Finishing a triathlon with a broken clavicle would be quite a feat for any athlete, but what makes Harriet Anderson’s story more impressive is that she was 74 years-old at the time.

Marathon training isn’t purely about shaping your body or shaping your mind, it is about connecting body to mind.

It is easy to stick with any exercise program as long as your willpower stays intact. But willpower always runs out eventually. This is why so many diet and exercise plans fail: they become loathsome means to the skinny jeans. 

But when exercise transcends the body and becomes a mental and spiritual journey, you are unlikely to forsake it.

This, I believe, is why real athletes don’t quit.

Stick with me here.

I don’t believe running is a religion, but it is more than a physical practice.

I have been doing something different in my training this year: it is called, listening to my body.

It does not mean I give up when things seem hard. Quite the contrary, when the run gets difficult, I need to expend more brainpower on what my body is doing (or not doing).

By listening to my body, I have learned several things:

The treadmill is not a suitable substitute for running outside.

The miles may click away on it, but the cardiovascular and muscular benefits seem negligible when I actually hit the pavement again. It’s almost like I haven’t been running at all. I know I can tweak the incline or speed, but still, there’s no comparison to the real thing.

I run much faster, even up hill, when I focus on how my quads and hamstrings feel.  If my heart rate slows, I think about trying to kick myself in the bum.

Many aches & pains can be overcome by using brain power. 

When I begin to feel pain, I relax and focus on a different part of the body. When I feel ‘good’ pain, I consider it validation that what I am doing is helping to target problem areas.

Thinking about running improves my skill.

Last year I logged the mileage in training but mostly tried to pass the time by thinking about everything EXCEPT running.  I listened to music, I told myself stories, I thought about what I would EAT when I was finished.

When I look at the photos from last year, I can clearly see that by the end of my races, I barely had my feet off the ground, whereas, when I look at pictures of my kids running, they are nearly airborne. It is a picture I try to emulate.

Goo is bad!

Last year I touted the chemical slime as a wonder drug, but I’ve changed my mind.

2 weeks ago I had my 8 mile run, fueled by apples & water. I had to stop & adjust my slippery knee braces a couple times, but overall, the run was great. I felt strong.

Last week I did the same 8 mile run. I started off feeling strong for the first 4 hilly miles, and then I had some goo.

It gave me a happy burst of energy, and I thought “This stuff is great!” until my fingers began to swell like sausages.

A little while later, my knee began giving me excruciating pain—reminiscent of the end of last year’s marathon.

Then something really weird happened, my knee braces got tighter and tighter, until I had to stop and loosen them.

As I stood on the hilltop, watching the steam rise from my sweaty neoprene braces in the cool air, it suddenly dawned on me that the goo (and the massive sodium content) was not only making my hands swell, but my feet and legs too—it’s NO WONDER my kneecaps were sliding out of place!

Standing there, I could feel my body inflating like a greedy child in the Willy Wonka factory. Yes, I have slight knee problems, but the biggest problem was the goo in my system. Incredible! After 2 years of running, I finally started listening.

I don’t know if I will be a tri-athlete when I’m 70. But I do know that I want to continue this journey of good health for the rest of my days.  

If Harriet Anderson can begin running marathons in her 50s and 20 years later compete in prestigious triathlons, maybe 20 years from now I’ll be running ultra-marathons?

I’ll only be in my 50s.

I’ll have to see what my body says about it, provided I’m still listening.