Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Worse Than Slow

Time flies like an arrow.*

We either get older, or we die. Thinking about it that way makes getting older not quite so bad.

What I'm struggling with is the idea that older means slower, and by slower, I mean not running as fast, not more feeble minded, though I can see where you were going with that.

When I was in high school, I was fast. But everyone's fast in high school. All of those muscles and tendons are still under warranty. In college, I was really fast, and strong. I didn't look it, but hidden under the math major clothes and bad haircut was some pretty serious giddy-up. But this was track stuff. Not really much place for it after graduation.

After college I stopped running all together. Got a job. Got married. Got fat.

I started distance running a few years later. I started from the bottom. I'd never run more than 2 miles at one time in my life, and hadn't run a step in years. As the years ticked off, I steadily improved. Eventually, I got to be pretty decent at it. I'd race, a lot, and usually finished toward the front, just a place or two away from an age-group award. I was fairly fast, fairly strong, and fairly thin.

Then I got divorced. My running's never really been the same since.

It's not the divorce's fault. Not really. But I don't think it's a coincidence that my running was at it's best when my marriage was at its worst. That's not to say that running ruined my marriage, either. In fact, it probably prolonged it.

About two years after my divorce, my good friend and former running buddy Dave**, after listening to me complain about my prolonged running slump, said "Maybe you aren't running as much now because you don't have to."

Of course, he was right. Dave's pretty much always right.

At the time, running was an escape. It gave me the chance to leave an uncomfortable situation behind me, physically and mentally, even if just for an hour or two. It was also a distraction. Rather than dealing with the unpleasantness in my home life, I spent hours on long runs, training plans, and race preparations. And it was a release. Running hard, pushing my body beyond its limits, vented stress and anxiety in the form of sweat and heat.

You can only escape and distract and release for so long. Reality catches up with you. An acquaintance of mine ran to the point of multiple stress fractures in her feet before admitting to herself that her marriage had to end. For me it was a freak misstep that fractured a bone in my foot. Three months without running left me without escape, distraction, or release. I was defenseless. I had no choice but to face my life. It was painful and unpleasant and awful. It was also necessary.

That was 10 years ago. Today, I'm older. And slower. And happier. And she's happier, too.

I'd really like to be fast again. But if I have to choose between running 6:30s and living an unhappy life, or 8:30s and the life I have today, it's an easy choice. I'm going to keep working on getting stronger and faster, but if you're looking for me, you'd probably want to look somewhere toward the middle of the pack.

Good running,

*Fruit flies like a banana.
** Dave's given up running for yoga and a life with functioning knees.

Image from here.