Tom McCormack has been a runner for the ages.
Since he turned 59 last year, McCormack has set eight state records for various distances in his age group.
“I enjoy the competition,” the former East Tennessee State runner said. “I want to stay in shape and make sure my quality of life is good. I think I do that, but my running is not just a physical exercise, it helps with mental stress from my job. I’m a Type A personality and the running evens that out.”
McCormack, once a member of the ETSU cross country team’s famed “Irish Brigade,” doesn’t have any more stress from his job. He retired from the Johnson City Fire Department on June 28, giving him even more time to run.
McCormack’s latest state record came in July when he won the Firecracker 4-Miler in Rogersville with a time of 23:09.
“It’s awesome to know you’re the fastest person in the state of Tennessee for that particular age division,” he said. “It’s a honor to be able to run that fast.”
He has also set state records in the mile (5:08), five-mile (28:57), eight-kilometer (29:03) and five-kilometer (17:30) since he turned 59. He broke his own records in a couple of them.
When he turns 60 on Sept. 1, McCormack has even loftier goals. He wants to break some national records.
One national mark in his sights is the mile, where the 60-64 division record is 4:53.01. McCormack ran a 5:00.06 on the Tennessee High track this summer and says the record could be within his reach with a little work.
“I feel like I’ve got the ability once I start doing some speed work on a track to do it,” he said. “I think I can get down close enough to break that record early in 2014.”
It’s not only the age-group competition that McCormack enjoys.
“I get the most pleasure out of beating people that are younger than I am,” he said. “It’s nice to go out and see these young kids on the line who look at me like, ‘Who’s this old guy?’ Then I end up finising ahead of them and they’re kind of shocked when they realize how old I am.
“It’s also good to be a role model for younger runners. I guess it’s good they understand they can continue running even after they’ve gotten older. It’s not just a young person’s sport.”
McCormack runs about 36 miles a week while training, six miles a day six days a week.
“There’s a point, particularly when you get older, where you can’t overdo it,” he says. “Your body won’t take it. There’s a fine line between being in shape and getting injured.”
McCormack battled shin splints and Achilles tendon ailments while running at ETSU in the 1970s.
“I felt like during my college days, I didn’t really reach the level of performance I could have because of injuries,” he said. “I think this gives me a second opportunity to show what I could do. After my college days, it seems like I ran a lot better.”
Injuries, as well as general aches and pains, are part of the sport, especially for someone nearing 60.
“I’m fighting a back issue that is an injury from about 25 years ago,” McCormack said. “It’s caused some numbness in my left foot. But at my age, you’re gonna have aches and pains. You don’t worry about it. You run though those. That’s part of being a runner. You don’t make excuses.”