He may be more Bernstein than Springsteen, but Maestro David Lockington was born to run.
In his 40s, the cellist, composer and classical music conductor decided he wanted to complete a Triathlon Sprint by the time he was 50. But there were a few hurdles. He didn't cross the finish line until 53.
But in his passion to meet this purely physical challenge, Lockington, music director of the Grand Rapids and Modesto symphony orchestras and a favored guest conductor in the U.S. and abroad, unlocked some of the keys to sustaining the vitality necessary for a long artistic career and healthy well-being in later life.
Lockington grew up a slender, active boy in his native England, where he sang opera by the time he was 11 and loved to run barefoot in the spacious park around his home in Weling, Kent. He swam in the lakes and biked around them; played soccer and even rugby, until his growing accomplishment at the cello pressured him to protect his hands. After a serious car accident in Europe, he taught himself yoga to heal his back.
"I had a conscious revelation as a teenager that, since I wasn't a prodigy cellist, I would like conducting as a career goal because I would be really good by the time I was old!" he recalled during a recent interview in Modesto, California, where he performs about eight weekends out of the year.
He had always met the physical demands of the career, which today include some 10 hours weekly of strenuous group rehearsal time, two or three concerts per weekend, private practice hours and and months of travel between one orchestral engagement and another. Conducting itself is a form of exercise, he said, in which "you quickly develop the muscles you need to hold your arms out, just by doing it," he says -- much like a dancer, which is not far from a description of how mobile and energetic Lockington appears on stage.
He discovered Kundalini Yoga and practiced it even in the smallest hotel rooms. "I've always liked this idea of being able to stay in shape even in a jail," he joked.
He enjoyed running in many of the places he has lived, from New Haven, Connecticut, where he earned his Master's degree in cello performance at Yale and studied conducting with Otto Werner Mueller, to homes he later made with his wife, the acclaimed violin soloist Dylana Jenson and their children, in New York, New Mexico, Denver and now Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Running had always come naturally and Lockington presumed that he had "an endurance type of body." Then, nearing 50, the triathlon goal suddenly became more and more elusive: "I started working toward it, and whenever I would start to increase my running, I would get a hip thing, or a knee thing, and I began to think, well maybe my body's just not built for it. It kept giving out on me."
At the same time, he started noticing some other physical changes. "I went through a period where I slowed down," he said. "My body was getting a little heavier. I was feeling lethargic, and somewhat flat. I had always been an optimistic person, and felt myself getting moodier. It just crept up on me."
No one but he really noticed it, he said. As a conductor, "When I was on: I was on." But there was this increasing dependence on caffeine; this annoying tendency to fall asleep in chairs. And so, he didn't make it by 50. The years crept by.
Then Lockington stumbled on a book called Born to Run by Christopher McDougal, about the forgotten technique of barefoot running. Reading it, he said, "was like a cannon shot. It woke up all my latent desires to move in space. I wanted something to reconnect me to nature. And it just got me out there." That spring he resumed the barefoot running of his boyhood, wearing the barefoot running footwear known as five-finger shoes.
But the turning point came when Lockington's wife Dylana encouraged him to get some blood tests at the Born Clinic, an alternative health center in Grand Rapids. What he learned from them was a complete surprise: his testosterone levels had plummeted.
"I thought it was hilarious," Lockington said. "I didn't have any sexual dysfunction, so it wasn't striking at the heart of my manhood in that way."
At that moment, though, Lockington says he realized that "if there was not a solution for this, I was going to start to go downhill quite fast, which is what one associates with men in their 50s and 60s from our parents' generation...often becoming a shadow of their former selves."
Bioidentical hormone treatments commenced, and he directed some of the increased energy he experienced into his training. A doctor at the Born Clinic recommended that he use orthotics in his shoes, and that too helped. Then he went to watch the son of a friend race in the Reeds Lake Triathlon sprints in Grand Rapids -- and could no longer hold out.
In September 2010, just a month before his 53rd birthday, he completed the half-mile swim, nearly an 18-mile bike ride, a five-mile run, emerging from Reeds Lake, Michigan, dripping wet and utterly elated, his wife and children cheering him on. A year later, he did it again.
It was not the fear of losing ground in the competitive world of conducting that drove Lockington to revitalize his body, but it has allowed him to contemplate a far longer career. What people notice is that he has extraordinary energy on the podium and in life. The athletic training has increased his strength of will and endurance for whatever projects he takes on, he said.
"I feel that being able to work on a longer musical form relates to doing endurance training, because there's strategy in both: there's form and artfulness in the composition, and there's strategy in the race -- and it all has to be paced," he said.