Today, I turn 30. This means that a lot of my friends are turning 30 this year too, and most of them are freaking out. It would seem that turning 30 is a huge, negative deal – signifying the end of our twenties and everything that goes along with them, like youth and beauty.
But I’m not feeling the panic. Or the depression. Or even the fear that my best years are behind me. I’m actually excited. My twenties were great, don’t get me wrong, but they were also hard. I had some bad relationships, got really sick from Celiac’s disease, and fought to get healthy on my terms. There is no way I’d do that all over again.
In reflecting, I realized in a lot of ways, running gave me a new life. I feel younger now as a 30 year-old runner than I did when I was overweight and out-of-shape at 21. This got me wondering: shouldn’t we measure our age, not by counting the candles on the cake, but in a different way?
When I was 25, I said my first words in the form of a new pair of running shoes and the challenge of a mile. Every running step I took was exhausting. And exhilarating. When I finally was able to run a complete mile without stopping, it was the best feeling. I used to dream about how I’d feel when I was running, and I was finally living it.
At 26, I took my first running “steps” when I ran my first 5k. I didn’t know until I finished the race that I’d be able to do it. It was tough. The toughest physical thing I’d done thus far in my life. And I wanted to do it again. I signed up for one the next weekend. And then the next. I was addicted.
At 28, I entered school, in the form of a half marathon. I’d been racing 5ks, 10ks, and 10-milers, but this distance was big. I felt like a kid at my first day of school, and in a way, I was. I was in a school with the coolest students and teachers ever. My fellow runners did (and still do) help me through the training process, commiserate with me about my long runs, and congratulate me on my successes. Finally, I became the person who said “I only ran 5 miles today.” Three years ago, I couldn’t run one.
At 29, I entered the high school of running, when I completed 3 marathons. I remember being scared scared to death at my first marathon but, just like my freshman year of high school, didn’t want anyone to pick me out as the “newbie.” Finishing each one felt like a year of running high school, so that means that I’m now entering my senior year.
In running years, I’m just turning 18.
Running years aren’t about time, but milestones. Running doesn’t care if I’m 30, single, and childless. In running years, aging is a good thing. And in running years, you decide what is old, and when the clock stops. It is entirely subjective and forgiving.
Maybe I’ll turn a year older in running years with every marathon. But maybe, like driving a car, marathons will become less challenging, and new PRs or an ultramarathon will mean another year older.
Turning 21 could be an overseas race. Qualifying for the Olympic Trials (Rosemary? Salty?).
And turning 35 means a lower qualifying time for Boston (that’s in real years and running years)!
We wear our running age proudly. My running age is, in essence, posted on my car, in the form of a 13.1 and 26.2 bumper sticker.
Finally, our running age doesn’t judge other runners. Your 21 could be a 5k, or a running streak of longer than 6 days, something I’ve yet to do.
They say age is just a number, but so are PRs, Olympic Trial qualifying times, and marathon+ distances. Pretty important numbers to us running gals.
But an age number that comes without expectations and never puts us down is our running age.
What’s your running age?