"I'm thinking, 'Gee, is 85 supposed to be old?'" Runner, veteran is getting faster
At 49, Iggy Cascio of Schaumburg was pretty old to be entering his first competitive race. Still, he was disappointed that he didn't finish better in that first 10K in Barrington.
"It was the Frank Shorter era," Cascio says, recalling the American runner whose gold medal in the marathon in the 1972 Summer Olympics ignited a running craze across the nation. "Everybody was running."
At Sunday's Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8K race in Chicago, the 86-year-old Cascio not only won his age division for the third time, but he also ran considerably faster than his winning time last year.
"I'm happy as a lark about that," says Cascio, whose pace of just more than 11 minutes a mile let him complete the 4.97-mile course in under an hour at 56 minutes and 15 seconds and win the 85-89 age division. "I'm thinking, 'Gee, is 85 supposed to be old?' I was really surprised at my time because at 86 you're not supposed to beat your last year's time."
Even on a day when the wind chill was about 18 degrees at the start, the race was easier for Cascio because of the training he had done.
"I did the homework," he says, noting that his workouts included a series of 6-mile runs. "That's why I was able to knock four minutes off last year's time."
Of the 20,895 runners in the Shamrock Shuffle, Cascio beat 6,734 of them. Among male runners, Cascio finished 7,401st out of 9,248 runners.
As the eighth of 14 kids in his family growing up in Rockford, Cascio says he always thought he was too small to participate in sports.
"Remember those ads about a 98-pound weakling?" Cascio says. "I used to look at that and say, 'That's me.'"
But when he enlisted and served in the Air Force from 1952 to 1956, the diminutive Cascio became a fit 5-foot-6, 145-pound athlete. Assigned to bases in France and Germany during the Korean War, Cascio became a physical trainer and helped create fitness programs to keep the men in shape.
"We made them run 100 yards, 300 yards, do pushups and jumping jacks," Cascio remembers. "They didn't like it."
A barber after the war, Cascio studied and became a hair stylist for 28 years. Then he discovered he had an artistic flair for painting houses, a job he still does for friends. But running is a passion for him.
"After my first win, the rest all have been anticlimactic. There's nothing like that first time," Cascio says.
He ran the New York City Marathon when he was 55 but tried to keep pace with the faster runners. "I hit the 10-mile mark in 70 minutes, and I knew I didn't belong," remembers Cascio, who hit the wall and finished an hour behind his 3-hour-and-30 minute goal.
In Sunday's Shamrock Shuffle, he wore a metronome to help him keep a consistent pace.
"It kept my mind on that instead of trying to pass the guy ahead of me," Cascio says. "It keeps your stride in balance."
In some years, the father of two (son Paolo and daughter Stefanie) could find time to compete in a couple dozen races.
He even flirted with the idea of competing in triathlons that add biking and swimming to the runs.
"I learned how to swim when I was 75," says Cascio, who still swims, especially when he's too sore to run.
These days, he has time to train for only a few races a year.
"I don't want to spend too much time away from her," Cascio says of Shirley, his wife of 58 years.
He says running has been good for his body and his mind.
"Running is about the inner peace of your mind and testing your emotional limits and seeing how far you can go before the pain sets in," Cascio says.
One of only two runners in his age bracket on Sunday, Cascio says he has a few more races planned for this year and hopes he'll be able to compete in the 2019 Penn Relays, the oldest and largest track event in the nation, which draws elite runners of all ages, including those in Cascio's age bracket. If he doesn't win his division in those events, that's OK.
"It's not how fast you do stuff," Cascio says, "as long as you stay in motion."