Mile 0 - 8 years old:
I sucked at athletics as a child. I tried soccer and sucked at that and I was generally the kid who was picked last for kickball, dodgeball, or don't-trip-over-your-own-feet-ball. I recall when our elementary school started to participate in the Presidential Fitness tests, which sought to measure our fitness using a variety of exercises. There were three levels of accomplishment and I failed to reach the lowest level on almost every test. There was only one test where I could reliably reach the lowest rung of achievement: Running.
I wasn't a fast sprinter, but I had just enough endurance to run a mile in the allotted time. It wasn't much, but it was the first modicum of athletic ability I had ever displayed.
This was an interesting data point and I took note of it. It was, however, not compelling enough to make up for the general unpleasantness of running. I would have preferred to show some ability at baseball or girls.
Mile 10 - 16 years old:
Like any sane person, I shunned running as a form of exercise, preferring instead to play video games. However, something during my junior year of high school convinced me that I needed to join a school sports team. Maybe it was the pressure of needing to have something non-academic on my college applications or maybe I was just a dumbass. I don't recall really, but I signed up for the cross country team, as did a few of my fellow nerds.
We weren't very good, certainly not good enough to make the varsity team, so we languished in junior varsity, which is wholly unimpressive for someone in their third year of high school. It was even less impressive during our senior year of high school when we still failed to make the varsity team.
HOWEVER, among the junior varsity runners, and among my little nerd clique, I was one of the fastest. I found the races exhilarating, which made up for the drudgery of the practices. I was delighted to find that despite my general lack of athleticism, I could attain mediocrity at running with plain ol' hard work. This was a remarkable accomplishment for me. I had never before believed that I was capable of mediocrity in a sport.
Mile 500 - 24 years old:
I didn't run much in college and soon I was working a job that put me sitting in front of a computer 8+ hours a day. I realized I needed some form of exercise and after a few failed attempts at building visible muscles in a gym, I turned back to my old standby. I picked out some local 5K and 10K races and started running again.
It still hurt and I still hated each step of the practice runs, but the races were energizing and I consistently amazed myself in races by beating most of the other competitors.
Mile 1500 - 29 years old:
One of my work buddies suggested that we run a half marathon together. It seemed like a ludicrously long distance, but he was a persuasive guy. Week after week I ran distances that were further than I had ever run before. Each week I was astonished that my skinny computer programmer legs were able to do this sort of thing.
The race went well and I couldn't help but start planning for a marathon. What was once an unthinkable goal now seemed in reach. I knew there was a good chance that I'd never be in that good shape again, so it was then or never.
I talked to a few people and devised my own training plan. Training got broken up by a broken collarbone at one point, but I persevered through it. Marathon day came and when I crossed the finish line, it nearly brought a tear to my eye. I hadn't finished as quickly as I wanted, but I completed a marathon dammit!
Daisy was born the following year, which put a hold on my running for a while. I ran a couple more marathons after a few years, but none went as well as the first.
Mile 4500 - 35 years old:
I had plateaued in my running ability so I joined a coached running program. I started doing strength training before my marathons and I ran every training run with a goal. I didn't run a lot of miles, but I ran them hard and purposefully.
My times dropped significantly and I found myself generally finishing in the top 5 or 10% of the races I entered. I ran 7 marathons. I qualified for Boston twice and ran it once. I ran half-marathons in less than 90 minutes.
I was still an awkward runner, but suddenly my expectations of what I could do were much higher. When people asked about my life, "runner" was one of the tags I applied to myself, just like "computer programmer" and "dad".
Mile 10,000 - 40 years old:
So, I've got this knee thing. For weeks now, each time I try to go for a run, my knee starts hurting. I've tried pounding the Advil, and I've tried icing, and I've tried taking multi-week breaks. Nothing seems to help.
I fear this is one of those injuries, like maybe my knees are worn out. Maybe they only had 10,000 miles in them. Maybe I'm done.
I'm kind of crushed by the thought. I haven't gone to see a doctor yet, so that's high on my to do list, but I'm worried.
Running has been my sole source of fitness for my entire adult life. It has given me competition, satisfaction, and the ability to eat as much junk food as I wanted. It has shaped how I see myself.
I honestly hate running, but I need it. It helps me sleep. It keeps me fit. It lets me look at my world as a series of hills and miles that I am capable of conquering. It helps me convince myself that the descent towards old age and physical deterioration is still off in the distance.
But now I'm worried that it might be all over. Hopefully I'm panicking a little prematurely here, but I'm a little freaked out. I was kind of hoping for another few tens of thousands of miles.