I’m going to die….

Photo by Anurakta O'Neill

Photo by Anurakta O’Neill

So are you! So is your dog, your cat, your goldfish, and, heartbreakingly, your child. Although not, we all fervently pray, before you.

We will all die, as Benjamin Franklin pointed out, “‘In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

I remember the first time my father told me this quote. I tried to point out I was certain I had been born, but he wasn’t having any of it. I was alive now, but could I be totally sure I had been born? I appealed to my mother, who confirmed she had indeed been there at my birth. This reassured me, and at the age of 10 or so, the idea of my own mortality was happily so far in the future, as to be as irrelevant as taxes.

I am now in my 52nd year, and my mortality and the ever present taxes are much more to the forefront of my mind.

As you know, I have entered a marathon, to be run on the 1st June, and I have been telling people all about it, in the hopes that the pressure of having done so will encourage me to train. However, twice now, I have been told that marathon running is detrimental to health, and I might drop dead in the middle of the thing. One person told me the story of Joy Johnson, who died recently, aged 86, one day after running the New York Marathon for the 25th time. Apparently (according to the New York Daily News) she felt a little tired the day after the race (!) went to lie down, and died peacefully in her sleep.

Frankly I cannot see a problem with this. I would cheerfully choose to go in the same way. Given the choice between participating in the sport I love at 86 years of age, and then dying quickly and peacefully during a nap the next day, and that of suffering for years with cancer, diabetes, heart disease or any of the other chronic long term diseases our species is afflicted with, I’ll take the running any day.

Ah yes, the reply comes back, but not all people are in their 80’s when they die running. Jim Fixx (the author of the Complete Book of Running) died of a heart attack aged 52 (yes, my age) after going out for his daily run. Whilst not wanting in any way to minimize the distress this must have caused his family and friends, again he died doing what he loved. And we can be sure that on the very same day Jim Fixx died a number of other people also died of heart attacks. But they had not gone for a jog.

There are risks with running, as there are with almost anything else. The tragic irony of Michael Schumacher’s accident brings this home. A top competitor in Formula 1 car racing, surely one of the most dangerous sports out there, he receives a life changing head injury on an easy ski slope in France, surrounded by families enjoying a day out.

So where to from here? Once, when I seemed particularly accident prone, having ended up in hospital in May for 3 years running, I suggested spending the next May in bed.

“Ah yes”, my mother retorted, “But then you will get thrombosis and end up in hospital anyway!” There are, it seems, as many risks associated with NOT doing things as there are WITH doing them. And then there is the problem that worrying about what might just happen is likely to cause stress, and common knowledge reports that stress also causes illness.

So I think I will just carry on doing what I love to do. Yes, I will be sensible, and eat healthily, train carefully and generally look after myself. And I will continue to run, and train for my marathon. Who knows, it could be the first of many and I might just be still running when I am 86.

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