When Steve King and I began working on Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes, we considered a number of potential titles including “Running on the Shady Side of 50“.  After recruiting potential contributors and considering some of the commentary, we realized that the older, “seasoned’ athlete will tend to self-identify and some would see themselves as seasoned at 40 and others, much later.  Thus, we finally came to the title we chose.

Fauja Singh - Mayor's 5K Sept 2012

Today, and interestingly enough Steve King was even involved in his well-known role as race announcer, I found myself running in a ZONE quite unimagined!  I guess it could be called the “Century Zone“. I was privileged to join in the entourage or posse of Mr. Fauja Singh (aka the ‘Turbaned Tornado’).  The local press has been full of him and his story, as has been the running media.  I won’t spend a lot of time recounting that he is well over 100 years of age, or that he has done some amazing things and holds all kinds of World Records. For this post, I just want to make a few remarks about the experience today, and the impact of this man in our midst.

From the time it was announced he would run the Mayor’s 5K at the Surrey International World Music Marathon, much has been made of it in the media. A number of people from the running community were asked to run with Fauja Singh Chindsa and I was so very happy to be one of them. We did have a bit of a practical purpose, namely to assist with making a bit of a buffer around him and ensure there were no unfortunate accidents.  That turned out to be pretty easy work and perhaps unnecessary.  Well, except that from time to time we had to gently warn slower competitors, yes – I said slower – to take care of the rather large group coming up from behind them.

To be in the presence of someone so revered in his community was very special.  It may be the closest I ever get to running with a Rock Star!  Signs were everywhere and at pretty much every major intersection there were crowds of people cheering him on.  Fauja Singh does not really speak English, but as we ran he chatted with what I learned were largely family members; “grand-children’ I was told, but I’m betting on at least Great-Grandchildren myself. You could tell how much they respected him just by the tone, but also that he was very witty.  He would often say something that would be met with considerable laughter.

I doubt I’ve ever had my picture taken so many times!  It was a great choice of the Surrey ogranizing committee to make the invitation and I’m thrilled that Marty Wanless of Allsport Marketing Services saw fit to include me in the event. The day could not have been much better. The sun was bright and by the time we started at 9:30am, warm, but not hot. I think some of the other runners would have been thrilled to have joined in, at least in the cheering at the start, but both half and full marathoners had long since left the area. In fact, some of the half marathoners had begun to finish.

I will be honest that I really didn’t know what to expect, other than it was going to be fun and very special joining a centennarian on a run.  I had heard that a time of 40-41:00 might be expected.  While that wasn’t going to be the winning time, it would still require running and not total walking. For the record, we were a good five minutes faster. We never walked at any point and on the easier downhill sections, the pace of running was commendable!  Recall, I mentioned that we gently alerted other participants of the large group accompanying Fauja Singh as we passed. In the end his time was 35:55 and he finished first in his age category.  OK, I made the last part up.  There is no Over 100 category in this race, or any other I have EVER done.  He did finish 200, out of a total of 356.  It hardly matters, though I just want to make the point that at 100+, this man runs.  The awe created by him being out there, looking very spry and healthy and inpsiring so many others to “the possible’, is what really counts.  As I said to one of his family, a man who was maybe in his 30’s or 40’s, “I guess as I find myself tiring, even hurting, in my next marathon, I can think of Fauja Singh and just dig down because at my tender age, ‘seasoned’ as it may be, I’ll have little to complain about, or expect sympathy either”.  I have others I call upon when I need inspiration.  More than once Terry Fox (his statue at Mile Zero in Victoria) has spurred me to the finish, as I know it will in the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Half Marathon this coming weekend, but now I can also call on the inspiration of Fauja Singh – and I know I will.

I don’t want to sound silly or sappy about this or some kind of groupy, but I do love being around excellence of all kinds. I was in the presence of excellence today and I think I felt an aura of calmness and strength. I suppose that might have been my own impression, but I don’t think so as I watched both the immediate crowd of us running with him, as well as the spectators. We all want our heroes so maybe we create our own images and legends to that end, and that is fair enough when people like Fauja Singh provide the inspiration.

Some have said he may be 103 now.  If that is so, then I just have to keep going for another 35 years and maybe I can run like this and inspire the folks out there. Oh, and continue running marathons.  This 5K today was just a bit of a training run in preparation for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. Fauja Singh is also booked to run Singapore in the near future.  I do know some older and quite remarkable runners right here in our own community, namely the ever amazing BJ McHugh.  It never ceases to amaze the crowds around when they learn her age and of her running capacity and performance.  That said, even BJ has to look forward another 20 years to join Fauja!

It is actually a great thing that so many people continue with what they love, in our case running, regardless of the fact that the  ‘manual’ or best advice says we are too old. Most of us just do it – for our own satisfaction.  I guess that if you keep on long enough and choose your events wisely, you will win something from time to time. I was actually a little shocked (and only a little secretly pleased) to note that had I run the Mayor’s 5K at the same pace I ran the Team Joshua 5K last weekend, I would have won my age category. For about a micro-second  the small shallow innner me considered whether that would have been worth the doing and concluded I wouldn’t have traded this experience for anything. 

Actually, it is also a nice way to slide into the fact that I encountered Joshua and Michelle, his mom, at the end of the half marathon – both wearing the biggest finisher medals (and smiles) I think I’ve ever seen.  They were both looking pretty proud and pleased and it was great to hear how successful the Fun Run a week earlier had been in getting them closer to the goal of qualifying for Boston.

So, there you have it.  Two amazingly inspiring weekends of running. Here’s hoping the inspiration carries forward to my upcoming half marathon in Victoria!  Now, as I started writing that, I really intended that inspiration to lead to a good time, but even as I wrote I realized what I really meant was that it would be another great experience, whatever that might turn out to be. Just to close off here: my presonal thanks to everyone that made today so special.

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