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Andrea Langworthy's column: Weighty issues

Earlier this week, as I picked up the Variety section of the Minneapolis StarTribune, “Don’t run for your life,” screamed at me from the front page. Beneath that was the silhouette of a runner, his arms uplifted as if he was crossing a finish line. A yellow ribbon of caution tape, as wide as his arms, crossed his midsection.

There was a lot in the article about “extreme runners,” plaque, calcification and coronary disease. But the sentence that caught my eye was, “In short: Running superlong distances might backfire on you.”

I never reached extreme runner status but in my mother’s mind, any running was extreme. The word “backfire” would have fueled her fire and the yellow ribbon caution tape would have reinforcemed her opinion that exercise is “for the birds.”

I started running when I quit smoking. I knew a gain of even one pound would give me the excuse to start again so I joined a health club and enlisted a trainer who believed running and weight lifting go hand-in-hand. My husband, who had been smoke-free for three years, got on board, too. It was October so we set our sights on the Race for the Cure the following spring.

That race led to others. That’s when my mother added her two cents’ worth, something she rarely did. It was Easter Sunday. My hubby and I had awakened early so we could run, get back home to shower and dress, and take Mom to church and brunch. I was standing in the front hall when Mom looked over the upstairs railing and said, “You know, all this running isn’t good for you.”

She repeated that opinion when I trained for a half-marathon. And, again, the following year when my better half and I signed up for a 13-week marathon training program. Mom never said anything about my thrice-weekly sessions of weight training, though. As far as she was concerned, lifting weights was a taboo subject.

Years before, I had suggested she start walking and lifting tiny two-pound weights or cans of Campbell’s soup. All she said was, “Oh, Honey,” but her tone of voice said, “Bug off.”

Mom wasn’t overweight but she often joked about the loose, flabby skin hanging off her upper arms. When she did, I told her I had a remedy. “Of course, you do,” she said, smiling through her scowl as I demonstrated a bicep curl or a triceps pushdown.

After Mom’s second shoulder replacement, I asked the surgeon about exercise; especially, the weights. He agreed it would be a good idea once his patient recovered.

“I asked the doctor for his opinion about your lifting light weights and walking,” I said. She narrowed her eyes, pursed her lips and said, “Of course, you did.”

Mom, who never started walking and never picked up a weight, passed away before I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that attacked my muscles.

She wasn’t the type to say, “I told you so,” but still, it’s too bad Mom wasn’t with me the day the neurologist said, “You have to stop running.” My mother, always quick with a comeback might have trilled, “You’re playing my song, Doc.”