I raced a hilly, wintry 10K on Saturday, and my valedictory kick had something special: You could actually see it.
I’m 58, so this was refreshing. Age brings a litany of losses to older runners: reduced muscle mass and pliability, increased stiffness and soreness after training, substantially slower race times and a phenomenon I experience as the invisible kick: Your mind tells your body to pick it up and finish strong, to give it everything you’ve got left, as you always have at the end of a race. Now! Go!
And your body says, OK! Here we go!
And … nothing happens. Or, at least, nothing visible. Because the all you’re supposed to be giving is back there on the course somewhere, expended at some imprecise moment. And while your mind is kicking like crazy, your legs and lungs are doing all they can to not just stop. Right. Now.
I experienced this most pointedly in a Labor Day 2015 half-marathon. I’d held a snappy pace throughout — it was a very good day — so my lack of a kick may have been the logical result of aggressive pacing over the previous 13 miles. Still, it was disconcerting.
There I was, all adrenaline-hopped, feeling great about the race, thinking I looked magnificent (I love endorphins), the finish line in sight and bound for glory. Now! my runner’s mind cried. Kick!
And my 56-year-old runner’s body responded: I am kicking! I am! Aren’t I?
Well, no. It was completely invisible. Sigh.
Aging begins as a liminal, mild erosion, its effects barely noticeable. But runners come to know it as a master of negative splits: Each year, it seems to progress more quickly, its effects more obvious. Over the decades, age-group awards become as much a matter of perseverance as of speed. It’s as the preacher says in Ecclesiastes: The race is not always to the swift; time and chance happen to us all. Especially time. In running, the win is eventually about keeping on — aching muscles, stiff joints, invisible kick and all.
Here’s how 99-year-old Orville Rogers and 92-year-old Dixon Hemphill got it done in the 60-meter dash at the recent 2017 Masters Indoor Track Championships. Rogers edged Hemphill by .05 second in a photo finish.
And — the best three minutes of your day — 100-year-old Ida Keeling setting a 100-meter-dash world record at the 2016 Penn Relays: