At 52, I’m still running 100-mile mountain trail races and getting after big goals like Nolan’s 14. So, I suppose I have some advice that may be useful for others approaching the middle-age milestone. Or, simply for those interested in performing into later years.
A little about me
My lifestyle has changed a lot since I was in my 20s and early 30s, when I didn’t do much at all in the way of athletics (unless you consider competitive beer drinking a sport). I discovered endurance athletics later in life, during my 30s doing long hikes in the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York. Transitioning into my 40s, I was climbing all of the Colorado 14ers in a summer, notching a couple of full Ironman-distance triathlons, climbing some 6,000-meter peaks in the shadow of Everest and completing several mountain ultra marathons. This year, in my 50s, I ticked off completing the Nolan’s 14 line.
I’ve proven to be a durable athlete, managing to remain injury-free for a couple of decades. Sure, I have various ailments, including an ankle that has been severely rolled countless times and a right big-toe joint that’s seriously lacking in cartilage. But other than that, I’m lucky to not have any serious or limiting injuries. Undoubtedly, I’ve benefited from some level of luck and genetics, but I believe there are things I do that are helping enable me to continue on for years to come.
My training intensity ebbs and flows throughout the year and I rotate through various sports in different seasons. I believe it’s beneficial to allow myself to get a little out of shape during some ebbs in order to get in better shape and to be excited for the change when building up during the flows.
I’m fortunate that I don’t constantly need to run to stay “sane,” but I do enjoy being fit and doing big objectives outdoors. Having said that, I believe staying active over time and mixing in harder stuff at least once or twice a week, even during “low” intensity training times of the year, builds long-lasting body and mind adaptations that can be reinforced with nutrition. Maintaining a certain level of fitness, year-in and year-out, has benefited me greatly with my abilities and lack of injuries into my early 50s.
In the early days, hiking in the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York with my wife – who is a serious badass on levels I’ll never touch – we learned the importance of protein intake soon after a big exertion to help minimize delayed onset soreness. So, we’d have protein bars and stop to get chocolate milk on the post-hike drive home. Now, I take BCAAs before any moderate-to-big workout and get protein and carbs into my body as soon after as possible.
As I got into bigger endurance challenges in my mid-40s, it would take me three to four days before I’d be able to walk down stairs without support of walls and railings due to severe soreness. Although I’m older, in the last couple of years my recoveries have been quicker. Even after 100-mile mountain trail races with over 20,000 feet of climbing and (this summer alone) three Nolan’s 14 attempts that lasted between 40 and 70-plus continuous hours, I’ve been able to descend flights of stairs with minimal or no help from railings and walls, and visible inflammation in my lower legs usually dissipates in a couple of days.
A constant is a clean diet that my wife engineers for us. We’re pescatarian and all meals contain a balanced amount of protein, complex carbohydrates made up of multiple colored vegetables and fruits, whole grains and legumes. Most days, I take an athletic-oriented multi vitamin and also Gnarly Greens.
Gnarly Nutrition’s CPO/COO Dr. Shannon O’Grady has been so helpful in answering all my questions about how best to use Gnarly products for the activities I love. I eat three main meals and two snacks during the day. In a given week, I’ll have five to nine alcoholic drinks and several deserts.
For me, eating is one of the great joys of ultra-distance running and big mountain adventures. It isn’t all kale and quinoa, though. I indulge in ice cream, cupcakes, chocolate, beer and whiskey. But I go for top quality, not high quantity.
Physical and mental flexibility are foundational for resilience. I do some stretching from time to time, especially to hit areas that are tight. Don’t get me wrong, I almost never stretch before or after a run, but I do mix in yoga from time to time and I foam roll for five minutes every other day.
Stress is a huge detractor of stoke. Not having fun or getting stuck on rigid, unrealistic goals makes training and pursuit of a goal a downer, and therefore not sustainable.
I always have multiple goals going into race or a season and I don’t get stuck on expectations in athletics and life in general. If training is missed due to work or family commitments, I let it go.
Stress is incredibly counterproductive and simply no fun. That’s not to say I don’t have stress in my life. I do. I just try not to get stuck in it by keeping the perspective of my small place in the universe in mind. Perspective is important for me to maintain balance in my life.
I regularly get chiropractic, acupuncture and massage treatments. I listen to my body when it’s hurting and get extra treatments when needed. Earlier this season, my knees bothered me. So, I listened and added in extra foam rolling, rest and massages.
Learning about how my body and mind respond to big exertions has been a big part of my interest in endurance sports. I enjoy experimenting with various training, nutrition and race approaches, and continue to learn what works best for me.
Early on, I studied running technique and altered my stride and approach to ease stress on my body to reduce risk of long-term injury. I also prioritized running on trails vs pavement, which I believe has drastically lowered the impact on my joints due to the varied terrain. And let’s face it: trail running is simply more interesting and beautiful.
I prioritize rest, especially after big, back to back runs. I’ll even add in a nap here and there if I’m feeling really rundown either from training or an event. Although I’m good at managing sleep deprivation during endurance challenges, I really like my sleep and am happiest when I can get at least eight hours daily.
variety is the spice of life
I don’t run exclusively. I climb mountains, road and mountain bike, do high intensity interval plyometrics, and when I don’t have much time, I do a 10-minute plank, pushup and squat routine. I think switching it up has proven great mental and physical benefits over the years.
Overall, I believe in moderation, not deprivation. I also have an adolescent drive to impress my wife and I try to remember to smile when it hurts.
For more on my adventures, check out http://twojdee.blogspot.com/