Friday, October 17, 2008

Nothing But a Number

The Laminator just rocked out a 1:25:44 half marathon, and the blinding speed has him in an introspective mood. Laminator muses:

On the other hand, I couldn’t stop wondering if 1:25:44 really will be my best half ever, forever.

Internet, we may not like it, but the fact of the matter is, we are all getting older. And as we get older, we will eventually get slower.

Now, I'm not saying that all runners over the age of 29 should just pack it in. There are plenty of fantastic athletes who are not spring chickens. We all saw the way that Constantina Dita-Tomescu rocked out the Olympic marathon in Bejing at the age of 37. And Dara Torres may not be a runner, but she is an inspiration, swimming amazing times against athletes much younger than she is. What I am saying is that although we runners are healthier, sexier, and more overall awesome than everyone else in the universe, we are not immune to the aging process.

The key, as I see it, is to look at your running career not as one big volume, but to break it down into different phases.

Many of my Blogging Running Friends (BRF's) discovered running in adulthood. Not me. I ran my first 5K when I was 10 years old. I ran cross country and track all through high school., then rediscovered running after I turned 30 and had Jack.

I am incredibly proud of the athlete that I am today, and of all that I have accomplished. But I am definitely slower than I used to be. My 5K PR at the moment is 25:13, which is an 8:something average mile pace (I don't feel like doing the math exactly). When I was running varsity cross country, if I had finished a mile in 8:something, I would have died of shame. Miles started with 6 or maybe 7, not 8.

I am working hard and improving my speed all the time, but I don't think I will ever be as fast as I used to be.

But I'm completely okay with that.

The fact of the matter is, I am a completely different person now than I was when I was 17. I weigh about the same as I did then (don't hate me; I worked for it), but I have padding where I didn't before and muscle definition that I didn't before. I look at the world differently - less selfishly, more patiently, and a lot less seriously.

A common piece of advice given to runners is "Run your own race." I keep those words of wisdom in mind. I shouldn't be preoccupied with the shadow of my 17 year old self any more than I should be with the other runners on the course.

We race not just against the clock, not just against the other runners, but against inertia. No matter how slow you might be, every run is a victory against complacency. That poem about "When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go and doesn't suit me" is a cliche now. Instead, think of this one:

When I am an old woman, I shall wear running shoes
And enter races that I have not a prayer of winning
And I will race them as fast as I can
Never apologizing for my lack of speed


tfh said...

Great post and wonderful points. I would not go back to being my 17 year old self for anything, and hopefully my future self will gladly exchange a little speed for all the other good things that come with maturing a little.

*aron* said...

i love this post :) those are awesome points! ha when i was 17 i HATED running the mile for basketball practice and look at me now :)

Joe said...

Well put. I could also beat up my 17-year-old self!


Julianne said...

"We race not just against the clock, not just against the other runners, but against inertia. No matter how slow you might be, every run is a victory against complacency."


Nat said...

We fight against our bodies. We forget at times what a gift they are...

Thanks for this.

RooBabs said...

I love how you say that even though you don't think you'll ever be as fast as you used to be, you're still working hard and improving your speed.

We don't have to be resigned to aging, and therefore just give in to the process. We should continually strive to better our current selves (and not beat ourselves up if we're not as good as our former selves).

This also reminds me of something I read recently about an 83-year old running woman. Here's a link to the story.

Great post!

mappchik said...

What a marvelous post. Stated how I feel about myself as a runner better than I ever could.

Enjoy your week off with the boys!

The Laminator said...

Thanks for your awesome response to my post Betsy. Trouble is that for me, my heart can't feel what my head knows is true. I guess it's something that will eventually come to me with experience I guess.

Have a fun week away with your boys!

runninghitherandyon said...

Great post, Betsy - that's why I like age grouping...I can focus on my speed within that age/gender category. But I'm older (quite a bit) and haven't a hope even with doping of running with the speedy kids.

Have a fabulous time at the parks. I'm so envious.

Roisin said...

That gave me goosebumps! And you know, it's all relative too. I'm 25 (or will be 26 on Wednesday) and I'm working to get to that 8 minute mile someday.

I also read somewhere that female runners especially get faster in their 30's. So there's hope for me yet! In any case, loved the post!