I became a runner during the era when disco was still a thing. Like most runners at the time, I took offense being referred to as a jogger. For quite a while I could run very fast as well as very far, sometimes both at the same time. I ran races in length from one mile to 135 miles and always fared pretty well; I even won a handful of them along the way. For the better part of two decades, my friends and training partners, Al and Valerie, and I ran 20 miles—sometimes more every Sunday morning. For me, running 400 and 500 miles a month was the norm.
During it all Al, half a generation older than me, did his best to prepare me for the time when running fast and running far would no longer be possible. He wisely told me that when that time comes I should take pride in what I’ve accomplished and be content to rest on my laurels.
I realized I was losing my speed just after I turned 50. So I made a plan for one last hurrah in the winter of 2006 by running marathons on four consecutive weekends with two goals in mind: (1) run them all fast enough to earn a qualifying time for the Boston Marathon, and (2) run each one faster than the one before. Mission accomplished, and I was able to enjoy one last hurrah and more importantly thought I could now be satisfied to sit back and relax. That is, at least as far as speed was concerned.
Distance was another story.
Although I was resting on my ‘speed laurels,’ I continued to pound out the miles with a body that continued getting further and further away from its prime running years. Sure, it was taking longer to run 20 miles but I was still grinding them out. In fact when I turned 60 I continued my tradition of running my age in miles every five years, something I started doing when I turned 40. It took a little longer than I would have liked, but I got it done.
But it wasn’t enough. I upped the ante and decided I needed to run for 60 hours, if only to prove that I could. So I put on a race—the Senoia 60—and alongside several dozen like-minded individuals, we ran circles in Senoia and neighboring Haralson one October weekend in 2015. I had set my sights on running more, but pulling double duty as both runner and race director only afforded me enough time to knock out 152 miles. So I gave it one more try the following October—100 days after my heart attack and under my cardiologist’s order to ‘take it easy’—and only managed to cover 119 miles. The year after that, and this time with my cardiologist’s blessing I ran one mile less than the year before. The drop in performance was telling me something, but I wasn’t listening.
As I was approaching a certain lifetime mileage goal in the summer of 2018, I knew that when I reached it I wanted Al by my side. By my calculations I was going to hit the mark smack dab in the middle of a trip Al had planned for out west. So I decided to run further than usual in the seven days before Al left so he could join me for the momentous occasion. For a serious runner, 118 miles in a week isn’t out of the ordinary; that is, if that serious runner happens to be half my age. Although it wasn’t pretty I stumbled through those 118 miles out on the country roads of Senoia, affording Al (and Valerie as well, of course) the opportunity to run by my side as I completed my 150,000th lifetime mile.
The worst habit I’ve had in my running career has been setting mental goals on how many miles I run each day, week, month and year. (Beginning runners: do NOT try this at home!) I can’t think of a single time when I didn’t run the mileage I set out to do, but I can think of countless times when I reached a certain target distance ahead of schedule and decided to raise the bar by running more. In some cases a whole lot more.
Only recently did it finally dawn on me that although I’d been resting on my laurels for more than a decade, I was only resting on those associated with speed; I hadn’t come to terms with resting on any affiliated with distance.
So I set my sights on one last target: a lifetime mileage goal that I could be comfortable with.
I set a goal with a deadline that, if I were being totally honest with myself—but why start now?—was on the cusp of unrealistic at this stage of my life. I can’t imagine anyone else my age would even consider it because (a) the miles would take a toll on their aging bodies and (b) they’re likely equipped with a lot more common sense.
Originally I set my sights of reaching the ‘designated number’ on December 31. That way I could start 2020 nice and easy with no pressure whatsoever to run a certain number of miles. But as I’m prone to do, I started doing the math and moved the target up a full week, which meant I would have to run close to the mileage serious runners half my age run for the next two months.
Once again, it hasn’t been pretty but I got it done.
When I finished my run this morning—December 24, 2019—my lifetime mileage reached the nice round number of 155,000. It also marked the 15,000th consecutive day that I ran, a streak that began on November 30, 1978. Perhaps most important of all, it’s my dad’s birthday; he would have been 89.
Effective tomorrow, and after more than 41 years of pounding the asphalt–literally every single day–I’m ready to start resting on every last one of my running laurels. In fact, it won’t even offend me to be called a jogger.
This Christmas I’m giving myself the best present I could possibly imagine: peace of mind.
I wish the same for all of you.

Scott Ludwig lives, runs, and writes in Senoia.  His latest book, “Southern Charm: Columns from a small town Georgia newspaper,” as well as the rest of his books, can be found on his author page on Amazon. He can be reached at magicludwig1@gmail.com.