Every day, the old man jogged down Witter Road, bent over like the letter C so bad it seemed like he was really just falling forward one step at a time. I was in grade school. Tacked to my bedroom wall was a collection of green Field Day participant ribbons. That's how fast I was. Participant fast. I would think to myself as the old man ran by, at least I'm faster than that guy. I hope.
Sophomore year, our high school soccer coach sent us out to run laps around the field. I fell in at the back, because that's where I belonged. Then I wasn't at the back anymore. I still don't know how it happened. One by one, I passed each member of the team, until there wasn't anyone left to pass. I certainly didn't have the body of a runner, but apparently I'd grown the legs and lungs of one.
These days, I prefer to run without socks, to feel the road and push off with my toes. When I get a new pair of shoes, I accept the heel blister as a test of will. It usually closes up in a few days, then I'm set for six months of sockless mileage. Michelle asks me why. I tell her I like the feel of the wind on my ankles.
But this one on my right heel, it's not healing. It's red and swollen and full of puss. I try to gimp along, to push through the stinging pain. Problem is, my left knee hurts, too. So I careen down the sidewalk, left to right, fighting my legs to stay upright.
This is what ballplayers must feel like, when they hit 39. Some small injury, something they've come back from dozens of times, simply doesn't go away. One retirement tour later, their faces show up, bloated and sweaty, on the cover of Page Six. So I think first about ordering a large sausage pie and just sitting down for the next thirty, forty years. Then I wonder, if I'm not a runner anymore, maybe I'm back to being the chubby kid sitting on the porch, staring at the road.
The old man years ago, he wasn't exactly running pain free. So maybe I'm wrong, maybe what you have to do in your forties is swallow the hurt and stay out there. Because it's not going to get any easier, and we've got to hold on to our speed while we can.