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Location: TUCSON, Arizona, United States

Wednesday, October 24, 2018


I learned to run in my mid-40s, at the urging of my tennis partner. Besides being my initiation into the life-changing experience of becoming an age group athlete, it proved life-saving as well. Through the period of my divorce in 1982 I increased my running to deal with feelings of despair.  Eventually I suffered a stress injury. I also I discovered that you can’t cry and run at the same time.

It was while rehabbing the injury, during the summer of 1983, that learned about a still-new sport. In July of that year I raced in my first triathlon. 

My oldest son surprised me by arriving that morning at the race venue. In the photo he took at mile 3 on the run I look like I might not survive the event. Many years later my mother was watching me race Ironman California, but left halfway through the marathon, saying to Jane, “I just can’t watch any more of this suffering.” And that was the race in which I won my age group!

Age groups are five-year periods: I started out in 45-49. By the time I entered 50-54—the exciting experience of “aging up,” in which you become among the youngest competitors—I had become competitive enough to imagine qualifying for Ironman.

Competition fostered confidence to address what I thought were my limitations. It’s irresistibly tempting in a crisis to cast yourself as a victim. So I had begun by telling friends, women in couples we’d known for years, that my wife had left. I stopped after the first two gave me essentially the same reply: “Good for her. I wish I’d done it years ago.”

So, in the crisis created by the end of my marriage, I began rethinking my life. I realized that we are not born with a self. 
We each have a number of stable traits, but we assemble a self from features and details in the lives around us. Many of these elements are inconsistent with one another, partly because the process is unconscious and partly because human behavior—like speech—is inherently ambiguous. 
The job of constructing a self—my picture of who I am—takes around 20 years, which is why we all find, no matter how long we live, that the years of college and after remain the most vivid of our lives.
My point, however, is that all the formative decisions, like marriage, are fit into that picture I’ve drawn; it becomes a template. Not only that: it serves as a model. Indeed, we both live out the picture and exempify it in unintentional ways.
It’s this unintentional teaching Philip Larkin satirizes in his poem This Be the Verse:
They fuck you up, your Mom and Dad.
They don’t mean to, but they do.
They give you all the faults they had,
Then add some extra just for you…

Man hands on misery to man.
It builds up like a coastal shelf.
So get out as quickly as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.


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