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Aging Gracefully on the 60th

Date: 
12/28/2014 - 18:23

By Scott Ludwig

It started over 20 years ago. On my 40th birthday I ran 40 miles. On my 45th birthday I ran 45 miles. This went on for another decade until I decided that 55 miles on my 55th birthday was a good place to call a truce—on behalf of my abused body--between running my age in miles every five years. Or at least ‘convert’ to kilometers on my 60th birthday (that would mean running 37.2 miles for anyone not fluent in metric).

As I’ve come to learn, time has a way of sneaking up on you. I’ll be 60 this December and it was time to make a decision. It took all of 60 seconds:

I wanted to run 60 miles; kilometers are for wimps (sorry, Europe).

The first thing I needed was an accomplice. What’s that, Sarah? You just ran your first 100-miler this summer, you’re hungry for more and all I have to do is say ‘when?’ Give me a couple of dates that work for you and I’ll see which days I have available and we’ll go from there.

Once Sarah and I agreed that Sunday, Nov. 16 would work for both of us, I got an Email with the volunteer schedule for church. My wife Cindy and I were scheduled to work at Grand Central (the information counter) on Nov. 16. I asked Kathi the scheduler to swap me out with someone on Nov. 23 and asked that she not tell Cindy about my plans to run 60 miles on the 16th.

So what happens next? Cindy comes home one evening and says she saw a revised Grand Central schedule and that I was no longer scheduled to work with her on the 16th. I said I asked Kathi to schedule me for the 23rd as I had something to do on the 16th.

Cindy: ‘Kathi said you were running a race. Are you going out of town?’

Me: ‘No. I’ll be here.’

Cindy: ‘Are you going to be running?’

Me: ‘Yes.’

Cindy: ‘And it’s going to take most of the day?’

Me: ‘Yes.’

Cindy: ‘Well, it’s not your birthday.’

Me: ‘But it’s almost my birthday.’

Cindy: ‘Oh Lord, please don’t tell me you’re running 60 miles.’

Me: ‘OK, I won’t.’

(Insert sound of lead balloon hitting the ground)

Cindy knows me all too well. I think in her heart she knew 60 miles was inevitable, although she was probably hoping and praying I would convert to the metric system once I reached decade # 6.

As the date drew nearer the usual suspects lined up to run some of the miles with me. Al, Susan, Val, Eric, Sarah and my son, Josh, said they’d be out to give me the best birthday gift they could possibly offer: Themselves.

I laid out a flat (well, at least it seemed flat when I drove it in my truck), shaded 2 ½ mile route starting and finishing in downtown Haralson (Population zero, although it is a very familiar locale to anyone who watches the opening credits to The Walking Dead). The plan was to run the loop 24 times counterclockwise beginning at 6 a.m. My friends could join me any time throughout the day. Their instructions: Look for my blue Gator truck in deserted, downtown Haralson and wait—I’ll be coming by about every 27 minutes for the first 35 miles or so, but after that all bets were off. I hoped to finish up around 6 p.m. if everything went according to plan.

Sarah and Josh started with me at (officially) 6:02 a.m. Josh, getting his first exposure to an ultrarunning endeavor, studied the assorted food and drink I loaded on the back of the truck: Gatorade, water, soda, chocolate milk, ginger snaps and pretzels—all things I would be soon be sick of and wouldn’t eat or drink for weeks after today.

We used a flashlight for the first loop as we took note of the solitude and the incredibly great weather we were blessed with (40 degrees, slight breeze, overcast). Josh ran 10 miles and then headed home as he was going to church with Cindy. I made note that Josh stopped to answer Nature’s Call about every three miles, lending more support to the ‘apple not falling far from the tree’ theory. Sarah held on for 25 miles before calling it a day, but by that time Eric had shown up wanting to run 20 miles so it looked like I’d have company for at least the first 45 miles of my run.

Now would be a good time to interject what didn’t happen during the course of the day:

· I didn’t trip and fall.

· I didn’t have to stop to answer Nature’s Other Call.

· I didn’t change clothes (although I did remove my jacket after the first loop).

· I didn’t change shoes.

· I didn’t cuss (although Eric said I exhaled the word ‘sh*t’ every other breath).

· I didn’t have any close encounters with mean dogs or hostile Haralsonians.

· I didn’t quit. (Wanted to, but didn’t. More on that shortly.)

Al and Susan showed up for their 10 miles shortly after Eric started running with me. Once Eric completed his 20 miles and called it a day, I still had six more ibuprofen remaining before my run was complete. (Let me explain: I counted off 24 ibuprofen—one for each of the laps I needed to run—and placed them on the right side of the back bumper on the truck. After each lap I would move one ibuprofen to the left side of the bumper; once all 24 had made it from one side to the other I would be finished. My only concern was if someone showed up while I was in the middle of a loop, consume a couple of the ibuprofen and forget which pile they took them from.)

I ran briskly for the next three laps once Eric left (no one was with me, so yes, I RAN BRISKLY FOR THE NEXT THREE LAPS). Towards the end of my 21st lap I heard a car approaching me from behind: It was Val. She was finished showing houses for the day and could go home (she lives about three miles away) and change into her running attire if I wanted company for the final three laps. If she only knew what was running through my head during that 21st lap (52 ½ miles isn’t bad, is it? Who could fault me if I stopped? Etc., etc.) she wouldn’t have needed to ask.

Fifteen minutes later she returned and the two of us ran, walked, reminisced (Val and I have been friends so long that she was by my side when I ran my 40th mile on my 40th birthday, and I was by her side three weeks later when she ran her 35th mile on her 35th birthday) and laughed—yes, LAUGHED—until the last three ibuprofen made it to the left side of the bumper.

I looked at my watch when we finished: 6:12 p.m. We shared a couple of beers I had hidden in the cooler beneath the two 64-ounce bottles of Gatorade and 20 pounds of ice. Pitch black evening (you couldn’t see the stars for the cloud cover), total silence, deserted town of Haralson — boarded up buildings everywhere — and two old friends sharing a beer after doing what they love doing most. Val hit the nail on the head when she referred to it as ‘surreal,’ because it most certainly was.

I took the following day as a vacation day from work. After all, I’m not a 52-or-53-year-old kid anymore (and the mere fact that I refer to someone 52 or 53 as a ‘kid’ sort of tells you something about me) and I knew I’d need the day to recover.

That next morning—after my two cups of coffee, of course — I took a personal inventory of which parts of my body hurt. Here’s a short list:

· Everything.

Al has been encouraging me for years—starting about the time I was still a 52-or-53-year-old kid — that I should learn to cut back my mileage, stop running so hard and age gracefully. Now that I’ve gotten this 60-miler out of my system I’m ready to do just that.

Note to Val: Thanks for pulling me through those last three loops. I don’t think I could have done them without you. Honest in’jun. I’m sorry I won’t be in town in a few weeks for your birthday. That is, unless you’re ready to convert to kilometers. Then we’ll talk.

(Scott Ludwig is president and founder of Darkside Running Club (.com). He lives in the Atlanta area and is the author of seven books – five about running – and is working on others. He can be reached at darksiderunningclub@comcast.net. He also has as blog at: ScottLudwigRunsandWritesblogspot.com where his books are available – or at any major online bookstore. He is a columnist for Running Journal.)

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