Here is an advantage of taking up new activities later in life: you can be motivated to pursue and pleased to accomplish even small things.

Let’s use the example of running, since that is such a common and familiar sport activity.

For those who have been running seriously for the last 30 or 40 years of life and pushing their limits, they can feel the body getting slower, getting a bit weaker, hurting a bit more. They can’t do what they used to do and this is a disappointment (as described in this NYT article). They know acutely that their best achievements are behind them. They’ve experienced the biggest challenges and enjoyed the most intense flow as they made it through. But now, it is harder and harder to get that same sense of flow, and that same sense of satisfaction when they can’t run as fast or run as far.

For those who’ve done all the greatest challenges of their sport early in life, what do they aim for now?

It’s easy for us to say they should just pursue the pleasure of the movement and let go of concern for speed and distance. But, if you were in their shoes, you would know you cannot undo a lifetime mindset on conquest with a few words. The transition from top athlete to ordinary exerciser may not be easy or smooth for most of them. They’ve grown accustomed to getting their satisfaction from being high in their sport and anything less feels like a disappointment, regardless of the logic of their position.

In contrast, those who’ve just started exploring a new sport or activity later in life, you’ve got an endless series personal achievements laid out on the path ahead of you! Your journey of discovery and satisfaction has just begun.

You can explore the art of running a 5K, making it smoother, making it faster. Then later, work on 10K. Then there is a half-marathon. Then there is a full marathon. Then there is ultra running from 50K and above. There are big relays (like our local beloved Hood To Coast). There are running treks along amazing wilderness trails. There are masters track-and-field events and international competitions. And on and on.

You can enjoy this path because you don’t have the ego of your now-unattainable past performance depressing your pleasure of performance now.

But with this encouragement to start exploring your new-found potential, I also want to caution you about something – don’t go for too much, too quickly.

This American culture I live in urges us to get as much as we can, as quickly as we can. It is a consumption mindset, rather than a mastery mindset. If we’ve accomplished our first 5K, why not just go for a marathon next! More is better! The sooner the better! Come on, your friends are doing it, so why not you too?

But lasting satisfaction comes from more than just consuming quantities. It comes as much or more from developing qualities.

Yes, you may have just completed your first 5K and felt pretty good. You feel confident you could handle more distance. So why not go for it right away?

Photo by Jenny Hill on Unsplash

But did you really do that 5K with consistently excellent form? Did you distribute your energy evenly? Did you find and maintain pace right at that sweet spot of effort for this particular distance? Did you end up feeling well-spent without any trouble spots in your joints or tissues? Do you really understand how proper 5K training works in the body and become skilled at it? Have you invested the time for your body to deeply adapt to this particular event and experience the benefits of that specialized fitness?

There is so much to explore and perfect in the art of running a 5K, while the loading and stresses on the body and mind are relatively low. But few people take the time to really develop their skills and hone their fitness around a particular event, to procure a much deeper satisfaction from it. But when an athlete invests attention and time into the art of a particular event like this, she gains a wisdom and understanding that will provide even greater support and satisfaction when she later on moves up to a more challenging event.

I want to urge you to consider slowing down your rate of achievement of quantities, to let your achievement of qualities catch up and then have those develop together in each new season of training.

If you move from 5K to marathon within a year or two, then what’s next after that? More and more marathons? Ultra-distance? Will the abundant regional 5K races still give you any pleasure?

The more time you’ve taken to adapt the body to the rigors of less challenging events, the less risk for injury and premature wear-and-tear there are for you jumping to more challenging events. And vice versa.

Slow down your pace of achievement by including a higher standard of quality in each of those achievements. This means you will need to take more time, perhaps a season or a few, working on the art of a particular event, before stepping up to a new one. This will allow you to have a much longer, a much safer and stronger, and a much more consistently satisfying athletic journey ahead of you.


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