Wednesday, July 13, 2011


     I sometimes meet my 16-year-old self for long runs - and long conversations - in what amounts to a metaphysical showdown between the self and the former self.  I badger him about his future, asking if he has any inkling of what is in store for him, and he stonewalls me with that insouciant, devil-may-care manner of teenagers that in fact masks a deep fear of the world and their place in it.  We share an identical past, and with each second eclipsed, he steps closer to me, and I further away from him.
     I leave my front door, and a few minutes later I meet him down by the river.
     "I finally beat your 5k PR," is the first thing I say to him.  "It was in a race two months ago."
     My 16-year-old self considers this for a moment and then says, "I never get any faster?"
     "Well, you did, obviously, but not before you turned into me."
     "That's cool."
     We continue along the outline of the river, dodging geese and the occasional stray child.  He starts to lag behind.
     "This sucks," he declares.  "How much longer?"
     "You've improved a lot since last summer."
     "I know, but this still sucks.  Let's just take a break for a minute."
     "If we stop to rest now, we'll never get started again."
     "You know us too well."
     After 5 miles my stride is still strong and my breathing steady, but he makes a turn towards the erratic.  We are in uncharted territory for him, and I sense his discomfort.  There is the physical discomfort, something he is not accustomed to, but there is also the mental discomfort of not knowing how much worse it will get.  I experienced something similar while running my first marathon.
     "I started running like, three months ago.  You've been doing it for years."
     "Stop saying 'like' all the time.  You sound ridiculous."
     "I'm a teenager, what do you expect?"
     "Don't use that as a catch-all excuse for your behavior."  I hated being scolded for anything at his age.  I can sense the counteroffensive before it even happens.
     "So what if you beat my PR 14 years later?  It's just a race."
     I take a long time to think of an appropriate answer, something I may not have done at his age. "Well... it is and it isn't.  Do you know what it feels like to take down a 14-year-old record?  Of course not.  14 years ago you were two.  You probably spent all of your time falling down on the carpet in the living room.  Or annoying Kirsten."
     "So enlighten me," he says in that insufferable way of teenagers that indicates he may or may not be listening.
     "Ok look.  Nothing in your life is going to go the way you expect it, and for the most part that's a good thing.  At some point you'll find it hard to truly test yourself; both your mental and physical strength.  Both of these things will become important to you, and running will be a way of showing just how much strength you possess.  Sometimes it will feel like the world is getting away from you, but you can always go for a run.  Running is the constant throughout your life."  I check to make sure he is still listening.  He appears to be deep in thought but still with me.  "Last week you ran a 5k in 18:29 with barely a second thought.  14 years later you will set your sights on that record and take it down.  It's not the actual race that you'll remember, but the work that led up to it.  Beating an old PR vindicates the hard work and is proof of the strength I'm always after.  Does any of this make sense?"
     A thought occurs to me, one that I keep to myself: when you go for a run with the teenage version of yourself, do you want to be jealous of this youthful specter of your past, or do you want it the other way around?
     "Does it ever go away?"
     "Does what ever go away?"
     He looks at me with a sincerity I'd forgotten I possessed as a teenager.  "The fear of your - our - place in the world?"
     "Not entirely, I'm afraid.  But it does get better, in ways you'll never expect."
     At six miles his stamina finally gives out, and he slows to a stop.  I can feel him watching me as I leave him behind, my legs strong, my breathing steady.

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