One day not too long ago I was five miles into a local half-marathon. My speedy best friend had gone on ahead and I was enjoying that feeling of knowing it was going to be a good race.
The field was beginning to spread out. It felt like I was running alone when I heard a man's voice behind me: "Look at that old gal running!" I turned my head to get a look at who he was talking about and realized it was...me.
The speaker, a slightly chunky fellow in his early 30s and his wispy female companion smiled smugly at each other as they passed me. Apparently not only was I "old" but deaf as well.
I wish I could tell you I gathered momentum in my indignation and immediately charged past them. Instead, I startled. Old? Me? When had that happened?
As another mile marker approached I began to do the math. True, I had been running on a fairly consistent basis for over 30 years going back to the summer before my senior year in college. I started jogging the four miles home from my job as a waitress on days when I only worked the lunch shift. Back at school I kept running with a girlfriend who wanted to lose weight.
In the years to follow it seemed running was always there. Through my first job and my first marriage. After the birth of my daughter and the move to a new job that ate up over 50 hours a week. Running kept me sane after my divorce. It gave me a private time to cry when being a single working mother threatened to overwhelm me.
In those days I ran with the only watch I had, usually a cheap Timex. If a run was more than eight miles or so I'd drop off a plastic jug of water somewhere along the course. A pair of running shoes lasted until the first hole appeared.
Injuries were the occasional blackened toenails and shin splints. Naps were something I took after a late night, not a hard workout.
As the decades passed I graduated to a spiffy Garmin watch and electrolytes. I toss my shoes after 400 miles and wear orthodics. These days I fuss over a bunion and my arthritic big toe.
Don't get me started on what it's like to have a hot flash in the middle of a tempo run. Although I will wax eloquently about the power of a daily nap, even the 15-minute ones on the couch.
Contemplating age may not be the best way to past the bulk of a 13.1 mile race. But in this case, it did the trick. I finished third in my age group, the ancient 50-54 category.
There were good friends to chat with at the finish line. Plus an added bonus: Just as I turned to follow my buddies back to the car I watched yet another group of runners stagger through the finish chute. There amongst them, looking less perky than at our first meeting, was the 30ish couple who had branded me geriatric.
Somewhere along the route, while musing about my age, I had passed them.