And First Place in the 80 – 84 Female Runner goes to . . .

By Carrie Luger Slayback

“70-74 Female, First Place in the 5K goes to Carrie Slayback!” the announcer called out. I hurried up to the stage, snatched my ribbon with quick thanks, and melted back into the crowd. The 74 to 79 places were announced, then I heard, “80-84, Female First Place, goes to… ” Didn’t catch the name, but spotted a petite runner, with strong legs make a dash to grab the ribbon. I felt an immediate connection. Shoving aside my self-consciousness, I ran in front of the stage to catch the 84-year-old’s retreating form. I do not ordinarily grab and hug complete strangers, but I hugged her.

“Congratulations,” I told her, looking into a youthful face with stylishly side-rimmed red glasses. “I’m right behind ya’.”

“How old you?” she asked.

“73,” I answered.

She accepted my hug graciously and said, “I’m thankful for every day I’m out running.”

And that is why I had to make contact with her. The next ten years will slide by like a fast mile. She’ll be a 94-year-old runner, and I plan to be in her shoes, accepting my award.

Speaking of age 94, a gray haired lady in a wheelchair sat beside my group during the award ceremony. As the oldest participant, she received a crystal vase and an ovation from the crowd. Her daughter, standing by the wheelchair, teared up watching her mom arise from the chair and walk slowly to accept her award, flashing a radiant grin that sparkled more than the crystal.

Well aware of what caregiving entails, I said to the daughter, “That award belongs to both of you.”

“It’s teamwork,” she admitted, reseating her mom. They rolled off.

For me, running this race had been questionable. Saturday morning was the first day I awoke without a wracking cough. I’d been down and out for ten days. Whether it’s the virus or inaction, I developed a sore back. The occasional cough hurt.

Some would stay home, but The Scenic 5K is a local race where I could pal around with four close friends – I couldn’t resist. Getting out proved, again, that activity is the best medicine.

I routinely run nine-mile workouts so a three-mile 5K is a jaunt. Because the mileage was well within my abilities, I registered.

Ambling together to the start under blessedly overcast skies, my friends and I awaited the horn. I looked around for my competition but found nothing but youngsters within sight. “Darn,” I thought, “I don’t want to get a first because I’m the only grandma on the course.” The horn sounded and we were off.

My friend Laurie later described the breathlessness accompanying the first running steps. The start is exciting, and we take off, never remembering to start slowly or to breathe for the first quarter mile. So it was the second quarter mile when the rewarding rhythm of the step/breath finally relieved my panicked gasp. Then the voice in my head said, “Focus on the truth: Every step counts. Keep rhythm. Keep eyes clear of distractions such as other runners, homemade signs, spectators.” When I passed mile one, the timer called out – 9 minutes, 58 seconds.

My friends, a decade younger, passed me. “Do not try to overtake them. This is my race, nobody else’s. I’m in charge of hard work and endurance.” My knee hurt. I have confidence that I can run through it. I did, three times in this race. My back hurt, but I am confident that the pain won’t stop me. Then came the fleeting thought that I could go faster without the back and knee pain. I toss it out and keep the rhythm: I pass mile two.

Only one mile to go – I pass another runner, an experience I have less now that I’m older. As I’m climbing hills, I say to myself, “This is what I train for; this is why I do Tuesday morning ‘hill-repeats.’” I climb the hill, circle the park and smell the finish – mile three. I sprint the last tenth of a mile to the end and watch the finish line advance to meet my footfalls.

I’m deeply happy. I passed another endurance test, triumphed over pain and finished with more energy and bounce than I had to start the morning.

My friends and I line up for photos and the generous servings of restaurant food presented to every runner. All other races, even 26.2 mile marathons, provide runners with an orange, half banana, bag of crackers and an energy bar. The Scenic 5K stands out for the platefuls of food from big-name Newport Beach restaurants, tables with table cloths and an awards stage with announcer.

Corona del Mar’s Scenic 5K stands out in another way, and perhaps a scolding is the reason. A few years back, I accepted my award, and stood near the stage when a determined gray haired lady accosted a race organizer, “We older runners take racing seriously. We work hard for our times. Why do you stop awards with the 70-74 Age Group?”

And so, today I had the privilege of hugging a kindred spirit, that energetic 84-year-old and congratulating our friend in the wheelchair.

This is a community race, but not just the cozy community of Newport Beach runners. People came from Arizona, Alaska, and New York. What the race organizers provided was recognition for runners/walkers who love to be out early Saturday morning, moving alongside ocean views and through quiet neighborhoods – a community of competitors from four to ninety-four.

About this writer

  • Carrie Luger Slayback

    Carrie Luger Slayback

    Carrie Luger Slayback was the first teacher awarded a $5,000 Community Service Prize recognizing her students’ water conservation activism. Retiring after 40 years teaching, she didn’t retire, instead daring herself to take an age-group first place in the Los Angeles Marathon. She brought home the first, and continues to run marathons, winning Carlsbad, California, in 2016. She writes about health and fitness from a carefully researched personal perspective.

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2 Responses to “And First Place in the 80 – 84 Female Runner goes to . . .”

  1. Linda O'Connell says:

    Carrie, kudos to you on quite an achievement, and your inspiring story.

  2. Rose Ann says:

    Awesome, Carrie! You’re a winner before you even hit the finish line!

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