18 January 2015


I’m tickled when serendipity tosses a little airtime my way and a few extra eyeballs might meander into the mire of my prose. My friends at Level Renner (a fine running eZine, well worth frequent visits) were kind enough to re-post my previous penning, as well as a link to these hallowed halls of harrumphing. And for those adventurous enough to come my way this week, I offer…toenails?

I will spare you and not provide any pictures this week. At my core, I am not cruel.

I hear your voices scream in the night, why? And I respond not with the answer you expect, but with something entirely different.

What you expect is a discourse about how runners are notorious for destroying toenails. Runners are even more notorious about bragging of the toenails they’ve destroyed. Such notoriety has reached the point that we aged jaded types don’t even laugh anymore at the signs along the marathon routes which read, “Toenails are overrated.” This is news?

This isn’t about trashing a talon doing twenty or more. I haven’t actually done that in a long time. That’s not to say I don’t usually have at least one claw in a regeneration state. It’s just that I’ve figured out how to avoid this on the roads, and instead I tend to do it on the mountains – not while running, but while hiking. I will indeed brag of my masterly abilities to stumble and stub just about any part of my body while slogging through the woods. Maybe a new set of boots would help, but hiking boots become old friends, and you don’t abandon your friends just because they occasionally cause you pain.

He’s opining on relationships with leather footwear. Yep, he’s truly lost it.

No, seriously, there is a point here, just stay with me. It’s about aging.

A couple of years back when I was invited to join the Greater Boston team, when I doth protested, “I’m not worthy” and the likes, one of the key messages my GBTC introducer said to me was that in order to maintain a masters team, plenty of bodies were needed because of two reasons. First, masters, being in a different stage of life than the post-collegiate whippersnappers who make the club’s name great, have a lot more going on in their lives and just can’t make it to races as often. And second, masters, being in a different stage of life, period, break more often and take longer to heal.

I didn’t buy into that all that much. In my late forties, I was still enjoying the on-ramp to what became – at least to date – my peak (and no, I’m not saying it’s not yet re-attainable, just stating the historical facts here). Things broke, but I got over them, even if it took a year, two years, or more.

On the surface, things aren’t really that different now, in my early fifties. Things break, and I work to get over them, and it clearly is taking a year, two years, or more. I don’t know, I’m not there yet. The Achilles is far better after my late-year respite, but it’s not a hundred percent, and meanwhile other stuff hurts, pace suffers, and wind sucks. Coming back from any downturn is a long process. This time is no different. Or is it?

Late in August, Dearest Daughter the Younger and I slogged up a couple of summits in the Adirondacks. On a fine day when DDY started her ADK 46ers list (I’m nearing the halfway mark), all was joy and happiness except for two nasty toe stubs (well, and there was that bit where I walked into the tree stump with my thigh, but it left no lasting damage). While it’s not uncommon for me to trash little toes, this day was quite rare in that I managed to trash both big toes. Yah, well, whatever. A few days of tenderness, manage the damage in graphic yet proven ways that I won’t describe here, and wait six months, good as new. What else is new?

Except it’s now over four and a half months, and the renewal process is way behind schedule. The damage isn’t even half grown out. It looks like I’m going to miss the usual six month repair window by a long stretch. Maybe my recollection of the expected timeframe is misguided (it’s been a while since I previously trashed the big ones), but this seems like a notable slowdown to me.

This has no impact on my running of course, nor will it stop me from surmounting the next summit that avails itself. It is, however, a curious view of what it means to be growing older. In short, my GBTC friend appears to have been onto something, something that didn’t resonate back then, but that this little biological window has now illuminated. It’s not a surprise (indeed, Dr. Foot Doctor has made similar comments many times), it’s just something you don’t internalize until you have to.

The implications are rather interesting, in that I’d always figured as we age, our racing would slow down because our bodies would simply slow down. I’m sure that’s still true, but it’s also becoming clear that our racing will slow down also because as we age, we can’t keep up the same level of training because we just don’t repair the damage we inflict at a fast enough rate to maintain the load. Maintaining a balance of optimal strength and fitness relative to what your body can handle is a challenge at any age, but it’s becoming clear that the test gets harder, which is all the more reason for us to respect those still at it, logging the miles into later and later decades of life.

Someone telling me this a few years back made sense, but didn’t really hit home. You’ve got to get there to see the landscape. The good news is the realization that more and more becomes clear as time goes on and we never stop learning; not just about facts and details, but about life and ourselves.

All this from looking at my bashed up toenails. Yep, he’s truly lost it.

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