There is a group of runners that hold a special place in my heart: Adult Onset Runners (AORs). While elite runners trained from youth are amazing and impressive, I am inspired more by the accomplishments of the many who run behind them, sometimes finishing marathons hours behind them.
Ode to Adult Onset Runners
If this is you, than you are glorious. Let me tell you why….
You Overcome Self-Doubt
You know what many people say when others talk about going for a run?
“Oh, I could never do that.”
You probably said that once. Maybe you still feel that way sometimes. Yet…at some point you decided to just go for a run!
No matter how slow or jiggly you might be, how out of breath and frustrated you might feel, you walked, jogged and ran and kept doing it. Even though you qualify your distances with words like “just” or your paces with words like “only”, you are still doing it!
You may still want to overcome the “I can never run FAST” doubt or “I could never run FAR” doubt. If you want too, you will. Whether you know it or not, you’ve opened up your mind for business…the business of overcoming self-doubt!
You Embrace Discomfort
In a world where people actively avoid being uncomfortable, you embrace it!
Starting to run as an adult can feel like trying to hug a cactus. Tiny tingles and painful zings cover your body, and the more you press in the more intense they get! Some days it’s your neck and calves, and other days it’s coming from the inside of your thigh…somewhere. You get tired and achey.
All this and yet, you still run. Hopefully you’ve realized that running doesn’t feel “comfortable” for anyone, no matter how easy they make it look. Either way, you didn’t let the initial shock of all the discomfort stop you. The uncomfortable feelings are familiar, less distracting, and totally worth it.
Whether you know it or not, you’ve begun to learn a very important lesson!
[Read: Discomfort: A Skill for Running and Life.]
You Overcome Fear
Running with a “real runner.”
Running in a group.
Running a race.
At a track.
Any of these can flip the fear switch. Yet you constantly overcome them.
Truthfully, runners at every level have fears. It’s a human thing. We fear stuff, rationally or not.
While some let it paralyze them, you are actively learning to overcome. What you’ve done may seem pedestrian to you, but this is huge for a lot of people.
You Ignore Haters
Some folks say running is bad for you. Some say you’re not a runner unless you can finish a marathon in under 4 hours. Some make it a point to remind you about the negative sides to running. Or feel the need to explain to you why THEY hate running. Or laugh at your 13.1 bumper stickers. Or hint at how selfish it is.
“Well, I just couldn’t take time away from my family to train for a marathon.”
All runners have to ignore haters, but the hate seems particularly evil for AORs.
Those comments sting a little more, playing on your self-doubts and fears.
You’re not an elite runner, so what is the point?
If you don’t “look like a runner,” a very few people reserve a special kind of disbelief and condescending “concern” for you.
“You signed up for a marathon?
Wow, really? That’s brave…. Have you trained for it?
Well be careful. You have to really be in good shape to run a marathon.”
FORTUNATELY, the haters are scarce if you surround yourself with the right folks! You can seek the support and encouragement of a GIANT COMMUNITY of fellow crazy runners!
You Dare to Dream
Being highly skilled in overcoming self-doubt, fears, and ignoring haters, sets you up to be a dream-making machine! Could be another race, a faster race, or a longer race. Often it goes beyond running.
Once you’ve ran farther and faster than you previously thought possible, you see how weak the boundaries of your current dreams are. You realize you’re capable of so.much.more. You find yourself dreaming bigger in your career, your relationships, your other personal goals.
“If I can finish a 50k, what else can I accomplish in life?”
You Inspire Others
Watching the winners of the Boston Marathon cross the finish inspires awe, but it doesn’t necessarily inspire non-runners to run, because elite runners aren’t your average person. Those runners are like super humans, right?
However, YOU are every day people. You ARE the 35 year old mother of 3 and lactose intolerant. You ARE the 65 year old retiree who decided to pick up running and finish a marathon in every state. You ARE the working professional who runs on his lunch break.
You inspire because you show others it can be done.
A runner is a runner, and yet there are things that AORs understand a little more intimately. The victory of finishing a 5k, even if it took 40 minutes. The confusion over running around a track. The awkwardness of your first date with a foam roller.
You know both sides: the non-runner perspective and the world of the initiated. You are critical for bridging the gap. You have to be. You’re probably married to a non-runner who is realizing that he/she is becoming a minority in your social circles.
You may never run a marathon, but you can make running accessible. You can talk with new runners about what they’re going through because you went through it as an adult. You’ve had the body aches and tried the remedies and recognized patterns in how you run and recover. You still don’t have all the answers, but you understand the whole wonky process.
You are the best ambassadors for the sport!
To My Running Family:
To Team in Training:
Of all the amazing things Team in Training does, I especially love how they create AORs en masse. I was still “young”, joining TNT at 24, I was still insecure about running. I avoided running as a kid because I had bad feet [read about that here], and I couldn’t run a mile because I’d hyperventilate. While I still have bad feet and must constantly focus on my breathing, I can run and like to run and that is amazing to me.
To my friends, you know who you are:
It’s unnecessary to name names, but there are a few friends who have come to me for advice or questions on running. The more this happens, the more I realize how common our frustrations and doubts are. So I wanted to write this for us.
Where does this term “Adult Onset Runner” come from?
I think I heard it from John Bingham first. I take it to mean anyone who did not run in school (aside from what was required of all children) but started running for whatever reason as an adult, often after college and kids and maybe even a disturbing doctor visit or two.
Have you heard of the term “Adult Onset Athlete?” Roy Benson says this:
“Years ago I coined the term ‘adult-onset athletes.’ I wanted to describe runners who had never participated in sports in school and who had probably never learned to respect the wisdom of seasons. These runners would not have benefited from coaching that taught the importance of phasing in the separate periods of: 1) conditioning; 2) competing; 3) peaking for championship performances; 4) and then taking at least a couple of weeks of active rest to recover.”
Roy is right. Adult Onset Runners approach running differently than those who ran in school. Not all of us want to be faster or set personal records. We may get lost trying to read articles written by athletes for athletes. If we want to learn more, it can be overwhelming to realize we know so little about heart rate and VO2 max and lactate threshold. God help us if we google “How to be a faster runner.”
To the AOR, there can be some “mysteries” about training and racing that we have to learn on our own if we even care to learn them at all. Yet, while we may not always train as smart, run as fast, or know all the jargon, we do have a separate set of skills and accomplishments that make us equally proud to be runners!
If you’re struggling with improving your run, I work with a few clients as an online running coach. I’ve helped clients drop their walk breaks, run their first or fastest marathon, and generally navigate the struggle that is life vs running. Click here to learn more about my experience and services!