Dilemma upon dilemma.
Indecision resolved by decisions, which next day are quickly reversed. Back to square one.
Is this the mental turmoil that all sportspeople face as the body slows and energy fades? The deciding when to quit.
Common wisdom says the clever ones know when to stop. They accept the situation for what it is: the closing of one door and the opening of another. Not a dead stop but simply a change of direction.
Or, in running terms, the passing of the baton to those who can still go the distance with comparative ease.
The question would appear to be a simple one: is it time to quit?
Last weekend, after weeks of internal debate, it was answered by wimping out of a ten-mile race along Cornwall’s hilly country lanes.
The body heaved a grateful sigh, the brain poured scorn upon such weakness. And so another day of debate ensued that made even the Brexit dialogues look constructive.
In the end, a bottle of bubbly was put to chill, a chook was marinated ready for the oven and dinner became a boozy celebration of the past alternating with commiseration for what was to come.
By bottle’s end, the decision had been made. After some seventy years of competitive running (give or take a break or two) I had hit the final hurdle, and mind and body would simply have to cope.
After all, I had quit before. Several times. The Nellie Melba of running, said some.
There were those f**k it moments when the pressures of family, work and a job that offered an excess of five-star living put paid to any athletic activity.
And it was “no contest” when the choice lay between a long weekend freebie in Beirut, Barbados or Beirut, or churning out the wintry miles on the South Downs of Sussex.
Finally there was the promise I made (to others as well as to self) to quit when I could no longer run a sub three-hour marathon – a deadline that occurred in my sixty-seventh year on a tropically hot and humid day in Brisbane when I staggered home in 3:16.30.
But, like all addictions, the running habit was too hard to kick. It provided too much of a high to be able simply to say “No more” and walk (or even jog) away.
So here I am, sixteen years on from my last “retirement” and still battling the voices that say enough is enough.
Judged purely by comparing times posted by fellow addicts in the same age bracket, I can still be considered in my prime, an elite. Those times, however, ensure my finishing place is way down the bottom of the results sheet.
They also mean I have probably walked, or even stopped, somewhere along the route.
That’s not running as I have always known it. And is it something I really want, or need, to do?
Would the body not be better served by a good brisk yomp along the ever-enticing wonder of the coastal path or high up on the moorlands of Bodmin or Dartmoor?
All too often the older competitors in masters’ athletics are portrayed by the media as oddities and curiosities; wizened bags of bones staggering towards the tape, hoping to get there before their heart shuts down.
It’s not a photo-shoot I wish to be a part of.
And yet I am still looking at the race calendar for 2018 and sending in my entry fees. The dilemma persists.
These words were begun with the intention of saying farewell and thank you to my immediate running community, and also to all those far and wide who have provided support, encouragement and companionship through the running years.
But, as I write, I find they also give voice to my inner turmoil, setting out the pros and cons, and the dilemma others will face, whether through age or injury or other circumstance. And I still cannot bring myself to make the decision that is demanding to be made.
So it seems it’s not quite the intended goodbye after all; but I’m afraid it’s getting close. Very close. How many more hills can I climb?
Keep running, and enjoy it while you can.