I have a very clear memory of a 10k race back in about 1986. It was held in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, and the finish area was in a lovely grassy field. I was hanging out with a few friends, all of us in our mid-twenties, as we waited around for the awards. I had won something in my age group (even as a sub-40-minute 10k runner back then, I was rarely fast enough to place overall), so I was feeling pretty good and probably just a tad superior to all the peons around me.
As the top awards were handed out, I watched the 40-something Masters winners walk up to get their awards, and I remember thinking what a bummer it must be to be that age. At that age, all their best times are behind them and they’ll never get them back. At that age, they must feel a little sheepish about winning an “overall” award since, after all, they’re not as fast as a lot of people in the race (i.e. “me”). I thought of the Masters division as a sort of an obligatory polite nod of recognition for old people who still exercise. Because, obviously, they couldn’t really compete anymore what with being over 40 and all. Basically, I felt kind of sorry for all those doddering old fartleks since racing could no longer be exciting for them.
Isn’t it fascinating how time changes your point of view (particularly when it’s to your advantage to have your POV changed)? Twenty-two years later, I am That Age. And I couldn’t disagree more with myself.
It’s true that, short of imaginary bionic surgery, I’ll never beat my old times. Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard people say that I can run my times of my 20s if I train a billion times harder, take a wheelbarrow full of supplements every day, cut my hair, and wear a running skirt. But let’s be realistic. Running is still a hobby for me—sometimes an obsessive hobby, but nonetheless, a hobby (say “hobby” 50 times. It’s a weird word). I don’t want to become what one of my younger friends refers to as An Old Running Freak. You know the type; he or she most closely resembles a piece of old shoe leather with string arms and legs flapping around. Nothing important exists outside of running. Nearly 89% of all conversation with them begins with the phrase, “I remember the time I ran…” They use Ben Gay as a moisturizer and wear running shoes to weddings. They’ll randomly bark out phrases like “Yasso’s 800s!” in the midst of polite dinner conversations about window treatments.
Anyway, I’m really getting away from the original pleasant and thoughtful tone that I had intended for this blog.
My point is that, at 47, running and racing may have changed in terms of time elapsed from point A to point B, but it hasn’t changed at all in terms of the experience. I feel the exact same fear, excitement, dread, and lightheadedness 30 seconds before the gun goes off in a race that I did back when I pitied those poor all-the-excitement-is-gone Masters runners. I play the same mind games at mile 22 of a marathon and feel the same intense anger at the entire *&%$#* universe at mile 2.5 of a 5k. It’s true that I can’t run as fast as I once could, but when I run as fast as I can now, the feeling is still the same. The joy at the finish line is identical. Recapture youth? Thanks to running, there is a part of my life that makes me feel as though I’ve never lost it.
And then there’s this too: For the past decade or so, I’ve looked at older runners and often thought, “Damn! I can’t believe he/she is 50 (or 60 or 70…).” Regardless of all the warnings about running causing knees to explode, boobs to sag, and faces to hang slackly, it actually makes you look younger as you get older . As a result, I’m honestly looking forward to turning 50 in a few years. (Is it too Old Running Freak of me to look forward to it, too, because it puts me in a new age group?)
All in all, it’s much cooler to be this age than I thought it would be when, all those years ago in Golden Gate Park, I was that age.