October 19, 2018, I ran the Huntsman World Senior Games 10k from Snow Canyon Park to the city park in Ivins, Utah (near St. George). Over 11,000 seniors (ages 50-almost 100) participate over the next two weeks in almost every sport imaginable, from running to swimming to tennis to basketball to archery and many more. The top winners qualify for the National Senior Games held every two years (next year in Albuquerque).
This was my first time being a participant and joining 80 of my peers from around the country running this course, defying the concept of aging in America. I was nervous. Why, my husband asks? It’s only a run in the desert. True, enough, but I’d been dreaming about it for months.
My personal training didn’t go as planned: inflamed sciatic nerve meant less training—and no speed work for most of three months; stitches in my right arm for deep cut followed by two-and-a-half -inch skin tear on right hand both interrupted running and my go-to cross-training, swimming; and our wonderful trip to Peru meant no running for two weeks. Needless to say, I was less prepared than I’d hoped and was very anxious.
The course was gorgeous, though, as the picture of part of Snow Canyon attests. Early morning in the desert, a few clouds, 80 runners gathered for the start, chatting, so friendly. We expected a fast, an all-downhill course into town. We went out quickly, then were surprised by several roller up hills through the canyon. I was trying to chase—and pass—several women in my age group (my secret goal was to place first in 65-69 women without really believing I could do it), but I was quickly losing sight of them.
I wanted this so badly: I pushed and sucked in my doubts and passed one of them while the other pulled ahead. And then we encountered a half mile out and back segment—uphill and strong cross winds. I tried not to stop but had to catch my breath several times, the lack of speed work in training catching up with me. I passed the second age grouper and saw mileage sign number four. The course volunteers were cheering us to the final two miles. Why is this so hard? Of course, I can run two miles, but the reality was that the fast first miles and efforts to catch my compatriots had almost done me in.
I could finally see the finish line a half mile ahead, welcoming us runners, easy, right? Except there was a slight rise in the road (and at this point, ANY uphill was a curse) and the cross winds turned into 15 mph headwinds. I was dying as my pace slowed considerably and then, unbelievably I heard the announcer calling my name!
I did it! First place age group and fourth woman overall. Slower than I’d hoped (51:13 or average 8:13 pace but the two 7:50 minute/miles on the hills helped, thank goodness); maybe not bad for (gulp) 67 years old. And I qualified for the National Senior Games for 2019 where I might see some runner friends and acquaintances from around the country.
The Huntsman World Senior Games (along with other senior games throughout the country) confirm the value of community and activity to inspire and to connect with other older athletes. While I wish I’d been better prepared for the run, I have my goals for next year. My sister called to tell me that I am an athlete (after I discounted my race results) and that our father, who was the consummate athlete, coach and mentor, would have been proud of me. I could not have received better validation; I need better perspective and confidence.