A Runner For Life

Geoff Roes talks about how aging affects one’s relationship with running.

By on September 23, 2015 | Comments

I’ve always had a fascination with people who are into their later years of life and are still out running on a regular basis. It seems like every running community has one or two (or more) folks well over 60 who are out running and/or racing on a regular basis. Our modern age of hyper communication via the internet has only made the accomplishments of these folks all the more obvious. One only needs to scroll through the results of almost any major race to find proof of a generous number of people in their sixties, seventies, or even eighties who are regularly taking part in a wide variety of trail races.

Despite a deep respect and admiration for these runners I have always felt that I will not likely be one of them 20 or 30 years from now. It’s never been in my psyche to take on any hobby or habit as a lifelong thing. I’ve instead almost always cycled through interests in about 5 years and then moved on to something else.

I think this has been part of the reason I’ve always had so much fascination and respect for people who have run for 30 or 40 years, as many of these folks who are running at age 60 or 70 have. There seems to be a level of patience, passion, and determination that goes into this that has always felt a bit intimidating, elusive and in some ways unappealing to me. I’ve always felt like running is something that I want to put 100% of my energy into for a given period of time and then move on to something else, not necessarily turning my back on running completely, but also not keeping it as a major priority in my life.

Slowly though, over the past few years I think my views on all of this have changed a decent bit. I still have as much or more respect and admiration for older runners as I have always had, but I have also felt myself moving more in the direction of possibly being one of these runners some day. As my running has become somewhat less structured and regular as a result of not racing nearly as much, I have begun to get a glimpse of what it would be like to stop running altogether. I have taken a few longer stretches off from running in the past few years and each time I have known with completely certainty that it was only a temporary thing, that I would begin running again in the not-so-distant future.

Through these sequences it has become clear to me that there is something different in my relationship with running than with any other activity I’ve ever participated in. Nothing else seems to have ever gotten my prolonged attention the way that running does. I’ve taken on a handful of new hobbies since becoming a runner, but none of them have done anything to lessen my affinity for running. No matter how much time I take away from running it always feels completely familiar and completely comfortable to me.

I think a lot of this has to do with the simplicity of running. There is the adage that once you know how to ride a bike you always know how to ride a bike, but I think this is even more true in running. I always feel a little awkward when I get back on a bike for the first time in awhile, especially on technical trails, but with running it all feels so familiar and comfortable almost instantly. Maybe this is part of the reason there seems to be a relatively high number of older runners. Perhaps this simplicity, and thus the familiarity and comfort, is a large part of the appeal. I know that this familiarity and comfort is a huge part of the reason I have continued to run for much longer than any other activity I have ever taken part in.

My local running community has a group of runners called ‘The Smokin’ Old Geezers.’ Nine years ago when I first met this group of generally older men and women I figured there was little to no chance I would still be running when I was their age, as the majority of them are at least 15 years older than me. I think a big part of me didn’t even believe I’d still be running today. Now though, as I find myself moving closer and closer to ‘geezerhood,’ I find myself becoming more and more drawn to the possibility of still being a runner 20 or even 30 years from now. Running has become so comfortable and so familiar to me that I feel quite certain that I will continue to run in some capacity for as long as my body allows me to. This might not get me to age 70 or 80, but if it does I would be honored to be one of the folks that are still out at that age getting after it on the trails.

My response at seeing a 70 or 80 year old out running used to be, “Wow, that is super impressive, but there’s no way I’ll be doing that at that age.” Now though, my response is more in line with, “Wow, that is super impressive. I hope I’m fortunate enough to be doing that at that age.”

I’m sure I will have a lot of experiences in the remainder of my life that might change my feelings about running, as well as my options as a runner, but more and more I am coming to realize that I am very drawn to the possibility of being a runner for life.

I’m curious as to what other runners’ thoughts are on this? I’d love to hear from some of those who are still out getting after it at age 60, 70, or 80. Is there something specific about running that appeals to you at this age, and has kept you running for so long? How much longer do you hope to run? I’m also curious what folks who are still 20 or more years away from being 60 or older think about all of this? Is running something you hope to still be doing when you are that age, or is it something you envision moving on from well before then?

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

Geoff Roes
Geoff Roes has set numerous ultramarathon course records including the Western States and Wasatch 100 milers. Salomon, Clif, Drymax, Ryders Eyewear, and Atlas Snowshoes all support Geoff's running. You can read more about his running on his blog Fumbling Towards Endurance and join him at his Alaska Mountain Ultrarunning Camps.