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?