THOUGHTS OF A ROADS SCHOLAR - FEB 2002


Meet My New Best Friend


Here we go again.  This month, I bring you yet another article about the trials and tribulations of a runner who is helplessly growing older.  I'm sorry, but as long as I continue to fall into that category, I'm probably going to continue writing and complaining about it.  Hopefully, you won't mind my fixation on the subject, as my hunch is that the majority of you are also not as young as you used to be, either.   There's even an outside chance that some of you might even relate, especially if you're over 30.

This latest rant was inspired by my participation in the Myrtle Beach Marathon this past Saturday.  I've run about a dozen marathons in my life, and none of them have been particularly fast.  My very first one was one of only two which I ever ran in under 4 hours, and I refer to it as my accidental marathon.  It was the Long Island Marathon, and I was a youthful runner of 27 years at the time. 

I was only planning to run the half that day, as this race allowed you to stop at the halfway mark and call it an official half-marathon.  But I was too young and too stupid to stop when I got there in 1:45, and because I was still feeling good at that precise moment, I continued on. About three miles later, I was unceremoniously introduced to the wall, and I walked, staggered and crawled the final 10 miles to finish in 3:58.   That was the day I learned that a 6-mile long run was not sufficient for marathon preparation.  Over the next 19 years, I have run a dozen other marathons, mostly in the 4-hour range.  In 1997, at the ancient age of 41, I ran another 3:58, but other than that, the 4-hour barrier has been an elusive one for me. 

In mid-2001, I decided that I wanted to really give a marathon PR another shot. 
46-year old men have had wilder dreams than that, I'm sure.  I had been running injury-free for the last couple of years, and I felt my body was ready for the higher mileage and longer runs of marathon training, so I made a commitment to train well, and see what I could do.  Perhaps, I thought, good training could be the great equalizer.

I ran a really good race at Myrtle Beach.  I hit the half at 1:57:45, which was right about where I wanted to be.  But around 18 miles, I started falling just a little bit off the pace, and ended up missing the sub 4-hour barrier once again.  I finished in a little over 4:03, but I ran the whole way, and really felt I did well.  The effort was by far better than any other marathon effort I had ever done.  I came home scratching my head about what might have gone wrong.

There are two things that are about as sure as death and taxes for a runner.  One is that we are all going to eventually slow down as we age. And the other is that we are all going to search high and low to rationalize why exactly that is happening to us. 

The day after the race, my wife and I drove back home from the beach, and I promptly went on the Internet and did a search on age-graded running tables.  I was interested to see how my 4:03 at age 46 equated to the open time of 3:58, as I did when I was 27, and the 3:58 I ran at 41.  The open division, by the way, is the division assumed to be the fittest and strongest and fastest.  The theory is that, after the age of 30, the human body starts to measurably slow down, so the open division goes to age 30. 

I found a great age-graded table, and the results made me feel a lot better, at least initially.  It's a great converter, as it grades by both age and sex.  I didn't know it at the time, but both these facts would come back to haunt me later.

According to the table I found, my 4:03:15 at age 46 was converted to an open time of 3:43:33.  Wow, I set a virtual PR by almost 15 minutes!  Even my 3:58:02 at age 41 only translated to an open time of 3:46:08.  Could this have actually been my best marathon ever?

I started playing around with my performance at other race distances as well, and I started feeling even better.  My best 5K time at age 45 was a 21:57.  I found out that this translates to an open time of 20:02.  My lifetime 5K PR is 19:54.   If I can run 21:57 again this year, the conversion chart says it would be the equivalent of a youthful 19:54.  That means if I can go under 21:57, I can have a virtual 5K PR.  So now, my 5K goal for this year is 21:56 or lower.

Here's what I need in the other common distances to beat my age-graded lifetime bests.

My lifetime PR at 10K is 41:30.  At 46 years old, a 45:47 would be my virtual PR goal.  If I could do that, it would actually net me two accomplishments, as it would be the first time I've run a 10K in under my age, too.  My lifetime PR at 10 miles is 1:08:20.  That just might be my best race I've ever run at any distance.  Today, I would have to run a 1:15:23 to match it on the age-graded tables.  That would be a stretch, but there aren't too many 10-miles races in this neck of the woods, anyway.   My lifetime half-marathon PR stands at 1:33:54.  That would translate to a 1:43:36 equivalent by the age-graded standards.  I just might be able to do that by the end of the year, with good training.  And by then, I'll be 47, and I get another 25 second bonus just for having another birthday.

I was feeling really good about this whole age-grading thing, and should have left well-enough alone, but could I possibly do that?  N-o-o-o-o-o.  I decided to compare my own times with those of my best friend off the roads, who is also my bitter rival on the roads.  He is 10 years older than I am.  In real life, we're really close year in and year out.  I beat him by a few seconds one race, and he comes right back in the next race and beats me.  But when I plugged in our race times and ages, I found out he kicks my virtual butt every race by close to 2 minutes.

Then, I did the unthinkable.  I compared my times to those of my wife.  I won't reveal her age, but when I plugged our times, sexes and ages in to the converter, I discovered that, virtually, anyway, she kicks my virtual butt even worse than my friend does.  Oh well, at least nobody will ever again accuse me of being a wife-beater.

Overall, I've found a lot of comfort in the new found best friend, whose name is "Age Equivalent Running Results Calculator."  It has helped me feel much better about my marathon performance last week, and it has given me some new PR opportunities, even if they are only virtual.  It's the great equalizer, as well as the great rationalizer, all rolled into one.  Just do me two favors, please.  Don't tell my friend, and don't tell my wife.  They wouldn't be interested.

But if YOU are, e-mail me, and I'll give you the link.  It just might make you feel a little better too.

Michael Selman
The Roads Scholar
Atlanta GA

Check out The Roads Scholar Running Discussion Group, now with close to 400 members, and growing.

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/theroadsscholar/


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