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In his early 50s, Micheal Woodruff still sends bigger jumps than I'm willing to attempt.

In his early 50s, Micheal Woodruff still sends bigger jumps than I’m willing to attempt. (Note the distinguished gray beard poking out beneath the chin guard.)

Editor’s Note: “Over a Beer” is a regular column written by Greg Heil. While Greg is the Editor in Chief for Singletracks.com, any opinions expressed in this column are his alone and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Singletracks.com.

If there was one dangerous flaw I had as a mountain biker (and a downhill skier, snowboarder, rock climber, mountain boarder, and trail runner) in my teens and early 20s, it was that as I practiced my sports, throwing myself down every mountainside and off ever jump or cliff that I could find, that I did so with no thought or consideration for my future self. Thankfully when you’re 18 you still bounce pretty well, and a lack of consideration for one’s well being seems to be the natural state of being for a teenage boy.

But as I’ve aged–or at least, as I think about starting to age maybe one day–I’ve realized that a little caution and consideration for my well being is in order. While giving up is never an option, trying not to get hurt in the first place… well, I think that’s advisable.

If all you care about is the jump right in front of you and this current moment, then bully for you: huck your meat bro-brah! But as I’ve started to gain a small amount of perspective, I’ve personally realized that I’m not in this sport just for today or tomorrow–I want to be in it for the long haul.

I recently came across the most inspiring story on Facebook, about a French cyclist who set a world record for the most miles ridden in one hour, in his age group. But here’s the catch: they had to make a new age group for him in the record books.

Because he’s 105 years old!

Robert Marchand had already set and continues to hold the record for the most miles ridden in an hour in the over 100 category, but at the age of 105 he decided that he wanted to set a new record, and, well, nobody 105 years old has ever tried such a thing before.

Marchand ended up setting the original record at 14 miles in one hour, but “‘I did not see the sign warning me I had 10 minutes left,’ Marchand said after his effort. ‘Otherwise I would have gone faster, I would have posted a better time. I’m now waiting for a rival.'” (Source)

If I can manage to make it to the age of 105, I want to be like Robert Marchand and still be pedaling my bike! Even if I can’t match his particular 14-miles-in-an-hour record, I want to continue practicing the sports I love for as long as I can.

In order to stay as healthy as possible, I’ve realized that I need to stop thinking only about the jump right in front of me and start thinking more and more about setting myself up for success down the road. While of course I still firmly believe that you should focus on the moment and try to do what you love, every single day, as I’m going about doing what I love, I’ve found that I need to maintain a tension between enjoying the moment and making wise decisions that set me up to be healthy in the future.

I was reading an article by David Roche on TrailRunnerMag.com recently, and one line really drove this idea home:

“When you are thinking about your running, always think about the three-year plan. Ask yourself the question: what will make me the best, most fulfilled athlete I can be three years from now? Write that question on a post-it note, put it on your fridge and align your daily decisions with the answer.”

This applies to running, it applies to mountain biking, it applies to skiing… you could even apply it to other career and life decisions that you make.

While this theory makes sense as I write it and think about it, I’ve found that in actual practice its much more difficult to live by. Since I wrote the first draft of this article, I went out for my first day of lift-served downhill skiing this season (after 5 days of skinning), and somehow managed to tweak the same knee that I tore my ACL in, almost exactly 12 months ago. Right now I’m resting it, and hoping and praying that I didn’t seriously re-injure something.

No matter how difficult it may be to actualize in the day-to-day struggles of life, being invested for the long haul is a worthy goal. So when you’re faced with a choice, ask yourself: “what will make me the best, most fulfilled athlete and person that I can be three years from now?” Then make your decision accordingly.

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# Comments

  • JD

    I’m about to turn 70 and started MTB’ing 4 years ago after 10 years of road cycling and many years running competitively. Love your advice on this.

    My MTB skills have improved substantially over 4 years; but I still try to take the approach that I want to be enjoying MTB’ing when I’m 90…….so, I wear knee and elbow pads, stick mainly to intermediate trails, and PRACTICE basic/intermediate MTB skills. I also try to ride with people who are better than I, but not necessarily expert/double black level individuals.

    That said, some days you just have to “send it” (relatively speaking)!! 🙂

    • Greg Heil

      Ride on JD!! I can’t imagine what the landscape of mountain biking will look like when I’m 70, but I know I want to be around to find out!

  • John Fisch

    The instinct for self preservation generally increases as we age. At some point in life, we find we break easier, and once broken, it takes longer to heal. I think there’s a correlation there.

    Two other things that seem to cause one (especially those of us with a Y chromosome) to slow down.
    1. Marriage (or similarly committed relationship). The old cliche “chicks dig scars” turns out to not be so true all the time. One thing most folks don’t care for is a significant other that who is physically broken much of the time.
    2. Parenthood. With kids come even greater responsibility to keep ones self in good working order. Once I had kids, I really throttled back in my extreme sports. Interestingly, once they all reached teenhood and could pretty much function without dear old dad, I started getting a little reckless again–but not really reckless; by 50, that recovery time really gets long.

  • kridley

    I badly sprained my ankle this summer walking out my back door, just before I turned 50. I was off the bike for three months and the doctor says it’ll never be 100%. Now I wear a brace when MTB-ing, and it’s not clear what the long term prognosis is. I’m acutely aware of how I ride and where I put my foot down. I want to be able to keep riding the dirt, but I also want to be able to walk without a cane when I’m 65. This topic is now on my mind much more than I ever wanted it to be.

  • mongwolf

    I love the thrill of the moment as much as the next person. There are other aspects of mountain biking though that I have found equaling rewarding such as backcountry exploration or riding with a newbie and seeing them get hooked. These other cool aspects keep me a bit more balanced and satisfied in my riding. I’m not stuck trying to get my next “hit” of adrenaline.

  • mongwolf

    Wow Greg, I’m so sorry to hear about your knee. Let us know how it progresses.

  • Starnut_55

    Greg – concur with everyone. I have been riding MTB since 91, and at 57, do not plan to quit. However, I am slower, don’t seek big air, and am wary of injuries, just like John said. Truthfully, I find trailrunning to have much more potential for injuries (especially knee) than riding. After every trail run, I feel like I made it through a mine field – but I really do enjoy it! As far as riding the trail, I am more inclined to go to a difficult obstacle the first time I encounter it and size it up. That to me is being prudent. Or that’s what I tell myself. I plan to keep riding singletrack and the road for as long as I can, and don’t want any nagging injuries to change that. If you stop, you will never recover. Cheers!

    • Greg Heil

      I call that smart thinking 🙂

      Thanks for chiming in on this discussion man!

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