Runners and Our Age Hang-Ups
By Sheryl Rosen,
Whether I’m running with the Sunday morning Forest Meadows crew, Jerry McDaniel and Scott Mitchell et al, or Nancy Laux and Jay Silvanima, several factors remain constant – good-hearted jabs, updates about home and work, and conversation that invariably turns to age and the abundance of it many fellow club members either have or feel they have.
I find this final observation disturbing, especially because it holds true whether my company is 35 or 65. It seems to me that too many fit, healthy runners among us waste time and energy complaining about their age. I especially know the problem is toxic when even I have to fight the urge to chime in on the discontent.
Particularly when I hear runners in their 20s and 30s complaining they feel old, I know our mindset as a running community needs some correction. To that end, I propose a sea change in our thinking: Can’t we feel proud of our age instead of ashamed of it?
The focus of Gulf Winds and of the wonderful races we hold for our members and the public is not only competition but also fitness and fun. But instead of rejoicing in the continued accomplishments we gather with each year we live, I find runners making denigrating comments about themselves.
Yes, undoubtedly age is a factor in running performance, and I imagine it must be very frustrating to find it difficult or impossible to run the same finish times that once came easily on younger legs. However, I’m saddened when club members lament to their running group about their faster days, beating themselves up for no longer being able to achieve the same performance level.
Perhaps the biggest strike against us is that our running culture makes us keenly aware of our age. That little box on every race entry form asks the unforgiving question, every list of race results tells the world how old we are, and each annual Prefontaine or Turkey Trot we run gives us a concrete, recurring measure of our increasing or decreasing fitness compared to past years. While these factors make us aware of our age and changing fitness, I refuse to believe they have to make getting older unpleasant.
Think about the qualities you admire in other runners. The runners I admire are not always the fastest ones. Sure, those in the front of the pack receive all the praise and congratulations, but I reserve the most respect for runners who get out there day after day, and have done so for decades. Their determination, their love of running for the fun and challenge of it – and not the PR, the attention, or the prize money – is the most admirable quality a runner can possess.
Also, when I look at other runners, the longer they’ve been running, the more miles I know their feet have traveled; the more finish lines they’ve conquered; the more shoes they’ve had the pleasure of wearing thin; the more mud, sand, and salty sweat they’ve washed down the drain; the more bug bites, sunburns, chafing, and bloody blisters they’ve endured; and the more wisdom, friendships, and stories they’ve picked up along the way. What more should one need to feel proud than these accomplishments?
If, as a community of runners of all ages, we could place more value on these qualities and think of age as an accomplishment instead of a hindrance, we might not have more bounce in our step at the next 5K, but we might just feel better about ourselves.