Well, I am not yet old enough to look like that. But 59 leaves quite a bit of time to go. Years that could be as exciting as any that have gone before.
And what will always remain exciting is the race. At 59, I am the benchmark of performance for any number of runners. During my 15 years of running, I have consistently, year in and year out, been at the junction of the upper and middle thirds of those finishing a race. I have become the pass-fail mark for my fellow runners. If they beat me, they go home satisfied. If I beat them, they hope to do better next time. For my group, then, I am the top gun, the man they call out for a showdown.
I am no easy mark. I could give most readers of this, whatever their age, a five-minute head start and run them down in 20 or 30 minutes. I also have guts, which is simply the decision to stand pain.
Some think guts is sprinting at the end of a race. But guts is what got you there to begin with. Guts start back in the hills with six miles still to go and you're thinking of how you can get out of this race without anyone's noticing. Guts begin when you still have 40 minutes of torture left and you're already hurting more than you ever remember. Fortunately, guts seem to increase with age, rather than decrease. I may not want to wrestle with the Devil, but I am willing to wrestle with myself. And while I am beating myself, I usually beat others as well.
Newcomers are usually easy to handle, although I may have to pass them twice. The first time anyone is passed by someone my age, the natural reaction is disbelief and a sudden sprint to regain the lead. However, the next time I pass they usually give in, resigned to the fact that they are not yet ready to take the old man.
Some are injudicious enough to rile me up. One summer, I was passed at the halfway mark of a six-mile race by someone who said, "I've been waiting to do this for three years." I passed him back about a mile down the road and now he'll wait another three years before he gets near me again.
Of course, I have that same effect on others, although I never say anything to upset anyone. Last year, for instance, at Westport, in a 10-miler with about a mile to go, I closed in on a running friend, a 25-year-old whom I had never before been near in a race. With about 200 yards to go, there were only 15 yards and three runners between the two of us. As we entered the shopping plaza for the finish, the other three runners passed him and he did nothing. He was, as far as I could see, dead in the water. I cranked up, and with about 100 yards to go, I blew past him. It was early, but it seemed safe. Did I neglect to tell you I am also dumb?
I was about 10 yards ahead and apparently home free when I heard this groaning, grunting animal coming up on me. He drew even and as I glanced over I could see him, wild-eyed, spittle all over his face, the picture of agony. Then he was gone.
Later he told me he had recognized the bald head and there was no way I was going to beat him.
So it is not age that is threatened by youth, but the other way around. Youth is threatened by age. From where I sit the 50s look great, and I suspect the 60s will be even better. I may not yet look like Teilhard, but there's always this: I will never again look like my high school picture.