Monday, August 21, 2006

On Turning 60, And Gen. Ferdinand Foch

I spent last weekend on Bermuda to celebrate my 60th birthday. I knew where we were going, but nothing else; my wife Cristina handled all the other details—the stuff that can make travel a burden. As a result, I got to relax totally, exactly as I wanted.

The big day was Saturday the 19th. Over breakfast on our verandah, Cristina gave me a striking silver-and-gold Eternity ring. It fits on my pinky finger, next to my mobius-strip wedding band. I don’t much like rings and other adornments. But I love the way these two rings nest together.

Saturday was also Bill Clinton’s 60th birthday. I’ve known about our shared birthday since 1993, the first year of his presidency. Being a writer, I always figured that I could one day turn this coincidence to my advantage in some amusing Op-Ed piece or an essay on the foibles of us baby boomers. Unfortunately, I could never think of anything to say.

We were born on the same day and year. Clinton strode like a colossus on the stage of human events. I ran quietly around the world’s perimeter. He had sex in the office; I didn’t. That’s about the end of it.

I know runners who mark their birthdays with prodigious feats, like running their age in miles or kilometers or whatever. And I was feeling the need for something significant. But not the energy. My fitness has slipped away since late spring when I ran a nice 1:28+ in the Runner’s World Half Marathon. In June, I had a bad Comrades Marathon in South Africa. Who wants to train in the heat-humidity of July and August?

Yes, I was in the doldrums, no doubt about it. I was foundering in a Bermuda Triangle of aging, wondering, doubting. I didn’t run on Thursday, our travel day, or Friday, our first full day in Bermuda.

On Saturday, starting to feel disgusted with myself, I forced my way through steamy Hamilton and out to the Bermuda Rail Trail. I didn’t cover 60 miles or 60-K, but I did more than 60 minutes (90, in fact), and you’ve gotta take whatever victories you can.

On the trail, I tried to figure a way out of the doldrums, and I soon saw that there was only one possible path. My son taught it to the whole family his freshman year at Harvard. Dan wanted to major in physics, the subject that seems to draw Harvard’s genius crowd. Too bad for Dan. He came from a mediocre, inner-city public school. The genius kids were preppies with dozens of AP classes to their credit. Dan was two years behind them the day he hit the ground in Cambridge.

Reading his infrequent emails, we got a bit concerned. He was barely keeping his head above water. But he refused to buckle. He even made us laugh when he introduced us to the French World War I general Ferdinand Foch. Describing his physics challenges, Dan used a famous quote supposedly attributed to Foch, who found himself in deep doo-doo at the Battle of the Marne: “Ma droite est enfoncee. Ma gauche cede. Situation excellente. J’attaque.” ( Loosely translated: “My right flank is crushed. My left is giving way. Situation excellent. I am attacking.”)

Foch won the battle and the war, and Dan eventually graduated with honors in math.

I knew I needed to follow the same approach. Yes, the body is slowing, but whose isn’t? And what’s the point in lamenting it? I must attack. It’s the only viable plan.

The goal and strategy are clear. On Thanksgiving morning, I hope to run the Manchester (CT) 5-Mile for the 44th year in a row. I won the high school division in year one, 1963. I won the open division 9 times. But I have never won an age-group division at Manchester. This year I will be 60, a new age group. It’s time to put everything on the line to see what I can do on November 23.

If my program goes well, maybe I’ll use this space to share some of the small steps with you. If it goes badly, I’ll cry into my beer alone. At 60, I have too much dignity (I hope) to whine out loud.

6 Comments:

At 12:40 AM, Blogger Scooter said...

Amby,
I ran the best race of my summer tonight. Why? Because I ran with the Dillons on Kelley Race weekend. It helped kick me out of my malaise. You've posted the target. That AG1 will be yours.

 
At 8:15 AM, Blogger pjm said...

Beautiful quote. I'm remembering it. I could've used it last fall in Algorithms.

Seems like you found the only good place to run in Bermuda. (If there are others, let me know.) And I had to do some confirming arithmatic in my head to be sure I wasn't imagining being at your 50th (I wasn't. Imagining, that is.)

 
At 12:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday Amby. REmember, 60 is the new 40.

MM

 
At 9:10 PM, Blogger Joe said...

Happy Birthday, Amby. Great post. The joys of a new age group are highly motivating...hope yours works wonders!

 
At 1:15 PM, Anonymous Bob S. said...

Amby,
I'm confident you can win your age group. I'll try to get Bill Rodgers to push you. But not too hard. He is near 60 too!lol
Bob...

 
At 2:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good Luck Amby and a belated Happy Birthday.

FOB(Rodgers that is),

Michael

 

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