We did our introductions at Thursday’s Lake Merritt run and learned that we have three trainees who are running a marathon to commemorate a milestone birthday. Rachel is 30, Andrea will be turning 40, and Cindy will be 50. Two pacers are also turning 40 this year, and as I am one of them, I too have been thinking about how to celebrate this turning point.
And it is a turning point. We spent a good part of a run a couple of weeks ago attempting to explain to the youngest member of our group why we feel the need to do something special to mark these birthdays. He asked, “Why do you make such a big deal out of turning 40? You still have half of your life left, why is this birthday different than any other?” It is a question that I have also asked myself. My best answer is that milestone birthdays are a time when we think about what we are leaving behind and what we are moving toward.
I dreaded turning 30. I did my best to hang onto my 20’s to the bitter end. (This mostly involved a lot of weekends spent at clubs and bars and quite a bit of “what am I doing with my life?” angst.) I do best when I have something to focus all of my energy on and that was missing from my life.
That changed when I discovered running. It has been a gradual progression from where I was to where I am. I had always thought of myself as an active person, but the me who turned 30 was a slug compared to the me of today. I signed up to run with the SF Marathon Training Program and my first training season was a challenge. I was nervous before every Saturday long run. Will I be able to keep up with the group? Could I really run 12 miles? How about 16? 18? And then when 18 was so tough, how would I run a full marathon? At mile 24 of the race I was thinking “I’m never doing this again”, and of course 2 seconds after I crossed the finish line I decided I just needed to train harder next time.
Running with a group made it possible to show up for all of those scary Saturday long runs. And having the group to train with enabled me to sign up to do it again the next year. It is very difficult to explain to a non-runner the experiences that running partners share. All the miles of feeling great together, and sometimes feeling awful together, sometimes talking about the minute details of everyday life, sometimes sharing deeply personal life stories, often just running quietly.
Running has made me a better person. It has given me something to focus on (online forums about running, books about running, movies about running, magazines, shoe reviews, training plans, etc), it has given me a fitness that I didn’t have in my 20’s, and a great community of amazing people. Running has made me redefine what I think is possible and reassess what I am capable of.
I’m excited to turn 40. Ten years ago I thought my best years were behind me and my 30th birthday was a funeral for my 20’s. Now I know better, I know the best years are still to come and I’m excited to celebrate the start of a new decade in my life. Since running was the catalyst for such positive change for me, I think I’ll celebrate by going for a run.