Particularly as we age – and what’s a good pace for running a mile?
Have you ever heard of Terry Fox? He’s a Canadian hero, voted Canada’s greatest hero ever.
I first heard of him in mid-1980, when he was running a marathon every day – on one good leg and one artificial leg. His right leg had been amputated 6 inches above the knee, three years earlier, when (at the age of 18) he was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma (bone cancer). He dipped his artificial leg in the Atlantic Ocean and committed to running across Canada, a marathon a day, each morning touching the spot he touched at the end of the previous day’s run, to ensure that his course was continuous. His purpose was to raise money for cancer research, which his own experience convinced him was hugely necessary.
Gradually the country became aware of what he was doing, and after a while crowds came out to greet him and cheer him on as he ran by. But he never made it to the Pacific. After something more than 5,000 kilometers, he discovered that cancer had reappeared – in his lungs. He passed away less than a year later. His final words were, “If I don’t make it, the Marathon of Hope [as he called his run] must continue.”
In his honor, every fall there’s a Terry Fox Run (between 5k and 15k) in more than 650 different communities across Canada, and in 30 countries around the world. I took part this year in a 10k event in beautiful Wilket Creek Park, with my dear friend Richard Austin, as we have done every year, except for Covid, since I returned to Toronto in 2013. To date, over $850 million has been raised for cancer research by the Terry Fox Foundation alone. And, thank goodness, the word cancer can be spoken aloud (as it wasn’t, when I was growing up: it was a word that carried a stigma); and decreasing cancer mortality rates and increasing numbers of cancer survivors are testimony to the progress that has been made.
The reason I mention this is that Richard and I are now no longer young (even by the standards in my last blog post; in fact I’m old, even by those standards), but we’re proud that we can still (at least once a year) run a 10k. And it made me think about the benefits of running in this wonderful stage of life. And a small part of the competitive spirit I used to have came back to me, and I wondered about running standards – perhaps not for a 10k run, but perhaps something shorter, like a mile. That’s what this blog post is about.
Start with the fact that we all gradually decline physically as we age. That doesn’t mean we should stop exercising and avoid running. Yes, it does mean that we should be more careful, we should rest for longer than before, and avoid overtraining and taking risks. And if we’re just starting, getting a doctor’s input is very sensible. But, that said, age is no barrier to exercise, including jogging, running, and weight training and other forms of strength training. And it has the potential to bring great benefits.
Running has cardiovascular benefits at any age.
It strengthens (or, at my age, maintains strength) in your muscles.
As a result, it also maintains or enhances your body’s physical functionality at any age, keeping your joints moving more smoothly than if you don’t use running as part of your exercise routine.
It increases your bone density because, in effect, carrying your body is weight training.
It expends calories, helping you to lose body fat – a particularly difficult goal at my age.
And, as my runs with Richard reinforce (we run at a speed at which we can still converse, albeit haltingly), running with a friend is a wonderful social occasion, almost a celebration.
Psychologically, as with any form of exercise, running reduces tension, it improves alertness, concentration, cognitive function … and self-esteem.
Yes, we need a stretching routine after a run. I run three times a week (not 10k’s!): outdoors, on a smooth (e.g. gravel) surface, in the summer (I’m terrified of falling, ever since a fall a couple of years ago when I was distracted on a gentle trail run), and on a treadmill otherwise. Speed is no longer a feature (!). But it’s fun, particularly when the run is finished: I feel better mentally because of the achievement, regardless of how the run went.
I found a website that shows average mile times for males and females in different age groups and at different levels of capability. Here are some of those times, shown in minutes and seconds; I’ll explain the levels of capability after the table. (And I have to add that all these times seem much faster than I expected. I’m not sure about the source of the website’s data.)
A beginner implies faster than 5% of runners (which of course means faster than a far higher percentage of people, because those who don’t run are excluded from this definition – so this is already excellent). Typically a beginner has been running for at least a month.
A novice is faster than 20% of runners, typically having run regularly for at least 6 months.
An intermediate runner is faster than 50% of runners, typically having run regularly for at least 2 years.
An advanced runner is faster than 80% of runners, typically having run for more than 5 years.
An elite runner is faster than 95% of runners, having dedicated more than 5 years to becoming competitive.
I hope all of this encourages you to enjoy your running, or (if you don’t run) to discuss it with your doctor to see if it could benefit you physically and mentally.
Running (if we avoid overtraining and taking risks) brings great physical and mental benefits.
I have written about retirement planning before and some of that material also relates to topics or issues that are being discussed here. Where relevant I draw on material from three sources: The Retirement Plan Solution (co-authored with Bob Collie and Matt Smith, published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2009), my foreword to Someday Rich (by Timothy Noonan and Matt Smith, also published by Wiley, 2012), and my occasional column The Art of Investment in the FT Money supplement of The Financial Times, published in the UK. I am grateful to the other authors and to The Financial Times for permission to use the material here.