WELL, THAT WAS QUICK.
Seems like 2016 started yesterday, and already it’s near the end of January. They say time speeds up as you get older. If that’s the case, by the time I reach 70 I’ll be afraid to blink. But for now, it’s time to enjoy every day of being 54, just as I did at 53, 52, and before.
Not that I focus overmuch on my age, or should. After all, it’s “just a number,” right?
Well, not so much for runners. For us, age is more of a group.
Rather than using calculated handicaps like golfers have, most events divide runners into five-year age groups (such as 40-44, 45-49, 50-54, etc.) or ten-year groups (e.g. 30-39, 40-49, etc.). Awards are presented to the top finishers in each group.
Overall winners and top placers still get the lion’s share of the glory (and all the money), but for the rest of us, age divisions provide a little recognition beyond a finisher’s medal and a pricey photo. It’s a way of leveling the playing field, giving older runners a competitive focus if they wish. And I think that’s good for the sport.
I began competitive running just as I turned 47, so for my first few years I was in the 45-49 group. Mainly it was a positive experience, as I watched myself improve in speed and distance, culminating in my first marathon just before turning 50.
But there was one source of frustration; despite coming close many times, I never made the top five in my age group and got an award. If a tie is like kissing your sister, coming in 6th is her serving you a restraining order. The chase for an award wasn’t my only motivation to keep training, but it did contribute, and I’m sure it helped make me a better runner.
I read a blog post around then from someone who downplayed her awards, saying she had “a drawer full of them.” That’s a problem I’d like to have, I thought. So what if I had mugs spilling out of my kitchen cabinets? I wanted one from a race.
As they say, be careful what you wish for. After turning 50 I broke through and got that mug, and did the same in many more races after that. Now I have a full drawer too, and I better understand what she meant. In the end, they are mainly trinkets that take up space. (I still like to get them, though.)
I know what some of you are thinking. It’s selfish and materialistic to worry about awards. Why not just go out and race for self-satisfaction and the joy of participation?
Good points, and to an extent I agree. I race mainly to test my own limits, and to push past them. I’ve run in big races where I didn’t have a prayer of getting an award. And when I pace events, my focus is on encouraging others instead of pushing myself. An age group award is usually just a nice bonus.
And yet there are a few times it’s more than that.
Such as the Leap Day 4-mile race this February 29. Four years ago, at the 2012 race, I won my age group for the first time. And this year I’m still in the 50-54 age group. So I have a title to defend!
I’m freeing up some more room in the drawer.