“Guess what I want to do to celebrate my fortieth birthday?”
My husband peered over the top of the newspaper.
“I’m going to run a marathon.”
A spray of coffee flew out his mouth as he tried to stifle his laughter. “You’re going to WHAT?” as if I’d announced I was trying out for the NBA.
It was a ridiculous idea. I’d been a jogger for twenty years, but it had fallen by the wayside. No longer a top priority, running became something I’d try to fit in. Time was taking its toll.
I’d secretly entered the St. George Marathon feeling old, frumpy and in the fast lane to forty. It was the “big four, uh-oh,” the first exit on the road to old age. Long ago, I told myself that I’d run a marathon before I turned forty and suddenly, here it was looming nine months away. So run it I would: I’d promised.
“I’ve planned my training schedule,” I said, feeling a bit defiant.
“Are you crazy?” he said looking panicked. He was my most avid supporter, but he had morphed into a doomsday prophet while questioning my sanity.
With my trusty running shoes dusted off, I headed out for my first day of training. I was a veteran of ten half-marathons. I won my age division once. I knew how to train. Simple as putting one foot in front of the other, right?
I don’t know whether I was inspired by the beautiful day, the thumping rock and roll beat of Sheryl Crow assuring me that “a change would do you good” blaring from my earphones, or by the first day of training, but I took off like Seabiscuit in the homestretch.
Unfortunately, the first mile was straight uphill. After five minutes, I remembered a vital training rule: run at a pace where you can hold a conversation. Probably so you can call for help before you lapse into oxygen deprived delirium.
After ten minutes, already sweating and sucking air like it was my morning coffee, I passed two elderly folks on a park bench. I fully expected the woman to offer me a hit off her oxygen. I tried my best to smile when I saw them grin at one another. The slight roll of their eyes said one thing: Mid-life crisis, ten o’clock.
But training progressed and I grew stronger. My endurance improved, I even lost a few pounds, but I was disappointed I didn’t lose more. I expected to hear my cellulite sizzling on the pavement as it fell off behind me. I’m sorry to report that it never did.
With training complete, I was as ready as I was going to be. I shivered at the starting line that cold October morning with only one thought burning in my mind: He was right: I’m nuts.
I ran every step of those 26.2 miles, turning in a respectable time. I did it; before my fortieth birthday, just like I promised. I was so proud as I high-fived my boys at the finish line, thankful to be upright and marginally ambulatory. Despite blisters and screaming hamstrings, I was glad I’d done it. But I was even happier now that it was over.
I was anticipating this to be a life altering, “I can do anything” experience. It wasn’t. Instead, each mile was just what I needed at forty: a metaphor for life. I realized that life is not a race to be won. Some days, just like the miles, are exhilarating. Other days, you just put one foot in front of the other. Some days you barely get through. And some days stink.
Now that forty has grown more distant in my rearview mirror, I realize I don’t have to be ordinary or old, which may have been my worst fears of all. Forty was the age I picked that signified the loss of my youth. After the race, I realize that numerical age is just that, a number marking the passage of time, just like each mile of that marathon. Who says you have to relinquish your ability to be spontaneous, fun, or just a little crazy at any age?
Now I plan to mark my entry into each new decade with a special event. It’s my way to acknowledge, “I still can,” have a little fun, and challenge myself in the process.
Who knows, maybe a 50K at fifty. But I’m saving sky-diving for my eightieth birthday. I’m not that crazy yet.