The 26th Mile – Staring At His Shoes

By Doug Milch, DPM

It was over and he knew it. He was sitting in front of his locker at the YMCA. At 95 years of age, he had just taken off his running shoes for the last time. No more runs. His doctor had given him the news earlier that day. “The knee cartilage is gone. And even though this is the year 2045, we still haven’t been able to clone cartilage successfully. I’m sorry.” The runner of many years continued to sit there just staring at his shoes.

The shoes were New Balance 1970076’s. He had purchased them through Road Runner Sports at their west coast store in Phoenix. He recalled running in the 1980 San Francisco Marathon years before California fell into the Pacific Ocean during the 2029 earthquake.

His shoes had all the latest technology…temperature control for heating and cooling depending on the weather, moisture control system to remove perspiration and keep humidity constant, variable cushioning ride system to accommodate for different surfaces, automatically adjusting outersole tread technology for the perfect traction on any surface, pulse monitoring (including defibrillation capabilities in case of emergency), and anti-gravity panels that allowed all this gadgetry in the shoes, and they still weighed only 7 grams. The price tag for these shoes was a modest $395, quite a good deal considering the national debt of 870 giga-trillion dollars.

Everyone else had already left the locker room. The runner just sat there in no rush. He wanted to savor the moment. After all, he had been a runner for 85 years, since 1960. He thought about the first time he ran. He was 8 years old and he wanted to see if he could run all the way around the block, a distance of 0.36 miles. Immediately afterwards, sitting on the curb, out of breath, he knew he was hooked.

His high school running career was inauspicious. He played football. That was back in the tame era in the history of the gridiron before it became so violent, back when the object was to score and win instead of to maim an opponent.

He recalled his favorite race, The Shut In Ridge Trail Run in Asheville, NC. It was an 18-miler up the mountain. Even with the latest gravity-assist tights, that last two mile stretch past Highway 151 was the toughest. He remembered the 1995 race and how two runners were struggling going up the steepest part. That is the time when a runner questions the wisdom of entering such an event. The first runner turned around to the second runner and said, “If you’re gonna be stupid, you gotta be tough.” Words to live by.

He was an average runner until he turned 50 in 1999, That was the year that all the then-current training information he had pored over finally sank in. He realized that the secret to running faster was to, get this,….run faster! There were no shortcuts. No matter how many diet supplements you consumed, you still had to train and work very hard. His work ethic took form and became that of a Disney executive’s. Disney was noted to work their employees extremely hard. The executive’s motto was: “If you don’t want to come in on Saturday, then don’t even bother coming in on Sunday.”

Once he realized how to train, he became a ball of fire. His marathon PR dropped from 3:15 to 2:37 which was respectable for a 58 year old, though well short of the record set in the 2032 Olympics of 1:37:08 by  Alberto Salazar the III.

He reminisced about other races he enjoyed through the years like the Alaska to Siberia Bering Sea Bridge Run. He also loved the Margarita Run. It was a run of uncertain time and distance. You ran it around a track, but you had to consume a margarita after every four laps. The runner left standing at the end was the winner. The race eventually was abandoned in 2017 when one of the lap counting officials got into the drinks which caused mayhem, though no one seemed to care too much. But he remembered it wasn’t pretty.

And now, all this was over. At 95 years of age, all he had left was his memories. Even though they were pleasant, he couldn’t stop the tear from rolling down his cheek. With his elbows on his knees and his weathered hands on his chin, he looked at his old locker in front of him. When he was running, he never thought about the day it might come to an end. No one ever does, he thought.

“Let’s go Doc. Time to close up and go home. Gotta turn out the lights.” It was Clyde, caretaker at the Y. He called everybody “Doc” and he always had a way of cheering you up and making you feel good,…. but not tonight.

“I’ll turn them out and close up. Thanks Clyde.”

The old runner, now ex-runner, slowly got dressed. He looked around the place one last time. His gaze finally fixed on his shoes sitting on the floor. He carefully picked them up and kissed them gently before tossing them into the bin for the less fortunate. As he turned off the lights and locked the door, he found himself thinking, “I guess it’s finally time to take up golf.”

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