The Middle-Aged Athlete

ec_hatLast weekend, a bunch of my pals were in Hawaii for Ironman. Watching from a distance, Ironman is a reminder that the human body can do some incredible things. While the race is neat, what’s most impressive is the training load that the competitors put themselves through. The physical output, over many years, is impressive – sitting here, I can’t believe I was able to do it!

I’ve had success coaching men between 40 and 75 years old (as well as women from 40 to 55 years old). Interestingly, it’s the guys who are most prone to saying, “I wonder if I’m getting old.” Top amateur women just keep on rolling, about the only thing that slows them down is injury and illness.

On the other hand, guys get really tired. I like to joke with my wife that I get Man-Fatigue – like man flu – it’s a whole different level of fatigue from what she experiences.

What follows isn’t for my pals, who are still crushing it. Keep doing what you love for as long as it makes sense. I miss those days, and you will too! It’s for the rest of you – particularly, if you were a top athlete in your 20s and 30s.

When it comes to aging, I hear this a lot…

  • Age is just a number
  • You’re only old when your age is an excuse
  • 40 is the new 30

These sayings are linked to the first phase of aging – holding on against the natural progression of time. I’m more fond of saying, “this is what 45 looks like and it’s not so bad!”

In my peer group, characterized by exceptional will, a few can extend the “holding on” phase into their 50s and, extremely rarely, their 60s. You can find examples of these special humans (!) on the Big Island each October. I know a few and they are amazing people.

What lies hidden is the psychological, and physical cost, from living an unnatural life. When we put ourselves together in a peer group, that consists of much younger 1%’ers, we’re left wondering… what’s wrong with me? Why can’t I be like XXXX? Am I getting old?

I used to think that I’d be hanging on. Now, I’m not so sure. At first, I thought it was my kids making me tired but there seems to be something deeper at work. Time will tell. Maybe I’ll get a second wind in my 50s! ūüôā

When I catch myself thinking that a return to my 20s/30s will improve my life – I say…

  • It’s amazing how much exercise I was able to do
  • I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to compete at a high level

Wonder and gratitude are effective antidotes to mourning the past.

Another thing that I’ve noticed is I get an excellent mood response from small doses of exercise. I have to remind myself of this A LOT so I don’t fry myself.

With exercise, generosity, novelty…happiness links better to frequency than intensity, or dosage.

How do you know if you’re holding on too tight?

  • Ask the people closest to you
  • Pay attention to frequent orthopedic injury
  • Pay attention to frequent depression, or anger

If you aspire to performances that were extreme when you were 10-25 years younger then be sure to spend time with people your own age, as you age.

Trying to be the 1% of the 1% can lead to a rough ride as the years roll on.

Choose wisely.

Four Hidden Hazards – for aging athletes

Ron KonaBecause the big money lies in helping sick folks, athlete health is likely to remain a poorly understood niche. Here are three hazards that most people miss.

Lifestyle & Nutrition Stress

As an elite athlete, my blood markers would indicate kidney stress. I coached a kidney doc and did a consult to rule out kidney disease. Where we ended up was acknowledging the stress of the athletic lifestyle:

  • High calorie diet
  • High protein diet
  • High sugar diet
  • Constant muscle breakdown

Now, there are many ways that my athletic lifestyle reduces stress (body composition, blood pressure). However, a high-performance lifestyle increases stress, when compared to an active lifestyle.

From 2001 to 2008, I was “fast” but I carried around an immune system that was chronically suppressed.

Around 2010, I cut my training in half, and my blood markers went from good to outstanding.

My kidney function cleared up, my immune system strengthened and my HDL/LDL cholesterol improved. (82/84 mg/dL).

I put this out there because I had a fear that I would “lose everything” if I backed off.

The reality => Moderation improved my health and my marriage.

Passing Out & Crashing

I’ve been exercising daily for ~20 years and it’s the best investment I’ve made.

If you want to slow the aging process:

  • Get enough sleep
  • Don’t smoke
  • Take it easy on the booze
  • Eat real food
  • Move daily

The flip side of being a long-term exerciser is I can go a long, long way on nothing. It’s a trait that can get an older athlete into trouble.

When tired, depleted or “open” from exercise, my blood pressure can dip suddenly. So far, I have never passed out but I’ve felt lightheaded on many occasions.

Passing out is a serious medical condition – Part One and Part Two on the Athlete’s Heart Blog will tell you more.

If you share my profile then be aware that falls and crashes are different as we age. A key part of aging well is avoiding the strength and muscle losses that come from extended breaks.

I have changed my approach to improve my risk profile.

The Scalpel of Eternal Youth

Here’s how I categorize WEEKLY run mileage:

  • 20 miles = “not running”
  • 30 miles = “light week”
  • 40 miles = “basic maintenance”
  • 50 miles = “good week”
  • 60 miles = “enough to run a decent marathon”
  • 75 miles or more = “stretch week”

Follow this running protocol long enough and you’re likely to deal with orthopedic issues.

The most effective treatment for chronic injury is lifestyle modification.

Your orthopedic surgeon makes NO money from this truth!

A surprising thing about middle age => moderation turned out of be healthy and enjoyable.

Who Knew?

The Person You Will Become

IMG_2458The photos are from Bora Bora, an expensive vacation that Monsy and I took a few years ago.

The trip was worth the money. As “the Boulder couple,” my wife had me keeping her company as she ran around the island (20 miles), did her (five-mile) open water swim sessions and dragged a towel through the water (to build strength).

IMG_2451Another good memory is doing a sprint swim workout (while the Italians were sipping champagne) and Monica yelling at me to “swim straight.” I had trouble holding my line with the white sand bottom!

There were lots of honeymooners on the island. Comfortable in our own relationship, we wondered who “would make it.” Success being defined as sticking together as a couple.

One set of honeymooners was a high-profile couple. He was wealthy, she was stunning.

This week, I found out that things didn’t work out well for them. It was described to me as… he lost his hair, he lost his money, his wife started fooling around, he filed for divorce then he blew his brains out.

So sad for everyone involved.

For one moment, he lost all hope.

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IMG_3636Collectively, we tend to view divorce as a failure and a bad thing. There are elements of truth in that view and… there are elements of truth in the opposite view.

Failure can be a powerful catalyst for positive change.

Some of my failures have turned out to be useful experiences.

The key is getting through the suck, the pain, the hurt and the misery.

The people that we’ve hurt, let down, disappointed… they might have good cause to never forgive us. That’s their journey.

What’s important to remember is that life is precious and our darkest moments can be the catalyst for the person we want to become.

IMG_3663At 45 years old, my family gets the benefit of my past screw ups and failures. My prior errors are invisible to the people in my current life.

Stay in the game to meet the person you will become.

They might be wonderful.

How I Met Your Mother

Gordo and MonicaWhen I lived in Asia, I made some money, had my best friend die and blew up my marriage.

A wise friend observed that it was fortunate that the marriage exploded because I was better off waiting until I was able to offer something to a relationship. My buddy, who would spend the next decade dealing with her breast cancer, captured an essential aspect of successful relationships Рthat they are best avoided until you are prepared to continually offer yourself.

I look back at my writing from that time and smile at how hostile I was to relationships. Ten weeks¬†before I met my wife, I rode across the United States with a Swedish buddy. He¬†gave comfort that, indeed, there were “at least three women in the world” for me. When I asked, “why three and not one?” He smiled and told me, “the world’s a big place, Gordo.”

Squash Court

[This is the squash court where I met your mother]

In the middle of¬†2004, I conquered my fears and walked into¬†a room of (mostly)¬†female, triathletes. They were training under¬†the instruction of a six-time world champion, Dave Scott. Dave personifies the old coaching adage “challenge your men and love your ladies.” He didn’t cut me any slack!

It was a complicated situation as my wife-to-be was going out with my landlord’s brother and neither of us were aware that we should be together. I played a long game, got her out of the country and we were¬†engaged before she returned to Boulder.

Nelson, NZ in 2005

[Here’s your mother as a young woman in New Zealand. She was working as my extra-special soigneur at a stage race.]

We were lucky. We grew into each other.

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The journey that led to¬†a wonderful life partner began¬†years before I met Monica. I started by¬†cultivating independent self-love, which sounds like something you’d hear in yoga class.

In the language of business…

To do a good deal, you have to be willing to do no deal, a fundamental component of success.

Divorce caused me enough pain to make me hostile to any form of intimacy. First a childhood divorce, then my own as an adult. There were deep feelings of failure associated with marriage. I had not learned how to strengthen a marriage and was preoccupied with the illusion of failure.

After my divorce, I made myself a better person. This was not my goal. Becoming a better person happened because I stopped living the values of other people Рback then I was misled by money and assets. Later I was misled by victory and vanity. At the end, I hope to end up with kindness, good humor and service!

My introversion, and pride, fed a desire to prove that I could be happy alone. Truth be told, I was never alone – I wrote frequently and had two¬†very close friendships. One of these was with Scott Molina and he joked that I had ’embarked on the longest dry streak known to man.’ Scott’s observation¬†still makes me smile!

To make myself relationship worthy, I needed to create a life where I was happy without an intimate relationship. In order to have something to give, I needed to develop a source of energy outside of the relationship. I found my source in athletics and nature.

The great spiritual traditions write about love being the source. I have a long way to go there. My love for my children is a sign explaining that everything I need is within myself.

As an introvert, the teaching that I’m my own source¬†feels natural because I’m happy when I’m alone. However, I need to be careful that I’m not alone too much. First, because there is a deep human need for intimacy. Second, because a life with meaning requires us to do good work in the world.

After five years of working on myself,¬†I met my wife. In Monica, I discovered that¬†I enjoyed spending time with her¬†more than I enjoyed being alone. I’m not sure if that will make sense to an¬†extroverted reader, who might¬†find solitude draining. However, for the sociopathic hermit in me, it¬†was a revelation.

To create an intention for success, I tell my wife, frequently:

  • There’s no way I am going to improve my situation through any pathway other than our marriage.
  • I’m grateful for all you do – family life is¬†a challenge but I know that family life alone would be far, far more challenging.
  • While I accept that it only takes one person to crater a relationship, I will never speak about¬†failure on my side.¬†If we hit hard times then¬†I’ll stay close¬†and wait for you to come to your senses.
  • I hold the trust between us as sacred.

All thoughts to the contrary, of what I state above, are a sign of temporary insanity!

Ironman New Zealand 2004

[As a couple, Ironman New Zealand 2004 was our best ever. Your mother swam 2.4 miles in 46 minutes and finished 2nd overall. Living in love makes you powerful!]

Today is the 10th¬†anniversary of the day I met your mother and I’m so grateful.

Love you, Babe!

The Most Beautiful Man In The World – Talking To Kids About Dying

Orion

Did you know that¬†Orion was¬†the most beautiful man in the world? Here’s a link to his¬†story – a personal favorite of mine.

How can I¬†talk about death without¬†freaking out my kids? First up, I don’t start the conversation. However, I don’t avoid it either.

There is a split between older (4-6 years old) and younger preschoolers (2-3 years old) and my approach differs between the kids, as well as how they are feeling when they bring up mortality.

My first conversation about death with my son (2.75 years old) started when he picked up a line¬†that stuck in his head, “David’s Daddy Died.” At two, death doesn’t have meaning and I don’t want him to get locked onto thinking that mom/dad might disappear on him.

From an early age, we’ve taught him that “we will be coming back” when we leave him. Indeed, a key milestone of childhood development is the ability to self-comfort when separate from our parents for 1, 3, 5 and 7 hours. We started this process, gradually, with all our kids as soon as possible.

Axel’s nature means that he experiences less separation anxiety than our other kids. Still, he looked to me for an explanation about “David’s Daddy Died.” Here’s what I do each time…

  • I go down on one knee
  • I look him in the eyes
  • I open my arms for a hug
  • I say, “YOUR Daddy’s right here”
  • I give him a huge hug

Sometimes it takes a couple repeats of… “Your Daddy’s right here” but it always works to bring him to the present, give him reassurance and shift us back to whatever we were doing.

With a 4-6 year old, the conversation is different. My oldest understands death and can have questions about it. She remembers her great-grandmother (who died on this day one year ago) and has asked me about it.

  • What’s death – your body stops working
  • Is she coming back – no, her body is finished
  • Is it like sleeping – no, it’s different
  • Daddy, are you going to die –¬†Sweetie, everything ends
  • How long until you die – likely more than 40 years

And the biggie… Daddy, where will you be when¬†you die?

  • Once again, I look her in the eyes
  • Put my hand over her heart
  • And say, “I will always be with you. Even when I’m not with you, just close your eyes and you will feel me in your heart.”

I then choose a person – perhaps my grandmother, or her mother – and we both put our hands on our hearts and think about that person. “See you can feel the person, even when they aren’t in the room. That’s where you go.”

When they get a little older, I’ll teach them how to spot Orion in the sky and share that he was the most beautiful man in the world.

When they see Orion, I’ll tell them to always remember that I love them.

See me beautiful.

Losing Five To Ten

Undercover

Every athlete that I’ve ever coached has thought that their life would be better if they lost five to ten pounds. This belief flows through most of my friends, my coaches, my wife and myself.

Nothing in my life, requires me to be in a state of perpetually losing weight, yet I spend 95% of my year trying to whittle myself down. In case you’re wondering, the other 5% of the year sees rapid weight gain. My personal best is gaining more than 20 pounds in the two weeks after Ironman New Zealand 2004.

Similar to my athletic goals, my desire to be unnaturally lean has caused me to make poor decisions.

Where do my irrational desires come from?

Can I moderate the influence of irrational desire in my life?

As a recovering addict can tell you – if you want to make a change then you need to take a break from the sources of your addiction. The first step in freeing myself was changing my health club.

I used to train with the fastest group of triathletes on the planet. For an athlete with ample self-confidence, it is an ideal environment to motivate oneself to do whatever it takes to win races.

As my life shifted, I noticed the group was having an adverse effect on my self-esteem and I was being a dick to people. I listened to how we spoke about each other and what we valued in ourselves. I’d get a kick out of the most-skinny triathletes in America commenting about which one of us was “too skinny.” Of course, Mr. Too Skinny would head out the next weekend and crush the field – reaffirming our collective desire to get lighter and lighter. With my pals, losing weight is always the right answer.

Here’s the lesson – the neuroses of our peers will become our goals.

We can’t create self-esteem by changing to match the requirements of others. However, we can change the people with whom we spend our time, and let behavioral psychology do the work for us.

What do you need more of?

Spend time giving to people with less.

Nutritional Vigilantes

Paleo diet is back in the news.

Please remember that branded nutrition is a distraction from what matters in your life.

Let’s free our minds by taking nutritional dogma and throwing it in the trash.

We do this by discounting the advice of:

  • Sedentary, obese experts
  • Underperforming athletes
  • Anyone with an agenda to sell us

This leaves us with:

  • Eat less sugar
  • Eat more veggies

…but it can’t be that simple.

Have you tried those two changes and watched what happens?

Focus on simple adjustments that capture the bulk of the improvement available.

Everything else is details.

Don’t debate the details.

Focus on what works.

More veggies, less sugar.