Tonight I came across something on Facebook that I found incredibly inspiring. I am still in the Angeles Crest 100 FB group because I think a little part of me will always want to know what is going on with that race. There was a post on there today congratulating 81 year old race director “Uncle Hal” for his 32nd consecutive finish of the Avalon 50 mile race:
If you remember from my post AC100 race blog, Uncle Hal was the one who was amazed at the finish line that the last 4 girls (including myself) made it in the time cutoff after seeing us at a check point at 6pm the evening before. His quirky character was part of what I really liked about the low key setup for that particular race. I had no idea that he still ran. I just did a little search on Ultrasignup.com (a data base of results for all runners and all ultramarathons) to see what exactly he has been up to. It blew my mind. Since 1982 when he was 50 years old he has run 60 ultramarathons (at least based on Ultrasignup records). He has run the Western States 100 miler a handful of times, he ran the Angeles Crest 100 at 61 years old and Hardrock (probably the hardest 100 miler out there) at 64 yrs old in 43:48!!!
What I found so interesting and what really got me thinking was his 32 consecutive finishes of the Avalon 50 mile. On his 3rd time doing it at 53 years old he ran his fastest time in 7:39. Last year at age 80 he ran it in 19:59. This year he shaved and hour and 10 minutes off that and finished in 18:50. Seriously impressive. Over 32 years he has a 12 hour and 20 minute difference between his fastest and slowest times. That’s like running a completely different length of race!
I regularly wonder what our progression of fitness will be with CrossFit now producing athletes who claim they are “the fittest they have even been” in their lives in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. We all seem to be on an upward trend with weights and PR’s but one would assume that at some point the upward spike in the results curve that is seemingly never ending will taper and eventually drop off. I’m curious what that curve will look like for people who stay injury free (or are motivated enough to keep training around a permanently injured body part), and for those who don’t get distracted by life’s other demands along the way and have the curve turned around on them early. You would hope that at least a solid percentage of us will train (to at least a certain degree of intensity) until we die. So what does it feel like to have your results start to permanently (not just a few month blip) go the other direction and rarely (if ever) get to use the yellow PR highlighter again?
I don’t know enough about Uncle Hal to know what keeps him signing himself up for a 50 mile race for 32 years in a row … I would guess that his attachment to the ultrarunning community is a big part, but I have a strong feeling that he hasn’t fussed about his age much in that time. I would assume that he has dealt with some serious aches and pains when he runs those races and is well aware that each year has been a little tougher than the last. But my guess is that if he had told himself he was “old” at 50 he wouldn’t still be going hard today at 81. If he tells himself he is old now…. well, he is kind of right 😉
I guess what I really take away from thinking about all of this is to be careful not to play the age card too early (even silently in your head). Most of us are still on our way up the curve which is a glorious place to be for now. We tend to be very results driven (which I truly believe is a good thing) but its interesting to think that there will come a point when the curve will change and we will have to be motivated by something slightly different than PRs. We can’t let ourselves become disenchanted when our results are less than what we have accomplished in the past. Uncle Hal’s results make me realize that a long successful fitness career CAN be measured, but that looking at the big picture gives a different perspective on life and why we do fitness. What a phenomenal example of endurance in a broader sense.
I also just realized that at some point we will probably look back on our current achievements and be way more appreciative of them than we are now.