There are times in life when we feel bulletproof. Earlier this spring I ran 32 miles and only took about four sips of water the whole time. I once finished the last eight miles of a double Presidential Traverse with a stick in my quad, which I shook off as a "mere flesh wound" (Monty Python accent and all). A bit of it remained there for four months. No worries. I was tough. Rugged. Last night was not one of those glorious moments.
The sense of being rather "soft" had begun days before. Feeling haggard and off since my abbreviated Long Trail epic ten days before, I had not ventured into the mountains since, despite having chunks of time when I could, both in Vermont and New Hampshire. I was trying to listen to my body, which, sounding oddly like Toby Keith, was telling me: "I ain't as good as I once was." I started feeling a bit bad for myself - this once finely tuned body, that could run for hours and miles, wrecked by a couple days in the mountains, and not one of them longer than twenty miles. And so it was I began a short cruise of the neighborhood yesterday evening, my first night home after three weeks in the mountains. It began beautifully: a perfect temperature, the mid-August light that particular shade of gold, faintly hinting at the end of summer. And beautiful bird song.
Funny, that bird's singing matches exactly when I breath.
I paid a little closer attention. I held my breath. There was no bird song. I exhaled. I inhaled. I sounded like a bird. For the first time in my life, I was wheezing.
I like to think that as I grow older (and, clearly, softer), what I'm losing in "macho-runner" cred, I'm gaining in "intelligent person/father/husband" being. Not enjoying my respiratory system sounding like an aviary, I went to my doctor. He called me soon after to tell me the chest x-ray showed I have pneumonia and no running for at least two weeks.
I thought only really old people get pneumonia? And, as one of my friends noted, "How'd you manage that? It's the middle of the summer!" Yep, I ain't as good as I once was.
Alas, despite the physical shortcomings I feel I'm all too often experiencing now, it's helped me learn that I can't become so attached to those "good" feelings - those times when everything seems to be going right, when, frankly, I feel bulletproof. The reality is I am never bulletproof, but simply am. It is learning to ride the "good" with the "bad," and, ultimately, just embracing the ride, not judging any condition as "good" or "bad" and simply accepting the reality, that will make a life whole, will make a life complete. I'd forgotten that a bit as I was returning to running health. Maybe next time I won't. And maybe next time I won't end up sounding like a bird.