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Originally published in Runner's World Magazine April 2000

Present Perfect Tense

Most runners I know are too tense. They are tense before they run, while they run, and after they run. It's not their muscles that are tense, it's their heads. Rather than running in the present, they always seem to be in running the PAST tense or the FUTURE tense.

Men near my age, those that are solidly middle aged, are always running in the past tense. Their PR's are always in the past. The good old days are always behind them. And, their running is tense.

Every conversation ends up being a trip down memory lane. They wax nostalgic about a moment in time 5, 10, or 20 years earlier when their running times were faster, their waists thinner, and their hair thicker.

Some of the younger runners are caught up more in potential than performance. The race of the day is only a tune up for the race of the future. While they cruise at an unthinkable fast pace, their minds are focused on a moment weeks or years in the future.

It's a shame that these young runners don't talk to the older ones. Maybe if they did they'd see the folly in waiting too long to enjoy the sport. Maybe if they listened they resist the temptation to demean today's effort on the promise of a later payoff. Their destinies may not unfold as they planned.

It is the only area where I think I have an advantage over many of the runners around me. I have no past to which I can turn. And, my future is uncertain. I really have no choice but to enjoy every minute of every run. I am keenly aware that my destiny lies in every step.

For me, the only tension in my running is a commitment to remain in the present tense. I hear every foot strike, I feel every breath, I dance to the rhythm of my heart beating in my chest. I don't know how it used to be. I don't know how it's going to be. I know only how it is.

And it is good. I am still astounded by what my body will allow me to do. I am still startled when, with patience, my legs will carry me farther than I imagined possible. I am still in awe that the heart and lungs that I took for granted can work together to permit me to run distances that I used to think were far to drive.

Those who have run marathons with me know the truth in this. I give myself permission, at mile 20, to do anything I want for the next 6.2 miles. If I want to run faster I do. If I want to slow down and talk to every volunteer, I do. The first 20 miles I do for the sport. The last 10K I do just for me.

I have seen mile twenty 18 times in my life. Every time I have had to shake my head and pinch myself to see of I was awake. Every time I've asked myself what I want from the next hour or so of my life. The answer isn't always the same. But, it's always the truth of the moment.

There have been ugly miles when I ran with heavy legs and my head down. There have been beautiful miles when I ran with the legs of a child and a smile on my face. For me, it really doesn't matter. I am there. I am in the moment, and the truth is that the good is not better than the bad. It's just different.

On one exceptionally beautiful day during the London marathon I suddenly started walking at mile 24. An aid worker rushed over to ask if I was OK. "You bet", I said. And asked him to take my picture with Big Ben in the background.

I had never been there before. No past. There was no guarantee that I would ever be there again. No future. That day was all I could rely on. I wasn't about to miss it.

Letting go of the past and not worrying about the future seems a small price to pay for all the happiness of the present.

Waddle on, friends.

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