It’s a story as old as time; a young woman and an older man. It started innocently enough. She was a former student of mine, now studying for a PhD. I mentioned that I was running on the weekend, training for a mountain run in the north of Tasmania. I knew she was athletic and had often spoken of her desire to run when she had time. Before I knew it we were running at lunchtimes, pounding the paths along the River Derwent, occasionally accompanied by dolphins cutting through the choppy waters.
These little runs led to longer, more serious adventures. Three-hour expeditions along the trails of Mt Wellington, through forest and over scree slopes, drinking from mountain streams and dodging tiger snakes on warm days. Next was a two-person relay on the 64km Bruny Island ultramarathon — 32km each. That would have been the time to rest on my laurels, but with typical hubris I engaged in what the Americans so quaintly call “mission creep”.
Before I knew it I had agreed to train for two solo ultramathons, the Bruny Island and another. The memory of my condition after 32km had faded; the sore back, the dizziness and nau- sea, the knees that creaked and popped in an alarming manner for days afterwards. My partner was more realistic about my running companion: “She’s 30 years younger than you, you’ll never be able to keep up with her, for God’s sake. She’ll break you!”
The harsh reality came as quite a shock, but a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do. The daily runs increased in length, niggling pain became a constant companion that not even postrun beers could eliminate. I started to do weekend runs by myself, culminating in a foolhardy attempt that resulted in my partner picking me up 45km from home, dehydrated, starving and slightly delirious. That night, as I ate pizza and drank beer (nutrition is important in long-distance running), I hatched a plan for another long run the next weekend. The noise in the background was the Greek chorus singing the demise of one whom the Fates despised.
On Monday, the young woman and I met for a short 10km run. It started as a slight niggle in the lower back, then a sharp pain in the right hip, followed by the knee beginning to buckle. I finished the run, then fell into the car for the ride home. By the time I reached the front door I could hardly move. The following morning I was finished; my back was buggered and my hip had seized. Ten long, long weeks later I managed to walk without seizing every 10 steps or so. The young woman now regularly runs ultramarathons while I drink beer and contemplate the folly of age — and the invitation from a young female physiotherapist who has taken up cycling and is looking for a training partner.
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