Watching Meb Keflezighi win with a beautiful personal best yesterday, I was especially struck by the age difference. Of course, I was moved (to tears, actually) by the sight of a true American fighter blazing down Boylston Street one year later. I enjoyed the amazingly close finish and the glorious comeback of Boston. But mostly I wondered about the difference: more than ten years between Meb (almost 39) and the world-class runner-up who tried everything but couldn’t catch him: Wilson Chebet (28).
Once I began running in 2006 it quickly became clear to me that age does not have to be a hurdle for a runner. In fact, the more I ran, the older I got, the faster I went. It was a great feeling to counter the movement of time —with its offensive side effects like a receding hairline and deepening laugh lines— with personal records and fast training runs.
Once you know how to stay strong and speedy, the addition of patience and experience provides for a powerful cocktail. All of my p.r.’s came around age 41, 42, when I had been running for years.
Meb was written off after his sixth place finish at the 2010 New York City marathon. Too old. Over the hill. His sponsor Nike dropped him. Huge mistake. As the Wall Street Journal noted today: Meb mentioned Nike after crying at the finish line Monday. He cried, Meb explained, “because your dream is actually happening, especially to have it happen close to 39 when so many things have gone wrong in your life, whether it’s a stress fracture or getting dropped by Nike.”
In a perfect little paragraph the Journal added: “Nike declined to comment.” Suckers.
Many older runners do great things. Deena Kastor won the Women’s Half in Central Park, New York, the other day with an amazing 1:11:38. She is 41. Kastor hasn’t run this fast since 2010, when she was a spry 37. Just five American women —of any age— have run faster this year.
Meb has never gone faster in his life. “Did anyone really believe in 2004, when Mr. Keflezighi at age 29 won a silver medal at the Athens Olympics, that his fastest marathon performance would come 10 years later?” writes the Journal.
Probably not. But we should start re-considering what is possible, even likely, for runners at any age.