Of all the 26,800-or-so runners who will be competing in the 115th running of the Boston Marathon, Patriots Day, April 18, 2011, one is sure to get some of the most enthusiastic encouragement from the half-million expected spectators. That runner is the oldest competitor, 81-year-old Clarence Hartley of Young Harris, Georgia.
The massive crowds will cheer for him, not only in deference to his age, but also because he is surprisingly competitive. You see, Clarence is likely to be in the middle of the action. That's because he qualified for Boston with a 4-hour-39-minute marathon and has since run an even more impressive 4:26. His goal is a time of 4 hours 20 minutes. To put these times in a little bit of perspective, the average time for male marathoners in recent years is right around 4:30 (4:32 in 2005; 4:29 in 2007) and their average age is 40, or about half Clarence's age. The women average close to 5 hours and 34 years of age. From this we can see that Clarence should be right in the middle of the pack -- beating thousands of runners young enough to be his children and even his grandchildren.
Lest you think that this octogenarian is just a natural runner who's been competing all his life, here are a few interesting facts. Clarence witnessed a local race being run in 1998 when he was 68. Thinking that it looked like fun, he took up running and soon was running in local 5K and 10K races, working up to half-marathons. Having caught the running bug, in the ensuing seven years he ran almost 150 races, winning numerous age-group awards.
In 2005 he decided to up the ante and run a 26.2-mile marathon. This he did, and ran a Boston-qualifying 4:09. All, however, was certainly not clear sailing for Clarence. He wanted to run Boston in 2006, but a bout with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma interfered. His bad luck continued when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer a couple of years later. Treatment for these ailments delayed his entry into the Boston Marathon and so, 2011 is his first.
Besides his two illnesses, Clarence has to deal with running with two metal plates in his right ankle, the result of a fall from a ladder 15 years ago. The ankle doesn't bother him, but one of the eight screws securing the plates sticks out under the skin and occasionally collides with his other ankle. To protect his left ankle, he has to tape the right so the protruding screw doesn't wreak havoc during his runs.
As we age, although it is still possible to compete well, it takes longer to recuperate from long runs, hard training sessions and races. To have time to recover fully from his intense training runs, Clarence only runs every other day and alternates days of speedwork with days of long endurance-enhancing runs. In preparation for the hills, including Heartbreak Hill, for which the Boston Marathon is famous, he has also incorporated hill repeats into his training.
Some folks just don't understand why runners run, and especially why older runners continue this exhausting activity when they could just put their feet up and take it easy. For the Clarences of the world, the satisfaction gained from completing something difficult keeps them coming back for more. No matter how much they are hurting those last few miles or yards to the finish line, the sense of relief and accomplishment when they enter the finish shute is more than worth it.
Scientifically speaking, after a hard run there is a flood of chemicals in and into the brain (endocannabinoids, endorphins, the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, BDNF, IGF-1 and many more) which results in a feeling of euphoria that can last for days, or even weeks. There is also the fun of the challenge to win or to place in one's age group, plus the satisfaction of outrunning men and women decades younger than you -- outsprinting a clearly younger runner to the finish line.
Clarence is excited to have qualified for Boston -- the marathon of marathons. He's looking forward to beating thousands of much younger runners -- decades-younger runners -- to Copley Square, where his family (his wife, two daughters and son) will be cheering for him and making the celebration a family affair. While many of his peers are shuffling from chair to refrigerator and back as their day's exercise, Clarence Hartley is enjoying the thrill of preparation for athletic competition at its best, for experiencing the cheers of adoring crowds along the way in Boston.
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From Ed Mayhew -- the author of Fitter After 50, Fitter For Life and other books, CDs, videos and articles on how you, too, can make falling apart as you age merely an option -- NOT a mandate. Why not make the rest of your life the BEST of your life? http://www.FitterforLife.com and http://www.amazon.com/Age-Blasters-Steps-Younger-You/dp/1598589083/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1276528674&sr=1-1 (click here for paperback or Kindle editions of AGE BLASTERS)