Looking Over My Shoulder

By Paula May

I’m fast approaching one of those ‘threshold moments’ in a runner’s life: the move to a new age group. A big one. FIFTY! Grandmasters. Old.

Scott tells me I should write something profound, figuring I’ve gathered so much wisdom in these oh-so-many years. It’s the least I can do, he says, since we’re even putting on a 50K ‘fun run’ three days after my 50th birthday, commemorating my change to ‘grandmaster’ status. This run will be my first distance beyond the marathon. I know: 50 miles at age 50 would have been more dramatic, but 50 kilometers is doable! True DARKSIDERS always do what they say they are going to do, and since I don’t want to jeopardize my status with the group, attempting a 50K seems like a safe bet.

I’m a firm believer that who/what/where we are in this life is a direct result of all the choices we make. Certainly the same can be said for the kind of runner you are.

Anyone who watches ‘Oprah’ on Tuesdays knows who Dr. Phil McGraw is. Dr. Phil tells us that we have all ended up where we are right now in this life because of the impact of certain pivotal people and defining moments in our lives. These people and events are all part of the factors that have led you to make the choices that have brought you to this point in your life.

Next month I’ll be 50. Not many women run every day; fewer race competitively and even fewer do so after turning 50. So how did I get to this rare place? Who were these pivotal people that brought me to this extraordinary place for a female half-centurion? I looked back on my last 24 years of running and realize that there were indeed ‘pivotal people’ who influenced my choices to run, race and to make them essential parts of my life.

Growing up in the 1950’s and 1960’s meant that opportunities for female sports programs were at best limited, almost nonexistent. That was before Title IX and certainly well before Title IX made any impact. In my high school a girl could play basketball or be a cheerleader. There were only eight spots on the cheerleading squad; 150 girls would try out. Not that I consider cheerleading a sport, you understand. So, I did no physical exercise until I started running in the late 1970’s when I was already 26 years old.

That was when I met my first pivotal person; the one who actually influenced my decision to begin running. His name was Tim. Tim was a commodities broker who also ran. His goal was to run a marathon. Part of achieving his goal was also running the Peachtree Road Race. He invited me to watch him and 10,000 other runners one 4th of July. I walked from my apartment on 26th Street up to Peachtree Street to watch the event and was immediately overwhelmed. I was amazed that this mass of humanity would have such a profound effect on me. At that moment I was changed forever—I wanted to be one of them! As I stood on the sidewalk, tears streamed down my face. I was inspired that so many people would work so hard to reach their goal of finishing the challenging 6.2 mile course. These were real runners to me and I became one the very next day. I knew I could do this. From that day forward, I never stopped running. I didn’t see Tim much after that. I did call him 18 months later to tell him I ran my first marathon in Atlanta. Tim still had not run his; I don’t think he was all that happy to hear from me.

Then I met Schelly. She and I sold Cheez Doodles. Schelly is my good friend who did all those long training runs for the marathon with me. Without Schelly to keep me company, make the hours go by faster and to celebrate with afterwards, I still might have done it, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun. Schelly moved back to Minneapolis and stopped running, but she did keep smoking.

I was officially a part of the running boom. I ran every race I could find for a few years, collecting my t-shirts as my prize. I raced almost every weekend, sometimes on both Saturday and Sunday. There wasn’t nearly as much information available on training (outside of Jim Fixx’s book), so racing served as my speed work.

Then I met Laura Murphy, captain of the Atlanta Track Club Women’s competitive team, at the Stone Mountain 5-Miler. Laura gave me the confidence to take my running to a higher level. She asked me to join the team (well, Imight have asked her). More importantly, I remember thinking that Laura believed I could run with the fast girls. Her positive encouragement made it easy for me to believe that with the support of the women’s team I could accomplish loftier goals. And I did. Those few early years on the women’s team were my first opportunity to be part of a team. For women, and some men, those opportunities were rare at the time. I became a competitive runner.

After lots of speed work and a few more marathons and P.R.’s, marriage, pregnancy and child rearing became bigger priorities and my running regressed, but I managed to maintain ‘jogger’ status. I raced occasionally during those years when it seemed like I was always pregnant (I had three daughters, all age 5 or younger), which proved to be much harder than training for a marathon.

I still picked up a plastic trophy here and there, but usually because no one else showed up for the race that was in my age group. I even ran my P.W. (‘personal worst’) while pregnant with my youngest daughter.

Moving from Atlanta to Peachtree City, a runner’s Mecca, was certainly a defining moment. There probably isn’t a better place to run than the 80 miles of golf carts paths throughout the natural beauty of Peachtree City. Enter Bill Anderson, pivotal person #4. Bill is an accountant, extremely attentive to detail who is able to spout off any data you care to know (and some you don’t care to know), especially with respect to local runners. I don’t have to maintain a running log; I just ask Bill. Bill can tell me my time—splits included—from the Labor Day Road Race in 1998. He can also tell you his times, as well as everyone else just ahead of him or just behind him. I count on Bill for data retrieval. Bill and I met at church and fortunately for me, every time he saw me he asked me to run with him and his group. Bill’s tenacious and for that I am grateful. After about three years of asking me to come out and run, I finally decided to take his advice and stop running alone. Of course, now that others were watching, I had to start running well again. My competitive nature wouldn’t allow me to simply jog. Oh no—now I had to get back to work! The group Bill ran with was serious, so I had to get serious. I ran with Bill when it was his easy day and my hard day. Bill always runs one step ahead of you and keeps you on your toes.

Bill opened the door again for me to run well and Val pushed me through the ‘marathon’ door—the more the merrier. Valerie Reed is pivotal person #5. Val was running extremely well and was a great inspiration to me, as well as a staunch supporter. Val’s easy-going nature and her ‘go girl’ encouragement made it easy for me to work hard again and get into position to rejoin the ATC Women’s competitive team. So I did rejoin after a hiatus of well over 10 years! I also started to train for marathons again—something I had sworn off years ago. All the marathon training and marathon talking just sucked me back in and now I can’t imagine not being in the place where I’m always training for one. I like it here and I plan to stay here as long as I can keep it up.

Through Val I met her closest running friends, Al Barker and Scott Ludwig. Between the three of them, they had run over 200 marathons. So if you run with them, you run marathons (and pretty much any one you choose, they’ll do it with you). I love the comment Val made to some poor soul who had no idea about their history of marathoning when asked which marathon she will use to qualify for Boston:

‘Any one I want.’

Al and Scott stay in marathon shape year-round by running at least one 20-miler a week. They are certainly the final pivotal people who have contributed to the runner that I am now.

Al is an optometrist; but running, racing, traveling (primarily to races) and painting tell more about Al than what he does for a living. I believe Al lives to run, runs to race, and travels to races and take photographs so he can paint. More importantly for me, Al is pivotal person #6 because he will run with me anytime, any day, anywhere. Al will also travel to a race with me under these same conditions. Al will run with me slowly when I can’t keep up with Scott and Kelly (Murzynsky), or when I’m too tired to run any faster. He will never let me run alone. Al will always run with me when I ask, is always on time, will run long or short, slow or fast. He never lets me down and is a good conversationalist on those long runs. We have a lot of chuckles about how good we look for our ages and what awesome shape we are in and how the fat people must hate us when we run by. Al and I always manage to pick up ‘hardware’ in our age groups at races. No one could ask for a better running companion and friend. Hopefully, Al and I will be running until the days we die, and I plan on another 50 years at least. I know Al does too.

The older I get, the more important I realize it is to have a good sense of humor. My 7th and final pivotal person is Scott, who has added another dimension to my running. Scott takes his running very seriously, and has made me realize we can’t take ourselves (or anyone else, for that matter) too seriously if you want to have fun. Scott has a quiet, dry sense of humor. It’s hard to laugh out loud while you’re running, but Scott can make it happen. Scott has run almost 100 marathons and has a 24-year running streak going. If that isn’t serious enough, he’s planning on the Badwater 135 Ultramarathon in July of 2003. As DARKSIDERS always do what they say they’ll do, Al and I will be there to provide support (fortunately I’m a trained medical professional).

Scott will also run with me anytime, any day, any place—as long as it’s 3:30 a.m. during the week and at least 20 miles on Sunday. He’ll pace me in a marathon on Saturday and then pace Kelly in one on Sunday (which she’ll win!), and then he’ll run again on Sunday night because he stopped at Dairy Queen after the second marathon. He used to be fat…need I say more?

If I want to do 800 meter repeats at 3:00 minutes (I wish I could), Scott will run just ahead of me at a 2:59 pace (exactly!), so that if I stay on his tail, I’ll accomplish my goal. He has an uncanny sense of pace (probably from those 87,000+ miles he’s logged) as well as distance. At any point in the run he can tell you your exact distance run and where to cut off the course if you only want to do—say 16.4 miles—that day. He and Bill have a lot of common when it comes to details (but I realize there’s a HUGE difference in their running philosophies; Scott promotes quantity while Bill favors quality…but I understand Bill has never beaten Scott in a race. Go figure.).

Scott, as all the pivotal people I have met since moving to Peachtree City, has enriched my running experiences dramatically. I know I am on the lunatic fringe with Scott, but it’s a lot of fun our here on the DARKSIDE. We are not ordinary and our lives are full.