An article by Tish Hamilton in the June 2017 issue of Runner’s World (“National Senior Games Competitors Prove That Running Keeps Us Young”) recounts the triumph of Tish’s mother in the 2015 National Senior Games, where 87-year-old Terry Hamilton won the 5K gold medal in the 85–89 age group.
The inspiring story was timed to coincide with the 2017 edition of the Senior Games, which are held every two years. This year’s games, just finished, were in Birmingham, Alabama, and, yes, Terry was out to defend her title.
We were dying to know—how did Terry, now, 89, fare in this year’s games? For that matter, how did Tish do? She’s not only a fine writer and editor, she’s a very competitive age-group (55–59) runner herself.
Here’s our Q&A with Tish, who brings us up to date on her family’s exploits, and also gives us an inside look at the world of high-level seniors’ competition.
TMA: First, the big question: How did your mom do at the 2017 Senior Games?
Tish: She took a silver medal in the 5K, with a time of 50:24. Afterward, she said that around the 2-mile mark she’d gotten in front of the woman who’d go on to win the gold medal. But then Mother’s shoe came untied, and she had to deal with trying to re-tie it, which isn’t all that easy in the middle of a race when you’re 89. “It cost me the gold medal!”
TMA: Really? Shoelaces cost her the gold medal?
Tish: There were only two ladies in the 85–89 age group, and it’s worth noting that the gold medalist was a mere 86 to Mother’s 89. Mother will tell you that every year makes a big difference when you’re at that end of the age spectrum, much like the difference between a 1- and a 4-year-old. It is also worth noting that Mother’s time of 50:24 was only 30 seconds off her time in the last Senior Games, in 2015.
TMA: How about you? How did you do?
Tish: I did race, but not as successfully as Mother. My time (26:18) was considerably off my time in the 2015 Games 5K. I finished ninth, one place shy of getting a ribbon.
TMA: How would you characterize the vibe at the Senior Games? Easygoing, friendly competition? Or super-serious competitiveness? And does that vary by age group?
Tish: The Games are all of the above—easygoing, friendly, and super-serious competitive. It is truly a great experience to be in a 5K surrounded by people your age and older—which is the complete opposite of most local 5Ks, when as an “older” person (anyone over 50), you can start to feel embarrassed about being out there. It’s worth adding to say that at the Games, I was beaten by an 81-year-old man, who ran 26:00. How cool is that?
I suspect people are fiercely competitive during competition but as soon as it’s done, they turn to one another to chat. We’re all in this masters-athlete thing together!
There is so much camaraderie all around the Games. You see people out at restaurants, walking around town, in the airport, and you just know by the sinewy arms and calf muscles that you’re looking at an athlete, and you strike up conversations with people in all kinds of sports, like badminton, ping pong, basketball. It’s pretty awesome.
TMA: What is your mother’s training regimen like? Does an 89-year-old do intervals and resistance weight training?
My mother still works—she’s a part-time bookkeeper at the Children’s Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina. Like many 89-year-olds, she is dealing with health issues—not catastrophic, but slowing her a bit all the same. Around January, she started having terrible back pain, and she was worried about even being able to attend the Games. She gives all credit to her physical therapist, who helped get her to the start line. She tries to walk two or three times a week and sometimes throws in 1-minute spurts of jogging.
TMA: And you… You’ve been a serious runner for a long time. What have you noticed about aging? What adjustments are you making?
Tish: I started running marathons in 1989, and with a few lulls, have pretty consistently kept running ever since. The thing you notice with each passing year is the slowing, which feels both incremental and precipitous. It is so much easier to whip yourself into relatively decent shape when you’re in your 30s. It takes a lot longer to get into shape now, and I have to be much more gentle with myself—both in training and in recovery. I think the biggest thing most of us deal with is our egos! We remember that we used to be able easily to run X:XX pace, so that should be easy now too. And it isn’t. For example, my “10-minute-per-mile” recovery pace is really more like 12 minutes.
TMA: How important are goals for you? Or is the enjoyment of running for its own sake enough?
Tish: When I was an editor at Runner’s World (for nearly 14 years), I felt it was very important to have concrete and public race goals—for example, I qualified for and ran the Boston Marathon six times—to maintain credibility among my incredibly fit and talented coworkers, not to mention the industry at large. Now that I am out on my own, I still exercise every day—today I ran 6 (very slow) miles—but I might instead ride a bike, kick laps in the pool, go for a hike, or just walk the dogs. I may (or may not!) run the Boston Marathon again someday, but the urgency isn’t there.
TMA: So do you see yourself as a Senior Games competitor for life?
Tish: After the Senior Games 5K last week, I ran into Gary Plank, one of the people I interviewed for the article, who was dripping sweat from his effort. “I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do this again!” he said. Gary, who is 60, came in third overall and won his age group in a time of 18:42, or 6:02 per mile. Ha! But point is: You just never know how life is going to turn out, especially at our ages.
The Senior Games is really my mother’s dream. As long as she goes, my sister and I will make every effort to join her.