A friend says to me, “hey Dave, want to know the fast track to aging?”
“What’s that?” I say.
“Running!” he says.
Sadly, there’s some truth in the joke. For every mile you run, you burn 100 calories. Once you’ve trimmed the fat off the usual places, it starts coming off your face and upper body. Makes you look a little, er, grizzled.
I don’t care, I’m addicted. I’ve got a 100-miler coming up next month, so I’m cramming in as many long runs as possible. Twenty, thirty, forty miles at a time.
I love the long runs. After a couple of hours of plodding down a trail, I generally slip into a trance. The breath goes in, the breath goes out. My feet smack the pavement 180 times a minute. Running becomes a meditation. I do not smile or wave at the people I pass. Instead, I focus on keeping my body tilted slightly forward, and snapping my feet right back into the air the moment they hit the pavement. (That’s the trick to being fast, by the way – let your feet touch the ground for as short a time as possible.)
I’ve got pictures of me running, and it always astonishes me to look at them. Usually, both of my feet are in midair. Given that I’ve been running every day for the last 17 years, I have to wonder: how much of my life have I spent completely disconnected from the earth?
Once, during a marathon, I had an out-of-body experience. I was running up a nasty hill. I’d covered 22 miles, and I was getting tired. “Blinding wall of pain” is a little strong, but I was getting into that territory.
Suddenly, all pain vanished. I couldn’t feel my legs. It seemed to me that I was sitting inside my ribcage, peeking out between my bones at the scenery floating by. I wasn’t doing the running anymore. Someone else was. I was just sitting comfortably in that ribcage, like a kid in a grocery cart.
Then suddenly, I was looking down on myself from above. I saw a short-haired dude in Mizuno sneakers and Drifit shorts, struggling up a ten degree hill. I didn’t see this person as a runner though – I saw him as an extension of the earth. I thought to myself: what silly perseverance! What pointless ambition! And then I stared to laugh.
Of course, the moment I laughed, the vision disappeared. My normal consciousness – and the pain – returned.
I finished that marathon in 3:04:25. Did pretty well in my age category too. My age category, by the way, is 35-49. Of course, I don’t look a day over 60.