I didn’t run again until slightly before my 42nd birthday when I began a 43-year embrace of the sport.
I was fairly fast at the beginning, running miles at a rate between seven and a half and eight minutes. I entered many races ranging from 5K to 10K in length (the K standing for kilometers, so these were equivalent to 3.1 to 6.2 miles, respectively). My five-year age groups tended to be large, and I was pretty much in the middle of them.
The title of this piece uses the word “Maturing” because I didn’t want to say “Aging,” although, in all honesty, that’s really what this is about.
When I was 65, I was running exactly as I had before. At least I thought so. However, checking my time one morning I was astonished to find something was wrong with my watch. It indicated I was moving at a 10 minute per mile pace. Except the watch was right. And try as I would, I could no longer drop back to eight minutes.
At age 72 I joined a marathon training program that also trained for half marathons (13.1 miles). The group that I could handle, the slowest, went at a 11.5- to 12-minute pace. I ran several half marathons at that pace. I tried a faster group and couldn’t keep up. I was beginning to understand that age might be a factor in how well I could do.
My last half marathon, run at age 82, was at a 15-minute pace.
I stopped running when I was 85, doing 15.5-minute miles. I now walk and feel lucky to cover a mile in 19 minutes, with a total distance between three and five miles. More than twice the time and less than half the distance of 20 years earlier.
I have a friend, a fellow runner whose age is the same as mine, who has completed innumerable half marathons and full marathons (26.2 miles) all over the world. His latest was in Dublin where he placed. We’ve had a competition going for years. For a while I would beat him fairly regularly; then I started to lose regularly. It’s a friendly competition and we often have lunch together. At least we did before COVID came to town.
He has done extensive research into how run times are affected by age. Turns out what has happened to me is the norm. He has numbers and charts to prove it. Along with supporting scientific studies. It’s a comfort, since I believe in science. Didn’t think I’d get a political dig in this posting, did you?
So how come when I enter a race there is some guy in my over 85 age group who can complete it in 10-minute miles? I always assumed such people had been faster than I my entire life and they still were.
The coach of my training program says, “Not necessarily so.”
She has read a great deal about older runners who do well. She understands the sport with encyclopedic knowledge. She’s a former contributor to Runners World.
She claims many if not most of the stories about older runners doing unusually well indicate they have taken up the sport at a later time in life. She postulates that decades of running do something to our legs, and that slows us long time runners down.
So now I have to accept the fact that not only am I slowed by age, but also have a deteriorating body!
Slowing is hard for a runner. Because we’re obsessed with our pace times. We’re never content. We always want to get a new PR (personal record). I finally decided the PR slate should be wiped clean at the beginning of every new year. So, if I’m really slow now, it doesn’t matter because I only have to do better than what I did yesterday, not 40 years ago!
Or—I could act in a mature way and recognize continuing to exercise is what’s important, not the time it takes to do it.
Nah. After all, I’m a runner. Therefore, not that mature at all.