The Man Most Unlikely to Be an Athlete… at 58
Finding My Space as an Older Runner
Working in the senior care field, I am often pleasantly surprised by the energy and verve I see in my aging friends who are 30 and even 40 years older than me. I, too, hope that I will break down the myths of aging when I reach my 80s and beyond, and today, it is far more likely than I would have imagined 10 years ago.
I am the baby boomer who as a child was most unlikely to be an athlete. In fact, I was the one most likely to be the last one chosen to be on the baseball or soccer team. I was the one who was picked on because I could not hit a baseball, could not lift myself up on parallel bars, and could not dribble a basketball. Heck, for three years, I was on the “instructional” baseball league until my age no longer qualified me to continue.
In high school, I did become a good tennis player though never joined a team as if I would be chosen, but I enjoyed the sport through my 30s. As an adult, I even joined a health club and found that I loved high impact aerobics, not so much because of the value of the work out, but because I liked my instructor’s butt. Both came to a halt due to a back injury.
Then one day, the guy most unlikely to be chosen to be on a team, became a runner—at the age of 51. I joined my colleague, Leah, for a meeting with a software company one morning, and before the meeting, she and the representative began talking wildly about a charity 5K run that weekend that the software company was sponsoring. Leah asked me if I would do it with them, and I told her that if anything, I could walk fast, but did not have the strength or lung capacity to actually run for 3.1 miles.
So, I agreed and power walked the race, a bit behind others, but side by side with some. To my amazement, upon crossing the finish line, I saw people cheering me on even though I was among the last to finish. It was a rush to say the least.
So I asked Leah if there were runs like this all the time and found that there were actually more running groups than I could ever have imagined and newsletters that listed a multitude of 5K and more races for charities every weekend.
On the third such race with Leah, she informed me that the only way she could continue to run with me is if I committed to running the entire 5k—no walking. That morning, on behalf of Leah and an organization promoting arts in the schools, I huffed and puffed—but only for the first mile—and ran my first race.
That was over six years ago, and in over 350 charity races following, I have never walked. While I will never be a fast runner—a type of runner that is called a “Kenyan” in recognition of the many Olympian runners from Kenya—I am still a consistent runner.
On average, I do about 65 charity races annually—and not only 5K races. I have done half marathons in Disney World, 100 mile relays to Key West and even once almost died doing a 50K. In addition, I commit to training a few times per week to keep myself limber and focused.
I find myself part of what I call a “cult,” but not the Jim Jones type—more like the followers of the Avett Brothers—just positively obsessive, but not exactly unhinged.
I am part of a group of people who are for the most part focused and for the most part, supportive of each other. As to the latter, I once briefly joined a LGBT running/walking group, as I am gay and always looking to find new friends or more who share my interests. What I found was that the runners were oddly unwelcoming and rude, and the walkers—most of whom were out of shape and older than me—were more focused on going out to eat after their 1 mile walks than courteously waiting for the final runner to return. I will take mainstream groups, thank you very much.
To my amusement, I am also finding that there is a loss of inhibition among some runners which I find endearing. The one thing runners like to do is go to the bathroom before a run (number 2) and they all wait in line and quickly do their business. I am amazed that they have the time to wipe the butts, but somehow they do what they have to do. (I strive to get that accomplished before leaving the house since the men’s bathroom and port-a-potties tend to smell terrible. In fact, after a while, people even relieve themselves on the rims on the toilets.)
I have also seen my friend Leah trying to wipe blood from her underwear at the side of the road on particularly heavy period mornings and literally squat on the ground to urinate. Doesn’t phase me one bit. (I will go behind a tree to urinate—sometimes in full view—hoping a police officer doesn’t arrest me. But as they say, when you gotta go, you gotta go.)
I am most often positive through my races although sometimes in the longer ones, I get impatient with volunteers who are not quick at the water stops, and really get annoyed at those who tell people that the finish is “just around the corner,” when it really is another mile or so.
All that aside, I am 58 (but usually claim to be pushing 60), an athlete, and not a bad athlete at all. I have even won special medals for my times—even though many race organizers offer medals to all racers. So many years later, I still get a rush in crossing the finish line and am there to cheer on my peers after I finish.
I can only think of one odd result of my running. A very good friend for 35 years is for some reason offended that I have decided to run, as she does. She has told me that she checks my time on the run’s online site to make sure I am not lying. For nearly every photograph that I put on my Facebook page with friends who have run with me, her comments were full of negative sarcasm. I was, however, more willing to accept her sarcasm than my friends who grew to hate her. The final straw for both me occurred when I won my first medal in my age category. Her response was that “everyone else must have been disabled” which was not only unfunny, but also highly offensive due to the reference about disability. While my friends called her everything from a “Debbie Downer” to a filthy bitch, I decided to take the time to remind her that for many years, I volunteered for Special Olympics with wonderful athletes who were better and more positive than even her.
So, the question today is “Will I continue to run?” At my age, I may have an injury, or may even drop dead on a hot day. But doing something beyond my scope has given me the drive to make the changes in my life. In more recent years, I have focused on dating again after three years of being single. I had years ago wanted to be a stand up comic, so I now have joined an improvisational comedy group. I have worked in the same type of job for over 30 years—albeit a creative position—but decided that I need to pursue something else—like writing.
In all of these new endeavors, just like running, I am not afraid to fail—not afraid to be the slowest or the least talented. In fact, I am afraid to fail to go beyond my scope.
One day I was participating in a challenging event called a “Superhero Scramble,” which includes both running and 25 or more obstacles on the trail. At one point during this event, I found myself crawling in mud beneath barbed wire. Later, in looking through the photographs taken by the organizers, there was a picture of me doing that—I had the look of determination on my face and was wearing a really cool headband. On Facebook, an old friend saw that photograph and called me a Navy Seal.
I will never compare myself to a Navy Seal who are among the most determined and well-trained defenders of my fine country, but I will take the description with pride.
Not too bad in my opinion for an unlikely athlete to progress from a 90 pound weakling at 12 to almost a Navy Seal at 50+.