Old age is further away than it used to be. Of course, all runners know that they can stave it off indefinitely, having discovered the elixir of life, but now it’s official. The newspapers were full of it recently: ‘Improved health means old age now starts at 70’ went the headline.
The Office for National Statistics has revealed that 70 should now be considered ‘the new 65’, as people in their mid 60s suddenly seem to have enough stamina to ‘contribute to society’ (by doing voluntary work and looking after grandchildren, apparently). My mind wanders to the many over-60s of my acquaintance who still have fulfilling careers, but I’ll let that pass, because I’d prefer to talk about running.
Every birthday I celebrate means a bigger virtual clap on the back when parkrun results pop into my inbox on a Saturday afternoon (I like to await my run result like this, preferring to run without a watch to see if my perceived sense of exertion is accurate. Turns out there are many variables. When I run the week after giving blood I feel as I’m giving my all. My parkrun results suggest I stroll around the park at these times).
The older you are the better your chances of glory, as I have told anyone who will listen over the past decade or so. I explain this to millennials whose faces arrange themselves into that slightly patronising ‘ah, bless’ expression when I tell them I love running. I explain this, also, to contemporaries who express concern about my knees.
A participant’s parkrun result comes garlanded with some pleasingly geeky information, which invariably makes a runner feel better the more birthdays they’ve celebrated. As well as a finish place overall, and gender position, there’s the addictive matter of age grading. This uses your time and the world-record time for your sex and age group and comes up with a score (a percentage).
Age Grading allows a runner to chart her own performance against those of others, even if they’re a different age and a different sex – the higher the score the better the performance. I chart my age graded score greedily. My ambition is to reach 80% before I get too much older: if I can take a few seconds off my parkrun time each week for the next year I could do it. Or I could try to stay vaguely 5K-fit and just enjoy getting older, which may produce the same result.
As for comparing my score against others, yes, I am shameless about that: I’m forever looking up names of fellow midlife (I’m talking up to 70 and beyond here, ONS) woman runners on the Run Britain rankings and goggling in awe. Some of these women I am lucky enough to encounter regularly on the south-London circuit, but they’ve gained international repute. Clare Elms, for example, who runs at my local track, is continuing to add to her impressive stash of international gold medals. She’s a year younger than me, but shares my V55 category, and her most recent triumph was at the European Master Championships in Italy, where she won Britain’s second metric mile gold in the W55 race. That mile was polished off in 5 minutes and 3 seconds. Her clubmate, Ros Tabor, picked up gold at the W70 event. Her time? 6:14. These women have age-graded scores of 94% and 96% respectively.
Talking to women runners of my vintage and older for the past few years means newspaper headlines about our healthily, stealthily aging population sprinting and leaping above and beyond the three-score-years-and ten come as no surprise. Just yesterday I led a running tour of London’s Christmas lights for Secret London Runs and most of the group were old enough to remember the death of Keith Moon (one of the historic references en route. Shepherd Market, if you’re interested: the drummer died of an overdose in a flat nearby in 1978). In fact, one of the group, who travelled home on the same train as me, told me that she ran in the V75 category at her local parkrun.
I couldn’t stop myself from asking her age-grade score. A proud 85%.
In running circles, no-one hopes they die before they get old. I wonder if Roger Daltrey runs?