As I ponder the thought of "getting old" on my 50th birthday, my mind flashes back in time. To a moment in my early 20s, at an office birthday party for me. I was turning 23...and I was horrified. I remember thinking I was only two years away from 25...which is half way to 50! Boy did I feel old that day.
I'm pretty sure that was the moment I lost my fear of growing older. It must have been a cathartic event, turning 23. For some reason, I have no idea why, growing older no longer was a step closer to the grave, but rather step closer to something I had yet to accomplish. Maybe that year was my coming of age. After all, it was the year I got my first office job, my first case of the hemorrhoids from sitting at a desk all day, my first apartment, and my first live-in girlfriend. It was also my first year to experience running. I hadn't run a marathon yet, but I do remember thinking how difficult it would be. The thought lingered, and eventually it turned into inspiration.
Some call it dreaming. For me it is more about visualizing. Dreams happen in my sleep. Visualizing occurs when I'm sitting at a conference and I realize I haven't heard a word the speaker has said. I try to listen, but I can't focus. I look at my watch. I look around the room. I start to feel like a caged animal.
The next thing I know I'm training for a marathon, running through the streets at night. From somewhere, maybe above the misty street lights overhead, comes this strange feeling in the back of my neck. It's vaguely familiar, like a tingle of warmth from a smoldering fire. Slowly, it moves down my back, into my hips, then down to my legs. This tingle is now a surge of energy, and it washes the fatigue flowing through my veins right out of my body. Now I'm moving effortlessly over the cold, black asphalt. But the source of this energy isn't from the misty lights above. It's locked up somewhere inside of me. Then it occurs to me that, when running, I'm holding the keys.
I keep running. Through the pain which I determine is just a facade to be crushed under the weight of my ambition. I push into new realms, an exploration of self, a discovery of the undiscovered. With marathon's behind me, I move up to fifty, then one hundred mile races. My hobby turns into a passion, then boarders on obsession. When months turn into years, an unwelcome truth slowly emerges from the ashes of reality. My body sends messages, but my mind isn't listening.
When I was younger, my body was always ready and waiting. Poised and strong, ready for every command. Knowing this, my mind knew few boundaries, for its partner was always there, pushing the limits. My ego took center stage. But nothing lasts forever, even the sun and the moon. It wasn't long before my ego started to take my body for granted.
Subtle at first, the messages kept coming. Of course these were just part of being a runner, I thought. Injury, fatigue, general malaise, all classic signs of pushing too hard. Then, finally, I started to listen to the messages. My body was teaching me a lot, helping me understand its limits, so I could work with it, not against it. Consistency before duration, duration before intensity. Run within myself. Build the base. Now my body takes center stage. With a new found respect, my body talks and my mind listens, without prejudice. And my ego? It's a mere bystander.
The same thought that lingered when I was 23 still lingers today. Difficulty remains my calling card. But now that I'm listening, my body has taught me that I have experience and knowledge on my side. These are my successes and failures, my strengths and weaknesses. These are the keys that I now hold, and they accompany me on every mile, on every trail, and, now that I'm 50, into the unknown.