One day, while browsing Amazon, I happened upon a book entitled ‘The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer’. Now, at that that time I was very much a non-runner. This was before my great fitness epiphany, but it piqued my interest nonetheless. Although the very idea of running a marathon was one of those things ‘that other people did’ and the concept of running was pretty much anathema to me, I bookmarked it, and over the months that followed kept finding myself drawn back to it. The very notion was clearly preposterous: I was not a runner, had never been a runner nor ever wanted to be a runner… and yet, there was something about the idea of running a marathon, or, more precisely to have run a marathon once in your life… it was one of those bucket list things that it would be great to be able to say you had done once. In the same way that I am not particularly fond of heights and the last thing I want to do when I am in an aeroplane is exit it before it has come to a full and complete stop at the terminal, but it would be cool to have skydived just once.
And, after all, the book was for ‘Non-Runners’ – it was right there in the title. Maybe, just maybe it did have some magic knowledge to impart that could turn me into a marathon runner? Eventually, after I think getting a year of coming back and idly pondering it, I took the plunge and bought the damn thing. See what a good book title will do for your sales?
A couple of days later (this was in the days before Prime) it turned up, and I hid it, spine facing in on my bookshelf, not wanting anyone to see this preposterous folly I had indulged myself with. Over the course of the following week, when no one else was around, I sneaked it out like a dirty magazine and pawed through it in private. It is, in fact, a very good guide to getting to running your first marathon from scratch, aimed at finishing rather than getting a specifically great time. It absolutely does what it says on the tin, and I would recommend it if you are looking to train for your first marathon. It has inspiring ‘cases studies’ of the participants and the personal struggles they faced to achieve their goals. I devoured it enthusiastically.
… and then put it back on the shelf.
It was an entertaining diversion, but, coming back down to Earth, not a realistic possibility. A nice dream to indulge for a few days, but I was a grown man, and while it’s okay to still daydream occasionally, it is also important to be able to tell fantasy from reality, and the reality of the thing was that I was never going to run a marathon. I was never going to run anywhere. The simple fact of the matter was that I had left it too late in life to start running. I was just too old
I just looked up on my Amazon account when it was that I bought that book: 4th June 2008. Ten years ago, give or take a couple of months. I would have been 40 years old.
It would be another 6 years before I started to turn my life around health and fitness-wise and started running. It would be 8 years before I ran my first marathon. I was 40 years old and I had written off running a marathon as something I was never going to do as it was too late and I was too old.
Now it is ten years on from then. I am 50 years old, and look back at my 40 year old self thinking he was ‘too old’ with a wistful smile. Foolish young whippersnapper that I was. How little I knew then.
On the other hand, although I am ten years older, I am in considerably better shape than I was at 40. I am fitter, leaner, stronger, healthier. Somewhere along the line I stopped thinking I was too old to take on physical challenges and decided it was never too late to do anything you really put your mind to. I did learn to run and eventually ran marathon and ultra distances. I don’t any more, partly because I have ‘been there and done that’ and set my sights on different fitness challenges now, and partly because the nature of my heart condition means that very long steady state cardio exercise is not ideal for me – I may not accept limitations of age but that doesn’t mean I completely ignore the strictures of my body.
One of the things that makes me sad when I see the majority of ‘Fitness after 40’ type articles and programmes is the low ambition of them. Somehow there is this Saga generation, low-impact, scaled down, half-assed, pusillanimous cop-out mentality to it all. This idea that at 40, 50 or 60 we should be wrapped in cotton wool when we exercise. That anything beyond very mild workouts and short slow runs is somehow reckless invitation to injury. I see so many people on forums and in the gym starting with some excuse on the basis of their age. They have convinced themselves before they even begin that they won’t ever be able to do the full workout or run the distance/speed the ‘youngsters’ are doing. Maybe just do teh seniors class…
Really, NO! Hell to the no. That is scarcely better than giving up entirely. It is going gentle into that good night, but in active wear and trainers.
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
and that means taking up challenges, setting your sights higher than ever before, shooting for the moon while there is still time. Of course I am not suggesting throwing yourself into extreme sport from a standing start, or slumped on the sofa start, more to the point, you still need to start sensibly and build up gradually, and with age that buildup will probably be slower than it would have 20 or 30 years ago, but you sure as shit do not have to stop on the third step because you’re getting on a bit. You’re fat, you’re out of shape, but you’re not fucking dead yet, so don’t use that as an excuse to keep you from being the best you you have ever been.
My current goal, now I am 50 is to get as strong as I can and build myself the best physique I have ever had in my life. I want to be able to move really heavy things and I want to look really jacked. I want to lift multiples of my bodyweight and I want to look like a Superhero. That may sound really vain and shallow, but screw it, they’re my goals and if you don’t like them, well, one of the really good things about being 50 is not really giving a shit about what other people think of my goals.
And that’s not my end point either. I have a couple more longer term fitness related goals that I want to shoot for later, but I need to build the strength first to be able to realise them. They’re pretty ambitious. They’re going to take some serious hard work.
But that’s okay. I’m not too old and it’s not too late.