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I rode my fancy carbon fiber racing bike twenty, rolling miles. Working energetically, it took me 1:26:38 to complete my ride. (Not including stops at red lights. My electronic gizmo records my actual time moving.)

What are your thoughts concerning a man who rides twenty miles (32.19 km) at a 13.9 mph (22.4 kph) pace? Is that ride short, medium, long? Is the pace slow, medium or fast? On a scale of one to ten, with one being short and slow and ten being fast and long, I’d rate it a four, at least for someone who celebrates his fifty-eighth birthday this month.

Speed, as Al Einstein said, is relative, and it’s relative in both the general and special sense. (Don’t worry, this is not advanced physics. I barely passed high school physics and everything I know about subatomic particles and FTL travel I absorbed through comic books.)

My knowledge of statistical analysis is a little better than my subatomic physics but not much. I do know that 100 degrees Fahrenheit is only 10.19% warmer than 50 degrees F, but that’s more of an exercise in reasoning than it is in statistical analysis. (If you’re scratching your head because you’re convinced that 100 is 100% greater than 50 just wait. I’ll explain at the end.)

I was pondering my location on the legendary 1 to 10 scale after my darling wife Patricia, aka the goddess Durga, and I completed a five mile running race in beautiful downtown Cary, NC. We, along with 288 additional racers scurried along on a rolling five miler. Our results varied. The goddess, for instance achieved this benchmark:

Women age 55 to 59: 1st place (out of seven)- PATRICIA KENEL, 58, CARY, NC 43:08 time, 8:38 pace. Overall, she managed to finish 121st out of a total of 290 racers.

My results were far less noteworthy.

Men age 55 to 59: 6th place (out of seven)-  KEITH KENEL, 57, CARY, NC 54:07 time, 10:50 mile pace. I finished 250th out of our 290 five mile racers.

As benchmarks, we have our first place winner, 39 year old OMAR WIGGAN, who ran his race in 28:26 for a 5:42 pace, mid packer SCARLETT DOBBS finished 145th overall with a time of 45:00 and a pace of 9:00 minute miles and our final racer, 42 year old JILL RUSHING who completed her five miles in 1:20:48 for a 16:10/mile pace.

My “peers,” men aged 50 to 64, numbered 31, with four racers taking longer than my 54:07. The goddess’ peer group held 21 fellow female racers between 50 and 64 years of age. Of the 21 women in Pat/Durga’s peer group, zero were faster than she. (Is it any wonder that I call her the goddess?)

Age mate comparisons are fine but what if we compare and contrast with runners between 25 and 39 years of age? Surely the youngsters are faster? Right?

There were 38 women between 25 and 39 years old who finished the five miles. Of those, ten ran faster than Pat, while 17 ran more slowly. As for me, there were 40 men between 25 and 39 who finished the race, 34 of whom ran faster than I and 5 who ran more slowly.

My place relative to all three norming groups, men age 55 to 59, men age 50 to 64 and men age 25 to 39 remains very consistent while Pat fared best when compared to women 50 to 64 and decidedly worst when compared to youngsters in their mid-twenties through late thirties.

My sampling implies that we can maintain much the same pace throughout our lives, an observation that is false. The data is skewed, I am certain, because fast runners keep racing while slow runners (who are not motivated by outside influences such as a goddess wife) stop racing. A lot of older runners stop racing because of a, “Why race for last place?” mentality. Cary’s race was a pretty small sampling group but I’ve done this same kind of analysis for the hundreds of running, cycling and triathlon races I’ve completed. As an aggregate, old racers tend to be faster than younger because the slow stop racing. 

The thing is, everyone who completed this event, all 290 racers from Omar Wiggins through Jill Rushing, is elite. We are elite because we choose self-care and fitness and are capable of running five miles (8.05 km) nonstop. The ability to complete is the important benchmark, speed and pace are mere icing.

Sigh. I used to be “fast.” Not Omar Wiggins fast, but easily top 15% fast. It’s hard to drop from a high expectation to a bottom 20% but I’ll keep going, I’ll keep reminding myself that I’m not racing for last place but rather that I’m racing because I’m “elite.” We can all be elite, we can all choose self-care. We can, but will we?

DISCLAIMER: This data is skewed. The fastest runners overall are not placed in age group categories, they stand alone, making the aggregate age group averages slightly lower than they actually are. Sue me. It’s just an approximation.

Why is 100 degrees F not 100% warmer than 50 degrees F? Because our baseline is false. To compare temperatures, first convert F or C to K (Kelvin.) Fifty degrees Fahrenheit is 283.15 K while 100 F is 310.93 K. The delta is 27.78 K, or approximately 10.19%, depending on if we’re comparing warmer to colder or vice versa.