FeaturesTop Stories

Born to Run

Age does not restrict long-distance running

By Maryann Roefaro

Roefaro at NYC Marathon, 2016...
Roefaro at NYC Marathon, 2016.

“Running USA stats reveal that road race participants over the age of 65 increased from 216,884 in 2013 to 434,640 in 2018.”

When you hear the words “Born to Run” perhaps you think of the song by Bruce Springsteen or the popular running book of that name written by Christopher McDougall in 1972.

Regardless of what you think of, it is true. We were all born to run, and if we love it and play our cards right, perhaps we can run for our entire lives.

Running USA stats reveal that road race participants over the age of 65 increased from 216,884 in 2013 to 434,640 in 2018. If you’re amazed with those numbers, how about this: Participation in the 55-to-64 age group increased from 650,652 to close to 1.1 million during the same time frame. What really excites me is that women make up 59% of participants at road races.

The last time we communicated via 55 Plus magazine, I had just completed the 2016 New York City Marathon. I had raised $11,700 for our Central New York Hospice. Once again, I’m signed up to run the 2020 NYC Marathon. This time, the only way I could secure a bib was through New York Road Runners’ fundraising partners. Since St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital is a charity dear to many, I selected them.

I fulfilled my financial commitment and to date, I have raised over $6,600 thanks to the love and generosity of many friends and colleagues. I will be 61 when I run in November and I’m sure this marathon, like the five others I have ran, will lend it’s moments of euphoria, as well as those moments of significant challenge.

As with everyone, I learn a great deal about my running practice during those 26.2 miles. What is indescribable, however, is the feeling you get when you cross that finish line. Regardless of how long it takes — and I’ve had to learn a lot about acceptance in that area — it’s not about the time. It’s about the fact that I along with 49,999 others will have completed one of the greatest marathons in the world, just from taking that one step at a time.

The side effects of aging definitely do not go unnoticed but there is so much we can do to mitigate muscle loss, any reduction in the strength and fortitude of muscles, and connective tissue such as tendons and ligaments. We can ensure continued flexibility by stretching, practicing yoga, and making sure we take time for recovery between runs.

It’s important to do weight bearing and body-weight exercises to revitalize the power in our muscles and keep us moving effortlessly while aging with grace. When we age, it’s important to add high-intensity workouts to our runs or exercise routines, as well as endurance exercises.

As the years pass, the amount of oxygen we have available for exercise drops, as does our maximum heart rate, but all the aforementioned physical and exercise efforts can help to keep the effects of aging at bay. Science tells us that muscles and our aerobic systems can still respond to training and get stronger with age.

What a gift. Pepper this concept with motivation and a sincere commitment to self and there’s no stopping us, regardless of that number we call our age.

Natural gifts

Roefaro at Chicago Marathon, 2015.Humans were literally born to run and as it turns out, there are many animals that can run faster but none have the endurance of a human because of our gift of perspiration. Animals have to rely on their respiratory system to regulate their body temperature — the panting pup with his tongue hanging — but we can cool our bodies through beautiful, glistening beads of sweat.

Humans, as well as animals that can run, are equipped with special running features such as the Achilles tendon, the arch of the foot that can spring back with each step because of the tendons in the soles, and special “anti-bobblehead” adaptations.

Although we were physically created to run, mentally, we are on our own. It has been said that running is 10% physical and 90% mental. So as with everything in life, it’s all about how we think. The good news is if we love to run, utilize proper form, warm-up properly, and train and recover properly, is that we should be able to keep that flame burning for many years.

Being a senior ChiRunning certified instructor, I can honestly say that ChiRunning is a technique, when performed correctly, ensures energy efficiency and injury prevention. The basic tenets of the technique include using every body part as it was biomechanically intended, cooperating with the forces of nature such as gravity and forces created by the oncoming road, and maintaining proper postural and directional alignment.

Running for a cause can often provide the motivation that one needs to take that first step. To create a long-term relationship with running, it’s often best to have good health and well being become the by-products but not necessarily the motivators.

Falling in love with running and the feeling during and after a run can be the best guarantee for a long-lived running practice. Running for charity can provide an extra boost of motivation.

The first recorded walk-a-thon was in 1953 in Puerto Rico. A solo event, Ramon Rivero covered 80 miles and raised $85,000 for cancer. In 1983, the first charity-driven race with 800 participants occurred in Dallas. That was also the first Race for the Cure to support breast cancer.

From 1984, marathons started naming official charities. Today, millions of dollars are raised for charitable organizations through racing events. In 2019, the Boston Marathon alone raised $20.3 million for a wide variety of charities and 75% of London marathoners ran for a cause.

Whatever your reason, if you’re committed to running, it’s possible to make it a life-long event. Fauja Singh, a British Sikh of Punjabi Indian descent, is the only known person in human history to have run a marathon after turning 101. He turns 109 in April and although he retired from running in 2012, he still holds all the age-related records from the 100 meters to the marathon for men over 100. He still walks five miles per day.

Keep smiling and running friends, and hopefully we will see each other on the road for many years to come.

About Maryann Roefaro

Maryann Roefaro is the CEO of Hematology-Oncology Associates and author of “Building the Team from the Inside Out”, “A Human’s Purpose by Millie the Dog” and “Snippets from the Inside-Out, by Millie the Dog.” She has been a ChiRunning instructor for six years.

For more information, visit www.SoulRunner.us and www.AHumansPurpose.com.

Photo: Maryann Roefaro at the Popular Brooklyn Half Marathon, 2019.