Patrick Johnson, new

Patrick Johnson

“Father time is undefeated.” ~Tiger Woods

While I was warming up before a 5k (3.1 miles) race on Jan. 1, 2022, a skinny little boy seeing my 2019 Cherokee Harvest shirt approached me and told me he ran the very same race. Then he asked me my time.

“I think around 30 minutes,” I responded.

“Wow,” he replied, clearly impressed with the racing elder in front of him. “My time was 1 hour, 20 minutes.”

“Wait…did you run the half marathon or the 5k?” I asked as my ego began to shrink rapidly.

“The half. I run a 5k in 20 minutes,” the happy go lucky lad replied not realizing the dagger he just placed in my chest.

When we were in our 40s in the 1990s, a friend approached Kathie and me at the end of a 5k to talk about the race and share race times.

On the drive home afterward, I told her to take me out back and shoot me if I ever ran a 5k as slow as that guy. (His “awful” time if I recall correctly was 26 minutes.) She informed me my time would come, predicting the inevitable process of growing older. That time is now.

People were generally living longer until the last two calamitous years. Deaths of Despair (suicide, drug and alcohol overdoses) and the pandemic have contributed to a reduction in life expectancy for the first time in decades.

Some adults are dying early now, between 40 and 60, while most of us still make it beyond age 70 and the average age 77. Still there are some outliers who live into their 90s and beyond.

To survive the aging process, I’m convinced we need to be dog toy tough because most of us get pretty chewed up emotionally or physically or both by our mid-60s.

My “fool-proof” formula for a long disease-free life was sound nutrition, a worthwhile vocation and long distance running, all supplemented by gallons of coffee. One under-appreciated aspect of years of distance running is learning to tolerate discomfort; both physical and mental. Healthy living for me wasn’t always in the comfort zone.

When I turned 50, Kathie informed me it was time to have a colonoscopy. As a public health professional, I informed her I was well aware of my scheduled preventative maintenance. However, I was also a busy Air Force Reservist, adjunct faculty member, runner and Homer Simpson devotee so, I’d have to figure out the optimal timing. Sadly, it took two years before I found myself in a gastroenterologist’s office.

At the pre-procedure visit the doctor placed a stethoscope on my chest, which was above his area of expertise, and asked me, “How long have you had a heart murmur?”

“I don’t have a heart murmur,” I replied, immediately with more than a hint of irritation. “I run 7-minute miles and have a deployment scheduled soon,” I explained hoping to change his mind.

“I’m no cardiologist,” he spoke kindly to me, “but you have a heart murmur.”

Within weeks I was told to decrease my coffee intake for my heart’s sake. Good grief. What’s next...decaf? (Eventually, yes.) There’s nothing like a crisis, minor or major, to force us to adapt.

My earlier physical challenges were things like iliotibial band syndrome and plantar fasciitis but this was my heart. Probably nothing, a fluke I told myself. Except it wasn’t. I needed a Mitral Valve Repair. I got my replacement part and the recovery was relatively easy. But difficulties were lurking like a creepy stalker.

Unlikely candidate

A vegetarian, health-nut runner isn’t supposed to have a severe stroke but that’s what happened a couple of years later. It was three months after a 10-mile race, and three days after scoring excellent on the Air Force fitness test.

Again, I recovered fairly quickly mainly because Kathie recognized the stroke immediately and my pipes were clean to help the clot busting drug do its job. Despite years of hard work my Air Force career ended instantly.

Next came a pacemaker. That’s a good thing I told myself. Then came seizures, just another speed bump I persuaded my inner critic.

“Life is difficult,” wrote author M. Scott Peck in his book “The Road Less Travelled.” As we age, I’m convinced the biggest hurdle we face is to adapt to life’s bumps and disappointments. Harnessing the strength of resilience, one way or another, like an emotional muscle, will build coping skills. Being consistent with diet, exercise, and managing stress throughout our adult years is an added bonus.

By the way, the 11-year-old phenom ran the New Year’s Day Jackson County 5k in 20 minutes beating me by a mere 11 minutes. I told Kathie I was happy with my time.

Patrick Johnson, RN is the retired Haywood County Public Health Director and an Iraq War Veteran. He is a health blogger.

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