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I Tried Not To Act My Age And Was Painfully Brought To Heel

It was a marathon lesson.

At the 14km mark of the run I felt a pain in my left heel. While not excruciating, it did hurt. But it was the sheer unreasonableness of it that rankled. This was not a pain associated with fatigue or a lack of fitness. It just started to ache with only one confronting explanation.

I am growing old.

July is my birth month, although I try my best not to notice.

A birthday in the age of Facebook denies those of us so inclined the mercy of a sandpit in which to plunge one's head. Instead this sanctuary is rudely interrupted by repeated text messages of goodwill.

This year as my phone continuously reminded me of my growing mortality, it became apparent this device maybe smart but it certainly lacked empathy.

This particular anniversary is the Voldemort age, it is the number that cannot be named. Suffice to say that having taken an expansive view of the term 'mid-forties' for quite a while now, I am no longer entitled to use the suffix to 'mid'.

Growing old might be for others but it was not for me.

The idea of being this age is actually unbelievable. And I... Um... Well... I don't even want to think about it.

So it was perhaps this emotional space which last year led me to the idea of running the Melbourne marathon. A marathon, after all, is an activity that is undertaken by young people in whom the river of youth flows with an unstoppable force that renders the whole process of ageing redundant. These are my people. This was my event.

After a week of successful training, pushing my body to limits not even encountered during my twenties, I took the plunge, went to the website and entered.

With smugness at my triumph over the tyrannical march of time, I opened the return email. But as I did the text was blurry. Was that word 'fun' or 'run'? A colleague, noticing my squinting at the phone, took it from me and helpfully made an alteration so that the font was much bigger. Ah, that was a relief, now I could actually read what it said.

Oh my goodness! What had I become? Suddenly I was using a phone whose settings belonged in a nursing home. Immediately I made her change the phone back.

Yet those close to me were not fooled. As I read my book in bed with my arms fully outstretched, my wife suggested it might be easier if I held it with some barbecue tongs, to get some proper distance between my eyes and the page.

But deciding to wear glasses came with a terrifying finality. I mean it's not as though I could just use them for a bit until my eyes got better. Once I put a pair of these things on my face they'd be there until I closed my eyes for the last time.

Growing old might be for others but it was not for me.

So, as that pain in my heel grew worse I continued to run harder. Seven kilometers later I was home and jubilant. I'd run a half marathon in under two hours and I had the vigour of a gazelle. The pain in my heel was defeated, immortality beckoned.

I flopped on the couch and the pain really started. My heel felt like it had been the victim of a branding iron. It quickly became clear that bearing weight on my left foot was not an option. As I suppressed my grimace under a forced smile I waited until my wife left the room, so she wouldn't witness the indignity of me crawling off the couch and up the stairs.

Days later, as I hobbled from one meeting to the next, I excused my frailty by references to being a marathoner and rejecting any talk about age. Just like Gary Ablett, I had a sports injury. And just like him I was very, very young.

But despite my abiding youth, in the depths of my soul, in the place where truth disconcertingly lurks, I was feeling a little beaten. Against my will, I had been dragooned into that march of time. And the two implements which would have actually helped me most with that journey were a walking stick and a pair of glasses.

Now that I have just passed the Voldemort age and am entitled to become a seniors' insurance customer, the utility of said stick and glasses and the number next to my name are all assaulting my identity.

Young I no longer am. Even having a mid-life crisis involves an optimistic assessment of my longevity. There is only one option left.

None of this is really happening. Denial ain't just a river in Egypt.


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