Running and Walking Races: Not Just for the Young

As we enter our 40s, many of us limit our participation in competitive sports to attending events as fans. Some may have good memories of involvement in team sports when they were young. Others may recall the sheer joy of play as children even if they never tried out for organized sports. Now, we have the opportunity to get involved with a rewarding sport, running and walking, that involves individual and group competition with little regard to prior history.

There are many running and walking races organized in cities throughout the country. Race organizers coordinate with city officials to provide discount hotel rooms, pre-race dinners, exercise workshops, and expositions for training and race gear. Elite runners and walkers are invited to compete for substantial awards, drawing competitors from around the world. But, people over 40 are invited via race brochures, newspaper ads, and Internet sites to join these elite runners and compete for their own prizes.

The events offer courses that extend through downtown areas and suburban streets restricted to vehicle traffic. Runners and walkers can see the sights as they race distances including 5, 10, and 20 kilometers, 13.1 mile half marathons, and 26.2 mile full marathons. Runners and walkers can race down the Las Vegas strip, run down Peachtree Street in Atlanta, run from the San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean, or fast step around monuments and institutions in Washington, D. C. The athletes are supported by cheering crowds and armies of volunteers who cheer and offer liquid support.

Runners and walkers do not have to travel far to find smaller races. Events are held in local communities, too. These are good for beginners because they are close to home and usually involve shorter distances: 2 miles and 5 and 10 kilometers. They provide good opportunities to enter the sport.

Races are open to adults of all ages and to healthy people at all levels of fitness. Race directors encourage “masters” (over age 40) runners and walkers to apply by offering awards in multiple age categories. For example, I ran in the 55 to 59 category at the Parkersburg, West Virginia, half marathon last month. Five awards were given in that group. Although I did not get one, it was a great experience and I had a “personal best” time.

Masters walkers are becoming a major target for race organizers. Walkers often double or triple the field of participants generating more interest in the host city, income for local merchants, and money for additional race benefits. In the past, spouses often accompanied runners to races to offer support. Now, both can participate and share the fun of competition. My wife is a walker; we discuss the races and share our perspectives of the courses. After the races, we wear the same race t-shirts, usually given to all participants. My wife likes to walk fast (to race) but it is not necessary. Participants can walk at their own pace for the fun of it.

Running and walking races have something for everyone. Each September, the Pittsburgh Great Race is held with running and walking courses winding through the city. I run the 10 kilometer race and my wife walks the 5 kilometer distance. As with most races, the elite runners and walkers dominate the younger age categories, but the fun runners and walkers take most of the trophies in the masters’ categories.

After the races at sponsored gatherings, elite and fun runners mingle and form friendships without regard to distance or run/walk event. At Parkersburg, I met women runners from Russia and male runners from Kenya and Ethiopia. It is interesting that the sport provides a common experience that overcomes communication barriers.

I encourage older runners and walkers to get involved in this rewarding sport. It is a great way to maintain an attitude of “wellness.” Be sure to have a check-up by your physician prior to your first event.

Look in the sports sections of your local newspapers for race ads. Local chambers of commerce and recreation boards are good sources for race information. You can do a Google search for more information by typing, “running and walking races,” in the search box. Many bookstores sell national magazines (e.g., Runner’s World) and regional magazines (e.g., Ohio Runner) that advertise running/walking races and discuss training.

In future articles, I will cover a number of running/walking topics of special interest to older athletes: running your first race, training for races, avoiding injuries, selecting the right shoe, training and racing clothing, and the general value of wellness.

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