Vidakovich column: Racing the Sunset
“What matters most is how you walk through the fire.”
— Charles Bukowski
My senior year at Glenwood Springs High School, our basketball coach, Bob Chavez, adopted a hit song at the time called “Take it to the Limit” by the Eagles. The theme became a team mantra of sorts, and Coach Chavez mentioned it often as he pushed his seven seniors on that team toward an eventual state basketball title in 1979.
Coach was an inspiration to us all back then, as he was to many generations of players that came before us, and were to follow. Things were easy in that time of youth. Not many worries to speak of, and the body was able to go with ease wherever the mind asked it to follow.
I haven’t played basketball, or tennis, another passion of days gone by, for a few years now. The first thing that pops into my mind when I think about a possible return venture out onto the hard courts of either sport, is the possibility of an injury that would put me on the proverbial rehabilitation shelf for quite some time, or the soreness to little used muscles that I know will follow for days to come. I’m gimpy stiff the morning after a slow-pitch softball game, so I can’t even reasonably fathom what the other two ventures might do to my aging frame.
Continuing to be able to distance run, however slow I may be these days in getting to my intended destination, has been a godsend to me as I have moved up on the scale of years. The early morning runs certainly contain their share of stiffness and achy joints at times. But the benefits, especially the mental clarity and spiritual aspect of the sport, have far outweighed the minor discomfort battles. The important thing, I’ve come to realize, is to keep showing up at the starting line, whether that be a local 5K, or the start of the morning ascent up the Mitchell Creek Road to the Glenwood Fish Hatchery to greet the running spirits that are waiting for me with a humbling “good morning!” Quitting doesn’t seem to be an option at this point in life. There may be no going back.
Dealing with physical decline was the topic of an entire book I read a few years ago called “Racing the Sunset” by former professional triathlete Scott Tinley. The sporting lives of many professional, and everyday athletes like you and me, were chronicled from the outset of their journeys, to the eventual decline in performance that some were able to cope with far better than others.
Scott Jurek, the seven-time winner of the Western States 100 Mile Run in California, has just come out with a new book about his attempt to set the fastest known time for running the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. His wife Jenny, who co-author’s the book, is along with him, driving the crew support van on the 2,190 mile journey through the rugged mountains of several eastern states.
Jurek made winning ultra-marathons look easy in his younger years, but now at age 41 on the Appalachian Trail, putting in 50-plus mile days, he battles debilitating injuries and the ever present specter of Father Time as he attempts to run, walk and sometimes limp his way to the end of the daunting record attempt.
Slowing to the pace of us pedestrians due to balky knees that no longer want to support his weight, and the record seemingly out of reach, Jurek contemplates quitting briefly, before the never-give-in stubbornness of a champion takes over and fuels his drive forward.
To find out what becomes of Jurek’s record attempt on the AT, I’ll make you read the book, “North. Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail.” A good book, and just a hint, a good ending.
Taking it to the limit these days doesn’t seem to be quite what Coach Chavez had in mind for us almost 40 years ago, but the will to continue pushing on is a constant and welcome companion. I always tell those who will listen that since I woke up this morning and have another day, I might as well try to do something positive with the opportunity.
A little soreness and a bruised ego never hurt anyone.