Several months ago, I started training for a marathon. I gave myself 13 weeks to train. I knew I was cutting it close, but I was a runner in high school. Sure, that was more than 30 years ago. Whatever. I thought I’d have no problem.
I trained with my friend Aaron, and even though he’s a few years younger than I am, I got a crick in my neck talking to him because he was always a few paces behind. That’s always how it was. I was the fastest on my cross-country team. I was the head of the pack.
But then six weeks into training, I tore my calf muscle. On marathon day, I stood on the sidelines while I cheered Aaron on.
Months passed and I healed.
Last week, I ran with my friend Margery. She’s 11 years older than I am and I was looking forward to a light jog and conversation. Before she fired the starting gun, she said she wouldn’t be able to talk and I was like, “Cool, I’ll get to talk the whole time.”
For the entire 40 minutes, the only words I could say were, “Slow down.”
Margery talked, but I couldn’t hear her from ten lengths behind.
When we finished, I leaned over, hands on my knees, and prayed I wouldn’t vomit. She invited me in. She said, “I’m sorry, I hogged the conversation.”
That was true, but I couldn’t stick around. I knew my stomach was about to blow.
And then I almost had a scene like the one in the movie Bridesmaids. Remember when the bridesmaids ate at that Brazilian steakhouse and then went to the bridal shop? They were in fancy dresses. They started to sweat. Someone got to the toilet first so Melissa McCarthy pulled up all that taffeta and pooed into the sink. Then Maya Rudolph ran outside in a puffy white dress and squatted in the street. That was almost me.
I biked a mile home, pedaling and then coasting while squeezing my butt.
I made it, barely.
I don’t think diarrhea is a typical runner’s reaction, but I have seen marathon runners lose their shit.
I was the kid on the playground who always got picked first. I scored 16 homeruns during my first little league season. In elementary school, I got the sit-up record and I know from my friends’ little brothers and sisters that I held it for many years. At Vineland Elementary, I won best athlete. At Palmetto Junior, I won it again. And again, I won best athlete at Palmetto Senior. I was the fastest two-miler in Miami-Dade County. Even now when I bump into someone who knew me then, they’ll ask if I’m still running.
I played competitive junior tennis and was ranked top ten in Florida, then played tennis in college. Tennis got me into college. (PENN!)
Tennis players are famous for being snobs. Real players don’t play with hacks. I’m pretty sure since Margery didn’t play junior tennis, she’s a hack. So, when she asked me to play, I said, “Sorry no, I don’t play with hacks.”
Often, when men learn I played in college they challenge me. The latest was David. I gave him the hack line, but he insisted he’d been taking lessons every week and could give me a decent game. So, I used the strategy I always used, which was to keep the ball in play and run the guy side to side until he’s leaning against the back fence catching his breath between points. I was a tennis shark. I could have won money this way if tennis were anything like pool.
If this sounds like a humble brag, it’s not. This is a full-on brag. People brag when they’re insecure; I know that.
I’m insecure because being an athlete was the thing I had; it was where I derived my self-esteem. I knew that if I pushed myself, if I tried harder than anyone else, I would win. I relied on my body.
And now? Now, I’m the high school football star bragging about his past. Now, I’m a has-been.
Margery is 61. She plays tennis a few times a week and obviously she runs. I can see by looking that she doesn’t carry an ounce extra, but I still thought jogging with Margery would be a cool-down day.
Instead, this run flattened me. First my calf injury, which was my first injury ever, and then Margery. Am I done?
Of course, I could look at Margery and see an inspiration. And I do. I hope to be just like her when I grow up. But mostly I’m seeing what I’m not anymore.
I’m going to keep training because that’s what I do. I guess the next time someone asks me if I’m still running, I’ll say, “Yeah, slowly.”
Who will I be when the answer is no?
This is №45 of my #weeklyessaychallenge. I started this when I turned 50. My goal is 50 essays in a year. I’ve got 5 to go.