Marathoning at 60: Still a Thrill!
Winston Churchill, the great British statesmen of the World War II era, once said,
Few things are as exhilarating in life as being shot at without result.
I suppose the running version of this is Fred Lebow’s reminder that “few things in life match the thrill of a marathon.”
“But at 60 years of age?” I asked myself.
From Jogger to Marathoner
You see, it all started back in 1983 at the Chicago Marathon, where, as a young “jogger”, (which is what all of us runners who were not world class athletes were called back in the day) I struggled to finish several minutes behind a couple Catholic nuns who were in their early 60s at the time.
Oh, don’t misunderstand me!
They made for a couple of wonderful running partners on that beautiful October Sunday morning. They offered plenty of encouraging words and we shared several ministry stories together. But make no mistake about it: Long after I hit “the wall”, they hit a faster gear. I remember two lingering thoughts from that Windy City experience:
- the thrill of finishing a marathon and,
- the amazement that a couple of ladies dedicated to Jesus and to the Church could also be so dedicated to running.
Driving home, six hours away, I told my wife about the amazing ladies and declared, “I want to run a marathon after I turn 40!” You see, 40 seemed like old age to me at the time.
Well, where does the time go? Is it ministry demands? Is it the energy and the effort it takes to raise a family? Is it caring for aging parents? The combination of all of these things? Or is it the fact that life just keeps coming at you? Whatever it is, there were no marathons in my 40’s… or 50’s.
Fast forward to 2015
“Dad, we’d like to celebrate your 60th birthday with you. Can we come home and put on a party? We’ll invite all your friends and have a fun day together,” asked my adult daughter this past year. “Ah… sure!” I said, hearing a voice I hadn’t heard for some twenty years now, “what about that marathon you were going to run when you turned that old age of 40 years?”
Kenny Moore said it best:
Part of a runner’s training consists of pushing back the limits of his mind.
As one woman pleasantly said to me at my 60th birthday party, “Welcome to senior adulthood. May you enjoy your grandkids with the rest of us!” Her wish was genuine enough. And I do plan to enjoy my grandchildren. But I couldn’t miss the implication that, “Well, now that you’re old with the rest of us, may you have a little time yet with your grandkids before you check out of this life!”
That’s when the voice got stronger. I began to think, “Can a lifelong, 12-15 miles per week, recreational runner still complete a marathon at age 60?”
I was going to find out!
Getting Started Marathoning at 60
And so, with the permission from my doctor that my wife insisted I get, I turned my attention to Coach Hal Higdon’s book, Marathon. Speed reading through it, I read until I arrived at Coach Hal’s plans for training for a marathon.
The first question I had to answer was: What was my goal?
- A 3-hour marathon?
- A 4 hour 40 minute marathon?
I settled for Coach Hal’s “Finish with a smile on my face.” At age 60, a smile, some pizza with my granddaughter, Eloise, and the rest of my family at Cosettas in downtown St. Paul would be like winning the Olympic Marathon for me.
The second question was a personal one: How was I going to balance my morning training with the schedule of my non-running wife and ministry demands?
Early morning meetings would have to be rearranged. By far, the Saturday morning lingering breakfast and coffee with my wife that we have both coveted over 35 years of marriage was the most difficult to contend with. Marathoning at 60 demands a commitment from others in a runner’s life, not just the runner. Pancakes at 10:30 on Saturday became our cherished time at the completion of that “tiger in the cat” run that is asked of every marathoner in training.
The Biggest Challenge
By far, the biggest challenge was to face down all the doubts that arise along the 4-month training. An avid reader, I probably read Coach Hal’s book four times over. Each time, I looked for references to senior runners or footnotes like, “Now, 60 year olds shouldn’t try this… etc.” But not one can be found. In fact, my eyes kept landing on one statement that Coach Hal makes in his book:
If you follow my training schedule, I promise you will ‘finish with a smile on your face.’ I guarantee it!
Those three words rang in my ears. When the summer temps rose into the upper 60s and lower 70s on those summer mornings, when the humidity climbed into the 90s, when the alarm would sound at 5:30 on a Saturday morning… “I guarantee it!”
Here’s the point:
Seniors, you don’t have to succumb to the cultural suggestion that the best of life is in the rear-view. With a doctor’s endorsement and a spouse’s encouragement, a good coach who guarantees that if you will follow his plan, you too, can say, “Now is the time for me to go for the thrill of the marathon.”
You see, “You don’t stop running because you get old. You get old because you stop running.” Jack Kirk said those words. And you can choose to live by them. I know I intend to!
Registration is now open for the 2016 Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon. Your thrill could be just eight months away. Pizza with the family will never taste so good!