Things are hard in this “sandwich” time of life; truths come a-knocking that we were—once upon a time—mirthfully oblivious to. I don’t think I’m old; I’m not. But I am getting older, and it’s a bizarrely complicated dance. Things aren’t in sync. (Read the entire La Donna Mascherata – it’s amazing!)
I will turn 48 in February. My body creaks in the morning. I have to actively stretch to wake up the muscles. I groan sometimes when I get out of a chair. My husband laughingly says he’s old, to which I always say “older” because I am. I am middle-aged.
I am mindful and forgetful of my age every time I go to a group run with the twenty- and early thirty-somethings in our group. On the one hand, I want to challenge myself to keep up with them. Then my body says, “Uh, did you forget something?” It takes me two miles to even begin to feel like my body is a working unit, not some assemblage of spare parts like C3PO in Star Wars. It’s the ultimate physical manifestation of Charlotte’s “Things aren’t in sync.”
But once I get over that patch, once my body begins to respond and work more as unit, then I forget that I’m not young. Then I begin to see myself as one of the twenty-something group, just slower. I don’t really see any difference between them and me, not on the track or on the road. The age difference seems to melt, and I’m back to that 13-year-old girl running across the hill chased by my pack of dogs, and all the time that’s elapsed between then and now is gone. (For full disclosure sake, tears came as I wrote that last sentence.)
Last summer, Maggie and Emily had an assignment from their coach to do a 20 minute interval run. It was hot, and they gave every possible excuse to try to get out of it. Unfortunately for them, I have a store’s worth of running shoes and tank tops that fit them perfectly. What’s more, I had a 20-minute recovery run to do, so eventually we all trekked up to Gilman to run. Let me say now that I did the full 20 minutes-neither of them did. Maggie is a sprinter – she runs like the wind, but she also doesn’t like to go for any length of time. Fly and be done with it. Emily was willing to let her go ahead, and stuck with me longer, but she gave in to the heat before we were complete, too. (Funny, they can play a hard hockey game without a break, but not a 20 minute training run. I get it.)
There is beauty in the way they run. Their healthy, toned, flexible bodies move like deer, seemingly effortlessly. My mind knows I don’t run like that. I am constricted, cautious, knowing that a misstep can cause a painful fall. I run with too much experience, with too much knowledge of what “might” happen, of what can go wrong. Experience tightens me. They run from the gut – I run from the head.
So it’s not just the fact that my body is old that makes me a different runner – and person – from most of the group. It’s also that with every step I take, I carry almost 48 years of experience with me. It feels like a heavy load sometimes.
But then, every now and then, the load lifts. I feel it when it happens. And it happened Tuesday night. Just for one lap, but it happened. We were doing 3x400s in a certain pattern. It first two sets were tough. My legs were tingling (oh, I remember, I have multiple sclerosis) and then they felt like lead. I thought about skipping the last set, but then I remembered the “just do it” commitment that I had made to myself. The last set was to start with the “go for it pace” followed by an easy pace. I just wanted to finish and go home.
So we started the last lap. As we turned approached the first turn, I was fiddling with my ipod and tentatively running to avoid some standing water (there’s that thinking thing again!). And then…I don’t know what happened. It was like a car jumping into the next gear. All of a sudden I was running…all of me..all together. I started passing people that I had had trouble staying with earlier. I knew I was pulling away from Jill, but I couldn’t slow down. I felt like Maggie looked that day at Gilman. I had left something behind, at least for that 400 meters. Even with my tentativeness at the water on the first curve, I finished at 1;47. (Perhas not impressive for most people, but pretty darn impressive for this old mare.) I returned to earth as soon as I crossed the line, but…for that 1:47 everything was in sync – my mind, my body and my spirit. In my mind’s eye, I was the girl on the horse in my old poster, with her hair streaming behind her and the quotation, “The wind meets me in a thunderous rush of being.”
Life isn’t in sync most of the time. I am old but young, young but old. I am burdened by knowledge, and wishful for ignorance. But on Tuesday, for one minute and forty-seven seconds, I was ageless. And it was magic.