Running in the Family

Balls, Pucks, and Monster Trucks
By RICK WORMWOOD  |  August 10, 2011

As a kid, I always knew I had been adopted. It was no big deal, but being adopted meant I had no information about my biological family's medical history, which is a double-edged sword. On one hand, the cliché is true: ignorance is bliss. Maybe my relatives had been dropping dead in their early forties for generations, like the men in Mickey Mantle's family (look it up). If so, who would want to know that? Not me. But, if there was a re-occurring medical condition that preventative measures could assuage, I'd want to know.

Given this genetic uncertainty, in times past, whenever I pondered (over)indulging in sex, drugs, rock and roll or red meat, I'd think, why the hell not? Health nuts get hit by buses and they drop dead from sudden heart attacks, like Jim Fixx, the author of 1977's The Complete Book of Running, which helped launch America's jogging culture; on the other side of the debate is the fact that dissolute hedonists occasionally live long, fun, decadent lives, a la Keith Richards and William Burroughs. Long story short: I never gave much thought to taking care of myself.

However, my betting against the long haul may have been as poor a choice as my lifetime of drinking like Baudelaire at a Les Fleur du mal book party. Two years ago, after Maine made accessing our original birth certificates easier for adoptees, I met my biological family. They're all nice folks, I'm happy to report, but the real kick in the pants was the longevity. Three of my biological grandparents are still alive. One of them, Nora Stetson, my grandmother, an Irish immigrant born in County Leitrim, has run the Beach to Beacon 10K Road Race each of the past four years, and she's 83! (I need a nap after driving 10K, or about 6.2 miles, nowadays.) Not only that, but in 2010, Nora actually beat my half-sister, her granddaughter, Mary Melanson, by, in Mary's estimate, "about half an hour." And Mary was 22, six decades younger than Nora!

Despite the age difference, Mary was unsurprised by 2010's results. She told me, "It wasn't discouraging because she may be older, but she's always been in better shape than me." However, Mary remained confident. "I think I can take her this year, or at least keep up with her."

And so she did, beating our grandmother in last weekend's Beach to Beacon by more than 14 minutes. But Nora, who also plays golf several times a week, still made an impressive showing. She finished in 1:36.57, which breaks down to fifteen-and-a-half-minute miles. Maybe I'm wrong, but for a person in their eighties, that strikes me as hauling ass.

"For my age group I came in third," Nora proudly told me. But it wasn't easy. "The last mile was the worst. I don't know how well you know Fort Williams, but there's a very tough hill as you arrive there, just when you're thinking [the race] is almost finished."

Nora also said that I should think about participating in next year's jaunt. Of course, to run in the Beach to Beacon, you've got to be quick just to sign up. When online registration for this year's race began, the spots were gone in nine minutes. Could I get in? Maybe. Did I want to? First I have to answer a tough question: what's worse, disappointing a grandmother, or getting smoked by her in a road race? Neither seems acceptable.

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