In 2011 I started running races again, as I had from middle school through college. This April, I ran the 5K Robbie’s Run in Merrick in 20 minutes, 59 seconds, placing third in the 45-to-49 age group. I finished 29th overall in a field of 874 competitors. I edged out a 29-year-old in the last quarter-mile, besting him by 5 seconds. I could hardly believe it.
In May, I decided to run a mile as fast as I could on the streets around my house, to see what I was capable of. I finished in 5:51. Shortly after a recent 10-day vacation to Bulgaria, during which I walked two hours a day but didn’t run, I tried the mile again, finishing in 5:38. By comparison, the best I ran a mile in college was 4:31, on an indoor track in my senior year.
Yes, I’ve slowed down –– but not by that much, and I’m getting faster. Time will tell how fast. Aging, I realize now, need not be as dramatic as society would have us believe. Barring disease, we can remain vital until very late in life, provided that we stay active.
My heroes are no longer highly paid professional athletes in their 20s and 30s. They’re amateur masters runners like 78-year-old Bill Iffrig of Lake Stevens, Wash., who started running at 42 and has logged 46,000 miles since, completing 45 marathons, with a personal record of 2 hours, 45 minutes, and earning myriad medals at the World Masters Athletics Championships, according to Runner’s World. Or there’s 61-year-old Kathy Martin of Northport, a.k.a. the Running Realtor, who started running in her 30s and competing in her 40s. She set the American masters marathon record in the 60-to-64 age group — 3 hours, 10 minutes — in October 2011, and the world masters record in the 3,000 meters —11 minutes, 16.5 seconds — in January 2012, a feat documented in The New York Times.
No matter your age, if you’re thinking about starting to run, don’t just think. Walk if you need to, then run. Your body –– and mind –– will thank you.