Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Women Runners Kicking More Ass as They Age

I love running, and I love to read about running. So when The New York Times ran a story last week about older women runners outrunning their youger counterparts I thought I was going to learn something new. I've been running since I was thirteen, and witnessing older women---women in their forties, fifties, and sixties---kick my ass for as long as I can remember.

But Gina Kolata didn't, in fact, enlighten me about female runners, or inspire me with some tip I might carry with me as I think about running and my future. Instead she writes about it being "odd" that women get better as they age. Kolata's article is meant to be affirming, I think. But she's way off the mark, because it's not odd. It's pretty much known that women have superior endurance. (Thanks to Salon's Broadsheet for bringing that to light in their commentary on this piece.) As a longtime runner, I've always known this. You don't have to be into the science of it. All you have to do is show up at any of the hundreds of road races happening across America on any given weekend.

Kolata concerns herself with how young women shortchange themselves---that young women "are too inhibited to put their full passion out there." What? Really? That older women never had the opportunity to do track and cross country as young women, and so now they're having this epiphany around running. I'm imagining a Nike campaign a la the Dove aging ads---Just Do It! You couldn't do it when you were young but you sure can now! I find it hard to believe that this rings true for the majority of older female runners. I've never met a single older runner who told me she was inspired to run because of the lack of opportunity she had as a young woman. Not too many months ago I was passed by a sixty-plus-year-old woman in the fifth mile of a 10K race. And I felt admiration. It had nothing to do with my inhibition, believe me. She was faster, and she beat me. I'm actually pretty competitive, and when I see those older women out there I feel encouraged. I love it. I wish that Kolata would have talked to some of us who do road races. Instead, she poses yet another "odd" observation: "Oddly enough," she writes, "[older women] are trying harder than younger women and discovering for the first time what they are capable of."

My assessment: They're just better runners. Some older women are faster and stronger and have more endurance than younger women. Odd? No. Awesome? Yes.

Please check out our two recent running titles if you're into running:

The Nonrunner's Marathon Guide for Women, by Dawn Dais

Women Who Run, by Shanti Sosienski


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