If you have ever known someone who participated in a twelve-step “recovery” program, you may be familiar with how much these programs focus on acceptance and gratitude. I’ve discovered that both of these frames of mind are helpful for aging athletes (and virtually anyone else)!
I took up running in 1979 because I was concerned that two of my first cousins had heart attacks before they turned 40-years-old. Donald died instantly at age 39. His younger brother’s heart attack was not fatal. Yet he was never able to work full-time again, and he died a few years later.
Although I began running to have a stronger, healthier heart, I entered my first competitive road race in 1979 and finished with a second place trophy. That was the beginning of my “competitive running” hobby!!
Acceptance and Gratitude as We Slow Down
Over the years, I have achieved many health benefits from running and racing has provided an incentive to keep in shape. Yet, now that I am in my 70s, my competitive running “hobby” requires a good balance of acceptance and gratitude. I am grateful that I can still run and that my recent trips to high school reunions verify that I am in much better shape than most people my age!
Yet, racing is also a “reminder” that I am no longer young. In large races, there are still “five-year age groups” (e.g., “70-74,” “75-79,” “80-84,” etc.). But many of the “charity” (fund-raising) races set a “final” age group. The wording varies. Some “final” age groups read “70 & Up.” Sometimes the computer program that tracks older runners is programmed to have a “beginning and end” to each age group. A recent race I ran was a fundraiser for the Autism Society of Central Virginia. The last age group was “70-120.” The last race I ran listed “70-99” as the final category.
While I am encouraged that the race organizers expect that I might actually live to be 99 (or even 120), all the scientific studies (along with my personal experience) suggest that “fast twitch” muscles become weaker and less responsive year-after-year. “Slow twitch” muscles still allow 70 or 80-year-old runners to “finish” 10K events, or even Marathon races, yet their “pace-per-mile” keeps eroding no matter how much they prepare for a race.
How Acceptance and Gratitude Motivate Me
So, here’s where acceptance and gratitude put me in the right frame of mind. I “accept” that my fast twitch muscles are not what they used to be! In addition, the amount of oxygen my heart supplies to my legs steadily decreases with age. I also accept that race directors have to decide if and when to stop giving awards as people people turn 70, 75 or 80, etc.
A few years ago, I spoke with an 81-year-old runner (Cokey Damon) just after he finished a five-mile race. Cokey was a legend as a marathon runner in Virginia Beach. He had just run this race in a remarkable time. I said, “Well, Cokey, you certainly must have won your age group!” He looked at me and said, “No. I got beat by a 72-year-old because the last age group was “70 & Over!”
I now know what Cokey had come to accept. The five-year age groups had ended at 70, and he was now over 80!!
I am sure that Cokey was grateful for being able to complete a five-mile race at age 81. Yet, having to compete with runners who were as much as 11 years younger must have been a bit of an adjustment! Admirably, he demonstrated acceptance that he could not go back in time!
How Does Acceptance and Gratitude Apply to You?
As we get older, certain things get better and easier. Other things head in a different direction. Yet, we all have things we must accept, as well as reasons to be grateful.
Acceptance is a process, not a one-time occurrence. We talk about it more in a previous article, “Acceptance – How Do I Get There?” As I have heard from many people who have had setbacks and losses in their lives,
We have to learn to ACCEPT certain things that happen to us. We don’t have to LIKE it!
What events or conditions in your life have you had to learn to accept?
Many of our coaching clients have learned to accept that they have ADHD, High Functioning Autism, or other challenging conditions. Yet, most of them also realize that they are fortunate enough to go to colleges that understand “invisible disabilities” and offer Accommodations and other support services. For this, they are grateful.
What things in your life are you grateful for?
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