Thanks in advance, ESG
As we rounded the last turn in our running club's spring two-mile time trial, we both dug deep, looking to finish strong. Despite giving it my all, I could not catch him, and crossed the finish line a few seconds behind. The clock's big yellow-green display gave me the news: 12:07, with the final four laps my first sub-six-minute mile. I beamed, while my running club mate - five years my senior - hung his head and wheezed, "To think, that used to be my half-marathon pace."
In the year-plus since I went from casual fitness runner to devoted (obsessed?) distance runner, I've enjoyed great improvement. My first-ever "long" run was a laborious 7-miler where I walked several times and used three packets of energy gels. Now that distance - run about 90 seconds per mile faster than that first time -is a common recovery run between longer, harder efforts. My race times have also improved, though the PR's aren't coming as fast and furiously as they did at first.
Every time I hit a new benchmark, though - whether a faster pace, longer distances, or newfound training consistency - I feel like I'm venturing into uncharted territory. The sense of accomplishment is wonderful. As a still-new runner, I'm on my way up. On this climb, I've noticed that I'm now running with others who feel that their running careers are following the opposite trajectory.
Thanks to having found this wonderful sport later than many others, I have no glory racing days about which to wax nostalgic. I can't regale anyone with tales of my college PRs, the crazy 20-milers in summer heat with no fluids, the multiple races in a single week - or a single day. But the beauty of taking up running while staring down middle age is that I have plenty of personal glory ahead. For me, an age group award is a cause for celebration, not a consolation prize. For many of my running brethren, though, they see themselves on a slow, painful decline from their days of peak fitness and superior speed.
As one former collegiate runner friend told me, he's moved to the half-marathon and marathon because he knows he'll never come close to his college PR's at shorter distances, his near-15-minute 5K a relic of personal history. Others have ventured into the world of ultras or triathlons or adventure racing, using their fitness to try new events and set a new slew of PR's. In the meantime, I'll continue to consider 40 miles a week to be a solid base, while others lament that they can "only" run 60 or they'll get injured. It's all still fresh to me, and I think (hope?) I have a few years to improve at every distance, before the inevitable equalizer of age starts to make me slow down.
It seems that the primary complaint of the middle-aged - whether talking about career, personal relationships or hobbies - is the common "ruts" in which we find ourselves. Routine may be comfortable, but it can also deaden one's senses, stifle creativity and squelch the wonderful feeling that comes from trying new things, taking on new challenges, testing and surpassing our perceived limits.
While taking up running may not be for everyone, doing something new when you might think you're too old to will inevitably surprise you. You may not end up being the best, but you will certainly be the best you've ever been. And that will help you see yourself in a very positive new light.