In the long run

Life lessons from a half-marathon

dean of humanities and social science at Cosumnes River College

Not long ago, I turned 60 and ran a half-marathon in the same two-week period. People who are nowhere near the former gave me a lot of credit for the latter. But what they don’t know is that the two feats are very similar—happy and proud one minute, exhausted and feeling sorry for oneself the next. In fact, although I hadn’t run that far in years, I like to do it occasionally because of what I end up learning about myself and my life.

It turns out that you need to keep the same things in mind whether you’re chugging down the bike trail on a warm autumn morning or just trying not to count the days until retirement.

To borrow from an overused phrase, I realize that both are much more easily enjoyed if I stay focused on one step at a time. I can look at my watch every 30 seconds for a whole mile, and it still doesn’t make my knees feel any less creaky. In that same way, I can miss huge highlights of a great day because I’m thinking only about how the next one might be. Naturally, neither activity actually makes time move any faster than it would if I just stayed in the moment.

In training for that recent run, I did a 10-mile that started out OK. I was clipping along for the first couple of miles, but suddenly realized I’d gone out too fast. I made it through the run, but I never completely recovered my pace or energy. I realized that knowing when to take risks and when to hold back and survey the scene is one of the best lessons I’ve learned in my 60 years on Earth. I don’t always remember to do it, but I do more frequently than I used to. As such, I may not have the most noteworthy finish in the race, but I probably enjoy the journey a lot more than I did when I was in my 20s and 30s.

I wouldn’t say I actually enjoyed the half-marathon itself, though, because I relied more on what I hoped would be a strong base than on actually building on the base itself. False confidence, it turns out, is a kinder friend when we are young than when we’re slightly older, as I am now. But when I was feeling my very worst, stopping to walk several times between miles 11 and 12, wondering what on Earth had compelled me to engage in this activity, I looked up to see that my much younger and fitter running partner, Kim, had actually stopped and come back to run with me and commiserate.

Probably my biggest discovery in more than a half-century of living is that I couldn’t do much at all without my village of pals. Kim reminded me of it again that day—a long run is a perfect metaphor for a rich and intense life.