I've been running and racing now for 20 years, which is hard for me to believe. As much as I wouldn't like to admit it, I've been using the category of "still" to define my own running for the last couple of years. I ask myself: can I still run as fast as I could? Can I still get even faster? Can I still carve out time, effort, and energy for racing at the level that I would like to race?
This weekend, for instance, I was happy with my race despite the fact that I ran 30 seconds slower than last year and a minute slower than 5 years ago. Why was I happy? Well, I ran down a 19 year old kid over the last four miles. This happiness, however, gives me pause. Why was his age important to me at all? A 34 year old should be able to trounce a 19 year old over a 10 mile course, especially with the heat and the hills. Distance running is a kind sport to those of us in our thirties. What you lose in quickness, you gain in endurance and strength. This is what we tell ourselves: we've still got it.
|Still running hard, at the Bell Buckle 10 miler last weekend.|
Of course, I have achieved nothing resembling greatness in my running career, so the pressures of "still" have much less at stake--and the only person those pressures weigh upon are me. The best way to quiet those thoughts is to train hard, get strong, find that bullet-proof mind that gets honed after weeks of workouts. When you are strong, you're strong. The feeling is immediate and it's unnecessary to relate that strength forward or backwards to other times of life to understand it.
In the end, though, there is a difference between now and then. When I was younger and away from training, I just worried whether I was fit or not. Now, lack of fitness comes with an extra question or two: can I get back to where I was? How much longer can I run this fast?
It's somewhat embarrassing to admit to these thoughts, but it's not like I asked that they come to mind. They just did. Maybe it doesn't matter so much so long as they get me out the door, same as the old questions. The first mile of my run feels different than it did when I was 19, that's for sure. Most days, though, the next few miles feel the same as they always did. Which is to say, pretty damn good.