Have you ever given up something that you really, really love? I’ve done it once: running marathons. Oh and there was the blue-eyed guy a couple of decades ago…but I won’t go there.
I gave up running marathons because I could see into a future and that future didn’t look good. It included more knee surgery and the grim vision of another former marathoner, relegated to riding bikes because he shot all the cartilage in his knees. (Not that riding bikes is bad, but throw in about 350 days of horizontal rain, no mountain biking trails, and only 14 miles of road on a small Alaska island and you might agree that it isn’t the best hobby to be relegated to doing.) Some people are born to run long, and unfortunately I am not one of them.
I liked marathons not because of the race itself, which is incidental and kind of pointless to me. I wasn’t going to win, and paying to run on a section of pavement I ran on for free the rest of the year seemed odd (unless it was for charity, which was kind of cool). I liked it because over four months or so, I could build up my body to a machine that I had never believed possible. I know, there are people who regularly head out the door for a 20 mile run and so do not need building up at all, but see previous paragraph re: born to run. I liked how I could start at six miles for my long run and eventually work up to 22, and after a bit a 16 mile day seemed like nothing.
I liked the camaraderie of heading out with three other running friends, stashing Gatorade and power bar bites along the course, and then returning to our starting point. We talked about everything and nothing, hours of time that didn’t happen any other place. Ken and I sang loudly along the road to the fish hatchery, stepping over piles of bear poop and the silver bodies of salmon. Everyone in our small town soon knew we were training because we had to run the same route over and over, which isn’t as bad as it sounds. There was the ocean to watch, and whales. The fishing fleet steaming out. Occasional bears crossing our path. We didn’t worry so much about the time it took to cover our miles as just covering them, ticking them off, one by one.
Now I don’t miss those long runs so much though it stings a little to say that I used to be a marathon runnner. There’s no value in used to be. Nobody really cares about that. And while I don’t do things to be bragged on or talked about, there was something satisfying about returning home wet with rain and sweat, having completed 20 miles.
I’m thinking about giving up firefighting and to be honest, I’ve had one foot out for years. There are a plethora of reasons, none of which I need to go into here. It is proving to be just as difficult. Driving into town yesterday I saw a column of smoke over Chief Joseph’s shoulder. I immediately fell into the old groove. White smoke, so not burning too intensely. Grass? A clump of trees still steaming with moisture from winter snow? I knew the phone wouldn’t ring–the professionals had this one–but I still hoped it would. I’m caught between desire and a wish for it to end, because things aren’t the same as they used to be.
The older I get, the more I want to narrow my life down to the things that matter. There’s not really room for things that will hurt my ability to hike forever–like marathon running–or dealing with youngsters who think they know everything, even if they weren’t born when I started to fight fire. It’s not easy, though. I guess giving up something you love never is.