On the Mature Side of Youth
Article by: Michael SelmanReproduced with permission of the author
Every article I write is inspired by something a little bit more than just a deadline. Most often, the inspiration comes from within myself, and it almost exclusively roots and manifests during the course of the run. I rarely go into a run with a topic in mind that I want to write about. Instead, I run with an empty, but wide opened mind, and thoughts filter through until I latch on to that diamond in the rough. Then, I massage it in my mind, and it is pretty much conceptually written by the time I sit down at the keyboard.
Occasionally, however, I am inspired by life events going on within me and around me. My recent columns have revealed that I've been spending a lot of time recently on the subject of growing older, and not necessarily wanting to be a part of it. I can't help it. There are just too many things going on around me that force me to reflect on it more often than ever before. My daughter has just graduated from high school and my wife's youngest daughter will cross that same threshold two weeks from now. It seems like such a short time ago that they were in diapers. Now, they're on the brink of adulthood, and we're on the brink of becoming empty nesters.
From time to time, in my mind, I revisit the places of my youth. When I do, I always picture things exactly as they were all those years ago. When I imagine myself back at my old college campus, I still imagine everything exactly like it was back then. All the same professors are teaching all the same classes, and the same pinball machines are still in the Student Union, and there is still a line forming to play the new video game, Pong. And as I walk through the student union where I waste my youth, everyone I used to know is still there, and nobody is a day older than they were almost 30 years ago. Their youth is well preserved, and the memory is frozen forever in time.
Every time I snap out of one of these classic reveries, I can't help but wonder exactly how much things really have changed. I don't care so much about the pinball machines, and I imagine that they have replaced the Pong game with something a little more sophisticated by now, but I do wonder about the people. They are all just like me, close to 30 years older than they were back then. The question I ruminate over and over is which ones have allowed themselves to become older, and which ones have chosen to stay young.
If you were to ask most of my former classmates where they would guess I might be today, their answer for the most part would only include the words successful or even alive if it were preceded by not. Certainly, none of them would have imagined way back then in the days of open rebellion and self-induced stupor that today, I would be a healthy runner with a good job and a lovely family. That was just not the way I was heading back then. And I somewhat flaunted that fact.
But so much can happen in 30 years, and it is largely determined by the decisions we make, and the directions we chose to proceed. At some corridor in my life, very poor decisions were gradually replaced by some very good ones, and one of the most monumental turning points transpired when I made the determination to start running. Before I started turning that corner, I was already old, and ever since running become rigidly embedded in my lifestyle, I have become younger and younger.
So here I am in my 20th year of running, and my 45th year of life. Although I'm still young, I'm pushing youth's outer limits, and I'm not sure how much more time I have on the young side of athletics. I find myself searching for the same thing that Ponce de Leon was looking for in the early 1500's. Whereas he was searching for renewal in the magic waters of Florida, I'm looking no further than an elementary school track, and a place deep within myself.
I am seeing the present time as possibly my last chance to run faster than I ever have before, and am committing myself to this goal. I had a similar focus a few years ago, and soon became so injury plagued that I was thinking for a while that I might never run again. But in time, I healed, and now, I am once again ready to flirt with time I haven't run in a long, long time. The first step is a sub 22 5K. Then, I'll attempt to follow a plan to sub 21. After that, it might all be in my dreams.
Can I run under 20 minutes again? Well, I only did it once in my life, and that was when I was still in my 20's. It's a long shot, to be sure. But I keep replaying the thought that a man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams. And so, I'll keep on dreaming, with no regrets, while mature youth is still on my side. After all, I would much rather attempt to live a dream than to lament over what might have been, if only I dared dream to begin with.
"There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask, "why?", I dream of things that never were, and ask, "why not? -Robert Kennedy
Have a great month of running. May your dreams only be an arm's length away.
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.