Growing Older: Part 2, the Upsides

AJW's Taproom[Author’s Note: Last week in part one of this two-part series called ‘Growing Older,’ I wrote about the downsides of aging and running. This week, the glass is half full and I am looking at the upsides of aging and running.]

Early in the morning on a chilly June weekend in 2017, I was sitting at the 66-mile aid station of the Bighorn Trail 100 Mile considering my options. It had been a long night battling rain, cold, and mud, and the rising sun was doing nothing to brighten my spirits.

While summoning the will to get up and out of there, I started chatting with a couple other guys in the chairs next to me. We talked about the brutality of the mud, the steepness of the climb that awaited us on the other side of the river, and the general misery that we all felt. After a few minutes of this, we got up and left the aid station together.

Over the next several hours of slogging through the mud, we swapped stories of families, jobs, and adventures. We shared some of our hopes and dreams for the future and also worked together to get through the endlessly rolling terrain of the last 20 miles of the Bighorn 100. Eventually, we parted ways but the memory of those miles has resonated with me ever since.

I have come to learn that one of the joys of growing older and slower in ultrarunning is that I now truly realize how special the camaraderie of the trail is. As a younger runner, I’ll admit, I didn’t spend much time enjoying the community in the midst of a race. Sure, I would run with people and exchange stories, but the family feeling was missing. As I’ve aged, I’ve come to realize that the community is rejuvenating and life giving if you let it. A long, 32-hour day in the Bighorns taught me that and I have cherished it ever since.

Additionally, as I’ve slowed, I’ve also begun to look around more, take in the views, and stop at an overlook or mountain peak and just settle into the moment. The younger me would have rushed off the peak or ignored the overlook in chasing a split time or a fellow competitor. Now, with age, I realize that we only have so much time and so many opportunities to embrace this thing that we love so much. As such, it behooves me to soak it all in, knowing that those few extra minutes of respite may end up being the highlight of my day.

Celebrating those highlights has also yielded what is perhaps the best part of of all of aging as a runner, and that is the way it has opened me up to be more process oriented and to realize the importance of the little things. As a younger runner it was all about results. The process was simply a means to an end, a thing to deal with on the way to the ultimate product. No more! Now I truly enjoy the process of attempting to get fit, finding the right balance of training and rest, and seeking ways to maximize my personal gains through dietary decisions, lifestyle changes, and creative problem solving in training and racing. It’s not an easy juggle but it’s fun and ultimately deeply rewarding.

Finally, I now pay much more attention to the multitude of details that comprise the whole. How do these new shoes feel? What was it about this run that made it harder than last week’s? Why am I less tired today than yesterday? Having the experience and the wisdom to question and address these and many of the other little things is perhaps one of the greatest gifts of getting older, and one of the keys to staying joyful in our later years. And, at the end of the day, while that may not make us faster runners it could most certainly make us better runners.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Half Full Brewery in Stamford, Connecticut. Half Full’s Transcend Hoppiness is a classic American IPA with a new twist on the New England hazy-style IPA. Slightly sweet and not too bitter, Transcend Hoppiness is, in many ways, a throwback IPA with a fresh twist. Get your hands on a four pack the next time you’re in New England.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • As a runner, do you also experience positive aspects of the aging process? Could you share a story or an example?
  • Like AJW, has your relationship with your community and the places through which you run changed as a result of aging?

There are 9 comments

  1. Brandon

    I tend to say to myself , “This is why”, quite a bit lately as I stop to admire the scenery found up high somewhere. It’s funny to me that when I started running longer distances I would often look at those race pics afterward and remark how beautiful the surroundings where, but I couldn’t necessarily recall looking during the event.

    Now I do and it really enhances the experience. After all, I tell myself, this is an extracurricular activity, right? It’s not my job and I don’t have to start long runs in the dark on Sunday mornings. I might as well enjoy the journey.

    Thanks for your weekly posts – they’re always a good read.

  2. Jonathan Gardner

    This is exactly what I’ve found: I know I’ll never match my times from 25 years ago, but I still love running, so let’s just go out there and *have fun*! It’s really why I turned to trails/ultras. I still love a fast road 5K (or even, yes, a track mile) but going out on an adventure is what motivates me to get up and going every day.

  3. Mike

    Given the choice of pushing harder in the final uphill throws of the SJS50 in pursuit of an arbitrary time or sitting on the trailside for a few minutes, collecting my effort, and soaking in the view of the mountain tops I traveled to get there, I chose the latter. There’s more to experience from trail running than your own “fast” time. Enjoy the journey!

  4. KenZ

    Older is often (although not always) wiser as well. You really learn to embrace your own race, while the youngins shoot off the front. And then you slowly reel them in the entire race. I remember last summer at San Diego, about 15 miles from the finish, and this guy who must have been in his mid 30s in a chair trying to muster up the energy to slog out of the aid station. I come running in, get my stuff, and as I’m heading out in probably under 2 min, he looks at me and says “I really hope I’m like you when I get older.” That felt great! By looking at him I could tell I wasn’t a better runner, but wisdom has its place.

  5. Rob Sargeant

    For my 50th birthday last year I celebrated by running 50 miles (8 x 10km) on an ocean side loop. The weather was just below freezing and there were patches on the roadside where black ice was a problem. I invited other runners in the valley to celebrate with me and I was joined for parts of the mileage by some members of the local running club and my neighbor, a veteran marathoner (they sang happy birthday to me at the halfway point). It took longer than I had anticipated to finish, and because of the cold I needed 2 hours to warm up afterwards, but I can’t think of a better way to celebrate aging with the running community.

  6. Rich

    Undoubtedly the process of ageing ultimately leads to a decline in our absolute performance. Rather than getting caught up in numbers (‘I used to run x km in y minutes’, etc.), which reflect in large our absolute performance (in combination with our personal life constraints), I prefer thinking in terms of relative effort and to what degree am I progressing towards reaching my absolute potential. Now in my mid-50s maybe my times will no longer improve, but my relative performance can. For a goal race, the important questions are whether I prepared as well as I could within the constraints of my life situation at the point in time (perceived relative effort), and on race day how well did I then realise my potential in terms of that training and other prior experience? That is, I can become a better runner without necessarily becoming faster. But ultimately even none of that matters; even if I have great memories of runs in the past, the best run is always the one I do today, because it is the one I get to experience now. Tomorrow I get to experience a new run, and in that moment it will be my best run (and in that moment, I will hope once again that I can convince my dog to not pull my arm off).

  7. Graham

    I’ve learned a lot from my dogs over the years. One of the current pack is a dawdler and ambler, he can still run much faster than me when the mood takes him, which is why I generally keep him on a canicross line as distractions like deer or pheasants can really mess up a run! Initially I used to get frustrated that we were stopping *again* so he could sniff, but now I’ve learned to use these times as opportunities to look at the trees, listen to the birds, smell the forest smells. After all, that’s why we’re out there, isn’t it? The times in the running log may not look as impressive but the immersion in the experience is much greater.

  8. Jason Robinson

    With trail running better isn’t faster. A couple of years ago it was trying not to fall every race, now it is pacing myself up climbs but trying to descend like I used to. Trail running is more than just running, its the community, camaraderie, support and friendship that we share, not only with other trail runners but with everyone out there. The more experience you gain the wider your community and more experience you have to help and advise others. I am not slowing down but my running pace might!

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