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2020-12-27 Vince Long Musings of the Aging Runner

Recently, I scanned a couple hundred past copies of our club newsletters to get them on our web site.  These dated back to the first issue, November 1981, through the early 2000s. I noticed a few things have changed over the years.  For one, the newsletter used to report lots of racing results, something we get on our phones these days, and, for another, I saw lots of familiar names in those results that caused me to think, “Wow! He/she used to be really fast.”  That got me considering the career of the aging runner.

I am, indeed, aging right along with everyone else, about a year and a half from entering the 70+ age group.  And while that is something we all, hopefully, get to experience, it brings up the issue of how that impacts our running and, more importantly, how do we react to it.  While I am getting older I am still a relatively low-mileage model, having not taken up running until I was 48, which might help maintain my longevity in the activity, maybe.

We run for a myriad of reasons.  For some, it’s the competition, against others, or ourselves.  For others it is for fitness, both physical and mental.  A few like the social aspect.  For most, it is probably a bit of all of those.  While the goals of fitness and social interaction can be maintained over time, the competition goals become more difficult.  Setting PRs (personal records) becomes less frequent and even running the same times as past years becomes difficult.  

After talking to other runners about this, I surmise that as we realize the inevitable, we go through the 5 stages of grief, much like the model Elisabeth Kübler-Ross established in her 1969 book “On Death and Dying.”

Denial – This can’t be happening to me.  The course must be longer, the GPS in my watch connected to the wrong satellite, there weren’t these same hills last year, these shoes have slowed me down, I didn’t eat the right breakfast.

Anger – The timing company has a problem with their algorithms.  That other runner cut in front of me at the start.  The weather report was wrong and I didn’t dress properly.  They didn’t have my preferred drink at the water stops.

Bargaining – If I could just find the time to squeeze in more mileage next week.  I need a harder interval training plan.  I need to focus on my pace, not my injury.

Depression – This just isn’t for me anymore.  I’m taking up golf.

Acceptance – OK, so I’m not as competitive as I used to be, but I can still get out, move, have fun with friends, and be part of the running community.  Whether I am running slower, using run/walk intervals, or walking, I am still out there.

Hopefully, we can move through those first four stages quickly and get right to the acceptance stage.  It’s a matter of realigning our goals and finding new pleasures in the camaraderie of the running community and realizing that the only thing we have lost is speed.


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