Enhancing Our Bodies for Better Performance

Elizabeth Hoekstra

I commented to a friend, “You know those residential street signs that say ‘thickly settled’ ? That’s pretty much a statement of how I feel about my body on some days.” I am a bit “thickly settled” in the middle. Some of that has to do with what I eat: sugar and wheat bloat me out to look like I’m four months pregnant. The rest of the time? It’s just my 55 year old sagging body.

The donut of love-handles on my backside and flabby breasts that nursed two children for two years each, all are gravitating toward my mid-section. Other things started to drop too: my girl bits were failing me, urinary incontinence embarrassed me with a sneeze, cough or the worst, when running. And a mild uterine prolapse hung like a golf ball in my vagina.

These bodily changes really, really bothered my psyche. I hated wearing a pad to dance at my daughter’s wedding. I resented always wearing black work-out gear to mask my wet crotch area. I stopped hydrating properly so I wouldn’t have a full bladder. My Ob/Gyn asked every year at my annual if I was “ready to deal” with these issues. I wasn’t – not because I didn’t want to, but because my insurance wouldn’t pay for an “elective” bladder sling to correct the incontinence.  Then I was diagnosed with uterine polyps. Ha, ha! This was my chance to get insurance to pay to remove my uterus and fix my bladder all at once.

Elizabeth going for a spin on the trails.

Which I did and I have no regrets. I feel it is one of the best things I did to increase my performance and confidence as a runner. I jog, run, and dance with abandon. I do yoga and sneeze without fear. I hydrate liberally.

This made me think about what other body adjustments I have made or need to make to travel further and longer on trails as my best self.  

I told my hair stylist that I wanted to grow out my hair so I could gather it into a pony tail. A tail bouncing on the nape of my neck when I run gives me strength. I can’t fully explain why this empowers me, but it may have something to do with when I was a child. I always had long hair and a pony tail, and I remember running through the woods with my hair swinging across my back and feeling so alive. My stylist commented that he didn’t think long hair looked good on women in their 50s. Well then. I switched stylists.

Elizabeth headed out on the Vermont Long Trail.

For multiple years I’ve battled depression. Several breaking, sobbing losses along with a family history of anxiety makes me constantly fear the worst. Running itself improves my mental health, trotting along narrow paths alone through the woods helps to stitch together my broken places. But, it wasn’t enough to beat back the overwhelming feelings of hopelessness. So I take an antidepressant. As a nurse I am comfortable with medication.   That little half a tab in the morning steadies me like rays of sunshine in my soul. I wish exercise alone could keep away the black cloud overhead, but, it doesn’t.

I did some research about women who have had breast reductions to make running less painful. I read about headaches, backaches and “no sports bra supportive enough” stories, as well as difficult recovery times following breast-reduction. I can imagine the physical and emotional toll this takes for any woman who wants to be able to run hard and well. Breast reduction surgery is serious with a potential grief associated with the loss. But, large breasts for runners may be inhibiting great performance. Saying good bye to the girls, despite the loss, may bring far greater gains.

Elizabeth taking in the vista.

I also recently overheard a conversation between two women about exercise-induced asthma. My ears perked up as a medical professional, and because I too have exercise-induced asthma. One of the women said she “can’t run because I start wheezing and coughing.” The other nodded knowingly, seemingly validating her reasoning. Then the Wheezer said, “Yeah, and I don’t like to take medication, so I won’t use an inhaler.” My motto as a nurse is simple, “We have medication for a reason. It’s FDA approved. Use it.”

I have a chronically swollen left knee. It aches in the morning and at night and if I sit for too long. My mother fusses that I’ll need a knee replacement someday. Maybe I will, but I’m not going to stop running because of what the future might hold. If anything I’ll keep running because the future is unpredictable. One thing I’ve learned from depression and anxiety is that fear is never a good place from which to make a decision.

Is there anything you have thought about doing to modify your body to increase your performance? It may feel like body enhancements are in opposition to our “au naturelle” selves as gritty, outdoorsy women. I am as much of a granola-eating, Birkenstock-wearing, sans underwear runner as the next girl, but the enhancements I have made to my body have given me a psychological boost I did not have before. That confidence has made my steps lighter, higher and longer as I am striding forward to conquer each goal I have chosen to engage with my whole body. The more confident I feel as a runner, the more confident I am feeling in my relationships, work, and faith.

Yup, like an aging car I’ve had some body work done. And because of it, I am revved up and putting miles and miles and miles on my running odometer.

Elizabeth Hoekstra

Elizabeth Hoekstra

E. Lisa Hoekstra is a registered nurse at a desk job, free-lance writer, and single-track runner living in southern New Hampshire. She and her husband also own an Airbnb, catering to guests and their dogs seeking an active vacation on the lake, mountains, and trails nearby.

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