by Peter Holleran, DC
It may seem a mite trivial for those in their twilight years to attach importance to physical achievement. After all, the end is coming, perhaps sooner than one thinks. For that matter, and from a philosophical point of view, it might seem strange to attach importance to physical achievement at ANY age, for the same and basically ultimate reason!
Assuming one has not bypassed or ignored the spiritual realities of life, however, and has given such matters more than a little thought and attention, setting athletic goals late in life need not be a self-deluding enterprise. Only those who have gone far down this road, however, can possibly understand it. Perhaps it IS foolish, but then, the world could certainly use a little more of that. As I wrote in “Running in the Second Half of Life”, the “younger man is serious about himself and his quest, while the older man is serious about his quest - but not himself!” This hard-won sense of humor is the shield and buckler worn during his attempts to do what none have ever done before. It keeps him happy now, whether or not he ever achieves his aim.
In this light it should be interesting to look at some of the motivations and goals of various senior athletes. At the very least it will amaze, even if it fails to motivate, the less fitness-conscious traveler on his mortal round. Furthermore, since no one knows when his end may come, or what his true limits are, he will do best by following the advice given in What I Learned From Noah's Ark, wherein it says, "Stay fit. When you are six hundred years old someone may ask you to do something really big!"
Richard Clark 66, world class triathlon competitor, frequently wins his age-group at top events across the globe. He recently revived me from a bout of serious heat exhaustion on a long run in 90 degree weather by hoofing it several miles back to his car for water while 55-year old me lay prostrate on the ground. Clark, who spends thousands of dollars traveling but earns nothing for his many wins, competes just for the love of the sport and for some undefined reason known only to such kindred souls. A goal of his is to be the first 80-year old to complete the Hawaii Ironman triathlon (2.5 mile swim, 125 mile bike ride, 26 mile run).
Link Lindquist , 78, started to run for the first time since school days at age 49. He won his age-group at the Western States 100 mile run when he was 71, and is the oldest runner to ever win a Dipsea black shirt (given to the top 35 finishers in that grueling mountain run). Lean and mean, he has no varicose veins and is tough as a grizzly. He says that his ultimate goal is to finish the Western States 100 miler - at the age of 100!
Paul Reese ran 3200 miles across the USA at the age of 73, covering a marathon a day for 120 consecutive days. He then set a goal to run across all fifty states before he was 80, which he completed on schedule and chronicled in two books, Go East Old Man and The Old Man and the Road. Arnold Schwarzeneggar, in a foreward to Paul’s first book, Ten Million Steps, wrote: “Talk about role models, Paul gets my vote as the first centerfold for Modern Maturity!..Truly the running shoe has replaced the rocking chair as a national symbol for healthy aging.” After his run across America, an orthopedist checked him out and said that he would be hard pressed to differentiate between Paul’s knee and hip xrays and those of a normal 30-year old male. His advice to us for healthy aging: (1) have a sense of humor, (2) find your dream and live it, (3) live life intensely, (4) be grateful and thank God daily for the body you have, and (5) always have an agenda.
Fauja Singh, 93, last year set an age-group marathon record of 5:40:44, after a 50 year break from competitive running. His goal is to return in five years and set the record for a 98-year old! “You only die once,” he humorously quips, and says that he continues to run as inspiration for the unfit. Doctors consider him to have 180% of the conditioning of the average man his age, and say that one of his legs is as strong as that of a 55-year old, and the other as strong as a 25-year old!
Seemingly ageless Jack LaLanne, 90, still works out two hours a day, from 5 A.M. to 7 A.M., one in the gym and one in the pool. Known for incredible feats of physical prowess in his younger days, including doing 1000 push-ups in 19 1/2 minutes in his thirties, pulling a half-ton boat from Alcatraz to Fisherman’s Wharf with handcuffed wrists at 60, and swimming through Long Beach Harbor with seventy people in seventy boats tied to his back at 70, Jack plans on celebrating turning 90 by swimming 22 hours and 26 miles underwater from Catalina Island to Los Angeles. “Why can’t I?!,” he says. “The average person who is over 70 or 80 is over the hill. They’re fat , they’re racked with aches and pains. Then you get people over 90 who are running marathons, because they worked at living. I have alot of energy and you know why? Because I use it. It’s use it or lose it, and it’s believing in something. Most people go through life existing, waiting for retirement. That’s the death knell.” " (San Francisco Chronicle, 9-24-04)
Sister Marion Irvine had long been a nun when she jogged for the first time at age 47 and qualified for the Olympic Marathon Trials at 54. "My running career came at the perfect time. It was a reawakening for me. I truly believe God created us to be fully alive, to experience life. Prior to running I wasn't experiencing life, wasn't alive inside. Running gave me that opportunity."
Ray Piva, 78, didn’t begin running until his late 50’s and has since set many national age-group records in ultra-long distance events. He still competes regularly in 100 mile races. A person like that has goals. You don't just wake up on the couch one day and say, “I think I’ll try running 100 miles.” The challenges present themselves. You don't plan on it, but one thing leads to the next. You summit one peak, then see the next one in the distance, and wonder what you could do. At the same time, you do not prepare for and run distances like that solely in a goal-oriented way, without finding satisfaction in the process itself - the events are just too darn long. You experience many things and learn alot about yourself along the way.
Janet Bodle, MD, 56, a relative youngster, recently announced her goal of running a marathon in every state by age 65, a noteworthy endeavor- but perhaps just a warmup for something even bigger and better. After all, who retires at 65 anymore, except from their day job?! I figure if someone like ultra-animal Mike Sweeney ran just one marathon a week he could run one in every COUNTY in every STATE by 65. Now we’re talking!
Here are a few thoughts for us to ponder before grabbing that next bag of chips and the remote:
“A man’s reach must exceed his grasp, or what’s a Heaven for?” - Robert Browning
“If you really want to enjoy life, you must work quietly and humbly
to realize your delusions of grandeur.”
“But I don’t have them.”
“Start to have them.” - Mark Helperin, A Soldier of the Great War
“Hail to those who endure, who never completely give up!” - Ted Corbitt, ultramarathon pioneer