My first thought was to respond tersely, “When they pry my Asics Kayanos off my cold, dead body.” But instead, I sweetly asked, “Whatever do you mean?”
Mom replied, “Isn’t there an age where you just don’t run anymore?”
A scene from a Monty Python movie flashed before my eyes, except instead of the Black Knight, I was a runner insisting in a strong British accent that I was “not dead yet,” as my appendages were hacked away, one-by-one.
I am not a package of cheese with a use-by expiration date, but her query did get me thinking about running through the ages. So, I called up one of my running heroes, Wilburn Smallwood, who will be 90 in November, and one of the local running phenoms, 10-year-old Jake Moore, who according to recent Woodstock 5k race directors holds the distinction of being the youngest person to complete the 3.1 mile course, doing so in 34:37 at the age of 4.
Both athletes currently hold Alabama state records, and both are active in the local running community. I wanted to get Smallwood and Moore’s takes on running, particularly how they train, their favorite distance races to run, what’s on their race calendar and what advice they have for fellow runners.
Smallwood was born in Tuscaloosa County in 1923 and moved to Gadsden then Anniston after serving in the Army during WWII. The fact that Smallwood is even here today, much less that he can run, is pretty remarkable. He was shot twice at one time, one bullet hitting his arm and the other hitting a grenade on his belt causing it to detonate, destroying his belt and gun, and injuring him enough to be sent home.
Moore, a rising 5th grader at White Plains Elementary School, has lived his whole life in the Anniston area and started his running career at the YMCA Healthy Kid’s Fun Run in Golden Springs when he was 2. He ran his first 5k the following year at the Lion’s Club Run for Sight with a blazing time of 35:56.
Unlike Moore, Smallwood was a latecomer to the sport. “I began running in 1984,” he said. “I was 62 years old.”
After the running boom of the 1970s, wherever Smallwood and his wife traveled they’d see people jogging up and down the streets. He thought the sport would be something good to do, especially after he retired from the Depot at Bynum.
“I got where I could run pretty fast,” said Smallwood, a quiet, humble man. “Then I joined Anniston Runners Club and I don’t miss too many local races.”
He’s never done a marathon, he said but notes that he has run enough miles to go back and forth across the United States, coast to coast.
Even though Smallwood is nursing a slight hip pain, he says he feels fortunate to be able to run and compete. He attributes his longevity to his good health, which he attributes to running.
When asked what he thought about Smallwood who is a local running legend at age 89, Moore said with a mischievous grin, “I hope I can live that long.” Smallwood laughed at Moore’s response and replied, “I hope he can, and that he doesn’t get hurt.”
Both runners took some time to answer a few questions, and in so doing, confirmed what I have long believed — no matter how old or how young you are, it is always a good time to start running.
Q: What do you like about running?
Moore: It’s fun!
Smallwood: I have always liked to compete.
Q: What’s your training plan?
M: I run outside when I play. I let my dog out, race him and I beat him.
S: I walk or run three times a week.
Q: What is your favorite distance/race to run?
M: The Seaside 5k
S: The Woodstock 5k
Q: When is your next event, and do you have a goal for it?
M: The Woodstock 5k. I want to break 23:58, but that’s hard. And I hope I win Kidstock. (Moore is running the 5k and the Kidstock 1-mile fun run.)
S: The Woodstock 5k. Want to beat my last time from the Lion’s Club race in June. (Note: If Smallwood is successful, he will break his own 5k state record.)
Q: What is your best advice to other runners?
M: Don’t take off full speed when you start. Pace yourself, and when you see the finish line, then take off.
S: Your motivation has got to be the competition with yourself, to beat what you did before.
The 33rd running of the Historic Woodstock 5k and Kidstock 1 Mile is Saturday, August 3. For more information, go to www.woodstock5k.com. The Remembrance Run, the last training run for the Woodstock 5k, is Saturday, July 27, at 7:30 a.m. at the race’s start line. Come honor someone special by running in their memory. No fees. No trophies. For more info visit the events calendar at www.annistonrunners.com.