As I write this I know they are out there on the roads running, training. As soon as I stop typing this, I better get out there and run a few miles. The need to try to follow is always there. The 60-69 age groups are a tough crowd to handle.
I started running long distances in early August 1980. I would run around the track at Glenwood High School four times after a night of basketball in the gym. Most nights I rode the mile with Jim Richmond, and we ran our first of many races together about a month later on a Friday night in Aspen. It was a 10K called “Take the Money and Run” and we both ran in our high top basketball shoes with times of around 40 minutes. Not bad for a couple newbies who had no idea how difficult the 6.2 miles at 8,000 feet was or what kind of pace was needed for a respectable time.
A few weeks later, I bought my first pair of official athlete’s foot running shoes in Grand Junction. They were the top-of-the-line Nikes, with soles that looked like a giant waffle iron that protruded from either side and back. I think I paid $39 for them. My how times have changed.
Since that Friday night in Aspen, I’ve probably done about 500 races of varying distances ranging from 1 mile to 15 miles. I have never attempted a marathon or even wanted to do one. I will one day retire from running races without the mystical 26.2 miles as part of my resume.
In the early years, it was difficult for me to place in most races run in the 20-29, 30-39 or 40-49 age brackets. There were some tough cross-country runners in the area and it was usually the case that I was outside when the top three runners in my age category were announced at the post-race awards ceremony . It was even a major chore back then to follow Paul Driskill and Bob Willey, two running legends who were much older than me and way out of my age group.
I mistakenly thought that once I got a little older and landed in the alumni divisions, I would start to see a few more ribbons and medals for my efforts. But racing now at 61 has proven to be a little tougher and getting into races requires as much preparation and focus as it did decades ago. I guess I have to admit that the job I did could be much better. Running just 10-12 miles a week with no speed work on the track leaves me looking at the back of a lot of running shoes in races.
With the likes of Brad Palmer, Bob Dubois, John Stroud and Ron Lund, the prospect of me walking away from local 5K with any hardware gets really grim. If you add people who don’t race a lot but are talented runners like Richmond, Rick Chavez, Charlie Wertheim and Dennis Webb, I’m faced with the challenge among the over-60s.
That being said, I don’t believe I’ve ever been in a race where the main goal was to finish in my age group or in the top 10 or 20 overall. It’s nice when those milestones are achieved, but I’ve always derived the greatest satisfaction from running knowing that I’m out many mornings to put in the miles in beautiful surroundings, and that I’m running as hard as I can in the races, the competitions especially against myself and the clock. It’s always interesting to see how I react when fatigue sets in, and taking one step closer to the finish line is like pushing the proverbial rock up the hill. It is important, however, to keep going no matter how you feel. It also comes into play in most avenues of life.
It’s always good to see all those I mentioned above at the local races. I could give many more names in different age groups that can be counted on to show up at most running events in the area. It’s a society of long-distance runners who share a bond that many people wouldn’t begin to understand unless you’ve spent some time on the roads and alone with your thoughts.
The races will continue and the competition too. Maybe if I’m still around for race times in the 70+ age group, I’ll start to hit my stride. Of course, at that age, I’ll probably be satisfied if my own stride doesn’t trip me up and I don’t slip on the sidewalk.
If I go down for the count, I’ll get up and make it to the finish line anyway. You can bet on it. I have to keep trying to run with this tough crowd until my legs run out of steps forever.
Hailing from Glenwood Springs, Mike Vidakovich is a freelance sports journalist, teacher and youth sports coach. His column occasionally appears in the Post Independent and on PostIndependent.com.