Recently I ran into someone from my past. Back then he was a golden-haired man and the stuff of legend. I harbored an unrequited crush that was only tempered a bit by the fear that I experienced when I had to clear trails with him. He was renowned for being a trail beast, working until after the sun had set, leading a fast and brutal pace over the mountains. Keeping up meant I was always on the anaerobic edge.
Now he was unrecognizable. I would have passed him right by on the street. He has put on probably one hundred, maybe one hundred fifty extra pounds and suffers from the health-related consequences of that. His eyes have lost their sparkle.
I am not one to judge. I’m not in the shape I was back then either. It’s not for want of trying, but sitting in front of a computer for eight hours a day just doesn’t equal miles of hiking and trail work. Seeing him, though, reminded me that I am at “that age”. The age when I have to start making compromises. Pavement marathons now, or hiking when I’m eighty? That cookie, or hours working it off in the gym? Taking that risk that years ago I wouldn’t have thought twice about? I never thought it would happen to me.
Luckily I live in a community of vibrant, older people. One of our ski patrollers will turn seventy soon, and others are out there ripping it up daily. They have allowed me to redefine my concept of old. The fire has not gone out for them and it doesn’t have to for me, either.
But I can’t help but feel jealous of the twenty-somethings I see trail running, biking, climbing. I didn’t appreciate the power I had back then. Once I decided to run eleven miles up a trail and back again, carrying only a water filter, just because I felt like it. I was twenty-four, and my longest run had been about half that 22 miles. I didn’t question whether I could do it.
I might be able to do that now, but I really don’t know. I think it is more often the mind than the body that lets the fire go out, although the body can be a treacherous minefield. My knees, for example, are no longer normal after years of carrying a heavy pack. But I suspect I no longer do tempo runs because, well, I don’t want to. How many more things won’t I want to do?
I don’t really like telling people my age, because it can elicit a few responses. The worst for me is, “Wow! I hope I can do half as much as you can when I’m your age!” (So not a compliment, ladies. If you have to ask why it isn’t, you’re not old enough to know). I want to live without qualifiers.
So I guess I want to understand why the fire goes out for some people so that it doesn’t happen to me. I have another friend who used to climb big mountains, big walls, and go on epic bike rides. He shrugs when he talks about those days, as if they are no longer possible for him. He doesn’t really seem to care. That, I find difficult to accept.
I suspect I will always care. Maybe I won’t always be able to do what I do now, but the fire will never completely go out.
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