How to Achieve Big Athletic Goals After the Age of 35
To achieve a lofty athletic goal you usually have to be selfish with your time. This is easier when you are young and have nothing to lose and nobody to look after but yourself. But what happens when you get a little older and carry all those responsibilities to your family, career, and community? Can you still go big?
Absolutely. You just have to be smart.
If you really want to achieve your goal, sit down before beginning your journey and analyze your perspective, system, and ability to adapt (your “PSA,” for short). I’m going to walk you through each of these elements. If you follow this system, the only thing that can stop you is you.
Do you understand what you are asking of yourself regarding your training goal? You know, accomplishing The Thing?
Perspective is about the cultivation of an attitude and how it shapes your reality, rather than having an opinion. Perspective is the intrinsic system from which we operate. Opinions are extrinsic and based off your perspective.
If you are going to do The Thing, you must first believe it can be done. And then you need to understand it does not matter what anybody else thinks. If you are lying to yourself, it will show up. You must have a ridiculous amount of passion for your objective.
"Seek counsel with people you trust in order to get an outside perspective on your progress. But in the end, know that you alone are responsible for what happens in your training."
It takes constant practice to cultivate and maintain the proper perspective. When you are trying to achieve something outside your comfort zone, there are many highs and lows. Put these aspects of perspective in your toolbox in order to thrive:
- Find your why. This is your reason, your conviction, and the rock on which all else you do is based. Without it you will fail when things get hard. Nietzsche wrote, "He who has a why to live can bear almost any how."
- Go all in. Half measures lead to mediocrity. Decide you are going to do The Thing and then figure out how to do it. Take the first step. And then the next. And the next. Until it’s finished. Pay attention to the three feet around you when things get hard. Fill yourself daily with positivity and strong motivation. Feed love and courage, not fear. Get rid of the negative people in your life. Stop watching the news and reading the paper.
- Know what you are willing to give up and what you aren’t. There are certain things I have on hold when it comes to my training goals because I am not willing to miss out on time with my child. I am not saying this is right or wrong. I am saying I know how my athletic goals relate to my perspective on my life. I know my why. And yet still, I will do two things athletically in 2015 (at forty years old) that I have never done before. Know thyself so that ye may set thyself up to succeed.
Develop Systems for Success
Do you have a system to achieve your mission? Is what you are doing sustainable? Every great company has a system - a standard operating procedure (SOP) - that sets them up for success. This SOP is not deviated from until, after relentless study, a more efficient way is found to succeed. You need to have your own SOP and you need to follow it relentlessly for a great deal of time.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What am I training for?
- Who is the best at teaching it? Can I afford that? Who is second best?
- What do I have time for?
- Where is my life at during this training period? Are things calm or in upheaval?
- What is my why?
- Where am I currently at physically? Where do I need to be to achieve my goal?
- Do I have a time frame to meet these goals? Why do I have this time frame?
- Is my goal realistic? If it is not realistic can I still manage to achieve it or should I relax slightly and settle into the discipline of training?
The mind is a powerful thing. I see many athletes set unrealistic timetables for their goals. This sets them up for failure. They get so beat down psychologically by their lack of perceived achievement that they give up. But, in fact, they are actually getting better every day. They are just too focused on the horizon to see right now. They quit because their system was poorly set up.
"There will always be a tough part to a great training program. And the bigger the goal you have, the tougher the grind."
Set up markers and benchmarks in your training that complement your ultimate goal. Or, better yet, have a professional coach do it for you. Be patient. Have fun with the process.
And if you and your coach establish a training time, get your ass in there and train - no matter how you feel and no matter what is going on in your life (unless it is one of those big life emergencies that happen very rarely). Doing anything less is a disservice to you and the spirit of that which you are after. Honor the spirit of the thing you are hunting down and it will honor you.
Learn How to Adapt
Do you have the presence of mind to adapt when needed? This is a tricky business. You cannot deviate from your training plan too quickly or too often as nothing good will ever happen. There will always be a tough part to a great training program. And the bigger the goal you have, the tougher the grind. But on the other side of that grind are new discoveries and achievements.
Training age plays a huge role in knowing when to adapt and when to stick it out. Having a coach helps tremendously, too. It also takes the wise person to understand that you only fail if you quit. Everything else is just learning. Best to enjoy it all as much as possible.
"Perspective is about the cultivation of an attitude and how it shapes your reality, rather than having an opinion."
Adapt to setbacks mentally (and only occasionally by altering your training regimen). Adaptation is the method by which we persevere. Getting your ass kicked is part of the process. Be cool with it, otherwise what you are doing would be easy and not worth a damn to you.
Seek counsel with people you trust in order to get an outside perspective on your progress. But in the end, know that you alone are responsible for what happens in your training. You have all the power and all the responsibility you need to achieve your goal. And when you achieve that goal, nobody will be able to take it away from you. You will carry it with you to the end. Congratulations, warrior.
Abandon All Self-Doubt
In 2011, Donnie Thompson set the world record powerlifting total at 3,000 pounds. He was 46-years old and came back from a massive back injury. Diana Nyad swam from Cuba to Key West (approximately 110 miles of open ocean) at 64-years old. It was her third attempt. The first two times she almost died. Age and adversity only play as much a part in your goal as you allow.
P.S. For those of you without responsibilities, this method can work for you, too. But you must possess the maturity and patience to proceed in this manner. (Most of us wait until we get hurt or beat down to adopt this mentality. But you could start early, and avoid most of that!)
Photos 1 and 2 courtesy of Shutterstock.
Photo 3 courtesy of CrossFit Empirical.