Today was my birthday. I don’t usually make a big deal out of birthdays. I’m also not someone who laments reaching a big milestone, like 40 or 50. I actually like it when I move into a new age group.
When I turned 40, I discovered age group awards. At first, they seemed kind of random. In a small enough race, I might place in my age group with a less-than-stellar effort. In a large race, I could have the race of my life and still not come close. Still, it was cool to know that I could occasionally compete for an award. Then I turned 45, and something miraculous happened. Suddenly, I could qualify for Boston.
Before turning 45, I needed to run a marathon in 3:20 to qualify for Boston. I couldn’t do it. I was finding it increasingly difficult just to break 3:30. After turning 45, 3:30 was good enough. That was the same year that I lost 15 pounds and started cross-training by riding a bike on my non-running days. Later that year, I broke 3:20 for the first time in years. Breaking 3:30 became almost automatic. I qualified for Boston in almost every race.
The same year I turned 50, the BAA changed the qualifying standards. Instead of seeing the standard for my age group ease to 3:35, I still had to break 3:30. That’s OK. I could still do it. For five more years, I broke 3:30 fairly consistently.
Now I’m 55. Suddenly, 3:40 is good enough. Ironically, the extra 10 minutes probably won’t help. I haven’t broken five hours since September. I expect to improve, but I’m not sure if I’ll get under 3:40 again.
Last year, I was running with injuries. I had to take time off to heal. Then I discovered how much my form had degraded. After months of avoiding using my hips to reduce the shock on my adductors, all the muscles around my hips got weak. When I started physical therapy, I discovered I couldn’t stand on one leg without losing my balance. I’m also out of shape. I’m simultaneously trying to rebuild weak muscles, re-learn proper running form, and improve my fitness. Progress is slow.
A few weeks ago, I finally improved enough for my physical therapist to give me some new exercises. They kicked my butt (literary, as I’m trying to strengthen my glutes). Now my hips are always sore. One day I’ll be sore from doing my exercises. The next day, I’ll be sore from running. I know I’m gradually regaining some strength, but I hurt almost all the time.
Prior to the Boston Marathon, I took a couple days off. I didn’t just take a break from running; I also took a break from my exercises. By race day, I felt better. After the race, however, I felt beat up.
Now I’m back to alternating between running days and PT days. I’m also back to always feeling sore. Running isn’t fun right now, so I have to remain hopeful that it’ll get better. I keep hitting the PT hard, because I know I have months of work ahead of me.
It’s going to be a long time before I can train as hard as I used to. Even then, it’ll take months to regain my previous fitness level. I haven’t run anything close to my old race pace in at least a year. Mileage alone isn’t a substitute for running fast. Right now, I just can’t move that fast, even briefly.
There are several pieces that all have to fall into place before I can run faster. Right now, it’s hard to imagine regaining my old form, but I’m trying to remain hopeful.
For years, I seemed to defy the effects of aging. I kept getting older, but my marathons times were about the same. Then suddenly, I slowed down by two hours. Did age finally catch up with me, or are my problems temporary? I don’t honestly know, but moving into a new age group isn’t as comforting as it used to be.