29 September 2011

Bridging the Generation Gap

You can tell that there’s a new generation gap and that I’m on the wrong side of it merely by the fact that you don’t hear the words, “generation gap” anymore. That tag phrase of my younger days separated us rambunctious youth from our supposedly conservative elders. Today, there’s gen-X, gen-Y, gen-whatever, but that old phrase seems to have landed on a heap of buggy whips.

Now I’m the supposedly conservative elder, though the term conservative invokes in me a visible wince. No, I don’t mind mixing my politics with my running. Why, just yesterday I enjoyed the mirth of running past what apparently had been someone’s grand idea but now sits as a failed development, ninety percent empty land, scraped clear and scrapped, a bad idea that brought ruin to all who touched it. Sound familiar? The road was aptly named Tea Party Circle. But I digress.

So let’s drop the conservative and just stick with elder, and let’s consider the generation gap for the moment not as the differences between me and my ancestors or descendants, but between me now, and me then. Part of the fun of being on the Second Lap is comparing today’s reality to those First Lap days or youthful yore.

Amongst the five billion web sites, the billion that claim to be “social” as it’s the current buzzword, and the two percent that acknowledge athletics (I made up these numbers, of course), there’s a site out there known as Athlinks. I found it several years ago while engaging in the nearly universal vanity of Googling myself. Here was a site that had mined quite a few race results and knew a surprising amount about my running.

Not being exactly shy and reserved on the web; after all, this is a public blog displaying plenty of rants, raves, and depravity, I am nevertheless a decidedly anti-Facebook, anti-Twitter type, in the former case objecting to a private company explicitly abusing personal privacy for financial gain, and in the latter case objecting just because it feels better than having to know if my friend is eating a ham sandwich at the moment. While I acknowledge some value in both, I cringe at the lemming-like way that people have flocked to these services simply because everyone else did. Can you spell Time Sucker? And who hasn’t received a Linked-In invitation from someone they’ve met once at a conference and will never see again? Seriously, folks… And along comes this social networking site that just happened to be running-related, so that made it OK?

Well, the logic goes that all of those race results are already out there, so there’s no compromise of privacy, and I don’t have to tell them much more about me, nor to I have to actively use it (though some of the stats and comparisons it offers are downright tickling to the OCD streak in me), and it is, after all, sort of a backup racing log should all of my technology-based records here suddenly go black. So yes, I exist on Athlinks. And it’s pretty good about picking up probably two-thirds of my races without any help.

Where is this going, you are asking? Wasn’t this about a generation gap or something? Well, yes, and we’re ready to go there now.

To Athlinks, my life started with my first marathon in the fall of 2005. Or at least it did until a few months ago, when much to my tickled amusement appeared a race result for me from…1982! And it was no error. June of 1982 to be exact, the Vestal XX, a local twenty kilometer studded with hills, hills, and more hills. A race I’d wanted to run for years back then, but never did until I’d been off to college for a year and returned in pretty marginal shape, the fading days of my First Lap as the running sapped away and my training became less and less consistent, leading to that twenty-plus-year gap. My generation gap. First to Second Lap gap.

When it first appeared on the site, I was amused that my performance from 1982 – averaging seven and a half minute miles – was rather weak compared to what I run today, until I recalled that 1982, post-freshman year, wasn’t exactly representative of what I could do a year or two earlier. Still, it’s comforting to know that thirty years later I’m able to work myself into far better shape than I could then, and stick to it far more consistently despite the uncertainties of real, non-collegiate life.

I pulled out my log from that era and read up on that race. I’d gone out intentionally slow with a running buddy for the first half, then turned it on for the return trip. My recollection is that the second half was all downhill, so when I read in my log that I was “ripping it home” and see the pace specified, I chuckle since I intend to run significantly faster for the entire half marathon – on the flat – that I’ve got slated for this Sunday morning.

Thirty years later, I’d love to run against myself from back then.

There are some things I know I’ll never touch from that era. Burning the final quarter mile of the two-mile down around sixty seconds. Not going to happen. Spinning a mile in something close to four and a half. Ditto. Speed like that is toast for me. And thank God I will never do another race-walking mile.

But there are things from those days that I am reaching and surpassing. Age brings focus and determination that crumbles endurance marks. I’d never run a marathon in those days, now number fifteen looms. At six and a half years, I’ve stuck to this on a consistent basis far longer than in the early days. And this month, in the desperation of catching up on fall marathon training, I’ve finally busted not just my Second Lap but also my First Lap – and all time – monthly mileage mark, which will culminate tomorrow when I hit three hundred miles for the first time in my life.

This, like everything, is relative. A running co-worker tells me that he logs that kind of mileage regularly, so it’s no big deal in the universe. But it’s a big deal to me, as it will be if I ever pass the other remaining endurance and capacity marks of my youth.

Two-seventy-nine in January of 1980, meet three hundred in September of 2011. There’s one hole of my generation that’s been bridged. I take back my opening statement. I’m not on the wrong side of this gap.

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