Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sun, 16 May 2004 22:16:35 -0400

Aging Agendas

RUNNING COMMENTARY 519

(rerun from May 1999 RC)

Nothing illustrates the rush of years more than a long-delayed visit to an old hometown. Seeing friends again after all this time puts a face on our aging.

For about a decade in the 1960s and '70s I lived on the outskirts of the Stanford University campus in northern California. These were also my best years as a road racer, and not by chance. Races abounded in the Bay Area at a time when they still were scarce most other places.

Runners were abundant too. Here's where I really got to know the friendliness of the long-distance runner. Groups of us took long runs together on Saturdays, then met again the next morning in friendly competition.

In the late 1970s I left this area and these friends. Since then I'd seen too little of this place and these people. Many of us had completely fallen out of touch.

Then I went back for the first time in too many years. The Fifty-Plus Fitness Association invited me there to speak at its race.

Fifty-Plus promotes active aging. Its events at Stanford included a day of workshops, an awards banquet and an 8K run. I can't recall spending many better weekends as the gap between past and present closed here.

The surface changes in some old friends were startling, as I'm sure mine were to them. But we quickly looked past this as we rediscovered the same person we'd known before.

Inevitably some stories were sad. My longest-time friend in this area now cared for his wife with advanced Alzheimer's... a former ultrarunner now wore a pacemaker and defibrillator in his chest... an 87-year-old lay critically ill in Stanford Hospital.

But good news and positive views far outweighed the bad. This started with my closest friend there that weekend.

I've edited three books for Paul Reese, but we hadn't actually seen each other in years. He said in his talk that a key to aging well is "always have an agenda." His was to write his fourth book, in his 80s.

Two longtime friends of mine, Jim O'Neil and Ruth Anderson, were also at that event. Both are in their 70s, and both had on their agendas trips to the World Masters Championships. Neither had missed any of these every-other-year meets since they began in 1975.

The most gratifying meeting at Stanford was with Bob Anderson. We hadn't seen each other, or even connected by phone or mail, since he sold Runner's World magazine in 1985.

I'd heard that Bob still raced well, and now saw him finish fifth in the Fifty-Plus 8K. He ran better times in his 50s than he did when we worked together at his magazine.

"Working in the sport worked against my own running," he said. "I didn't have enough time to train or, frankly, all that much interest in doing it. Now I'm free to do what I couldn't do back then."

Bob stated his agenda numerically. He still had 5K and 10K times he wanted to beat.

He and many others I saw at Fifty-Plus illustrated the best way of aging. That's to keep looking forward, not gazing increasingly backward.

UPDATE. The then-critically ill friend, Dr. Joe Goodman, recovered and lived another five years before dying recently at 92. Paul Reese. at 87, continues to plot treks across states, now at a walk. Jim O'Neil, now 79, and Ruth Anderson, 74, extended their perfect records through the latest World Masters Championships, run in 2003. Bob Anderson, 56, finished fourth in the Fifty-Plus 8K this spring.

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