For many, running is a journey of discovery, marked by new strengths and perspective emerging with each stride. Catherine Berry, 65, retired pilot, amateur guitarist, and resident of Musquodoboit Harbour, Nova Scotia, doesn’t quite see it that way.
Catherine says she’s gotten to know herself quite well over seven decades, so running hasn’t necessarily brought forth any great revelation about who she is. She always knew that she was patient, persistent, and good at enduring discomfort, and now puts those traits to use in distances from the 5K to the half marathon.
65 can be greeted from a variety of perspectives. Often, with children grown, – Catherine has one grown daughter – career winding down, and facing mortality, one can be daunted by the question of “what now?” In a culture that’s occasionally guilty of glorifying youth, one can also wonder whether or not their best days are behind them.
Having taken up running at 60, Catherine has elected to turn this most recent chapter of life into a celebration, “an opportunity to express some of my better characteristics,” for which running has been a perfect avenue.
It’s a celebration as well of her relationship with the world around her and the things that have brought her joy for so many years. She savours the sights of the Musquodoboit Trailway, especially when the fall colours begin to flourish, while Prokofiev or Wagner pump into her ears on a long run.
In four years or so, she’s been amazed by the way her body has adapted to her new hobby and is fiercely dedicated to her training, but Catherine says, “Most of all I love covering stretches of this good earth on my own little legs. It’s a way to take my rightful place in this universe, a small working piece of a huge wonderful puzzle.”
Approaching 60, Catherine did grapple with physical ailments, specifically a chronic back problem, which she began to address with a chiropractor who prescribed exercises for strength and mobility. But Catherine needed more of an incentive beyond “feeling just okay.” “I was diligent and was making some progress,” she says, “but knew that I wouldn’t keep up with the exercises unless there was some fun attached to it.”
That fun that Catherine was seeking also had to accommodate the fact that her job as a pilot kept her on the road quite often. When Catherine spotted an ad for a learn to run program offered by Mountain Equipment Co-op, she decided it was worth a shot. Running made sense, requiring Catherine to, “…just throw a pair of shoes and run clothes in the suitcase (don’t forget the bra!).”
“The first ‘long run’ I did with the group was 2K and after the first kilometre I thought I might die,” Catherine recalls. “I knew I had to do the weekday workouts or I wouldn’t survive the Sunday runs.”
If there’s one key piece of advice Catherine gives new runners, it’s the importance of that consistency. “Start very slowly,” she advises. “Proceed gradually but consistently. Put your run dates with yourself on your calendar and don’t break your date! If you’re consistent, it will get easier.”
By the end, Catherine was the only one left standing in her learn to run group. When she completed her second 5K as part of the Blue Nose Marathon, she thought to herself, “I could’ve run that faster.” That’s when she got hooked.
Her accomplishments to date include a current half marathon PB of 2:06 in October of last year at the Valley Harvest Half Marathon. That was a 15 minute improvement over her previous half marathon, where Catherine says she, “let herself slack off.” When the temptation came to slow down in her next race, Catherine thought of her sister Maureen as her inspiration. Maureen had been running since the 70s, when the sport, particularly women’s running, wasn’t as supported as it is now.
Catherine has many other inspirations, including of course Ed Whitlock and Deena Kastor, but adds, “Sometimes what you need in running is not so much inspiration to motivate you, but support to keep going regardless.” Catherine’s support system for running derives from her @RunAtCan comrades on Twitter. For Catherine, “The enthusiastic support of my fellow runners has been uplifting and carries me along.”
Still, beyond inspiration and support is the need to study up, which many runners neglect. Catherine recommends that runners add authors Matt Fitzgerald, Brad Hudson, Jack Daniels, Owen Anderson, Tim Noakes, and Jay Dicharry to their library. For the late in life runners, Margaret Webb’s Older, Faster, Stronger is essential.
In May, Catherine will run her first marathon in Ottawa. The Boston Qualifying time for her age group is 4:40, which she believes is attainable through, “hard work, patience, and a bit of luck.”
For Catherine, running is less a journey of self discovery and perhaps more of a discovery of a new world. She approaches it with curiousity rather than apprehension. “Lots of things are worth a person’s fear, but running is just running,” Catherine argues, adding, “and 40 just isn’t that old.” Nor is 60 for that matter. Mr. Whitlock himself said that older runners should be faster and Catherine is determined to make Ed proud.
- Ravi Singh (@ravimatsingh)