never been fit, you can’t know how incredibly good it feels to be physically able to do anything you want. So at this stage I’m lucky. Even though it’s been years for me, I remember the feeling and that is what I want again. That is what I’m willing to go through all this at this age and this weight for.

Two more days of 10 sets of running one minute and walking for two minutes. (I have a stop-watch feature on my watch, so I could set it to beep at me every minute. The young ‘uns use their phones for crying out loud. Oy.) I got it done. My legs were wondering what the heck was going on and my lungs just thought I was crazy.

Week 2. Running one minute and walking one minute all times 10. So the recovery time is cut in half. I admit I was intimidated. I felt I wasn’t ready for such a quick turnaround. (From the other side that is practically laughable, but I’m entitled to my feels as I feels ’em.)

The amazing thing is how a single minute can be so long when you’re running, but so short when your walking! Weirdness in the space-time continuum. Talk about relativity!

Survived again. Did not need an Epsom salts bath, but an ibuprofen was welcome. And the next two running days — Wednesday and Saturday — got done as well. It still isn’t easy. I’m constantly reminded how out of shape I am. But my hip is happy and so the break-up with the couch looks like it’s going to be official.

Week 3 – Lord have Mercy!

Run two minutes and walk one minute. Six times.

I remember training for 10K distance. In order to stay physically safe from injury, you don’t want to increase your total weekly distance by more than 10% at a time. This week we’re DOUBLING it! (Mind you if we did 10% we’d be increasing our time by six seconds, which probably won’t aid in the quest for endurance very much.)

Holy Hannah! Two minutes lasts for freaking ever and the one minute walk is only ten seconds long. I am not happy. My middle-age self is putting one foot in front of the other, slowly. It’s a blessing I’m as slow as I am, cuz I really don’t want to inflict anyone with watching me from behind. The one saving grace is we’re only doing six repetitions and not ten. The classes are calculated to include about 20 minutes of exercise, give or take about 5 minutes. But that isn’t what one considers while staring at the stop watch that feels like it should read 1:45 and actually reads 0:33.

Heavy breathing. From day one there’s been heavy breathing, but this doubling of the running time has brought my heart and lung health (and tolerance) to the forefront of my mind. I think of those weight loss reality shows where the poor schmoes had to keep working unless they passed out or started throwing up. I wasn’t throwing up or even close to it nor was I light-headed, so I guessed I was going to live. I had good circulation, I was just really out of shape.

This week brought a new realization to my home life. I had energy. I was getting stuff done around the house without having to nag at myself to get off the sofa and do something. Hmmm. This is a good thing.

But next week is running for 3 minutes. And my inner self started to freak out a little bit. Then I remembered I used to go for a run for a couple of hours so why was I so scared of 3 little minutes? Because it was an increase of 50% over this past week? Yeah. Because the heart and lungs would have to work that much harder? Yeah.

I ran my 2 and 1 homework with a new appreciation in anticipation of the 3 minute milestone!