My last article written for the local running community was in April 2016. I figured 20 years of articles every month was enough, already!! Now, 4 years later, I must be that much more of a “Mature Runner” – meaning of course I just keep on slowing down, my running heroes keep getting more irrelevant and unrecognizable to the current runners of today (well – my face alone is becoming more unrecognizable even to me….wait….I almost said “my running gait” but I have no running gait - at best it’s a brisk walk).
Big Sky Wind Drinkers (our local running club), by way of their co-president Gary Hellenga, asked if I’d consider writing articles again. His good-natured nudge to come out of retirement included a well-meaning example of how he’s a Mature Runner now. It’s the familiar story of going so many years of running the Fun Runs in a predictable 8-minute mile pace….and now realizing that “easy” pace has become a 10-minute+ mile. Frankly, Gary, I don’t believe you can qualify to be a real, true-blue Mature Runner yet….you haven’t slowed down enough….heck – you’re still running! So, I have now redefined what a REAL Mature Runner is. We can still run all right, but just the thought of running brings enough pain to mind, that you’d rather not talk about it. True confession.
So what on Earth can I write about? Certainly not my running past heroics, or the Kyle Klickir magic tricks (I’m referring to our local running legend you might have “run” into…he’d show up with all sorts of “running aids” attached to his body – braces of all sorts, perhaps a cane, bandages, and once the gun goes off, his aging body instantly transforms into a beautiful runner in his 20’s) – or I could write about what it’s like to slow down so much myself. (I’m definitely NOT talking about crawling along the ground, but that could come later.) I do not want to be depressing – imagining this is what YOU have to look forward to as you age….
What’s left to talk about? It’s really what inspires me to keep the ‘ole bod going as smoothly as possible, to feel as normal as possible as the years tick by. We’ll see if that can do the trick. I’ll always go “all out” in every activity. Put me on a bike, I’ll push the pace as much as possible (frankly I’ve missed the easy way to get up a good sweat – just run hard) – but I can actually get sweaty – and it seems a miracle now. Or go for a long hike – several hours’ worth…mind you, not every day but when I feel like it. Now I can reveal my reasoning about why I MUST do the Frank Newman Marathon every Memorial Day weekend. This all started when I moved to Bozeman in 1994. It’s always been my favorite run of the year – late May, gobs of snow still on all the mountains, leaving early to watch the sunrise on the Bridgers, all the fields are a deep green, LOW KEY competition, and the best post race carbo-loading around (yes, Subway sandwiches never taste any better). So I slow down, so what? As long as Bob Wade and Kathy Brown still put it on (and will indulge me) I’ll always do it. Yes, over 20 years the finish times increase each year. Yes, I now walk every step of the way. But I prepare just like I used to when I’d do the 6-minute mile marathons of long ago. Here’s the best part – I try to leave so I can arrive at the Sacajawea Park in Livingston before the last runner comes in….and this is a worthy goal now. This year it had to be a 5am start. Oh my gosh was it beautiful. I got to walk with my wonderful partner Stacy. It was dark on Bridger Canyon Drive (I still start at the “old” starting line near mile marker 13). Rounding the corner just past the 11 mile marker, a stunning moose was eating grass along the road and just stared at us for awhile. Then about 2 miles up Jackson Creek Road, a herd of 25 elk crossed in front of us, and kept us in sight as we worked our way up the road – going from left to right across the fences. Cresting the pass, a giant Great Horned Owl – perched on a wood post right next to the road – silently took flight over our heads. 2 years ago as we crested the pass, we could hear the wolves howling down at the “Howlers Inn” near where Frank and Shelley Coles live. And at this point - still no traffic, no other runners, no direct sunlight, and the Bridgers were a blinding white backdrop. The elation of crossing the finish line really doesn’t ever change. For all I could tell, I had just done one more thrilling marathon.
You know, I really want to end by saying “Aging as a runner can really be fun”… that’s too simple. It’s an adventure, and it’s up to the truly Mature Runner to make it as fun as possible. My latest trick? I consciously have to “reinvent” myself anytime a nagging thought comes along….like “ugh, look at that body in the mirror” can lead to “all right, this is the new me…I want to see a dazzling twinkle in those eyes RIGHT NOW.” Or, “why am I wheezing so hard going up this tiny little hill?” can lead to “I still have endorphins, lets watch ‘em kick in!” I want to end this with a much needed sense of perspective. Take a deep breath, see yourself floating above the Earth (yes, this is reinventing yourself a bit). Last night my wife and I were singing along with the chorus in Fame (‘80’s musical) and one of the verses went like this:
I sing the body electric, I celebrate the me yet to come, I toast to my own reunion when I become one with the sun, and I’ll look back on Venus, I’ll look back on Mars, and I’ll burn with the fire of 10 million stars, and in time and in time, we will all be stars.
David Nutter Summerfield
The following blogs were first published in The Windrinker, a running newsletter published in Bozeman, MT (www.Windrinkers.org). There is a constant attempt at viewing the foibles of long distance runners in a humorous light so we don't take ourselves too seriously.