Slogging to the Back of the Pack

USATF pic

Author at the USATF Cross Country Championships in 2013

I went out to dinner with my former training partner, Clyde Baker, and his wife Jeanette a few years ago. We both used to be fairly good runners and spent many enjoyable Saturdays and Sundays training together when we were both much younger, me in my mid-30s and Clyde 14 years my senior. Now as someone in his early 80s Clyde told me he doesn’t run anymore, he doesn’t even jog. As he said, “I just schlog now, which is even slower than a jog.” As I get older, now in my early 70s, I can relate really well to the concept of schlogging along. Even though I finish very well in my current 70-75 year old age group, I find myself winding up further and further back in the overall race standings. I used to finish in the top one or two percent in races, or better, when I was much younger, but now I’m finishing in the top 20 percent of male finishers, or worse, and slowly making my way to the back of the pack. It’s quite disheartening, but as Rick Bayko, one of my racing adversaries from the early 1970s in New England said, “‘a time for every purpose under heaven…’ It’s our time for the back of the back now. Better than quitting.” It may be, but that still doesn’t make the transition easy.

It’s been a slow, inevitable reduction in my race times, as I have gotten older. I used to run a 5k race under 16 minutes in my 20s, but I now run close to 24 minutes, or almost a 50 percent increase. It’s hard to believe, and especially hard to get used to, but the watch doesn’t lie, unfortunately. It’s not that I don’t try to run fast, but my legs just won’t cooperate. I usually run on the Lakefront Path in Evanston for the first part of my runs and often see someone running ahead of me and think to myself, “Boy that guy (or gal) is running slow.” Then I realize he’s slowly moving way farther and farther ahead, and it’s me who is running slowly. It’s quite sobering. I find it especially vexing when I meet one of my friends who has seen me while I am out running. “Oh, I saw you out jogging today,” they say. “What,” I want to say, “I was running; I wasn’t jogging!” But perception seems to becoming reality, and if not yet schlogging, I am already perceived as a jogger by many people.

Currently I am running about 25 miles per week, and that seems to work for races up to 10 miles. I still enjoy racing and seeing how I can do against my 70 plus year old peers, but even though I finish well in my age group, somehow it doesn’t compensate for running as slowly as I do. My suspicion is that I may stop racing in the not too distant future, just because I do not enjoy running so slowly. But I will never stop running so long as I am able. It is one of the pleasures of my life and has given me so much that I can’t imagine life without it. Occasionally when I am injured and can’t run, I realize there is no substitute for running and the feeling I get during and after the run. Bicycling certainly can’t substitute. I find it quite boring, and there is no comparing the level of exertion to running, and walking just cannot even come close.

So when you see me out on the Lakefront Path in Evanston, or other places, schlogging along, please be kind and tell me you saw me “running.” You’ll make my day, even if you have to exaggerate a bit in the telling.

 

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