Going Full Circle
Article by: Michael SelmanReproduced with permission of the author
Age is a real double edged sword. With every year, we gain more wisdom, common sense and emotional strength. At the same time, once we reach a certain point, we reluctantly succumb to the fact that we have reached our physical peak. Things that used to be smooth now have wrinkles. Things start to sag that didn't used to. Things that used to be easy are now done with a little more effort, and we know the progression will continue.
During my running life, I have had a couple of setbacks that have kept me off the roads for long periods of time. The first time was in the mid 80's, when I became so burned out from training for the NYC marathon and then crashing and burning at mile 16 of the race, I lost interest in running for over 3 years. I guess it was an overuse injury of the brain.
Before the layoff, I was running 5K races pretty consistently in the 20 minute to 20:20 range. When I started to run again in 1990, I regained everything about running that I loved except the speed. The enthusiasm, the passion, the atmosphere, the love of running were are there, even stronger than before. I just couldn't run quite as fast as before. My new bar was set in the 20:30 to 21 minute range. I once ran a 20:22, but my 20:10 days were over. I had gone full circle, but just couldn't get all the way back. In order to make ends meet, the circle had to shrink a little, in order for it to be full again.
In July of 1997, a week after I had run a good 20:52 5K, I had to lay off again, this time, due to injury. The injury was slow to heal, and as it did, another one surfaced, and so on and so on. Until about 2 months ago, I was unable to race competitively and feel confident. Now, I am coming back, and running fearlessly for the first time in a long time, and wondering at what level the bar will now be set at. I don't think it will be sub 21. So far, I have gotten my 5K back down to about 22:30, and know I will still improve for a while. I am starting to scratch the surface of where I can be again. I just don't know how much smaller this new full circle will be.
Today, Harriet and I ran the Ekiden marathon relay with 4 other team members. Each runner on our 6 member team ran two hilly loops around Grant Park totaling about 4.3 miles each. In the course of about 34 minutes, I got to go full circle 2 times. The second loop was a little slower than the first, as always seems to be the case each time one goes full circle.
Before the race, I saw a friend who, like me, has been on and off the roads in recent years, due to injury. He used to run 19 minute 5K's when I first met him. Then he disappeared for a while, and when he came back, he was having a hard time breaking 20. Then, he dropped out of sight again. Things were hurting. When I saw him today, I asked how the comeback was going. He gave me one of those so-so waves with his hand and said he was at about 95%. He's not been breaking 21 too much lately.
I thought about this for a while. When I made my first comeback, I thought I was at 95% for a long time before I accepted the fact that I was really at 100%. I was just unable to reach my prior plateau. Now, I am there again. I know I will still run faster, but at some point I am going to have to know when 95% is really 100%. Maybe my friend is really back 100% now, and it will just take a little soul searching before he realizes it. It's all a part of the process of progressively smaller full circles. I know that the joy of running, and the adrenaline of competitive running, is back at a level I haven't seen in a long time. My new limit of speed will be limited, and will most likely fall short of previous levels. But my new limit of enthusiasm for running is as limitless as the sky.
With the physical limits that age bestows upon us, we are also blessed with a remarkable ability to rationalize, and to put things in their proper place. This is not one of those "woe is me, I'm getting older" essays. Rather, it's a "you're not getting older, you're getting better" perspectives, in which the only conclusion is that life is grand, and the outlook is even better. Although going full circle may become a tighter loop each time we do it, we are assured that, each time we return where we started, that ends will continue to meet.
Today's race was great. I ran as part of a mixed master's team, appropriately named "Old, but Relay-able." The team's name won an award for most original, and the team of runners won another award for completing the marathon in 3:08:12, good for third place. Harriet and I ran our legs of the race within a few seconds of each other, and were both very pleased with our performances. I have been longing to run at her pace since I have known her. I used to be able to, before we met.
I guess that like the two loops we each ran today, we have once again gone full circle.
Michael Selman Roads Scholar Atlanta Georgia USAMichael Selman is a freelance writer who has appeared in publications and web sites throughout the world, including Runner's World, Footnotes, and CoolRunning.