Achieving a Lifetime of Outdoor Silent Sports Joy
By Jan Guenther
Editor’s Note: When I had asked Jan whether she would write a story on what has worked to keep her going strong for so many years, and on into the future, I knew she would reveal something good, but I hadn’t expected this. Thank you, Jan, for sharing things so personally, adding to the warm humanity of your perspective, and then for providing not only tips but also an overall philosophy that transcends the range from beginner to elite. You have provided something we should all keep close to our hearts as we travel the decades of life.
Although my mind slips on the number of Birkies I’ve raced, each finish becomes richer, the in-the-moment experience more intense. Racing to win has become a distant memory, but racing to enjoy the mind/body connection remains rewarding.
My parents have passed, my boys are launched, and my husband lost much of his eyesight due to a tumor and can no longer work the store as my partner. Scars on my knees reflect stories, novels really, of a competitive life and operations. The pavement under my rollerskis looks harder. Coffee time crowds out many early morning workouts. What does remain constant for me?
The joy of doing athletic stuff outdoors.
My soul is fed by nature. Because the outdoors always delivers joy to me, I feel extremely fortunate. Money cannot buy long-term appreciation and wonder of life. It’s free for the taking if we continue to work on the physical and mental obstacles which often block our access to the outside.
Whether I’m biking, running (jogging is more like it these days), skijoring with my poodles, paddling on the lakes, or cross-country skiing the parks, finding the correct play toys and a new speed of movement to satisfy my outside cravings continue to be my goals. Growing old gracefully means we readjust our expectations to keep on moving, striving, and achieving. We do so because, I believe, the alternative zaps our energy in worse ways and accelerates aging.
Here are my Nine Personal Tips for you to consider, to help keep the outdoor joy alive for you when life becomes more difficult as we age:
1. Try Not to Match Performances of Your Youth: Remembering what we used to do maybe nostalgic, but feeling badly about our new, slower selves is self-defeating. Winding up my last Ironman at 62, postponed for two years due to a bike accident and then COVID, I had to let go of what I used to do, to allow me to pick up my training and attempt what I could do. Most of all, to enjoy that I was able to do it at all.
An adjusted attitude allowed me to feel appreciation for just doing the Ironman to flow through me, and I loved that my body could perform to its best level possible at the age I am now. A 12:00-hour finish as compared to a 10:28 finish years ago was as gratifying because I had allowed myself to train in alternative ways.
2. Acknowledge Simplicity: I have often made my life too complicated, as do many of us. In the past, I tackled work issues, kid stresses, and all else that popped into my head while exercising. Aging and its accompanying wisdom suggest savoring the simple connection of physical movement within nature.
If we toss out a lot of preoccupying junk, our minds can fully capture the outdoors’ beauty: winter hoarfrost, summer sunset, autumn’s leafy colors, dogs (I have three) panting by our
side. Sure, one can solve problems while exercising, but identifying with the harmony of nature can calm our soul and continue to reward our efforts for being out there.
3. Expand Workout Varieties with New Toys: Let go of hard training patterns. Remain fit but add creativity. Take yoga outdoors onto a paddleboard to feel the wind. Swap hard triathlon workouts for long-distance gravel rides on fatter tire bikes. Take the plunge into lakes versus counting pool laps. Discover skijoring with your dog. All you need, besides a willing pup, is a longer leash connected to a harnessed dog, and a person-harness. Grab trail shoes and stop to investigate all outdoor phenomena that interest you. Be inventive and you will gather experiences that will ignite your desire for more.
4. Add Body Strength Into Outdoor Workouts: Build overall body fitness! Core strengthening and mobility exercises will extend your ability to move without stiffness or pain. To reduce boredom on longer gravel bike rides this summer, my training partners and I stopped every 10 miles for 10 pushups.
Programmed stops mentally hastened the return trip (we were tired!) and I have vivid memories of all the picnic tables and town benches utilized for arm strengthening. Continual focus on tiny intentional movements supports bigger exercise efforts. Core work, flexibility, and balance exercises are essential for longevity in movement.
5. Introduce New Experiences Into Your Silent Sports: Swim under the stars. Try an October, cold-water jump into a lake for some free therapy. Cross-country ski after work with
a headlight by yourself. Hike under a full moon. Bring a picnic lunch to an over-distance workout and take a scenic snack break. Set fresh exercise goals and plan a route to success.
Last spring, I decided to commute to work. Yes, dressing for a ride in inclement conditions and remembering all the work clothing, stole valuable free time. However, memories of riding the 8 miles to and from Gear West through every weather condition available have proven memorable. A bonus was figuring out the clothing and learning which fabrics performed as advertised.
6. Choose Friends Who Will Motivate Your Outdoor Activities: Choose friends who have an adventure in their hearts and ready smiles on their faces to create outdoor adventure. Commit to skiing together every week, set joint exercise goals, and share your appreciation of the countryside's beauty. Perhaps join a training group of like-minded or aged persons. Use a commitment to build healthy habits which will encourage decades of biking, hiking, and skiing.
7. Embrace and Appreciate Weather Contrasts: Cold workouts equal warm recoveries. Long workouts equal couch appreciation. Burning calories equals eating dessert. You get the idea; contrasts add spice to life. Sure, I thought having free time (without guilt) to read on the couch would be the cat’s meow. Until I broke my leg and had to recline for months. Not fun! And I wasn’t in the mood to read much under those conditions.
When is holding a mug of a steaming hot drink or the tingly blast of a hot shower most enjoyable? After returning from a winter ski, bike, or hike. Contrasts add color to our senses and therefore to our lives.
8. Think of the Alternative: If you just feel lazy, stiff, or bored, or when stepping outside is burdensome, if the weather is too raw, then visualize your life if you could not work out. Perhaps picture those who never prioritized exercise over social or other commitments. Where would you be? Most likely less confident, healthy, and energetic.
Who does not know a friend who, after years of a sedentary lifestyle, would now desperately trade places with you, a person whose healthy habits kept you flexible and cheerful? Therefore, appreciate the outdoor choices available to us and the intrinsic rewards that commitment to experiencing outdoor movement delivers.
9. Outdoor Experiences Expand Your Mind: Emersion in the outdoors resets who we are as humans. We scrutinize vistas, contemplate the sparkly diamonds on freshly fallen snow, and are amazed monthly by the moon’s fullness.
Who are we?
Our love of playing in the outdoors suggests more than the sum of our parts. Rather, we live in a world of the mystical, of the spiritual, of a god. Whatever we believe in, the mysteries of life are enjoyed by the curious and the energetic. If you mix in the fun of fitness, outdoor play should never get old.