Old age and treachery will always beat youth and exuberance.David Mamet
My father often shared the above quote as he aged, along with Growing old ain’t no place for sissies, which is attributed to Bette Davis. My father lived to be 85, and had he not smoked for 30 years, compromising his lungs, he might have lived longer.
I’ve been a runner since 1975, when I took an actual class at a college called something like Jogging 101. I had always been active as a child, a tomboy who loved being outside, quick to learn to cycle, water ski and snow ski. I didn’t realize it at the time, but running was not only a way to stay healthy, but became a way for me to run away from problems, including a marriage at age 18 that was also a way of running away from my parent’s recent divorce. Turns out running is my default setting when it comes to stress. My salvation.
My life has traveled many roads since 1975, but the one constant has been running. I’m now 62, and have been running consistently – sometimes obsessively, even excessively – for 44 years this month. It’s been fun to show all the naysayers of those early days how wrong they were, that my knees are just fine, I’m still running strong, and I’m healthier than they can ever hope to be.
So it seemed appropriate, and even like a good idea at the time, that I sign up for a 30K/18-mile trail race to be run not far from my home on Sunday, September 15th. Not an easy race, this; on remote mountain trails, it has 3,500 feet of elevation gain and loss over the loop route, with a peak elevation of 8,752 feet.
What have I gotten myself into? My last official race, the dog-friendly Peterson Ridge Rumble 20-miler, was in 2016. I ran with Conall, who was just a few months past his first birthday. Conall had a great race! He left me behind to run with a sexy terrier, causing me to ask at every aid station if he’d been seen (“Oh yeah, he’s doing great, just a quarter mile ahead of you!”) until finally near the finish I sought a quick ride to a spot where I could back track on the course until I found him; I didn’t want Conall trying to negotiate the cars and chaos of the finish area on his own. Upon finding Conall, happily trotting down the trail on his own, I leashed him and we crossed the finish line together in just under four hours. Not an optimal race experience.
I admit that this time, I was enticed by the idea that (a) I’m the only woman in the 60-69 age group and (b) if I finish, I’ll be the only woman over 60 to have completed the race since it started five years ago. And Conall will stay home! Doesn’t hurt that the time limit of nine hours is incredibly generous, the race coinciding with the finish of a 100-miler that starts the day before. Hell, I can walk 18 miles in nine hours, no problem.
I’ve run over 90 races of marathon or ultra distance (an ultra is a race longer than the 26.2 miles of a marathon) in my running career, mostly ultras, with countless unofficial training runs of similar distances. I was addicted for a while. Since 2005, when I moved to Idaho, I’ve not trained or raced the long distances because I left behind the ultra running friends and community with whom I trained. That was a painful withdrawal, but the upside was that my shorter solo runs – with my dogs – allowed me the time to pay attention to the forest I’d come to adopt as my own, learning its quirks, seasons, and secrets. And in the past couple of years, I’ve been fighting a hip ache that made runs longer than 10 miles no fun. Swapping old shoes for new this year, and my 30-year old office chair for a therapy ball, have made the hip ache almost disappear. I’m dreaming of those longer runs again.
I distinctly remember, in my thirties and forties, thinking how fun it would be to preserve my ability to run so that I could still race in my sixties and seventies. I mean, let’s face it, by then, the competition has dwindled, sometimes to nothing! I had no idea how true that would be until I signed up for this race this weekend.
Now I’m putting that idea to the test. The old ultra runner’s mantra comes to mind: One foot in front of the other. Focus on the finish.
Wish me luck. I’m going to need it!