While I Still Can

I like to run. It’s a form of meditation for me, my brain quiet and compliant while I huff and puff up and down my road. Walking doesn’t stop my busy brain the way running does. Running allows me to disconnect, to escape computers and phones and beeps and bongs, to forget about the difficulties facing humanity. Perhaps trying to breathe is all I can muster during a run. I use the word run, but I use the term loosely. In my mind I am Kenyan runner Faith Kipyegon running her record four-minute, seven+ second mile this past July, whereas, in realistic terms, I am “running” a ten-minute kilometer. Let’s not bother with converting to a standard unit of measure or I will be officially labelled a sloth. But still, I call it running, and I see no harm in imagining I am my eight-year-old self, able to run an entire day with hardly a stop for a breath.

My sister and I ran everywhere when we were young. Walking was for slackers. When my feet hit the floor after a night’s sleep, I was in full gallop to get to the barn ahead of anyone else so that I might claim the title of being my dad’s best “hired man”, as he called me. The competition wasn’t stiff; my siblings enjoyed a sleep-in, being older than me and less interested in pleasing others. I never stopped to ask my dad why I wasn’t his “hired child” or his “hired girl”; it never occurred to me. I guess I wasn’t much of a feminist at the age of eight. I compare that to how I rise from bed now. When my feet hit the floor, I generally make a wincing face and sometimes have been known to utter an “ouch” as I rise to a standing position. I do my impression of the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz as my joints go from set concrete to something more fluid, like cold molasses. It takes time. I am uncertain as to when this shift happened. One day I had joints that worked and seemingly in the blink of an eye my joints followed a cease-and-desist order in terms of morning movement. They loosen up by the time I have finished my cup of coffee. And I thank them for their willingness to allow me to tie my shoes and get out the door. You learn to be grateful for small things.

I’ve run a few races in my day. Nothing to write home about and I thought it was a good race if they hadn’t folded up the finish line and gone home by the time I arrived. All joking aside, I don’t run to impress anyone, thank goodness, but I want to run for as long as I am able. There is an elderly gentleman who lives somewhere between me and the closest town because when I venture out into the world, I see him running on the side of the road. He labours when he runs, but I’m guessing there was a day when his running was impressive, his long legs covering the ground effortlessly. He is tall and lean, but stooped now, watching his feet as he runs. He impresses me with his getting out there no matter the weather and runs his race against time. I haven’t seen him for several months and I’m telling myself that he is running when I am not driving, but I am fearful that he has run out the clock.

People my age and older like to complain about our failing bodies when we get together. It’s like a who’s-who of ailments – sore hip, knees that throb, fingers that have decided to change directions. “I can top that,” we cry out when it is our turn to whine. I try not to fit into that mold, but it turns out I have just as many ailments as the next guy, old injuries coming back to remind us we are mere mortals. I do believe in the use it or lose it adage. So, for now I’ll keep running or whatever it might be called, shuffling perhaps, stumbling, …