Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Trying to escape the inevitable

What I had not foreseen
Was the gradual day
Weakening the will
Leaking the brightness away

-Stephen Spender, "What I Expected"

So it appears that I'm getting old. Inevitable, I know, but still somewhat surprising when you realize it. In general, I don't mind getting older. I have no plans to buy a sportscar anytime soon, and my hair remains free of gray at present, so I'm good for now. But I do have to admit that my body is beginning to show signs of, well, decay. What I didn't really expect, for example, was the dramatic change in metabolism that tends to show up in the late thirties. Before I was thirty, I often had trouble putting weight on. At one point in grad school, I weighed 119 pounds (on a 5'7" frame). And even though my father had been somewhat overweight throughout my childhood, I kinda assumed that I had dodged that particular bullet.

But apparently not. Fifteen years, two kids, and fifty pounds later, I find myself in what I sometimes refer to as "medievalist shape." It's not just that I'm growing somewhat thick around the middle; I'm also sedentary to a fault. I get winded taking out the trash (mind you, they're big bags). I can feel my body slowly falling apart. And though I do sometimes fall into the academic trap of, as Sir Ken Robinson has put it, considering my body as little more than an elaborate system of transportation for my head, I would like the bus to keep rolling, if you know what I mean.

So it was in a contrite spirit that I headed to the YMCA last night. Okay, so I wasn't really that contrite. But I went anyway, if only because Older Monkey was scheduled for a KidFit class. Since I was there, however, I decided I might as well get in some exercise. I don't enjoy exercise very much, but I do like walking and running, so I ran/walked around the track above the gym where OM was playing a strange form of baseball with the other kids. By my tenth lap, an old idea had reoccurred to me. It's an idea that I never thought was very realistic and which seems even less realistic to me now. But it still has significant appeal to me, so I've begun to entertain it. It's the kind of idea that I'm very reluctant to share with others, lest I have to face them when (in about a week or so, I would predict) I give up on the idea entirely and admit that I am a person of no substance, at least in the world of physical exertion. But I realized that, thanks to the shield of pseudonymity, I can talk about it here with very little risk. So here goes:

I want to run a marathon.

Don't laugh, Dr. Virago. I am fully aware that the mile-and-a-half I completed on the track last night represents only about 6% of a marathon. I am also fully aware that the last time I so much as walked briskly around the block (before last night) was before Christmas. In fact, I had to wear really heavy hiking-type athletic shoes last night because my normal running-type shoes (i.e., the closest I have to real running shoes) were left at another athletic club where I sometimes play squash with a friend. That sounds at least a little impressive, but the last time we played was well over a month ago. So let's just say that I've got a long way to go, in more ways than one.

But what's weird--and why I considered this space particularly appropriate for my secret pronouncement--is that I somehow feel more qualified to take on this task since completing my dissertation a few years ago. I remember the feeling of impossibility, the recognition of the vastness of the task at the beginning. I remember thinking that I was a fool to think that I could ever complete such a project. And I remember how I did complete it: one page, one paragraph, one sentence at a time. Now I'm considering a book project (more on this later, and props to Michelle of Heavenfield for the idea and encouragement), and it doesn't seem impossible at all.

So who knows? I'm not treating this as some kind of official life goal yet, but I am thinking about it, and, while part of me laughs at my naivete for even suggesting such a thing, another part of me thinks maybe it's possible after all. Tonight I'm going to run a little bit farther. If I never mention running again on this space, you may safely assume that I've retreated happily into advancing age and physical decrepitude.

At least you won't be able to watch it happen, though, right?


Dr. Virago said...

I'm not laughing, I'm cheering! Yay!!!

You sound like you have the right frame of mind to take it on -- just like the dissertation, it's best conceptualized in the smaller parts that add up to the whole. In fact, I ran my first while working on my dissertation, and one of the ads run by one of the sponsors even compared it to earning a Ph.D.

You might also find it heartening that I went from couch potato to marathoner in about a year. I spent 6 months just building up to running a 1/2 hour every day, and then I joined a marathon training group that took 6 months to take us from non-runners/joggers to marathoners.

I recommend joining a training group if there is one in your area. I also recommend The Complete Runner's Handbook and the training plans at

Yay you!!!!!

Prof. de Breeze said...

Thanks for the support, Dr. V. It's nice to know that you can start from a place of relative inactivity (though I suspect that you were never as sedentary as I am now) and still end up successful.

I feel like I should confess, however, that last night I skipped the run and went for ice cream instead. Not entirely my fault, though. Older Monkey lost her first tooth yesterday, and a banana split was our way of celebrating.