Most endurance athletes get quite focused on how well they'll perform in the coming days, and the performances will be measured by clock, not calendar. Endurance records are written in minutes and hours, not years or decades.
But what if you perform well by those relentless clock standards in your 20s, 30s, and even 40s, only to burn out or have to give it up due to injury or illness by the time you're 50? That's what has happened to millions of men and women (including many I know personally), and it's heartbreaking. In a country where most people now live into their 80s or 90s, having to give up the sport you love for your last quarter of a century on this planet can be one of life's most ravaging disappointments. Yet, for many and maybe even most of us, that doesn't have to happen.
Over the years, I've discovered some of the secrets of endurance-sport longevity, and have put them to the ultimate test--my own ability to keep competing at a high level long after most people my age have had to hang up their shoes. Now in my seventh decade of competition (1950s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s...), I'm still going strong--and have high hopes of continuing for years to come--and I'd like to help others be able to do so too. This summer I'm running a couple of mountain-trail 50ks, and in November I'll be running in America's largest ultra, the JFK 50-Mile. And although the 1,500 entrants in the JFK (which was filled in May) are all experienced marathoners or ultrarunners, and most are 20 to 40 years younger, I have good reason to think I'll be able to keep pace with a majority of them. How?
In the next few posts, I want to share some of the secrets of athletic longevity I've learned. Here's the first:
1. Aging isn't the same as decline!
At some point in your late 30s or early 40s, performance times for endurance events inevitably begin to slow, but it's important to understand that your middle-age performances are not inferior to those you achieved in your peak years. Thinking you've started to "lose it" is a spirit-killer, and is even biologically incorrect. Rather, look at it this way: An older athlete is a different animal than a younger one, The 50- or 60-year old is slower, but (if he's trained his mind as well as his body) is probably a wiser and more savvy survivor. Different animals can't be compared by the same measures. A bulldog can't run as fast as a greyhound, but that doesn't make it an inferior breed of dog--only a different one with different capabilities.
Before rushing on to the next observation, take a little time to meditate on this. I'll post #2 shortly.