Running Late

This appeared in The Sun, January 2014, Issue 457

My old man is a runner. He’s eighty-seven and figures he’s chalked up about fifty thousand miles over the past forty years. That’s a lot of time spent putting one foot in front of the other.

In his prime my old man ran fifty-mile races in the farm country of western Maryland. When he began to slow down, he switched to marathons. Three years ago he was the oldest male runner to finish the Baltimore Marathon. Now he runs half marathons. In the retirement community where he lives with my mom, most of the men have walkers. He’s the only one who runs.

My old man has become something of an institution in Baltimore. He gets interviewed on TV. The reporters usually end by saying that they wish they could run at their age the way he does at his.

When I ran my first marathon, my old man helped me get through it. He slowed his pace and kept me from starting too fast, which is what usually happens to new runners swept up by the enthusiasm of the crowd. For the next ten years we were evenly matched. Now I slow my pace to match my old man’s.

I first beat him in Stamford, Connecticut. I enjoyed rubbing it in, but these days I prefer running with my old man to competing against him. We talk through the miles, and he helps me get a grip on my job, my finances, my family, myself.

We used to train together on the C&O Canal Towpatl;l trail just north of Washington, D.C.: ten miles up and ten back. Close to the end, when both of us were worn down, my old man would try to trick me by pulling up lame or grabbing my hat and throwing it into the woods, then sprinting ahead. Once, when I was aching and loopy after a fifteen-mile run, he bent over to help tie my shoelaces—then tied my feet together and dashed off. We laughed about it and fell into each other’s arms.

Last year we ran the half marathon in Baltimore. On race day my old man gave me two Tylenol before the start and two at mile ten to ease the pain.

The race was hard on me. I felt sluggish, as if I were running in mud. I was bone tired and even yawned at mile twelve, but I managed to drag myself over the finish line a half step behind my old man, who still looked fresh. What was his secret?

Later my old man told me he’d given me Tylenol PM—a combination pain reliever and sleep aid. He said it was an accident, but I know better: Looking for an edge, even at eighty-seven. Pretty clever of my old man.