Running often brings clarity to my mind. I joke (?) about
running for the endorphin high that comes after an hour or two
of exerted effort on my feet, but I also love the thoughts that
bubble to the surface and the problems I'm able to solve when my
mind is released from the more sedentary routines of daily life.
As often as not, however, I forget the brilliant phrases or
solutions when the run or hike is over! One of the smartest
things I did on my Appalachian Trail Adventure Run was to take a
little notebook and pen with me each day so I could record my
thoughts as they surfaced. It also helped that I was forced to
write my web journal entries within a couple hours of getting
off the Trail each day (most times). Too often since, I've
written entries after several days or weeks have elapsed and
some of the here-and-now thoughts and feelings have escaped.
Mist over Lake Raven on Sunmart race
What I'd define as a "break-through" thought occurred to me
about two miles from the finish of the Sunmart 50K. I was
laughing about it when a chatty runner named Nancy caught up to
me and we walked together to the finish. (I know she could have
run, but she said she was enjoying our conversation too
much -- and she had to wait for slower friends to finish,
So what was my brilliant realization?
It was the irony of my reaction at the end of the New River
Trail 50K two months ago compared to my response at the end of
"SUCCESS" IN CONTEXT
If you remember, I trained very hard for four months to run fast
enough to finish the NRT race under 7 hours so I'd have an
official finish and get the nice finishers' shirt. I
ran harder-for-longer than I was trained, got leg cramps that
prevented any running the last five miles, and came in DFL in 7:09,
getting a finish but not the shirt. I was so frustrated about my
diminishing abilities as a runner that I was in
tears and vowed never, ever to enter another race with cut-offs
that are too tight for slower and/or older runners to have a
decent chance of finishing on time.
Waiting for the Sunmart 50K to start
With two miles to go at Sunmart, I knew my time would be my
slowest-ever 50K. Gosh, at the end of the second loop at 19+
miles my 4:41 time about equaled my PR for 31+ miles!!
And I walked most of the last 12+ miles, making my finish time
all the slower. Yet I was grinning broadly, enjoying the warm
sunshine and peaceful woods (now that the runners were all
strung out), and happy as all get out to even be finishing this
What gives?? Why the disparity in reactions to these two races?
I'm disgusted and embarrassed by a 7:09 at NRT and
totally thrilled to finish in 8:26 at Sunmart??
Yes. It's all in how I perceive "success."
50K runners on the Chinquapin Trail
I knew there was a good chance at NRT that I wouldn't finish on
time. I took the risk, trained hard, and came up just a little
short of my expectations. But it was one DNF too many for my
It was too much for my body, too. On a hilly training run a week
later, I injured one of my over-used hamstrings. At my age,
injuries happen more easily and take longer to heal than they
used to. Hamstring injuries are notorious at any age for the time
they take to heal. So I've been babying it for two months --
walking and cycling more than running, using various techniques
to help it heal faster, readjusting my expectations for both Sunmart
and Across the Years based on my reduced level of
I went into Sunmart having no clue if that hamstring would hold
up for 31 miles even if I walked the entire distance. I
figured if I could run any of it, that would be a bonus. The
pressure of time limits was totally removed. I knew I had over
11 hours to finish the race. I took a big risk by running the
first four hours, but it paid off in a faster time than walking
the whole thing. I never felt the hamstring during or after the
race and it gave me hope that I can at least equal
my 2007 distance at ATY this year.
In that context, Sunmart was indeed a "success" and I'm very
happy that I finished 31 miles of running and walking with
absolutely NO hamstring pain. I drank enough fluids and took in
enough calories and electrolytes that I had plenty of energy the
whole race and had no leg or foot cramping or GI tract problems.
For me, that's another measure of success considering the
problems I've had in those regards previously.
The only thing that hurt after Sunmart was my knees. The discomfort wasn't what I feel when I go down a steep
slope or stairs, just muscle-tendon soreness from more miles
than they've been allowed to run and walk for two months. It was gone
within 24 hours. Now I just have to be careful to let my joints
and body systems
recover adequately for my goal race: ATY.
DANCING IN THE RAIN
I've written several times before about the frustrations of being an aging,
slowing runner. Argue all you want that those concepts aren't
mutually exclusive, but at some point in a veteran runner's
"career" he or she is going to slow down simply because of the
Our friend Don Adolf, age 71, isn't as
fast as he used to be but he's still out there running ultras!
My physical deterioration is not a "storm that will pass." I
choose to adapt to the aging process as gracefully and
positively as I can by "learning to dance in the rain." The
quote at the top of this entry is similar to a metaphor I've
used previously about turning life's lemons into lemonade. It's
all about adaptation (another one of my favorite themes) and
making the best of whatever happens in your life.
I reserve the right to whine occasionally, however. <grin>
There have been several discussion threads about aging runners recently on
the internet ultra list to which I belong (the long-running one,
pun intended, that Dave Combs and Joe Jurzyk own, not Matt
Mahoney's more recent list). Sometimes I jump in and comment
publicly, but mostly I read and save the posts for
future reference or correspond privately with other listers. I value the thoughts of these running veterans
and feel better about my own diminishing abilities when I
realize I'm in such good company.
As you'd expect, there is wide variation between the speed of
aging ultra runners and their longevity in the sport. There are
bionic wonders like Hans-Dieter Weisshaar who has cranked out
one or two dozen difficult trail 100-milers a year throughout
his 60s. Helen Klein, who was in her late 50s before she even began
running, continues to amaze us in her mid- to late-80s. That's
Folks like these are truly inspiring to the rest of us but it's
important to keep in mind that they are anomalies, not
the norm. The rest of us can aspire to be like them all we want
but without the genetic gifts they received, we aren't likely to
reach the bar they've set.
But we can set our own, realistic bars to stretch
ourselves without reaching the breaking point and still achieve
personal success and gratification.
Sunmart runners come and go at a busy
intersection near the nature center.
It's been a frustrating process for me to train as hard as I
ever did but find my pace getting slower and slower. It sure
feels like I'm running as fast or hard as I used to!
It's also been frustrating for at least a decade to accept
reality and have to lower my self-expectations. I'm not completely "there" yet psychologically. It's
my hope that writing about it occasionally in this journal will
be therapeutic for me and perhaps helpful for others
experiencing similar age-related issues. Maybe it will even help
younger runners in some way -- like not putting off what you
really want to do while you're young enough to do it or, more
optimistically, realizing that you can do more than you might
think as you enter your "golden" years.
The first aid station is still busy on Loop
2 of the 50K
When I have more time I'll write an entry about the increasingly
lower percentage of female ultra runners compared to male ultra
runners as they enter their 50s, 60s, 70s, and beyond
There have been some very interesting discussions on the ultra
list and privately with friends about the reasons for this
RECOGNITION FOR OLDER FINISHERS
It has become obvious to me as I get close to the 60-year age
group that there are some races that simply don't recognize the
efforts of older finishers, particularly females, in their
awards categories. That really bugs me.
AS #2 had less runner traffic when I passed
Not all ultras have age-group awards. It's fine with me if there
are no awards, period, or awards only for the overall male and
female winners. Just
completing an ultra marathon is reward enough for many of us. I
haven't run for tangible awards since I began doing ultras in
1992. I did that for too many years when I was a competitive
road runner in the 1980s and early 1990s.
My problem is with the races that DO give 5- or 10-year age
group awards but stop at 40+ or 50+ when there are finishers in
the decades older than that. The usual excuse is that "there aren't
enough older runners to justify the expense of an award." That
smacks of ageism to me. I've read that runners over 50 lose
about 1% of their speed every year for the next ten years, then
about 2% after age 60. I don't know how accurate that is, but
anyone looking at enough age group results for enough years at
enough races can see very clearly that runners slow down as they
age. How can most of them possibly compete for awards against
much younger runners? (Some can for a while, but not the
Even worse in my mind are races that have categories for men 60+
or 70+ but not women "because there aren't enough of them." From
my vantage point that's sexism. How much do one or two
more awards cost when you consider how many others are given
I feel strongly that if there are going to be any age-group
awards at all, they should be distributed fairly by age and sex.
Like I said earlier, I don't run for awards, but the recognition (and sometimes the
awards themselves, like high-quality clothing items) are a nice
incentive for us older folks to get out there and try.
This was the most enthusiastic volunteer
(or crew person?) at Sunmart!
The young lady finished before me in the
I especially like the recognition for the runners that is
exemplified by the Across the Years (ATY) 72-,
48-, and 24-hour races:
- Each finisher in each race receives an engraved glass mug at the
awards ceremony. Since these are fixed-time races and not fixed-distance
races, everyone present gets recognition for the distance he or she
- The overall male and female winners in each race are also
recognized (among other things, they receive nice merchandise awards
from the sponsors)
- Each person running at least 100, 200, or 300 miles during the
race receives a beautiful custom silver and brass buckle. (If you
think about it, your odds of receiving a buckle are best in the
72-hour race.) There is also a progressive award for veteran
participants of the race in the year they reach a total of 1,000 or
2,000 ATY miles.
- Best of all, course records are updated each year and kept on the race web site
for every single-year age (e.g., age 58, not just 50-59) for
both men and women in all three races. I found that to be great
incentive last year to reach (and exceed) a certain distance. When you're at the high end of a traditional 5-
or 10-year age group you've got a lot better chance of beating the old
record if you're competing against someone who is within a year of
your age than someone who is four or nine years younger. I'm 59 so you
can see why this matters to me.
Sunmart is another race that clearly values both older and
slower runners, even walkers. Although the 12-hour time limit in
the 50-miler is too tight now for me, it is reasonable for
a rolling course with relatively good footing (compare it to the
extra-long and difficult Mountain Masochist race, for example).
The 11:15 hour cut-off for the 50K is downright generous
and allows for a leisurely pace.
One of many large inflatable Christmas
decorations at the Sunmart finish area.
In addition, Sunmart offers five-year age groups through
70-74 for both men and women. There were no runners over 75 this
year. I'm guessing there would be a 75-9 year AG even if there
was only one man or woman who finished. No age or sex
ATY and Sunmart are the kinds of races that will get my business
for as long as I can continue running and walking ultra
distances. I have to be very choosy now, with slower times and knees that are
about to give out. I'm looking for opportunities to challenge
myself that take into consideration my physical limitations --
dirt trail races that have relatively good footing, are flat to
rolling, are well-organized, and do not discriminate against
older and/or slower runners. If they are scenic, all the better!
Jim's and my plan for the day after Sunmart was to do a long-ish
training run at Huntsville State Park so we'd have a good
"double" to help prepare for ATY. Jim wanted to
run and walk about twenty miles; I wanted to walk four to
five hours (14-16 miles).
That didn't happen. We tried, but I quit after four miles
because my knees started hurting again and Jim didn't have the
energy or leg strength to go more than 8+ miles. We've learned
to listen to our bodies in cases like these. We know how easy it
is to get injured by pushing ourselves too hard, too soon after
a race, speed workout, or long training run.
The gauntlet of canopies and cheering crew
members is gone Sunday morning.
It was interesting this morning to walk through the race finish
area. It sure looked different than yesterday! We had the place
to ourselves. Food, awards, and other items had been removed but
the tents and other structures still stood, looking abandoned.
Crews apparently get today (Sunday) off and will be back
tomorrow to clear everything away.
Finish banner and Santa paper are stripped
from the "arch."
Aid stations are similarly forlorn. Jim said some supplies were
still out at one of the stations on the Triple C Trail: some
park visitors were helping themselves to the remaining
edibles when Jim ran by! The volunteers at the aid station near our camper
left only the equipment and trash. Course markers were removed
on the trail near us by early afternoon. We both picked up some
obvious runner trash like gel packs on the trails we ran today
but they were mostly clean.
The campground quickly cleared out by mid-afternoon today.
Although it was great to see so many families with their kids
enjoying a weekend in the woods (many of them weren't involved
in the race), it's nice to have the place to
ourselves again tonight.
The inflatables were gone Sunday morning
but the large ornaments
and some other decorations remained in the
We've really enjoyed our week at Huntsville State Park. I'm
sorry I didn't get to ride our bike on any of the trails (I ran
on all of them, though).
I did one road ride in the park but simply ran out of
time and energy for any trail rides. That's something I want to
do on our next visit to the park in February when I won't be
tapering for or recovering from a race
Tomorrow we're heading to San Antonio to enjoy the holiday light
spectacular along River Walk. Hope I get some good pictures to
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and
Tater (in spirit)
© 2008 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil