Stress blog

Aging athletes show you can't outrun time

By Edward T. Creagan, M.D. July 6, 2011

Need more help?

If the stress in your life is more than you can cope with, get help right away.

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
    1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Go to the nearest hospital or emergency room
  • Call your physician, health provider or clergy
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness
    1-800-950-NAMI (6264)

The scene is all too familiar. The aging athlete whose skills are clearly eroding but who can't give up the spotlight and the applause. The sports legend struggles to stay in the game despite being outshone by younger athletes. At the obligatory press conference about his retirement, the fading star finally acknowledges that he can't outrun his birth certificate.

Everyone has limits, but most are slow to admit it. I include myself in that group. Having completed 11 marathons over 50 years of competitive running, I'm fairly knowledgeable about the science of distance running. At least I thought so. But I ignored one crucial piece of information.

It's well established in the running world that mileage should never increase by more than 10 percent a week. In other words, if you've been averaging 30 miles a week, your maximum mileage the next week should be about 33 miles. For some reason, however, I thought I was immune to this concept.

Because of a ferocious winter, my mileage was down to about 25 miles a week. Even so I decided to run a 13-mile race — a 25 percent increase in mileage. After the race, I had aches and pains in parts of my anatomy that I didn't even know existed. I thought I'd need a forklift to get me out of bed. Finally, after days of misery, I began to feel halfway human again. I could even walk down the steps without holding onto the handrail.

I learned an important lesson: You can't ignore the numbers. At least not without suffering the consequences. Can anyone else relate to my somewhat humbling experience?


Edward T. Creagan, M.D.

Follow on Twitter: @EdwardCreagan

Join the discussion at #Stress.

37 Comments Posted

Jul. 06, 2011