Carla Harris has generally been active all her life but did not start running until she was in her 40s. That leap was inspired, in part, by volunteering at a water station during one edition of Marathon by the Sea. There, she witnessed the determination of the competitors and felt if older runners could tackle the course, so could she. It changed her life. What follows is her story of her impressive progress, extensive competition and her journey into the triathlon disciplines as well.
by Carla Harris
I have been running for about 15 years but was a late starter at the age of 40. I am now 56 years old. I was pretty active as a kid, running a little, broad-jumping and I remember how much I liked being outside. Once I competed in a junior high school running relay team where I got a ribbon.
In my early 20’s, I started aerobics classes at the only gym in Saint John, other than the “Y” and I continued with aerobics and step-aerobics until my late 30’s. That’s when I decided to learn to run, which I did this for a few reasons.
I thought running would get me in better shape, I wanted to be exercising out in the fresh air, I wanted to compete in 10k races and I wanted to work out on my own schedule rather than scheduled gym classes.
Around this period, I volunteered for the first time at Marathon by the Sea and handed out water at I believe the last water hole on the run course, which was probably at Mile 22. What really inspired me to start running was seeing a very elderly woman with a younger woman at that water stop. I remember thinking, if a woman this “old” can run a marathon there is no reason why I can’t run.
It was a life changing moment for me.
The first run I did was a 20 minutes around my neighbourhood, non-stop. I couldn’t believe how hard it was. I thought, why is this so hard, I’m in good shape!! Eventually, I kept adding distance to the runs until I was confident enough to enter a 10k in Fredericton. Approximately, after a year of running, I finally started to feel like a runner. I always ran three times a week. Then a friend suggested we run MBTS’s half marathon. I thought he was crazy. But we trained and did it. I was so nervous and made a lot of “mistakes.” (Ha ha).
Around this time, I also became interested in doing triathlons. They were starting to become more popular and like a lot of people, my interest was further promoted by seeing Simon Whitfield win gold for Canada in the 2000 Olympics. I took swimming lessons at the YMCA at age 42, then bought a decent bike and started cycling and completed my first triathlon shortly after.
I don’t have an exact number but have probably done 30-40 triathlons, including six half Ironmans, racing in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Quebec and Maine. I am presently training for a half ironman relay as well as two other triathlons this summer.
My husband made a “medal board” to hold my medals and recently, I counted 30 half marathon medals, of which nine are from MBTS, which was my first half. I have competed in many other races but I really believe that MBTS has the best atmosphere all around, for runners and their families, and has a lot to offer for the price. I have been in many other races in larger cities but they generally don’t have the same “homey feel” and “bang for your buck”.
I will never forget the elation of completing my first 10k, first half marathon, first triathlon of every distance. I have such a feeling of accomplishment after all the training is finished and I have achieved my goal.
Running is not the easiest thing to do, especially as you get older, but for me the benefits easily outweigh the effort of training in trying conditions, such as when I am tired or injured, when other life commitments conflict or in less than ideal weather conditions (for sure!).
I run outside all winter in cold, ice and snow. I have learned how to dress and I think a big part of running is learning how to be “uncomfortable” and accepting that if you don’t persevere in all types of weather conditions, you will never know how strong you are. Running can definitely be a mental test of endurance. Also, come race day, you could be facing wind, rain and cold. This perspective definitely applies to doing triathlons as well!
I see people of all ages and sizes running and am always impressed with their determination and commitment.
I am very thankful that I am able to run and am healthy enough to do so. I feel that what has helped me continue running at this age, especially half marathons, is the cross training I have received over the years from doing triathlons. Cycling and swimming are great activities and provide strength and muscular balance all around. I have always only run just three times a week, which I am certain has helped prevented major injuries.
I feel it is important to volunteer as much as possible at races to help the running community and give back what has given me so much. I want others to feel the benefits of running and to never give up.
I have volunteered at MBTS over the years, however, this year I will run the half marathon and volunteer at a couple of triathlons.
I run for many reasons – to be able to compete; for fitness, the sense of accomplishment and the social aspect. I have met so many people and many are good friends. I am determined to keep running as long as I can. I believe age is no limit. I want to be one of those 85-year-old’s who is still running around their block every day!