Seventy years old is never too late to begin a career in running….. or at least break a 30-year-old running hiatus.
That’s my dad. Super hero, kick-butt seventy-year-old guy who took his two daughters’ advice to pick up running again after a long stint of attending his kids’ sporting events rather than trekking out on his own.
Here’s a little bit of background. Dad had run a few marathons in his time. In fact, he rocked a 3:37 time at the Miami Marathon in the mid-1980’s. But balancing work, family and marathon training was just too much. After running that incredible time and accomplishing a major PR, he put up his sneakers for a bit. Although, perhaps that time off from running turned into a bit more than he anticipated. So, after cheering me and sis on from the sidelines for so long, we FINALLY convinced him to start running again.
He began by running a quarter of a mile and working his way up. He would set up a one-mile loop, run a bit and then walk the rest. We did scold him a couple of times. Slow down, we told him. You’re going to roll an ankle or send yourself to the hospital. I think sis and I even had a conversation that consisted of, dad just goes from zero to sixty….
Well, it wasn’t long before sis and I were getting regular updates on the new goals he was achieving and longer and longer distances he was climbing. In what seemed like a matter of weeks, this old guy had broken a new record and ran his first 10k in nearly 30 years. I couldn’t have been more proud.
Fast forward to a hot and steamy Saturday morning in June. Me, hubby and dad had all signed up for the Watermelon Festival 5k. It’s June in Florida and it’s hot. HOT. In fact, it’s so hot and muggy, I’m sure that we’ve somehow managed to space-time-warp into the middle of the jungle. Nonetheless, we set off towards the quant and lovely town of Monticello, Florida early that Saturday morning.
The town of Monticello is not large. In fact, downtown consists of close to roughly the size of six city blocks. However, whether from lack of coffee that early morning or in anticipation of my performance on this race, we had one heck of a time finding parking and race packet pick-up. We wanted to park close enough to walk to the start, but also far enough away from the main thoroughfare that we didn’t get caught up in the Watermelon festival parade that commenced immediately upon conclusion of the race. After a brief disagreement about the best place to park, we finally agreed on a spot and made our way towards packet pick-up. Fortunately, pick-up was held at a church with ample room and clean restrooms. Yes! It was like scoring a running goldmine.
After collecting our awesome race t-shirts, we had plenty of time to make our way back to the car and get ready for the race. Although, once we did that, there did seem to be a bit of confusion and misconception about where the race was to begin. We had numerous folks ask us if we knew where the start was. I assumed it would be where the most activity was going on and usually with the ones who had the clocks and timing mats, but that was not the case here. The start was in the center of the street.
We had one minute – literally – to gather our thoughts, set our cell phone apps to start, and hit the pavement. The local police cars whipped into the street, blocking oncoming traffic – including large semi-trucks which I’m sure reveled with joy at our slowing their deliveries down – and after a fast countdown, we took off.
Hubby and I waved goodbye to dad with promises to meet him at the finish line. I said a quick prayer for him, hoping that his first race after all these years turned out to be amazing.
From the start, the race seemed to bring out the community spirit. As we turned off the main highway and wove into the local neighborhoods, we were greeted by a couple standing at the end of their driveway playing banjos for us. Yes, I said banjos. Honestly, they were pretty amazing, although I was tempted to whisper to hubby, run faster, I hear banjo music.
As we wound our way into mile two, community members stood outside of their cars and houses and cheered us on as we went by. Yes, it was about 100 degrees and felt like 130 with the humidity, but the excitement buzzing around us kept me going.
However…..there is always a but, isn’t there… we were forewarned about two of the major hills towards the end of the race. I was prepared for hill number one. I channeled my CrossFit nothing-will-defeat-me attitude and charged at that hill like a beast. I rocked it! I knew I was in the homestretch.
And then, the last hill. Agonizing. I will just leave that there. Or perhaps with the lack of water I had consumed, zero breakfast – so dumb on my part – and the sun that was now beating down on me, it felt more like I was on the verge of meeting my own demise. The hill was huge, I was on the edge of near disaster and I wasn’t sure I could make it. But I did. I kept going and pushing, watching that finish line creep closer. If my dad could do this, so would I.
As I crossed the finish line, I realized how ridiculous I was for not having eaten breakfast this morning, or for assuming there would be bananas at the finish. But after guzzling two cups of water, I was starting to feel a little better. However, I would have given just about anything at that point for some food and a cup of coffee.
Looking down at my watch, I fully expected we had about a good thirty minutes before dad would start cresting that hill. I almost even convinced hubby to walk with me to find that coveted cup of java, but instead we hung around the finish and chatted with some friends.
And then, well before I ever expected to see him, there he was. My dad. I ran to the finish line screaming at him to keep going and to keep pushing forward, all the while trying to take videos and pictures. The funny thing is, I don’t think he ever heard me at all. He was so incredibly focused on that hill and keeping himself moving forward. Perhaps that’s where I get my tenacious I-can-do-anything-I-set-my-mind-to attitude.
As he came to the finish, my heart was filled with pride and, yes, I even choked back a couple of tears. He had done incredible and knocked nearly ten minutes off his time. What a PR! What a comeback!
Afterwards – after he managed to catch his breath and celebrate his amazing finish time – we slowly made our way to the church where packet pick-up had been. Maybe there I could snag my banana. But what did I find instead? Watermelon. It was the best tasting watermelon I had had in a long time.
We decided to stay for the awards where I found out I placed second in my age group. We didn’t stay for the parade. We did, however, walk over to Tupelo’s and snagged a delicious cup of coffee and a scone. Not exactly the most nutritious post-race treat, but it sure was scrumptious.
Despite the slight mishap at the beginning, this was a great race. The community spirit was alive and invigorating and the course was challenging enough to make you know you earned that watermelon… or scone.
However, the best part of all of this was watching my dad. Not only had he conquered something he had been working hard for over the past few months, but I think he found his passion again.
I asked him just a couple weeks ago if he was going to stop running again. He said, no way! He felt too good. He also told me not long after he started running it was like a light had opened up inside of him. Welcome to the cult, Dad. We expect to be cheering you on well into your 90’s.
New runner tips
Start slow. Be patient with yourself. Some days will be good days, other days will downright suck, but go out on every run day and simply put one foot in front of the other. Soon, you’ll be able to go farther than you ever imagined.
There are some fantastic apps out there. The one I am simply in love with is Runkeeper. I have both hubby and my dad hooked on it. You can set up training sessions or simply log in every day to track your runs. It’s motivating to receive those award badges every time you hit a new record. There is both the free version and a paid version. Try it out for free! I think you’ll love it.
I haven’t personally used Couch to 5k, but I have a ton of friends who have and love it! This is a great app for those who are wanting to begin running or run/walking and have no clue where to start.