10 Lessons I Learned Running 50 Miles At Age 51

One day, my then 18-year-old daughter asked, "How would you feel about running a marathon with me?" At the time, I was approaching 51 and hadn't done a marathon in 30 years. I should have had my head examined. And my back. And my legs. I should have consulted a doctor.

But the opportunity to bond with my teenage daughter doesn't happen every day, so I immediately jumped at the opportunity and started training as casually as if it were a late-night drive for doughnuts. No stretching. Not even new shoes. My wife took a look at my schedule and summed it up: “You’re doomed.” I had only 16 weeks to prepare and wasn't in the best shape.

Flash-forward to a year later, I've completed four half-marathons, three full marathons, a 55-mile ultra-marathon, and ran 2,000 miles over training. Maybe I was just lucky, but along the way I learned some lessons about how (I think) many of us can make such things happen:

1. Get a schedule.

If you want to make a big change in your life, don’t just count on your own good intentions, because on bad days they will fail you. A printed schedule will drive you to fulfill your commitment even when it is cold, raining, dark, or you just don’t want to go.

2. Dress properly.

Don’t worry about whether your clothing or gear is fashionable. Make sure it matches what you are doing so that you don’t waste time and energy fighting your own outfit.

3. Be honest.

If you don’t do what you planned, don’t say you did.

4. Be kind to yourself.

Just because you miss a day or deadline doesn’t mean you have failed. It means you need to regroup, adjust, and get back on track.

5. Don't just think about yourself.

There is no advantage in vastly improving one part of your life if all the other parts get trashed. For ultra-runners, who must spend many hours training, this means being extra attentive to family, work, and friends when we are not on the trail. Sure, it’s hard when you are tired and your knees are howling, but everyone who is giving you time to run deserves something in return.

6. Age is real.

You are not as young as you think you are. There is real biology at work under your skin, and if you ignore it, it will backfire on you. The good thing is you can adjust. You may need more training to promote strength, endurance, or concentration; you may require more recovery time, stretching, or sleep, but age also brings an ability to assess challenges and calculate solutions that younger people often lack. Take advantage of it!

7. Have a concrete goal and write it down.

My friend, the great marathoner Meb Keflezighi preaches this gospel. He’s right.

8. Grab the challenges eagerly.

Delaying a hard workout or difficult task only gives it more time to work on your psyche. Rip into it. Remember that old saying Mark Twain saying: "If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first."

9. Run your own race.

If you take on a challenge just to impress others, I think you're likely to fail. Do it because you believe in it and because you know it will make you a better person.

10. Have faith in yourself.

I endured doubts over many, many, many miles. Sometimes my body ached. Sometimes I despaired. And each time I told myself the same thing: Take one more step. Try a little longer. Don’t give up.

My point is, when I started running again I was not sure I could complete a single marathon. But this fall I am scheduled to run seven including Chicago, the Marine Corps, and New York City, and if all goes well I’ll tack on another 50-miler when the marathons are done. Too late in life for big challenges? Ha! Hardly. I think I’m just warming up.

Learn more about Tom Foreman's adventure in his new book, My Year Of Running Dangerously.

Photo courtesy of the author

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