Saturday, January 14, 2012

Ode to My Twenties (Part I)

A little (mostly) non running related side bar... I've been sidelined the last 2 weeks and likely will be at least another week, so with nothing new to report running wise, I figured I'd devote some bandwidth to the past...

In a few weeks, I turn 30.

In many ways, it is hard to believe that I am still in my twenties, because very little of what defines my life today is what I would consider representative of the last decade as a whole.

Very few of my peers are still under 30; that includes my wife and most of my closest friends.

Most of the people I run with are in their 30s and 40s. Some have kids and balance running, work, and family life -- something I aspire to be able to do well some day. Many of them didn't even start running seriously until they were older than I am now, and today are competitive masters runners (i.e. faster than me).

Almost all of the people I have day to day contact with at my job are older too, and when I took my new job here in North Carolina, I took on leading a team of people. Some of them have been working for nearly 30 years themselves, and admittedly it was a fair bit awkward sitting on the other end of the table with someone who was with the company when I was still in high school. I aged 5 years in the last year since taking my current job, out of necessity. Growing a beard and brushing up on my knowledge of 80s movies and music has helped.

A good beard is clearly a sign of maturity

I bought a house last year in the suburbs of south Durham, and now spend many weekends in the spring, summer, and fall doing yard work. I can't stay up late enough to watch the end of a night game, and I can't sleep in even on weekends. In many ways, turning 30 is just a formality (or sign of impending mortality?)

I am not approaching this with any apprehension, because it seems like an event that already happened; and when I think back on where I started the decade, back in 2002, I feel like I'm in a far better place than where I was entering my twenties. I wouldn't relive the last 10 years; sure, there are parts, places, and moments I wish I could go back to... but I'm glad to move on.

At 20, my only employment experience consisted of painting houses, working at an office supply store, and being a camp counselor. I was a single guy who mostly hung out with other single guys, drinking heavily on the weekends until just before dawn, watching countless hours of sports, or just generally wasting days away between cramming for exams or going to a few hours of class. In other words, I was your typical 20 year old guy, and I was woefully unprepared for the world I live in today. These were some of the very best times, but they were also stressful as hell, and for no really good reason other than uncertainty for the future.

In the span of 18 months, I met the girl I ended up marrying, who has played a big part in making me a better person, I started my career, lived in my first apartment, and for the first time moved away from North Carolina. The world was wide open for me at that time... New York, So. Cal, trekking around Europe or Australia...

I instead ended up in Hartford. Connecticut.

selling points for Hartford...
home of UConn Women's basketball...?
2 hours from New York and Boston?

I guess I was just happy to have an income and my own apartment, but the novelty wore off fast in the Insurance Capital of the US. One bitterly cold winter and being an hour flight away from Megan made me reconsider fast.

College and my exile in New England weren't really my 'twenties', as much as the four years when I lived in Washington DC, 3 of which were spent at the corner of 17th and U in a tiny two bedroom apartment I shared with two different college friends. I was at the cross section of the debauchery of Adams Morgan, the gentrifying hipster haven of U Street (and a short walk to the 9:30 club and Black Cat -- two of my favorite all time music venues), and the trendy DuPont Circle area which was about as far removed politically and culturally from the rural Southern Baptist corner of North Carolina I grew up in. I learned tolerance. I learned how to live in a big city. I often went to concerts on Tuesday nights and happy hours on Thursdays. But I also worked hard and took countless exams to get credentialed in my profession.

Life was busy and fun, and it wasn't uncommon to grab a Friday flight or train ticket and head to another city for the weekend to visit a friend. I rarely do that today. I wasn't running too much back then, but every now and then I would get on a kick for a few weeks, and run up through Rock Creek park into corners of Georgetown or Glover Park that tourists never see when visiting the District. I would run up through the National Zoo and down Connecticut Avenue and through Woodley Park and Kalorama by patrons enjoying beers and smoking hookahs on outdoor patios, by colorful row houses, and through diverse (and prohibitively expensive) residential parts of the city.

the not so mean streets of NW DC... unless you fear parallel parking

Those were fun years, but it never felt permanent. DC is a transient place, and I had no political aspirations so there was no point in settling down there in the long run and fighting the expenses and traffic. Megan and I got married, and we moved just down I-95 to Richmond VA. We had to make new friends and suddenly I found myself with much more free time on my hands, so this was when I really started running again.

I had put on a few pounds (or rather, about 40 from the time I was 17), and decided it wasn't great that I was already having knee pains when going out for a 3 mile run. I did crossfit for about 2 months, shed 20 pounds, and then rediscovered the competitive part of running.

The Monument Avenue 10K in late March in Richmond is probably my favorite non-marathon road race of all time, with over 30,000 runners of all abilities from the most competitive elite level athletes to people who have never run more than a mile. It is a well oiled machine with wave starts, bands, good crowds, and a flat scenic out and back course. One of the best training stretches I ever had was in Spring of 2010 getting ready for that race, when I took about 2 minutes off my previous 10K best. Those moments only happen a few times over the course of a lifetime of running.

waves K through Zzzzz not shown

Since then I've been pretty hooked and had gone on almost uninterrupted, training through my move back to North Carolina en route to a half marathon and marathon best without injury, until 2 weeks ago.

* * *

I'm still holding out hope I can jump in the Uwharrie 20, which also happens to be on my birthday, but I'll need to lower my expectations considerably as to what I hope to do there. I ran 6 miles last weekend to test out the foot, which felt fine while running, but not so much afterward. I've been going to cycle classes at the gym, and even have learned how to use the elliptical to actually get a good workout (although other gym patrons probably wonder what the hell I am doing when I crank up to max incline and do 1 minute sprints at 200 rpm). I even bought a bike, which is something I've been meaning to do for years.

The first week off was tough, but I'm thinking the rest might be a blessing in disguise. My end goal is still to run the trail 50K in early April... as that would be 31 miles at age 30. I'd like to get a fast marathon in sometime this year, but I'd sacrifice that to get in some unique racing, like the Shut In Ridge race in November. More important than time, is enjoying the whole experience of it.

Life is short!

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