(The following article is by Steve Trew. Well written and scarily realistic to old-stagers! Mind you, perhaps ‘The Athlete’ might have retired from running when his body definitely said no – and might have found other, less injury-prone ways to exercise instead.)
The Masters Runner
The Athlete was old now, very old. He had run and competed too long, much too long. He had competed as he had seen the decades switch, the sixties to the seventies to the eighties, the nineties and even the unhear-of noughties (noughties! What a crap word, he thought). Nobody knows accurately how long an athlete can go on successfully without doing permanent damage; the years to grow and improve, the years to hone the talent, the years to use the craft, and the years to exist on the skills and knowledge gained.
And then the years when the skills speedily and most ungracefully slip away.
You would have to follow him upon thousands and thousands of meandering miles and the thousands of training sessions to check him. To watch him grow fit and strong and race and win and then finally decline and lose and you wouldn’t know him from the other athletes running the thousands of miles and winning and losing.
From the look of him, our particular athlete was past running. For many, many years now he had run around the same training circuits. The locals knew him. They had grown used to the gaunt figure silently shuffling the familiar paths. He came to jog past the once well-known, so well-known changing rooms but he didn’t try to associate with the younger athletes any more, he chose and preferred the lonely pavements.
Likely a chance remark overheard; the younger runners laughing; the odd silence when he had joined their company; a sudden stop in their conversation; they hadn’t kicked him out, had they? In any case, his memory of racing and races was dim and probably exaggerated. The youngsters had no longer come to him for advice, although his accumulated knowledge was vast. He had long since run through his repertoire of stories, and no longer found listeners for the nostalgic tales of the good old days before tartan tracks, screw-in spikes, mesh uppers, dual density converse heel camber and thousandths of a second on the stopwatches – the days when cinder-crunching noises and rubber plimsolls were normal; before the new technology and high priests of running. And the shoes now! Our particular runner didn’t even comprehend the words; “stabilizing elements”, “carbon plate”, “foam-driven return energy (what the hell was that?)”, “stacking”, “ZoomX”.
It was better then. You knew the seasons then. Track, road, cross-country, road relays but, like everything else, that had changed. Running had gone mad; the indoor season, European tours, ‘down under’ for the winter. Professional runners, getting paid for running? They would have laughed out loud back in the day……. Nothing was the same.
He was more than a little weary, of course, and certainly his body was used up by the years. His once so proud body that had betrayed him, his muscles honed to a fine perfection – a cliché, of course, but wasn’t his whole running life a cliché – now covered by tissue? Like greying skin, wrinkled and pathetic. A body that had once reacted instantly to every thought and command now lagged behind his brain and memory. The skin seemed too big for the body inside it, the lightness needed for competitive running had stayed as he had run away from the competitive years. How he’d reached this age without breaking down over the countless miles was a mystery. The hard surfaces had strangely left him injury free; a blessing or not? Age had left him visually ridiculous. He wore the lightweight clothing and shoes of an athlete on an old man’s body.
He had no injuries but he ached and ached. Old men always hurt somehow and somewhere. He shuffled along almost from side to side now, and talked to himself as old men do, and the burden of his age and his lost youth hung heavily. He had been good in his time, he knew that. He’d raced everywhere; the White City, Crystal Palace, Meadowbank,; tracks and courses and roads all over the Country – chasing competition, chasing trophies but also because he wanted and needed to race. Other athletes had looked at him enquiringly, had watched him stretch and warm-up, had jogged behind him as if by chance, perhaps waiting for a careless word to be thrown in their direction, for it is always this way. They had copied his clothing and admired his style. The sycophants had been around him always, younger athletes eager for his knowledge he had amply to give; always someone to carry his tracksuit, to fetch a drink, to want his wise experience.
But now he was very much alone, trapped by and within the years of his aging. The others were long gone. Friends, rivals. He was tolerated only, an athlete from a long-gone era. It was over. He was too slow to run with others. His body was sore. His feet ached. Soon, he knew, he would be gone. He was bored with training but somehow he needed it, needed it but would be glad to see the finish of it all.
The world –his world- had changed, was changing still. What did it matter what others said? What did it matter what he looked like on the outside? Inside he knew, and understood. Others didn’t. it didn’t matter. A runner forever.
“Carpe that diem, guys. It’s gone before you know it.”