I learned the cold hard truth about aging in 1983, when I was a mere 38 years young. Two years prior, I had been a newlywed training for the New York City Marathon. I had registered, been accepted, and then forced to withdraw when I incurred a stress fracture in my right foot. I was heartbroken. At the time, I was running fifty five miles per week at a pace of seven minutes per mile.
Truth be told, I had elected to run as a way to alleviate the tension that accompanied the divorce from my first wife in June of that year. Four days after the decree, I met my present wife, Becky, at a Father’s Day picnic, and six weeks, two days later we were married. But still I continued to run. My new bride never understood the compulsion that drove me to arise at five in the morning for my daily run, leaving her alone in our bed. “It’s all about the endorphins,” I would explain. “I can’t live without running.” The habit was hard to break; one might even say I was addicted—as are many runners. Just ask them.
Fast forward two years. I’m out for my daily run, nearing the end of a five-mile course, when I spot another runner up ahead. He appears to be about my age, and runs with an easy gait, typical of practiced, long-distance runners. Gradually, I increase the tempo of my stride, figuring I’ll catch and pass him before I quit for the evening. It’s a game I like to play, imagining myself a world class runner with no limits—and I always win. My heart hammers within my chest cavity, as I pick up the pace. My legs ache, and my lungs burn, crying out for more oxygen. Despite my best efforts, however, I haven’t gained a yard in the pursuit of my imagined opponent. He turns occasionally and looks over his shoulder, and I could swear he’s sneering. Lots of luck trying to catch me! he seems to be saying in a silent taunt. I press the pedal to the metal one last time, but there’s no gas in the tank. I’m done. Gradually I slow to a trot, then a walk, my chest heaving. That’s odd, I think, I’ve never had this happen before. But then I’ve never been 38 years old either.
Fast forward once again, this time to the present. I’m training once again, only now it’s for a different reason altogether. At age 71, I’ve entered the 5K race in the Four Seasons division of the North Carolina Senior Games. My goals are twofold: one is to finish; the other is to break 36 minutes for the 3.1 mile race. That’s an average speed of approximately 11:36 per mile, a far cry from my 1981 pace (back then, I posted a personal best of 19:17 for a 5K, or 6:18 per mile).
Fortunately, age doesn’t just bring aches and pains; in most cases, it’s also accompanied by an increase in wisdom. Since having a stroke six-and-a-half months ago, I’ve changed my diet and lost nearly 30 pounds. I run to to stay healthy. Running—and finishing—the race will be a kind celebration of the hard work I’ve done to make myself healthier. To that end, I’m already a success. If I can achieve my secondary goal, it will validate the extent of my dedication.
The race is on May 3rd, in Fletcher, North Carolina, and I’m hoping my family will be there to cheer me on. I hope you’ll keep a good thought for me, too. After all, we old timers need all the help we can get.