“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
– Mark Twain
Like the marathon, life can have its challenges after you hit mile 20. That last stretch can hurt!
My 1970s vintage Infinity surfboard now requires a little extra resin and fiberglass between surf sessions. It still rides fine, but it does take a bit more nurturing to keep it afloat after all those years of surfing. My body and my running career has followed a similar path.
It’s naptime for the dog when the ding repair kit comes out.
With all of the miles I have pounded out over the years running marathons, ultra-marathons, and triathlons, I have to confess that my body began to show some wear and tear once I hit my fifties. These days, I know how to doctor things up with a bit of resin and fiberglass (aka DMSO) to keep going, but I’d be lying to say that those miles don’t hurt my body more than they used to. I’m a lot smarter about how to prepare, and I keep my focus on just getting to the starting line and letting the rest take care of itself. You know what they say . . . “If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
In 2007 I ran a half marathon that was somewhat prophetic in this respect. Here’s the story exactly as it unfolded.
Big Sur Half Marathon on Monterey Bay
On a seasonably crisp October morning in Monterey, I was approaching mile 11 in the Big Sur Half Marathon when my view on life after fifty was jolted. Big Sur is a relatively fast half marathon for time (it does not have the hills, as its name might imply), and it is extremely well-organized for a race of its size (~5,000 runners).
I had run a hard first ten miles and was struggling to regain my focus for the final three, while ignoring the red flares my body was sending me to slow down. I had turned fifty earlier in the year and was intent on proving that I could still run a fast time. Ha!
Oblivious to the serene setting of sailboats moored in quiet coves as we ran along the bike trail in Pacific Grove, I pulled up to a tall and lanky runner who had been in my sights for a couple of miles. He was running hard, so I latched on to his side to keep pace and regain some composure for a strong finish. My time goal was in sight, and I figured this guy could help pull me in. We had covered a half mile or so side-by-side when he suddenly blurted out to me:
“How old are you?”
Wait, what? I’m struggling for oxygen, and this guy asks me my age?
This was not a time to be conversing. We were both breathing hard and near the end of our ropes. If I had the grit to initiate anything (and I didn’t), I might have babbled out a one-way, “good job” or “hang tough.”
But, “How old are you?” just hit me wrong.
As we bumped shoulders coming off the bike trail onto the street at Cannery Row for a long stretch of open pavement, I glanced at him. He appeared to be sizing me up, maybe thinking I was a threat in his age division? Finally, I found it in myself to respond, mostly out of the angst of having to say anything at this point of the race:
“Fifty! How old are YOU?”
“Fifty-nine,” was his immediate reply as we both continued to push the pace on the open street. I was glimpsing the finish line banner less than a mile ahead and decided to put on a final kick to get in. As he slowly faded behind me, I was hit with what seemed like a cannon shot from behind:
“A lotta shit between fifty and fifty-nine!”.
He spoke the words with such purpose and conviction that it rattled me. I found myself in a dither as I crossed the finish line, suddenly oblivious of the time I had worked so hard for. Why the heck did he have to say that, and what on earth did he mean?
I stumbled through the finishing chute with the masses of sweaty bodies looking like a lost soldier who had just been hit by mortar fire. As I claimed my platter of free food, none of which looked appealing, I scanned around to ask him what that was all about. He had vanished, and I never saw him again.
I mentioned the exchange to my fellow warriors at the finish line party, and we all laughed as we guzzled down our hard-earned post-race rewards while listening to the rock band powered by people riding exercise bicycles. Big Sur always has a fantastic finish-line party, and we were, of course, oblivious to the road which lay ahead.
Not a clue [yet] what this guy meant.
Fast-forward nine years to age fifty-nine, I knew exactly what he meant!
“A lotta shit . . .” pretty well sums it up. Mine started with knee pain, and progressed from there to my back going out on the day before I had signed up to run an ultra marathon. I recovered from that to encounter rotator cuff surgery, which I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy. The list goes on.
That story has become legendary among my running friends as we kid each other about the various ailments we experience while pushing our bodies to untold extremes in various sporting escapades. The running joke (pun intended) when one of us is injured is to say:
“Well, you know, ‘A lotta shit!’”