Above: Rick Berg at the Atlanta Hawks Fast Break race, January 2018; the 65-year-old finished with a time of 34:40; photo by Phil Mosier
Sue Landa’s introduction to running came as a sort of princess moment.
She loves all things Disney and, five years ago, she and some friends she described as “Disney junkies” heard about the Princess Half Marathon, a 13.1-mile run during which many competitors dress as Disney characters. Landa decided she had to take part. She was 63 years old at the time and had never run a race before.
She trained for the run and walked portions of it that first year, but she was able to complete the 13.1-mile trek through Disney World in Florida. And she loved it. “I was so excited about it,” she said. “Because [afterwards] you can’t believe you actually did it.”
Sue Landa started running long distance races about five years ago after she heard about runners dressed as Disney characters for a half-marathon at Disney World. She’s run that race—in costume—every year since. In 2017, she ran as Belle from “Beauty and the Beast,” shown at center above. She also runs three marathons, including the New York City Marathon, shown at left above, and the Marine Corps Marathon, shown at right above; photos courtesy of Sue Landa
The elation stayed with her and she kept on running in long-distance races. Over the past five years, she said, she’s competed in 33 half marathons, which cover 13.1 miles, and three marathons, which extend the distance to 26.2 miles.
So what makes Landa run? “Are you kidding?” she asked. “This is fun!”
Plenty of others who are 60-something or older also find fun in pulling on running shoes and pounding out miles on the road or track. The Atlanta Track Club, the huge heart of local competitive running, claims more than 2,900 members who are 60 or older. That’s more than 10 percent of the club’s membership. “This is just a great track and field town and state,” said Jay Holder, director of marketing for the club.
In fact, metro Atlanta produces some of the country’s top senior runners, including ones who compete in what are called “masters” division races. “Look through the results of any masters-level meet and you’ll find Atlanta Track Club athletes among the top finishers,” Holder said.
Michael Anderson is one of them. The 60-year-old competes in masters-level races and regularly ranks among the top finishers.
Anderson started running competitively in the 1970s, when he was in his 20s. Since then, he’s run 55 marathons, he said. His count—and he says he keeps meticulous records—shows he’s run the Boston Marathon 18 times, the New York Marathon seven or eight times and the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta more than 20 times.
There were times in his younger days when he routinely ran 100 miles a week, he said. He figures that as of Jan. 1, he’d logged 128,288 miles. That, of course, calculates to jogging more than five times around the Earth. “Basically, it’s 40 years of running,” he said.
He slowed his competitive running in his 40s, he said, but started running seriously again in his mid-50s through masters’ races. Anderson says he still runs races because he likes the competition. “I’m pretty competitive,” he said. “The thing about being old is you get all this motivation. I am more motivated now to train and race. But you’ve got to be careful. You can get hurt more easily.”
He’s noticed something about his competitors: Many started running when they got older. He’s the odd one who started young. “Most of the guys I am competing with now, who are fast, they picked it up late in life,” he said.
He figures others may have gotten injured over the years or trained too hard in their youth. He jokes that his 40-something training companions now roll their eyes when he starts telling stories about what racing was like back in the good old days of the 1980s.
Even after all those miles, Anderson still likes the workout running gives him. “It makes me feel good,” he said. “I keep my weight down. I feel healthy. I feel good about myself. … You can’t run 60 miles a week without sleeping and eating well.”
Anderson says he’ll keep running competitively as long as he can. There are some Atlanta Track Club members in their 70s or 80s who still hit the road regularly. “Unless something medically puts me out, I’d be shocked if I’m not running [for many years],” he said. “It’s become such a part of me, right? I can’t imagine not doing it.”
John Wallace, who’s 74, runs in part for the camaraderie and in part for the challenge.
Although his training can be lonesome as he logs road miles near his home in the northeast corner of Georgia, he enjoys taking part in races because of the crowds they attract. “It doesn’t matter what you do, you’ve got people out there who are supporters,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how fast you are, people support you.”
Wallace, who worked for NASA in Virginia and California, says he played softball for much of his life, but has given that sport up in favor of running. “It’s a world of difference,” he said.
He did a little running now and then when he was younger, but only took up the sport seriously in 2013, after he moved to Georgia and a friend suggested they run together in the Peachtree Road Race, the 10-kilometer race that lures tens of thousands of runners to Buckhead and Midtown every Fourth of July.
He applied for admission to the race and won a chance to compete. “Two to three months before the Peachtree, I started trying to run again,” he said. “I could only run 100 yards without stopping.”
But he worked on it. He saw running as a continuing challenge. After that first Peachtree, he’s kept at it. He’s expanded his distance and has run a couple of marathons. He volunteers with the Track Club to help set up for races and said he runs as many as 20 Track Club races a year, mostly 5-kilometer or 10-kilometer ones. He’s run the Peachtree every year, he said.
“It’s an achievement,” he said. “It’s the challenge of doing it and then to be able to say you did it. It’s a little bit of bragging rights. At my age, my first one was quite a challenge.”
In the years since Landa ran her first princess run at Disney World, she’s sampled a variety of other competitions. She’s run in the New York City Marathon and the Marine Corps Marathon, she said.
But she still has a soft spot for running with the Disney princesses. She’s taken part in six Disney princess runs, every time in costume, she said. She’s run dressed as Tinkerbell and Maleficent. She planned to run her seventh princess half-marathon in February, this time dressed as Rapunzel.
And she figures this year’s race probably won’t be her last. She still has characters to go.
“Snow White’s to come,” she said. “She might be next year.”
Dashes, fun runs, marathons and 5Ks are scheduled throughout the year. Join in the fun, whether it’s as a runner, a volunteer or a cheering member of the crowd.
Publix Georgia Marathon, Half Marathon & 5K
Sunday, Mar. 18, 7 a.m. There are also events for kids: One Mile Run for ages 6 to 14, and 50m Dash for ages 6 and under. Pemberton Place, 126 Ivan Allen Jr. Blvd., Atlanta 30308.
Water Drop Dash 5K & Kids Fun Run
Saturday, Mar. 24, 7-10 a.m. A post-race Water Festival offers giveaways and activities. Chattahoochee Nature Center, 9135 Willeo Rd., Roswell 30075.
5th Annual Chastain Chase 5K
Sunday, Apr. 22, 8 a.m. A 1K Walk/Run and Tot Trot are held in addition to the 5K. Chastain Park, 215 W. Wieuca Rd., Atlanta 30342.
Check online at atlantatrackclub.org for details, registration information and more races.