Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Aging Ungracefully or 'You're Never Too Old to Chase Your Dreams'

Quiet little voices creep into my head
I'm young again
I'm young again
I'm young again
I'm young again

'Quiet Little Voices' by We Were Promised Jetpacks

Who says you have to age gracefully?

94 year old track and field star Olga Kotelko.  She didn't do athletics until she was 70 when she took up slow pitch.  At 77 she took up track and field.

Battle of the 80+ year olds at Kona (Ironman Hawaii World Championships).  My favorite part is when France Cokan falls into the road barrier and breaks the 2x6 then gets up and keeps going without missing a beat.  Also the part where Lew Hollander explains that during the swim he has back pain that is the start of a kidney stone.  Oh and leading up to the race he had a hernia and he ends up with a bad abdominal cramp for the whole marathon.

That video is from 2011 but Lew went back in 2012 and won his age group at the Hawaii Ironman.  There were 2 other finishers in his age group.  At 82 Sister Madonna Buder became the oldest woman to complete an Ironman and qualify for Hawaii.  And for those unfamiliar with Ironman rules, there's a cutoff time of 17 hours in order to be considered a finisher so it's more than a matter of showing up and finishing.  Plenty that are far younger don't make the cut-off time.

Madonna Buder

Nobody knows for sure why these folks seem to defy age but the general consensus is the obvious - a combination of genetics, lifestyle and attitude.  Lew puts his success down to going anaerobic every day.  Even though he's competing in one of the ultimate distance/endurance events most of his training consists of shorter, higher intensity type workouts.

Lew's Longevity Secrets

And I have to agree with him.  Over the past couple of years I've arrived at the same conclusion for my own training.  Lots of long, slow to moderate endurance type workouts led to knee pain, back pain and various overuse injuries.  I still do long workouts on occasion but I do a lot more shorter, higher intensity type stuff these days - intervals of swimming running and biking, fartlek running and biking, plyometrics, strength training including a lot of core work.  Core work, core work and more core work.  I started going to a fitness bootcamp a year and a half ago and in the past year I've been going more regularly and  I can't believe the difference it's made in my triathlon racing, agility trialing and perhaps most importantly how I move through the world day to day and how I feel.  Yeah I've got back pain, knee pain, arthritis in my foot, etc. etc.  I've had knee surgery and a fairly invasive foot surgery.  Yet the strength training and plyometrics have given me a new lease on life, I barely notice my daily aches and pains.  I also eat well, vegetarian, lots of vegetables and whole foods, very little sugar or processed foods.  I'm convinced that sugar plays a huge role in aging though that's a whole 'nother post.  It's bad stuff though and as I've gotten older I'm not able to tolerate it as much.  You can go to Youtube and search for 'Robert Lustig' for plenty of science-y stuff on the evils of sugar.  Or google 'aging' and 'sugar' and 'insulin' and there is more info. than you probably want to know.

Oh yes and most recently in the news, 64 year old  Diana Nyad became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without the use of a shark cage.  A shark cage.  She swam 110 miles in 53 hours.  In shark infested waters.  At 64.  Her first words when she got out of the water?  'We should never ever give up' and 'You're never too old to chase your dreams'.

I turned 49 a few weeks ago and I'm not going down without a fight.

As for the dogs I think genetics affects them far more than it affects us humans because they're more seriously inbred though certainly diet and lifestyle are important.  I also don't know if the same concepts about training in old age apply to them, ie would they be better off with shorter, high intensity type workouts and strength training or long 4 hour walks?  Certainly structure plays a huge part and dogs' structures are so varied.  In general for my own dogs I'm not a fan of agility for the seniors.  Once they start getting up there in years I retire them at the first sign of a physical issue.  The combination of running and sharp turns and jumping so many jumps in a row seems like a terrible idea for the senior set. Such a concussive sport for old joints.  So many better ways for keeping the seniors fit and engaged.

I took Strummer down to the beach for some swimming and running in the sand the other week.  He's 8 1/2 years old and the speed and intensity he had tearing down the beach was frightening.  He's not going down without a fight either.  I'm not sure when I'll retire him or how I'll decide if he happens to still be going strong into his double digits.  I may retire him while he's still got a decent amount of fight in him just to be on the safe side because it may be difficult to tell when his body is giving out because he has so much crazy and fight in him.

Retiring an agility dog is a difficult decision for some people for obvious reasons.  So much emotion tied up in that sport and that relationship.  For some people it may even mean giving up their only social group if they don't have other dogs to go to classes and compete with.  Some are chasing titles, trying to get that 'last leg'.  We all probably can think of a dog or two being dragged around the local agility ring that obviously does not want to be there or shouldn't be there and the handler can't or won't see it.  And I don't want to dwell too much on this because as we all know there's not much you can do about it.  Nobody is going to say anything.  I'm not going to say anything anyway.  Maybe a close friend will make some gentle remarks.  Maybe.  But for the most part all we do is cringe and look away and I'm not sure there is much else we can do.  I'll leave this sticky issue to my fellow bloggers and go watch that video of Diana Nyad again.

This post is part of Dog Agility Blog Action Day.  You can check out other posts on the subject of humans and dogs aging in agility at the Dog Agility Blog Action Day page.


  1. Yes! I love people who stomp all over stereotypes! Awesomeness.