A few weeks ago I went for a 24 mile run in Umstead. It was the first time I had been back since I volunteered at the Umstead 100 this year as an aid station worker and then as a pacer for two friends.
My running had been going well and I had been injury free for a while now, which was encouraging. I really enjoyed my day in the park. I got started around 10am, when it was still nice and cool. I ran conservatively, knowing I was going 24 and still had 10 scheduled for Sunday. About halfway through my first lap I met a group of runners coming toward me on the trail. There were probably 10-12 of them and I'm guessing they were part of a high school or college cross country team. I say that because between the whole lot of them they probably had about 3% body fat. They ran fast and effortlessly. They laughed and joked with one another as their feet struggled to reach down and touch the ground just long enough to propel them forward, sending little puffs of dust into the air with each footfall. As they ran passed, fast, happy and young I found myself facing a conflicting response.
On one hand, I could not help but appreciate the sheer aesthetic beauty of who they were, and the grace and ease of their blistering pace. On the other hand, it brought back memories of my own youth. When I too had 3% body fat and could do things that now seem absurd, if not impossible. I plodded slowly along at a 9 minute pace and realized how I had never really appreciated the ease with which so many things come when you're in your late teens and early 20's. I then began to realize, as I passed many other runners, both young and old, that while I am now a little older, heavier and slower than I used to be, I am still able to do things that many can't and that I won't be able to do at some point. This epiphany helped to put my running into perspective and made the remainder of my run much more enjoyable, even when the temperature rose and I began to struggle. The struggle itself became a wonderful thing. The fact that I am so very fortunate enough to have the ability to get out in the woods and run is not something I plan on taking for granted again anytime soon.
So, while the Stones seem to think that getting older is a drag, I tend to recognize it for what it is, an evolution. I have exchanged speed and beauty for wisdom and a sense of perspective. I'll take that trade any day.