Growing Young Gracefully

I was an old man when I started running. Not that 43 is all that old, it’s just that I was living an old man’s life in an old man’s body, dreaming an old man’s dreams. I’m much younger than that now.

Before I started running, I could count the years of accumulated excess like the rings inside a tree trunk. Unlike a tree, however, with each passing year I was becoming harder on the inside and softer on the outside. My waist expanded while my spirits shrank.

When I was an old man, I was always searching for something better – a better job, a better car, a better relationship, a better everything. As I’ve got younger, I’ve learned that most of what I’ve always thought was better had been based on what someone else had told me was better. The younger I get, the more willing I am to trust my own judgement. I realise that I can’t live every moment of my life as an adult. So I don’t.

When I run, I run as I did in childhood. I run because it makes me feel good.

I tell my friends that I’m training or working out. I tell them about perceived exertion. I even talk to them about intervals and about running at specific percentages of my maximum heart rate. But deep down I know that I’m just having fun.

I try hard to maintain the charade of adulthood while running and racing. If I see another runner approaching me, I try to get that grim look of determination on my face. As we pass each other, I give the traditional runner’s grunt and wave; then, when I’m sure I’m safely out of sight, I relax and go back to having fun.

At races, I try even harder. I’ll start with the intention of testing the limits of my abilities and the accuracy of my training. I put on my game face, but it doesn’t last. Before long, I’m chatting with the other runners and joking with the volunteers at the water stations.

For a long time I worried about what all this meant. I wondered if somehow I just wasn’t getting it. I thought that maybe I was missing some crucial element in being a runner.

My problem was that I could never resolve the paradox; the harder I worked at being a better runner, the more fun I had. The absurdity of my waddling around the local running track doing quarter-mile repetitions, for example, made me laugh. But they also made me faster.

Even running on a treadmill like a caged gerbil seems like fun to me. I can’t escape the fundamental silliness of it all. How adult and rational can it really be, I think, to spend an hour running on a rolling rubber mat?

The strangest part is that the more fun I have running, the more childlike I am when I’m not running. Running ‘backwards’ is scraping away the cynical veneer of adulthood. I’m much more inclined now to episodes of pure foolishness. I’m much more likely to see the good in people and to be open to new friendships than when I was older.

Through running I’m regaining the faith and innocence of my youth. I was an old man when I started running. I’ll never be that old again.

Waddle on, friends.