We’re Runners, Not Numerologists

Runners are obsessed with numbers.  We pin them to our chests and measure our progress and performance accordingly.  Even our distances often include a decimal point.  It’s somewhat remarkable we haven’t been mistaken for a group of numerologists.

While watching the 2014 NYRR Millrose Games, I was struck by yet another number: age.  Admittedly, as I get older this has quickly become my least favorite number of all.  However, the headline-grabbing performances by Bernard Lagat and Mary Cain provide an inspiring reminder that in running, like life, age is not the most determinative number.

Instinctively recoiling at the announcer repeatedly referring to the 39-year-old Lagat as “old,” I was mesmerized watching him stride to a U.S. record in the 2,000 amidst a much younger field.  Following his win, his exuberance was just as uplifting as his run, showing why he will always be a New York fan favorite.

Lagat’s victory is a nice reminder that of all the numbers we runners obsess over, age alone is not the most dispositive.  At 38, I regularly see myself outrun by competitors two decades my junior, as well as several more decades my senior.  I find Lagat’s defiance of the doubters quite motivational.  Some days I need to remind myself that running is a personal journey- while I may not be 19, I am in the best shape of my life.

In a wonderful juxtaposition, the 17-year-old Mary Cain captured a win in the Wanamaker Mile, besting a mostly older field.  But perhaps most impressive to observe was the high schooler’s performance off the track.  Cain simply exudes poise, charisma and authenticity.  As a public relations professional, I was unbelievably impressed with her comfort in handling live TV interviews.  A striking example of why age alone is hardly the best metric by which to measure, whether in running or life.

If anything, this year’s NYRR Millrose Games shows the wisdom in Mark Twain’s observation, “Age is an issue of mind over matter.  If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”  As runners, no single number can define us, least of all being age.

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