Posted by: Susan Loken | December 9, 2017

CIM and Aging Up Gracefully & Gratefully

2017 CIM Susan Run Picture

2017 CIM 2:53:12 (Age 54 2nd AG)

I began my Elite running career in 2003, at age 40, which is much later than most runners. I started running at age 36.

I remember attending my first Elite competitive 5k race–the Freihofer’s 5k, in Albany, NY. I walked into the Elite suite with wide eyes, a big smile, and an eager heart, alongside the faster master runners in the country. Filled with excitement, gratitude, and a bit of naivety, I said, “I can’t wait to PR tomorrow!” Every single Elite runner at the table looked at me strangely, and there were even a few scowls as they responded: “None of us are ever going to PR again. Our fastest times are behind us.”

Being the eternal optimist, I immediately chimed out, “That’s okay! Just run the fastest you can as a Master Elite. That’s exciting, right?!” All the runners were kind, but I could sense that they didn’t share my joy-fueled eagerness. That weekend, I ran a 5k in 17:26 and made a promise to myself:

Loken_Susan-Freihofers04

2004 Freihofer’s 5k

When the day comes that I realize my fastest running times are behind me, I will still find reasons to be excited, and I will still embrace the goals that make my heart feel just like it did that day.

Now, at 54 years old, my PR days are behind me, but I’m keeping that promise I made to myself 14 years ago. When some bright-eyed runner asks me if I’m aiming for a PR (as they often do), I just smile and say, “Not a PR, but let me tell you about my goals!!”

I ran the California International Marathon last weekend, which doubled as the USA Championship and produced 87 qualifiers for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon. The experience was electric, exciting, and inspirational!

I’ll be honest with you–I had to fight off a few thoughts of wishing I was still in that fast pack of runners, of dreaming how great it would be if I could place 3rd in the USA Marathon Championship again, and yearning to add setting a PR back into my goals. Those thoughts came, but were fleeting and left quickly.

I reminded myself that I have my own big goals that I’m excited about, and my running has a greater purpose because I’m able to coach others and relive the excitement of achieving PRs and “firsts” over and over again with my runners. Their dreams become my dreams; we share the joy, and we share the setbacks.

We are all human, and we all experience negative and self-defeating thoughts sometimes, and that’s okay! What’s important is to let them go, and instead focus on your strengths, accomplishments, and the many blessings in your life.

On the CIM race day, my realistic goals was 2:53 and my dream goal was sub 2:50, along with winning my age group (though with the speedy Molly Friel turning 50 last August, winning wasn’t realistic). I reminded myself that I can only run my personal best for the day, so that’s what I planned to do. The weather was perfect, the competition was off the charts, and the course was as fair as can be; I was fit, healthy, and my heart was eager to see what I could achieve.

I knew several women in the Elite corral, and a few of us had the same low 2:50s goal, so I knew we would support each other during the race. My plan was to break the race into three segments: the first half at goal pace or slightly slower, the next 10 miles at goal pace or slightly faster, and the last 10k as fast as my little legs would carry me.  

 

CIM 2

Many Miles shared with my friend CB

During the first half, we had a nice group clicking off the miles like clockwork, and I hit the half mark in 1:26:36–exactly my goal pace of 6:37! My running was smooth and controlled; however, I wasn’t feeling strong enough to go faster, so I kept to my plan and used the runners around me to continue clicking off the miles at my goal pace.

The toughest part of a marathon for me is typically miles 16-19, but I cruised through that stretch. I had determined that hitting mile 20 at 2:12 would put me right on pace; I reached mile 20 in 2:13:04 (6:39 pace), which was okay since the final 10k was flat to slightly downhill.

 

I am always ready to race, hammer it out, dig deep, and fight hard until I have nothing left. However, my legs were feeling weak as I approached that last 10k. I increased my effort and used my mind to focus on each step, but the strength in my legs just wasn’t there and I couldn’t go any faster. At one point, I didn’t lift my knee enough over a pothole; my legs buckled and I came very close to falling. Nope, wasn’t having any of that so it was not only hammer time, but laser focus on form time too.

The final 10k was spent telling myself: “Turn your legs! Heels up! Knees up! Drive with your arms, your feet will follow! Relax your shoulders! Use your glutes! Focus! Dig!” My splits kept getting slower, but I wasn’t ready to give up; I was actually motivated by the adversity and the opportunity to put up a fight. Success is on the other side of the fight, never give up during the fight. Never!

I crossed the finish line at 2:55:41 at a 6:43 pace, which was 2 minutes off from my realistic goal time. Do you know what? I am completely and totally happy with my race! My nutrition was spot-on (5 pm pasta dinner, 2 am feeding, 2 scoops of UCAN before the race, and 1 gel every 5 miles), I took water at every aid station, and recited a few mantras “Faith Moves Mountains, Be Bold, Be Brave, Be Badass, I still got a lot of fight left in me. ” throughout the race. There was not one mile that I gave in, gave up, or found an excuse to stop pursuing my goal. Even though I’m no longer setting PRs, my grit and determination today comes from a deeper and more meaningful place now than it did 13 years ago.

finish line

Almost to finish line! Proud to be a Rabbit Elite!

Though I’m not crossing that finish line as an Olympic Trials Qualifier, I am still crossing that finish line as a chaser of dreams, and as a human being that is squeezing every ounce of life from her years left on this wonderful earth. I crossed that finish line as a person that hopes to leave this earth knowing that she–just maybe–helped a few people to live a happier, healthier, and more inspired life. I hope to continue crossing finish lines, as a reminder to others that it’s never too late to start living a healthy life and setting incredible goals, and they never, ever need to stop!

After the race, I celebrated huge Personal Records with four of my runners and savored the incredible energy as countless others recognized their own personal victories. Reflecting back on the race, I acknowledge that there was a tinge of longing for my running glory days; however, I can honestly say that I am proud that my relationship to running has evolved from a focus on my own dreams into the opportunity to help other runners realize their truest potential and achieve their wildest dreams. As great as it feels to break a PR, I have learned to love the focus on running strong, and leading my runners by my own example.

Now that I’ve run a marathon on a perfect day, under perfect conditions, surrounded by strong competition, I think that 2:55 is a very realistic marathon time for me. My goal for the rest of the decade is to determine what I can do to slow the natural and inevitable slowing down process that comes with aging.

One thing I realized from this race is that the body is constantly changing, and my regiment from last year might not be effective next year. During the race, my body told me that I need more strength. I currently do functional Strength Training but could benefit from adding more weight and plyometrics. As we age we lose our speed and strength. A ton of research has shown that this kind of training can build core strength, speed and even slow the decrease in bone density as we age. I’m adding more of this to my training regimen. I’ll blog about this later.

Recently, I’ve been considering what motivates me, and what’s next. I love competing, training, and discovering new ways to be my best self. As I get older, the things I’m “best” at are sure to evolve.

I’m committed to finding the right mix of running, strength training, and healthy eating to keep my body strong and delay some side effects of aging. I accept and welcome aging, but am also curious how much of an effect our lifestyle choices can have on the process. I plan to share all of my training regimens, lessons and strategies with you here!

Though I’m excited about blogging, coaching, and the goal of finding ways to slow down the effects aging has on running, I can assure you that it’s not getting the way of my marathoning goals. Beginning with the 2018 Berlin Marathon, the Abbott World Marathon Majors are starting an age group world ranking system, and the top runners in each age group will be invited to run in the world age group championship in 2020! I turn 55 this coming July and would have a good chance to compete in the 2020 AWMM age group world championship. And, who knows, with determination, focus and learning what works maybe I’ll be a sub 3-hour marathoner when I’m 60! 

Keep Believing, Keep Training and Keep Becoming,

SL

 

 

 

 


Responses

  1. Always inspiring and I am forever grateful to God for bringing you into my life! I look forward to seeing you set new records! Hugs to you and Bill!! xoxo

  2. I’m so excited to follow your journey!! I’ll never get tired of telling you how inspiring you and BTB are ♡


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