I remember people telling me as a kid that it was inevitable to get fat when you turned 30 or 40. When you’re young, you believe grown-ups. Sadly, you don’t know that they’re just telling you beliefs they’ve told themselves to excuse their mediocrity or having chosen ice cream and cookies in their two options in life.
Sadder still, if people rise to the level expected of them, as I believe they do, teaching kids this complacency dooms them to not reaching their potential. It’s sad enough when an adult gives up and chooses physical pleasure over triumph over adversity—that is, gluttony—but sadder still when he or she drags an innocent child down with him or her.
Well, today’s New York Times’ piece, “85-Year-Old Marathoner Is So Fast That Even Scientists Marvel,” lets you reject that complacency. Or if you’ve bought into it, to shock you out of it. This 85-year-old man ran a sub-4-hour marathon, a mere 5 minutes off my best time, when I was in my 20s.
I love how he trains, which is how I like to train, which is minimally, and eschewing special equipment or special anything. He
- Raced in 15-year-old shoes
- Has no coach
- Follows no special diet
- Does not chart his mileage
- Wears no heart-rate monitor
- Takes no ice baths, gets no massages
- Shovels snow in the winter and gardens in the summer but lifts no weights
- Does no situps or push-ups
- Avoids stretching, except the day of a race
- Takes no medication, only a supplement that may or may not help his knees
He ran his first marathon at 44.
Why do I keep writing about old people running marathons? Because anyone can create an excuse not to challenge themselves in some way, but not to challenge themselves in any way. I mean, some people don’t have legs. But you can always do something, at least that’s what I believe Victor Frankl meant in Man’s Search for Meaning when he wrote,
We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
When we are no longer able to change a situation—just think of an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer—we are challenged to change ourselves.
I feel as tempted as anyone to give up and live a life of indulgence before challenging myself—before trying to row 5,000 meters in 20 minutes, to run a marathon, to take a cold shower, to do a set of burpees when I’m tired, and so on.
But I’m always glad I overcame the challenge after. Always. Even when I get injured or whatever. If Victor Frankl could create meaning in Auschwitz, I can too.
Come to think of it, he didn’t just create meaning. He created bliss:
We stumbled on in the darkness, over big stones and through large puddles, along the one road leading from the camp. The accompanying guards kept shouting at us and driving us with the butts of their rifles. Anyone with very sore feet supported himself on his neighbor’s arm. Hardly a word was spoken; the icy wind did not encourage talk. Hiding his mouth behind his upturned collar, the man marching next to me whispered suddenly: “If our wives could see us now! I do hope they are better off in their camps and don’t know what is happening to us.”
… A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth—that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved.
So many people think you need so much more than you do to create emotional reward, meaning, value, importance, and purpose. Well, all this guy needed was 15-year-old running shoes, and probably could have used less, and an 85-year-old body.
Does he help you get past any of your excuses?
Read my weekly newsletter
On initiative, leadership, the environment, and burpees