Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Aging Agendas

(This is the 50th anniversary of my first article in Runner’s World magazine. All year I post excerpts from my book, This Runner’s World.)

August 1999 (retitled in the magazine). 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 1970s I lived on the outskirts of the Stanford University campus in northern California. Two of my children were born here, and so was my career. I worked first for Track & Field News in Los Altos, then for Runner’s World in Mountain View.

These might also have been my best years as a 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.

About 20 years ago 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.

In March I went back for the first time in eight years. The Fifty-Plus Fitness Association invited me back 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 here this weekend.

I’ve edited three books for Paul Reese, but we hadn’t seen each other in six years. He said in his talk that a key to aging well is “always have an agenda.” His is to write a fourth book at age 82.

Jim O’Neil and Ruth Anderson are longtime friends of mine. Jim is into his 70s, and Ruth soon will be. Both have on their agendas trips to England, where they’ll extend streaks of competing in every World Veterans Championships.

The most gratifying meeting 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 runs better times now, at 51, 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 wants to break 17 minutes for 5K and 35 for 10K (after running 17:18 and 35:50 in March).

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

2018 Update. One of the two main characters in this book, Paul Reese, has passed on – in 2004 at age 87. He left behind three books about his runs across every U.S. state. Bob Anderson continues racing strongly in his 70s. He promotes and publicizes running in several innovative ways.

[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in two different formats: in print and as ebooks from Amazon.com. The titles: Going Far, Home Runs, Joe’s Team, Learning to Walk, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Miles to Go, Pacesetters, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log, See How We Run, Starting Lines, and This Runner’s World, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe.]

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