Zero is the Loneliest Number.
Like a soldier in boot camp, for over fifty years I was defined by a number - how many miles I ran in twelve months. Each New Year's Day I tallied the totals from my running diary, assessing the good or bad compared to the years past, my totals something that always made me proud.
I began running as a fifteen-year old, late by today's standards, but I needed a job if I wanted any spending money, my meager fifty cent weekly allowance from mom and dad not providing much for entertainment or the vaguely stylish clothing desired by this dorky teenager. So I ran on my own, dreaming that maybe one day I'd be able to join the team.
Oh, to be a Little Hawk.
Despite running without any specific goal, I religiously recorded my mileage in a tiny 3"x 5" notebook, hiding it down-low in my underwear drawer, somehow fascinated by the numbers I wrote on the pages after each workout. It made me feel like they mattered.
Whether it was from my father's approval of sports or because of my mother's encouragement, they upped the weekly allowance to $3, the bump making me rich as a millionaire. So that fall, as a junior, I joined the City High cross country team, the former 20-25 weekly miles now consistently over fifty. Cool.
In college the yearly numbers were significantly higher, my odometer climbing to over 3000 on December 31st, but after those halcyon years the needle only hovered around 1500 miles, the workload of a collegiate runner no longer realistic.
Past the age of fifty this beautiful machine began to gradually betray me, my totals slipping below 500 yearly miles as gently as a snowflake hits the ground.
My last race was the Dan Horyn 5K in Skokie only six years ago, the 30:00+ time (how embarrassing!) enough proof for me to realize I had to quit - a toddler on a tricycle and two ten-year-old boys beat me. I fought the decision tooth and nail but could no longer fight the ravages of old-age, my decline inevitable.
And to be honest, weekly totals of nine and ten miles were pretty damn pathetic. For a year the space at the bottom of my diary was empty every day, the realization I was no longer a runner leaving me with an uneasy feeling - as though it was a phantom limb.
So I began walking.
Now my yearly numbers have climbed back over seven hundred miles, but at three to four miles each excursion, five to six days/week, it's a slow progression - agonizingly slow. But it could be worse. In their number one hit Three Dog Night claimed "one is the loneliest number, but that's not true - none at all is much more disagreeable.