An Interview With Charles Brown
2015 Trenton Double Cross 10k Race (day 346 of run streak, first 10k race, Age 56)
Have you ever thought about starting a new sport later in life? Jumping into something brand new, no matter our age, can be a scary thought. But there is no age limit on exploring your potential, joining a new community, and creating life long memories.
Our friend Charles Brown began his running journey at age 55. We first 'virtually' met Charles earlier this year, and have been inspired by his story since we began corresponding. We asked him to share some insights from his journey with us, and we hope it inspires you to try something new - no matter your age!
Did you encounter any mental or physical barriers when you began your running journey at age 55?
I don’t recall any significant mental barriers to me actually getting started. The only minor barrier I had mentally was running on a daily basis. Being that I was an endurance road cyclist for about nine years before I started running regularly, I already had the mental fortitude and capability to perform athletically so running a mile daily didn’t put me under a lot of stress but it took some mental adjustment to suddenly start running every day. My introduction to running consistently began with a 36-day streak running challenge to run at least one mile daily between Thanksgiving Day and New Year’s Day so I wasn’t doing it from a competitive or racing standpoint or to build up to run a certain distance, which possibly could have created more significant mental challenges. I had no physical barriers initially other than developing the endurance to run a mile or more daily. However, at some point I developed plantar fasciitis and IT band issues within my first two years which I eventually was able to rehab through massage therapy and stretching. I think that physical barriers may come into existence if you start out too aggressively, too quickly, injure yourself, have to stop and/or get discouraged. Again, I believe what helped me a lot was the fact that I was already an avid cyclist and gradually transitioned into running on a regular basis.
What do you see as the biggest challenge to start running in your mid 50s?
I think the biggest challenge is starting. A favorite quote I discovered when I began was “It’s the start that stops most people.” You just have to start and not give much thought to those that tell you’re too old or you’re going to get injured i.e., “ruin your knees”. Once you start then it’s a matter of maintaining some level of consistency throughout the week then developing an enjoyment for running so that it doesn’t become a “chore”…you want running to be something you want to do, not something you have to do.
What is your response to folks who believe that 55 is "too old" to start running?
While I think this mindset is slowly changing, I believe some of it stems from societal influences of aging regarding what society or some individuals believe people 55+ should be physically engaged in doing. Additionally, your current personal fitness level comes into play. If you haven’t been engaged in regular physical fitness activity of some type then deciding to run at this age can limit you subconsciously (mindset) to think you’re too old. Sure, you may not be able to get up one day and just start running more than a block but you can gradually start by walking then building up to running.
Finally, representation matters. I believe that for many when you don’t see people in your age group or that look your age running or if the people you spend much of your time with aren’t runners or into physical fitness, then you may not feel running is something you can or should engage in. When people see or hear from others that are similar to them (in this case age), they may get encouraged or can visualize their own possibilities for involvement in running.
The primary thing I would say to anyone is to just get started and be your own inspiration. The hardest parts are getting started; not listening to naysayers and staying consistent. Running is a natural human function and can have significant health benefits. If you haven’t been physically active regularly, you should gradually work your way into running.
Start out walking at a moderate pace, then maybe combine walking with some running and continue to build on your progress. Listen to your body, make adjustments and rest/recover. If you desire outside motivation or perspective, talk with other runners, watch running videos, especially those focused on instruction and beginning a running routine, listen to podcast, read articles/books. Set some goals and use a watch or app that allows you to track your activity and progress (seeing your progress is a huge motivator). If things were back to normal (pre-COVID-19), I’d suggest attending a local 5k or 10k race as a spectator and observe runners in the 50+ age groups.
2019 North Face Endurance Challenge DC 50k (Age 60)
What are the most important lessons you have learned since you began your running journey?
I’ve learned to focus on the types of running that makes running enjoyable for me. I’ve learned that the body, even at my age can do some pretty amazing things. I’ve learned even more so how important it is to have a good physical, mental and nutritional balance in my life. When it comes to running, I’ve discovered to not limit my thinking or opportunities with regard to the type of running I do or where I run.
I’ve done road runs and race distances from 5k to a 100k and trail runs from 5k to 50k distances, in places as far away from my home state of Maryland as South Dakota, Utah and Nevada, oftentimes alone. I’ve run to complete errands and while on business/vacation trips. I’ve had to problem solve on the spot to overcome physical, mental and navigational challenges while trail running…unexpected things can take place out on trails. Many of these running experiences and benefits carry over and have had an impact on or reinforced my personal outlook on life, the environment/nature, goal-setting and accomplishments, dealing with unexpected challenges, pushing myself beyond preconceived notions of my limits and of course my overall health/fitness.
Finally, one of the biggest things I’ve come to learn through both running and cycling is that oftentimes you have to be your own inspiration and not rely on others to be there to run with you or get you out the door.