“The true runner is a very fortunate person.
He has found something in him that is just perfect.”
― the prophet sheehan
I became a runner on May 19, 1979. The Run for Life in San Angelo, Texas. A 5 miler, back when there were such things. 34 minutes and change. I was hooked.
My Uncle Bob was an addict. Old Onitsuka Tigers and tattered shirts, a True Believer back in the days of Fixx and Sheehan, of flour starting lines and popsicle-stick finishing systems, of DMSO and Pearl Light. I never had a chance; I was hooked.
I knew my life would never be the same.
I had been in search of an identity growing up, and just before my 24th birthday, I found it. I was a runner.
And that’s been my life since. Run, eat, do other stuff, sleep, repeat as necessary. Things came and went. But running was the thing I built my life around, my sense of self, my reason for living.
My wardrobe consisted of race shirts, old jeans and retired running shoes. My greatest compliment was when people were concerned for my health because I looked too thin. Standing by the mailbox waiting for Ultramarathon magazine to arrive; a life of vacations in which I never saw the cities because walking wasn’t allowed during race weekend.
My life has since then has always revolved around running. I was a very fortunate person. I found something in me that was just perfect.
My game plan was to make it to retirement, and then finally get serious. With unlimited time and no distractions, I could finally test the theory: What if you just ran all the time? I had dreams of hitting the 24-hour run circuit, sleeping in the back of the Honda and crushing other geezers. Run eat, sleep. Become Cassidy in the cabin.
Just as I’m about to hit 65, my body has decided to retire. I think my heart is finally giving out, the byproduct of too many desert summers and chocolate Frostys. Getting old isn’t as much fun as the brochure would indicate. I’m now at the point where walking 2 miles at a turtle pace reduces me to toast. My dreams are toast as well.
In the book “Being Mortal,” Atul Gawande ponders when it’s time to pull the plug; what quality of life you require before deciding that if you’re not really living anymore, then what’s the point. I was always in the Maude camp (if you have never seen “Harold and Maude,” you must. you must.) Maude said you should check out while you’re on top, because it’s all downhill from there. But I suppose Gawande’s point is well taken. Figure out what you need in life for it to be worthwhile, and continue to live as long as you can sustain that level. He had the talk with his dad, who replied: “Well, if I’m able to eat chocolate ice cream and watch football on TV, then I’m willing to stay alive.”
For me, running was always the one essential. As long as I was able to run, no matter how slowly, nothing else much mattered. Running was all I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
And now I can’t.
“The mind’s first step to self-awareness must be through the body,” Dr. Sheehan wrote. What happens when the body won’t let you take that step?
Life is all about recalibrating, plotting a new course after you’ve been following Google Maps and it’s led you into the middle of the lake. But I’m sinking, and I was never much of a swimmer.
There’s no good answer. “From the moment you become a spectator, everything is downhill,” Dr. Sheehan wrote. “It is a life that ends before the cheering and the shouting die.” His words haunt me.
Running is what I have always lived for. And now … I can no longer run. And I likely never will again.
I suppose the solution is glaringly obvious, if a bit terrifying.
Watch football and eat chocolate ice cream. Does a Medium Chocolate Frosty count?
May 19, 1979. I was a very fortunate person …