Extended version of Run&Bee column in Hindustan Times - Week 47 / 27.4.2019: Running doesn’t cause knee arthritis, not running does
Last week a vibrant gentleman walked in to my consultation room and said in all earnestness, ‘I’m only 60. I should be able to do all the physical activities I like doing.’ An attitude like that is more than half the solution to whatever aches and pains he came to consult me for. It made my day because in the Indian context this number is considered as the retirement age, not from work alone but from life too.
This reminded me of Christine Pemberton, an avid trekker, who picked up running at the age of 60. She had first consulted me a decade ago for her ‘bad knees,’ and had already got two arthroscopies done. She admits, ‘when I came to consult with you, back in 2009, it was to make sure my knees would be strong enough to let me continue trekking, running came much later.’
She was told by her orthopaedic surgeon if she were to stay as active as she was with her trekking, she would soon need knee replacements. I remember clearly that I told her that she would be able to trek and even run but that she would never be able to run full marathons. For once, I am so happy to have been proved wrong.
When Christine turned 60, she joined my ‘couch to 6 kms’ programme and soon started to run. Her enthusiasm was met with criticism about running at “your age,” and Christine stated that was difficult to handle. “Was I making a fool of myself, starting to run at 60? Running my first full marathon at 62? Was I really an old fool? She found this worry to be the most difficult aspect to handle and address…much more than the physical act of running. But Christine persisted and dispelled all self-doubt.
She adds, ‘I discovered that running was something that brought me great joy, brought me vastly improved health, allowed me to test my own limits, both physically and mentally, in a way I never thought possible. I am physically fitter than before, and things like coughs, colds and headaches are a thing of the past. I’ve hardly had a twinge from my knees ever since.’
As for other important benefits of being active, Christine says, ‘Running has totally changed my way of life, and my approach to life. It has just about killed my social life dead in the water, since late night Delhi partying does not mesh with 6 am training sessions! But I wouldn't have it any other way.’
Once again, let me dispel some myths about running and knee pains. Contrary to what people think, it’s not running that causes the bad knee pains, but running with poor form. Unfortunately when you pick up running in 30s and beyond, you are trying too hard as you’ve forgotten how to move naturally, the way you did as a child. There is no rocket science to it. You need to slow down and work on your strength training. Be patient as you’ve taken decades to master the art of moving inefficiently and unnaturally. It’ll all soon come together.
Christine runs 5 to 6 times a week, and always travels with her running gear which helps her explore the new city through the lens of a runner. To improve her running ability further, she plans on focusing on overall fitness: Yoga, Pilates, and strength training. It is this determination and focus that has made her run 8 marathons, and she now has her sights on training for an ultra marathon.
It was a couch to 6K programme that inspired and enabled Christine to become a marathoner. I am now starting a 101 days C11 (Couch to 11 kms) from May 11th, as a countdown to the 10th edition of La Ultra-The High. For those of you who still dream to run, here is your chance to make it happen.
Below is the print version: