Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A New Age Group

When the alarm went off last Wednesday, I fumbled in the dark for my gym clothes, pulled on a fleece and apologized to the dog since it wasn’t my turn to take her out in the morning. Then I rode off to the gym with my friend and passed through what’s become “the Wednesday workout,” i.e. 40 minutes of lifting at the gym. It was nothing out of the ordinary, except that the question I would get for the rest of the day would be: How does it feel to be 30?

While I expected the question, what I didn’t anticipate was the look of disappointment on everyone’s face when I would tell them, “Feels fine. Actually, feels just like yesterday.”

It is, after all, a leading question, like I was supposed to lament leaving my 20s behind, be depressed, life in crisis…all that nonsense.

You want to know what the biggest difference is, what my greatest concern has been? Jumping to the hardest age group to place in: the 30-35 bracket.

Perhaps runners in their mid-late 20s don’t really discover running (or hit their peak) until their 30s. Whatever the case, when beat to the tape, I find, at least in this area, it’s by guys who are four-five years older than me.

On D-Day + 1, I started discussing this with my running partner. After a half day at work, we met up at Roosevelt Island to tackle my first 20 miler of this abbreviated Boston training plan. The plan was 16 miles together, then the last four he’d hop on his bike and ride the rest of the way with me – what are friends for?

“We just have to work harder,” he said, as the D.C. Mall rose in front of us. “That’s going to make getting on the podium all the sweeter.”

I liked where this was headed as we fell into an easy pace.  Hard to avoid when you’re running across the Potomac River, the Kennedy Center to your left, the Jefferson Memorial to your right, and the Capitol dome looming in the distance.

To the non-runner, this would have been the perfect day. A cloudless sky, the sun high overhead. The thermometer hit 65 degrees, a 15 degree swing from days and weeks prior. In short, spring. Which in D.C. means one thing: tourists.

Somewhere between the Lincoln Memorial and the World War II Memorial, Rohan and I took shade under the canopy of trees stretching between the two.  As we weaved in and out of the throngs of families walking four wide across the path, I noticed that we'd become an attraction of our own.  To set the scene a bit more, we were both in our split shorts, and, because of the warmer weather, next to nothing on top.  There were no comments, only stares and double takes, but enough to get us laughing and posing for the crowd.  "You think they think we're gay?" Rohan asked. We started putting words in their mouths:

"What did you see in D.C.?"
"Oh, a nice gay, interracial couple running along the mall."

And so on.

In fact, I'm pretty sure that I'm on some 11-year-old's Facebook page now in a photo album called "Trip to D.C."

All was fine through about 10 miles.  We crossed back into Virginia using the Memorial bridge, and regaled each other with memories of old D.C. races as we covered pieces of past courses.  Then the heat took over.  Turning on to the Mt. Vernon Trail, we started to run low on water.  Then Rohan's foot started to hurt.  Then all of my gels bounced out of my pouch.

Rohan turned back while I tried to stick out another mile out and back.  I slowed the pace and rationed out my water.  The sun felt like I was in Death Valley.  In August.  With no water.  And now alone.  I craved sugar and started scouring the trail for my lost gels.  If I found them, would I eat them?  Definitely.  I found one.  It'd been run over by a bike.  I can't eat that.

I listened for the beep on my watch to mark the miles.

The Roosevelt bridge popped up above the ridge and I locked in on it.  I staggered through the final half mile and came to the car.  I pulled out my replacement water bottle, you know, the one with the electrolytes in it that I'd been fantasizing about for 40 minutes.

"How you feel?" Rohan asked.
"Give me a sec.  Let me get a couple sips of this and I'll be ready for the last 1.5 out and back."  I took one swig from the bottle and half of it disappeared in one swallow.  I stood there a few seconds more.  I had a bad sunburn on my shoulders.  In two more sips the water bottle sputtered.  "You know," I started as he pulled the bike out of his car.  "I'm all set.  I'm shutting it down for the day."
"No shame in that.  Pretty hot out here.  It's the smart decision."

So, we drained a couple more water bottles and stretched out on the pavement, waxing poetic about upcoming races, competing in new age groups, and training smarter.

Training smarter.  Hmm.  Perhaps there's wisdom that comes with old(er) age.

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