New Year 2020: Age is Just a Number

Happy New Year!  Another year has passed and we all have one thing in common—we’ve gotten a little older.

“Age is Just A Number.”   A catchy phrase, but there is great power in those words.  I was born at the end of the year (December 30th) which is close to the New Year and the perfect time for reflecting upon the past and looking forward to the future.

I’m not wistful of the past nor yearn for long-lost youth.  Yet I’m appreciative for what has passed, both good and bad, grateful for loved ones who’ve come and gone and left an indelible mark upon my soul.  Though 58 years old, I’m still growing and learning.  Some folks have commented I never really “grew up,” so to speak.  In defense of my on-and-off immaturity, I’ve convinced myself that thinking like a kid is the perfect state of being, where the world is wide-open, imagination is boundless and possibilities are everywhere.  Call me na├»ve, call me stupid, but I’d rather be stuck with a childlike mindset than the stress-ravaged head of a modern-day adult. 

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions.  They don’t stick.  I just do what I’ve always done.  What makes Jan 1st so special anyway?  Like age, it’s just another number.  I continue my profession caring for patients, I enjoy my family, I write, draw and run.  Simple stuff compared to the more extravagant lifestyles of lots of other people, doctors included, but there’s majesty in simplicity.  I constantly remind myself to savor every second of every day and be grateful for what I have.

To prove to myself that “age is just a number,” I’ve embarked upon physical exploits to celebrate the passing of another year.  My birthday “presents” to myself involve a lot of self-torture.  “Pain is a reminder you’re still alive,” I’ve read somewhere, or as the Marines say, “pain is weakness leaving the body.”  Both reinforce the notion that life’s hardships are just as important—and often more so--as life’s pleasantries.  Yes, it’s crazy and stupid or crazy-stupid--one of my favorite compound words.  It exemplifies the concept of mind over matter, and teaches you to use circumstances to your advantage rather than being a victim of them.

My first crazy-stupid event was for my 50th birthday.  I announced it formally earlier in the year as a mass-mailing of over 300 letters to mostly doctors and friends as a fundraiser for a local free clinic.  I crossed the Rubicon by putting it out there; I couldn’t turn back no matter rain or snow or laziness or change-of-the-mind cowardice. 

The training leading up to the event was not as gruesome as expected but somewhat paradoxical in itself, which included two marathons less than two months apart.  I ran a personal best in one and my third fastest time in the other.  I was getting better as I was getting older! 

I ran that 50K on a cold but clear and windless day.  The temperature never reached more than 29 degrees Fahrenheit, but as long as I kept running, I wasn’t cold.  And I raised over $10,000 for the clinic. Afterwards, I emailed the leadership of the clinic that I completed the blessed event, adding, “I’ll be in a coma for the next 3 days.”  I celebrated later that night with s beer and a 20-ounce slab of prime rib.

Afterwards I had some injuries acquired from stupidity, though I still did another two marathons over the years.  But I hit an impasse one day where I couldn’t run for months.  I stumbled upon barefoot running over five years ago and my running life has changed since.  Another story in itself, but I no longer use shoes and run completely barefoot—no minimalist shoes, no protective socks, nada, nothing.  A real paradigm shift.  I recently started racing again, from 5Ks to a 10-mile race, all in bare feet.

For my 57th birthday last year I ran hill repeats—a tenth of a mile up a steep hill and then back down.  57 times.  Barefoot.  Over 2 hours and nearly 11 miles of running, but I did it and later celebrated with beer and sushi.

Just last week I ran one hour and 58 minutes to celebrate my 58th birthday.  12.5 miles in 30-degree weather.  No walking, no water, no shoes.  My longest barefoot run ever.  Had a nicely seared sirloin steak and beer afterwards.

Notice the post-run theme of food and drink.  I love food, I love beer.  Running burns a ton of calories such that I’m hungry for most anything.  And food seems to taste better after a good run—even celery, even Bud Light.  Again, simple things.  I’m looking forward to next year’s crazy-stupid adventure. 

Age is just a number.  A concept I’ll keep to heart for the rest of my life.  Find something that challenges you, something that makes you plan and prepare and motivates you to new heights and new personal bests.  Demystify aging and defy preconceived limitations—it’s hugely invigorating.  Embrace the discomfort, the trying moments, the pain and enjoy the ride.  Remember, life should be an exciting journey where you’re holding nothing back, getting cut and burned and putting it all out there as you’re sliding into home.  I hope to end my journey completely spent and drained, happy with every accomplishment but also content having gloriously failed while attempting something audacious.  Don’t wait for life to happen--grab it by the horns and lead it yourself.  Have a blast.  Happy New Year folks!

©Randall S. Fong, M.D.