March 15, 2016

New Passions at Any Age

IMG_1451See those smiles. That’s my wife, Aleia, and I after running our very first 10k last month at the Sedona Marathon. I’m 52, my wife is a tad older (being a gentleman and being married for so long, I shall not divulge her age). This day was the highlight of our year so far. Why? Well for me, it’s a brand new adventure. I only ran briefly as a boy and hated it. For my wife it’s the rekindling of a life-long love of running. It’s the newness that I want to focus on here.

It’s a new passion. I stumbled into running  last summer when I was 51. It’s actually the fault of my Fitbit. Wait, let me back up a bit further. Last spring I was unhappy, not getting much writing done, not enjoying my work, dealing with a lot of difficult family issues that couldn’t be ignored. I had been in this stew of dissatisfaction for a while. It wasn’t pretty. I didn’t like myself. I was overdue for some change but all the changes I considered were massive (quit my job, stop writing, have us sell everything and move away–in other words, do something radical). While Aleia was away helping a sick friend, I had an epiphany: 1) Big external changes weren’t prudent–I needed to be happier first before making a big decision; 2) If I moved more, I would feel better.

That was it. Nothing earth-shattering, just realizing I needed to start small and that exercise had a good chance of helping. So while my wife was away, I bought the long-pondered Fitbit and built a platform for my desk to turn it into a stand-up desk. This began the adventure of becoming more active.

Not to say that I wasn’t active before. I walked some (mostly with our dog, Madison), was in good health, and loved to hike, but didn’t get out to do it much. I was active, but it’s a relative thing, you know. I was less active than I had been in the past.

So I built that platform for my desk and got my Fitbit One and started geeking out on the data and slowly increasing my activities. No 10,000 steps per day for me to start with, I at about 5,000 steps and slowly built up over months. I started standing for most of the day at my desk (I got a stool so I could sit when I needed). And amazing things started to happen. My chronic lower back pain eased up, my neck didn’t hurt all the time anymore, and I got happier.

The exercise definitely helped, but there was something else that was a tonic for my mood. Control. So much of what happens on a day to day basis is out of our control, the external world coming at us like a hurricane and demanding our time and attention. But, meeting my slowly increasing step goals–I could do that. Standing instead of sitting–yup, under my control. Using the pull-up bar I finally got back up in my office–great. And this became a game for me. On busy days I would strategize how to get those steps in–park further away when running errands; instead of sitting down when I had 15 free minutes, go for a brisk walk; bounce to the music at my desk and score some steps on my Fitbit that way.

Movement became a game I played everyday. It was the one battle I knew I could win if I just planned a little. I slowly got in better shape and started feeling better.

And then this exercise thing became addictive. Come fall, those 10,000 steps a day just weren’t that big of a deal. I wanted more. Running became the next game. My friend Peter recently ran his 100th marathon and I talked to him about it. As he will often say, “running is my crack,” so he was all for it. He told me about Jeff Galloway and running intervals (i.e. running some, walking some). What? When you run you don’t have to run the whole damn time!? So I gave it a shot and did as Peter suggested and tried running for 1 minute and walking for 1 minute. It sucked. I hated it. In retrospect, being over 50 and living at 7,000 feet elevation, that was a bit too ambitions. I got one of Jeff Galloway’s books, read it, and dialed back to walking for 40 seconds, and running for 20 seconds for all of 20 minutes.

And that did it. Bam! I was hooked. I felt like a total wimp at that pace, but my body could handle the load and I felt amazing after I ran. It was a revelation–this is why people run. I honestly had no idea before.

I have slowly built from there. That 10k, I ran most of it and completed the 6.2 miles in 64:17. Not earth shattering or anything, but a respectable time for my age and my newness to the sport.

So back to the new passion thing–and here’s is what I’m trying to get to. I absolutely love it that I’ve found a new passion in my fifties. No regrets that I didn’t start running twenty years ago. Why? Because it gives me hope. I picked writing back up in my forties and it became a huge passion, and now running in my fifties. What’s next in my sixties or seventies? What new, undiscovered territory will I find then? What delights of this human experience still await me?

And to circle back around to control again. Actually, “control” is not the right word; I’m not talking about a level of control where everything turns out exactly like you want–where’s the adventure in that?–but about seeing positive change when you show up and do the work. More like responsibility (as in the “ability to respond”). Part of the delight of running is that as I do the work, I get better at running (same is true for writing, but that’s another blog post). This is an area in my life where it is all up to me. I’ve run on snow covered roads (carefully), in 20 degree weather with single-digit wind chill, with snow flying nearly vertically–and loved it every time. Not that’s it’s easy, it’s not, and that is part of the charm–again for another blog post. And progress is not linear–I’ve hit plateaus and dealt with sour muscles and limped around with a sore knee when I pushed to hard. It’s hard but doable and the little victories keep coming. In our complicated, chaotic world, that is so very valuable.

My two takeaways:

  • It’s never too late for a new passion
  • Finding areas in our lives where our efforts make a measurable and productive change is a joy.

So what are your passions (or new passions)? Are you giving them the time they deserve?



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Robert J. McCarter

Robert J. McCarter is the author of more than ten novels and over a hundred short stories...... learn more

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