Ron Marinucci: June 2013 Column

Ron Marinucci: June 2013 Column

Stand at the finish line of most Michigan road races and you’ll likely be astonished at the number of older runners, that is, masters. In fact, at a number of events, masters runners comprise a majority of participants.

And, it’s not just a matter of quantity with these Michigan masters runners, but quality, too. In recent years, a number of state runners, both individually and as members of teams, have brought home national titles and accolades. There are others, of course, but Doug Goodhue, Paul Aufdemberge, and, before them, Doug Kurtis immediately come to mind. The Lansing-area Playmaker’s women’s and Ann Arbor Track Club’s men’s senior teams have earned national cross country championships. Fred Vanhala’s Front Line Racing Team was a national force for a number of years among the masters.

Masters runners are those 40 years and older. The concept was hatched almost 50 years ago by Californian David Pain. His aim was to encourage older runners, allowing them to continue to compete and, with age-grading, even compare their times with younger runners or even themselves when they were younger. Since, senior or grand masters categories have been added to further encourage runners 50 and older.

A while ago, Andy Muchow, a former Michigan Runner masters runner-of-the-year, noted, “Michigan has a very active and competitive masters population.” He went on to consider what those Michigan masters runners, “in their forties and beyond…have done to stay healthy, motivated, and competitive.” That is, what keeps us running, both physically and mentally, for whatever reasons and goals, when so many people have opted for couch-potato status?

Muchow added, “I’ve always been impressed at the incredibly high level of masters talent that we have in Michigan. To stay motivated and healthy to compete is a challenge for any runner.” Masters runners have discovered, he surmised, “that life, job, health, and family all will get in the way [of running] at some time or another. While frustrating,” he conceded, “eventually you learn that there are things you can’t always control. Learning to let go of the ‘neurotic runner’ is key to longevity” in running. Indeed, Joe Henderson once said that long distance running might have more to do with “longevity” than with distance.

Other masters runners have chimed in with their own ideas and practices, things which have kept them on the roads, trails, or tracks for years. They spoke of both the physical and mental aspects of their running. Physically, mostly, the key is to stay healthy, without injuries. Mentally, motivation is all important, whether it’s to continue racing or, as Stu Allen and Liz Bailey, said, “just get out the door.” “Balance” was a word used more than once.

Another former Michigan Runner senior runner-of-the-year is Peggy Zeeb. From the west side of the state, she said, “I love running and racing keeps me on my toes. I race almost every weekend.” She explained, “I think you have to do different things and run different places to keep it [running] fresh. I try to find different races…any distance and just about any surface.” Zeeb has had a variety of racing experiences, including the Great Lakes Relay, Dances with Dirt (an ultra trail run), and one of the Warrior Dashes, an “extreme run.”

Although racing continues to be her motivation, she admitted to making a bit of a change in her training. “About the only thing I do differently is I have cut out one of my speed workouts. I used to do two per week and race; now I do one and race.” She does stretch, but “usually only before and after speed workouts or races. Otherwise, I just run.” A high school cross country coach, Zeeb said, “In the fall, I love running with my team. It’s great running with them and I hope I can pass on my enthusiasm for a sport that helps keep me young.”

From the Upper Peninsula, Bruce Kittle joked, “I am definitely not a master,” but he has followed a “pattern” which has allowed him to run for the last 31 years. Before running, he said, “I ‘exercise’ by doing about 15 or 20 minutes of push-ups, sit-ups, crunches, squats, curls, and ball squeezes.” Then come about “three miles” of what he called, “jogging.

I usually start at about a ten-minute pace and then continue to increase my speed depending on how I feel that day. I might end up with a seven-minute last mile or a ten-minute last mile, whatever my body tells me,” sounding like a disciple of Dr. George Sheehan. What has helped keep him going all these years is, “If something hurts or doesn’t loosen up as I run, I stop.” But, he conceded, “This very rarely happens.” He added, “I never stretch before or after a jog.” Running for the past 31 years, he said, “is just a part of my day and when I don’t do it, rarely, I feel uncomfortable.”

Dave Foley is a past editor of Michigan Runner. Retired now, he said, “I am still running, rarely missing a day.” He’s logged 87,000 miles of running, “on my way to 100,000. That’s my motivation. I am trying to run forever or at least until I die.” Once a top racer in the state, Foley admitted he races now “only occasionally and 5K is about my maximum racing distance.” He cross trains regularly, citing “cycling, kayaking, canoeing, cross country skiing, and snowshoeing.” He still will run “some speed and hill workouts,” especially to prepare for the 5K races. To deal with what he called the “trials and tribulations of being an older runner,” he does “a lot of ‘listening to my body.’”

Mike “Flagman” Bowen still “tries to get ‘in the wind’ every day,” although he admitted his sub-three hour marathons are things of the past, “just blurred memories.” Running is now “Let’s get six or eight more names off the list.” Bowen is running a mile for each American soldier killed or missing in Vietnam, with fewer than 300 miles to go!

With such a laudable goal, he knows staying healthy and injury-free are essential. “To avoid or minimize injuries, I reverted back to my basic running schedule from the beginning years when endurance was my goal.” He does “LSD, long, slow distance. I don’t race.” He also doesn’t stretch or cross train. He added, “To stay healthy, I stay away from sweets, including ice cream, and keep my bride of 40 years happy!”

Liz Bailey has been running for 35 years. She admitted, “I wish I knew what kept me motivated. Maybe then I could bottle it and sell it,” she quipped. “I can’t imagine my life without exercise, especially running. I still race, but just to cross the finish line. I know I will most likely never have another PR, but somehow that just isn’t important any more.” She has begun other activities. “I tried to take up swimming, but that didn’t work very well. I did three triathlons last summer, but was almost the last out of the lake each time.” She also noted, “Although running will always be my first love, I have [also] started cycling. The 60-mile ride was great today, but I still loved my ten-mile run yesterday just a little more. [Running] does something for my mind that no other activity can.”

Family, too, has motivated Bailey’s running and continues to do so. “Running saved my life while I watched my daughter die for three years.” Later, she noted, “I found motivation to run one more marathon because I did it with my son on beautiful Grand Island in Lake Superior. Life doesn’t get much better than that. You feel like you did something right raising your child and setting a good example when your adult son asks you to run a marathon with him!”

She also finds motivation in being “able to give back a lot with running,” such as with the Team-in-Training. “I feel blessed every day that I still get to put on my shoes and head out the door.”

Stu Allen is “53 years young and I still enjoy getting out the door, especially to run trails.” He still runs some races, but “I have reduced my schedule to a handful of favorite events. I like to try at least a couple of new ones each year, though. New places and new faces keep the sport fresh for me, always seeking new adventures.”

Calling himself “a seasoned runner,” he has used his experiences to help keep him going. “One can draw upon experience to get through a lot of tough spots in a long-distance event. I’m not out to win the events I enter, so I know I can walk up a lot of hills and save my energy to take advantage of the down slopes. As a larger runner, gravity is my friend on the downhills.” In ultramarathons, especially, he said, “Mental fatigue is your worst enemy. It’s really important to enjoy yourself, the people, and your surroundings.”

“As an older runner,” Allen admitted to making “some concessions on training miles. I can’t take the every-day pounding like I once could. Pounding the pavement doesn’t agree with my body as much as it used to.” He has discovered “I can get by with less mileage. I have also started wearing running shoes with more cushioning.” He bought a pair of shoes, he joked, “that are butt-ugly and look like clown shoes, but my body hurts much less when I wear them.”

Time restraints have initiated some “uncertainty on my event schedule this year.” But for motivation, he said, “I hope to get in some more marathons and a couple of ultras. If all goes well, I want to try another 100-miler next year…maybe more than one!”

He also spoke of “balance. At any age, it’s important to keep a life balance. Try to get enough sleep, eat well, and maintain flexibility. A strong core is important to maintaining good running form, so keeping the rest of your body strong and flexible is something to keep up on.” Allen likes to bike “in the warmer months, swim, and “work out enough to hold it all together.”

Maggy Zidar has now completed 145 marathons! Reaching the masters and senior years of running, she said, “Maintaining motivation to run comes from realizing, as we age, that we are fortunate to possess the ability to move! I began running 33 years ago and feel blessed each morning that I can start my day with a seven-mile run through my neighborhood.” She’s also thankful that, “having retired after 40 years of teaching, I am now running in the daylight at 8 AM instead of in the darkness at 4 AM.” She added, “I then swim at 10 AM instead of 6 AM.” Sounding like more than a bit of an understatement, she said, “It’s a pleasure to have a more leisurely schedule.”

Zidar noted “I continue to race each weekend, deriving energy from fellow runners. Although my times have steadily slowed,” she still usually places in her age-group. Rather than be discouraged, “I remind myself how lucky I am to be running at any speed. I know people even younger than I who’ve had to stop.”

Despite the number of marathons, she draws motivation from them. “The marathon distance is my favorite and I hope to complete as many as possible.” For her, though, it’s more than the physical exertion of running. “The friendships formed through running are priceless. I find such fulfillment in being part of a community that values a healthy lifestyle, an optimistic attitude, and a respectful view of fellow competitors.” After more than three decades, Zidar retains “a passion for what we do daily.”

Muchow had answers as well as questions. “Probably the most important training-related modification I adopted in my forties was realizing I simply needed more recovery time. The body just doesn’t heal as quickly. You can still progress in your training. Just recognize that a day off or a truly easy day is really valuable to staying healthy.” And, he suggested, “It will make you all the more hungry for a run when your body isn’t dealing with a nagging Achilles or hamstring.”

He admitted, “Track workouts are really a thing of the past for me. I stick with tempo days or mile-pickups.” He noted the motivation of doing these “on a sunny day at Stony Creek or Kensington.” And, “I also like to cycle now and then to break things up.”

Unlike some of the others, Muchow has focused on stretching more. “I’ve never had good flexibility, but it really has become apparent now. Taking the time to stretch after the run really seems to help. I do simple stretches during the day at work as well.”

Although these runners have somewhat different approaches (“an experiment of one”), each routine seems to work, at least individually. They have become, by running for all these years, become Joe Henderson’s “long distance runners.”