Through all of 2013, I was trying out a new training strategy for my running. My old goal, back in the years when I was working on completing the seven marathons on seven continents,was simply to finish each race in one piece. I completed every race at the back of each respective pack happy to be done without regard for my finishing times. And I've continued to run at a lazy pace in the years since my last continent (Antarctica, 2009), defending my lack of improvement by saying that I just didn't care how fast I was.
It was (and is) true that speed doesn't matter to me, but what does matter to me is my health and my sense of adventure as I age. I'm creeping toward 50 these days. I'd like to be like Vicki (70) and Barb (80), two lovely ladies in my town who run 100-milers. (Check out their story on this YouTube video entitled Grandmothers of Endurance.)
But I noticed about two years ago that rather than getting stronger the more I ran, I was slower and feeling more sluggish in each race—as if my energy was gradually breaking down.
"Well, of course you're getting slower," you might say. "You're aging. Get over it."
Okay, fair enough. Perhaps we can't expect to have our best athletic days in midlife and beyond, but is it impossible to improve? I didn't want to believe that. With Vicki and Barb as examples of women who took up ultrarunning in their later years, I felt surely I could at least improve a little bit rather than watch myself go downhill. So I asked my friend and coach, Carol Frazey, to help me work on my running. And throughout 2013 I added pace and speed work to my distance training. I worked hard all year and MOSTLY stayed on my training schedule.
Guess what? I had my personal best finishing times in the 10K and half marathon distances last year. And next week I'm traveling out of state to run a marathon to see how my training has impacted my running at that distance as well. More important to me than my completion times, though, is the way I experience myself since I set my intention not to give in to the idea that age means slowing down. I feel renewed—strong, determined, and committed to nudging myself toward ever better health.
What about you? The idea that aging means inevitable decline is still very prevalent. What stories have you told yourself that keep you from growing and improving in important pursuits at this point in your life? Have you let yourself off the hook in some way you know you really shouldn't (or wish you hadn't)?
I recommend finding some inspiration for yourself. If you have never gotten around to writing that book you always meant to write, for example, take note of the fact that Daniel Defoe didn't publish Robinson Crusoe until just before he turned 60. If you've always wanted to sing, think about Susan Boyle, shaky and afraid, taking the stage on America's Got Talent in her mid-forties. And certainly if you've told yourself you're too old to take up a sport, look all around you (the oldest U.S. Olympian participating in the games this year, by the way, is 45-year-old curler, Ann Swishelm).
Once you've got some inspiration, find a coach—someone who can teach you what you don't know so that you can really cultivate your potential. There's nothing that can keep you moving quite like having another person on your self-improvement team.
Once a couple of years ago, I went to hear Barb and Vicki, the Grandmothers of Endurance, speak to an audience about how they decided to do their first ultra run. Barb started the conversation by asking, "How many of you have run at least a 50-miler? Raise your hands."
In a group of about forty people, some five or six put their hands in the air.
"Well," she said indignantly, "what are the rest of you waiting for? You're not getting any younger!"
Indeed. What are we waiting for? Age does not mean settling in for decline!