by Rusty Shelton
article submitted to “Runner Triathlete News”
Incredible seems the most appropriate word to describe my 600th month. From September 28th through October 28th, 2003—the day that I turned 50—I experienced a series of blessings and joys that I could never have scripted.
On September 28th, my first grandchild joined the family. Ava Grace has been a special blessing from the day last spring when we learned that my youngest daughter was pregnant. A surprise indeed, but at the same time a tremendous blessing in the ways that this surprise brought our family incredibly closer as we all wrapped our love and support around my teenage daughter-now mom and for the past few weeks around the newest member of our household. Oh yeah, there have been the middle-of-the-night interruptions, the dirty diapers and such, but there have also been the loving smiles and the warmth of a bright blue-eyed baby girl and the joy of seeing my daughter grow into motherhood. So many bad things can follow an unplanned teenage pregnancy, but we see only good, only God’s love and a family brought even closer. A related joy is my 22 year-old daughter’s moving back home this past summer to live with us for a few months as she enters the job market with her still warm college degree.
On October 12th, I raced my last triathlon as a 45-49 age grouper and had a memorable day, winning my age group, thanks to most of my serious competitors’ already having turned 50 and my having a day when nothing went wrong. The Texas Man Triathlon took place in Las Colinas under overcast skies and cool temperatures, making it ideal for a sprint tri (500-yard swim, 18-mile bike, 5k run) where you just hammer from the start until you cross the line at the end of the run.
On October 18th, I did my fourth Palo Duro Canyon Trail Run. Only 20K this year, not the 25-mile or 50K distances of the first three due to lingering ITB problems that have chased me back to triathlons and away from the ultra distances and dreams of running a 100. Crosstraining is much more forgiving and probably a wiser choice for my 6’1” 178-pound frame. Adhering to a self-imposed limit of 25K for a few years (or longer), getting back to Palo Duro was a treat. The magic of the crisp pre-dawn air, darkness lit only by stars and not polluted by city lights, what the locals describe a place “full of spirits” that “whispers” to its visitors, a majestic sunrise on the rock faces, running toward the “Lighthouse” rock structure that inspires such awe, the camaraderie and companionship of trail running friends old and new. All that and a fast 20K followed by relaxing and watching the 50K’ers and 50 milers suffer through a day of record heat while I sat in the shade waiting for my traveling companion to finish the 50K—this was a wonderful early birthday present.
Capping off this incredible month, on October 28th, I turned 50. That number, certainly a milestone for anyone, seems to either evoke abject fear, trigger philosophical gibberish, or—for those with a uniquely twisted multi-sport, competitive perspective—create new vistas for spiritual growth, pursuing a healthly lifestyle and enjoying the variey of competitive sports that Texas and the Southwest offer.
Life’s such an adventure, and there’s no better example than the last 30 days of my first 5 decades. Making this month all the more special and enjoyable were Sunday mornings in church with my wife, some wonderful family meals with our now-family of 5, a few early Saturday morning 9-hole rounds of golf, yoga classes, a productive month of work that included an executive retreat in the woods west of St. Louis and some great spectator sports (start of the Stars season, the baseball playoffs, the Cowboys’ totally unexpected good season start). A decade ago, I remember looking forward to turning 40 so that I could take advantage of several years of steady triathlon training and racing and, thereby, enjoy being the youngest in my new 40-44 age group. Only age-group racing gives us the benefit of getting older while we become younger, but “older” and “younger” are just relative terms. Turning 50 makes me the youngest in a new age group, although these days the 50-54 triathlon age group is one of the most competitive in the state. But the real joy associated with beginning my 601st month and beyond is the multi-faceted tapestry that life continues to become. Training and racing enrich the fabric while God’s blessings of a loving, growing family and my health, ability and desire to remain active and competitive are the incandescent threads that light up the tapestry and make it shine brightly.