Matt Johanson
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How to Ace Your Age

“I turned 50 recently and I’m grateful to still enjoy outdoor activities that I picked up in my youth. Following are lessons I’ve learned over the years. This installment, the fourth of five, focuses on how to ace your age.”

Interviewing climbing pioneer Royal Robbins ranks among the best experiences in my writing career. Arthritis led Robbins to shift from climbing to kayaking in his 40s but he later enjoyed both because his arthritis improved. Positive thinking promoted that, he believed. 

“My improvement coincided with my decision not to let arthritis rule my life,” Robbins said. “The more optimistic you are, the better things go for you. I’ve been able to achieve things most people consider extraordinary by the power of that principle.”

Now 50, I’m also trying to share lessons I’ve learned outdoors. Earlier columns covered winter outings, running, climbing and backpacking. I encourage you to ace your age, not act your age, in this fifth and final segment.

  1.  Live your dream now. This is the best time to climb your mountain, run that race or hike that trail. Why wait? I’ve got my third marathon, California 14ers and the Pacific Crest Trail on my agenda. How about you?
  2. Try a new activity. I loved running first but I’m deeply grateful I branched out to climbing, backpacking and ski touring. In fact, I’m overdue to pick up another hobby, like bicycle touring.
  3. Accept your changing limits. Time catches all of us but don’t give up! After running seriously in my youth, I eased up in my 30s because running slower times didn’t motivate me. Thankfully, I got smart enough in my 40s to enjoy competing in middle age.
  4. Enjoy the journey. Setting goals motivates us to improve, but if you set challenging goals, you’ll fall short sometimes. Relish the effort anyway.
  5. Use your wisdom. I’ll never again start a long multi-pitch climb in mid-afternoon (which “benighted” me in Yosemite) or race at high elevation without acclimating (which crushed me at Lake Tahoe).
  6. Pass on your knowledge. Older athletes may not lead the pack as we once did, but we can become voices of experience. This makes us feel valued and educates the young.
  7. Take more care of your body. As we age, we lose muscle mass and flexibility, so emphasize exercise and stretching to slow your body’s decline.
  8. Take more rest and recovery time and avoid overtraining. Cross training can help older athletes maintain a high level of fitness while avoiding injuries. 
  9. Watch your diet. Pizza, beer and ice cream make no mark on younger athletes, but older ones should enjoy indulgences in moderation.
  10. Get professional help for bigger medical problems.  Your health plan probably includes this care, even if you need a referral and a few appointments to get it. 

At age 49, running was going great. Then one day I could barely bend my left knee. My doctor informed me that I had arthritis. 

Several months of trial-and-error followed. There were painful days and setbacks. But I remembered Robbins, vowed to remain positive, kept trying and I ran my second marathon. 

I’ve treasured the outdoor experiences and lessons of my first half-century, and relish those still to come. I hope this series has inspired you to pursue your dreams.

Read Johanson’s other 50 Lessons in 50 Years articles here.