Age Is Just A Number

Out on a run in Northwest Florida the other day, I passed a house with a bunch of decorations in the front yard, among them this:

No U-Turn Youth

Some of the other decorations, which included black balloons and tombstones, made it clear that someone in the house was turning 40.


The implication, even in jest, is that it’s all downhill from here. I can understand the fear – when I was a teenager, I thought anyone over 20 was old. In my 20s, it was a big deal when friends hit 30. Back then, I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be 52, the age I am now.

It’s awesome!

First, I’ve maintained myself physically. In fact, I just had my best year in triathlon EVER. Not age adjusted or anything – ever:

  • My three fastest half Ironmans of all time
  • My two fastest Olympic distance tris of all time
  • My second-fastest full Ironman ever and highest age group placing ever (2nd, qualified for Kona – did I mention that? 🙂 )
  • My first overall win ever in multisport – a sprint duathlon back in March

Fitness aside, I also think I’m a better person. When I was younger I was very impatient in all kinds of ways. Impatient with people with whom I disagreed. Impatient with people I didn’t consider intellectual equals. I lacked empathy at times. I lacked perspective.

Not that I don’t still have a juvenile, sophomoric sense of humor. (My brothers can still send me into fits of uncontrollable laughter with the right look or insider reference.) But now when I’m disappointed or angry with someone – which happens, both in work and in life – instead of letting go of my emotional control, I try to examine where they’re coming from, what’s driving them. I find that taking that perspective often leads to quicker conflict resolution and fewer hurt feelings. Life’s too short to hold grudges.

I also examine failures more objectively. If it’s a sub-par race, I examine what went wrong, whether it was inadequate preparation, equipment issues or poor race execution, and come up with a plan to rectify the issue in my next race. If it’s a setback at work, it’s the same approach.

Physical and mental decline will hit all of us at some point, but I for one am not going to go down without a fight. A large part of it is attitude:

  • Never EVER let age be an excuse. Ask my training partners about my competitiveness. I don’t care if they’re 20+ years younger than I am – when I go hard, I’m going to make it hurt.
  • Learn from the past, but don’t live in it. I never think that my best days are behind me. I’m going to make today the best day of my life, and tomorrow even better. It doesn’t always work out, but I get up each day and try again.
  • Have audacious goals, and work towards them. My goal is to be the first 90 year old to finish an Ironman. Plain and simple. But that goal entails a lot: living that long, and having immense physical vitality that long. Plus a host of other things, some of which are luck of the draw. Someone may beat me to the feat, but in that case I’ll just have to raise the bar. Maybe it’s 95. Maybe 100. 🙂

Anyway, enough motivational speeches. But if you’re in Kona in 2052 and see me cross the finish line, buy me a margarita. I’ll likely be sodium depleted.

Oh, and the house with the tombstones and black balloons? They were all gone when I ran by this morning.

I guess the party’s over. Let the downward spiral begin. 🙂

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