By the Numbers

Posted on January 16, 2015. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

My brother turned fifty-one last week.  Fifty-one.  A big number.  Not so long ago, turning fifty sounded like an impossible thing, a feat maybe other people managed, but not the people I knew, my family, my friends. Yet here we all are, there or nearly there, in a place that sounds different than it feels.

I asked him the question my dad asked me on each one of my birthdays:  How does it feel to be fifty-one (thirteen, sixteen, twenty)?

His answer to me was the same one I always gave my dad:  Just the same as it did to be fifty (twelve, fifteen, nineteen).

But you know, he said on further reflection, this one makes me think a little more. It didn’t bother me to turn fifty, but fifty-one is different. It’s into my fifties, one step closer to sixty, and sixty just sounds, well, old. It’s when people retire. I don’t feel old, he went on, I don’t feel like my age sounds.

I know what he means.  Turning forty was nothing. But forty-one, well, that was different. Into my forties, one step closer to fifty. And now even more steps closer. Yet I don’t feel like someone approaching fifty.

Twenty-five, forty, fifty-one, they’re just numbers. And who’s to decide how a number is supposed to look, how a number is supposed to feel?  numbers

A couple of days after my brother’s birthday, mile sprints showed up on my training schedule again. It’s been several weeks since I’ve sprinted miles, and I went to bed the night before a little apprehensive. A mile. It sounds so long.

I trudged early into the gym bleary-eyed and grumpy, not quite prepared to exert the energy I’d need to expend.  You can always just run three miles, I reasoned with myself as I grabbed a towel off the shelf. No one says you have to run sprints.

I climbed onto the treadmill to warm up, trying to wake up, deciding what to do. A mile. It sounds so long, too long of a distance to sprint. I could always run 400s or 800s. I could start slow and build. Or I could just dawdle here on this treadmill and continue walking at a nice reasonable pace for the next three miles.

But no matter how I sliced it, a mile is a mile. And, I thought, if I made the effort to get this far, to the gym and on the treadmill, then I guess I should probably run.

I thought of my friend Ceci and a conversation we had not too long ago about sprints. If you have any energy left at the end, she said, if you can go a little faster or do a little more, you’re not doing yourself any good. By the time you reach the end of the road you should have given everything you have to give.

A mile. A long distance to sprint. But as I approached the end of my warm-up, I shut down the mental calculations, the slicing and dicing of time and distance, as if math could change the nature of a mile. If I made the effort to get this far, by God I was going to run, not measuring a mile by numbers, but measuring it by how I felt.

I inhaled deeply, held my thumb on the Up arrow—and ran the fastest mile sprints I’d ever run.

This week, I ran them just a little faster.

And it felt good.

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