Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Running, Birthdays and Ageing

It was my birthday a few days ago.
In the last ten years my birthdays seem to fall into a regular pattern:
A week or two of anticipation, a day of celebration, followed by a fortnight of introspection.
I am currently in the introspection phase.
I am coping with this introspection by running more and once again returning to the fundamental question of “why do I run?”. I find I can ask that question a million times and each time come up with a different answer. Every time the different answer helps illuminate the current existential dilemma I am grappling with.
At the ripe (possibly over-ripe) age of 43 I am definitely an adult. By almost any definition I am in fact middle-aged. And yet I do not feel middle aged and sometimes I don’t even feel like an adult. I have a relatively high powered job – a job with ‘grown-up responsibilities’ that only an adult could do. And yet still the same I do not feel like an adult.
There are times I embrace adulthood and feel I am a fully paid up member to the mature club while other times I feel I am a 20 something impostor dressing up in a 40 something’s body.
In my eyes my father is an adult, and to me always has been. The same for my mother. When I was at school my teachers were adults. A lot of my older colleagues I think of as adults and some of the younger ones as well.
I am inconsistent with my definition of the term. I know a ‘grown up’ when I speak to one but not every 30 something or 40 something seems to be a grown up (even some people in their 50′s seem to miss the mark)
So how does the fundamental question of “Why do I run?” help me make sense of these shifting sands of adulthood and my internal contradictions?
I now think that one of the main reasons that I run is that it connects me with my physical body. In so much of my daily life I do not think about my physical body unless something is wrong with it (an illness or ache and pain) and if I don’t run I do never push my body to its limits.
Running gives me a vitality and a sense of power that I love and cherish. A physical sense of power I used to feel effortlessly when I was a teenage and in my twenties which I now have to work at.
I think it is this sense of power that holds the key to my self-infantilisation.
In so many aspects of modern life youth seems to be honored to the point of deification. Youth is power.
When my father was young (he was born in the late 1930′s) adulthood was power. Youth was something to pass through to get to power, influence and respect. Now so many aspects of adulthood just seem to hold out the prospect of irrelevance.
Physically my running gives me power and is one of the reasons I love doing it. The fear is giving up running would mean surrendering to the inevitable physical forces of aging and decay. In the same way fully embracing adulthood could be seen as surrendering my youth. A youth that my colleagues and peers value so highly.
But if running gives me a sense of power and it is a lose of power that I fear with age and irrelevance then my running also gives me comfort. Running possibly shows me the way forward as I inevitably continue to age.
I define myself as a runner, it is an intrinsic part of my identity, and yet I only started running seriously a few years ago.
Running has exposed a new world to me and aspects to my character that I never knew existed before. I am definitely an adult runner – the one time I have received an award for distance running it was in the over 40′s category. In many ways I am happier to embrace adulthood in my running than almost any other aspect of my life.
I believe that the sense of power I get from running is not about clinging on to a sense of youthfulness beyond its sell by date. Running for me is about pushing boundaries and bringing new experiences into my life. That sense of ‘newness’ can sometimes be confused with youth. As youth is when everything is new and we can’t help but push boundaries.
But running has taught me that I can do that at any age. If I can embrace the new I can equally embrace adulthood. It is the new which is powerful and hopefully age will give me wisdom of how best to harness it.
You know what I think I might just be through the introspection phase of my birthday this year!
(The picture today is of my “best for age” acceptance form for the London marathon – now I couldn’t do that if I was still in my twenties)