We are both 83 years old. We're both fervent runners, having put thousands of miles on accessible trails and tracks, We have shared the same home, bills and bed for 60 years. We have co-authored four children, all of whom have run marathons. We have nine grandchildren, two of whom have run marathons with a $1,000 bounty available to the other seven. We run with friends or alone, never together. She is too fast for me. Our weekly schedules are predicated on the runs, usually three times a week in the morning. Wednesday, Friday, Sunday -- three to 15 miles per outing is the common pattern.
I began to run 43 years ago, as a grief reaction to my father's death. It worked. I have run a marathon a year for 43 consecutive years, including this year's infamous 2013 Boston Marathon.
My wife, who originally derided my running as an inappropriate display for a middle-aged physician, took it up after she returned from a high altitude, 21,000-foot Himalaya trek. She didn't want to lose her fitness.
But our attitudes about our running are very different. She wants to win. I want to finish. She has won the Boston Marathon for her age when she was 60 and 70 years of age. Last year, as an 80-year-old, her vanity was bruised as she was beaten by another age cohort. At age 60, she ran a fast 3:46. But I am the opposite, I am glacially slow, I run like I have army boots on. I am often the last one in. It doesn't bother me one bit.
But she has paid for her fast pace, because as I write this, she is a patient in the orthopedic floor at Stanford Hospital where she had a new right hip implanted. Six years ago, she had a new right knee put in. I have been much more resistant to medical intervention. I have no arthritis.
Additionally, I could as easily believe there are a McDonald's stands on the moon than what my wife was able to do in the ultra-marathons. She did a 24:26 time in the 100-mile race from Squaw Valley to Auburn, which is simply awesome. Her competitiveness has generated much publicity, however she is now paying for this with two new joints. This, however, does not diminish the thought that she will run a marathon again. I have no doubts about this.
In a past column I wrote about my great hope that a new medical specialty, namely preventive orthopedics, would emerge. This term is an oxymoron as all orthopedics is reparative featuring pharmacy or surgery. But what about not getting arthritis in the first place? How could Ruth Anne have avoided her two forays into the surgical suite? The truth is, of course, that she has slightly pigeon-toed posture, which obviously disordered her stride asymmetrically. But even with this asymmetry, she was able to do the amazing finishes as above.
We are now immersed in new knowledge about arthritis and its mechanical process. When the joint surfaces are ill matched it sets up the eventual deteriorative arthritis that she is now paying for. She should have corrected her toeing-in long ago. I have long preached that our legs are our most important organ as we age.
Use it or lose it is powerfully correct. But in order to use it, it is important that all the mechanical imperatives are obeyed. Our longtime shared running goal is to run until we are 100 with or without our original hardware. Remember that the devil can't hit a moving target.