Still Running

I'm a sucker for writing on Roger Federer, and this piece by Brian Phillips on the autumn of Federer's career did not disappoint. Phillips' main theme is the epoch of athletic life that has the quality of "still." He notes that Federer is still great, but the "still" marks a kind of twilight quality to his game, which gives his performance an extra resonance.

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.
What Phillips writes about the "still" moment is true. Most great athletes hit "still" for a brief moment in time, then vanish into memory. Federer has prolonged the moment now for four or five years--though he is not dominating as he did in 2007, he is still great. And it is a sign of how great he was that he has been able to hold onto it for so long.

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.



  1. I started running last year at the age of 33. My entire running "career" has been in the "still" mode. I often have those still thoughts. Will I still be able to do this despite years of smoking, drinking, bad eating, obesity, etc.? Am I still young enough to get my 5K time into the teens? Lately, I also wonder if I still have the dedication and willpower to take on lofty goals.

    I was at the race on Saturday and it was inspiring to see you and many others cross the finish line. It was just what I needed and you still got it.

  2. Atta Boy Jeff! Great to hear that it's still going well! I get back to the states on Friday and we need to get together and run. Just hit me up on Facebook.

    Hunter Hall

  3. That's why distance running is so great. I hope to be running at my fastest when i'm your age. Of course, i'm a woman so I also have that on my side as I get into my thirties...I feel like I have nothing to look forward to except faster times at this point.

    You ran a great race Saturday. I can't wait to see what you do once you get in shape for your fall marathon.

  4. @Joey, Thanks for the comment! Make sure you say hey at the next race. I'm hoping to race with greater frequency this summer.

    @Hunter, I am going to be in and out of town this summer, but hopefully we can snag a run or two. You can hit me up on FB.

    @Candice, was great to see ya. Enjoyed the write-up of the race on your blog. Excellent running. I'm interested to see where I can get, too. I'm always watching Ben, maybe I can catch back up to where he is!

  5. We treasure most the things that we know we will lose. It's good, healthy, to contemplate the idea that we will hit a point where we can't do what we used to do, so that we develop a greater appreciation of those "still" moments.

  6. Ive been at this silly sport since I was 11 years old and I still enjoy it. The thing that running allows us is the chance to set and reach goals that most other aspects of life do not.
    Sure you can set a goal for work or a career, but those goals are more abstract and general than the targets we try to hit on race day. And the best part of it, is that it is ALL 100% dependent on YOU.


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