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Road Running Rules


You’re meant to get slower as you get older. Maybe it’s because I only started running relatively late in life, but I seem to be getting faster. I’ve broken my PR on pretty much every distance I’ve run over the last year, and at last night’s 5k Kurt Steiner race in Prospect Park (of which there are usually four or five such races over the course of a summer), I almost broke the treasured 20:00 minute mark, despite the crippling 90 degree heat that had most people sacrificing a minute or two off their time. It’s the third of these Prospect Park 5ks I’ve done in the last five weeks, they’ve all been in horrendous conditions (one was in what felt like a monsoon, the other two in heat and humidity), and I’ve come home with the silver medal for my age group each time. I have no hope of getting the gold for as long as this Hispanic guy keeps showing up and jogging the course in around 18 minutes, but I’m hoping that on a cooler evening, I may yet beat that 20:00 minute barrier.

One of the great things about running is that, however well you do, there’s always someone around to give you a reality check. Last night I had what I would describe as a well-built middle-aged man on my shoulder for much of the race; I did finally get ahead of him, but when he was awarded the gold for his age group, I learned that he was over 50. I congratulated him on his time and like just about everybody you meet at every such event, he started making excuses.

“I wish I could have been faster,” he said, “but my legs didn’t have it tonight.”

“The heat, huh?” He’d been running shirtless, which might be why I noticed that he was pretty heavy – 180-200lb I would guess.

“No. I ran a Marathon on Sunday.”

“You did?” There were none on the east coast that I knew of. “Where?”

“San Francisco.”

That’s 3,000 miles away. “Impressive. How was it?”

“It was San Francisco: lots of hills,” he replied politely, just in case I’d never been there or didn’t know my American urban topography. “Really hard on the legs.”

“Right. Of course. What was your time?”

“3:26.”

My PR is 3:37 on a totally flat course this past spring. I’m ten years his junior – and a good 40lb lighter. But I know enough about Marathon times to know the following. “Hey, that time will get you into Boston.”

“Oh, I qualified for Boston earlier this year, with a 3:14.” And then, very politely, the slight boast that comes with knowing that he had me beat even if he came in behind me. “I run a LOT of Marathons.”

Dude, you earned your gold.

(The overall winner last night, to keep all of us in check, ran the 5k in just 15:30. He was a former national champion visiting from Atlanta who obviously couldn’t help but enter for the fun of it. What I found truly positive about his participation was the way he befriended the handful of pre-teens who took part in the race, offering them the encouragement they needed to complete the course and look forward to other events. You hear so many stories of top athletes messing up, but I’d like to believe that the vast majority have it in them to be that well worn cliché, a role model. This man had it written all over him.)

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