So much in life comes down to a simple principle: use it or lose it. This principle applies to the mind as well as the body. Our muscles and neurons are like rechargeable batteries which can have a remarkably long life if they are consistently utilized. I perceive this principle quite strongly when it comes to running: the more I run, the easier it gets to run, and the healthier I feel. Running is like charging up a battery in a car by driving for a half an hour on any icy cold day. It helps ensure that the battery will start up again the next day, and the day after that.
A few observations help validate this principle:
Getting started in running can be as frustrating as trying to turn on a car with a dead battery. Many people need a jump start in the form of a coach, a friend, a goal, or a challenge. The main obstacle in the beginning is the desire to quit. But with some persistence the energy level in the battery starts to rise. For this reason, I think beginner runners should limit the number of expectations they have on themselves (speed, etc.) and simply concentrate on building up mileage. Once the battery is brimming with a full charge, new goals can set that go beyond simply getting out there.
Running is also immensely popular among those in middle age. It’s entirely possible to peak as a marathon runner in one’s 50s, and I see it a lot in the runners I follow on Strava. These elders are real road warriors who tend to stack up miles in a methodical way. Their training level makes most of their workouts practically effortless unless they are throwing a speed workout into the mix, which they do strategically when training for races. A lot of folks qualify for Boston when they hit their 50s. This is in part due to the easier qualification time limit, which is a bit more lenient, but not much. You still have to finish a qualifying marathon in 3h 30 min until the age of 55. Yet I’ve seen this awesome feat, which only a small portion of all runners can achieve, completed by people I know. They are not superhuman. They are just very motivated to keep at it. I get the sense that rather than becoming more tired, running makes them more energized. This makes me think that our battery life can extend into old age, and following the use it or lose it principle, improve the quality of old age.
Too bad so much of contemporary life conspires against us filling up our batteries. The rat race keeps us sitting (or standing, for the clever) at a desk, and the built infrastructure keeps us driving around in a “clown car lifestyle” to quote Mister Money Mustache. I keep waiting for the day when my beloved running trails in the DC area are flooded all the time with people who know how to live the good life. But no, even in a super running and bicycling-friendly region, the trails remain remain tranquil except during peak weekend hours.
My prediction for the future, perhaps in my daughter’s generation (she is now in elementary school), most people will have a much clearer picture of their battery condition. She and her peers will have a wealth of data about how healthy they are for their stage of life, how healthy they could be, and hopefully they will set their goals accordingly. If I were a city planner, I would be building more trails for all generations so everyone can have a place to recharge.
Eventually our batteries wear down so they don’t fill up as well, and life continues after that. But I’m inspired by people I’ve met who are bullish on their battery, who take the time to stoke it.