Better with Age: 7 things I learned by running a marathon and going back to school at 40
Dear Izzy, Max, and Kate,
A kind, warmly dressed, middle-aged woman caught me by the shoulders and steadied me. She made eye contact and spoke calmly in a motherly voice, “Congratulations on your finish. Are you okay honey?”
“Thank you,” I said as confidently as I could manage.
“Are you okay?” she repeated.
“I’m a little wobbly. A little…woozy,” I admitted. I stumbled a little and leaned on the woman.
“It’s cold in here. Come with me honey. It’s warmer back here. Let’s get you a blanket. You did great. Congratulations. Drink this,” she said as she handed me bottle of water. She stayed with me for a few minutes asking if I was okay, if I needed anything, and then disappeared back into the arena where more runners were finishing the race.
I sat on the concrete floor in a warm corridor of the Propst Arena, near the medical tent in Huntsville, Alabama. I closed my eyes and leaned my head back on the wall and thought about how fast it went by. Not just the marathon and it’s round trip through Huntsville, the Space and Rocket Center, and Huntsville’s Botanical Gardens, but the period of time between doubt, the first step, and accomplishment.
The Rocket City Marathon was my 2nd full marathon – but my first since my initial effort at the Country Music Marathon way back in 2003. I was 28 then. I’m 40 now. Life is very different now than it was then. But despite the myriad of challenges life poses along it’s journey, I couldn’t help but smile and then cry as I sat alone in that warm lonely corridor in Alabama.
“I’m better now,” I thought to myself. “I’m better, despite it all, despite the years and the hardships. At 40 I’m better than I was at 28.”
I reflected on my new marathon personal best time of 3 hours 45 minutes held up against my previous time of 4 hours 30 minutes when I was younger and presumably stronger physically.
A strong mind and will overcomes youth and a strong body. I’ve changed jobs 3 times since 2003. You three kids were all born in that time. Your mommy almost died a few years ago, and you two little ones too. My hair turned grey. For awhile I grew calloused and angry about it all, but as time has passed I’ve gotten stronger – and better.
I gathered my things and went to find my friends and the buffet of food for the Rocket City Marathon finishers.
Two nights before the marathon I completed my mini-MBA and Executive Certificate in Business Administration and Management from Belmont University. Everything was happening so fast that I didn’t stop to reflect upon all of it until after the marathon.
I went back to school after 15 years to learn business. I ran a marathon for the first time in 11 years. I finished both in a span of 3 days.
And just a few years ago I had given up on myself and was going through the motions of life.
The sort of desperate 30-something, middle class man with a smile, a beautiful family, and a hollowness he can’t explain that you find in every church, company, and home across America.
I was living a bad imitation of the an American dream.
When you’re young you either have big dreams, or you’re too busy living to stop and plan. I think I qualified in both areas, but by my mid-30’s I began to realize that I felt stuck. That I’d made too many mistakes in planning my professional life. I began to believe that I was only worth what I had achieved, when I used to believe I was worth far more.
Getting beaten down happens over a long period of time, but it feels like it happens overnight. You wake up one day and look at a stranger in the mirror. The stubble on your chin grows faster, your clothes always feel wrinkled/too small/too big/too frayed, your hair is grey and thin, your stomach hurts all of the time, and you begin to see yourself as a sad stranger. Out of desperation you turn back to reading the bible every day – when you never should have stopped in the first place.
I’ve written to you before about how I came out of those years and how I found meaning and relevance in my work. I recently learned by running a fast marathon and finishing a business course, that I wasn’t “done” by any stretch of the imagination.
You can get better with age.
Finding a passion for helping others and a purpose helps you overcome the fear of times passage. Wisdom is more powerful than you can imagine when you are young.
You can regain confidence in yourself.
It starts with the first step towards your fears. Just one step and you’ll remember.
You can do it for yourself. Or you can do it to show them who you really are.
Anger and disappointment are powerful motivators when you know how to harness them.
Both are okay.
I’ve always been happy, because I have you kids and mommy, but I haven’t always felt proud of myself. I am now. I picked myself up and pursued a couple of things that scared me. I ran head on into them and surprised myself.
You’re always stronger than you think.
Every time I’ve thought I can’t go another day under a certain stress, go another hard minute in a wrestling match, or take another step in a triathlon or a race, I’ve found out I always have more to give. Find the “stronger” in yourself. It’s there.
The hard things make you better.
You won’t see this while you’re in the middle of it, but trust me – as years go by, you’ll come to understand or at least accept the hard things that shaped you. And crazy as this sounds, you’ll appreciate the lessons you learned through hardship.
You can always get up and meet a new challenge.
The only thing stopping you is your own attitude. It’s the only thing in life you can control. Lay down. Or get up. The choice is always yours.
You can be a champion again.
I certainly didn’t “win” the race, but I won something even greater than a marathon. 40 is just a number it turns out – and I have more education and a new marathon PR now to prove it.
I love you,
ps. big thanks to GU for providing the energy I needed (Peanut Butter, Salted Caramel, and Caramel Machiatto gels. YUM.) and to Mizuno for providing the Wave Sayonara 2’s that carried me to the finish.