Old enough to run better

Week 6: Drinking from the fountain of youth on the road to DC.

Embed from Getty Images

I’m going to start this post with a (true) story.

One of the truly greatest memories of my running life to date came in my very first half marathon, back in 2009, when I was completely and utterly schooled in the art of race pacing by someone comfortably 10-15 years my senior.

Picture the scene – I’m in the starting corral, all fired up, nervous as hell about my first ‘proper’ race, but feeling good about the training I’ve done and ready to come in under the 2:00hr time limit I set as my race goal. I get chatting with this lovely lady, probably in her mid to late 50’s who has run a couple of full and a few half marathons and is also shooting for a sub-two hour finish. Now I remember this lady well as she was wearing a very distinctive pink singlet and black gloves, and as I bombed off at the start, I thought I’d never see her again because, being the cocky, over-confident bloke that I was back before a few races had roundly kicked my ass, there was no way this diminutive older woman could possibly run faster than me.

Now let’s wind the clock forward about 1 hour and 50 minutes. Having gone out way too fast and at this point running on fumes and moving my legs forward purely from memory, I am in serious risk of missing my goal. The finish line is about a 3/4 mile in the distance (for those with long memories, this was the inaugural RnR race in Seattle that finished by the stadiums), and I am seriously doubting whether I can cover the remaining distance in ten minutes. At this point, padding past me, clippity-clop, like the goddam Energizer Bunny, came the lovely lady from the start line. Left, right, left, right, steady as she goes. Past me, and on to the finish line. To this day I swear you could have offered me a million bucks to catch up with her and I don’t think I could’ve done it.

In the end I made my goal, finishing in 1:57:08, but the moral of the story was not the hard lessons learned about race pacing and bunch of other stuff I should have done differently, but rather that age as a barrier to physical ability and achievement is as much in the mind as it is in the body. It was what convinced me that I was not going to let the inevitable passage of time deter me from pushing on, getting fitter, and trying to run further and faster. I’m inspired by people who take on feats of physical intensity at ages that some of us (me included), might have considered in the past to be ‘old’ and I hope to inspire others myself with what is possible as I get older.

In fact, staying young in body and mind cuts to the heart of one of the main reasons that I love to run. Stand in the middle of any crowd, it could be a shopping mall, sporting event, or any place with lots of people, and I guarantee one of the things you can see is people who seem to be getting old before their time. People who look older than they really are. Tired, overweight, lacking in energy, I could go on.

Now…I don’t want to go on a rant about how people could and should live their lives. Everyone is different, everyone makes their choices, has their journey and their story. Individuals are responsible for themselves, their bodies and their lifestyles. I really don’t want to judge, and I am certainly not a paragon of virtue in all areas of fitness and diet. BUT, I just don’t want to look and much more importantly ‘be’ older than I really am. I don’t want to be that guy who is out of breath climbing the stairs or chasing after the kids. I don’t want to get old before my time. People sometimes joke and ask me a la Forrest Gump, “what are you running from?” I guess the answer to that question is i’m running from ‘that guy’. The tired, lacking in energy guy. I’d like to live a long and productive life, and it is for these reasons, among many more, that I run.

I have some extra motivation in that history is not on my side – my Mum and Dad have both long since gone, sadly taken by illness much, much too soon, and with three kids of my own, it is absolutely incumbent on me to do whatever is within my control to stay fit and healthy, so I can hopefully be around as long as possible, to enjoy my life, and be around to see what my kids begin to make of theirs. Not only that, but one of the best things I can do as a father is set a good example, and encourage the girls to get out and be active. I’d love it if they picked up the running bug like I have, but whatever they do, as long as they are active, and taking care of their bodies then that is fine with me.

I was encouraged recently by an article by Gretchen Reynolds in the New York Times which pointed to some research conducted by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology that suggested that older athletes have remarkably younger ‘fitness’ ages than their more sedentary peers. Although some of you may say “so what?” to this, one of the findings of this research is that those people whose ‘fitness age’ is just 15% lower than the norm for their age, have an 82% higher risk of dying early. Sobering? Maybe, but the good news is that a poor fitness age result is easily reversed – you just have to start exercising.

If you are curious to find out your fitness age, you can take the simple, 6 question test, at the link i’ve posted here.

I was feeling quite smug about the fact that the calculator told me I had a fitness age of 23 (less than half my actual age), but I was quickly brought back down to earth by calculating my BMI (Body Mass Index) and discovering I needed to lose ten pounds. Truthfully, I could have got that insight from a simple look in the mirror, but there is nothing like an online calculator to rub it in with cold, hard numbers. Anyway, like I said, I’m far from perfect when it comes to all matters of health and fitness, and I have many things to work on, weight just being one of them.

If you need more inspiration then please give me five more minutes of your time and check out these amazing athletes, all ultra-marathoners aged 70 and above. Truly incredible, and achieving things today, that I, many years their junior, can only aspire to.

Have fun and keep moving.

My numbers for the week:


And cumulatively for 6 weeks of training to date:


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