By Chris Stucchio
I’m slowing down, but it’s not by choice. Age has finally caught up to me. How do I know this, you ask? I’ve completed 10 5k races since I turned 49 in March 2016, and while my times have been respectable for someone my age – anywhere from 23:18 to 25:44 depending on the course and the weather – they’re significantly off from where they were in 2013, 2014 and 2015, when I could still get under 22:00 on the right day.
In some of the races I’ve done the last couple of years I’ve actually felt like I was running as fast as I ever have, but the clock has said otherwise at the end. One of the things I’ve always loved about running is that self-deception isn’t going to make you better at it. Once you cross the finish line, you are what your time says you are, and the only way to improve is to work harder.
Unfortunately, I’m at the point now where I can’t train the way I once did to go faster without my body wearing down. Coming to that realization wasn’t easy for me, but sometimes in life you have to accept things for what they are instead of trying to pretend you can change them.
I thought it would bother me when I was certain my best days as a runner were behind me. Surprisingly, though, I’ve been enjoying running as much as I ever have. For the first time since I started running regularly in 1989, I feel totally free — I’m not worried about time, at least not to the extent I once was; I’m not concerned with what the weather conditions are going to be like on race day; I don’t care what the course elevation is; and I’m not thinking about how much I need to cut down my mileage before an event to maximize my performance.
Instead, I race now because I think it’s a privilege to be able to do it when there are so many people who physically can’t, because I feel a great sense of satisfaction knowing I’m often supporting outstanding causes and organizations, and because suffering for 23 minutes or more is a great form of penance for me. I’ve also discovered that when I run a 5k race as hard as I can without any time expectations, the postrace euphoria I experience is like a spiritual experience, no matter what the clock says.
Interestingly, for years I wanted to earn a medal for my age group in the Susan G. Komen 5k, which is my favorite running event in Buffalo, and I was never able to do it when I was at my fastest. In fact, in 2014, at the age of 47, I completed that race in 21:12 — one of my best times ever at the 5k distance — and it was only good enough for sixth place out of 35 men.
In 2016, the race moved to a new location, and the course was more challenging. I knew with the decrease in my performance I had no chance of being in the top three for my age group. Well, I was wrong. Out of 32 men, I finished in third place with a time of 23:55. Sure, there was probably some luck involved — on a different day there might have been a faster field — but I’m not giving back that bronze medal either. It took me quite a while to get it.
We’ve all heard the expression “Stop and smell the roses.” Maybe instead of stopping, we just need to slow down a little.
Chris Stucchio doesn't want to stop to smell the roses, but he'll slow down.