While doing a trail run recently I passed a group of six older folks. My best guess is that these “spry” seniors were in their early 60s and out taxing themselves with a brisk hike in the hills. It was a single track, so they moved aside to let me continue my run. As soon as I passed, I heard one of them say, “Ahhh…youth!”
I was startled to hear this and quickly turned around to see who they might be referring to, only to discover it was me.
Now, what makes this story worth repeating is that I just celebrated my 70th birthday, which made me several years older than these folks who were wishing they were as youthful as I! This experience is one that I smile about whenever I relive it. And it makes me glad that I’m still “in the arena.”
As I’m one of those older folks, cautiously making my way through an aging process none of us will escape, here are some thoughts I can share on dealing with this. I’m not suggesting you strive to age gracefully. Rather, I’m suggesting you face it head-on and don’t let it get the upper hand.
Never mourn the “old you”
That ship has sailed and wishing it back is a waste of precious time and energy. Move on. Get busy finding out what kind of game the “current you” still has.
Don’t use age as an excuse
If you’re out there being physically active, odds are very good you’ll find yourself mixing it up with younger folks. It would be easy to beg off, saying something along the lines of, “I’ll never keep up with you and I don’t want to hold you back.”
Jump in and hold your own as long as you can. It may surprise you (and the young bucks) that your experience and wisdom will work in your favor and they’ll have trouble dropping you.
Continue to set tough goals
Clearly, you can’t perform at the same level you could five or ten years ago. That being said, in endurance sports there are many factors other than age that come into play. So my approach is to set goals close to what I did a year or two ago. I may not nail it, but I’m sure I’ll perform better when there’s a tough goal I’m chasing. No down-side to this, as far as I can see.
The biggest physical challenge as one gets older is that you lose strength. So, doesn’t it make sense to have some sort of strength program as a top priority? You’ll never regain the strength you had in your youth, but you can stay strong enough to keep on climbing big hills and hammering out time trials.
Get a doc who understands you are not your chronological age
Things happen when you’re active and you’ll occasionally need to see a doctor. If the first thing you hear is, “At your age, you really shouldn’t be stressing yourself this way,” run (don’t walk) out of the office and go find another doc. What you need is a medical professional who understands that strenuous physical activity is your lifestyle and will make it his goal to get you back to that active mode as quickly as possible.
Your mind does not have to age along with your body
I recently raced the 70.3 in St. Croix where the bike course includes “The Beast,” a hideously steep 0.7 mile hill that includes some 21% grades. As I was passing young, fit racers walking their bikes to the top, I realized that, although I didn’t have the stronger body, I certainly had the stronger mind, and it was hauling my 70-year-old body up the hill.
The mind is a powerful weapon. Keep believing that you’ve still got the goods and watch what happens!
You’ll find there are things that come with age over which you have no control. Your skin is no longer fresh and tight. Searching for your glasses becomes a frustrating, everyday occurrence. This is just part of the process. So be it.
There are other things that come with age over which you have some level of control. You don’t have to gain weight or give yourself over to medications. And you can continue to make your physical activities good and strenuous.
Speaking from experience, it ain’t easy, but it’s doable.
Physically, you simply have to work harder to accomplish what you used to do fairly easily. Mentally, you’ll be frustrated when your times get slower even as you’re training your butt off.
But what are your options? You can walk away and spend your time reminiscing about the good old days. Or, you can take what you’ve got today and do with it the best that you can.
Don’t know about you, but I’m going for option #2.