Running With the ’Lopes: Fast Times Indeed

October 12, 2010 / by / 3 Comments

By Doug Carroll
Communications Staff

Let me tell you what it’s like to be 54 years old and running in a footrace with highly trained college athletes.

It’s like riding a bicycle in the Indianapolis 500. It’s like being a cinnamon roll in a health-food store. It’s both a megadose of humility and a profound statement on the irreversibility of the aging process.

A few weeks ago, GCU’s cross country coach, Kim Sims, mentioned that recreational runners could enter the Oct. 9 GCU Invitational meet in Tempe for a measly 10 bucks. Kim knew that I consider myself a runner — please, don’t ever say jogger — and I might be interested.

Doug Carroll and Thunder

I was. There are precious few opportunities for Walter Mittys like me to participate alongside Antelope athletes. For 10 dollars, I could be in the same eight-kilometer (five-mile) race with guys cranking out five-minute miles. Awesome.

Russ Pennell never would be allowed to put me in a basketball game, nor would he ever want to, but here I was, being invited to run in a GCU cross country meet by our team’s coach.

My enthusiasm wasn’t shared by all.

“I’m not sure this is such a good idea,” cautioned one of my best friends, a former cross country runner. “They’ll be back in the dorms, watching TV, before you even finish.”

In more than 20 years of running, I’ve entered dozens of road races and have completed a marathon and a few half-marathons. Always, my goals were modest:

  • Don’t get passed by elderly men wearing black socks.
  • Don’t get passed by mothers pushing baby strollers.
  • Don’t finish last.

The first two of these have long since gone by the wayside. But going into last Saturday’s meet at Evelyn Hallman Park, near Papago Park, I had yet to bring up the rear. My record was perfect.

Imagine my concern, then, when I showed up to the race and laid eyes on a few dozen lean, college-age greyhounds — without a middle-age slowpoke in sight. As far as I could tell, I would be the only non-collegian.

Gulp.

Clearly, Goal No. 3 was in jeopardy, and I began fashioning some excuses in my mind: Distance was too long; distance was too short; midmorning sun was too intense; pulled a muscle; got food poisoning the night before; didn’t hydrate adequately; still traumatized by massive hailstorm that hit campus (never mind that I wasn’t on campus when it happened).

On the starting line, I stuck out like Paris Hilton at Chapel. Sophomore Nate Corrigan, one of GCU’s runners, took pity on me and said, “Hey, I’m not too fast. I’ll run with you.”

“Well, I’ll be running nine-minute miles — if I’m lucky,” I told him.

“OK, then maybe not,” Nate said, moving away as if I had a contagious illness.

The horn went off, and so did the rest of the field. I mean, they were outta there, stirring up a cloud of dust the way the Roadrunner did in the old cartoons. There would be no catching even the slowest of them. (Whoever that guy happened to be, he could go on a cheeseburger diet for the rest of his life and still beat me.)

After a mile, the only sounds were my labored breathing and the crunching of gravel by the wheels of the golf cart following the last runner.

Me.

Then a strange thing happened between the second and third miles. With the rest of the field clean out of sight and no course marshals to direct me, I inadvertently made a wrong turn, trimming at least a mile off the route.

Suddenly, I was ahead of runners I had never passed — and thoroughly embarrassed by this development. I wasn’t going to finish last this way, but I also had not run the course correctly. They had done so, and I would be seen as a cheat.

“It’s not what it looks like!” I called out to Kim Sims as I approached the finish line ahead of several other runners. “I’m actually in last place!”

“Just take another lap around the pond!” she said, probably wondering why she ever told me about the race in the first place.

I veered off and did as I was told — proving that I am indeed coachable — and still finished ahead of a few runners. But if I had been competing for one of the teams in the meet, I would have been disqualified for my shortcut and subjected to a public shaming or worse.

Athletic Director Keith Baker congratulated me at the finish, thinking I had scored a moral victory for the over-the-hill set, but I knew the truth and could think only of the runners behind me, beaten by a fraud more than twice as old as they were. I just wanted to go home with my wife, who seemed a little too amused by what had transpired.

Instead, I stuck around for a bit. Runners of all shades, sizes and schools were enjoying the afterglow of their morning’s work, socializing as athletes do. When the competition is over, walls come down and bonds are formed. The easy camaraderie is something to behold, and it’s life-affirming. It’s the very best of college athletics.

That scene was a keeper, even if the race itself wasn’t. But let the record show that I didn’t get passed by anyone in black socks or pushing a baby stroller.

In fact, it dawned on me that when you’re in last place the entire way, running all by your lonesome, you don’t get passed at all.

Contact Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or at doug.carroll@gcu.edu.


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3 Responses
  1. Don Fraser

    Great job, Doug! Thanks for getting out there and representing all of us over 50 “athletes”! We still have it in our minds… it’s cruel that the bodies just don’t keep up!

    Great writing… I laughed and cried the whole way with you!

    Don

    Oct.12.2010 at 12:26 pm
  2. T. Mason

    This is quite an entertaining account of your experience.
    I would have been there too, but I …ahh…well….ahhh….had homework!

    Yeah, that’s it, homework!

    Oct.12.2010 at 4:40 pm
  3. Karen

    (I made two typos in the previous post that changed the meaning of what I was attempting to say.:-) Here is the correction:

    Actually, the aging process is very reversible with the right kind of exercise. I will be 50 in January and can still run a mile in just over 5 minutes (5:03 to be exact … and I was never a runner, but a swimmer, and my times in the pool are very close to college years when I was on a full ride competing at the national level in a Division one school). Older athletes cannot workout in the same way a younger athlete does, there are some adjustments needed to prevent joint injury due to all the years of wear and tear, and they need more time to recover. BUT, they can most certainly get close to where they were in their college years. The body is a remarkable thing when it is not neglected. Often as we get older, other things become a priority for most.

    For many, they simply do not know the best way to work out properly, and either end up with injuries or do not know how to incorporate speed and anaerobic exercise with the aerobic to get in the kind of shape they remember experiencing in their younger years, and chalk it up to age. On of my clients in Atlanta is 74, is leg pressing 285 and hitting the golf ball 20 plus yards farther. He consistently plays his age on an 18 hole course, which is great playing in anyone’s book, and he is just one example. :-) So don’t throw in the towel if you really long to get better. All is not over simply because you are older.

    Oct.14.2010 at 11:31 am
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