By Dick Stark
“Old age and treachery will always overcome youth and skill!”
– Waylon Jennings
At least I thought that would be the case when my 24 year old daughter informed me that she too was signed up for the annual Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run. She had never run that distance before and I was confident that I would prevail. But I never really challenged her and my hoped for strategy that she tire at the end proved not to be a good one, as I was the one that ran out of gas and she went on to beat me by two minutes.
As you may know, spring in Washington, D.C. officially begins for me with the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run. A week ago Sunday, like I’ve done nearly every year for the past two decades, I successfully finished another one. It was a good day for a race—no wind, cool temperatures, but with spring arriving early, no cherry blossoms. It was packed with runners of various ages (my bib number was 24,449) making it slow going for the first few miles. As I get older (now 55), it seems that no matter how hard I train, my current time can’t keep pace with my time from last year. I did, however, manage to finish in the top twenty-five percent in my age group.
Sometimes on runs like this one, I ask myself, “if I can’t improve, why bother?” Other than the obvious health benefits, I love to compete and I can still set “age group appropriate goals” for a race. I also enjoy devising a workout plan to meet race objective is an enjoyable process for me. Without having the goal of running a specific race with a fixed finish time in mind, I’m not sure that I could get motivated to run just for running’s sake.
Long distance running is about dealing with challenges and adversity. It’s about razor-sharp focus on an intended outcome, teaching you how to handle pain without quitting and giving you the satisfaction of completing something that you thought wasn’t possible. (At my age, it’s also about avoiding injury. That means more recovery time between runs and, as a result, more cross-training.)
I’ll keep running as long as I can. Because I’ve done this for so many years, I don’t have to get any better to enjoy running, or to be considered a runner. The true joy of running for me is an expression of strength and respect for the life I’ve been given.