OKAY, so life’s a journey. We all know that; it has been stated often enough.
We also know, as with any journey, there will inevitably be stops, delays, breakdowns, detours, U-turns and even the need for spare parts and replacements. There will be tears and laughter; excruciating sadness and unfettered joy.
Far less certain is where and when it will end, and how long it will last. It can be brutally curtailed far too soon or painfully extended beyond a bearable use-by date.
Then there are those who, by comparison, set out from southern parts for Edinburgh and now find themselves approaching John O’Groats. Still amazed they have come this far and wondering how it happened.
A running analogy is inevitable. It is like tackling a marathon and then continuing to clock up the miles untroubled by aches, exhaustion or waning willpower. Exhilarating, I am assured by the ultra-distance runners with who I mingle.
So here I am, taking a breather, at a staging post I never imagined reaching. How did it happen almost without me noticing? It is akin to being a passenger in these new driverless cars (a frightening thought) with the sat-nav leading us blindly forward.
Only yesterday, or so it seems, I was taking my first steps in gainful employment (as an indentured journalist) along the same cobbled streets I see outside my window.
Between then and now I have seen much of the world (for work, although it was mostly a pleasure), lived in numerous cities on two continents, become a father and grandfather, been thrice married (fun times and bad times), competed at international level for Australia and England, written six totally non-bestsellers and somehow escaped the setbacks and downers of serious injury or ill health.
A good life. One with many moments to be recalled with pleasure – and several that are best forgotten or shared with only a few.
But that was then. The issue now is what lies ahead?
When and how will the journey end? Thoughts (and fears) that never arose in earlier years. Even rarely in my seventies. But now, more than ever, these are questions dominating occupying my whirring brain.
This is foreign territory and only those who have also survived this far will understand what I am rabbiting on about.
Am I prepared, or is there an unfathomable mess for others to deal with? It seems unfair to suddenly say, “Well, that’s it, the end of the road. Over to you.”
More immediate, is the fretting over my running activity. At year’s beginning I did promise to retire, to go out on a high after running for England in the British Masters international half-marathon in March.
But Covid put paid to that. The race, like everything else, was cancelled. There was no grand finale. A void opened up. One plodded along local footpaths grateful for the hour of outdoor activity now allowed us. Classified as “high risk”, self-isolation followed.
Gloom and doom sat on the doorstep. Their presence weighed me down (yes, depression does exist) as I enviously watched my younger and socially distanced clubmates striding out along coastal paths and woodland trails, knowing there was little hope of joining them.
They smiled, laughed, glowed and gleamed with the sheer joy and exuberance that running brings and which I shared until what seems only very recently.
I now rebelled against giving up; it was being forced upon me, no longer the free will decision of earlier.
Overnight, things changed thanks to our club’s captains, Claire and Alex. They set a series of challenges covering the gamut of running activities. Competition is between teams of five. Most importantly, they are cleverly devised to appeal to all levels of experience and ability.
After months of feeling sidelined and disconnected, this creaking relic could again not only revel in the joy of running but also do so on a level playing field with results being adjusted by use of the international age-grading system.
Almost overnight, I became competitive; making a contribution to my team’s results (except in the long-distance test).
No one who has not been there is likely to understand the difference these challenges have made. A man reborn, or at least rejuvenated as much as physics will allow.
The incentive to pull on the running gear has returned, thanks to Claire and Alex and the club in general. So much so that this week my body carried me along for a lone half-marathon – the first such distance for more than eighteen months. And coincidentally, British Masters emailed to check if I was still available when that postponed international is restored to the calendar next year.
Incentives all round. Reasons to keep going.
Which, although this blog has been a personal tale and probably of little wider interest, goes to show how much we need a helping hand in this era of isolation, lockdowns and distancing; a reason to get out of bed and not dive under the doona.
Cheery messages urging “keep going”, “you can do it”, “you’re fine” and the like are really not enough. They are almost as meaningless as the way we all push the Like button as a substitute for something far more personal.
Anyway. Whatever. These are but random thoughts written down to stop them whirring around inside my head,
Think I’ll keep going a bit longer. Onward! (cliche alert) … age is just a number.
See you all on a track somewhere.