It’s Your Birthday & a New Age Group: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly
Who-hoo! It’s your birthday! Some people love birthdays no matter their age and others loathe them. A wide-variety of things occur, some years bring on longer long run recoveries, while other years the early alarm begins to quit being quite so tough. Then there are those special birthdays. Those birthdays that can excite or terrify any runner. The birthdays that move you into a new age group. It’s pretty much guaranteed the big ones at the beginning of a decade (40, 50 and so on) are an age group mover. The clock is ticking forward and like most situations in life, aging as a runner can be placed into three categories.
You gain at least 5 more minutes on your Boston Qualifying time and it is now (seemingly) more attainable! In all reality, as soon as you jump into a new age group you are the youngest and have very often come from a faster set of folks. There can be a large difference in beginning of a range and the end. So no longer are you dreading the 4 years someone doesn’t have under their belt because you’re the young one. Using this to your advantage is easy if you can monitor the winning times a little before you roll into the new group. Mentally, you can compete in your current and soon-to-be age group to get yourself some practice.
Another plus is sometimes jumping up gets you away from certain people. On occasion there needs to be a break between competitors and if for a year (or even just a race or two) you and your “arch rival” can separate in age categories there could be less anxiety on your part.
And if you are looking at 40 this year, you‘ll now be able to place in the Masters Division. Now you have the opportunity to sport winnings or rankings in your old group, your new and possibly the Masters group. Having award swag with multiple age ranges on it looks pretty impressive.
Depending on where you are in the aging game, sometimes, as you get older, the uptick in age isn’t a speed benefit to you as the younger runner. For example, some women while still active runners, won’t or can’t race while pregnant, so there is a chance that as you move out of the 20s group and into the 30s group, the overall competition increases again. Another racing negative, that luckily will soon work itself out, is that you aren’t used to racing in this field. There is a possibility you aren’t familiar with competitors and their strengths. A way to circumvent this would be to begin paying attention about a year to 6 months out and take mental notes.
There is some decline in physical fitness that comes with aging that simply cannot be recouped. At some point there will be a time when you can no longer say “My fastest time? I haven’t run it yet”. You will need to readjust your expectations of yourself. You will need to look at goals other than fastest time. Or maybe Personal Records (PRs) need to be set in context, like before and after. The unexpected becomes a little more prevalent and it’s been said again and again, but running with ID or a Road ID is important and becomes more so each day you age.
As with all things of substance, taking quality care of your body is of the utmost importance. Preventative measures become increasingly more important. Sure, the exercise is quite the health benefit but as we age the aches and pains grow louder. But luckily, not all of them have to. For women especially, beginning in your 20s lifting weights to prevent osteoporosis should be one of the top physical priorities on your list. All runners should begin incorporating preventative knee and hip exercises along with strength building for the hamstrings, back and abdominals. These muscles are utilized by runners yet for the most part ignored because they are often viewed as secondary. It would be a good idea if you can to touch base with your Physical Therapist or a certified personal trainer to come up with a set of exercises that’s best for you.
As runners move into their 50s, you may want to consider taking a supplement like CoQ10 or Glucosamine. For some, you might be required by your doctor to wear a heart monitor and obey it. No longer are you seeking to set PRs but you are keeping you and your heart out of trouble. Seeking a physical from your physician each year grows increasingly important as health issues that don’t always have symptoms need to be monitored, like high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Starting to make sense why your race bib always asks for an Emergency Contact? It’s not for the young bucks that might break an ankle so much as it’s for potential heart attacks and heat strokes.
Aging as a runner doesn’t have to be a negative. There are so many products and so much knowledge out in the world to help us that wasn’t there even just ten years ago. We just need to be smart and protect ourselves with everything from sunscreen to blood pressure screenings. Who knows, maybe we’ll all be like Harriette Thompson and be able to run until we’re 94.