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Running half-marathon at 70 still has its appeal

Former Newsday sports columnist John Jeansonne decided to

Former Newsday sports columnist John Jeansonne decided to mark his 70th year by running the Long Island Half-Marathon earlier this month. Credit: Donna Jeansonne

Just to be clear: I did not attempt running the May 7 Long Island Half-Marathon — 13.1 miles — as some death-defying challenge at 70. Risk does not appeal to me, which explains why I never considered celebrating my septuagenarian situation by climbing Mount Everest (fear of heights) or swimming the English Channel (fear of pruney bathtub skin).

Furthermore, in the words of the late George Sheehan — a cardiologist who became a philosopher of the recreational running movement 40 years ago — I have the pain threshold of a firm handshake. I am opposed to torture in all its forms.

So let me report that I did not suffer. Unless one considers the uncomfortable realization that with age comes a significant fading of muscle memory. Leg oldsheimer’s. What took me an hour and 36 minutes when I was 39; what took me an hour and 48 minutes when I was 49 (the last time I attempted the distance); required, on this occasion, 2 hours, 35 minutes and 41 seconds.

But I will argue that it’s possible to have a good time without having a good time. And I will submit that it is crucial to have a patient wife. Though Donna freely volunteered to be my pre- and post-race valet and to observe my start and finish, I was fully aware that she was due at work a mere four hours after the starting gun. And the clock was ticking.

She had convinced me to buy a $20 pouch for my iPhone, strapped to my bicep, which gave us a lifeline in case of emergency. Turned out that I didn’t die, but her phone did.

And . . . where was I? Oh, yes. Why?

I’ve asked other runners, of all ages and stations in life, that question — not just about attempting the marathon or half-marathon, but also about putting in the daily mileage necessary to safely attempt them. It’s the challenge, they say. It’s the internal struggle, as opposed to trying to beat the other guy. It’s a great escape from more important things in life. It’s a way to get out of the house.

Also: Why not?

This was not a bucket-list thing. I was in my late 20s when I joined the running boom, a program already in progress, and set about proving (to myself) that I was a “legitimate” runner by twice finishing full 26.2-mile marathons. Then came eight half-marathons, my last one in 1996.

What ended the habit of entering such events was the rigmarole of paying entry fees, fighting crowds, traveling to races, fitting them into work and family schedules. And: Been there, done that.

But I remained hooked on the addiction of a daily, leisurely run, and somehow got the notion in February that I should try the half-marathon again. Because it was there, I guess.

The new dare was accepting that I am an old retired guy. On Social Security and Medicare. With a pre-existing condition: moderately severe lead-footedness. I never have been especially fast, and I had to prepare myself psychologically for the fact that many people — not necessarily younger than I — would be passing me along the way.

Chugging along, I had an ideal view of the backs of many, many fellow participants. But, once I was past the first two miles, fighting to warm up in the chilly winds, things went as well as could be expected. Spectators scattered along the course were exceptionally kind, many offering the standard “looking good” evaluation even for those of us who, I strongly suspect, were not.

In taking constant readings throughout the 13.1 miles, I was encouraged by the lack of alarming signals like balking knees, sore shins or aching Achilles, and was maintaining roughly the same pace as my daily 5- and 6-mile ramblings. I quite enjoyed again being in such a pedestrian celebration, laying down all those noncarbon footprints.

In the end, the greatest danger might have been the bag of munchies handed out to all finishers. Along with a healthy banana, there was a processed bagel, doughnut, muffin and cookie with frightening levels of carbohydrates, sugar and calories. After being whisked home by Donna on her way to work, I settled for handfuls of almonds and a bag of M & M’s (peanut). Coffee and plenty of water.

I had finished 1,768th in a field of 2,073 and think I detected a chortle in Donna’s voice: “You only beat 305 people!?”

Except, in my age group (male, 70 to 74), I was 10th of 18. The senior discount.

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