How I Found My ‘Mountain’ and Started Climbing
Pursuing passion for the sheer joy of it
This past Saturday, I ran a trail-based half-marathon. It was hard! And incredibly motivational. I want to share the experience not because you necessarily should run such a race, or even jog at all, but because I believe strongly that we all need to find our own personal mountain—a real or metaphorical, physical or mental or relational pursuit that we find meaningful—and climb the hell out of it.
That, my friends, is the surest path to happiness, science says (OK, I paraphrased the science a bit, but you get the idea).
The race was in the White Tank Mountains outside Phoenix. Narrow, rocky trails. Some 1,700 feet of elevation. This would be much harder than a typical half-marathon. And I hadn’t run this far since doing my one and only marathon in 1986.
A little backstory: In fact, I’d stopped running altogether in my late 40s due to back and hip pain. It’s frustrating, even demoralizing, when you can’t do the thing you love. Then about two years ago I discovered yoga, which helped stretch and strengthen my whole body—a veritable physical makeover. I began mountain biking again, another passion I’d dropped. Then, as I was preparing to mountain bike 60 miles on my 60th birthday—a stretch goal that was monumentally challenging but doable—I delved into the actual science of all this metaphorical mountain climbing: how to make the commitment, set goals and achieve them, and the physical and mental benefits that result.
Surprisingly last summer, after turning 60, I found I could run again, almost entirely without pain. Honestly, it was like rediscovering chocolate or sex after years of abstinence. (Thank you, yoga.)
Of course at my age, I’d never run as fast as I did in my 20s or 30s or even my 40s. That can be damn frustrating.
I needed a different sort of challenge so I could set new, achievable goals doing something I’d never done before, so there’d be no comparison of my progress to youthful performance.
I found it in the mountains, literally. Thanks to…
Last fall, our youngest son entered his first race and encouraged me to do it. A simple 5k on trails. How hard could it be? It was damn hard! Running on rocky, steep trails is a totally different experience from the road. But I survived and didn’t embarrass myself age-group-wise (forget comparisons to the 20-somethings!).
I was hooked again.
I’ve been training ever since, pushing myself up nearby hills, entering more and longer mountain races—a half dozen so far. 5k. 10k. 12k. I even won my age group in one of them when my newfound fiercest competitor, Cliff, cramped up on, yes, a cliff of sorts (OK, a really steep downhill section). Cliff is a couple years older than me and has kicked my butt every other time.
But could I run a half-marathon? In the mountains? At my age?
The answer was simple: With proper training, hell yes.
I’d hoped for a Top 3 age-group finish in this one, maybe even a win, based on my recent times in races and training, and allowing for unknowns.
Three unknowns struck. The apple juice in one of my two water packs had gone sour, so I had to pour it out and make two 20-second stops at aid stations for hydration, instead of the one I’d planned. I took a wrong turn and got momentarily lost about one-third of the way in, costing me about two minutes. I was just catching up to the age-grouper who was in front of me and I fell (hence the blood in the photo above). A little voice in my head suggested I walk the rest. But my legs and lungs were fine, so I just kept at it. Eventually caught Cliff, who unfortunately cramped up. (And he fell, too. Did I mention it was a tough course?) Anyway, he got going again and was on my heels for the last ½-mile. With some gas surprisingly left in the tank, I picked up the pace and eked out an age-group win.
Two days later I’m still on an endorphin-induced, passion-inspired high. In a word: happy. And starting to ponder what the next goal should be.
I share all this with you as a motivational: Whatever your passion is, pursue it with vigor. When you fall down, get up. When you get lost, find your way back. If you don’t currently have a mountain, real or otherwise, find one and climb the hell out of it.
Step 1 on any path to happiness is figuring out what actually makes you happy, what your passion is or can be. So I asked a bunch of people that very question: What makes you happy?
The responses center around—no surprise—simple pleasures. Thus, my latest story on Medium delves into the fuzzy definitions of happiness, how it’s different for each of us, and how happiness comes not from its pursuit but by putting our energy into the more tangible, doable things that bring us joy or satisfaction or a sense of meaning and purpose.
I hope you'll chime in with comments, or at least glean a little insight into what floats your boat, then surf on the positive vibe. Read >
Until next time, wishing you health and happiness.
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Love the story Robert. I’m 67 and on a similar journey. Peloton riding, yoga, Pilates and weights are all keeping me in great shape for any mountain I want to climb. I am so inspired by SuperAgers like you and the many others I see on my journey. Who knows what’s possible but we are going to give it a crack.