To some it may sound sad to hear, but 1984 was the peak of my running career. Yes, that’s 30 years ago, so it might sound a bit wistful to proclaim that something so far in the past was a high point in life.
There are hard facts that define that observation. A runner peaks in their 20s. It takes years of training to get to that point in life, and then there are a few peak years to act on your training and run your best. Some continue well into their 30s, and quality performances are still possible. Carlos Lopes won the 1984 Olympic marathon at the age of 37.
So I am not saying that what I did by effectively closing out my competitive running career in 9186 at the age of 28 was the right thing to do. It was just the right thing for me to do.
The reasons were many. I recognized in myself a propensity to be a bit too obsessed with my running. From the age of 13 through the age of 27, that’s fourteen years of life, running had been at the center of all my objectives. In high school it became a year-round activity. That continued through college with 100-mile training weeks and perpetual competition from cross country through indoor and outdoor track. Then came summer base training. All that was a commitment that had its place and time.
There were sacrifices however. As a result of my commitment I missed opportunities in high school to raft down the Rio Grande during spring break. And in college when art classes made trips to Malta or beyond, I was locked into the track and cross country cycle pretty solid.
That meant when a family came along in my late 20s it felt like the right time to shift priorities to other things. Yes I continued running. Sometimes I raced, but usually the results were off peak. Even in 1986 and 1987 I managed times in the low 33s for 10k.
Yet something had indeed change. Perhaps you’ve experienced moments in life as well where the activities that once dominated your entire persona somehow feel different. It can happen all of a sudden, or it can take time to set in. Perhaps you achieve a goal and move on. Or perhaps it’s much more subtle than that. You simply share more time with different kinds of people.
It’s like we’re climbing the mountain of life in any regard. Sometimes the trail is steep and difficult, challenging and thrilling. Other times you’re simply trying to avoid the rocks.
I remember what my brother once told me before a 20 year high school reunion. “You’ll like this one best of all. By now everyone’s had their ass kicked at least once.”
It’s the same way with running, riding and swimming. On the way to success or achieving a goal there are always days that don’t go so well.
The photo accompanying this blog is from the top of a saddle in the Maroon Bells outside Aspen, Colorado. We’d taken a summer road trip through Kansas and up to Colorado. With just $500 to spend, we kept it simple, camping along the way.
Our hike to 12,800 feet in the mountains took a couple hours. Yet I was so fit it felt good to trot up the trail and have my photo taken on top of the world. There would be many peaks and valleys to come. We all have mountains to climb. Sometimes more than one. That’s why events like the Tour de France are so compelling. Character is defined and revealed in the mountains. We can’t always predict how our bodies and minds will respond when put under the pressure to climb, or to crack.
I know I’m still climbing, and always will. Perhaps you feel the same way.
Yet we love the thin air and the feeling that everything around is so real. So evident. So stark, and so rare at the same time.
That’s why we go to the mountains. That’s the way we live our lives.