In his book What Makes Olga Run? Bruce Grierson attempts to uncover the aging secrets of 91-year-old track phenomenon, Olga Kotelko. It is a task that is timeless – humans are always searching for the elixir of life, the thing that will make us live, if not forever, then at least for as long as possible. Breaking a few world records along the way would be pretty cool too.
Grierson’s book is not an instruction manual to adding years to your life. He masterfully balances story-telling and fact, science and lifestyle, to create a holistic picture of how our actions impact our aging process. Though I was rather hoping to be let in on the secret to longevity, Grierson’s inclusion of genetics, exercise, stress levels, stretching and diet as various factors on the aging process gave much food for thought. Even though I would by no means call myself a science person, after reading What Makes Olga Run? I must admit I was curious as to what my own genetic make up was like, or whether my personality was giving me an aging advantage or not (a study is cited in the book that those with a good sense of humour tend to live longer, prompting me to put down the book and quickly try and come up with a joke to tell my sister).
Grierson (as a middle-aged man) often inserts himself for comparison to Olga for various tests of ability, which not only contextualizes her abilities, but also makes the book accessible to a wide age range. This is not a book only for older athletes, but for anyone curious about how their lifestyle will age them. I like to think of it this way – even though my mother might tell me that I’m too young to worry about wrinkles, she still wants me to wear sunscreen. You’re never too young to start making choices that will benefit you in the future.
There is a little bit of shock value, a little bit of humour and a lot of truth in Grierson’s statement, “…we need to die, but it’s by no means obvious why we need to get dead, incrementally, the way we do.” His book is a rejection of the assumption that it’s all downhill from here. But, if you’re going to walk back up the hill, you’re going to need to put on your running shoes.