Marine Corps Marathon Features Older Runners

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As the 34th annual Marine Corps Marathon comes to a close and the thousands of runners are congratulated by family and friends, there are four runners who have the distinction of having participated in every Marine Corps Marathon since it began in 1976. These four older runners, known as the Groundpounders, are an inspiration to runners everywhere, young and old, and possibly good role models for older adults who are thinking about getting involved in some sort of physical exercise.

The Groundpounders include Will Brown, who spent 26 years in the Marine Corps Reserve and retired as a Colonel in 1998. At age 63, Brown has completed more than 35 marathons, 33 of which are the Marine Corps Marathon, as well as three 100-mile races.

Matthew Jaffee, age 69, took up running while he was on the wrestling team at Bucknell University in 1962. He did not take up racing until the early 1970s and entered the first Marine Corps Marathon as his first 26.1-mile race. Jaffee aspires to complete the first 50 Marine Corps Marathons.

Al Richmond was working in the Marine Corps office that was helping to organize the first Marine Corps Marathon when he decided at the last minute to enter the race. Now, at age 70, he is still running the marathon and has participated in several others, including two Baltimore marathons and ones in Yuma, Las Vegas, and Mary’s County, Maryland.

Mel Williams, the oldest of the Groundpounders at 71, took up running in high school so he could lose weight for the wrestling team. Two weeks before he ran his first Marine Corps Marathon, Williams had run the New York City Marathon. Williams has consistently finished in the top of his age group and was inducted into the Marine Corps Marathon Hall of Fame in 2001.

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Although these men do not represent the average older American in terms of physical activity, and no one should begin any type of vigorous exercise program without first consulting their physician, it is important to note that research shows that vigorous exercise can help prevent serious health conditions, including macular degeneration, cataracts, and obesity, among others.

For example, in two studies that consisted of approximately 29,000 male and 12,000 female runners, researchers found that after a seven-year follow-up, men who ran more than 5.7 miles daily had a 35 percent lower risk of developing cataracts than men who ran less than 1.4 miles daily. Too few women responded to determine the incidence. For macular degeneration, when compared with men and women who ran less than 1.2 miles daily, those who ran more than 2.4 miles daily had a 42 to 54 percent lower risk of developing the disease.

A ten-year study that followed more than 143,000 older people (average age, 63 years) found that 413 developed Parkinson’s disease. Study participants who maintained a moderate to vigorous activity level (30 minutes or more daily) were 40 percent less likely to develop the disease than those who engaged in little or no activity.

A Department of Energy study found that people who continue a vigorously active lifestyle as they grow older gain less weight than people who exercise moderately. The investigators looked at more than 8,300 male and female runners for seven years. The participants continued their average weekly running schedule during the course of the study. Those who ran more than 30 miles per week gained half the weight of those who ran less than 15 miles weekly.

Not everyone can enter the Marine Corps Marathon, or any marathon for that matter. But most people have the ability to engage in some sort of moderate to vigorous exercise, whether it is running, brisk walking, bicycling, swimming, racket sports, or aerobic exercises. Men like the Groundpounders can serve as an inspiration to people of all ages to get up off the couch and make physical activity a part of their daily lives.

SOURCES:
Marine Corps Marathon website
Thacker El et al. Movement Disorders 2008 Jan; 23(1): 69-74
Williams PT. Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science 2009 Jan; 50(1): 101-106
Williams PT. Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science 2009 Jan; 50(1): 95-100

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