Finishing Kick: Running Back the Clock

By October 29, 2009Running Times Magazine

A reunion reveals one runner’s life reversal

By Rachel Toor

As featured in the October 2009 issue of Running Times Magazine

When I slunk back to the dorm room at 8 a.m. Saturday morning, the clothes I had been partying in the night before stinking of gin and cigarettes, almost as mussed and disheveled as my age-inappropriate tangle of blonde hair, my five male suitemates greeted me with grins and nods. They stopped just short of applause.

Maybe in college, 20 years old and unconfident, trying to find an identity, unsure of how to handle your sexuality, inexperienced in the varieties and vagaries of relationships, you would call it a Walk of Shame (though I would argue that’s a sexist holdover used only for girls). But when you’ve been around a few blocks — married and divorced, having zipped through a handful of careers, and are unafraid to write about your life — and you hook up with someone you first kissed nearly three decades before, it’s more like a Victory Dance.

For me, going to my 25th college reunion was more fun and less complicated than attending school there. One of my married-and-kidded suitemates said, in the morning when he was coming out of the shower and I was brushing my teeth, “Rachel, you are living the life we all wished we’d lived 25 years ago.”

Maybe, but my classmates are, to be frank, ruling the world. They are the CEOs and founders of companies. They sit on boards. They do good work. The Obamas are our peeps.

Most of my old buddies look great. The only people who come back to reunions, I realize, are those who look great. While their net value may have appreciated exponentially, their body mass index has not increased much. Most say they don’t get as much exercise as they should, but still, chasing after children and running companies keeps them middle-aged trim.

Nearly all of the people I knew in college jogged. Some did it as training for the sports they played, but most did it because that’s what they did. Val would wake up crazy-early to meet friends to run up Science Hill. To me, they may as well have been running to Antarctica. Many would train for the New Haven 20K race, back in the days when Garry Trudeau designed the shirt.

I did nothing athletic in college, except for competing in marathon-length conversations about Paradise Lost and the teleological suspension of the ethical. I was an intellectual. I’ve been in the gym, the Cathedral of Sweat, maybe twice. I’m sure I never sweated there. I used to watch my friends go out for a run and think, Don’t you have anything better to do?

At the reunion I told folks that I had just done two marathons in eight days. The reaction was shock and awe, mostly, probably, because of who I used to be. When I came back to the suite for a nap before the next big event, Mark and Crommie were about to go for a run. They invited me to join them, sort of. You don’t want to come with us. It will be too slow. We’re not going far enough for you.

Off we went. I was with a doctor and a lawyer whose collegiate fitness level intimidated the bejesus out of me. It mattered not at all that we were slogging along. What was cool was going back in time, revising my history. We saw East Rock. “That’s not even a 6-mile round trip from campus,” I said, surprised.

“Rachel,” they said, “are you trying to make us feel worse?”

I wasn’t. I was just feeling good. So good, in fact, that when we returned and Fro, another of our suitemates, another tall and fit doctor, was ready for a run, I said I’d go again.

Reversals are the stuff of literature. We learn from the surprise; we love ironic twists. Here I was, having gone from a stable, traditional lifestyle right out of school (good career, great husband, nice apartment in Manhattan) to being someone who needed financial aid to attend not only college, but her college reunion. And there I was, running the big jocks into the ground. Oh, and staying out all night.

At the reunion there was time-related cognitive dissonance: How could it have been so many years since college? Many had followed a linear path for the last quarter century, had done the expected and then, suddenly, had turned into their parents. How did that happen? How did we get so old?

As a runner, I am always aware of my age. And I’m aware of the ways in which running keeps me from feeling — or looking — it. It was a pleasure to go back to college and have people tell me I haven’t changed a bit. And to know how much I have.