Fifty

It’s my 50th birthday, and for some time now I’ve been telling people that I’d like to forego a party in favor of a simple existential crisis, which seems a whole lot simpler and less likely to make a mess of my house.

In practice, that means that my plan was to get up, go for my usual run, and carry on with my day. However, as it happened some part of my brain couldn’t wait to get on with the existential crisis part, so I got started with that right away at 5:30am and stared at the ceiling until it was over at about 7:30am, at which point I slipped into a dream about having gum surgery in the bathroom of an airplane and overslept my alarm. So it’s 9:00am on the muggy August morning that is my 50th birthday, and I’m still in bed.

This is fine because I’m not really working today—the syllabus that I haven’t finished can remain unfinished for just a smidge longer—and hey, I’m 50. I refuse to be rattled by the small things. So I get up, text my friend who I’m supposed to have coffee with that I’m up late but going running, and I suggest that we meet up afterwards. I also sort of blandly invite her to come running with me, you know, to be polite, but she doesn’t really run anymore and we both know this already.

“Fast walk?” she texts back.

“It’s my birthday,” I reply. “I’m going to run my loop.”

“Okay, see you after,” she says.

Fine.

Now, this particular friend used to run with me but there’s this thing that happens when you start aging. Everyone gets obsessed with your knees. This friend no longer runs because she says it her knees won’t take it. My trainer tells me I should be on an elliptical because it won’t hurt my knees. A college friend on Facebook made a point of telling me that I should start walking instead of running before I ruin my knees.

It’s the middle-aged equivalent of “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.” Don’t run, you’ll ruin your knees!

My knees are fine, I tell them. When I ruin them, I guess I’ll stop running.

They roll their eyes and glance at my midsection. Yeah, I’m no Usain Bolt. I’m a middle aged woman doing her best impression of The Little Engine That Could, which no Millennial has even heard of so I have to explain that it’s a small, fat train that is struggling to make it up a hill, which does seem somewhat apropos.

Anyway, I put on my shoes and head out on my usual three mile run. I’m not fast, I’m not pretty, but I’m getting it done. I run up the first hill (hooray!) and up the second one (go me!), and by the third mile I’m fairly drenched in sweat, getting tired, feeling the humidity, and looking forward to logging this sucker in the books. But as much as I want it over with, I feel good. I may be 50 but I’m still strong. I’m still doing it. I have unbroken knees. I may not be a great runner, or a fast runner, or even a particularly happy-about-it runner, but I’m still a runner, dammit, and that’s got to count for something.

So with about a half a mile to go I’m thinking about—I have no idea what I’m thinking about but suddenly I hear someone say, “Chris? Chris? Is that you, Chris?”

The woman ahead of me on the sidewalk is a lovely woman that I know through work. She is walking her dog.

I stop and for some reason I say, “It’s my birthday, so I’m kicking it off with a run!” and she hears that as “I’ve decided to give myself a heart attack on my 50th birthday and I’m going to run until I’m dead” and she looks very concerned and makes a big show of asking if I’m okay.

“I’m fine. Really. This is my regular run.”

She looks dubious. I wonder if I appear to be suffering in some way. If I look like I am, in fact, about to drop dead in front of her.

“Okay.” She nods, and continues to say some very nice semi-philosophical things about the various decades in our lives as my heart rate drops.

Then we part ways and she says happy birthday and I say thank you and she says, “You know, walking is really good for you.”

I know it is, but I run on anyway. I still have a half a mile to go.

Christina Kapp teaches, lives, and runs in New Jersey.