Running on Empty: Joggers Race Against Age

The aging runner.

Where once we were slender, graceful embodiments of muscularity in motion, we are now lumbering, often jiggling, testaments to the unrelenting march of time and gravity.

Where once we were proud participants in the 1970s running boom, we are now struggling survivors, the crazy few still pounding the unforgiving pavement after all these years.

Where once we attracted admiration, we now attract concern.

Not that any of this has stopped us.

Cranky backs, glass knees, blood-pressure faces, bulging neck veins, death-rattle breathing, the entourage of eager EMTs that follow directly behind in races, are mere inconveniences.

I mention this because I just ran in my first road race of the summer season.

It was a small, low-key affair that finished on a quaint town green.

In years past, this race served as the backdrop for a gathering of friends and the sipping of a cold beer or two.

Then, one by one, the group dwindled.

People ruptured and fractured stuff.

People moved on, or away.

People came down with golf.

Now it's just Bob and me.

I had the usual two objectives going into this year's race:

Avoid being the object of a 911 call.

Beat Bob.

In the past, the competition between myself and Bob--whose two legs now share one half-decent knee--would involve such things as, oh, training.

We now rely almost exclusively on guile.

Let me give you an idea of how this works.

Last summer, we are running in a race. It is a hot day and we are side by side, each of us having pledged beforehand to put our rivalry aside in deference to the heat and the 911 thing.

About two-thirds of the way through, Bob drops back a little. I think nothing of it. The next thing I know, Bob is 50 yards in front of me.


At a congested intersection, he has cut through a gas station.

There was a time when I might have seen this as cheating. Now I view it as nothing more than brilliant strategy.

In our latest race, Bob ran with the flu so I got a big lead, which I almost lost after getting a couple of dozen leg cramps near the end.

After the race, we notice Bob has mistakenly been listed as Beth on the results sheet, and because of the mix-up has an excellent chance of placing third in the women's Grand Masters Division.

What is pathetic--even for us--is that had the error not been discovered, Bob, er Beth, would have gladly accepted the gold-painted plastic trophy.

What is even more pathetic, is this:

I would have been very jealous.


Jim Shea is a columnist at the Hartford Courant. To reach him write to Jim Shea, Hartford Courant, 285 Broad St., Hartford, CT 06115.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World