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Don't let age hold you back

Last week on the Bank Holiday Monday, I gathered at the finish line – with 6,000 others – to discuss our experience in running the inaugural Dublin Rock 'n' Roll Half-Marathon.

One of those I chatted to was the brilliant Clonliffe Harriers runner and Dundalk native Gary O'Hanlon. He made a comment that I recalled hours later.

It arose after I complimented him on winning five of the six full-marathon events he has entered in 2013.

Gary has a big birthday milestone coming up in the next year as he hits the big 40.

"Age is just a number", he proudly exclaimed.

With a PB for 2013 of 2:26 for the classic 26.2-mile distance, Gary has over the past few years hit PBs in everything from 1,500m (3.51), 3,000m (8.14), 5k (14.21), and in the Rock 'n' Roll event, he also ran his fastest time over 13.1 miles, finishing in third place behind Mullingar's Mark Christie.

His philosophy, therefore, is worth aligning with. He is offering living proof that just because we are gone beyond what conventional wisdom says is our prime, it need not be so.

Society today is somewhat obsessed with being young, but also sabotaging our thinking on what is possible as we get older as well. Thankfully, running and sport generally encourages positive thinking and attitudes.

Now, I am not suggesting that those at Olympic level necessarily can keep getting faster as middle-age approaches, but there is no reason why the other 99.5pc of us cannot ask more of ourselves and achieve more, well beyond what conventional wisdom says is our sporting prime.

In his book Coaching for Performance, John Whitmore proudly announced that at the ripe old age of 69 – and after 30 years of air travel – that he was giving up jet lag. He simply told himself that he no longer got tired after long-haul flights.

Years later, when he wrote the book, he was convinced it had worked.

Entering a new age category grouping can inject a pep in the step of many a 34-year-old, a 44-year-old or someone vacating their 59th year on Earth.

A new age group is on the horizon and this runner is now a junior once more, but with a potential two to three-year age advantage over their rivals.

Some of the most competitive age categories are in the 50s and 60s age ranges. Spare a thought though for those in the same age group as Canadian resident Ed Whitlock. At 69, Whitlock ran a marathon in 2:52.47. Yes, believe it or not, you did read that correctly.

We all know people that are old before their prime. Usually though it is because of something they are choosing to tell themselves and live out as well. Often it is a choice. Thankfully there are also people determined to do the opposite and to inspire others to do likewise. Mr Whitlock is one of those.

Leroy 'Satchel' Paige was an American baseball pitcher who made his debut in Major League Baseball at age 42.

He once said: "Age is a case of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter."

Gerry Duffy is a motivational speaker and endurance athlete. www.gerryduffyonline.com

Irish Independent