I’m not her

044My body surprised me this morning.

I was 48 hours past an 8-mile training run that left me feeling physically and emotionally defeated.  I undertook it as a test of my ability to train for one last half-marathon — a distance I swore off five years ago — but it felt more like an indictment:  You are old.  You cannot do this anymore. Quit, already.

I awoke yesterday still feeling battered, and my expectations for this morning were low:  maybe a half-hearted workout on the elliptical, or a short jog on the trail above my home.  But as I stepped out the door, I felt my shoes orienting themselves in the opposite direction, toward a hilly 6.5-mile trail loop I run when I’m feeling good.

I looked at my feet curiously, noting the dirty spots on my running shoes where the bunions are about to break through.

Really?  I said.

They tingled.

OK, I said.  Let’s go.

And we did,  me and my 56-year-old body which,  inexplicably, was ready again to run. I unlaced my shoes 66 minutes later, about five minutes faster than I last ran that loop. I was tired in a good way.

Broadly speaking, aging is a predictable experience: the trajectory is generally, undeniably, relentlessly, downhill.  But it has elements of mystery, too, of caprice — moments and even days of surprising grace.  Running is acutely clarifying in that regard;  it reminds me continually of who I no longer am, without ever foreclosing the possibility of who I may yet be.060

I was 24 when I began running, thinking — of course — I would do a marathon.  But I was young, and more inclined to play than work. I had to grow up a little as a runner to appreciate the severity of the distance, to understand what it would require of me.

That took a decade.  I completed the Twin Cities Marathon in 1993, rallying to finish a half-second under the 4-hour goal I nearly lost after hitting the wall and crumpling.

But the long training runs had given me an experience of my body that I had not had before. On the best of those days, I felt as if I was riding the finest horse from the Queen’s stable:  powerful and wild-eyed,  yet responsive to the lightest command.

I was 34, and I had every joy that makes runners want to go:  rhythm, strength, endurance.

I’m not her. Not anymore.98ascent

Four years later, in 1997,  I entered the first of several Triple Crowns,  a trio of difficult races here in the Pikes Peak Region:  the hilly, unforgiving Garden of the Gods 10-Mile,  the  rugged 7.4-mile  Summer Round-up Trail Run and the Pikes Peak Ascent, a 13.32-mile race that climbs more than 7,800 feet up the mountain.

Twice weekly, I shoehorned myself out of bed to train with other runners on hilly trails and roads as dawn turned to day.  It was work of a good and honest kind.  But it was fun, too, and gratifying to feel my strength and speed increase as I ran with the group and on my own.   If I came home tired, I also came home uplifted.  And in 2001 — the final year I did the series —  I took third in the Master’s division.garden10milefinish2000

I’m not her, either.

Many miles later, in 2010,  I decided to attempt one more Ascent, but by that time race organizers required a half-marathon qualifier. So I began training for Georgetown to Idaho Springs, a gentle, scenic downhill course. A good choice, I thought, if I had to run another 13.1-mile race.    As easy as I could make it.

But it wasn’t easy at all.  I was 51,  and I struggled to find any joy in the training.  As I built to long runs of  8, 10 and then 12 miles, my joints ached.  I was tired, and not in a good way.  I didn’t want to be doing what I was doing.

Yet there were moments of grace, of feeling — however fleetingly — that I inhabited a body that could still do what I asked of it.  I completed the race and, a year later, my fourth Pikes Peak Ascent.

But that was four years ago, and today, I am not even her.

So I don’t know about this half-marathon.  I won a free entry, and the runner I was 30 years ago, 20 years ago — even 10 years ago — said “go.”   But the runner I am today knows this:  It gets harder each year. More pain, less gain.

So we struck a bargain, me and my younger selves, about whether to again toe the line on race day, Sept. 7:  Try. Train. Listen to the body that carried all of us through all those miles.  See what she says.

Two days ago,  I thought I heard her say  “no.” Today, I’m not so sure.

So for now we’re sticking with it, me and all the runners I have been.

I’m not them anymore, not by a long shot.  But they’re with me still — waiting to see who I am, today.




  1. Christy Anna Beguins · · Reply

    It’s so hard to accept our changing limitations. Harder still to accept them with grace. Sounds like you are doing both.
    I’ve done one marathon back in Nov ’12. Hoping I have the strength and discipline for at least more special one.


    1. Aging is certainly a challenge, and pointedly so for runners. Glad to hear that you, too, are still moving with strength and grace as they are given to you. Thanks for reading and commenting, and good luck finding that special second marathon!


  2. Thanks for sharing this, Martha. You are right: Aging takes more from us each year — no softening that — and it is difficult to adapt. It’s a big mental and physical challenge to those of us who want to keep living the active lives we once enjoyed. So you have plenty of company, if that’s any consolation.

    I hope the BWCA trip was memorable in good ways, too!


  3. Martha · · Reply

    Just off a solo canoe trip in the BWCA where I discovered that the woman I was a mere ten years ago is not the woman paddling and portaging today. I wrote a lot in my journal about being content with less. Part of the process is fine and inevitable and part of the process really isn’t OK. It was useful to read of your ambivalence about the physical downward spiral and adapting to it. I’m just not sure I’m comfortable adapting to something so clearly “less”.


  4. Thank you, my friend. I know you understand the journey, too, as a fellow runner. On we go! Uh, maybe. 🙂


  5. Susan Lukwago · · Reply

    Cate. What a delight to go on this journey of “her” and who she was and is. It is beautiful to be reminded of the benefit of listening to one’s body – you do it well. Thank you for the great pictures too. Here’s to the last (maybe?) Labor Day half-marathon. We remained tuned.


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