Article by: Michael SelmanReproduced with permission of the author
As I get older, I find myself looking back more and more often. I think that this is partially due to the fact that every year, another chapter is written in my life, and another block of memories is created. There's just more history to ponder every time I take a backwards glance.
But I also spend a lot of time looking forward, and wondering how things are going to be as I approach senior citizenship. On the one hand, I fear it, as the ravages of age seem to catch up with just about everyone who sticks around long enough. On the other hand, I look forward to battling it head on, and slowing down the process to the best of my ability.
One of the most significant ways that I know to not give in to the age I am is to refuse to feel or act the age I am. It's a mental, as well as a physical strategy. I just can't picture myself being old, and I hopefully never will. But I also can see I'm not as young as I used to be, and things change as one grows older. Everything is viewed differently when one is in their 40's than when one is in their 20's. I imagine the perspective becomes exponentially more contrasting in one's 60's, and in one's 80's.
George Sheehan was the first 50-year old man in history to run a sub 5-minute mile and he set his marathon PR of 3:01 at age 60. But alas, age, or illness, even catches up with the greatest in the sport eventually. I participated in a few races that the great Dr. Sheehan also competed in. He was in his late 60's while I was in my prime in my 30's. He kicked my butt every time we raced, except the very last time I ever saw him. The same week I finally beat him, he announced to the world that he was battling cancer. It was a terrible loss when he passed away.
I once met Dr. Paul Spangler, and instantly knew I wanted to be like him. Advancing years may have slowed him down, but they didn't stop him. He was still running and swimming competitively into his mid 90's. He used a unique strategy that worked well for him. He outlived all his competition. When he finally did pass away, it was during a run. I'm betting he wouldn't have had it any other way.
I would have to run for another 50 years to threaten any of Dr. Spangler's records. That is a fact that helps me realize how young I still am. Right now, I don't see any reason why I can't do it. I imagine that many others in my age group feel the same. It seems that every time I advance to a new age group, the competition gets deeper, and tougher. If I do make it to the 90-94 age group, I'm guessing I won't be as alone as Dr. Spangler was. I imagine the competition will still be fierce, and the awards will be claimed three deep.
Running, perhaps more than any other sport, is a sport of longevity. In professional sports, 40 is over the hill. I'm often taken by surprise when I see interviews with former professional athletes, not too far into their retirement from the game, and see how old they look, and how out of shape they have become. It's hard to imagine that, in some cases, less than a decade earlier, these same people graced us with amazing feats of athleticism. In some ways, I'm in my running prime at age 45. While yesterday's athletic heroes are already retired at my age, I'm still trying to hit milestones in the sport I love. And there are goals that I seem closer and closer to achieving, as I get older. Qualifying for Boston gets a little closer to my grasp every five years, as long as I don't slow down. This may finally be the year I run under my age for 10K. That one has been on my mind for years. There are highlights ahead that are just as real as the recollections behind me.
Here's to all those wonderful memories, most importantly those still to be created.
Michael Selman Roads Scholar Atlanta Georgia USAMichael Selman is a freelance writer who has appeared in publications and web sites throughout the world, including Runner's World, Footnotes, and CoolRunning.