Question: What does a marathon runner do when Father Time starts creeping up on you?
Answer: Keep on running.
Over the past weekend, that’s exactly what was happening on Manchester’s Greenway and Fred Deadman Park as around 175 veteran runners gathered for the second “Race for the Ages” event.
Tents dotted areas of the Greenway from Friday until noon Monday, filled with folks who have run more miles in their lifetimes than many of us have ever flown or driven.
100,000 mile legs
Organizer Gary Cantrell has been an ultra-marathon runner for the past 41 years, and he explained that the folks participating in the event were his peers from back in the days when he was doing it competitively.
“These were among some of the best runners in the world in their day,” Cantrell said.
As time progressed and he and his fellow athletes grew older, they began to slow down.
But while some of these guys have over 100,000 miles on their legs, and they may not have the “snap they used to have,” Cantrell explained, they still have the desire to compete.
Years into hours
It’s the shared experience of athletic competition that forms a strong bond between the runners, Cantrell said, and at first, he and others discussed having a handicapped race.
Instead, it was decided that the runners would participate for the number of hours that represented the number of years they’ve been on this earth.
That’s right — the older you are, the longer you had to run.
So, with the oldest participant being 85-years-old, he ran for that many hours – starting at 11 p.m. on Thursday until the finish of the event, which ended Monday at noon.
Cantrell said the youngest runner that participated this past weekend was 72-years-old. On Friday, the leader of the pack was 81 year-old, who Cantrell said had been “hauling butt.”
“He’s going to be hard to catch,” Cantrell said Friday afternoon. “The younger runners, today’s stud runners, (who were in their 60s) get to run if they want to, but they’ve got to try to run these old guys down.”
“They may be old and slow, but they are still competitive,” he said.
The race was purely for the competition, with runners coming from all over the country. The event took place last year, and it was supposed to be a one-time thing, but everyone had such a good time in Manchester, they came back.
Last year, 116 runners put in over 100 miles during the weekend.
Cantrell praised the Manchester Recreation Department and its director Bonnie Gamble for hosting the event, as well as Patch Manor, who supplied all the food over the weekend – every six hours.
While temperatures were cooler than they have been for months, the so-called elderly runners were still soaked with sweat from their endeavors.
They ran a one-mile loop – stretching from downhill on the Greenway, toward the ball fields, looping around, back up the hill, near downtown, then back down to Deadman Park.
Running uphill for these folks might be like climbing a mountain, especially if you do it as many times as these senior citizens did. But they did it, all weekend long.
The one thing all the runners seemed to have in common is that they are all physically tough and “simply will not stop,” Cantrell said.
“One thing us old guys like to say is that ‘rehab is the new training,’” Cantrell explained, adding that while some had a 100 mile goal, others were looking at reaching the 200 mile mark over the three days event.
To look at them, you would almost think they were not subject to the ravages of age that hit all of us as the years pass, “but it’s really not true,” Cantrell said.
“Everybody down here has the same line up of ailments, they just have a different expectation,” he said. “They. Just. Won’t. Quit. You hang around these guys, they live a lot of life.”