“It’s an exciting, cutting-edge field with discoveries in science and performances showing the best is still ahead.”
The above is a direct quote from Dr. Cathy Utzschneider referring to recent research on masters athletes. A professor of physiology and competitive performance at Boston College, Utzschneider’s ground-breaking book, Mastering Running is the culmination of knowledge gained during seven years’ doctoral study and her personal experience as a competitive athlete and coach for Liberty Athletic Club with members ranging from their 20s to 70s.
She is also the author of MOVE! And contributes regularly to National Masters Running News. “You want to keep training when you know that exercise can increase the size of your brain’s frontal lobes controlling decision-making, multitasking, learning and memory,” Utzschneider said.
She didn’t run seriously until after the birth of her first child when she was forty, yet has racked up seven national masters track/cross country championships, a number 5 in the world age group ranking, and this year an indoor national 3k championship for women age 55.
On the national scene, evidence that older runners are thriving and maintaining speed ranges from facts like 49-year-old Colleen DeRueck’s qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Marathon trials at age 49, Kathy Martin’s 40:10 10k at the USATF National Masters Championships at age 62, a pending American record, not to mention 95-year-old Olga Kotelko’s record as a track champion.
At age 91, Hariette Thompson of North Carolina recently completed the San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon in a record time of 7:07:42, then went home to celebrate with Sydnor, her husband of 67 years. “I feel wonderful,” she said. “I feel very relieved and I feel very anxious to take a shower and then fall into bed. If I’m around, I’ll be back next year,” she promised. Any way you cut it, seven hours is a long time to spend on your feet, whatever you are doing.
Seventy-one year-old local runner, John Hagin, veteran of more than 100 marathons (He’s quit counting.) followed up a 54-minute time in the Bolder Boulder less than a week later with a 26-plus mile jaunt at the San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon. He was one of fewer than 100 “Legacy Runners” who have done every race in the event’s 17-year history. He beat his 2014 Boston Marathon time of 4:10 by two minutes. “I did not run as fast as I wanted to but probably faster than I am going to next time,” he said. “I’m just enjoying the running and rocking and rolling.”
And isn’t that what it’s all about: Keeping on keeping on, not because you’re going to get faster but because you love what you’re doing and you want to do it as long as you can. My guess is that unless you’re passionate about putting one foot in front of the other, you’re not likely to keep it up over time just because it’s good for you.
Older runners just may have more fun. Giving up a few seconds or even minutes to Old Father Time doesn’t bother them as long as they can stay in the game. In the words of Runners World editor Amby Burfoot, “…there is no failure in running, or in life, as long as you keep moving.”
Mastering Running is available online at Amazon and in local bookstores.