Looking back on my last ten years: A storm, but with rays of light

Looking forward to whatever lies ahead. (Johnny Hunter photo)

At the end of the year, everyone got reflective on the previous ten years. I decided to wait until my next trip around the sun came to pass.

Or something close to it. Next week, I’ll hit one of the milestone birthdays. The Big 5-0. Yeah, I know. A strong fear of ageism gives me pause even mentioning the number, partially because I still feel like a 30-something and admitting otherwise might (erroneously) bring on a bunch of “OK, Boomer” darts hurled my way. I’m Gen-X, ya knuckleheads. Get it straight.

The fact that I’m getting off-track might, indeed, be a sign of advancing age. So, let’s get past all that. Some thoughts that are rolling through my head right now go something like this…

I spent the first full decade of my adult years working lots of hours for low wages, all to build a resume and reputation that would land me a better gig. By age 28, I got that job, and my career got much more interesting and profitable.

That allowed me, in my 30s, to take a whole different path. That decade was all about exploration. I rediscovered by love of hiking and the outdoors and hiked my first 14er. I took up jujitsu and eventually became an instructor. I traveled to China, Thailand and several places in the Caribbean. I won’t lie, my 30s were awesome.

And then my 40s showed up. Like a storm.

That promising job turned sour. My oldest brother – a friend, mentor and confidant – got sick. Then I got laid off and spent four months looking for work just as the country was coming out of its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. And my brother ultimately succumbed to cancer. All that happened within 16 months of what was the worst time in my life.

Finding new work meant uprooting from the community I’d lived in for two decades. Even with a new gig, bankruptcy became a real possibility. To this day, the relatively good times, financially speaking, of the prior decade are just a memory. The middle class ain’t what it used to be.

But it wasn’t all bad news. Amid the storm, there were rays of light.

I took up running. And then trail running. I met some fantastic people in the running community and eventually ran my first half marathon. And then seven months later, my first marathon.

I still found time to hike, camp, take road trips and climb mountains. I met more great people in these endeavors, from many states. Tougher, more rewarding ascents followed. And solo road trips and hikes.

In 2011, I was looking for an outlet to write about these experiences, so I started this blog. I wasn’t expecting it to be anything more than an opportunity to practice a craft I love, and hopefully people would get something out of it.

Seven years later, I wrote and published a book. I’m not on any best-seller list, but it is by far the best thing I’ve ever done in my writing career.

As my next milestone approaches, I’ve got plans to do more. And looking back, I know there is value in the struggle. I’ve found that I write better from a place of pain, and if not for the wounds I suffered in my 40s, I’m sure anything I produced would have been less than what it is. I mean, you can appreciate the blues to a point, but you don’t really get it until you’ve suffered. That’s the weird thing about the human condition – those sufferfests might break you, but if they don’t, they will make you. Struggling through the storms gives me a better place to see other people, too. I see your gray areas, your flaws and your tragedies and I get it.

I’ve got this thing in my head that believes age is just a number, that I can run and hike and bike and live out loud and as hard as I want, even when the AARP comes knocking at my door. I’ve always had a bad case of Peter Pan syndrome.

But I’m OK with that. Because it means I’m going to run trails, line up for races, lift hard, camp in the cold, exhaust myself on mountain ridges and seek solace and understanding in lonely, wild places. I’ll keep trying weird foods, especially those in other lands, if I get that opportunity again. And I’ll sit down for a beer or three with just about anybody, because all of us have only so much time, and really, we’re in this thing together, like it or not.

And above all, I want to be a better human. How many crises could I have avoided and how many people could I have blessed by just doing that.

What will the next ten trips around the sun look like? Who knows? Each decade has been vastly different from the others, so I can only imagine that will be the case again.

So off I go, toward the second star on the right and straight on till morning. I don’t know any other way.

Bob Doucette

The reality of being an athlete over 40

Most of these shoes are worn out, and these days I’m feeling every one of their miles.

When it comes to being an “athlete” over 40, it really is a tale in two parts. That’s what I’ve discovered, anyway.

Since I’ve turned 40, here are a few things that have happened…

I ran my fastest races.

I pulled my heaviest deadlift.

I ran my longest distance, then topped that a few months later by double.

I climbed tougher mountains and undertook more demanding adventures, including a couple of them solo.

At one point, I can genuinely say that I was in better shape in my 40s than I was at any other time in my life.

Age is just a number, right?

Well, hang on a minute. There’s a flip side to this coin. It’s something people tell you, but you must experience first-hand to appreciate.

When I get up in the morning, I hobble to the bathroom. Lingering plantar fasciitis remains a daily issue. And it’s not just when I first get up in the morning. Any time I get up from a long period of sitting (binging Netflix, being at work or whatever), the effect is the same. It takes me a few strides to smooth out my gait.

I also battle other injuries now more than ever. A shoulder tweak, an angry lower back, twitchy muscles, ankles sprained so many times that they retain permanent stiffness. A janky hip joint. Right now, all of these, plus the foot issues, hit me at once.

It’s a strange and irritating conundrum. When I’m out running, I can break out into a hill sprint or straightaway gallop as good or better than at any time in my 20s or 30s. But give me a couple of hours and I’m walking around the house with a bit of a hitch, gimp or whatnot. I need more sleep to recover, but my body wants me to be awake at all the wrong times.

I guess all this is making me a smarter runner and lifter. I don’t train through pain as much anymore. I train around it. Or just back off. Rehab in the form of postural alignment exercises, foam rolling and more has become more of the norm. But I won’t lie. It’s getting harder. Frustratingly so. It’s making me wonder if the best is behind me, if I’ll race in the fall, and if I need to curb my expectations when it comes to adventure.

It’s been said that life is a marathon and not a sprint. The Apostle Paul even mentioned that in his writings a couple of thousand years ago. The idea behind that is perseverance. Having run a marathon before, it’s easy to feel good about yourself at Mile 3, or Mile 8, or even Mile 13. It’s at Mile 18, or Mile 20, when you’ve already come so far, beat yourself up, and seemingly have too far to go that a race is decided. I’m not sure which mile I’m on, but it sure as hell ain’t Mile 3.

But that’s when I remember those long training miles. I’ve got to pace myself. Be smarter. Not blast my way through every adversity. “Be like water,” as Bruce Lee once said: to be still at times, to flow over when allowed, around when necessary, and crash when appropriate.

I’m learning. Pain is a great teacher. All I know for sure is I don’t want to quit. I don’t want to give in, give up what I love and live a smaller, less pain-inducing life. I know where that leads, and it’s not good.

I guess I need to be better at figuring out how to carry on a bigger life when my arms are a little heavier, my steps a fraction slower, and the aches more persistent. I don’t know any other way.

Bob Doucette

Staying active helps your mind as you age

Stay active like these guys and chances are, you'll keep your mind sharper as you grow older.

We’ve all pictured the stereotype of the busy, older worker who retires, sits around the house watching TV and then dies within a few short years. The thinking is that without something to do, people just sort of wind down until they stop.

While that might be a bit cliche, there is evidence to suggest that an active body helps you keep an active mind as you age.

The Wall Street Journal’s Health Blog reports that Arizona researchers discovered that the effects of aging on the brain can be slowed is people maintain an active lifestyle.

Decreased brain activity that comes with aging is inevitable, researchers say, but it can be held off longer with a steady diet of aerobic activity.

I’ve often told people that I hope to still be hiking, running, lifting weights and playing in the mountains well into my old age. My guess is that living actively now is a key to not only being able to do that later, but also keeping my mind sharp and healthy.

You can read more of that blog here, and be sure to check out the links on that site.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088