I've been exchanging emails with my brother-in-law today. He's a runner, too. Actually, we're very different kinds of runners. He's an ultra-marathoner. That means he gets more miles in one run than I do in a week. He is currently training for a 12-hour race. At that distance, you don't exactly sprint the whole way. Our emails back and forth have rotated around the fact that, in our early 40's, we're still runners, but not quite as fast as we once were (he was a sub 5-minute miler and a very good cross-country runner, and I once was a pretty good sprinter and not-horrible cross-country runner).
That led me to think of all the things I have done as a runner. It was about 27 years ago that I went out to my school's track with my dad carrying an old-fashioned stopwatch with a sweep-second hand and ran my first mile. I ran 7:26, but at the time didn't know if that was a good or a bad time. But I decided I would go out for the track team that spring, if only because there was no ball involved that I could fail to catch. They put me with the distance kids because I wasn't fast enough to be a sprinter, and I began plugging away trying to run a sub-6-minute mile. The next fall (my sophomore year), I joined the cross-country team, mainly because that's what all the track guys I looked up to did. I wasn't very good, but I got to run with some guys who were. That spring, I ran sub-6 and barely scored, but my team produced 7 state champions and an all-American, and we won the state title as a team.
My junior year I was 8th man on the cross-country team. 7 make the varsity. I was the alternate at the state meet. That spring, a combination of miles, a growth spurt, and the graduation of all those champions allowed me to contribute to the track team for the first time, and even to run the weak leg of the mile relay. I earned my first varsity letter. My senior year, I was a co-captain of the cross-country team and ran consistently in the top 7, including 5th (the last scoring spot) at state. I was the 82nd kid in the meet. In track I ran the anchor leg of the relay and set a school record in the 100 meter dash (largely due to being one of the first to run the event after the conversion to metric distances). I was a conference runner-up (twice) and ran in the lower-state championship meet. I never qualified for state in track.
In college there was never a time I considered myself to have stopped being a runner, but I didn't run consistently. I took 2nd place in the 100 two years in a row at the University of SC intramural track meet. Once a year, near my birthday, I would bench press my weight and run a mile in under 6 minutes, just to be sure I still could.
Sometime in the early 1990s I began training again. I was actually out on a run (a great hill workout) when my wife took the pregnancy test that told us we were becoming parents. The day my oldest son was born, I had to knock on my training partner's door early in the morning to get my watch, which I had left in his apartment. I had to clear splits from the previous day's run to time contractions. When I interviewed for my first teaching job, I told them I could coach track, and somehow they gave me the job. I didn't even know how to score the high jump. I just knew I liked to run.
While learning to coach, I kept running. I ran the USMC marathon in 1986. I ran a half-dozen half-marathons. I ran the Cooper River Bridge Run several times, which is one of the top ten 10k races in the USA. Once I even made the very first column of results in the tiny print of the local paper (top 600 out of about 30,000 finishers, but still over 2 miles behind the Kenyans who got the prize money). I raced dozens of local 5ks, winning a couple of small ones when the field was weak and picking up a few age-group awards. My favorite was a 6th-place award in a run called the "handicap run" which started runners in reverse order of their personal best. The lady who beat me for 5th was 80 years young and had started over 20 minutes earlier. Another 50 meters and I could have gotten her! Perhaps my favorite moment was running 5 seconds faster than my previous PR (personal record), set at the state cross-country meet in 1986, when I was 31 years old. .
The past few years I have run less and less, and slower and slower. The coaching has gone well (a couple of team state championships and about 18 individuals and relay teams, plus a re-writing of my school's record books, including re-setting the record I once held). But I've only raced twice since turning 35. Only one month of the past 11 years has gone by with zero runs (that was the month I drove 7000 miles in an RV across the USA), but I've certainly not been consistent, nor could you call what I'm doing "training." But the last 6 months have been great, and I'm flirting with running our local Thanksgiving race as my first attempt as a "masters" (age 40+) runner.
I don't know for sure what my running future holds. I'm pretty sure none of the miles will be sub-6. But I do know that it's a blessing to still be a runner.