The Hook

By Carrie Luger Slayback

Sunday morning – 5:30 a.m. awoke, fearful.

I’m a runner, a 74-year-old runner with a dozen marathons (26.2 miles) to my credit, winning my age group in three and placing in many more. Today’s race was a mere six miles, so what was to be afraid of?

Here’s what – this morning’s race clears the course of runners slower than a thirteen minute mile. My current workouts are fifteen minute miles. I imagine myself, far from the finish line, a giant hook pulling me from the course. Demoralizing!

I wasn’t always slow. Running the Back Bay trail six years ago, I spotted my former coach, George on the trail ahead of me. George was a bossy ex-judge, who ordered me to enter a 2007 marathon, scolding me for 26 miles into running fast enough to qualify for the famous Boston Marathon.

Eleven years later, Judge George scuffled along, lopsided.

“I’m so glad to see you!” I said, overtaking him.

Never one to waste words, George dispensed with greetings, “In your seventies, everything goes to hell,” he said, “lost my speed, can’t run.”

We talked; I said a fond good-bye and ran on, thinking, “That will never happen to me.”

It did. My long-legged friend, Evie walks, relaxed, as I “run” along beside her. I’m not sick or injured; I’m 74 – working hard, but, hamster-like, going nowhere. My stride’s tightened, keeping my feet right under me, protecting my knees. The calf muscles which pull my legs off the ground to stride into the next step deteriorate first, so older runners spend more time, feet on the ground. That equals slowing. Lastly the ability to translate oxygen intake into energy output declines with age.

I don’t believe the above. I will triumph over age.

But I’m not triumphing. Not in weekly workouts when I’m doing the senior shuffle. My nasty younger self used to pass senior runners thinking, “Why are they even out here?” Now I know why. My weekly 30 miles are my morning ritual, contributing immeasurably to mental and physical health – no matter the pace.

Arrived at this morning’s 6:30 a.m. race in darkness, a cool 44 degrees. I jogged a bit, replaying the internal “movie” I’d visualized for a week – me sprinting  fast to the finish – but the specter of that hook lurked behind my bright picture. How can I run faster than my months of fifteen minute mile work-outs?

6:25 a.m.– runners gathered at the start. We stood, hands on hearts when, out of the darkness a soprano voice sang a beautiful a cappella version of the Star Spangled Banner. Then BOOM! Fingers pressed “start” on pace watches as feet crossed the first timing strip.

I ran at an easy pace, then snapped to attention, “This won’t do, too slow.” Looked down at my watch, seven minute forty second mile? Easy! Finished Mile One at an eight minute mile. Passed Mile 2, relaxed rhythm. Welcomed a course hill for variety. Mile 3, half done, no strain. Mile 4, slowed to an eleven minute mile. I will NOT drag my feet! Picked up the pace to a nine-minute-mile, not even breathless.  Mile 5, Mile 6, sped up, never stressed.

Crossed the finish as a male voice called out, “Look at her, she could do three more miles!”

“Correct,” I thought.

Younger runners ran through the chute with me, including a dark haired thirtyish woman who caught up and hugged me. “Thanks,” she said, “you paced me.”

I was first in my age group, finishing under an hour, with a nine and a half minute average pace. “You won!” a friend said. But that wasn’t the fulfilling part. I gained confidence that my weekly (slow) work-outs are capable of unleashing this senior shuffler’s hidden energy source – the ability to pick up feet and race. And my secret joy – nobody even considered pulling me off the course.

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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One Response to “The Hook”

  1. Linda O'Connell says:

    Congratulations to you, Carrie. Your story is inspiring, but the only way I will run is to protect my grandchildren or away from danger.

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