Farewell, Farewell

I used to run six days a week. No longer. I used to run marathons. No longer. Farewell, farewell, a long farewell to all that.

I ran before work; sometimes I ran to work. I ran every day but Saturday, the Sabbath. I ran because I could, I ran because I needed to. I ran up the hills of Wattle Glen, up the endless alps of Kangaroo Ground, and along the river at Warrandyte and Kew.

I ran marathons in Traralgon, on the Gold Coast and in Alice Springs. I ran in the New York Marathon (thrice – never won it – home town decisions, obviously) and four times in the world’s oldest modern marathon, in Boston. The 2013 Boston was my last. I never crossed the finish line, turned back by the police at the 41 kilometre mark. At 67 years I was too old, too slow to be harmed by the bombers.

I ran in the World Veterans’ Games Marathon, and I was a Spartan at Melbourne. About 8 years ago at Traralgon, I became the Victorian Country Marathon Champion (Over Sixty, Male). There was one other sixty year old bloke – a patient of mine. He ran with an injury that I had fortunately not cured. I entered my title – Vic Country Marathon Champ – on my resume.

I ran in Havana and Amsterdam, in London and in Oxford, and on the golden stones and basalt cobbles of Jerusalem. I ran up and down Masada and in Galilee. I ran in Buenos Aires and in Capilla del Monte.

In fifty Aboriginal communities I ran to feel country, running fast to keep ahead of mobs of hungry dogs.

Through all this running I discovered strengths I never dreamed of and weakness I’d always feared. I extended my being, I joined in the joyous commonwealth of comrades that is a marathon.

I ran and I wrote what was a metaphor for my life – a passage, undistinguished, through space and through time, made rich by those I ran with and those I ran for. And always I ran with a doctor’s calibrated sense of risk. I ran with my younger daughter’s instruction ringing prayer and warning: Have a good run, Dad, and don’t come back dead.

I ran carefully, knowing if I did die I would leave wife, children, and latterly, grandchildren, grieving and aggrieved.

I ran and I gave thanks that my body held up for so long. I knew joy and pain and the joy of pain transmuted. I knew my lands and the lands of others intimately, physically. And in the stiffness and the glad soreness that followed a hard run, I knew pride, I knew joy.

***

An Australian boy knows it is in the sporting arena that his worth is measured. Excellence at sports trumps beauty and wealth. Brains lag last, far behind all. As a little boy I was timid, both physically and spiritually. A large brain served me only to imagine fearsome possibility; it was no asset in sports. Introduced to both cricket and football, in which I overcame fear sufficiently to try bravely, I achieved and sustained a modest mediocrity. I might have achieved more but for two discoveries: the hard cricket ball, travelling fast, hurt the fumbling fingers; and the elusive football, fiercely contested by other boys bigger and less timid than I, led me only to painful and fruitless collisions.20130411-184933.jpg

By virtue of very little, I rose to captain the Second Eighteen in footy and captain of the Second Eleven in cricket. My highly academic Jewish school quickly won fame for academic excellence, while earning only a reputation for awkward strangeness in inter-school sports. Generations of Jewish history had equipped Jewish boys well for debating, mathematics and playing the violin. Our ancestors in Europe learned to run only from fire or pogrom. So the best teams this post-Holocaust Jewish school produced were try-hard failures. And I was never good enough for the Firsts. Captain of the Seconds at Mount Scopus was the ultimate backhanded compliment in sports.

But at the age of fifteen came the discovery of distance running. The annual cross-country run over three miles of hilly scrubland sorted the tortoises from the hares. At the gun all the glamour boys leaped into the lead and quickly disappeared between bushes at the first bend in the course. I chased as hard as I could, my breath burning my throat, my chest aching. In a failure of the imagination I never thought of stopping or slowing. I kept going. Abrupt hills, uneven terrain, a finish line that was nowhere in sight, all conspired to daunt and defeat our gazelles of the track, our hares of the field. But I kept running. I don’t think I slowed at all. Eventually the astonishing sight of my idols bent double, gasping at the trackside, unable to respond to greeting or commiseration told me I was among the swiftest of the tortoises. I finished in the top ten that first year, improving to fourth, and eventually to third place, in the years that followed.

The barren years of sporting opportunity after school saw me gain a medical degree (summa sine laude), a wife and a bunch of little kids. And about five kilograms in weight. I was now a sedentary family man, short in stature, with a small pot belly. Then a schoolteacher friend took me running on the hills of Diamond Valley. He tired me out and he puffed me up, saying, “You have a nice running style, Howard.” One day we ran ten kilometers together. Breathless with achievement I looked at the distance – nearly a quarter of a marathon! – and with fine naivette I said to myself: I can run a marathon. And I did.

***

Seven months ago I drove for six days to and from an outback locum. My left thigh ached and it still does. Two months ago I fell onto my left knee from my bike. It screams with pain whenever I run a single step. The MRI of my spine resembles a bombed railway track – you can recognise the pattern of the original structure but you wouldn’t want to travel on it.

I used to run. Now it’s over.

20 thoughts on “Farewell, Farewell

  1. Howard darling I did not want to respond on the blog but I wanted you to know I felt very sad for you that you think you are finished with this big love in your life. You have certainly had a good run of fitness and good health. It may not turn out that your running days are over but if so I hope you will not suffer too much grief but rather bless the good times you have had xxx

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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    • Well, darling what was felt but unsaid in that post was my feeling of great debt to you for all that I had and all I deprived you of. And as I remarked to Brian last Tuesday, you have now opened up shared exercise in the form of walking and talking

      I love you, darling

      Howard

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  2. This is a well written but such sad post. Forever the optimist, I keep hoping that this is not farewell forever even though it has already been months. I hope you can find an physical activity you can come to really enjoy to replace running in the meantime.
    L
    M

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  3. Like Alice going down the rabbit hole blogs have provided me with glimpses in to another’s life. Thank you for for this glimpse. I will forward a link to my nephew who has taken up running in mid life.
    B M Permie

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    • Please warn the nephew

      ” we … in our youth begin in gladness
      But thereof come in the end despondency and madness”

      (Mister Wordsworth)

      but smile as you say it

      I had a wonderful time of it, dear BMP

      Howard

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  4. So eloquently put Howard, as usual. With your medical knowledge you obviously recognise the body’s ‘shortcomings’ but I hope you haven’t done irreparable damage. Personally, I’ve never see a runner who looks as if they’re enjoying the experience. Hope you’re able to take up walking. At least it allows you to take in the scene – and to talk at the same time! I can highly recommend it. I still get that ‘runner’s high’ especially when I encounter the local kangaroos.

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    • Yes yes, Sally

      The kangaroo whom we startle, often with spouse or young, slopes off ahead with that silent grace, leaving us in our slow plod, admiring and uplifted

      In the Flinders where I work and was wont to run in the early summer mornings, the roos would roo while a solitary eagle soared and did the Manley Hopkins Windhover

      “my heart in hiding
      stirred for a bird,- the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!

      Warmestly

      Howard

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  5. I so feel for your situation, Howard, and read the entry with a mixture of joy for your felicitous prose, and sadness over the predicament. My life has involved a series of related departures – from men’s hockey (backache), football (end of schooldays), squash (two monkey muscles and one back), tennis (age shall weary them …), leaving only golf for now. Come and join me some day:-)

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    • Louis, so much destruction and affliction in the one human frame!

      What a boon
      You have been
      To the doctor tribe

      There’s a gulf
      Between me
      And golf
      But not between
      Me and thee

      Thanks for the warm empathy Louis

      Howard

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  6. Well done young warrior! After reading your summation of your wonderful running experiences, I am in need of rest! I shall end with agreeing with the lovely comments of your friends above, In no way could I express my feelings better! xx Bruce.

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  7. Sad to hear that your legs and body have finally complained and shocked that for once you listened to them. It would never be a surprise to see you return to the road one day.
    I have so many wonderful memories of runs with you. I cannot run the Prom without remembering your company and enthusiasm. I know you will fill the gap in your life.

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  8. Pingback: The Faithful Fibroblast | howardgoldenberg

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