Trail Talk | Welcoming 50: How I Became An Ultra Runner

In this piece from Mountaineer magazine, author Craig Romano reflects on ageing and becoming an ultra runner later in life.
Craig Romano Craig Romano
Mountaineers Guidebook Author
June 08, 2019
Trail Talk | Welcoming 50: How I Became An Ultra Runner

Some folks age gracefully, some don’t, and others futilely fight it - or worse, struggle to even accept it. I tend to be one of the latter. Blame it on my Baby Boomer upbringing. My generation worshipped youth, redefined aging, and still refuses to let something like growing old get in the way of doing what we want. Heck, if it still feels good, we do it! Now that the youngest of us has passed 55, I guess we weren’t really serious when we belted out “Hope I die before I get old".

I’ve always been physically active and have lived a life full of outdoor recreation, travel, discovery, and challenge. As the years marched along, I was too involved in living life to its fullest and having a damn good time to notice that, gasp—I was aging! I knew I’d eventually have to stop fooling myself and accept that, gasp, I was middle age! While 40 may be the new 30, and 50 the new 40, I can no longer deny that I am solidly in middle age. I have the bladder and reading glasses to prove it!

It was during that slide into 50 that I decided I was ready for a new challenge, a new lifestyle to help me beat—I mean accept—growing old. I literally decided it was time to go the extra mile. I decided to become an ultra-runner. And because I love to challenge myself and set lofty goals, my intent was to welcome the big 5-0 by running the White River 50 Mile Endurance Run.

Set your sights high

When I was 18 years old I wanted to do more than ride my bicycle across America. So instead, with my best friend Jeff Silverstein (who was only 17 at the time of our departure), we rode our bicycles around America. It was an adventure that culminated with us cycling 13,000 miles through 41 states during a 9-month time frame. The following year I rode 8,500 miles on another cross-country bike trip. This time to Alaska via Arkansas (and the other states I missed the first time). I then started biking back home (I was living in New Hampshire at the time) across Canada until I had to prematurely finish in Manitoba due to an illness. The next year I got back on the bike and headed east reaching Newfoundland to polish off my last Canadian provinces via bicycle.

I eventually tired of long distant cycling (the allure of roads gave way to trails) and took up hiking and running. And today I make my living primarily by writing about hiking. I’ve been running religiously since the late 80s. I ran my first marathon at age 29 and qualified for Boston at my second marathon. My third marathon was Boston. Then due to injuries I fell out of marathoning.

I’ve since returned to the marathon, but don’t run at the intensity of those earlier days. Life can get in the way is what I used to think. But it’s more that priorities change and balance has become more important. As much as I love running and hiking to my heart’s content, I also value time off trail with my family and I’m more committed to my professional life. I’m also slower now because I’m older. I may never be able to qualify for the Boston Marathon again, but I can set new goals and look forward to new challenges that help me live a life that is full of physical, psychological and spiritual contentment. As I entered my 50s I welcomed ultra-running as a key component in my life equation.

Embrace a new challenge

With a cumulative elevation gain of 8,700 feet and a 14 hour time limit, I certainly could have chosen an “easier” 50 mile trail run to usher in my transition to ultra-trail running. But I have never settled for easy. My biggest rewards have always been when I pushed myself to just beyond what I thought I was capable of doing. And if I was going to create a new indelible memory, it should include Mount Rainier, old growth forests, alpine meadows, and a roaring glacier-fed river.

I trained hard and committed myself to successfully completing White River, and it paid off. Coming over that finish line in the summer of 2011 has become one of my most cherished moments. It also became a turning point in my life when I no longer looked at 20-plus mile day hikes as being long. They had now become routine. When I began hiking in earnest in my 20s I could never have imagined being able to complete with such ease and regularity 20-plus mile hikes. I couldn’t imagine being able to regularly do them in my 20s, never mind in my 50s.

Being able to move so freely and at such great lengths through the woods is liberating. And now in my late 50s I look at the completion of every 20-plus mile day hike as another day I refused to let aging slow me down. But I know there will come a time when aging will get the upper hand. And because I know that every day I am closer to that day—I continue to go that extra mile and keep pushing my physical limitations so that each night I can say that I am truly living my life to its fullest.

There are things I never did; things I should have done when I was younger. You can’t go back in time. And if you live your life with regrets, you’ll only grow old with discontent. You must always go forward and it is never too late to set new goals and challenges. Set those goals, adjust your life to attain them, and then go after them. This boomer plans to keep on truckin for as long as he physically can.

Craig Romano is an award winning author who has written and co-written more than 20 books. His latest release, Urban Trails Everett (Mountaineers Books) highlights the best trails for walking, running, and hiking in Western Snohomish County, as well as Camano and Whidbey Islands. Some of his other titles include Urban Trails Seattle, 100 Classic Hikes Washington, and Day Hiking Olympic Peninsula (2nd edition).

Interested in trail running? Our Foothills branch will be offering a backcountry trail running course this summer and a Wellness Adventure Weekend September 20-22 at Meany Lodge. Learn to run wild with the wind in your hair and dirt at your feet. Visit our website and search for trail running activities to sign up for trail runs. Beginners are welcome!

This article originally appeared in our Summer 2019 issue of Mountaineer Magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, click here.

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