As a musician, well, a bass trombone player, I never imagined that my career would be over when I was in my early 30’s. But it was. A condition called thoracic outlet syndrome changed everything. I began playing when I was in the 3rd grade and expected to play forever. It didn’t happen that way.
I can’t remember my last performance. I certainly can’t remember my last great performance. I often wonder if I had known then that it was the last time I would play great music with great musicians if I would have experienced it differently. Probably.
When I asked Steve Scott, who has run more sub-4 minute miles  than anyone in history, if he remembers HIS last great mile his answer is yes. But, when I asked him if he KNEW it was his last sub 4 mile his answer was no. I’m certain that if Steve had known that his last sub 4 WAS his last sub 4 he would have felt differently crossing the finish line.
And that, my friends, is life in a nutshell. We just don’t know when that last great moment is going to be.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately since my world seems to be filled with eager-beaver 20 and 30 somethings. They are early in their careers, excited by present, and wrought with anticipation about the future. I’m delighted for them. But I also worry. Life doesn’t always go according to plan.
When I started running – as an overweight, smoking, drinking, middle-aged man, I sucked. Not just a little. I sucked a lot. And while it’s true that with patience and training I did get better – I ran faster and farther – I never really got any good at it. I’m fine with that. I think that I probably got as good as I was going to get. That’s all any of us can ask.
In the process of trying to get better I sometimes forgot to enjoy how good I was, even if my good was not very good in an absolute sense. The first time I ran under 30 minutes for a 5K is was an Olympic Gold Medal performance for me. I was happy for a little while but then starting thinking about how I could break 29 minutes.
It’s a conundrum all of us face; how do we enjoy what we have when we know we want more? I wish I had a great answer.
What I can tell you with absolute certainty is that somewhere out there – or back there – is your last great race. It may be years from now – or years ago – or it may be tomorrow – or have been yesterday. It’s there. It is a fact of life.
With that in mind, when you lace up your shoes today, please take time to be grateful for what you are about to do. Be grateful that on this day you are willing and able to try once more to find the better in yourself, if not the best. Be grateful that yesterday was not that last day you ran and that you’ve got one more chance to enjoy what you love to do.
Waddle on, friends.
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What others are saying: Looking for some motivation to start running and improve your fitness? You’re sure to find some inspiration from John Bingham’s new memoir, “An Accidental Athlete.” As an overweight, uninspired pack-and-a-half-a-day smoker, Bingham realized that he had to make some changes in his life and began running at the age of 43. With wit and humor, Bingham recounts his journey from couch potato to self-proclaimed “adult on-set athlete.”– ESPN Gear Guide
I haven’t run more than a few steps in well over a month. When I went too far too fast at the end of June, I had no idea I was aggravating an old Achilles injury that once sidelined me for 6 months. There have been days recently that I felt like my last great race is already behind me. That is the worst possible thing that could happen. But you’re right. You never know. When I run again (not if), I will cherish every step.