So, I was running along the perimeter of the local airport with one of my athletes and my wife the other day (we passed my wife about five minutes earlier, but that's par for the course). As always, conversations of substance begin once runners get past that "oh, God, this kind of bites" feeling (usually during the first mile or so) and into the rhythm of the run.
The morning topic happened to touch upon age, aging, and most specifically, aging up into a new running age bracket. Deena, my "poster child" athlete of the moment, feels compelled to take her newly-found running strength and go "dominate the dojo." While she's not the best in her age bracket, she's become very good and will probably put a scare into the one or two gals who are better than she. Deena says she wants to see whether she can run better times at some 10K races she ran in the past, before she doesn't have the speed at her disposal. Of course, she feels concerned because she thinks she won't improve or maintain her fitness over the next couple of years.
Naturally, my job as her coach is to make sure she stays healthy in order to meet the big running milestones of her life, which right now means next year's Boston Marathon. I'm not used to thinking about training plans in time frames of longer than six months; most of my athletes to this point (in my experience as coach) haven't elaborated as specifically on their goal events as this recent crop.
Aging is an inevitable outcome. When you consider the thoroughly unsavory alternative to aging, it does seem fairly acceptable. Some people, like my wife, approach it with no small amount of grace and humor. Other persons, like me, vary in degrees of kicking and screaming, especially when we observe the ways (running the gamut from hair dye to needless surgical procedures) our fellow humans try to ignore or turn back the clock.
One of my dear friends, Ruben, has a high running pedigree; a contemporary of Frank Shorter, Jack Bacheler, Jeff Galloway, Benji Durden, Jerry Slaven, Barry Brown, et. al., during the glory days of the Florida Track Club three decades ago. Hang out with him after a road race, even when you've had a bad day, and there's no doubt you will feel much better about yourself, even before the first beer is drained. Ruben always has a kind word about every participant's performance, and seems to know exactly where the silver lining hides within the darkest of clouds. When a guy has genuinely endured what John L. Parker Jr. called "the trial of miles," raced at national championships and Olympic Trials, I guess everything else could be considered a bit of a letdown. If there's a man who has the right to play the self-pitying "I used to run this distance in..." card, it's Ruben. He's more likely to tell you a story about holding hands with a fellow runner because neither guy wanted to let the other lose. I used to think Coach Slaven was kidding when he would tell those tales after our morning runs. After meeting Ruben I knew they were all true.
Sometimes the hardest part of moving forward is knowing what to do with the past. Perhaps the best thing to do is the running equivalent of Baz Luhrman's advice in "Everybody's Free To Wear Sunscreen:" Keep your old love letters. Throw out your old bank statements.
It's the feelings, more than the numbers, that matter when it comes to running...especially as we become more seasoned.