Friday, June 11, 2010

Have Your Race and Eat it Too

If age was like a speed limit and I was clocked in a 55mph zone, I might still get a warning instead of a ticket, but not for long. Like me, I suspect many of my friends are still surprised to be old enough to qualify for training-level senior discounts. Or to notice when the newest issue of AARP Magazine has a celebrity on the cover who’s younger than us. While no one I know dreams of turning back the clock, aging does float a boatload of interesting food for thought.

My richest friendships have always been nourished by activity: horseback riding, biking, running, swimming, skiing, yoga. Competing or not, our adventure dial has been happily cranked to “high” for over thirty years. So I’m not one bit surprised that people who’ve been consistently active can stay fast, fit and strong despite the increasing density of their (old growth) forest of birthday cake candles. What’s interesting is what sometimes happens to the desire to ignite them.

Last weekend a friend of mine competed in a half-ironman distance triathlon after somewhat reluctantly training for several months. She’s a half-iron veteran, this one, so the distances—1.2m swim, 56m bike, 13.1m run—were no surprise. Despite getting kicked in the head in the swim and having to scramble to retrieve her cap and goggles, she rallied to cut her previous best finish time by 22 minutes. She stroked, she pedaled, she flew, she celebrated—and then she retired from racing. Give the kid a break, after all, she’s 61.

I love riding (bikes or horses), swimming or, especially, practicing yoga with friends. But these days, like the Reluctant Triathlete, if there’s less combustion before the cake gets cut, it’s usually okay. Of course we’re all different—ask any 80-year-old marathoner or the 70-something nun who can’t wait for the Ironman Championship in Kona, Hawaii, every year.

Can an older athlete eat up a race course and order dessert? Yeah, baby. My friend didn’t retire because she can no longer do it. She retired because she’s ready to find other ways to feel full.

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