Penguin Chronicles: When I’m 64

Illustration: Neil Numberman

The best part of being a runner at 64: there are still things left to do.

The first time I heard The Beatles sing “When I’m 64,” I was just 19 years old. Being 64 had no relevance for me. My own parents were only in their 40s, and I didn’t know anyone who was 64. Thinking about being 64 would have been like thinking about living on the moon. I just couldn’t imagine it. Now, I’m 64.

It’s challenging enough to grasp being 64, but wrapping my head around being a 64-year-old runner has been even more difficult. It’s hard to imagine that I am looking backwards at a lifetime of running that didn’t start until I was 43.

That’s not altogether true. I did start running at 22 just before I went into the Army’s Basic Training program. I was pretty sure that quitting smoking for a week, and running every day for a week, was all I needed to prepare for 12 weeks of infantry training. I was wrong. So very wrong.

I also tried running in my early 30s while doing graduate work. I thought running hard every day would be an excellent adjunct to a grueling academic schedule. I was wrong, again.

What does it mean to be a runner at 64? Well, I’m not renting a cottage on the Isle of Wight as Lennon and McCartney suggested. I’m not that handy mending a fuse, and I’m not at all good at doing the garden or digging the weeds.

What I am handy at, much to my surprise, is creating training schedules and sticking to them. I’m not doing the garden, but I am doing my long runs. And, for certain, I have been digging the weeds out of my psyche as I’ve challenged myself over the years to go faster and farther.

Before I became a runner, I only had to remember two things when I left the house: cigarettes and a lighter. Now, when I leave the house for a run, I have to make sure the Garmin gets the satellites, my watch is reset to 0, my shoes are tied just so, that they’re the right shoes for my route and that I’ve chosen appropriate apparel for the weather.

I know one mustn’t spend too much time looking back at one’s life. I know there’s little to be gained by wallowing in regret and missed opportunities. I must admit, however, that there are moments when I reflect on what my life would have been like if I had stuck with running earlier.

Believe it or not, considering I’ve made a living as the world’s slowest professional runner, I think I would have been competitive at least in my age group. I was relentless about progress as a musician. I’d like to think I would have been the same as a runner.

I’d like to think that as I moved into my 40s I’d have been sanguine about the fact that my personal bests were all behind me. I’d like to think I would have found new and interesting challenges.

Instead, since I started running in my 40s, all of my personal bests were ahead of me. That alone is reason enough to start running later in life.

In 1967 being 64 was beyond the horizon. Now, my 64th birthday is in the rearview mirror. I don’t have any idea what lies beyond the horizon in my running and non-running life.

I don’t have any intention to retire from writing or running. There are still things I want to say and places I want to run. There are words that I haven’t written and roads and trails that I haven’t encountered. That is the best part of being a runner at 64. There are still things left to do.

What I do know is that despite John and Paul’s admonition I will not be simply wasting away.

This column first appeared in the December 2012 issue of Competitor magazine. 

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About The Author:

John Bingham, aka The Penguin, will share his running tales and experiences every month. Have a story of your own to share or a topic you’d like The Penguin to consider? E-mail him at thepenguin@johnbingham.com

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