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Run For Your Life: The joy of senior running

All of us run (or ran), since running follows life. We start at “0” and only with several years of effort, we walk. From that point, running follows quickly.

Kids run everywhere and all the time. Unfortunately, that joy of running ends when fun becomes measured and evaluated. Time is the uniform currency to rank runners. In the scrum following the finish line of any road race, if you asked a runner, “How did you do?” the answer will be a number. For example, in a 5K race, “25:30” is in minutes: seconds and computes to 8.2 min/mile —(25.5 minutes divided by 3.1 miles).

To non-runners this seems odd. Just completing the race is enough —“Wow, you ran a marathon!” Runners refine the question to: “You ran the New York City Marathon this year? How did you do?” The answer is then judged by translating the time into a pace (minutes/mile) as shown above.

The range could be from 5 min/mile (world class!) to 20 min/mile (not world class)— meaning marathon times from 2 hours to over 8 hours.

Running for over 60 years, I assert that time is a flawed metric. Seniors, and the rest of us, should use something far more important and far more qualitative. In fact, this focus on time distorts the real purpose of running, especially as one gets older.

Running is unique because you can track with heartless precision how you’ve slowed over the years. This column encourages you to forget your “time” and concentrate on “doing and moving.” Case in point, this year’s Montauk Turkey Trot.

The race brought out 1,000 runners on Thanksgiving morning, trading their morning exertion for a guilt-free Thanksgiving. Our family has made this race a tradition for decades. We’ve experienced severe winds, serious cold, start delays, and organization mishaps (one year, no one got a time!).

The constant is a brutally difficult course, first half flat and then continuous hills to the finish. The mile markers are hard to see, and no time splits are provided. At Montauk you are on your own.

I wanted to share my approach to this year’s race to encourage all of you. I could easily justify a decision to stop running. Instead, I stopped worrying. Forgetting  about minimizing my race times, my only goal — maximize the joy.

What does that mean? First, that you’re happy to consider running three miles. Second, all tension and stress of the race disappears. No matter what they say, running is not fun. As I was only concerned with finishing, that freedom makes an enormous difference.

At the start, I positioned myself at the back of the pack in absolute calmness. In former years, I was pushing and shoving, hoping to get over the starting line as soon as possible. This time, I started with a diverse assortment of people running with kids, with dogs, some with dogs and kids, and, of course, baby carriages. I didn’t feel misplaced, only that I didn’t want to trip over any dog or kid.

My focus was on running at a pace slow enough to finish takes a great deal of discipline and experience. Runners often run too fast in the beginning of a race and pay for it at the end. I knew my capacity and I relied on letting my body set the consistent pace.

This “joy approach” means that your brain must take a back seat, putting your lungs and heart in control. My approach is the same that defines the Indianapolis 500. The race cars cover 500 miles, but each is limited to the same amount of gas. When you run out of gas, your race is over.

I had to do the same continuous monitoring as those drivers, to monitor pace, take advantage of hills, make sure you cover the distance with the allotted amount of fuel. 

My new system worked surprisingly well. I didn’t walk at any point.

Despite my plans, I ended up with the Bronze metal for my age group. See, amazing and wonderful things begin to happen as we believe in ourselves.