It's Our Turn: In the running to survive 60
Up until last year, birthdays didn't bother me too much, even the ones that ended in "0". But last June as I tried to ease gracefully from the 50s into the 60s, I was in no mood for celebrating. I tried to console myself with images of famous women older than 60 who were looking great and confiding their secrets for staying young to Oprah; Raquel Welch, Bo Derek, Jane Fonda, Cher.
Running has always been more than a way to stay fit. It has helped me to manage stress, grieve loss, celebrate achievements and challenge myself mentally and physically, which I did by training for and running half-marathons. So it was only natural for me to turn to running to help me deal with this emotional birthday milestone. But it was while looking for a new challenge that I found the motivation I needed. The event was a duathlon in May with a 5K run, 33K bike ride and another 5K run. Hesitant to sign up because of my age, I looked at the previous year's finishers and times. And here I found my inspiration. Placing first in the Male Individual Age Group 85-99 (yes, YEARS) was Robert Powers, 88, of White Bear Lake. His total time of 3:42:27 was no competition for the top male finisher at 1:21:04 but he was first in his age group, and also the only competitor in his age group.
But there wasn't only Robert. As I looked through the age groups and finishers I saw that 12 people older than the age of 60 had competed in the 2012 event. The oldest female was Mary Zack, 69, of Little Falls. I now had role models I could relate to. It wasn't about being fast or winning but about continuing to be active and participating. I could do this!
The day of the duathlon, participants were identified by a bib/bike number and also their age on December 31, 2013 printed in black magic marker on the back of their leg. Still 19 days short of it being official, "61" was indelibly scrawled on the back of my leg. I started eyeing the backs of legs, getting a feel for the competition and also hoping to get a look at the super-senior Mr. Powers who had registered for the 2013 event. As we lined up by age group, I found myself next to Mary Zack, sporting the number "70" on the back of her right leg. "You're my hero," I gushed as I started to explain to her my reason for being there that day. As our group took off we wished each other good luck and she encouraged me to have fun.
As I ran and biked, I felt compelled to look at the backs of legs of each competitor I passed, or who passed me. As expected, the best, I mean fastest, finishing times belonged to the younger age groups. I did not see Robert Powers but after checking the results I learned he finished with a time of 3:44:47. I will look for him and Mary again in 2014.
Raquel, Bo, Jane and Cher really do look good for their ages but I am no longer interested in their secrets. I plan on celebrating my birthdays with a different attitude from now on and when the 70th arrives, I hope to have it written on the back of my leg at the 2022 Apple Duathlon.
"It's Our Turn" is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press staff.