Being an older runner

Something that makes me really sad is witnessing accomplished runners getting disheartened and down because they can no longer achieve the times they got when they were younger. Particularly when they desperately want that 5, 10K, parkrun, or marathon PB (Personal Best) but realistically it’s not going to happen. MOST people can’t run as fast in their fifties and sixties as they could at 20 or 30. But this got me thinking about the positives of coming to running later in life, or even just being an older runner.

I didn’t start running until my late thirties so I don’t HAVE any PBs of my youth to chase after. I know I was a good sprinter at school but another advantage of being well old is that I can’t remember what my actual times were so I don’t need to be depressed about it. Also they were probably in shillings or something it was that long ago, not minutes and seconds. Although the ones that were carved into rocks with a pterodactyl beak must still exist somewhere…  

Last year, my 42nd on this planet, I got PBs at every distance, which was amazing – my fitness jumped up a level doing marathon training and put through my paces with my club’s coaches at the track. But I’m already aware that it’s not sustainable to keep getting PBs like that. I’m already mentally adjusting to the fact that I did 20 minutes better at my second marathon than at my first. I need to make my peace with the fact that I will never get a PB the like of that again. And whilst I do get that it’s really hard to adjust to not getting the buzz of a PB, maybe it’s time to make different goals. I’ve started doing cross country this season, which is tremendous muddy freezing hilly fun, and actually difficult to PB at (for a noob like me, anyway! I know the old hands know what their PBs are on different courses) because the courses are all so different, so I don’t really worry about it.

So coming to running later in life was a real positive for me because I don’t hanker after my lost speed. I’m just getting faster and more efficient the more I train (or as my husband puts it, the more obsessed I get with it).

The second bonus to starting running when I wasn’t exactly in my first flush of youth is that my kids are a bit bigger and I have a bit more time. OK, so I started running when they were very little, before the boy one was even born, but I’m an ‘older’ mum, so most friends my age have kids who are a bit older. Once they are at school/nursery you can get some daytime runs in; I’ve even been known to rock up to my daughter’s school in full lycra and trainers and go straight from the school run – the headmistress is a runner and I can tell she’s well jel. I am so happy to be able to go back to the Wednesday morning group I initially started my running with, and be able to give something back as a leader. And amazingly I love getting up at 6 to go to a track-training session. Having said all of that, I’m not sure it’s even actually about having more time – it’s about prioritising the time you have as you get older. As a parent you relish that time when some smaller version of yourself isn’t hanging onto your leg and being unreasonable about shoes or smearing mashed potato in your hair. I am so protective of the little time I get to myself, I guard it jealously and I choose to use it for running! We run when we can. We prioritise it, prioritise that self-care. 

Which brings me to my next point, and I may be very much alone here, as the idea that runners are all super-healthy mung-bean eating bores who don’t drink or eat cake is very much bulllllshhhiiiiit. But I’ve kind of gone off booze since I’ve been running. Well, not so much the booze itself as the hangovers that seem to have increased exponentially since I became, well… no longer 20something, especially as a parent. Crippling two-day hangovers after a couple of glasses of wine? Just not worth it. Oh, OK, the last one of those I had was after a couple of BOTTLES of wine, a vodka tonic and… oh, the free shots we got at the bar. Yeah, I’m really mature. It was a PTA outing. Those mums are cray-cray. Anyway, on the whole I don’t really want to do that anymore because there’s no way I’m getting up for a long run after a night on the prosecco and tequila, and I need and love my long runs.  Running has replaced drinking as the thing that my social life revolves around. Also I can’t be arsed with the hangovers when I have to deal with two small primary-school age humans who seem to spend their entire day demanding food and screaming. 

The final advantage I can think of is that as you get older you move up age categories and have more chance of beating club records. I actually look forward to turning 45 because I will go from being one of the oldest and slowest in my age category to being one of the youngest (and possibly still slowest. Some of those ladies are bonkers fast). Although obviously all the women in my age category are aging at the same rate, so the advantage of being the youngest doesn’t last long. And, y’know, I’m really not competitive anyway. Ahem. 

Maybe the biggest thing I’ve gained from becoming a runner at an older age is that I feel so damn healthy now. Apart from that toenail that’s falling off again, and my ropey knees and granny hip… but them’s just runners’ niggles. I’ll run them off.  I mean the glow it gives me. The healthy attitude towards my body. The fact that I’m FINALLY in my forties developing a more healthy attitude towards food.  It’s about so much more than PBs. 

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