Boomer Runner Reflects on a New Era

age in place Boomer Runner

“You have to wonder at times what you’re doing out there. Over the years, I’ve given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes down to self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement.”

~ Steve Prefontaine

I’ve kept up the ritual of being a runner since the late 1970’s, when I had seemingly endless energy and my hair blew in the wind. In the longevity literature this is known as “continuity of self,” that is; some aspect of you endures though the passage of time. Continuity can be a good thing (as in this case), or it can be bad–leading to “hyper-habituation” and stagnation. Although my energy is now not-so-endless, my hair does still blow in the wind (thank you hair-gods), and I have noticed a change in the running culture. My old friend in the work of aging in place, Mike Waters, is a boomer who has lengthened his shorts to fit the times–but his attitude on running is still “old-school.” I share his musings here.

~Patrick

Guest Post by Mike Waters

The new era of running and racing

I’m a runner.  I’ve been doing it consistently over 30 Plus years. I come from the era of short running shorts. No Gatorade. And not nearly the selection of running shoes that we have today. I come from a generation of runners that “trained” to do 10K’s marathons, like we were in school trying to make the “team” (Or at least the traveling squad).

We ran to train; and if in doubt we ran some more.  We barely “cross trained”–the term didn’t even exist then.  Sports medicine and physical therapy for injured adult runners was in its infancy.  And we didn’t wear that race shirt, that badge of courage, our “letter jacket,” until days after the race.

Today, as I assist adults in training for running.  As I participate in half and full marathons myself, I’m surrounded by a new generation of runners and at first, I was suspect; watching all this with a wary eye.  More and more people we’re “participating” in long distance events, and not “racing” them like the old days. More and more adults were signing up for marathons but doing them slower and slower. It just seemed like yesterday I was doing a marathon in a rural town in Oregon and there might have been 75 entered–with a lousy cotton T shirt by the way, and no food after.  Not even a complimentary banana.  What happened?  Who changed the training rules?

Society and culture drives health and physical activity

I’m also a health educator.   I’m a participant but I also look at health, fitness, and RUNNING, from a bigger perspective.  The area of health and fitness (which we’ll put running in) does not exist in a vacuum; it’s all part of society.   We may have exercise and dietary guidelines, but these areas are more in context with how society lives, including running and racing.

Today races, especially half and full marathons, are social events that include a lot of physical activity.  There still are some “hard core” (what I call the “varsity” in using that athletic metaphor) runners who train hard and go for the personal record (PR).  But overall more and more adults are doing races to meet certain fitness goals and to have fun.

Is this good or bad for running?

This is a very interesting question which I have no direct answer.  Why? Because again I must look at this from all aspects of society and culture. From the event/race business side, business is booming; nationally and regionally. Costs to enter races have never been higher (Does anybody remember when you could sign up for the Portland marathon for $25?). From the health benefits side, overall, I’d yes as well.  This is good. This event–goal-based way of exercising is getting more people “off the couch” and out on paths and neighborhoods.   And with the arena of cross training, core strength and flexibility, and the great treadmills and cardio equipment, this new type of runner can train and be connected with running any time of the year.

My running friends who, like me, enjoy paying the “daily price for victory,” won’t like me saying this but, here goes:  When you slowdown in your training and (gasp!) actually walk, especially in a half, or full marathon, you’re structural – metabolic recovery time is actually sooner. You don’t feel “beat up” as much in the final stages of a race. This is kind of a good thing especially if you want to view the scenery, and wave to friends and family. And you’re not wiped out the rest of the day, and the next few days.  (By the way this also is why more and more people are doing ultra-marathons. They have FUN doing these, but don’t let that get out.

Final view

As I help the CHM (Corvallis HALF Marathon 2011) race committee prepare for this first-time event, I’m also noticing more runners and walkers out and about while doing my own training. I’m guessing here, but I think I’m seeing people training for this event and the many other great shorter events we have here in Corvallis, Oregon. Plus, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this half marathon event is “stirring up” activity. In health psychology we know culturally, community physical activity stimulates others to be physically active. Maybe this new era of races is helping to motivate people to get active? There’s a lot of buzz in the community about this event coming up.   Who knows? Big races like this one and the huge half and full marathons in towns and cities all over the country maybe a public health physical activity strategy and we don’t even know it.

It’s been absolutely fascinating for me to be a part of this new era of running with the close lens I’m seeing it from.  I’m enjoying my working with this new generation of runners. This is not “your fathers” style of training anymore, but if it keeps people motivated and engaged with physical activity, and EVERYBODY can make the VARSITY (and the TEAM BUS), then I’m all for it!

Mike Waters is an advocate for Aging in Place and is health promotion director Fitness Over 50 Corvallis, Oregon. He is still trying to make the varsity and earn his “letter”. He can be reached at timberhill.mike@comcast.net for conversation on this topic or any other area in health or aging in place.

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Even in Middle Age, Your Best Running Days May Still Be Ahead of You.



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