Sunday, April 10, 2011

One More Thing the Baby Boomers Have Trampled

At age fifteen, in the middle of a bleak Canadian winter, I decided to start running.  It was dark, nobody in my small town would see me, a non-athlete, trying to actually do a sport, and if I failed only I would know. Even in my very tiny universe, I knew people who were runners.  They had graduate degrees, gardens, and owned battered Volvos and Subaru wagons.  Once I came out of the closet, they welcomed and encouraged me, inviting me on their Thursday night runs through the snow and talking me past my mental five-mile barrier. 

We were all considered kind of weird back in those days.  Why anyone would willingly jump over snow drifts or even run along a rural highway on a beautiful spring morning? Normal people played hockey, and a little baseball and golf when it got above fifty degrees.  I loved being part of this community of outsiders.  We were not among those who could, by dint of genetically-programmed high-twitch muscles, run a hundred yards really fast.  No, those of us who did this were frequently picked last for the team, too little or skinny or timid to chase after pucks or balls.  A stubborn lot we were, though, and it was thrilling to learn that just by being so we could cover numbers of miles that were impressive to others.  Back in 1984 in rural Ontario, for example, a high school girl who could run a half-marathon was rather special.  Only 1,800 people lived in my town, so it wasn't terribly hard to be special.  But back then, even in the city, runners were considered a little strange. 

After a long hiatus from calling myself a runner, all of this came back to me when my son decided a couple of years ago to run a 5K with his school.  Now he's decided he loves the sport, so I am working to take my forty four year-old self up from my power-walking state, in which I knock out a good twenty miles a week, to being a runner again, if only to go to races with him and do the odd training run, though I am far slower than he and must catch him after he's blasted through two or three miles beforehand.

A copy of Runner's World, I thought, just sitting around the house, might be a good motivator for both of us, and indeed I read this month's issue from cover to cover.  It addresses with great reverence, as it did thirty years ago, the Boston Marathon.  Boston used to be run by a bunch of misfits.  I knew a couple of guys who qualified for it back then, and they were considered pretty strange, these skinny guys with big brains and the determination to get up at 4:30 in the morning to knock out ten miles. 

Now Boston has become the province of the first guys picked for the team.  They're older now, and to paraphrase Paul Begala, they've smoked all the drugs, had all the sex, made all the money, and had all the authentic experiences.  Except, wait!  There is this race that is over a hundred years old.  And you have to qualify.  That's what matters to the Me Generation.  It's not just any marathon, it's an exclusive club.  And they want in.  Other sports are boring: they can't win the US Open at mid-life, after all.  Only 20,000 runners can run Boston, and 58,000 qualified.  There has been the predictable uproar among the Exceptional Generation, though for those who got there first--alas, merit and money only go so far, and the guy who gets up earliest in the morning to register still beats the busy hedge fund manager whose personal assistant didn't get to the office early that day--it makes them even more special. 

My only solace is that Boston, sturdy Yankee institution that it is, will go on, riding this wave of entitled hissy fits until that generation is finally, finally in the nursing home, or whatever they will call it to forget that they are old.  My son, should he stay on this course and be a runner, might decide he wants to see if his legs can make it up Heartbreak Hill. I hope so. And I, bitter Gen-Xer that I am, will keep running, quietly and slowly, until that moment.  If I can keep my game up, maybe even I, the smallest kid in the class, can run Boston.  Because at long last, those Boomers will be out of my way.  

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