There’s hope for the rest of us.
I’m referring to the people that were not child prodigies or who started their endeavors in childhood.
The hope is in the stories of Steve Way, Heather Turland, Ed Whitlock, Kathy Martin, Laura Batterink, and Matthew Elliot.
You’ve probably never heard of any of any those names, but they’re all important to me. These are people who discovered their love and aptitude for running late in life and have reached elite status.
In my favorite running related book, Lore of Running, Dr. Noakes discusses the common occurrence of the running ability of professionals to drop off quickly, later in life. Most athletes who are the best in the world in their 20’s are not the best in their 30’s and 40’s, or older. An example is one of the fasted US marathoners ever, Bill Rodgers. In his prime he was regularly running sub 2:15 marathons. Now? Between his 50th and 60th birthday his 10km time reportedly slowed by 10 minutes. In his 60’s now, he’s certainly not one of the fastest 60 year old age groupers.
Noakes believes that over time, running will reduce the elasticity of tendons and muscles. This reduces the “elastic recoil” ability of the legs, which is basically free stored energy, like a spring.
On the flip-side from Bill Rodgers, is Kathy Martin. In her 40’s she started running and is a top running in her age group in events ranging from 800m to 31 miles. In her 50’s she set more than a dozen American age group records.
Next up is Patrick Johnson, who grew up on a fishing boat and did not start running until his mid 20’s. In 2003 at the age of 31, he became the first non West-African to go under 10 seconds in the 100m!
Steve Way is perhaps my favorite story however. He is famous for going from being an obese, depressed, alcoholic, and chain smoker to a 2:16 marathoner and representing his country in the Commonwealth Games.
Relatively unknown is Heather Turland, who only started running to get back in shape after pregnancy. However with only four years as a runner she ran 2:35:10 to represent her country internationally in the marathon.
Ed Whitlock is the person here you’re most likely to have heard of. He did not start running until his 40’s and at the age of 82 ran a 3:41 marathon, which is actually a half hour faster than the average men’s marathon finishing time in the US.
With many of the above names being of decades past, Laura Batterink is a newcomer, finishing 9 spots behind Molly Huddle at a recent event. She never ran in high school or college, but 10 years ago she started running for fitness. 10 years of hard work and a bit of talent, and she finished a race right behind names like Molly Huddle, Sara Hall, and Amy Hastings.
Finally comes Matthew Elliot, who was recently on the cover of Runners World. He is the only one on this list who actually ran in his younger years, however he was far from anything special. He was only a 4:42 miler in high school, certainly someone you’d never expect to finish 4th at the 1500m USA Track & Field championships at the age of 27.
These inspirational folks can teach us a number of things.
1) Running age is more important than birth age.
I believe that if you start running later in life (20/30’s vs teens or younger) with the proper training and recovery you can reach 90% of what your true potential would have been.
2) You may have no idea you’re extra-ordinary at something.
Few people are given the opportunity to give an activity 100%. I’m lucky enough that due to my work I can train and recover properly. It does not have to be running though, it could be playing the piano or painting!
3) Time, patience, & hard work can lead to incredible improvements for anyone.
If you spend 5-10 years or 10,000 hours doing something well…you’re going to see drastic improvements. Just give it time and effort.