When you have been running for 50 years, milestones come and go. Longest run, fastest run, first medal for some, first win, first last place finish and many others. Not everyone will reach every milestone but for the very lucky ones, you get to experience the passing of the torch. To run for 50 years, you will have to have grown up running unless you are one of those genetic freaks who start at age 40 and are still running at 90. Kudos to you! But for the normal human who just happens to have made running an integral part of your life you most likely achieved some proficiency in the young years.
Maybe you ran track as a kid or cross country and were fortunate enough to have developed a love for running and so continued beyond your school years. Now it’s the occasional 5k or just a running routine to keep you healthy. For the lucky ones, as life moves on, marriage, kids and family life enter the scene. Then for the luckiest of all, one or more of your kids takes to running and actually likes to join you on your runs.
This is an awesome time as you get to do a little mentoring and spend some HIGH quality time together. The weekend long run is the best time to solve all the world’s problems together or just leave them behind and lose yourself in your run. As the years roll by it eventually gets to a point where the mentoring is less and the comradeship is everything. But at some point, a magical thing happens. The torch is passed!
A day or a race or just another ordinary run goes by and you realize without a doubt that you are no longer the best runner in the family. It’s not just a bad race where you weren’t on top of your game that day. It’s a sudden date with reality that you can’t deny.
For my daughter and I this came a year ago at a half marathon in North Carolina.
Before that we ran many races together and usually would run together the whole way with one or the other of us looking better at the end and occasionally one of us telling the other to go on ahead. Well, this race was different. We ran together and ran at a pace where we could talk to each other (which may have been very annoying to other runners near us who were laboring at that point). Early miles came and went, Mile 7 was passed with the happy knowledge that we were over halfway done. Mile 9 came and the reality that it was getting tough set in. Mile 10 began the turning point. I began to slow. Despite my effort to maintain the pace, my stride length began to shrink. My cadence began to slow. I knew the struggle was on for us. The final two miles were as hard as anything I had ever experienced in a race. We were in a great struggle just to finish this race. Walking was out of the question. We would finish by running no matter the pace. At last the finish line appeared, and ever so slowly it got closer until it accepted us with open arms. I literally wobbled across the line and headed straight to the porta-pots to relieve myself from all the extra distress that had built up with the final miles.
Then the reality hit like lightning. My daughter was not struggling. She looked pretty damned good. She felt pretty damned good too and was already making plans to visit the winery on the site of the race finish with her husband who finished a good half hour ahead of us. She had sacrificed her race time to basically carry me to the finish. At any time over the years I would have been glad to sacrifice my race to help her but it really hit home that the roles were reversed. THE TORCH HAD BEEN PASSED!!! Somewhere on the route this day it happened and once passed it doesn’t go back. We now have a new best runner in the family (we are obviously not counting her insanely fast husband). The more I reflected on this, the prouder I became. It’s not the pride of knowing that she is a good runner. It’s the pride of knowing that she is a good person. She was more concerned about me than whatever her final time would be. Some would call it bittersweet to know that it also was a signpost on my inevitable decline as a runner, but to me the overwhelming sweetness of knowing how she nursed me along to the finish completely overshadowed any feeling of sorrow for my struggle that day.
Once I had a little time to recover and my wife was no longer worried that I would die on the spot, my family all went to the winery while I just sat and ate post-race junk food to try to restore all the glycogen I had depleted in the final stages of the race. But I did it with a smile on my face knowing what I had witnessed and experienced first-hand that day.