I’ve always been impressed by runners who celebrate birthdays by “running their age,” for example, running 30 miles on their 30th birthday, 40 miles on their 40th birthday, and so on. I have read that BAA Marathon Race Director Dave McGillivray did this every year from age 12 through at least age 60. Yes, he celebrated his 60th birthday on August 10, 2014 by covering 60 miles.
So as my own big day approached, I considered my options. Unfortunately, a calf injury has severely limited my running lately, putting my current range at about 1.5 miles before sharp pains begin shooting up my leg. So it seemed unwise to attempt 40 times that far. By the same calculus, I quickly ruled out running 60 Km, running 60 laps of an outdoor track, running 60 laps of an indoor track, WALKING 60 laps of an indoor track, and strolling past 60 lampposts. Although I could probably do it, there seemed to be no point in running, walking, or crawling 60 meters; that would just be silly.
In the end, I decided to pedal furiously on a stationary bike for about 45 minutes so that I could take the photo, above. I know. It’s lame… very lame.
And yet, despite not being able to run, it wasn’t all that bad. I’ve been surprised to find that, with daily workouts on the bike, my hatred for that form of exercise has abated somewhat. It seem the more virtual miles I cycle, the more appetite for cycling I have. Of course, this can’t go on forever.
But it reminds of something important to remember as I age out of another decade: you can’t wait for motivation before starting an activity; you have to start first, and keep going long enough that motivation starts to grow. That’s the way it works in running. It seems to be the way it works for cycling, and I suspect for a lot of other things, too.
Take writing, for example: recently I’ve tried to stick with a routine of taking my laptop to the Newton Public Library a few times per week, and spending 2-4 hours writing. I fail at this regularly, and each failure creates inertia I must overcome to get momentum again.
But even if I make it to the library, I have a hard time getting anything useful done for a while. Like many other would-be Hemingways, I find it excruciating to get the first few sentences written. I am consumed with indecision and a growing sense that I have nothing whatsoever worthwhile to say, and wouldn’t have the wit to express it if I did. Paragraphs are launched, spin crazily, and crash, leaving smoldering wreckage behind. It’s not unusual for me to abandon one project and start another just to try to get some kind of writing momentum going.
And then – sometimes, not always — you cross a threshold, and suddenly everything feels different. Instead of being out of sync, thoughts find a matching rhythm with the flow of words, and actual writing begins to appear on the page. It might take me an hour or more to get to this point, but the trouble will be worth it when I see a coherent train of thought and expression take shape in front of me. It actually feels more like reading the work of my unconscious than actively writing something, and I find myself curious to see what I’m going to write next.
Maybe when I’m finished, or days later I’ll look back and judge the writing as sub-standard, or see with embarrassment the obvious things that need fixing. But that will come later. In the moment, I’m just really happy to feel like I’m working, and I can see the work right there in front of me.
A few days ago, I had a good session, getting a good chunk of writing done on a subject I’d been struggling with for a while. As I was leaving the library, about three or four hours after I had arrived, I realized something else: my mind felt energized with ideas for other pieces. After getting into my car, I actually pulled out a notepad and wrote down several ideas that had occurred to me in the time I had been walking across the parking lot.
Is there a parallel to running?
I know I’ve had a similar thing happen, when, having just finished a long run or hard workout, you’re already anticipating the next one, wanting more of whatever it is you just experienced. It’s hard to explain this to non-runners, who naturally assume that fatigue makes you not want to run anymore. I think fatigue makes it harder to run, but somehow the wanting is still there, possibly stronger than ever. This can get us in trouble, if we’re not careful.
And the opposite is true: taking time off rests the body, but dulls the appetite. This is how I know that running is not actually an addiction. If it were, a week off would produce withdrawal symptoms that would drive us mad to run again. But the opposite happens. The pain of missing a daily run is greatest on the first day, less on the second, and so on. It’s hard, not easy to get back into it.
But what does any of this have to do with turning 60?
I believe that the most important thing that I must do is to simply keep doing it. Run if I can, bike if I must, but keep living the running life in whatever way I can. And I have to do the same with writing. Even if it’s crap, I need to keep writing, until it isn’t crap any more.
I know for a fact that my body will continue aging; that’s non-negotiable. But I want to keep wanting to get better, stronger, faster — even if I can’t reasonably expect to succeed. In other words, I want to get old because I’m getting old, not because I’ve given up wanting the things that young people have and take for granted.
You could say this means that I want what I can’t have, and you could say that’s a recipe for frustration. I see it differently. First of all, I am absolutely sure that if I’m able to drag myself to the treadmill, or the track, or the library, I stand a chance to feel better for having at least started. Second, I believe if I can push through whatever initial doubt and discomfort I feel, I’ll find my interest growing, and maybe it will get easier for a while.
Or maybe not, in any case, that’s not a recipe for frustration; that’s a recipe for still being counted among the living.