I have to share this lovely e-letter
that completely brightened my day today:
"Hello Sue and Jim!
I always enjoy your journal updates, and have
been reading since you started the AT journal.
disappointment in your race were very honest and well written. I hope
that writing provided some therapeutic relief for you, as well as the
inspiration it provided to others. The latest update [the
October 18 entry] sounds
like you have regained your wonderfully positive
I recently trudged in the door after a moderate
length trail run and subjected my patient husband to a rant that
included things like, ďIím supposed to enjoy running. That wasnít fun.
Iím not sure why anyone would keep running if it always felt like that,
unless something with really big teeth was chasing them. My heart rate
was dismally low for the perceived effort!...Ē You get the picture. Of
course my next run was MUCH better.
So often we read about the success of others,
and we donít get a glimpse of the darker days. It is good to know we
arenít alone, and a reminder that you need the rain to get the rainbow!
I wish you both the best of luck in your
upcoming races! Iíll be waiting eagerly to read all about it!"
We corresponded several times with Jerri regarding the AT trek
three years ago but we still haven't met her. I hope we will
someday. Her letters have always inspired me. Thanks so much for
the encouragement and good wishes, Jerri!
View of grazing horses along the Wolf Creek
Greenway from a bridge underpass (10-22-08)
Jerri must have ESP as well as a wonderful way with words. I had already written the
first part of
this pair of entries about "struggles" but hadn't uploaded it to
our web site yet until I finished this one. I closed that entry with hopes that this
journal will continue to inspire others to get out the door,
move, and stay healthy. She must have been reading my mind.
This entry is a continuation of some of the
stream-of-consciousness thoughts I've had previously about aging
athletes, particularly runners, but have pondered in more depth
recently. The horse photos are ones I've taken this week on the trail
I use the most now, the soft, undulating Wolf Creek Greenway in
AFTER THE PEAK
One of my thoughts about running and aging concerns athletes who
do or don't "quit at
the top of their game."
In many professional sports it's almost mandatory to retire before
embarrassing oneself, getting "fired," or negatively impacting teammates. I've known or
heard of only a few runners, however, who completely stop
running at their peak -- not from an injury but by making a choice to "quit while
they're ahead" and not suffer the indignity or frustration of
seeing their times slow as they get older or they have less time
and motivation to train. I more often hear of runners who quit
racing at their peak but continue to run for health and
pleasure. We know quite a few of those folks who stay in the
competitive side of the sport via race directing, volunteering,
crewing, pacing, coaching, and/or mentoring
I've mentioned in one of the earlier journals on this web site
after yet another DNF at the 100-mile distance -- that I'm
wired like that! I just keep trying to do my best at ultra races
(which these days often means just finishing), frustrating as it may
Jim's the same way. Neither of us is anywhere near ready
psychologically to quit competing in this sport, even though the
competition now is primarily between us and the clock, not other
race participants. Long gone are the days we walked home with
age-group trophies every time we raced.
The top of my game would have been in 1986-7 when I got all my
road race PRs from the mile to the marathon distance. I was
37-38 years old then. Jim's numbers are similar.
I was already rapidly losing speed (and motivation to do the
requisite speed work) when I began running ultra races at age
43. Jim was closer to 50.We both have some ultra PRs to be proud
of, but nothing like they'd have been if we'd started running
those distances when we were at our peak running condition in our late 30s.
Three horses along the creek and greenway
We both regret we didn't begin running ultras at a younger age
-- but we've never regretted our eventual decisions to get into the sport, even though we
were older and slower when we finally did. We've both gained so
much from our ultra running adventures.
If I'd completely stopped running when I was at the top of my
game in 1987, I wouldn't have gotten all the pleasure or health
benefits I derive from the activity. I wouldn't have the same
sense of identity or self confidence that running has given me,
confidence that improved every aspect of my life. I
might not have continued to challenge myself physically and mentally in some other way(s).
Heck, I might even have become a couch
potato!! (I do have my lazy moments.)
And if I'd continued running for health reasons at the top of my
game but stopped challenging myself in races, I still would have
missed out on 21 years of fun and camaraderie. I wouldn't have
seen all the beautiful places around this country that I've seen
since 1987. I wouldn't have made nearly as many new friends from
around the world.
And I wouldn't have met Jim.
Every time I get bummed out about my race performances or
running ability, I need to remember the reasons I'm still "in
the arena." This is one of my all-time favorite
"It is not the critic who counts:
not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer
of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is
actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood,
who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again,
because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows
the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a
worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high
achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while
daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and
timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."
~ Theodore Roosevelt
"Citizenship in a Republic," Speech
at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910
Through running races (and other life activities) I've known
both victory and defeat. I've come up short of my own
expectations many times, but I'm still making a valiant effort
to achieve the most that I can possibly physically achieve at
this juncture in my life.
As frustrating as it is to be a running "has been," it's better
than being a "never was."
When I can no longer run ultra-distance races, I plan to
be out there crewing for Jim and volunteering at races even more than I
do now. I'll also be pursuing other physical and mental
challenges to stay in the arena until the day I die.
Anything less would be a waste of a good life.
SEASONS OF CHANGE
Here is another recurring thought I have, precipitated most
recently by our glorious autumn scenery.
The leaves are beginning to change in the
Roanoke Valley and will peak in several weeks, about the time
we're leaving town. A wide variety of tree and shrub species,
combined with nearby elevations ranging from below 1,000 feet to
over 4,000 feet, gives us a long progression of
color changes from September to December. October
is nearly perfect here: crisp, cool, less humid weather
and a beautiful kaleidoscope of greens, yellows, oranges, reds,
and browns often backlit by a bright blue sky and white clouds:
It's frustrating right now to not be out there running through
the woods several hours a day because of my sore hamstring!
As I run and walk outdoors through the changing seasons, I sometimes ponder their metaphor to human life cycles:
spring as youth (rebirth, growth, renewal, hope);
summer as adulthood (vigorous, robust life at its peak);
autumn as middle age (golden age, reaping what you've sown,
hoarding for winter);
and winter as old age (hibernating, withering, dying).
You notice the downward spiral here, don't you?? I perceive
spring and summer as much more optimistic and full of life than
autumn or winter!
As much as I sometimes dislike facing it, I'm in the autumn of
my life. I'm almost 60 and I haven't fully grasped the concept
of middle age, let alone "senior citizenship." I'm a pretty
typical Baby Boomer in that regard. I don't think I'm simply in denial;
I'm an optimist. I don't feel that old, goodness knows I
don't act that old, and most people don't think I look
I like this quote from the perpetually-young Shirley MacLaine:
"I think of life itself now as a wonderful play that I've
written for myself,
and so my purpose is to have the utmost fun
playing my part."
I prefer to think of the seasons as an annual cycle of life, not just
the entire human life cycle. I love to live in a place like
Virginia with four
distinct seasons -- preferably ones with long springs and
autumns because they are so colorful and the temperatures are
more moderate than summer and winter.
I feel the changing seasons in my gut almost
as strongly as I feel the pull of the ocean tides. I feel
very connected to the sun, moon, and earth. I'd
rather be outside enjoying the natural surroundings than inside
especially in the spring and fall when Mother Nature is at her
peak. Trail runners, hikers, mountain bikers, and other outdoor
athletes share a common bond in this regard.
Cody stands in contrast to the changing
colors of autumn (10-24-08)
Even though autumn is my second favorite season after spring,
it is somewhat solemn because I know winter is coming -- whether
I'm thinking in terms of annual or life cycles: I don't want to
get old and die (life cycle); neither Jim nor I
are winter people (annual cycle).
So right now I'm trying to
maximize my time outdoors while it's still pleasant.
I believe I have many more
vibrant springs, summers, autumns, and winters ahead of me. It's
just that I'd like to fast-forward through the winter part and
get back to spring sooner.
I'll be a good little squirrel and hide plenty of nuts for winter
(translated into running parlance: I've got lots
more quality training to do before ATY). And we'll escape the
ravages (ha!) of winter in Roanoke by playing the sunbird game
in the Southwest USA.
Next entry: Jim's training for MMTR next weekend
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and
Tater (in spirit)
© 2008 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil