When I watched the previous generation begin to pass on, it occurred to me that this was preparation for when my generation would begin to decline and die. The grieving we experience and the choices we make for our parents are preludes to the time when we will take the same path. 

I had a feeling that time was upon me last year when Micah True died. He was an accomplished utlra-runner who disappeared while on a relatively short 12-mile run last year in the Gila Wilderness. He died while sitting on the side of a stream, soaking his feet. He was only 58. He was killed by an undiagnosed congenital heart condition. Micah did not have medical care, and given his excellent physical condition, he was unaware of his condition. I struggle to believe that he would have restricted his running even if he had known of his condition. 

I see my colleges at work decline. One can barely walk because of chronic joint pain. Another is over-weight and repeatedly crushes her arches. She now wears shoes that are so supportive that there is no possibility that the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in her feet and legs will ever get strong enough to support her. Several sleep with breathing devices to reduce their obesity-induced sleep apnea. One is so overweight that he has a handicapped parking pass that deposits him within 20 feet of our building's entrance. Another 20 feet past Security, he has a little electric cart that ships him around the office. He minimizes the one thing that would do him therapeutic good. Of these, several have often predicted the end of my running when I inevitably succumb to running-induced arthritis. Yet it never seems to occur any of them how avoidable, how unnatural their current lives are. Despite massive numbers of peer reviewed studies establishing the connection between health and low rates of morbidity with large volumes of exercise, they remain convinced of the utter uselessness of periodically pushing one's body to its limits. One male college my age, with no apparent health problems aside from a sedentary life, has recently had a stroke. 

My wife has just been informed that one of her close relatives, someone also my age, has fairly advanced esophageal cancer. This alarmed her and she was screened for this cancer also, despite that she shares none of the lifestyle conditions that predispose one to this condition. Nonetheless, disease and death seem to creep inexorably closer in this cycle of our lives.

I do not assert that physical and mental decline are not inevitable. But I have the strong belief, substantiated by the way I live my own life, that the decline I am witnessing in my peers is not only avoidable, but unnatural. Humans are not structured to be sedentary. When we are sedentary, we decline at an extraordinary rate, particularly as we age. This truth seems more obvious to me every day as I sprint up the 4 stories to my office while co-workers half my age take the elevator, then get winded walking down the hallway.

An acquaintance emailed me birthday wishes, remarking that she would always be three days older than me. I replied with a resigned, "Yeah, we're old!". She replied resolutely that we're not.

Now, as I approach 60, the challenge has evolved. Running and an athleticism have become part of my life style, part of my world view. I have moved to the point where people remark that I must have the genetics for fitness, or that it must easy for me because I'm so trim, or that I have been doing this all my life. But I manage the growing aches and pains each morning getting up. I am learning the compromises one has to make with age, that injury comes more easily and recovery comes more slowly. Conscious form, correct and deliberate execution, and more judicious use of intensity all become vitally important to avoid injury. The fitness momentum carries me into my older years, but the aches and pains of effort are beginning to grow. The dull ache in my hips in the morning are not an excuse to do nothing, they are an ugly harbinger of what life would be like if I stopped what I am doing. I was recently asked why I run. I blurted, "Because the alternative is too terrible to contemplate." The reply came thoughtlessly; but its truth is obvious to me upon reflection.

With each passing year, many of us justify the growing sloth and its resulting frailty and weakness with excuses that we're too old, that we don't have the right genetics, that it is natural to become impotent and frail as we age, or, insidiously, that "we deserve a break today". Even now, 10 years after the herculean effort it took to re-adopt athleticism, I have refocus daily on the absolute necessity of keeping a strong mind in a strong body, defying the cultural current all around me that tells me that its ok to degrade.

Saying that 59 is not old is lying to oneself. I am old, but I redefine it with growing strength and resolve. To say that 59 is not old is to deny the magnitude of this achievement to myself and to all others who chose this way.