While I was entering my mileage for last weekend in my running log, I noticed that my “total lifetime mileage” since I started keeping a log in 1992 had reached 19,999 miles. As a typical runner, obsessed with monitoring my performance, that number made me pause to reflect on how I’d made it to this point, what running has meant to me, and what my goals are for the future.
While not an enormous number compared to what some of my friends have done in the same period, twenty thousand miles in less than 16 years does indicate a certain amount of consistency and persistence. My first podiatrist said I probably shouldn’t try to run a marathon. When I think back on how painful some of those miles were and how many times I’ve had to pick things up again after an injury, he may have been right. But 16 marathons (and some longer races) later, I take a lot of pride in getting as far as I have.
I’m reasonably fast for a human, though not as fast as I once was. It was evident early on that there would always be someone faster in almost every race. I’ve won a few age group awards, but my greatest successes were when I reached a personal goal of some kind.
I’ve always been something of a mileage junkie. I liked watching my weekly mileage totals pile up. Shorter races were fine, and a good way to get together with my friends and work up a thirst. But I never spent much time trying to get my 5 or 10K times down. They did come down, but mostly as a result of the work I was doing, first to run a marathon, then to qualify for Boston. I qualified, seven years after my first marathon, in 2001 when I was 40. The trend lines that tracked my decreasing race times and the increase in the qualifying time as I aged finally crossed.
I managed to bring my marathon PR down a few more times, but soon became more interested in running further instead of running faster. There were times during long runs when everything was going well and I’d feel like I could go on forever, and I wanted to explore how far I could really go.
This led to a lot more trail running, since running on dirt was much more forgiving. The longest runs came in races, some as long as 50 or 100 miles. When the goal in those ultramarathons was to finish, I did well enough. But when I went beyond just finishing to begin to encompass time goals, results were more mixed. I got my 50 mile time down below 10 hours, but when I tried to train enough to get my 100 mile time below 24 hours, I broke down. That goal remains unmet, and may stay that way. The time commitment to train for century races is enormous, and the price in pain and social isolation may be too high to make it worth it.
Running has been the foundation on which my life has rested for years now. During a good run, I’m living in the moment as much as I ever am, with the metronomic beat of a solid, steady pace lending itself to calm contemplation. Success and failure are easily measured and the responsibility for either is for the most part entirely mine, though I have received a lot of help from friends I’ve run with along the way. I’ve gotten a lot of enjoyment out of being able to pay a little of that back by making use of my experience to help others.
Currently, I’ve been doing a lot of slower running with my girlfriend. It’s been a lot of fun reliving some of my past as she finds out how rewarding it is to put in the effort in training and see the concrete results. And running is a great way to spend time outdoors with your loved ones, talking or just being together.
These days, I still run 20 or 30 miles at a time, and jump in to marathons or shorter races and see how fast I can go, but my expectations have lowered. A good race is one where I pace myself well and run strong the whole way, even if the times aren’t what they used to be. There’s a certain wistful longing for when I could run faster or go on seemingly forever. But as long as I can keep running, I’m pleased. Someday, I hope to be winning my age group by virtue of being the only one at that age left running.