Over the years, we get used to going to key races, such as the regional USATF Grand Prix Series, and seeing our friends and rivals there. That’s a big reason why we travel to these races. Many of us keep track of our times and places at these events and maybe note who we beat or beat us. Yes, this can be obsessive, but it’s also part of the fun!
Yet, as we age, we see fewer of our cohort showing up. We invariably hear directly or through the pipeline about the reasons why: an acute or chronic injury; a serious debilitating illness; an unwillingness to train as workouts feel harder and less fulfilling; less motivation due to slowing times; and even death. The data bears this out. Results from the 2019 BAA Distance Medley Races (5K, 10K, Half Marathon) with over 23,000 finishers, showed that 80% of the field was under age 50; 14% were 50-59 and just 6% over 60. Last Saturday’s New Hampshire 10 Miler, a tough, hilly Grand Prix race that weeded out some younger casual runners, drew 1,088 finishers. Of those 33% were over 50 and 11% over 60, with just 23 runners 70 and older. It would be an interesting longitudinal study to determine what has happened to the many runners who 10 or 15 years ago were toeing the line and not there Saturday. My guess is the reasons above would capture most of it.
We can’t control many, if not most, things in our lives. Life happens! But I suspect many of the older folks missing would prefer to be in shape to race and take in the ambiance of a festive Grand Prix event. I recently reread Peter Reaburn’s The Masters Athlete (see my review posted a couple years ago after the first reading). Reaburn is a pragmatist who walks the talk – he’s now 67 and still competes in triathlons in his native Australia. A researcher and Bond University professor, he is one of the foremost compilers of information learned about the aging process as it affects masters athletes.
Reaburn’s constant message is “listen to your body.” If we do, it tells us a lot of stuff. One, are we training smart? Meaning do we vary the distance, speed, terrain so when racing we’ve been there, done that, and done it recently. Two, are we trying to do the mileage and racing we did 20 years ago? And if so, is it a wonder we constantly feel sore, tired, and flat! Three, are we doing enough up-tempo stuff in training? For sure, it’s not as easy as it was, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give it a go on a regular basis. Not necessarily hard five-mile tempo runs, but plenty of striders will help keep form and pace in a 10K. Four, are we giving enough attention to recovery? Reaburn suggest this is, by far, the biggest problem for masters runners. He describes and emphasizes how it takes more time to repair muscles as we age. If we keep pushing and create a deficit in our recovery, something will give. While it sometimes leads to acute injury, it often manifests as a chronic problem that gets worse over time. If in doubt, Reaburn suggests, go easy for a while. Let things get right before they go wrong!
No runner I know celebrates the aging process. We balance optimism, acceptance, and denial as we continue to lace up and go on our way. But if we want to keep showing up at the races, we definitely need to heed Peter Reaburn’s advice to listen to our bodies. Seems simple, but a message too often overlooked.