Thank you, President Smith, Dean Jones, Distinguished Faculty, Parents, Relatives, Friends, and of course — those in whose honor we gather here today — Members of the Class of 2014. Today, we celebrate what you have accomplished and look ahead to so much more that you will accomplish in the future. Congratulations to all of you. This is your day!
During this season of graduation and reflection, I’d like to address my remarks to all of the young runners among you, those who intend to continue running and racing, and those who now leave competitive running behind.
I’d like first to express my admiration for the road you have traveled so far. It’s incredibly exciting to see how strong and fast you have become, how you’re able to train and race at a high level month after month, season after season, rising to meet new challenges, setting new personal bests.
There was a time when I could join you on runs without slowing you down. You weren’t quite as strong and fit as you are now, and I was a little more spry. Sadly, those days are gone, but I want you to know it was always a pleasure to go for those cross-generational runs, at least it was for me.
But this is not about regrets. What I wanted to say is that in spite of the indignities you might suffer and the inevitable slowing down, I really hope you’re still running 40 years from now. Believe it or not, there’s a lot to look forward to.
Now I know that 40 years seems more like a curse than a blessing. It must seem perverse of me to ask us all to imagine these fresh young faces and fleet young feet dulled and deadened by 40 long years of use. But bear with me. It’s not all bad news.
If you’re still running in 2054, you’ll certainly feel different about many things. For example, I feel fairly sure that your perspective on injuries will have changed quite a bit. Your standard will no longer be perfect health, it will be a manageable list of more-or-less chronic weaknesses. You will ALWAYS be a little injured, that is, there will always be something — possibly many things — bothering you. You will, however, have become expert in distinguishing between those aches, pains, and twinges that remind you that bodies eventually wear out, and those that are serious and require intervention. It’s possible that you’ll be wiser about your injuries and taking care of your body. It’s also possible the years will have done nothing to soften your stubbornness. You’ll probably continue to believe that you can run forever, certainly through minor infirmities like a torn meniscus, a broken foot, heart disease…. You will talk a good game about understanding the need for rest, but you will avoid rest like the plague because you will know that your running days are numbered, and every day of rest means one less day of running. You will complain to your running buddies and anyone else who will listen about your bad hamstring, your hip, your knee, your foot, your Achilles, but you will drag yourself out there every day anyway.
Did I mention your running buddies? If you’re still out there pounding the roads 40 years from now, it’ll probably be because you have a few good friends who make it worth your while to get up early on a Sunday morning and plod around in the rain for a couple of hours. You’ll stay in shape so you don’t miss the “fun” of an evening workout in late fall where it’s too dark to read your watch, but it doesn’t matter because your fingers are too cold to press the buttons. Your running buddies will be there when no one else would be crazy enough, and you’ll love them for it.
You probably won’t worry any more about why you run. You’ll know that you’re not running for glory, and in fact, you’ll realize that glory is, and probably always was, a distraction from the main business, which is being out there trying. Even though your PRs are ancient memories, you’ll manage to motivate yourself by thinking that you can be faster next week than you were this week, if only you can stick with the training. I hope that you continue to race. Whether you do or not will probably depend on whether you can forget about the time on your watch and how many people are finishing in front of you. I know it’s hard to believe, but sometimes in the heat of a good hard training effort or a race, we old folks forget that we aren’t in our prime because it feels so much the same — the same doubts, the same moments of truth where you decide whether you’re willing to commit yourself to the effort to run your best. No, you won’t be in it to win it, but it almost won’t matter because you’ll be battling that one person right in front of us, or trying to hold off some guy with a killer sprint, just like in the old days.
But back to the present.
I apologize for all of this looking forward to imagine looking backward. No one here is interested in looking backward today; you’re looking forward, and you have every expectation that you’ll be faster, stronger, more enduring in the future, and that your best times are ahead of you. As a statistical matter, who can argue? But statistics aside, what we all realize at some point is that these expectations, too, are an illusion; one’s best times are always right now. Young or old, it’s today’s run that matters.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to toss away this cap and gown, swap these dress shoes for some Mizunos and head out to the trails. Echoing the rallying cry of runners everywhere, I say to you, “There’s more fast out there.”