Running into your 70’s: Older Athletes Find Success on the Roads

[mk_blockquote font_family=”none”]“You just need to move, one foot in front of the other. If it’s half a mile in 20 minutes, good! You’re moving forward.” – Sue Landa[/mk_blockquote]It’s a sticky evening in May. The Emory University track looks foggy as the puddles evaporate into the evening air. Athletes of all ages are warming up to compete: from grade school kids to older adults in their 60’s, 70’s… and beyond! Atlanta Track Club’s All-Comers Meets welcome both track AND field competitors – a rare opportunity for non-scholastic athletes.

Often competing at these meets are the Club’s Masters Elite Team, comprised of athletes age 40 or greater. It isn’t uncommon for the club to run well against national competition – just last month, for example, the Men’s 70+ team got a silver medal at the Masters 15 km Championships in Tulsa, OK.

Andrew Sherwood, 78, was part of that team. He took up running at age 44 in response to a bet, but quickly became hooked on the joy of running and the spirit of competition. Now, he has been running on Atlanta Track Club’s competitive team for three decades.

Why does Andrew run? At first, because his job involved a lot of travel. Running was the way that he got over jet lag, resolved stressors, and explored new sights, sounds and smells: from the crowded urban sidewalks of Delhi, India to the rural Thames Path in Oxfordshire, England.

Now, he feels fitter and healthier than his contemporaries. His advice? “Keep moving – it pays!”[mk_image src=”” image_size=”full” desc=”Andrew Sherwood winning 70+ age group at Trials Legacy Marathon, Olympia WA, 7-14-2018″ caption_location=”outside-image” align=”center”]The Club isn’t just for runners, either. Clovis Clark is a 62-year-old thrower. She finds the technical aspects of the throws to be fun. She joined the team to “be a part of something active that promoted healthy living.”

Sue Landa: Running into her 70’s

In 2011, Sue Landa was 62. She saw an ad in a magazine for the 2012 Disney World Half Marathon and convinced some girlfriends to sign up with her. Two months before the event, she thought, “I guess I should buy some sneakers…”

This was their first half marathon. “When I finished, I was elated that I had accomplished something like this. Until that point, I never thought running was for me.”

Her girlfriends looked at her like she was nuts and swore they would never do another one, but there was no turning back for Sue. “It changed my life completely; it’s elevated my life to a whole new level.”[mk_image src=”” image_size=”full” desc=”Sue ran her 5th marathon on November 4th, 2018 in New York City” caption_location=”outside-image” align=”center”]Before she started running, Sue had heard of Atlanta Track Club, but she had never participated in their races. She signed up for the club’s In-Training program to prepare for a new beast: the marathon. This past weekend, she toed the line for the 2018 NYC Marathon – her fifth one.

“I still get nervous.”

“Do you know that I’m 50 years older than you?” she asked one young athlete on a long run. Through Atlanta Track Club, she’s had the opportunity to run with all types of runners. “My group of friends are young and old – I tell them that they give me the energy to do that next run.”

She loves the camaraderie and the support for the not-so-glamorous side of running: the TMI stories, the sticky clothes, the blisters. Though she is no longer a new runner, she still gets nervous. Plus, at this age, there are added challenges to her training.

But she keeps at it. Why? “I love it at the age I am because I still love the challenge. It’s a weird kind of fun.”

Maureen Melinda Martin, 56, knows that running helps her to stay mentally and physically strong. “I believe those strengths will help me through the changes and obstacles I face as I get older.”

Michele Collette Keane, another member of the Masters Elite Team, commented that “racing makes me feel empowered – like I can do anything. It also makes me feel young again – especially every time I feel the wind in my hair.”

Sue adds, “I love the change – every day is not the same. I see new faces and new situations and that’s all because of running!”

They didn’t have Nikes in Women’s Sizes

“I loved the Olympics,” Sue remembers of her childhood. One summer, her dad helped her set up mini hurdles and a high jump pit in the backyard. She created little medals out of paper to hand out to the neighborhood kids.

“I saw on TV that you could send a donation to the Olympic team through a private foundation, so I sent $1 of my own money.

“I’ve always loved to be an observer of track and field events, but I never felt part of it because honestly there weren’t the opportunities to, even in high school.”

She had heard of groups such as the New York Road Runners, but she didn’t hear much about the women’s side of things. Once, she went into a store to buy some Nikes, but only boys’ sizes were offered.[mk_image src=”” image_size=”full” desc=”After every race I put on a fake mustache and say “I’ve ‘stached another”! I put one in my suitcase for New York.” caption_location=”outside-image” align=”center”]In the spring of 1967, Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to finish the Boston Marathon as a numbered entrant. It would be another five years before women were officially allowed to run the race.

Sue graduated from a high school in LaGrange, GA that same year. “There was no Title IX; there were only sports for boys”. Sue heard about Kathrine’s run. “A lot of things were going on – there was an undercurrent that I didn’t know about at the time.”

Things have come a long way since then: this year, she qualified for the Boston Marathon and has decided to run it in Spring 2019 as a gift to herself for her 70th birthday.

It all starts with walking

“You just need to move,” encourages Sue: “one foot in front of the other. If it’s half a mile in 20 minutes, good! You’re moving forward.”

Sue lives in LaGrange, where there is a 1.3 mile path called “The Thread.” She hopes that other people her age will find places like that in their neighborhoods to just walk.

“Just get out of the chair and walk! That’s how I started: with walking. Then I moved into walk-running. When I start to fall apart, I might very well go back to walking.”

And if you’re struggling with little aches and pains, Sue is a big proponent of ice. “I hate ice baths, but I will take them!”

If you’re considering your first race, Sue has a message for you: “You have no idea that you’re going to be a rockstar! It doesn’t matter your time: it’s the moments and the experience.”[mk_image src=”” image_size=”full” desc=”Sue Landa finishes her first marathon at age 65″ caption_location=”outside-image” align=”center”]You can become a part of Atlanta Track Club and learn more about Atlanta Track Club’s Masters Team. Keep tabs on the Events page for upcoming local competitions.If you’re nearing retirement age and looking to stay active in your community, Empowerline has resources to help you stay active and engaged! You can also call us at (404) 463-3333 to discuss your options.

Arin Yost

Arin is a Program Analyst at the Atlanta Regional Commission, where his work focuses on health disparities and equity across the Atlanta region.