Monday, February 14, 2022

Running Old

The legs in 1982. I promise they're the same today.
Three times in as many weeks I ‘ve been stopped during my daily run by women who tell me how impressed they are that a man of my age is still ambulatory. Most recently a physical therapist at Holy Cross Hospital was riding her bicycle up Weimer Road as I was starting my run down the shallow hill. She stopped and asked, “How old are you?” She might as well have asked, “Why do you even bother?”

I replied, “80.”

She asked, “80 exactly?” She really meant, “Is that all? You look 97.”

I replied, “Yup.

She said, “Good on you” and rode on.

And earlier in the week I was running down Cañon Este near the Youth and Family Center and a car did a U-turn, so it faced me as I shuffled along. A young woman got out of her car and waited for me.

“I see you running all the time. You are such an inspiration.” She put her hand over her heart. I asked her name.

She answered, “I’m Rosalina Molina. I live on Monterey in Weimer. Weimer is a tony neighborhood nestled into the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains that rise above Taos. I told her we had lived in Weimer long ago and, in fact, had almost bought a house on Monterey. I added it was a great place to run and I missed that part of living there. That I was still running in and around Weimer despite living five miles away exemplified exactly that I suppose.

English was Rosalina’s second language I observed. She spoke flawless English but with a lilting Mexican accent.

She gushed with such praise that I was embarrassed. Rosalina told me that she was so impressed that she was going to go home, put on her sneakers, her words, and go for a run.

I wanted to encourage her, so I fell into full coach mode. I told her to try running four times a week for thirty minutes each time. That would produce the greatest cardio-vascular benefit for the least effort. That’s the nugget I employed when I stared running almost 46 years ago. I emphasized that developing a habit was the key to a successful exercise routine. Rosalina promised she’d try that very evening. The conversation was much longer but that was the essence of it.

Rosalina was so effusive that I was touched, embarrassed, and depressed in one messy package; touched because she was so kind, embarrassed by the hero worship, and blue because I knew what compelled her to reach out to me. In her eyes I was manifestly old, and miraculously still putting one foot in front of the other.

The third episode was on Weimer Road where it meets Cañon East. This time I was running uphill, so I looked like I was running backward. A mature woman driving downhill stopped her car and rolled down her window.

She told me. “I’ve watching you run for years. I am so impressed. It’s incredible that you’re still running at your age.” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

I replied, “Thanks, I guess. I just keep on plugging. If I stop, I’m afraid I won’t be able to start again.”

It reminded me of a nugget by Jeff Jerome, a San Francisco journalist in the 70s. He wrote in The Complete Book of Running that “We exercise to preserve function.” Or, said another way, “Use it or lose it.” It means that if we keep doing that priceless act we’ll be able to continue doing it. Stopping is The End. I’ll stop when my body stops.

I’m being praised because I am demonstrably old. I run like I’m 80 years old. My steps are short. My cadence gives slow a bad name. You have to time me with a calendar. I'm hunched over and my face is a death mask. Only my taut and sinewy legs bely the years. Those babies are unchanged since 1982. See the before picture at the 1982 NYC Marathon above.

For decades I’ve believed that I could I can fool Father Time and that the strictures of aging don’t apply to me. It’s between your ears, viejo. It’s mind over matter. Even now as I churn out 12-minute miles I fantasize that with an attitude adjustment I can still run 10-minute miles and cover six miles instead of four in an hour.

That my New Year’s resolution, to run like I’m 65 all over again. That’s when I last ran a 10K sub 50 minutes, just under 8 minutes a mile. It’s incomprehensible. Back then I could link two or three 7-minute miles. I’m 50% slower than 2007. That decline seems excessive doesn't it?

I’d like to not look like an old man when I'm running. In my perfect world the only way you’d be able to guess my age is to see me without a mask.

I’ll be giddy with six miles an hour. Maybe at that pace women will stop accosting me.

PS. Today I ran my usual route in Weimer. I was so pumped to get faster that I threw in 12-70 to 125 yard pickups or fartleks which means speed play in Finnish. I ran as hard as I could till I was winded, that's called being anaerobic. I jogged till I caught my breath and repeated the process. I ran farther on my the out leg of my out and back route than I have in a year. Jesus, it was hard. 

1 comment:

Blacks Crossing said...

A great chunk of writing, Esteban! And running. Every single thing you said rings true for us as well. At our respective ages, we don't precisely know how to react when people stop you and ask your age, or how often/far you run/walk, or say "You look really good." And in their eyes you add on "for your age". But, in actuality, I have said that to many people older than I am, meaning it only and completely as a complement when the words came out of my mouth. A friend of ours is 91 and plays tennis three times a week. We have nothing but admiration for him and in our hearts, hope that we can still be doing the like of which he is doing when we are his age. Heck, Jack LaLanne did some frigging amazing things until his death at age 97 or some such. So you should consider yourself complimented! You have great legs, a great constitution, and like it or not, you are setting an example for people both younger and older than you. As much as that little voice of insecurity pops into our brains, toss it into the bin and know you are doing what you love. Thanks for the message!