Back to Fitness: Choose to Endure

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John Andersen

If you read this column enough, you’ll know that I love ultrarunning (running/races longer than a marathon). Ultra-running is a sport that favors those who endure. From Merriam-Webster:

Endure:  To remain firm under suffering or misfortune without yielding. To undergo, especially without giving in. To regard with acceptance or tolerance. To continue in the same state.

When we think of endurance relative to sports and fitness, we often think of endurance athletes as people who are genetically different than other people. The reason I love ultrarunning as sport so much is that I get to see first-hand that enduring is a choice.  To endure means not giving up when things are hard. To endure means being smart, problem solving, and remaining calm. To endure means putting in the work. I have never once met an ultrarunner who can endure without this ethos. Talented runners often come and go because they choose not to endure.  

Meanwhile, the sport is composed mostly of very regular people who have simply chosen to endure.  People who have decided they want to start running at the age of 60. People who have been incredibly patient in the face of injuries or misfortune. And people who are just too stubborn to give up. That is the simple beauty of endurance sport—it is available to anyone. It is a choice. Not an easy choice, but a rewarding one.

I was inspired to write about this as I watched the 2018 version of the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run take place June 23. This is a very difficult 100-mile trail race that starts in Squaw Valley near Lake Tahoe, California, runs up and through the Sierra Nevada mountains, and then through scorching hot canyons and valleys until finally ending in the town of Auburn. Participants have a 30-hour time limit to complete the race, which averages out to just over 19 minute-miles for 100 miles. Most participants run a lot, but also “power hike” a lot. They take short breaks, they eat, they drink, and mostly, they endure the day and the course. This year’s winner set a new course record in 14 hours and 30 minutes. That’s an 8:40 minute/mile pace for 100 mountain miles with 18,000 feet of elevation gain.  

As incredible the winners are, the folks who don’t have much talent but have chosen to do the things that it takes to endure are just as amazing. This year was particularly impressive to me (and relevant to this Back to Fitness column) because there were some amazing performances in the older age groups. 

Nick Bassett of Cheyenne, Wyoming, 73 years old, became the oldest person ever to finish this storied race as he finished 100 tough, hot, mountain miles in 29 hours and 9 minutes! He had 51 minutes to spare before the race’s 30-hour cutoff. Let that sink in. Mr. Bassett is 73 years old! Let’s say you’re 43 and starting to feel “old.” Well, good news! You’ve got 30 years to train and be like Nick Bassett! (But you really need to start now.)  

“Aw, come on, he’s probably just some elite runner for whom this stuff just comes easy to!” you might say. Well, perhaps that is true. Nick Bassett ran his first Western States 100 race 34 years ago.  He was obviously in shape when he was 39 years old. However, I can guarantee you this: to keep active during these last 34 years, as he aged, as his life became busy and complex, and as life events were thrown at him, he chose daily to endure. He chose to put in the work and keep fitness a priority and there is no doubt that this became more challenging with age. The reward? I bet Mr. Bassett is mighty pleased about the view he had of Lake Tahoe and the Granite Chief Wilderness as he climbed through the Sierra Nevadas last weekend at the age of 73.

How about 60-year-old Diana Fitzpatrick? Diana Fitzpatrick smashed the women’s 60-69 age group record at Western States by finishing in 23 hours and 52 minutes. I ran Western States last year and finished in 23 hours and 11 minutes (as a 41-year old).    

Diana first started running these crazy ultramarathons 15 years ago, when she was 45. What drove her to want to start running these long distances at 45 years of age? I don’t know, I don’t know her.  I am confident, however, that at the age of 45 she had a goal, created a plan to get there, and she endured. I am also confident that it was difficult. Last, I am confident that the past 15 years that led her to her incredible performance at this year’s Western States has been full of endless decisions—choose to endure, or choose to quit. And more often than not, she chose to endure.  

I hear and see much too often people giving up on their health and fitness because of “age” or getting older. Yes, not exercising is the easier road. Yes, we are so much busier now than when we were younger. And yes, our bodies require more care and a bit more caution than when we were younger. But do not limit yourselves because of age! Thank goodness for Nick Bassett and Diana Fitzpatrick, and the thousands of people just like them who give us no excuses.  

Let’s go back to that Merriam-Webster definition:  

Endure – to remain firm under suffering or misfortune without yielding.

Sounds like a good life motto.  

Choose to endure. 

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