Most runners are motivated by race competition and PRs (personal records). But PRs are only a limited ego-booster as we get older and eventually get slower.
As we begin running and continue to improve speed and endurance, our performance naturally improves, so those initial years are marked with steadily improving times over the whole variety of race distances from 5K up to the marathon. This usually occurs regardless of age, so that a middle aged beginner can probably see improving performances despite being "over the hill," age-wise. In my case, my best times were achieved during my late 40s.
For as many as ten years runners can keep setting PRs as they train and compete. And those PRs are always proudly-noted milestones in conversations among fellow runners. You may forget your wife's birthday, but you know your 10K PR -- right down to the second.
But when we all hit that peak where PRs don't happen anymore, it's the age-group competition that hopefully keeps stoking the fire. Running is one of the few sports where participants can actually look forward to getting older. As you make the transition from, say, the 45-49 age group to the 50-54 bracket, maybe you were last year's struggling 49 year-old at the high end of your age bracket. But now you've switched to being the youngster in a new age group, hopefully finishing higher among your age group competitors.
Most of us in the average "mid-pack" group have set our PRs over the years, and to combine a PR with an age group medal is one of those special running moments. Recently it happened big-time to Stephanie Kliethermes, a member of the Oak Park Runners Club.
Kliethermes, 29, is a faculty member and bio-statistician at Loyola University's Stritch School of Medicine in Maywood. She was a sprinter and long jumper in high school and college, but began training for marathons while in grad school in 2009 (she's run nine of them so far).
On June 8 Loyola sponsored the Health, Hope and Heroes 5K race within its medical center complex in Maywood, so it was appropriate that she was in the race. She has been running well, setting a nice PR at the Boston Marathon in April, but hasn't been focusing on shorter distances. As is typical for runners, she downplayed her race expectations, saying she just hoped to be somewhere near her 5K PR.
Since I was way back with the other old, slow runners, I had no idea how she did until I spotted her in the post-race crowd. And she was delighted. Not only had she finished as first woman overall, but she knocked 11 seconds off her previous PR -- and in a race sponsored by her employer. The whole enchilada!
Running-wise, that's about as good as it gets – a PR, a win and a celebrity at the office. Congratulations Stephanie!
Paul Oppenheim is a member of the Oak Park Runners Club.