Mt. Rainier

The Fitness Secret Nobody Talks About

by Tom Watrous on February 1, 2010

I can’t seem to run as fast as I could. I have aches and pains in my joints. How much of my problems are a part of aging, and what am I willing to give up?

A few years ago I was half way up Mount Rainier. I thought I had prepared myself adequately. I was 56 at the time. I didn’t make it and it was one of the few times in my life I missed a peak. Rainier was an important to me. I had planned on this summit for years. Now I was there and this was the time. The few weeks after that event caused me to learn a very valuable lesson.

I had pain everywhere. The bottoms of my feet hurt. My ankles hurt, my knees and hips hurt. I was so disappointed that I didn’t summit on Mt. Rainier, I was determined that I would do what I could to continue hiking and climbing regardless of the cost. Was I just getting old. Was it time for me to adjust my expectations for myself?

I lived in the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon along the western edge of the Wasatch Mountains (upper east bench of Salt Lake City). I decided I would revisit as many of the hikes I had taken and peaks I had climbed over the previous years as I could. I began hiking the easy trails in Millcreek and Big Cottonwood canyons. Before each hike I wrapped my ankles. I purchased insoles for my sore feet. I placed warming supports around my knees. I took a couple of ibuprofen and started out. I did this for four weeks. What happened next caught me off guard.

About four weeks later, I started feeling pretty good again. I realized that I had strengthened muscles that had grown weak and flabby. As these muscles started doing their work again, my aches and pains slowly disappeared. I took out the insoles, quit wrapping my ankles, and stopped wearing the knee warmers. By the end of that year I was hiking pain free and pushing myself as hard as I had twenty years earlier. I recorded that year on my Maintain Fit personal journal. My last hike that year was a winter ascent on Mount Olympus between Christmas and the new year. I recorded 80,000 vertical feet and 180 miles of trails. Along the way I summited 37 peaks.

What if I had decided that I was too old and that my body was telling me to slow down. To this day I would still have those sore feet, and probably several more problems. The pattern is all too clear. One problem cascades into several. We don’t always know when we can work ourselves out of a problem, or whether it truly is the end of an era. But we will never know if we don’t test it. I am older now. I really am slowing down, but I have tested the theory again this past six months. I broke my femur in July. Once again, I worked hard to get back to my best level of performance (whatever that is, not what it was) and my body is once again responding to hard work and consistency. I don’t hear people talking about this miracle of recovery, especially for older men and women. I may never get back to the tough peaks, but I am on the trails, in the river, walking, hiking and climbing again.

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Photography by Elise McLaughlin

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

matt February 8, 2010 at 7:47 am

your site has lots of info about fitness and enjoyed your post of how the body recovers with the right support. Keep up the good work

Ian@HomeWorkoutBlog September 24, 2010 at 4:01 am

Hi Tom-

Great, inspiring story on ditching the defeatist attitudes that are so common among people of all ages. (57 aint old!) Makes me want to go climb a mountain!

My parents are in their 60s, and after 5 years of consistent weight training and cardio, they are in better shape than they were 20 years ago!

The photography on your blog is outstanding. Truly a pleasure to view.

Keep up the good work!

-Ian

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