T.J. Bryan

First things first. I was never an athlete. Regardless of the sport, I was the perennial last person chosen. My life changed when, newly retired, I impulsively decided, at age 64, to become a distance runner after reading a newspaper article about a half-marathon training program that prepared runners for the inaugural Maryland Half Marathon. Who, at any age, begins running with a goal race of 13.1 miles? Of the people in the training group, I was the oldest and the slowest. But I made a commitment to myself, and I was determined to finish the target race.

The road to the half marathon was not an easy one. A few weeks passed before I could run nonstop around the track (one fourth of a mile) where the group met for speed sessions. When I finally succeeded, I was still a tortoise, but I was exhilarated, nonetheless. I felt as though I had won an Olympic medal. Two months later, I ran in the half marathon and came in fourth of 12 women aged 65 to 69. After I crossed the finish line, I vowed I was “one and done” with racing. I reneged on that promise to myself. I’ve been racing ever since.

At age 65, I ran my first marathon, Steamtown, in 2010, and in this initial attempt at 26.2 miles, I qualified for the 2011 Boston Marathon. At that Boston, I finished 10th of 45 women in my age group although my focus had been on having fun, slapping hands with children on the course and thus adding a quarter of a mile to the marathon distance. My thinking was that I’d run Boston just once. I qualified for the 2012 Boston Marathon, but I didn’t register. Some of my running friends encouraged me to run in the Boston Marathon again. I heeded their advice and registered for the 2013 Boston Marathon only to have plantar fasciitis make training impossible. Injuries plagued me during much of that year, and I didn’t run another marathon until 2014. In total, I’ve run in 12 marathons and BQ'ed in nine of them. I’ve run the Boston Marathon four times.

I’ve been running now for 15 years, and I’ve covered thousands of miles. I’m as excited now about the sport as I was when I began.  I’ve run with others--with groups and clubs, with a[LFL1] small diverse group of women, and with a woman who accompanied me for years until I moved from Maryland to Pennsylvania. For several years after I moved to PA, I ran often with my husband. (He put the kibosh on these jaunts, though, when I went rogue and changed the agreed-upon speed and routes too many times.)

Nowadays, I run alone. I cover the miles solely outdoors regardless of the weather unless I might be blown or washed away. (I don’t have what it takes to run on a treadmill.) I restrict myself to this setting because I love being a part of nature. The reddish-brown chipmunks that scurry away from me to their burrows, the orange and gray-brown robins that soar over my head, and the gray squirrels that cause me to stop suddenly when they dash across my path are what keep me excited.

My excitement about running is tied also to the people I encounter in the hilly small town where I live. Some have become passing acquaintances, and others have become friends. People wave. They say “Hello.” If they haven’t seen me in a while, they ask where I’ve been. They remember me because I’m one of only a handful of people running up and down the streets in the town. I know that runners in other places, such as big cities, have similar experiences when they run in areas in which they see many of the same people. Like me, they, no doubt, vary their routes a bit and vary their running times for safety’s sake.

Finally, I’m a competitive person. The same drive and determination to succeed that characterized me academically and professionally I brought to running and racing. Although I’ve slowed as I’ve aged, I remain excited about winning age-group awards. Because I know that I must train to have a chance of achieving such an objective, I follow training plans I find on the internet or plans from a running coach who’s a member of a club to which I belong. Because I want to run my best when I race, I “hit the asphalt” regardless of whether or not I feel inspired on that particular day. I know that, if I don’t train properly, being presented with that age-group award won’t happen.
First, I want others to know that if they’re in good health, they aren’t too old to run—or to walk or walk/run. In August 2024, I’ll be 79 years old, and I can’t imagine life without the sport. I’ll run as long as I’m physically able. I’m usually the oldest person in races and in group runs. I’m not deterred. I’m grateful.

Second, I encourage runners, regardless of their ages, to take care of their bodies. Running is itself a great way to stay in shape, but conditioning the whole body is necessary to run injury free for years and years—and to look as good as possible. (Vanity rules.) Several times a week, I complete abdominal hollows, shoulder shrugs, wall pushups, hamstring curls, bicep curls, and a bunch of other exercises to strengthen my overall body. I also stretch after my runs although I dislike static stretching. I don’t mind the dynamic stretching that precedes running. I complete these exercises in my home gym under my husband’s direction. In the old days before he retired, I went to a fitness center and participated in classes such as Body Pump. I encourage other runners to develop similar strategies for staying strong. I know myself well. Without structure, I wouldn’t do the conditioning.

Third, I try to be kind to myself. If I don’t run as far as I’d planned or as fast as I’d hoped, I’m disappointed momentarily, but I don’t beat up on myself. Instead, I tell myself that tomorrow is another day. I encourage other runners to consider a similar approach.

Fourth, I’ve been injured and have had to begin running anew several times. I’ve broken a foot, broken a toe, suffered from plantar fasciitis, and suffered through pelvic problems. I’ve never abandoned running. Instead, I’ve started over—from square one—by walking, by walking/running, and finally running. I hope that others won’t be disheartened when they experience setbacks. With dedication, determination, and devotion, they can start again if need be.

T. J. Bryan is a retired university professor and university chancellor. She is the author of Saving Myself One Step at a Time: A Running Memoir, which is available on Amazon.

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