• from moment to moment

With 61 on the back

“You stand in a line of people and every fifteen seconds a new racer starts. There's nowhere to go, just forward. Same thing right on the track. You run and try to overcome obstacles. Often just the limits in your own head. You wade in mud, climb over high walls, lift tires, pull heavy barrels, test your balance and strength. At any given moment, you’re not thinking about why you should do it, you just go for it. Or at least I do. I ran my first Gladiator in Milovice. My legs were all bruised, but at the finish line, I realized it wasn’t actually all that bad,” says Jaroslava Bradová, a successful hobby runner and OCR finisher.

If sports were a pill, it would be a bestseller. Regular exercise helps the body, mind, muscles, and immunity. Does it inhibit aging? Maybe it does. But there's no magic pill, and the hard work itself often hurts. So we'd rather lie on the couch and slap evolution in the face because we humans were programmed for physical exertion. When we think of sports and racing, we mainly show people in their younger years. Individuals full of dreams and determination to push their performance. But if you look more closely at the starting corridor, there are 61-year-old female runners there too, for example. Experienced matadors who, despite their earlier date of birth, manage to withstand challenging situations and break down stereotypical mindsets. They can accept, and perhaps even redefine, the aging process. They inspire.

“In the beginning, I wanted to try the Gladiator Race and outdo myself. My son regularly ran these obstacle races and we rode with him as his support. With each new route, I was drawn to the idea of seeing if I could do it too. And I did! The OCR races were followed by the pure running races and with them came the motivation to get results and track my progress.” Jaroslava regularly wins the Czech running series Běhej lesy and RunTour in her age category. She can run ten kilometres faster than any twenty-year-old. She trains in her free time, after she’s done with work and taking care of the household. Because she wants to. Because she enjoys it. Because she's not looking for excuses. Because she wins?

The roots of handball

“There was no dedicated sport in my childhood, and there were no opportunities when I was young. Especially in the village where I grew up. In elementary school, I went to a gymnastics club and competed in athletics. But I've always had a positive attitude towards sport. Village life may not have offered organized sports, but it provided a great playground for a variety of outdoor activities. In winter, for example, skating on the pond was a matter of course.”

After college, handball became the number one sport. “Once a friend approached me if I wanted to play in Kaliště, where the women's team was. So I gave it a try, I enjoyed it. I used to go train every week, in the summer on a moped, or by car when the weather was worse. We played in the regional championship; it was the third-highest competition then. We were second behind Třebíč.”

“The training sessions were mainly about running and improving our technique. In handball, you have to be able to read the game, anticipate the opponent's behaviour, react quickly and creatively, orient yourself well in the space. Actually, I don't know what handball is like now in the Czech Republic, but I would definitely recommend it to kids. It builds toughness, combativeness, resilience, but also humility and teamwork. You develop tactical thinking and the ability to process information quickly, and these skills are useful in everyday life.”

Ten kilometres in 53 minutes

And then came spring 2018, Běhej lesy Vysočina. A 12 km hilly course with a final time of 1:33 hours. The first running race in her life. Not an easy task for a newcomer. It has the longest amount of trail running in the entire series; the route leads largely along forest paths with trail sections, passing the monument of one of the best Czech climbers Radek Jaroš, the rocks of Dráteničky, Malinské skály and the pond called Milovský rybník. “A year later I did the same route in 1:22.”

Iconic places in Bohemia and Moravia, city parks, forests, natural panoramas within easy reach. The environment itself invites you to run out and measure your strength in the race. Or what is it that attracts her so much to want to participate so regularly? Is it the results, the experience, the pleasure, the adrenaline, the social contact, the tracking of progress? “When you see yourself gradually improving, it gives you new energy and a desire to keep trying. My current 10 km record is 52:52 at Karlovy Vary last year. Let's see where it goes. I don't have a specific goal in mind, but every acceleration and medal in my category will be nice.”

I just run

“You know I'm a little grumpy when things don't go according to plan. This is a bit of a paradox because I don't use a smartwatch when racing or training. It's hard to know if my progression would have been better, but I don't feel encouraged in knowing my running pace or other metrics. I don't get tied down by numbers. I just like to move, work out, and then enjoy the race as a reward. Sometimes I celebrate, other times my opponents are better. There is no complicated alchemy involved.”

“And maybe that's why I still enjoy it. Maybe that's why I don't have to struggle with laziness or persuading myself to go for a run after work. I don't get many of those moments. A lot of people don't get active because they say they don't have time. Yes, playing sports takes time. But it takes exactly as much time as you put into it. Even half an hour counts. For me, it's at least an hour a day, which is roughly equivalent to one episode of a TV show.”

Up and down

“It was over thirty degrees out, stuffy. The trail near Karlštejn is beautiful, you can get all the way down to the limestone quarry Velká Amerika, where access is usually forbidden. But the weather just ruined all the fun. Legs got heavy, there was nothing to draw energy from. Then it's my head that has to run. But I didn't give up. So far I have never abandoned a race early.”

“It helps if you know your strengths and limits. You know what you can afford and what is currently pushing it too far. By training, you learn to be aware of your feelings and behaviour, you start to control and manage yourself better, which helps you in difficult moments. Tough times will undoubtedly come. But I always remember what I've done, what difficulties I've overcome. I lean on the challenging moments that I’ve already overcome successfully in the past. Every moment like that makes you stronger. And it even helps you when climbing the steep hills.”

Just as with every new race, it's always a challenge and an experience. “I'm definitely a more confident runner than I was three years ago. Calmer and more composed. There were doubts at the beginning, like right before the very first Gladiator. I was familiar with the environment, but being a spectator is a completely different thing than experiencing it yourself. You have to focus on the positive, and it helps if you don't go in completely unprepared (laughs). If you give it your best, the fears before the start soon disappear because deep down you feel that you can do it.”

“You can carry a lot of things over from running into your everyday life. To concentrate well, for example. When you run down steep and wooded terrain, you have to be present in the here and now. Otherwise, you’ll fall to the ground in the blink of an eye. Or to set realistic goals, because you learn to work with your possibilities and capacity. Or not to judge people by the way they look. You never know what potential they really have. Even better, you'll pick out your values and realize that it's never too late to start anything.”

I don't feel my age

The podium is undoubtedly a powerful engine for racing. But the movement itself has a far more significant benefit. It's great health prevention. “Yes, sometimes something hurts a little from my busy schedule, but in the big picture, if I hadn't moved regularly since I was a kid, I believe I would be physically worse off now.” It's not just conjecture, some studies confirm it. The immune system starts to decline in your twenties at a rate of about 2-3% per year. Yet scientists say that moving at an older age can prevent it from weakening, and therefore, protect against infections and other health complications. So you already know what to say when someone blurts out the question, “Why on earth are you always training? Is there no time to rest?”

Play sports. Enjoy your favourite activities without worry. Even a small step can make a big difference. At the very least, you will get to know new environments and groups of people. Or you may inspire someone else. “I don't know how younger athletes perceive me at the start. I feel comfortable amongst them. I don't worry about my age because my health and fitness are still there. The people around me support and cheer me on, so I have no reason to feel uncomfortable or subject to prejudice. I will keep running as long as it brings me joy. How far that will be remains to be seen.”

Is age just a number? “That's for each person to evaluate on their own.”

“I'm rooting for her, that's for sure. She's the best, that's also clear. It's obvious not only to us but especially to those who lose to her.” / her son Lukáš

It’s absolutely amazing and incredible that she took the plunge and now she's winning one award after another. She's a great inspiration.” / her daughter-in-law Kami

“Tjjjiíííííííáááajííííííí” / her three-month-old grandson Adam

You're crazy.” / her mom Marie