Fitness Beyond 50: Do Something Hard

A year ago, my son Michael invited me to join him, his wife Michelle, and a dozen friends on a 10-day cycling trip to Sardinia and Corsica in October 2014. The trip was initiated at the dinner celebration following our annual Bucks County Birthday ride, where we bicycle the celebrant’s age in miles. It seemed like a great idea at the time.

About a month later I realized that this was the location for the beginning of the Tour de France in 2013 and that all of the cyclists on our trip would be 20 years (and in several cases over 30 years) younger than I. I also did some research about the route and got a sense of how hilly it would be. Unfortunately, I am not a strong climber – but a deal’s a deal, and I stuck with it.

I’m writing this from Corsica, the day after completing the ride, waiting to catch a flight to Paris and then home. I’d like to share some of the lessons I learned, or relearned.

It was hard. The hills were frequent and steep. It was the hardest cycling I’ve ever done in any country, and it was just a week before my 77th birthday.
There’s always someone stronger (or younger, or wealthier, or fitter or better looking). I had to remember that I wasn’t there to compete with anyone. The goal was to do the best I could do, no matter what that might be. The good news is that I was able to complete every day’s ride. I was sometimes the last one up a hill, but so what; I made it.

There’s a great deal of satisfaction is taking on a difficult day’s ride and completing it. This helped build the confidence that I could complete the next day. It builds self-efficacy; the confidence in our ability to complete a task based upon having completed others.

The last day’s ride was the longest, over 50 miles with lots of hills. It was also the most beautiful ride I’ve ever had. I focused on the beauty versus the distance.

Several friends on the trip asked how much longer I thought I would be able to do a trip like this. I responded that I have no idea; I’ll evaluate each opportunity as it arises. We had fun planning a birthday ride in Bucks County on my 80th birthday, three years from now. Many of those on the trip committed to participating. We may well end up doing 80 kilometers versus miles, and then do another 50 kilometers the next day, just so we’ll all have the energy for a good party the first night. As one friend reminded me, I have nothing to prove.

My advice: do something hard. You’ll benefit from the preparation for it and will enjoy the satisfaction and self-efficacy it will produce.

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14 Responses to Fitness Beyond 50: Do Something Hard

  1. Congratulations on a great accomplishment,,,,,I wonder how long or far I need to spin on a daily basis to equal that….. Likely longer than I currently spin now.

  2. Terry says:

    Tim Draper, a renowned venture capital investor once said to me, “If you have two choices and one of them is harder, choose the harder one, it’s usually the right choice.”

    I know that your post refers to doing things physically hard, but I think the lesson applies.

  3. Donna Carrick says:

    That is amazing Harry! I am so impressed with everything you are able to accomplish. Those genes must have been on your Dad’s side because I don’t think the Holland side had any. Keep it up, you are an inspiration.

    • Harry says:

      Thanks, Donna. For those who don’t know, Donna is my cousin, daughter of my mother’s sister. Who knows where the exercise genes came from, happy to have them.

  4. Susan Diamond says:

    Loved reading your story, Harry! Age is only a number and it is all about attitude!! Getting older can be filled with many wonderful accomplishments … Some difficult, some easier but all part of embracing this journey through life … Proud to know you!

  5. margarita bailey says:

    Wow and to think I thought your next birthday was 71! You certainly practice what you preach. I won’t whine about my hours practicing tennis any more!

  6. Dad, I had no idea it was hard for you. You were so determined and focused, I figured you were just in the zone. I am so proud of you! BTW, a little secret….it was flipping hard for me too! 🙂

    • Harry says:

      Had no idea it was hard for me? Are you kidding? Didn’t you see how hard I was working? I was “in the zone,” but the zone was new territory. But, it was a terrific experience and I’m glad we did it. Beautiful country, nice people in the group, good food, great guides. But next time let’s do shorter hills.

  7. Ray Sampson says:

    Very well done! Good for you in pulling through, it’s one thing to say you’ll go and quite another to actually do it! It’s so much easier to stick with your comfortable routine.
    I love cycling (road and MTB) and hope to be able to do it at 77. I’m 50 now and somedays realize I’m not 40 anymore. I figure we just gotta work a little harder than we did in the previous decade to get similar results, keep a positive attitude and don’t expect quite as much. After all it’s about doing what you love with like minded individules that really counts. The positive health benefits are a great byproduct to be enjoyed when were 77.
    Keep up the good work!!
    Ray

  8. Neale Sweet says:

    Harry (and Michael too),

    Very inspiring story. Congratulations to the two of you for finishing this arduous trip. Loved the comment about picking the harder of two choices. Must be a blood connection with Ed Stanford, who shares a similar philosophy. You should be proud also of finishing the book and then continuing to extend the life of the book through your comments and blogs. All very inspiring.

    • Harry says:

      Thanks, Neale, I appreciate your comments very much. I think I’ll forward your note to Ed Stanford, who might well enjoy it.

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