At lunch yesterday, my aunt asked me if I felt like the grandma of my team. I’m not the oldest here, but I do have a few years on my mid-distance training partners, and many of my competitors. It’s probably why I’ve been thinking recently about what it means to be an older athlete.
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Track culture (like everything?) has a love affair with youth. Even though people on the medal stand range in age, the hype machine (and $$) tends to focus on young phenoms. Because a young star doesn’t just have talent, she has POTENTIAL.
In a sport that exists at the edge of human performance, we are constantly reminded of our fallibility. People lose, records stand, or they are barely broken. But in the world of potential, ability is limitless. It’s only bounded by the imagination.
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Potential’s appeal sneaks into other areas of life. In my imaginary future, I can be perfect. If I don’t hit this year’s resolution, I have the next one, or the one after that.
But an older athlete can no longer comfort herself with the illusion of more time. There is only this day, this week, this year. Which means I no longer deal in potential. That’s not to say I don’t plan. I just don’t delude myself into thinking there is a next time. The question is not only what can I be, but what can I do now, where I am, with what I have.
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Of course, Now is all we ever have. It might not be as sexy, but it’s real, and it’s there for the taking. As they say, What will you do with your one wild and precious moment?
Photo by @cortneywhite_
I usually cringe if I read things I wrote a few years ago. But recently someone sent me this one, from October 2016. I still like it after three years, I even felt a little inspired re-reading it. It reminds me of that Olympic year mindset.
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So here’s a part of my “letter to the runner on race morning,” in honor of all the people preparing for this weekend’s Chicago Marathon ( @chimarathon )!
You did this. You. Look back at the months, years even, of preparation, and feel a warm satisfaction rising through your body. You woke up to run on cold mornings (or hot days!). You pushed through crazy long runs when all you wanted to do was stop. You rose to the challenge of workouts. You said no to shiny temptations, to nights out or extra time on your feet. You surrounded yourself with supportive people, or had the hard conversations when a relationship was causing issue.
“Champions do not become champions when they win the event, but in the hours, weeks, months and years that they spend preparing for it. The victorious performance is merely the demonstration of their championship character.”
Things may be hard, but you ARE the kind of athlete who does hard things.
Things may be scary, but you ARE the kind of athlete who faces fear.
You have proven this to yourself, again and again.
Think of all of that hard work, all of that time, and be proud. Let that fill you. That is your work, your opus, and it is an achievement. Know that we are proud of you. Now, go dance at your party.
Watching world champs from the sidelines is a mixed bag. Of course I love cheering on team USA and Bowerman. But in my specific events, the 800 and 1500, there is also this sense of regret and sadness.
Running from the moment you start on your first school team is a mix of personal and group mentality. You have training partners, or teammates if you are scoring points for a group competition, but the focus is primarily on the individual performance. Everyone in that sense is a competitor.
From the beginning there is the push/pull of supporting teammates, and also fighting to win. How can someone be authentic in both? I think part of the solution is acknowledging that it’s okay to be competitive.
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Sometimes I feel the “women supporting women” platitudes imply we all have to be peppy and loving all the time. In my mind, anyone in a competitive environment who doesn’t want to beat everyone else is either lying or a saint. Or maybe I’m just the worst. But no matter how enlightened I’m feeling, I’ll sometimes see a successful person and find myself searching for something wrong, some flaw. I don’t know if that will ever go away. But I don’t see what good comes from pretending it’s not there. My competitiveness is a strength in many ways. I think I can be more authentic in my support of others when I don’t try to hide it.
What I can do is acknowledge my competitive nature, and then move past it.
And how does that happen? Through practice. Saying good job to someone after they beat me. Or wishing them well and really meaning it. Practicing “loving kindness,” as they say. That’s why handshakes after competitions are so important. Sometimes it doesn’t feel authentic, maybe it isn’t at first. But it actually does get easier, more genuine. It even starts to feel good. I do believe that we can and should practice kindness like any other trait, like our lives, our happiness, our community depend on it. Because in many ways, they do. ⠀ ⠀
Photo from @idly_drifting_crackerjack
Nicole Antoinette’s weekly email series “Notes of Grit and Grace” is back and her first week’s topic was exactly what I needed to read. It was about appreciating the moments as they are happening, not waiting for your future perfect life to start, or getting so excited about the next thing (see my last post) that you forget the days in between. She says it better than me, so here’s a quick excerpt:
… I have a tendency to categorize certain things as my “real” life and other things as just temporary, but the truth is that every moment is your real life. Whether you’re on a beautiful hike or crying over a breakup, whether you’re laughing or pooping or working or reading, whether you’re excited or bored, angry or aroused—it’s all your real life.⠀
Every minute. ⠀
Don’t you dare miss it.
Photo from Roll Recovery
We said goodbye to Guinness a few weeks ago. I tried to process it privately, but I think in not being more open, I let my sadness linger. And I find myself without the desire to do any social media or outward -facing posts. Putting down a dog that trusted you absolutely is just an awful feeling. I know that feeling will eventually turn to loving sadness, without the guilt. But I’m not quite there yet.
This is what I wrote on the gram when I finally posted: I loved this dog deeply. I feel as if my capacity for empathy has grown since caring for him. Through years that I have traveled and moved and spent a lot of time in new apartments, he was a constant companion. And now there is a hole in my day the size of a little curled up munchkin. I don’t know what to do with that except try and embody his joy. I smile more at squirrels and birds, I notice yummy smells, and I try to remember that every time someone I love comes into the room, it’s a cause for celebration. 🐾❤️