In running, being over the hill just means you’re picking up steam.
If the blogosphere is any judge, the biggest news out of last week’s London Marathon was not Ryan Hall’s blistering 2:06:17, nor the fact that it was only good enough for fifth place in a race where a record six men finished under 2:07.
No, it was the appearance of Buster Martin, who finished the race some time after the chip mats were removed. Buster claims to be 101 years old. Dimitrion Yordanidis holds the record for oldest man to complete a marathon. At age 98, Yordanidis finished the 1976 Athens Marathon in 7:33.
Well, it turns out the cigarette-smoking, beer-swilling Mr. Martin may only be 94. Or maybe some other age. No one knows because Buster “likes to tell stories” and the Times of London couldn’t verify any of them.
Whitlock’s achievements defy belief. When he ran a sub-3 hour marathon at age 69, it was amazing. But he continued to do it through age 74. He has slowed a bit, running “only” a 3:05 at age 76. Asked once who had the greatest influence on his running, Whitlock replied, “Me!”
But if Whitlock is a unique genetic phenomenon, Helen Klein is a tribute to hard work and tenacity. A long-time smoker, Klein began running for the first time at age 55. She finished last in her first road race. From those humble beginnings, Klein rose to the top the masters’ running world, setting age group records in the marathon and an amazing number of ultra-marathons. She was elected to the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1999 at the age of 76, but her remarkable accomplishments continue.
She set a marathon age group record by running a 4:31 at the age of 80. At 81, she completed the Tahoe Triple Marathon, which is three marathons run over three consecutive days.
Last month, at age 85, Klein completed the Napa Valley Marathon in a world age-group record of 5:36:15.
While these runners are extraordinary, an examination of the results of just about any road race in America will reveal there are people in your own neighborhood running strong well into their 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond.
I can see only one down-side to this trend: It raises doubts about my strategy of someday winning an age group award simply by living long enough.