aging · athletes · competition · race report · racing · running

Competitor or Coach? (Guest Post)

by Claudia Murphy

I’ve been struggling lately with my exercise routine. In the last couple of years belonging to a fitness group has helped me to avoid a pit of depression, so I have been feeling perplexed that what seemed like a lifeline has now become quite a challenge. Even if I can get myself to show up, I don’t enjoy it or even enjoy having done it.

I am 65 and have been working out with a group of long distance runners for a couple of years. They are a great group of people. They have been very kind and accepting– downright encouraging. Even at my bluest, there is something amazing about high intensity workouts at 5:30 am with positive and affirming people.

But in the last few months, I have been facing motivation issues. There could be several reasons.

First, I have been dealing with a chronic and persistent pain in my left hip. I have pursued multiple diagnosis and treatment options, including orthopedics (MRI, cortisone shot), physical therapy, massage, chiropractic therapy and acupuncture. The consensus seems to be that my left hip and adjacent areas need strengthening. But in the meantime, running, walking, and yoga, and even sitting all hurt. It is easy to feel discouraged.

Second, internalized ageism has become a significant force in my mind. I am one of the oldest in my fitness group. Still quite competitive, I often feel as if I’m losing. I can’t run as fast as I used to run. I can’t run as fast as most of the younger people in the group. I haven’t yet figured out the antidote to this aspect of aging.

Third, I’ve been fighting a giant battle against oppression in the workplace. Here, I’ve had to be very deliberate in guarding against internalized sexism and ageism. I have had to consciously remember my own significance and value. I have had to repeatedly decide to quash the oppressive thinking. My vigilance has been focused on this fight.

In the middle of all of this, without awareness, negative self-talk crept into my exercise time. I found myself thinking “you are too old, you look ridiculous, you are embarrassingly slow.” And these thoughts seemed true at the time, even justified. I looked for evidence to support them. Is it any wonder that my routines became less fun, less satisfying?

I’ve had to become more vigilant about this self-talk. I can be my own coach. I can replace my own negative feedback with something more positive. I find it helps to aim for messages that are somewhat neutral while still being encouraging. My mind revolts against “you are the best” But “go Claudia” or “you can do it!” work pretty well.

I recently tried this strategy in a 10K race, with some mixed results to be honest. I had signed up to run as a member of a relay team in the 2017 Fargo Marathon. About a month before the race, we discovered that the legs of the relay were not very even. One team member would have been required to run 8.5 miles. None of the team members wanted to run that far. So we decided to switch our registrations to the 10K. Even this decision felt like a bit of cop out. Last year I had run a half-marathon at this time. While it is true that I had only been able to do so with the help of a cortisone shot, I still struggled to feel OK about running a 10K.

The night before the race I was still struggling with feeling positive about running. My husband held out the perspective for me by reminding me that not that many women my age could run a 10K. He also agreed to drive me to the race and to cheer me on. The day of the race the weather was perfect. It was cool and clear. We arrived early enough to witness the start of the race for both the marathon runners and the half marathon runners.

I had a good start and ran well. I kept my mantra forefront in my mind—“go Claudia.” Since we shared the route with either the marathon runners or the half marathon runners, there were people out cheering us on for most of the route. There was music blasting or bands playing, even though it was quite early morning. I had two young women tap me on the back as they passed me by telling me that I was doing well for someone so old. (BTW this is not a very helpful way to support an older runner.)

I finished in 1:12:09, 8th in my age group of women 65-69, 37 of us running the race. I was staffing a women’s leadership development conference that weekend and decided to wear my hoodie and medal throughout the day to force myself to celebrate my achievement.

Ageism is nasty. But it helps if I do not participate in my own oppression. This is an ongoing battle for me. I would like to be able to be my own best supporter. What strategies work for you?

Claudia Murphy is a philosopher who is semi retired but still teaching part time at Minnesota Technical and Community Colleges.  She is also likes to run, bike, garden, cook and knit.

23 thoughts on “Competitor or Coach? (Guest Post)

  1. Yay, you did your run!
    As for keeping myself from not becoming ensnared in ageism, blogging and doing art (plus cycling as part of my whole lifestyle), outside of my job, taps into my own creativity and alternate self-expressions.

    Creativity in what you do, think and how you live everyday will help forget about ageism. It opens up a lot more possibilities how people view you and how you see yourself.

  2. I have similar thoughts as an overweight/obese athlete. Some of my counter thoughts: “I’m here for MY race,” “I choose to do hard things,’ I have others that aren’t coming to mind. The second one meant a lot to me. It came to me at the start of a swim portion of an Olympic tri where I knew I was going to come in near to last, if not last. Didn’t matter. I chose to train and chose to show up. Those are worthwhile things themselves. I’ve always struggled with not beating myself up, but that day I was proud of myself (came in second-to-last and was fine with it).
    I know this isn’t really the point, but when I see athletes who are older than I am by a bit, my thought is always, “I want to be her (ihim) in XX years!” There’s a woman in my tri club who just entered the 70-75 age group and just finished a half-Ironman. I don’t think there’s anyone who doesn’t hold her in high regard. I may not ever be fast, but I want to still be doing this in 20-30 years.

    1. Good for you! My battle is mostly in my head. And it is revolutionary to switch it out. I’m so glad that you are cheering yourself on!

    2. I love “I’m here for MY race”! I need to remember it for next time I’m tempted to just focus on how everyone else is doing. Thank you for sharing!

  3. I struggle with these thoughts at the other end of the age spectrum. I’m often like, “Oh…I’m too young to do this!” Ageism is pervasive, and we are often ageist to ourselves.

    1. Ageism is one of tools of the oppressive system. And that system becomes most effective when individuals internalize the oppressive messages and use that oppressive thinking against themselves and others like them. So it is truly revolutionary to stand against that internal narrative. Let’s do it together!

  4. I love the honesty here, its raw, painful and something I probably fear as a woman. I’m glad to hear Claudia pushed through and is surrounded with support. In the metaphor of life we each have the right to run our race, all shapes, sizes, ages and colors, at our own pace. That’s what makes it beautiful.

    1. Thanks for your kind words. I find that sharing the struggles helps me to feel connected to others.

  5. Thanks for writing this piece. I will be tucking the bit about not participating in my own oppression into my pocket for future use!

    1. What helps me most of all is to try to be kind to myself. So even when I find myself thinking those critical thoughts, I try to counter it by kindness. I tell critical Claudia that she’s ok.

  6. Hello! I just found your blog and it is really well done! Great job. I’m “no expert” 🙂 but I have found that fitness helps battle thought of weakness. Especially strength training. Flexing your muscles, literally and figuratively helps battle any issues!

  7. Holy doodle! You ran a half marathon last year and a 10k this year! I am awed by your abilities and think you should be too. My main fitness activity is swimming. MJy first swim competition was the Masters Nationals, which happened to be in my home town. I had just turned 50. I think I came in near last in everything I entered, but I had fun. The people who got the biggest cheers were the few swimmers in their 80s and 90s who were still competing. The first time I did a 3 km open water swim, I was happy to have completed and was really pleased with my time. Then I found my coach (who was 74 at the time) and he was fussing about how slow he was and how he had needed to take a rest and float on his back for a while – his time was still better than mine, and he took first place in his age group. The next year, I improved my time significantly, then watched an 89 year old woman take first place in her age category with a time faster than mine. I have never improved on that time, despite setting a goal of beating that 89 year old woman’s time. My take-aways? A) You never know who is impressed by what you are doing at any age; and b) swimming is an endurance sport – if live long enough, eventually I’ll medal.

    1. Wow–thanks for sharing your experience. Keep on going, that medal is in your future!

  8. First of all congrats on your 10K and thank you for blogging about your feelings around scaling back and ageism. Of course we know we’re not the only ones but I for one feel so much better to hear others’ stories of not embracing ageist narratives about our selves.

    1. Thanks for the opportunity to be a guest on your great blog. I love reading the inspiring stories you post.

  9. Thanks so much for blogging about and posting your experiences. This means a lot for those of us in our 70s who are always hesitant to put ourselves ‘out there’. Hurrah for you!

    1. Thanks for your kind words. I think it helps us all to feel less alone.

  10. I’m afraid I don’t have any useful strategies to share, but thank you so much for sharing your story and feelings. As a young athlete and woman, hearing the insight and struggles of more experienced athletes and women has been instrumental in shaping my perception of myself. I’d also like to think that stories like yours are helping me build a different picture of what my future can be.

    What you’re doing is amazing. I hope you continue to find the strength to fight back against ageism.

  11. This rings so true. I am 63, did ironman in kona but still struggle massively with the age thing. It is nice to be called an inspiration but what people don’t know is what is going on inside my head. The slight annoyance that the youngsters that I used to be faster than, are now faster than me. I am really pleased for them BUT also a bit sad for me. I have just signed up for another ironman, my last, to get me out there training otherwise there is always something else to be done. Just keep doing it and fighting the negative battle that rages in our heads.

  12. Thank you very much for this post. Please keep posting about your experiences.

    As someone who has started being athletic later in life (57), I struggle with negative self talk a lot of the time, as well as some chronic pain. For what it’s worth, my mantra before, during, and after an event is:
    Dead last is better than Did Not Finish.
    Did not Finish is better than Did Not Start.
    Did Not Start is better that Did Not Train.

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