Friday, February 17, 2012

Turning 50: Why I Don't Mind Aging Up

"Quit? Retire? Hell, no. Next year I am really going to train!" -- Marty Liquori

I turned 50 this year. For a lot of women, that might be a traumatic event, but that was not the case for me. I owe a lot of that to running.

Runners often have a hopefully optimistic approach to getting older. The runner's version of the "grass is always greener on the other side of the fence" mentality is the "Wow, this age group is tough. I can't wait to age up."  Maybe those coveted age group awards will be easier to attain in that next age group. No doubt that mindset had some effect on me, but the real reason I don't fear aging as a runner goes deeper than that.

When I first started running, back in 1998,  I was lucky enough to fall in with a running club called the Loma Linda Lopers. This was a large (over 700 members) and well established (founded in 1976)  club in Southern California that specialized in training runners for the L.A. Marathon each year, but it was such a wonderful group of people that most runners stayed long past that first marathon. By the time I found the club, many of the runners had literally been members for decades.

Bill beating me in the Holiday Classic 15k
Like all new runners in a club like that, I was placed in a group with others who were at approximately my pace. I had the extreme good fortune to be placed with an experienced runner who was over 60, named Bill Wall. I was too inexperienced as a runner at that time to realize what a really fine runner Bill was. Sure he usually won his age group at the races we went to, but he was so humble about it that I barely noticed. However, as time went on, I came to appreciate what an outstanding runner Bill was for his age.

Bill had come to running later in life, like me, and had excelled. During the years we ran together, he had various accomplishments that helped me see that older runners could still be competitive. He made the Running Times magazine list of Master's Runners of the Year one year and was on the bronze medal winning U.S. Marathon Team at the World Association of Veteran Athletes (WAVA) games in Brisbane, Australia in 2001. I just had a note from Bill earlier this week. At 79 he is still running the occasional 5k (and still placing in his age group).

Gordon 1957
Gordon today
The Lopers also introduced me to other veteran runners who inspired me then and who continue to inspire me now. One who has had a huge impact on me and who is one of my dearest running friends is Gordon Barnard. Gordon was an outstanding half-miler in Brighton, England in 1957 (56.2 in the Southern Championships) but had a horrible motorcycle accident that left him with a limp. That did not stop him from running (although it did stop him from ever reaching the heights that he was probably talented enough to reach), and despite having a few artificial parts here and there, it is not stopping him now. 

Last year Gordon went back to England and ran the Brighton and London Marathons just a week apart, not bad for a guy who is 74. The thing about Gordon was that he always had it in him, no matter how much he was struggling on a run, to encourage everyone who passed by him. He showed me that despite obstacles, running can be a lifelong passion and source of joy.

Another person who was significant to me at that time was a woman named Muriel Berger, one of the few older women runners I knew. At the time I met her, around 1999, Muriel was 69. Both she and her husband Lou were runners. Well technically Muriel was mostly a walker. Every Sunday on a run, no matter how intense our run, if we saw Muriel, Bill and I would stop to walk with her for a while. She was such a delight!

Muriel and Lou Berger
(picture from the Lopergram)
 I will never forget how proud she was when she came home from  her first marathon, the 2000 Maui marathon, and had gotten third in her age group (Her husband Lou had placed in his group as well). She was glowing. She had this absolutely beautiful ceramic fish that was her age group award. I remember how I laughed when she said that she walked a lot in the marathon but that she ran across the finish line so that she would look good in the pictures. I knew right then that I wanted to be just like that -- almost 70 years old and running across the finish line trying to look good for the pictures. I haven't seen Muriel in years, but a quick look at Athlinks shows me that she was still running in November 2011 at the age of 81. Amazing!

These people were major influences on my life during my "formative years" as a runner. I am sure that none of those people really knew they were inspiring me in the ways that they were, but those lessons have been so important to me as I have moved up through the age groups. It is hard to fear getting older when there are people like this leading the way and showing how rich and full life can be as long as we are doing what we love.

There are also the stories of older runners that I sometimes encounter that make me smile and keep me motivated. One of my favorites right now is a video getting passed around the running community called "Grandmothers of Endurance."

These are people who have inspired me. As runners, we will all find our personal heroes and inspirations. I am sure that you have yours. And, if we hang around the sport long enough, maybe we can end up being the inspiration for someone else. Who has inspired you as a runner? 


  1. Muriel is a woman after my own heart. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Leslie,
    Muriel really is a treasure. I was surprised when I came to Playmakers because I really don't see a lot of the older runners like I did at my previous club. I wonder why? Maybe I just haven't met them yet.


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