‘Age-Old Runners’ is an article series where we explore runners’ performance potential after the age of 45 by interviewing excellent middle-aged runners. Is there still potential to improve? What roles do motivation, mindset, and specific training and recovery techniques play in allowing runners in their mid-forties to mid-sixties to continue to excel? To learn more about this series’ goals, check out its introductory article.
Nancy Hobbs just turned 60. She’s been running and racing consistently since the 1980s, so she’s about 40 years old as a runner. Before COVID-19, she often raced twice a month focusing on sub-ultramarathon distances, winning her age group more often than not. Nancy podiumed at both the 2013 and 2015 World Masters Mountain Running Championships, respectively finishing in third and second when she was 52 and 55 years old. She was also seventh at the 2018 Barr Trail Mountain Race, a race she co-founded with Matt Carpenter.
Nancy is also executive director of the non-profit American Trail Running Association (ATRA), which she founded in 1996. She helped build and raise funding for the first U.S. women’s team to attend the World Mountain Running Championships in 1995 and helped start the USA Junior Mountain Running Team.
Nancy also chairs the USATF Mountain Ultra Trail Council, which she helped create in 1998. She is the treasurer of the World Mountain Running Association, and she’s co-authored a number of books including The Ultimate Guide to Trail Running. In 2013, she was inducted into the Colorado Running Hall of Fame.
The following is a transcript of a phone interview with Nancy. It has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Do you believe runners over the age of 45 have the potential to improve? Can they get faster and race better?
It depends on how fast they have been running. If they weren’t running that much, and, now, they’re doing speedwork and more endurance training, they definitely can.
On the importance of confidence and experience.
You get older and there are different challenges, but there’s also more wisdom. You know more about who you are, what you are. You know what the tweaks are. You know your body better, and you know the results of running when you’re hurt. Instead of exacerbating the problem, you can eliminate it before it gets to a point where you can’t run at all.
I have more confidence about my running now than I did 20 years ago. I think that has to do with the commitment that I’ve made. I pay more attention to what I should be doing.
Why do older runners stop racing?
If you were once super competitive and winning all the time, then as you get older and slower, you think: I can’t be there on the podium. I can’t run as fast now as I once could. What’s the point? You have to reinvent how you look at your competitiveness and how you look at what makes you a runner now. When people no longer define you as an elite runner, they forget about you. But how do you define yourself? It’s so hard emotionally transitioning to that place.
And the other thing is, if you have other things in your life like family, obligations, work, whatever it is, your running might not be the top priority anymore.
I was never an elite runner, so I never went through having to compare myself…. I just feel better whe