Sunday, April 19, 2009

No, I'm not Old (athletically anyway)

That post earlier this month was a placeholder.

It's hard to be an endurance athlete who races and never think about age. You are defined by your age. Every race, you can see it in the results (possibly in more ways than one). In triathlon, they write your age on your body, and no, it's not to make identification easier if something happens.

And I am, let's face it, by the societal conventions, an old man. I'm definitely in the back half of my existence on this planet. If you believe the GPs and podiatrists I've seen, I developed arthritis when I was in my mid-twenties (just a big toe, but still, arthritis ?) I've got parts of my scalp that used to have hair that don't. That hair has migrated to places I have no need for or want of hair. I have the scars and wrinkles and other bang-ups guys my age that have been in sport their whole adult lives wear.

So there's the calendar, and the birth certificate and just this damnable ticking of the clock that never stops. My dad has been dead five years for every one I knew him and those memories are so tenuous I'm not sure they are real anymore.

But, I only admit these things in order to dismiss them. They have nothing to do with my self-perception of my age.

And honestly, I don't think about it that much. Except when I run road races.

That's right. Triathlon is so heavily age-group segmented- even to starting with your age group, not in mass starts- that you don't have the same sense in many races of competing against people a lot younger than you. And then there's the fact that in most races, my age group and the two age groups on either side mine make up the bulk of the men in the race, and also most of the top finishers- and no, I'm not dissing younger triathletes here- we just need more of them.

But road races ? Look at the Shamrock 5K in New Haven. I ran a pretty slow time for me, but not unusual for my first 5K of the season. I finished 18th and got beat by 14 runners under age 25.

That's my competition. Sure, there's a list as long as my arm of guys in their 30s and 40s that can beat me down just as easily. But I'm competing, when I run road races, with guys in their teens and early twenties just as much, and some of them beat me. Heck, some of them are college runners, which almost by default means they can skunk me. Some of them don't- maybe most of them in most races.

The ironic thing about it is that part of that keeps me from feeling old is the fact that I go out and compete with people half my age as well as people my own age, and once the race starts, I'm not 43, I'm not the old guy. I'm just a guy.

And that's a nice feeling. I'm just another guy, who's going to run as hard as he can. I get right on the starting line at just about every race I do, and no, I don't feel old when the race starts. I have that same desire everyone on that line has- to win, or at least give it a good shot.

I may be old, but feel old ? As an athlete ? Not yet.

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