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The Running Man

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When 100-year-old Fajua Singh crossed the Toronto Marathon finish line on Sunday, he became the oldest person ever to run a marathon. And that’s not the most incredible part. It is that he began running when he was 89, well past the age when most people expect to be dead. 

Singh credits his extraordinary health to a vegetarian diet, having never smoked or drank alcohol, and running or walking some 10 miles a day. For those of us in the life and health industry, eople like Singh are a kind of gift to underwriters everywhere, aren’t they? But kidding aside, Singh is a great example of the kind of so-called longevity risk insurers like to point out when they create and market financial planning products. The fear of outliving one’s retirement savings is the driving point, here, and as peope like Singh point out, it is possible not just to make it to 100, but to be living a full and vibrant life, too. To feel, as Singh himself said it, as if he is made of steel.

Granted, Singh is an exceptional case. But 50 years ago, he would have been a non-existent one. Where will we be 50 years from now, when and if medical advances push mandatory retirement to 80 and folks are living until 125? What then? I’ll let you know when I get there. Until then, let us also reflect upon a 27-year-old runner who died during the same race, and on how this race, like others before it, aren’t so much about living fast, but living long.


But Singh’s remarkable achievement also draws attention to a separate conversation America’s Boomers and Seniors are having: what does it mean to reach one’s autumn years? And can they really be called “autumn years” when you are running distances plenty of 21-year-olds are unwilling to attempt? While the need to prepare financially for one’s later life, the fact remains that not everybody intends to sit back in a hammock for 20 or 30 years after they punch their last time card. Some folks intend to keep working, either part-time or full-time, and there are increasing numbers among Gen Xers and Gen Yers that a sedentary retirement may be something they are not itnerested in at all. Retirement itself is a concept that is evolving under various pressures, and it will fall to the financial planning sector to evolve along with them, lest it find itself woefully out of step with its clients.

Thankfully, every retirement expert I speak with these days seems to understand this, but I must confess: in my personal conversations with financial advisors, the notion of a new sort of retirement never comes up. It is always centered around moving to some shady vacation spot and puttering in the garden until my grandkids arrive. 

Heck with that. I just broke my first board in martial arts class this month. (Splintered it, in fact – which showed my strike was off-center, but it was strong enough to blast through the plank, which I’m kind of proud of.) When I’m 100, I want to be smashing bricks. Retirement is a wonderful thing, but as an aged runner shows, getting deeper into life doesn’t necessarily mean slowing down.