Thanks to Ross Johnston for supplying this article. We met Ross and his wife at the Outer Limits’ Pallarenda Trail Run in November and were inspired by their attitudes. In their 60s, Ross and Jenni have embraced the mantra “why die wondering” and have bravely taken up a new activity that has pushed them out of their comfort zones. Ross’s story is proof that it’s never too late to give something a go.
Curiosity… it drives all our questions, tempts us to see what’s around the next bend, can lead us to extraordinary places – sometimes into dangerous places – and often coaxes us to test our ability in all types of endeavours, from the mundane to the exhilarating.
“Really, all you need to do is give into your curiosity and you may experience some of the best times of your life”
Have you ever seen people participating in activities and thought, ‘that looks interesting’ or ‘I wouldn’t mind trying that’? There are more extreme reactions like, ‘wow, I’d love to try that!’ The unfortunate thing is that many of us fail to act on those thoughts, possibly because we are too shy or think the activity is beyond our capabilities, just don’t know how to make a start, or are possibly too unwilling to move out of our comfort zone. Really, all you need to do is give into your curiosity and you may experience some of the best times of your life.
My story started with ‘wow, I wish that sport had been around when I was young’, but any level of interest can be sufficient motivation to move forward. You just have to make a start. My start came after returning from a bushwalking trip to New Zealand. I was looking for a goal to keep me motivated to maintain my improved fitness level. By accident I came across footage of an adventure race on television and that lead to my unearthing of a treasure trove of off-road, bushwalking-related adventure sports. What a find: I had been a bushwalker, on and off, for most of my 63 years and this new sporting arena could provide a perfect motivation to maintain, or even improve, my fitness. However, without a goal I would surely get bored with this fitness ‘fad’, so the search started.
““Madness!” proclaimed my wife; “Mid-life, no, late-life crisis,” she cried”
My daughter told me about friends of hers who had just completed a 100km trail run in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, an area where I bushwalked and rock climbed most weekends in my teen years. I looked it up and the race covered a lot of territory that I was very familiar with but at 100km, and with a 26-hour time limit and lots of big hills; this was beyond my capability, even though I would have nearly a year to train. “Madness!” proclaimed my wife; “Mid-life, no, late-life crisis,” she cried. Then I pointed out that there was a 50km option. No change in her response. Anyway, it provided a goal even if people thought I was mad. But then – target set – interestingly enough my wife decided that she too might like to use it as a goal to improve her fitness. So, together, we slowly progressed from walking to jogging and extending our distances.
I can’t speak for others, but it is often easier for me to maintain motivation when there are other people involved, so having my wife along eased the transition into more regular training. As neither of us had ever competed in any forms of running, we included the local parkrun into our schedule to experience walking/running in a group. We found this very helpful and the people really friendly and steadily improved our times and our aerobic fitness, but there was still a gap in our experience: an off-road or trail run. About six months into our training – and still mixing a lot of walking with our jogging to cover any distance beyond 5km, and unable to jog uphills – we entered our first trail run in Townsville and one week later had to decide whether to enter the 2014 50km Blue Mountains run or not (entries open six months out and the event is so popular that entry limits are filled within a few days).
“Trail running has changed my life for the better. I am much fitter and healthier now, have a much brighter outlook on life and have a bunch of good friends I would probably not have had the chance to experience”
We had a quick check with the Townsville trail run organiser, Sam at Outer Limits, to determine whether they were OK with old slow people entering their race – after all we were never going to be anywhere near the ‘competitive’ end of proceedings. No problems there, we were given a friendly welcome and a rousing cheer when we finished our first half marathon trail run. The rest is history, as they say. We were bitten by the trail running bug. Needless to say we entered The North Face 50 and successfully completed that major goal. So here I sit five half marathons, one road and four trail runs later having just entered The North Face 50 for a second time. So I guess I need to start to ramp up training again if I expect to complete it again next year.
Trail running has changed my life for the better. I am much fitter and healthier now, have a much brighter outlook on life and have a bunch of good friends I would probably not have had the chance to experience had I not started running. Although basically a competitive animal, age and experience have taught me that the best competition is against yourself, and that is what running has provided for me. I am far too slow to be competitive, even within my own age group, but that is not important. As clichéd as it might sound, it’s the journey that is key. If you enjoy the journey then the time taken becomes irrelevant, although it is always nice to use times to chart your own improvements to appease your competitive spirit.
I am so glad I gave in to my curiosity and plucked up the courage to step outside my old comfort zone and have a good old fashioned go. My new philosophy on life is: Why die wondering when a little effort can provide the answer?