This afternoon I was closing in on mile six when I thought, “I’d forgotten more about running than most runners will ever know.” No, I’m not brash. I’ve just been running for a really long time. I’m reminded how long I’ve been at it whenever I fish a long-sleeve tee from my drawer and it’s from a marathon I ran ten years ago, or a medal I find stuffed in a drawer from a race thirty years ago. My first marathon, the 1981 Philadelphia Independence Marathon, dropped “Independence” from its name decades ago. Scary, huh?
The National Sporting Goods Association estimates there are 35.5 million runners in the United States. Males make up 52.5% of those runners with a mean average age of 29.4 years, and females make up 47.5% with a mean average age of 28.9 years. Only 10% of those males are in the 45-54 age group, and it is reasonable to assume the percentage declines after 55. According to marathonguide.com, which tracks marathon finishers, only 7.3% of marathon finishers are males over 55 years old.
My claim about knowing so much about running is kind of like sticking with running long enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon. If you are fortunate enough to still be running when you are 80, you will have 5 1/2 hours to qualify. Of course, many things must be in your favor, most importantly good health. (Only two runners in the 80+ age group finished the Boston Marathon in 2011).
I have mixed emotions about the number of my contemporaries dwindling as the years go by. I feel sad that many my age are no longer able to run as they once did, and I feel grateful that I still am. About ten years ago, my buddy and I were sitting at a post-race breakfast eating eggs and drinking beer and he said, “Have you noticed there we’re getting to be the older guys at these races?” I looked around and said, “Not until you mentioned it.”
I’ll be sitting at home watching a hockey game and a commercial about hair transplants or wash away the gray will come on and I’ll wonder, what the hell was that all about? I mean, I’m nearly three decades older than the average runner and I couldn’t care less. In fact, I’m happy I’m still at it. Is there something wrong with me?
I suppose the best way to conclude this discussion is to share some advice that’s helped me get further down the road of time. First, take care of your health. That seems like a no brainer, but there is a tendency to take your health for granted and neglect things that you should be doing until the effects of age catch up with you. Eat well, drink sensibly and get your rest. Listen to your body when it tells you to take a day off. Stretch, cross-train and seek soft-surfaces on which to run. Soft-surfaces are easier on the legs and joints and, consequently, conducive to a longer running life. Lastly, whatever you do, never stop. Who knows, maybe one day you will qualify for Boston at 80.