Racing The Reaper Man

I am in my sixth decade. My inherited genes have been good to me, but there have been times when I have tested their resolve. With age comes pragmatism and looking back I realise now I must support my genetics with effort.

My reasoning is based on my own history. At 25 I was married with children living a traditional West Country life. House, home and family were all my contemporaries wanted, and I fitted in well. I was a little podgy by then and smoked too, as did most people, thinking health was something of a roll of the dice; longevity pure chance. Then I saw the London Marathon, I remembered my hero, Ron Hill, winning the Edinburgh Commonwealth Games Marathon in 1970, and I became part of the running boom. I told my workmates I would run a marathon and my pride led me to become obsessed. I immediately gave up smoking and started running. I read every book on the subject and surprised myself. 13 marathons later I had a time of 2:49:15 to my name and weighed just below 11 stones. I thought this would be my constant theme in life, and it was to a point.

By 2008 I was still running, but had not competed since 1998. I ran for fitness, then out of pride, then out of obstinacy, but I had ballooned to 16 stones and had started smoking cigars. Thus, at the age of 52 I was in a bad place, though had easily parted with smoking again – with me it was a habit rather than an addiction. In 2009 I lived on my own in Sussex, was overweight, with high blood pressure, knackered and full of excuses.

My genes, however, gave me a stubborn streak. I pondered life and how we all reach the end. I am no believer in deities, nor anything else that takes personal responsibility away, but I do love metaphors and imagining life as a race with the Grim Reaper sat easily with me. Racing the Reaper Man became my way of quantifying the course of my life, and thus becomes the title of this section of my website, and of a future book. It is how I see life since I took responsibility for my own wellbeing.

We are born, and at that time, notwithstanding innate health problems, we have the same chances, ceteris paribus. The report of the starting pistol echoes across mixed metaphors and the Reaper Man begins his pursuit. Everything one does to one’s body can either make it a race or an ignominious, early capitulation. In my philosophy the Reaper Man is relentless, but single paced, so health and fitness together can keep him working to the end. The ‘end’ in my world is where I want to place it – as far away as possible. For me, my life is precious enough to preserve, so at 57 I became honest with myself. I took control and am a runner once more in all respects. Anyone can race the Reaper Man, but honesty is the prerequisite. The Reaper will catch us all, but I want him to be shattered when he gets me.

In Racing the Reaper Man I will share my journey back to full fitness and racing. I will be my own experiment and see just what an older person can do. Race the Reaper Man with me, or watch him catch me, but don’t be idle as you do it, for he may get you first… Onwards!

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