Victory Lapse

I am hoping that title will arouse your curiosity.  I know it will only make my kids roll their eyes.  “Oh no.” they will say, internally, and then to each other, “Dad’s at it again.”

For everyone else, let me explain what the “it” in “Dad’s at it again,” refers to.  In 1975-76, I got involved in a project to celebrate the country’s bicentennial by running 1,776 miles between the 4th of July in ’75 and the 4th of July in ’76. [1]  So I did that.  I played quite a few of the little mind games you play if you are going to run that many hours in a non-competitive setting and one of them was the “victory lap.”

We lived, at the time on “New Faculty Circle,” a part of Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania.  The circle was half a mile and, just to pad the mileage a little, I developed the habit of running that extra half mile from my house on around the circle and back to my house again.  This is Sean Connery at 90, my new goal.

I called that lap “a victory lap,” partly just to have something uplifting to call it and partly to recognize the experience that I felt different—better—running that extra lap.  It seemed that the tiredness didn’t bother me the way it had in the last “real” mile and if I had blisters, they didn’t bother me as much, and so on.

The last half mile—the victory lap—was, in other words, qualitatively different.  It felt different.

At about that time, I began dividing my life into 20 year blocks, imagining that I would live into my 80s, as my parents did.  So…like a mile race, four laps.  [2]  Twenty years each.

And that meant that, when I hit 80, I would have “finished the race.”  And assuming that I would keep on living, at least for a little while, I could call each year thereafter, a “victory lap.”  The race was over.  I won (finished).  And now, before the beer and pizza started, a slow celebratory victory lap.  That worked really well at first, but I am coming up on 83 and it isn’t working that well anymore.  There are two problems.  The first is that “the end of the race” (2017) is getting to seem distant.  Cloudy.  The second is that I never ever did more than two victory laps around New Faculty Circle and the “laps” don’t seem to have any meaning anymore.

The laps have lapsed.  So to speak.

So now we come to the need for a new spatial metaphor.  I want it to do for me what the old “victory lap” metaphor did back when it was fresh.  Here’s my current idea.  Let’s imagine that I am going to live to be 90.  That would be in 2027, which once looked like a science fiction date to me. Now I have calendars that go that far.

Would that work?  I’d have to admit that it has liabilities, but I’m kind of attracted to it.  For one thing, it changes the time horizon.  I stop celebrating the first 80 years (I finished! WooHoo!) and start to think about what I want to get done “before I die.”  Except that “before I die” doesn’t serve very well as a horizon.  It does not draw a border anywhere and I am at a place where I find borders instructive and helpful.  “Until I am 90” is much better in the “horizon department.”

It also cues another race-related memory for me.  Most of the road races I have run have been 10K races. [4]  And I remember noticing the place in the race where I stop worrying whether I will have enough juice left to finish and start paying attention to adjusting my pace so that I will have only a little left at the finish line.  That shift was never something I decided; it was something I noticed.  And Michael Caine at 87.

The 90 year focus would have that kind of advantage for me and, frankly, it would serve me just as well if I were to die at 88 as it would at 90.  I remember reading that a prominent miler said that you run the first two laps to gauge the competition, the third to get yourself in the proper position in the field…and the fourth because you have to run another lap before you can quit.  Using the 90 year marker, I could think of myself as putting myself in the proper place in the field.  Except, of course, in aging, as opposed to racing, the opponents are not other runners.  They are those few things that are still in your control and that will make all the difference in how you finish the race.  Intention, discipline, good manners, compassion, and the willingness to make hard decisions when necessary.

The one serious problem is that the 90 year marker is a fiction.  The 80 year marker was a fact.  The 80 did not retain the clarity I needed to continue to use it.  The 90 might not ever seem certain enough—“real” enough—to be of any use to me.

I do know how to find out, though.

[1]  Or maybe it was ’76 to ’77.  I could look it up, but I really don’t care any more.

[2]  They also corresponded, roughly, to my marriages if you make the third lap a little longer and the fourth a little shorter.

[3]  The Latin version would be lapsus est, “I have slipped (or glided or slid or sunk or fallen, or declined or gone to ruin) from the Latin verb, labi, meaning all those things.

[4]  The longer ones were, frankly, exercises in just finishing.


About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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1 Response to Victory Lapse

  1. thinkydoug says:

    You say 90 as though that were almost certainly the upper limit. People who can do long bike rides at 83 sure don’t seem like they’re nearing any kind of ceiling to me. I’m pretty sure you’ll still be blogging, still be active, and still be sharp in seven years.

    But you WERE right about the eye-rolling thing. 🙂

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