Dan Mackie: Running After 60, Very Slowly

A few weeks ago, my daughter challenged me to join her in a 5K charity run in April. After consulting my fears of mortality, I said yes.

This column is not written in anticipation of success, since I could turn up lame any day. I would not even mention the effort publicly, because of the real and present risk of failure, but finally I thought: life is all about the journey, even if people look at your crimson face with concern as you puff by wheezing like a cracked steam radiator.

In all, I will have had about six weeks to go from neighborhood walker to 5-K runner. “Run’’ may be overstating it, because it will be more of a shuffle, as speedy and graceful as that of a very stiff senior stepping off a tour bus after eight hours and a cup of coffee and in great need of a restroom.

Although I have not run for some years, I do have memories of running. As recently as 30 years ago, I was caught up in the running boom, where I topped out at six miles. I wouldn’t say I actually enjoyed running, although it seemed good for me, as I slept wonderfully and lost weight. As if that’s all to life.

But as with many good intentions, my peak fitness slipped away in little chunks, some of them from Ben and Jerry’s. I became a walker, which has much to recommend it, except that you’re not getting supremely fit, unless you walk for distances that require an amount of time that would suggest you’ve retired, or been laid off.

When Laura said we should run the 5K (3.1 miles) race together, I said I would have to think about it. (Since she reached the age of speech, the dada-daughter reflex has made me say yes to her every request at something approaching the speed of light, so this was a slight departure.) It was because … I wasn’t sure I could.

I Googled “starting running at age 60.” The results seemed promising, although the people who write about such subjects tend not to be people who despise running. They are likely to be light-framed greyhounds who don’t pound and rattle the Earth. And they possibly have greater “oxygen uptake’’ capacity, while I am genetically more suited to uptaking things like ice cream, or beer.

Still, I said yes, partly because some years ago when my daughter and I dreamed of running a half-marathon, we came upon the Jeff Galloway training method (jeffgalloway.com). It involves running for a bit of time, then walking, then running, and walking, and so on. You might begin with a minute of running, then a minute of walking, for a half hour to start. The idea is to gradually lengthen the running stretches, and the length of the workout. You must be brave about running slowly, not deterred if toddlers, people pushing shopping carts, or even someone on crutches passes you. (And don’t feel bad about taking guff from the infirmed — those metal crutches allow them to go a lot faster than the old wooden ones.)

Because I actually was in fair shape, a fact I’d been hiding from the world by overeating all winter, I jumped to a more advanced level: five minutes of running, or, in my case, shuffling, and one minute of walking. Galloway explains why walking breaks make things easier for the body, but I think each time you slow down the body believes that you’ve finished, that you’ve ended the madness. Therefore, it doesn’t call out its strongest pain and anguish enzymes. You simply have to keep tricking it.

I have found that it works: you can run farther than you thought you could. And you don’t feel as beat up afterward. Nevertheless, the first couple of times out I was alarmed how stiff my body seemed. I felt like an old clunker in frost-heave season. What happened to the shocks? And the cartilage?

But a couple of weeks in, I ran for two miles (with those little walking breaks) and thought, that … wasn’t … terrible. Then 2.4 miles, then 3. And I have to say I felt better, not remarkably better, but better, as if the shock of running woke my body from its long winter nap, one that I’d embraced so deeply.

If I make it to the finish line, I will probably be so slow that the check-in people will be waiting around for me, perhaps bored, perhaps checking email on their iPhones. They will put down their devices and say, “good job.’’ Even if they say it only because I’ve paid an entrance fee, I will for that moment believe that it is true.

The writer can be reached at dmackie@vnews.com.