Last month after a race, some of my running compatriots were talking about the FB race write up for our running group. Generally, someone will put together an overview of the event, name the folks who placed and won AG awards, and tag as many pictures as possible.
Not knowing I was overhearing the conversation, one young woman said in an aside to another: “I just always get confused with those ‘master classifications.’ I don’t really understand them.” To which her listener responded: “Oh I know, me too!”
Well of course, we people of a certain age understand that our affairs are less than riveting to the whippersnappers amongst us. I was in a workshop years ago when I first heard someone -a smart, Talbots-attired, energetic silver haired woman- complain about being “invisible.” While the topic of the workshop is forgotten, I will never forget the vivid image of Liz expressing her combined pain and outrage at being marginalized solely because of her age.
Since then, I’ve read of and heard from other women about this very real phenomena: the sense of being ignored or unseen by others once you turn 50 or so. I suppose it happens to men, but I think not until they are quite a bit older, say 80 or thereabouts. Recently, in an NPR interview, Roger Angell, the brilliant author and essayist, observed that he’ll say something in a conversational group with people, and: ” Nothing happens. You say something, and people are talking. And people smile and look at you and go on. And you think – didn’t I just say something (laughter)? It’s because, unconsciously, people brush you aside a little bit, says, well, he’s had his turn. He’s old, and they move along.”
Now, Angell is in his early 90s, but still has more intelligent and wise things to say than any of us can even imagine. He understands that at some point, if we are lucky to live long enough, we are seen as a bit obsolete and somewhat irrelevant. No matter how self-aware and comfortable with ageing you think you are, these moments of going unnoticed can and usually do stun you at least enough to give you an emotionally stinging blow to the ego.
That’s how I experienced the lack of interest in the older runner categories expressed by those young runners. I don’t mind looking my age, don’t color my hair and wear little-to-no make-up. When it comes to running, however, I try hard not to ‘run my age.’
All I mean by that is I try to do better than win my age group. (And the classifications aren’t that difficult: 40+ is Masters, 50+ is Grandmasters, 60+ is Senior Grandmasters and 70+ is Veteran Grandmasters.) Running can be a superb equalizer. If you show up and run consistently at a decent pace, all kinds (and ages) of other runners will notice you and talk with you. Running has certainly introduced me to myriad folks with intriguing and unique stories.
So I guess if my younger friends aren’t too clear on exactly what group I’m in or what award is my goal, I’m ok with that. When we get together to run, we take off down the road at our respective paces. There’s always someone who’s running with me and there’s always something new to discuss.
Like, will Joan Benoit Samuelson run a sub 3 at Boston in 2016?
(In 2015, she ran 2:54. At age 57.)