Fountain of Youth

Any runner will tell you that age is just a number. Our local running club has about two dozen members who are in their seventies, many of whom can keep up with the youngsters. The younger runners don’t see this as unusual at all; they know that age doesn’t matter if someone can keep the pace.

Legendary Bay Area runner Jack Kirk ran the fabled Dipsea race in Marin County a record 67 times, up to his most recent finish at age 95. The race starts with a climb up 700 stairs – equivalent to the height of a fifty-story building - before rambling up and down mountainous trails and treacherous terrain for over 7 miles. Kirk once famously said, “You don’t stop running because you get old. You get old because you stop running.”

The Tarahumara Indians in the desolate Copper Canyons of the Mexican Sierra Madres are folk heroes of distance running. They reside in caves and adobe huts separated by great distances, and their only means of transportation is running on narrow footpaths up and down the steep canyons. Running is part of their culture, as kids play games where they run up to 100 miles at a time. Amazingly, their civilization knows no heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, depression, or hypertension.

Furthermore, many of their best runners are 50 to 60 years old.
The lesson from these stories is this: if you want to be healthy and productive in your golden years, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to get running. It’s like sipping from a fountain of youth.

Our local “older” runners are a great example of this. They make running a daily activity. Instead of talking about ailments and medications, they talk about their next race or next vacation. Many of them are among the fastest seventy plus runners in the country - In fact, four of them will be attempting to break a world record later in the year.

The world record for an age 70-and-over, 4x1500m relay (yes, they keep track of such things) is 27 minutes, 50.22 seconds. This works out to a 6:57.5 minute pace for each mile – and our local runners Rod MacKinlay, Jim Allen, Doug Shankle, and Jay Cook have a real shot at taking the record down. Rod turned 70 on September 1st and has run a 6:20 mile in a recent workout. The four of them will be setting up a certified attempt in December when Jay Cook turns seventy. We wish them luck and will follow their training progress closely.

Our outstanding local septuagenarians aren’t confined to the track, however. Phil Short, who took up distance running at age 60, does about 15 marathons per year, and plans on making his 200th marathon finish at next April’s Big Sur Marathon. Gloria Dake is 76 and has run every one of Big Sur’s 24 previous marathons. Next year will be Gloria’s 25th.

In addition to being great mentors to their younger training partners, all of these great older runners are perfect examples of how the benefits of running are available at any age. Even if you’re in your fifties, sixties, or seventies, it’s never too late to start! The fountain of youth is right before you; feel free to take a sip.

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