The One True Benchmark
We can improve ourselves at any age and the fundamental reference points are our past, present, and future selves.
There’s only one true benchmark and it is staring us in the mirror.
This is a universal truth despite our endless attempts to divert reality.
The Joneses, the FOMOs, the Cool Kids, the neighbors, the Instagrammers, and everyone else are all false idols.
Comparing ourselves to anyone but ourselves is a recipe for misery.
If we are improving ourselves over time, no matter how gradually, we are thriving.
End of story.
The Fall Foliage Half
Last weekend, I ran the Fall Foliage Half Marathon in Rhinebeck, NY for the second time.
I first ran it five years ago and was trying to beat a 10 min per mile pace. A big hill around mile 11 had other ideas and crushed me and I finished at 10 min 6 seconds per mile.
It was disappointing missing my goal by 7 seconds, but I learned a few things about myself that day.
I was still in a 3 steps forward 2 steps back phase, yo-yoing nutrition and weight, drinking too much, and still at the whims of seasonal energy and activity fluctuations.
I was struggling but I was working on it and headed in the right direction.
At 55 and 5 years older, I wanted to crush my old time, so earlier this year, I set a challenge goal of running the same 13.1 mile course in under 2 hours. This would put me closer to 9 minutes per mile, about a minute faster per mile than 5 years ago.
I ran this race last Sunday, and I beat 2 hours by 29 seconds with a time of 1:59:31.
I improved my full race time by over 12 minutes or 58 seconds per mile.
I was surprised by my performance but only a little. Over the past 5 years, I’ve honed my health game substantially and have become much steadier making incremental improvements.
Here are the comparisons of the two races from the Fall Foliage Half Marathon Website.
The scientist in me loved the idea of doing the same race again with the same course and the same hills. It provided a controlled comparison of my ability to distance run 5 years apart.
I am both the subject (N = 1) and the observer in a continuous scientific experiment over time.
We can improve ourselves at any age and the fundamental reference points, the only reality reference points, are our past, present, and future selves.
We can look in that mirror and make a decision to grow in some way and then go about taking the steps to do it.
The benchmark is us.
Making ourselves the one true benchmark is the number 1 unlock for doing something we want to do but can’t yet, the number 1 unlock for becoming who we want to be but aren’t yet.
There were a few other unlocks that came to mind from these experiences that are worth a mention:
2. Grit Is Undeniable
The last couple miles were difficult physically and mentally.
I knew I had a shot at beating 2 hours but I feared I went out too fast and was about to run out of gas.
My thinking was impaired by the effort as I was approaching the same hill that crushed me five years ago.
This last 20 minutes is kind of a blur, but I do know I did not stop.
Maybe I developed more grit over the last five years or maybe I was in way better condition. Likely, it was a combination.
Regardless, grit is undeniable and has a hand in every worthwhile endeavor.
3. Biological Age Is Fluid
There’s a difference between our chronological age, how old we are in years and months and days, and our biological age, how old our bodies are relative to average for our chronological age based on a bunch of markers identifiable through blood tests and other examinations.
By chronological age, I was 50 years, 4 months, and 25 days old for the 2017 race.
Last week, I was 55 years, 4 months and 20 days old for the 2022 race.
So by chronological age, I was almost exactly 5 years older.
By biological age, though, if half marathon time is any type of functional proxy for all those medical tests, I am younger today.
Biological age is fluid and we can control it to a degree through our actions.
Live clean, age less.
I wrote about this a while back in a post called How Much Do We Age in a Day.
I’m going to run this race again in 5 years at 60 and I plan to run it faster than I did yesterday. I’ll be sure to report back. I’ll be shooting for 1 hour 50 min!
4. Health Compounds Over Time
Getting healthy has been an intentional act and I am finding that with every level I reach, there is another level to get to.
I suppose this will end at some point but not yet.
Health compounds when we keep at it just like wealth compounds when we dollar cost average.
5. Community Is a Superpower
I can’t stress enough how important community is. I realize some people are loners and I’m one too when it comes to training, but this doesn’t even matter.
We can inspire others who inspire us, and the camaraderie is profound.
Maybe we are the mentor, but we see something in the mentee that is reinforcing or that leads to greater awareness.
Or maybe we are peers and we inspire each other in different ways. In this instance, I’m thinking specifically of my pal Chris Cornell who ran this race too.
If you don’t know Chris, he is an incredible individual who not only beat cancer but also beat obesity.
He is an inspiration to me and many others and so to see that I, likewise, inspired him in some way, was an honor.
Here we are after the race:
6. Challenges Are Awesome
I am an unstructured person who feeds off of chaos to spur creativity.
This will always be true and so I love it when my present self gives my future self a concrete challenge.
It adds a little structure, helps me maintain focus, and reminds me exactly where to look for that benchmark!