Running and Aging: Many Seniors Still Have What It Takes

OK. I know there are big fish in the skillet these days: persistently high unemployment, the inability of the administration and Congress to accomplish anything, and reports that Iran is planning to assassinate foreign leaders here in the USA among them. And it looks like the NYC cops and public officials are running out of patience with the Occupy Wall Street folks. So watch for a media driven confrontation and protestors being hauled away in leg irons sometime soon.

But heck. We’re sliding into the weekend. So why not opine on something positive and inspiring?

Several of my friends are heading to Columbus this weekend to join some 17,000 other runners in the marathon or half marathon. Good for them. And good luck.

And I hate to admit this because I’ve concluded that my marathon running days are over, but many of the participants in Columbus and in New York in early November and in similar races will be my age or older. Good for them. And good luck.

Here’s from the NYT, “You’re Only as Old as You Run“:

A few years ago researchers at the German Sports University Cologne took a close look at the finishing times of 400,000 marathon and half-marathon runners between the ages of 20 and 79. They found no relevant differences in the finishing times of people between the ages of 20 and 50. The times for runners between 50 and 69 slowed only by 2.6 to 4.4 percent per decade. “Older athletes are able to maintain a high degree of physiological plasticity late into life,” the researchers wrote.

That might explain in part why the running world is growing, and growing older. The number of runners who finished marathons in the United States, where 7 of the world’s 15 largest races took place last year, increased to 507,000 in 2010 from 25,000 in 1976, according to RunningUSA , an organization that promotes the industry.

In 1980, the median age for a marathon runner was 34 for men and 31 for women. By last year, the age had risen to 40 for men and 35 for women. People over 40 now comprise 46 percent of finishers, up from 26 percent in 1980.

A year ago, following an extended vacation in Budapest and other locations in Europe, I figured my ability to keep running was pretty much kaput. The lliotibial band in my left leg was more rigid plastic than rubber. And every time I took a stride whether on concrete, crushed limestone or on the treadmill belt, I experienced the sensation of having a marble in my foot. Turns out it’s a degenerative nerve that ain’t getting any better.

But I’m still at it. I checked my running log last weekend and I’ve already topped 1,000 miles for the year — as we enter early fall. I had a great time running the half marathon in Pittsburgh in May, and I’ve already registered for 2012.

And who knows. Maybe next year I’ll head to Columbus in early October.

No point letting all the other old folks have all the fun.




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