Last Best Day

As runners, “We never know what isgoing to be our Last Best Day. The race that turns out to be our Last Best Day can’t be recognized in the moment, it can be seen only in retrospect.” That’s what I read last weekend from John Bingham’s most recent book, Accidental Athlete. It probably applies to more than running.

My Last Best Race was a race I didn’t actually finish. I dropped out. In fact, it’s more accurate to say the race director pulled me off the course because it was obvious I couldn’t finish before the time cutoff. It was the Rockledge Rumble 50K; a trail run in Grapevine that I did with Chad in November 2010. I made it about twenty-two miles before being encouraged to stop.

Why would I say a race I couldn’t finish was my Last Best Race? Because it was so much fun. I loved running through the trees and on the uneven dirt trails, the uphills and downhills, and winding in and out. I simply loved it. Other than the discomfort from running so far, I was happy every step of the way. It made my heart happy and I wanted more. Even though I didn’t finish, I ended the day invigorated.

As a man firmly entrenched in my 50s, I’ve come to grips with the fact that, at least as a runner, my improvement days are behind me. Oh, maybe I could do something to make my knees work better, like replace them with a bionic pair, but I doubt it would get me another 3:52 marathon, my personal best from twenty-five years ago.

I’m not complaining. I don’t mind the limitations of age. I’m happy to be running and moving as well as I do. And, in fact, getting older takes some of the pressure off. Now I can simply take the miles as they come and enjoy myself, settle in and have fun moving down the road.

So back to the Rockledge Rumble. I didn’t resent being pulled off the course that day. The race director did the right thing. But what bothered me on the drive home was the possibility that I’d waited too many years to try running a 50K trail run, waited until both knees hurt from arthritis, and that I wasted all those younger years because I was unprepared, too slow, or too heavy. In my 20s, 30s, and 40s I was afraid of the wrong things. I should have been more worried about not squandering my youth.

Of course, I can’t get any of that back, but neither do I have to accept that my best days are behind me. I can still do better. I can go further. And I have one big strategy to make my knees feel better that will cost me nothing. Lose weight down to 175 pounds.

I don’t know if that is even possible. I haven’t weighed 175 since 1974, but that’s where the height and weight charts point me for maximum performance, so I think I should try.

The reason I think it will help is that I feel the added strain on my knees whenever I walk across the training room at Gold’s Gym with weights in my hand. I can feel it with every step. That tells me I should reduce the strain even more by losing twenty-five pounds.

There is no way to know if losing twenty-five pounds will translate into further or faster, or even less pain, but it would be a shame to look back twenty years from now and wonder why I never tried and why I squandered the youth of my 50s.

I should mention the reason I am writing about this. Normally, if I have a goal as un-hide-able as losing twenty-five pounds, I’ll keep it to myself. I would rather no one know what I was doing until I have successfully completed the goal instead of everyone watching my progress, or lack of progress.

But John Bingham’s book wasn’t the only book I read last weekend. I also finished The Gifts of Imperfection, by Brene’ Brown, and her call for living vulnerably made sense to me. The first vulnerable action I could think of was to make my goal public and risk the scrutiny and judgment from the outside world. So, here I am.

Two last quotes, one from each book:

“Running has become an act of faith. Running allows me to believe that there is something better out there for me. Running allows me to believe that I can be not just a better runner but a better person.” (Accidental Athlete)

“Recognizing and leaning into the discomfort of vulnerability teaches us how to live with joy, gratitude, and grace.” (The Gifts of Imperfection)

So that is my plan. To be a leaner, lighter, and better person who lives with joy, gratitude, and grace. Care to join me? Maybe we can run out Last Best Race together.


QUESTION: When was your Last Best Race? What goals are you nervous to make public?


PS: Check out Brene’ Brown’s TED talks, from June 2010 and March 2012. They are life changing.


“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32


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