Is it just me or does anyone else out their feel like they aren’t aging in their mind but can no longer replicate their athletic performances of old? For me, this has been a continual frustration I have battled since retiring from professional running. It is really easy to start comparing my current-self (on the verge of my 40th birthday) with my former-self that was setting American records in the half marathon when I was 24. In my head, I am still the same competitive, loving to push myself individual, but when I go out and run the paces that used to be a joke for me are now near max efforts. Maybe you can relate, if not in running then choose pretty much any sport out there and you will find that the aging body is not beneficial for athletic performance when leaving the 30s and beyond.
So, then the question becomes: how do we stay excited for training if we are just trying to manage how much worse we are getting? I’d like to take the remainder of this blog to share a few insights I’ve learned to age well in sports and bring the same excitement to my training that I had in my more youthful days.
Switch things up.
If progress in sport is what you love, as is the case for me, then switching up your sport of choice when you have reached the end of the road of improvement is one of the best moves you can make. I spent from the time I was 13-33 years old trying to take running as far as I could take it. After DNFing (did not finish) at the London Olympics due to a hamstring issue I spent the next four years tweaking my training, nutrition, sleep, and everything I could think to try to turn my running around. At the end of this period I could still not jog even 30 minutes easy because my body was so run down. It was clear that my body had given all it had to give me in running and that it was time to move on. So, the day I retired from running I went straight into the gym because I knew I had to remain true to who I am, which is a guy who loves to push myself physically, I just needed a new mechanism to meet this need.
Changing it up to something I was bad at was a good call because it was so easy to see improvement and improvement fuels the excitement to train. Switching up sports is a great way to keep training fun as we learn new skills and develop new strengths despite no longer being in our “athletic prime.”
Reconnect with the sensation.
Despite being a shell of myself when it comes to running I have begun to re-incorporate running into my training routine and I am loving it for a number of reasons, none of which has to do with the speed I am running. I’ve spent time to think about what it is about running that I really loved when I was running professionally. There was the improvement that I loved which isn’t possible any longer. But there is also just the simple sensation of running that I loved.
The feeling of floating through the forest or roads with nothing but the sound of the wind. I also loved being outdoors and especially in the mountains with friends covering miles and miles of distance allowing us to explore the vast mountains. I realized that the sensation and atmosphere are two constants that I can experience at any stage of life. Sure, the sensation of running is a lot different now and not nearly as fast, but I can still tap into that love of feeling my legs stride out and getting into a flow state of the synergy of my body working together. And I can still use running as a way to explore the mountains that I love. The same is true in the weight room. The less I focus on the numbers and the more I focus on the sensation of contracting my targeted muscle as hard as possible the more enjoyable lifting becomes and it is no longer about how much weight I am lifting but rather the quality of the contraction.
Shift your perspective from performance to relationships.
As in most things in life, training and sports are most fun when done with the people we love to hang out with. I will rarely go for a run by myself these days but I look for opportunities to hop in an afternoon run with my wife or go explore the mountains with my friends. Taking the focus off oneself in training is difficult to do but can be one of the most freeing and fulfilling ways to do sports.