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Real Runners: Age Is Just A Number

Running helped this woman quit smoking 25 years ago—and she’s still running strong at age 66.

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Photo of Louise O’Boyle with husband John at a 5K at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.

“I am older, but I am not getting old.”

Let’s face it: We don’t want to get old, but getting older enthusiastically is rewarding. If someone had told me when I was in my 20s that running would benefit me during my golden years, I probably wouldn’t have believed them. I hate to admit it, but I was a smoker. It wasn’t until I approached the dreaded 40s that I tried running to encourage myself not to smoke. While it wasn’t an easy decision, in my mind it was necessary. I didn’t have any health issues at that time, so I can’t say that there was a sense of impending doom; it was just a smart thing to do. At 66, I have now been smoke-free for almost 25 years thanks to running.

I’m known as a perfectionist, perhaps a competitor…maybe a little of both. A run around the block led to my first 5K, then a 5.5 miler, a 10K, a half marathon and finally the ultimate challenge: a full marathon in 2009 at 57 years old. Although I won’t attempt another full marathon, 5Ks, 10Ks and half marathons are still in my future and already on my calendar.

My competitive nature has kept me going. The fact that I occasionally place in (or even win) my age group has provided me with a sense of accomplishment and the desire to improve. Sometimes, simply finishing a difficult race is all I need. Sometimes getting through a warm, humid, morning run makes me want to do better. Sometimes just knowing that I can run at 66 years old is my prize.

Although I’m competitive, I am also cautious. During the 2009 Chicago Marathon, I hurt my IT band within a few miles of my goal. While that didn’t stop me, I realized that I had to complete intervals of walking and running. I kept telling myself that I had to finish. My husband was waiting for me. My family was preparing a party for me. I was determined, and I finished with a 4:51:59 time.

My husband keeps warning me about knee injuries and other types of maladies. He’s worried, and I listen. I do take care of myself and listen to my body. After all, I’m on Medicare. That does make me older, but not old.

Everyone can see 20/20 in hindsight. I look back on my life and ask myself, “What if I never smoked?” or “What if I started running during my 20s?” My suggestion to anyone is, “Decide what to do and when to do it—not tomorrow, but now!” We all get older, but we shouldn’t allow ourselves to get “old.”

I plan to continue running until my body says otherwise. My age is just a number.


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