Friday, October 30, 2009

Age Groups

Yesterday,I stumbled on a blog posting about a recent road ultra. The guy basically said that there were no other fast guys in the race. I was upset by that because reading the list of finishers I saw some impressive names. Many of these runners had run much faster than this guy was currently running! (I have run faster than this guy is currently running!) We did it when we were his age and we are older and slower now. It seemed disrespectful. I wanted to post a comment telling him to do some research on some of these not-so-fast ultra runners. Instead I clicked out of there and vowed never to go back. But it got me thinking.

When I turned 40, seven years ago, I refused to acknowledge the change in my age group category in races. I believed it would encourage mediocrity. I could run slower and still win my age group, but if I wanted to place overall I had to haul ass. For several years after entering my forties I continued to run well in the open division, still winning races now and then. But over the past couple of years, injuries that have been nagging me for many years have started to take a toll on my speed. I guess this is what aging is, wear and tear on the body having an accumulative effect on one's physical abilities. I do know runners who are fast into their 50's and beyond. The ones I know, started running later in life and just have less bodily wear and tear accumulated.

I remember running speed work on an indoor track one winter with a group of speedie guys in their forties and fifties. I was about thirty at the time. They had all seen faster running days, but were still pretty competitive on the local road race scene. On one of our cool down runs the subject of age related slow down came up. They all agreed that it wasn't a gradual thing over many years, instead it was an injury or series of injuries that the body just couldn't completely recover from. At some point, they had suddenly each found themselves not as fast and flowing as they had once been. At the time I was thinking "what a bunch of pansies," because I was thirty years old. NOW I understand what they were talking about!

The last issue of Trail Runner Magazine briefly touched on the issue of becoming a "shuffler" with age. The magazine claims this can be avoided, or at least curtailed, by doing regular speed work. I believe there is a lot to that. Running fast forces us to open up our stride and run efficiently, yet powerfully. I haven't done any fast running in a long time due to spine injuries. I don't even push off anymore! I just kind of roll off the ball of my foot in a lazy half-hearted manner. I have become a shuffler!

I'm still out there and still enjoying running as much as I ever have. I can't remember the last time I won a race. Top ten is starting to sound pretty good to me! Sometimes I think I would be happier to just stop racing all together and just run on my own and with friends. But I love the social aspect of racing. Another option is to start racing for that good old age group win. But that's a hard pill for me to swallow. Maybe when I turn fifty!


  1. I certainly agree with what you're saying. This year has been the most frustrating running year I've had in the past 25. Even when I tore my ACL and had surgery, I had a timetable and I came back stronger than ever.

    This year, at the same age as you, what seemed like a hamstring pull in April has just dragged on and on, and that flow is gone from my running. I'm going to have my first sub-1000 mile year since 1985 and that's frustrating.

    But, I'm not ready to give up yet and you clearly aren't either.

  2. Hi Laurel
    I’m not 100% sure I know what blog you are referring to but I have a very good idea. I followed it for a while but the constant disparaging remarks were a big turnoff to me and I never went back to it. I met the author at a race once and was even less impressed with this person. Thankfully, that’s not typical of the trail/ultra runners I have met the past 3 years. PS: When I was his age I would have had him for breakfast. Now I old and can’t chew!

    Hang in there Laurel. You are still one fast lady, I mean that in a good way. When I was in my forties I experienced some of the same feelings you have regarding aging and its effects on our ability to run fast and recover from/avoid injuries. Now, after so many health and injury problems, I am just so thankful to be running, at any pace. I go to races now just for fun.

    Don’t give up on racing just yet if you still love the social aspect of running in the woods with like minded folks. Plus, I bet you still have a few more wins in those legs!