readv3, v3, jim alred, for the love of the game

The other day one of my good friends texted me. The text turned out to be a photo of someone’s half marathon finishing time. I looked at the time and nodded my head. I was impressed. Then I saw the name, and shook my head.

The individual in question turned a phenomenal time in the race. A time I couldn’t come close to in my current shape. A quick aside here, my current shape is deplorable. I can get out and run, but my lack of fitness leaves my times at pedestrian at best.

For long time readers, all six of you and my mother, you will know that at one time during my life I ran some fast times. Although I cringe these days when anyone asks me my fastest time. Because I haven’t approached those numbers since I was 23. Seeing as I’m now 47, that was more than half a lifetime ago.

I remember having a conversation with Berry cross country coach and outstanding distance runner Paul Deaton about aging a few years ago. He mentioned how recovering from training runs and getting back to certain times became harder and harder. Deaton isn’t too much older than me, and he still regularly kicks my butt if he enters the same race I’m in.

And as much as I hate to say it, Deaton’s words are true. The day after a long run I get out of bed and my body doesn’t always react well. One or both of my knees often complains and other parts of my body can range from a nagging ache to a downright full on painful scream.

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I’m not complaining though. I know there are plenty of people who have it far worse and I’m lucky that distance running hasn’t done more of a number on my body. On these days, I often wonder why I continue to run.

And sometimes the question looms so large that I answer it by not running for a few days, weeks or even months. But then somehow, somewhere the siren’s song returns, I lace up the running shoes and get outside and attempt to get my legs turning over.

Over the past year, my running has struggled quite a bit. After our yearly family tradition race on July 4th, I’m not sure I’ve managed to run more than about 10 or 12 more times. I’ve even had a few people ask me if I’m done.

As in if I’m hanging up my shoes or deciding to take it easy and not chase after faster times or longer distances. And then the day comes when my friend shares a text message.

One thing I’ve often found is the need for a goal or something to help motivate and push me. In high school, it was easy. I wanted to get to state.

In college, it was easy, I wanted to continue working hard enough to stay on the team. That’s the walk-on’s curse. At any time the coach can look at you and say, “Sorry. You’re just not cutting it. Thanks for your time, but we don’t need you on the team any longer.”

Trust me. I never wanted to have that conversation, and luckily I never did.

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After college, my goals have been a mishmash. After a softball-sized tumor got removed from left hip, I wanted to run a half marathon. After arthroscopic surgery on my right knee and a doctor telling me to switch to biking, I wanted to prove I still could. I managed both of those.

And when I moved back to Rome more than a decade ago, I wanted to chase breaking 19 minutes in a 5K. I just missed it, but managed to turn in some great times. But I now realize those times are fading in the rear view mirror, and the big 50 is looming larger every day.

For someone who has spent a large majority of my life running against the clock, I now find myself competing against it in more than the traditional way. I know I won’t be turning in 100-mile training weeks again. I’m pretty sure my body would break down and fall apart.

I’m also not so sure pursuing the marathon make much sense, knowing the amount of training I would have to put in. But I look at the 5K distance, 3.1 miles, and know it’s possible to chase some time barriers again.

Motivation comes in strange ways. And while I have strong faith that I will be able to compete after I turn 50, I can tell my body will require more and more rest to keep from hitting me with an injury that could shut my running down.

So know the trial begins. I haven’t looked at any race calendars yet, or plotted a major training plan. Instead, I’m going to work on just getting myself out the door and start putting some miles and training in. I can’t go too fast or train too hard too soon, or I’ll be on the sidelines quickly.

Hopefully, my many years of running will give me enough insight to be able to be smart, stave off injuries and begin to recover my shape. It’s funny, a few weeks ago I thought about running with a sense of dread.

Today, I still have some trepidation, but realize I’m not getting any younger.

Maybe my friend somehow knew I needed a swift kick in the butt, and the text message served as just that. That’s what friends are for sometimes. Reminding us where we have been and what we have done and helping plant a signpost to get us back on track. Even if it means a lot of work along the way.

An injury while running at Auburn ended Jim Alred’s long-shot hopes of possibly competing in the Olympics, so he turned to writing and has been crafting award-winning stories across multiple mediums ever since. Along the way he’s been chased by a grizzly bear, worked as Goofy at Walt Disney World, been nominated for two Emmys, interviewed celebrities like Tiger Woods, Bo Jackson, Bill Clinton, coaches his daughters in cross country and soccer and can often be found running with his wife, Tara, around Rome.