I’ve been thinking a lot about my age the past couple of days.
No, it’s not because I just had a birthday recently, or the fact that someone called me “mid-thirties” for the first time yesterday (since when did the third year of a decade began to be called the middle-years?) Actually, it was the more the discrepancy between the ages of the women’s and men’s marathoners that has caused me to think about my age as it relates to the peak of athletic performance.
I don’t know if anyone else has noticed, but isn’t it surprising that all three of our representatives in the Women’s Olympic marathon are in their mid to late thirties (33, 35, 36) while all of their male counterparts entering the same distance event are in their twenties (25, 25, 29). Not only so, but the eventual winner of the women’s marathon, Constantin Tomescu, is 38, while it’s very doubtful that the men’s winner on Sunday will crack a day older than 30. You want more numbers, okay. How about Paula Radcliffe, who despite turning in a disappointing finish last week by her standards (not mine), vowed to compete in the 2012 London Olympics when she will be…38!, and even Dara Torres (yes, I’m using a non-runner here to prove my point…sue me!) won 3 silver medals in this, her 5th Olympic games, at the tender age of 41. The list of women athletes who blossom athletically at or even after their “mid-thirties” is long while for us men, if you’re still competing at any of these events at 29, as Brian Sell nicely puts it, you’re considered over the hill.
I will not venture a guess as to why my “over-the-hill” 33 is considered a “coming-to-fruition” number for a woman, because in a sense, the phenomena exists contrary to what I can explain medically. It is safe to assume that an interplay of health, genetics, hormones and tenacious and hard training must be at work here to bring about these changes.
As for me, I am saddened by the realization that because I’m male, no matter how stoked I am about my marathon time or be jubilant over my last PRs, it is physiologically impossible for me to improve my speed and my time after a certain point. I’m not sure when I will get to that point, but there will come a time that running fast will no longer be an option. That sucks. After my last race, I can feel that I’m fast approaching that asymptotic limit. It is a humbling thought to say the least. As a result, although it’s never been my style, I’m teaching myself not to take PRs for granted, but savor and enjoy every one as if it were my last. I am sure I will find another challenge once I get to the point that I can no longer PR, but until then I must enjoy the speed, the journey and the scenery.
Welcome to life in the mid-thirties, for me!