The Story Economy Blog

Living Life On Time, Like Ed


Do you ever feel like life is not happening on time?

I do.

It manifests as the fear of wasting time—not minutes in the day as much as decades.

It includes saying things like, “It’s too late for me to do this,” or “This should have happened by now.”

One of my goals for 2017—a “soul” goal, for those of you who watched my video describing how I categorize my yearly goals—is to stop saying things like this.

My theory is that if I stop saying this shit, eventually I will stop thinking it.

What kicked me into gear with this goal was reading a piece last week in the New York Times, called 85-Year-Old Marathoner Is So Fast That Even Scientists Marvel.

It’s worth reading, if you have five minutes. The plot is this: an old guy—Ed—in Toronto is really fast. Ed is the oldest person (85) to run a marathon in under four hours (3:56:34). To put this in perspective: I’m 42 and am arguably in the best running shape of my life right now. If I train really really really hard and focus on it exclusively, I might be able to do a sub four-hour marathon. But it’s still not very likely.

His amazing speed is the hook of the article, but it’s actually not what stuck with me or why I bring him up. Two things about Ed intrigued me:

  • He ran in college, but didn’t pick it back up again until he was 41 (he did his first marathon at 44).
  • He has taken a year off three times to rest his knees.

Taking years off, starting late . . . I get anxious just thinking about this. I get antsy when I have a few days when I feel like I’m not moving forward. I watch the clock on my life, do the math, run the analytics of what’s likely and what’s not likely at this point in my life. If this could just happen sooner. If that would just hurry up. If I could only get there now.

But here is Ed, starting far too late, taking entire years off, and tracking virtually nothing (he doesn’t even chart his mileage).

While I’m never going to stop chartings things (I love a chart!), I’d really like to stop with the life math. I’d like to stop indulging the frustration that things aren’t happening on time.

Yoga is supposed to help with this.

It doesn’t.

Neither does the overused phrase, “being in the moment.” That was balm for my ears a few years ago. Now it just irritates the shit out of me.

Good, old-fashioned thought wrangling is what’s really required. So as this year starts, I have a visual of myself swinging a lasso like a cowgirl, hoping to pluck out this idea that my timing is off. I’m substituting in another thought to run with the herd: Be more like Ed.

Letting Myself Off the Hook

We all have that person whose handling of life we romanticize after they’re gone—not necessarily because of their successes, but because of the sense we have that they were fulfilled on multiple levels as human beings. Naturally, mine is my dad. Here goes more life math: I wasn’t even born yet when he was the age I am now. At 42, he already had six kids and very little free time. He hadn’t even discovered woodworking or building model boats or making stained glass windows or reading Russian spy novels yet. He’d only been able to take his rowdy family on one real vacation (it doesn’t get any more real than nine people in a station wagon).

I picture him, holding a stack of bills and thinking, okay, six kids. It is barely manageable, but we will somehow manage as long as I work forever and expect very little. A year later, I would come along, number seven, and it was that much longer that he knew he’d have to be in that mode.

I don’t know if he ever wanted life to happen sooner. He didn’t talk about things like that.

But my sense growing up was that everything was happening with perfect timing. I can only think it’s because I didn’t see myself as responsible for the timing. I was just a child in a big world, with fresh days ahead of me as far as the eye could see.

The lesson, I suppose, is to let myself off the hook for being responsible for the timing now. Am I responsible for the effort? Yes. The attitude? Double yes. But not the years. Not the zig and the zag (to borrow Obama’s phrase). That has to stay above our (human) pay grade.

Will I zig this year? Will I zag?

I don’t know. I just know that I want to be more like Ed.


  • Tandy

    Posted by Tandy on 01/05/17 3:37pm

    Bravo! Love this Judi!

  • Carl Lowe

    Posted by Carl Lowe on 03/10/17 10:36pm

    This story struck a solid chord with me. My life is so far from being led "on time" that it's become a central part of my existence and perspective.

    My current relationship to my life started in 2006 when I began to develop dementia. An upsetting and disconcerting experience. I don't recommend it to anyone.

    Fortunately for me, I discovered that the imminent destruction of my brain was being caused by celiac disease. (The circumstances of that discovery are a story until themselves. Writing a book about them.) My autoimmune reaction to gluten had set off some sort of physiological mechanism that was quickly taking my neurons off-line.

    Since getting off gluten -- at age 57, 57! -- it has taken about ten years for my brain and body to mostly recover. And as a lifelong writer/musician/songwriter, it has been startling to realize as my thinking cleared that even before the dementia my brain had been impaired by celiac disease. I was just too fogged in to grasp what was going on. And, to a great degree, that brain condition was a contributor to the fact that my career in writing and music had been seriously curtailed.

    So now, at the opportune age of 67, I am, to a great degree, beginning all over again. At an age when many writers and musicians are on a downward slide, or coasting on their accomplishments or doing whatever it is that older creative people do (yes, many just keep on going), I am back at the starting line. Well, of course, not entirely. I have a foggy memory bank of a lot of stuff I can sift through, along with books to re-read and really understand them this time, music to listen to and begin to grasp what they're about lyrically and melodically.

    In positive moods I thank God I finally was able to understand the most important factor that had had been limiting the things I had been trying to create. At darker moments, I wonder about the universe's sense of humor because much of the joke was on me.

    So I stay positive and keep pushing ahead.

    And yes, I run every day. Which seems to help.

  • Carl Lowe

    Posted by Carl Lowe on 04/05/17 10:12am

    Incidentally, Ed Whitlock, the 85 year-old marathon runner is now dead. Died of prostate cancer on March 13, 2017.

    • Judi

      Posted by Judi on 04/05/17 10:18am

      Carl, I missed your comment before (in the transfer of my site, I didn't get notified of new comments for a few weeeks). Wow, your story is inspirational! Thank you for sharing. And yes, I read that piece in the NY Times last month that Ed Whitlock had died of prostate cancer. It sounded like he knew he was sick, but was going to do it on his terms.

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