By Carol Patterson
I just had a birthday – my 77th to be exact. It was kinda’ sorta’ like any other day – but it set me wondering what exactly is it that we are celebrating and measuring here?
- Is it just the passage of time? Yes, well no, it’s not the only thing.
- Is it a joyful occasion? Yes, by and large – a successful completion of one more trip around the sun… but if ill health or other misfortune reared its ugly head, then maybe not so joyful?
- Is it the achievement of an annual dose of wisdom by virtue of continuing to breathe for one more year? That depends on what transpired during that particular orbit. If not much happened, well, then perhaps not much additional wisdom.
- Is it celebrating what a wondrous addition to the universe I am/have become? Again, that seems to be outside my “wheelhouse” and essentially in the eye of the beholder.
- Is it another way of putting a positive spin on “senescence”? In looking that word up, I found the less than joyful definition of a process of gradual deterioration over time.
The reason I got so hung up on this matter is related to the very noticeable (to me) decline in my own strength, speed and stamina over the last 2 years. Yes, I’m getting older, but so is everyone else.
noun: the condition or process of deterioration with age.
So searching the internet to try to find an elixir to reverse the inevitable or at least understand senescence as it applies to lifelong runners, and me, specifically, I came across an article in the NY Times : “Aging Runners Find Help for a Question – How Slow Will I Get?” by Gina Kolata, April 26, 2016. The article noted that “the aging effect is inevitable and now runners can even track what to expect” referencing the work of Ray Fair, professor of economics at Yale. Inspired by the decline in his own running performance, he found patterns to this slowdown over time which resulted in a table – you can put in your best time ever for an event, say a ½ marathon and how old you were when you ran it. The table then shows you how fast you could have run it when you were younger, how fast you could to run it now or even what to expect as you grow even older. For myself, let’s just say my ½ marathon time is “in the ball park” and gives me some comfort that I haven’t completely fallen off a performance cliff.
For you math geeks, Professor Fair has 2 articles that map out, in excruciating detail, his data sources, methodology, predictive econometric models and tables: “How Fast Do Old Men Slow Down?”, Fair, Review of Economics and Statistics” 1994 ; and “Estimating Aging Effects in Running Events”, Fair & Kaplan, Review of Economics and Statistics, October 2018, 100(4): 704-711.
The most recent (2018) article abstract notes:
The paper uses world running records by age to estimate a biological frontier of decline rates. Two models are compared: a linear/quadratic (LQ) model and a non-parametric model. Two estimation methods are used: 1) minimizing the squared difference between the observed records and the modeled biological frontier and 2) using extreme value theory to estimate the biological frontier that maximizes the probability of observing the existing world records by age. The results support the LQ model and suggest there is linear percentage decline up to the late 70’s and quadratic decline after that. Showing this “find” to Renee Jacobs – a true record holder on many fronts – she pondered as to how many data points were available for the over 70 crowd. Not being a world record holder in anything, that I’m aware of, all I could offer was “good question”.
There, enter your best time for whichever event interests you and the age at which you set that time. If you were younger than 40, use age 40 anyway, since the calculator assumes you will not have slowed much before reaching that age. You then will see your predicted times for your chosen event at every age through 95 …..assuming we all make it that far.
The figures presume that you have continued to train and maintain high fitness over the years which many of us have not. This also assumes that recreational runners age and slow at the same rate as world-class runners, which has not been proven experimentally. But even with these limitations, the predictions give us something to shoot for: “Aim for your regression line,” according to Dr Fair.
So that’s the invitation to stop beating up the self, stop being so judgmental of self and others and pivot to a more “discernment” approach. I decided that my birthday is about celebrating the degree to which I can achieve acceptance of self with no external referent. After all, the trails are a solace and every step out there is a gift.
“Nothing is a greater impediment to being on good terms with others than being ill at ease with yourself.”
— Honoré de Balzac