Joy Johnson. As I read the news from the New York City Marathon, the name was familiar. I pulled out the basket holding treasured hard copy articles, preceding the days before I began storing links on my laptop.
There it was: Page W1 of the Weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal October 31, 2008, an article on marathon competition among runners 80 years and above. It included an interview with Johnson, then age 81. Matthew Futterman’s article contained a subtitle quote from Johnson: “I want to die running.”
I’d kept the article for its two intriguing aspects. The first was information on biological changes that occur in older runners. Futterman discussed the loss of efficiency in the circulatory system and some of the reasons senior runners are more prone to injury.
The icing on the cake in the article was a review of the training regimen Johnson adopted to lower her marathon time and place well in her age group. At age 81, she upped her running to 50-55 miles a week, ran the bleachers at the stadium, ran hills and increased her speed work.
The conjecture about her fall at mile 20 in this year’s NYC Marathon pales to me in importance. This was a woman confident in her decisions.
Twenty years younger than Johnson but older than most runners, I’ve had occasion to wonder when the need to test my ability may give way. For each of us, who knows when and if the drive for personal best and the love of running will cool, when we will be too sensible or too fragile to wait for a race start wrapped in a wind-protecting garbage bag.
For Joy Johnson, the determination and drive didn’t subside at age 64 when she achieved a sub 4-hour marathon, it didn’t subside at age 80 when she upped her training. It wasn’t the 2013 NYC Marathon, her last of many. Her love of running and willingness to work to her personal best were her companions to the end.
I’m scheduled to run the NYC Marathon in 2014. When I reach mile 20, I will be thinking of Joy Johnson, her love of running and her fellow runners, the drive and determination that brought her to the start and took her to the finish line. I’ll be reminded of what can be achieved and how to live fully while achieving it.
Well done, Joy.