at the races At 71, Finding New Finish Lines

At 71, Finding New Finish Lines


If you had told me ten years ago this is what I would be doing at 71, I would have laughed out loud. The thought of my then 61-year-old, 40-pound overweight body crossing a finish line on my own two feet would have been unimaginable. What I have learned since then is to never underestimate your own ability or what a Boomer may get up to in retirement.

The first run I did was in 2015, at age 66, when I signed up for a Learn to Run program at the Running Room. I distinctly remember the instructor saying that I would be able to run ten minutes straight by the end of the course. At this point, I could not run for one minute and I began to scan the store for the nearest exit. However, they were true to their word and by the end of the session I was in better shape than I had been in years.

My first race was the Ottawa Tamarack 2K. That seemed like a good place to start. This, and the Army Run, continue to be two of my favourite races. I have participated in both every year since I began—including three Commander’s Challenges (26.1k) from 2017 to 2019. For the Canada 150 Celebration, my two sons and I completed the Ottawa half marathon together. I love that we have this memory.

Over the years, the 5K, 10K and half marathons have enticed me with the camaraderie, excitement and challenges they present. There is nothing comparable to crossing that finish line, knowing you have done your best. Each race is an opportunity to feel the exhilaration of attaining your specific goal, no matter the distance.

The year 2020 has challenged us all, but has also created opportunities that we otherwise may not have experienced. It has provided me the opportunity to run virtually, which meant I could finally run the United States Marine Corp Race—in honour of my brother, Sergeant Charles Wilson, a proud marine and Vietnam Veteran. My goal was to complete a 10K at a decent pace for a 71-year-old, and finish strong.

As you can see from the picture, things did not go quite as planned. Halfway through, my encounter with an uneven sidewalk resulted in my first ever face plant. After an expletive, not usually heard from a “mature” woman, especially on the street, I stood contemplating my next move. Being Canadian, I said sorry to those around me, and proceeded to dust myself off. After all, this was the Marine race. My brother would never quit so neither did I.

This year has also brought a new “family” of runners into my life. I normally have run with my good friend, Jenny. We have had an extraordinary time on those many girls’ weekends to various race locations, including London, Toronto, Melbourne, St. Petersburg and Orlando. For my 70th birthday, we completed the 10K and half marathon at Disney. Of course, we chose the “Wine and Dine” for this one.

Now the Virtual Platform has expanded this to an amazing group of people supportive of everyone—beginner to elite. I knew from experience, runners support each other from start to finish, but this wonderful group of people has taken that to another level. From offering ideas to improve performance, advice to those just starting or returning from injury, to encouragement and motivation, they are there for you.

Many people have asked why I do this, my husband included. I just feel that walking/running is something that you do for yourself. It gets you outside. It’s the sun on your face, the headwind you lean into, the nature that surrounds you. It is about keeping physically fit, but even more importantly is what running does for your mental health. Sunshine, music, fresh air—peace. No matter how you feel going into your walk or run, it is impossible to feel bad after. Thank you, endorphins.

Walking or running, you choose the place, distance, time and pace. It’s your call. I walk/run because I can and that should not be taken for granted. Boomers are an aging population, but we have a choice to be sedentary or keep moving in order to be the best we can—regardless of age. You don’t need to be the fittest or the fastest. You just need to put one foot in front of the other. After all, we were teenagers in the sixties. There’s nothing we can’t do.