Running and Aging: From Strength to Strength

An essay about transitioning to the second half of life as a runner.

By on September 1, 2023 | Comments

AJW's TaproomIn his 2022 bestseller, “From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life,” Harvard professor Arthur Brooks outlines a strategy to literally help people get better with age. Based on exhaustive research, Brooks provides a roadmap for people to reimagine their lives after the age of 50 in ways that provide more purpose and meaning. At a time when many begin to question their relevance and whether time has passed them by, Brooks provides an inspiring look into aging that turns the traditional view of the second half of life on its head.

Brooks’s essential premise is that when individuals transition from what he calls “fluid intelligence” to “crystallized intelligence,” they encounter a second curve, a time in life when wisdom and experience tends to trump talent and hard work. In this second curve, people are more likely to find joy and satisfaction in experiences rather than achievements, and in supporting others rather than promoting themselves.

Recently, I have been reflecting on Brooks’s ideas in the context of my life as an aging long-distance runner. I distinctly recall a time about 10 years ago when I felt myself undergoing a gradual transition from fluid intelligence to crystallized intelligence. I was experiencing the typical slow-down that is part of growing older — injuries were piling up, and the strong urge to compete, an urge that characterized much of my running life in my thirties and early forties, was fading. I was transitioning to my second curve. In that moment, I had to accept the fact that, whether I liked it or not, my competitive days were behind me and that for me to remain active in the sport I needed to embrace a new version of myself — a version of myself that was generative.

AJW running in Colorado in 2020. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

As a result of this period of acceptance, I became more committed to my coaching practice. I spent more time volunteering at events and less time competing in them. I spent more time studying the science of the sport and less time focusing on the art of the sport. And, perhaps most of all, I spent more and more time sharing with others my past experiences in the sport rather than directly experiencing the sport myself. It was a transcendent process and one which has allowed me to continue to experience the joy and magic of trail running and ultrarunning long after my days as a competitor have ended.

As Brooks suggests at the end of “From Strength to Strength,” transitioning to the second curve is not easy and can feel almost impossible for some. It requires us to make ourselves vulnerable and content with the fact that aging involves deterioration. While the thought of deterioration can be disturbing at first, once accepted, vulnerability and deterioration become superpowers and allow us to share our experience and wisdom with the world in ways that only those who’ve been through years and years of life and living can do.

Bottoms up!

Terrie Wurzbacher-2021 Vol State 500k

Dr. Terrie Wurzbacher during the 2021 Vol State 500k, then aged 72. Photo courtesy of Terrie Wurzbacher.

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Rogue Ales and Spirits logoThis week’s beer of the week comes from Rogue Ales and Spirits in Newport, Oregon. Rogue’s Honey Kolsch is a light and crisp beer with just a hint of sweetness. Brewed with pure Oregon honey, this is a fresh take an the traditional Kolsch variety and is a perfect late summer beer.

Call for Comments

  • Are you a runner on that “second curve?”
  • Would you like to share how this phase of life is going for you?
Andy Jones-Wilkins

Andy Jones-Wilkins is an educator by day and has been the author of AJW’s Taproom at iRunFar for over 11 years. A veteran of over 190 ultramarathons, including 38 100-mile races, Andy has run some of the most well-known ultras in the United States. Of particular note are his 10 finishes at the Western States 100, which included 7 times finishing in the top 10. Andy lives with his wife, Shelly, and Josey, the dog, and is the proud parent of three sons, Carson, Logan, and Tully.