Here is a sentence a 16-year-old will never believe: “we slow down as we age.” I know that because I have one. The disbelief probably stems from a teenager’s simple inability to even conceive of a future so far ahead. They live in the present, as they probably should.
Yet, precisely because teenagers cannot, and do not, particularly focus on a too-distant future, I hope to share with them a piece of advice I wish I had been given myself when I was a young girl growing up:
Run now. So that when you’re older, you can slow down to a brisk walk.
I am not old. Yet. But what is for sure is that I am not young either. Let’s just say that I probably have less to go with the same health benefits I have been the grateful recipient of so far.
When I was young, I hated running. I was the slowest, the most breathless, and the least graceful. I used to hate getting sweaty, dirty and I certainly hated pushing beyond what was absolutely necessary to achieve the minimum required results. I had other talents and aptitudes but neither I, nor my parents, saw the need to develop them any further. VCRs and game consoles were a new thing then and there were plenty of movies to watch and games to be played.
Also, I couldn’t see the point of running or exercise in general. I was brought up believing that exercise was for the sole purpose of losing weight a.k.a. suffering. Why suffer? There was a good movie on the new VCR and a bag of chips to be enjoyed. Where was I going to get to by running anyway?
Here is the question I didn’t, and should’ve asked: where was I getting to sitting on the couch?
Now I know.
In my 20s I really wanted to be a runner (I still do). I loved the idea of it, the rosy cheeks, the runner’s high, and of course, eating what I wanted. I dabbled with running. I was slow, I was breathless and as soon as I reached the goal of running for 30 straight minutes I would stop. Going further was absolutely out of the question. Too much hard work. There were drinks to be enjoyed and TV series to watch.
Idem in my 30s—except that now I had the perfect excuse(s). I could go out for a run but the children might go hungry. (They didn’t.) Also, I needed my daily glass of wine to get me through the boredom of young motherhood.
When I was 40 I decided I to run a marathon. All the running manuals said to get mileage under my feet first, to stop the alcohol and to watch what I ate. But I had no time and energy for all that. I had three kids at home, I was trying to get a writing career off the ground and I had something to prove: that I was, and will be a runner. During the race, I pushed really hard. I pushed so hard for over 5 hours that I decided this was way beyond how long anyone should push for. The marathon was my one and only. I stopped running for years after that.
Today I want to run but the most I seem to manage in my Zone 2 training is a brisk walk. But if I am at a brisk walk now, what of the future? How slow will I get?
Now I wonder what would have been had I pushed through my slog when I was a little girl. If I just had it in me to run through the shame of being the slowest, the least graceful. I wonder where I would have been if I had the tenacity to push beyond the 30 minutes of sweat, if I could only stick with the tiredness, embrace the suffering for just a little longer. Just one more day. Just a minute more every day.
I most probably would have still been the slowest, the most breathless, the least graceful. But I would still be running. And then maybe when I’m older, I could slow down to a brisk walk.