When I was a 17-year-old punk, I was not old enough to race in the Nordic ski marathon, the Birkebinder, but I was eligible to ski its 30 km half-race for teenagers. I did well, and the evening after the race sat at the winner's table with a few other teenagers, and with an equal number of older Norwegian men, ranging from 70 to, oh, about 140 years old. We teenagers thought that it was endearing that these old men were still racing (and downing an impressive amount of vodka!) at that advanced age.
But that smugness was completely wiped from our teenage faces when the emcee announced these men's race times: They were skiing kilometer splits as fast as us!
As perhaps the first generation sincerely and consciously committed to fitness and health on a wide-reaching basis, the Baby Boomer (and beyond) generations are continuing to compete in a variety of sports later into their lives; and indeed, more and more athletes are recognizing that the real race—that is, staying fit and healthy—is not the sprint of the teenage years, but an ultra-marathon of decades and, if you are lucky, one that continues well past retirement age.
In Seattle, for example, for the past 25 years there have been two senior rowing teams—the Martha's Moms and their male companions, the Ancient Mariners, with several rowers older than 80. These crews compete in open races around the region, and often can hold in the middle of the pack (and better) against college teams. (Many of the Moms have tattooed on their shoulder a red heart with a "Mom" banner scrolled across.) Likewise, and closer to home, the board at the base of Pilot Butte lists runners' best times for the strenuous run to the hill's top. In 2006, Bill Launderback, 89 at the time, set the record for the men's 85-89, and then a year later set the record for the 90-and-up group; and, remarkably, the woman who holds the record time for the 80-84 category, Barbara Everett, also set the record four years later for the 85-89-year-old category, shaving a full minute off her pace as she aged!
But until this year, Oregon was surprisingly one of only two remaining states which did not sanction a State Senior Games. That is being remedied this summer, with the bulk of events held in Bend on June 18-22. Athletes older than 50 can compete in track, archery, swimming and 13 other sports. But the precursor event—and perhaps the most grueling—will be held this Saturday, May 24, at Bend Don't Brake, a cycling road race held on a rolling loop southeast of Bend. The "senior" (40+) men's race is a five laps, 49.5 mile affair; the women's race 29.7 miles. (The race also hosts other, non-senior categories.)
"Racing is racing at any age," said one competitor for this weekend's Bend Don't Brake, and then, with a mix of pride and defiance, refused to be interviewed for an article about senior racing.
Another competitor, however was happy to talk. Melissa Boyd from Corvallis will travel to Bend this weekend to compete in the road race.
She admits that she wasn't much of an athlete at a younger age. A mechanical engineer, she says she "spent many years as a certified couch potato."
But by age 52, her kids had moved out and she had more spare time. Her sister was a cyclist and urged her to join a local bike club. "I had no idea women my age raced bikes," she exclaims.
Now 59, Boyd races nearly every weekend in the spring and fall, and sometimes mid-week evening races, competing in 40-80 races a year—road races, criteriums, time trials, mountain bike races and cyclocross.
Boyd says that she finds the training and racing rejuvenating. "I see the over-50 ladies out there racing up a storm, and it reminds me that there's still so much to celebrate in life. For me, the real inspiration is the 60-plus women, because I see them still going strong and I know age need not be an excuse to slow down."
When Boyd first started riding seven years ago, her bike was more than three decades old. But now, she says, she has a garage full of options. "For road races and time trials, I ride a 2008 Trek Madone carbon road bike," she says. "I also have a hardtail mountain bike and a full-suspension mountain bike, a fixed-gear track bike, a cross bike, and a touring bike."
Bend Don't Brake
Park at Bend Road Department Facility, 61150 SE 27th | Saturday, May 24
9:20 am, Men's Seniors
1:20 pm, Women's Seniors
With a hat trick of running events, there is no excuse to sit on your duff this coming weekend.
Happy Girls Run
On Saturday, Happy Little Kids make a dash for it, while an expo geared toward female runners takes place 10 am - 4pm. The following day, pre-race warmups begin at 8:30 am., with staggered start times for the half marathon, 5K and 10K beginning at 9 am. Sat., May 24 and Sun., May 25. Riverbend Park. Happy Little Kids, $5; Half marathon: $65-$85; 10K and 5K: $35-$45.
Ride single track over lava rock along the Peterson Ridge Trail in one of Oregon's largest cross country mountain bike races. And with the finish line set near Three Creeks Brewing, stop by the afterparty, which will feature the brewery's new Ridge Trail Ale. Registration and packet pick up 2-5 pm., Sat., May 24 at Blazin' Saddles, 413 NW Hood Ave. Sisters. Staggered start times 10:20 am.-11:17 am., Sun., May 25. $45. Juniors, $15.
This isn't good, clean fun. The COCC-sponsored race and walk winds participants through a two-mile stretch of obstacles and mud bogs. As a bonus, rubber snakes are scattered throughout the course, which can net prizes for racers with a keen eye. Registration is 4:30-5:15 pm. at COCC's Mazama Track. Race is 5:30-6:30 pm. Thurs., May 22. Students and staff of COCC and OSU-Cascades are free; Other competitors, $5.