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The Ugly Truth About Aging as an Athlete

This article is an installment of the Men’s Journal Everyday Warrior series, which features advice, key interviews, and tips for living a life of consistent impact, continuous growth, and continual learning.

When you have your youth; it’s hard to imagine any other existence because it’s all you’ve known. But the day inevitably comes when you look in the mirror and realize just how wrong you’ve been. Strength, stamina, and power wane as we age. I struggle with the concept: aging as an athlete.

At 44, I still consider myself young, but I’m beginning to understand what French writer Victor Hugo meant when he said, “40 is the old age of youth; 50 is the youth of old age.” A life of aggressive activity has finally caught up in the form of arthritis in my shoulders, thumbs, and toes. Yup, I said toes…aging sucks!

How we handle the transition into our new reality dramatically impacts our quality of life going forward. While I’m nowhere near retirement, I’ve already started narrowing down how I’ll fill my time when that day eventually arrives. It’s part of a pledge I made to myself to never be without a mission that allows me to contribute to the world and add value to the lives of those around me. I’ve reached a point in life where I need glasses to drive and longer warmups to work out, but I still search for ways to stay on the continuum of self-improvement.

Accepting these changes hasn’t been easy, but I’ve learned two things that I believe every active person who’s starting to age will find helpful:

1. Train Smarter, Not Harder

At 38 years old, I was in peak physical condition. I trained 20 hours per week, weighed my food, and meticulously tracked everything to identify inefficiencies in my schedule, diet, and life. After decades of pushing my body to extremes, it’s been challenging to let go of the “more is better” mentality. While this hardcore approach yielded results in the past, now training 1.5 hours in the morning and 45 minutes in the afternoon only hinders my growth. So, I decided to start training smarter, not harder. The results speak for themselves: I recorded my second fastest two-mile run during a recent Army Physical Fitness Test. I did it without increasing my training volume or intensity. Instead, I analyzed the situation, developed a smarter training plan, and worked to overcome any limiting factors.

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Here’s how it works:

  • Goal: Run two miles faster.
  • Analyze: My legs are not the problem, but I’ve wasted years working on them as if they were. What’s slowing me down? It’s likely my lung capacity.
  • Train Smarter: Sprint hills, swim, and focus on activities that’ll increase lung capacity once every three days. This frequency will allow for proper recovery.
  • Result: Second fastest two-mile run time.

I’ve also learned that mobility work, technique drills, sleep, and proper nutrition drive growth more than anything else. So, I will continue improving because I’m not afraid to evolve and challenge past training assumptions.

2. Focus on Your Whole Self

Have you ever been to Rome? If you have, then you know that the Colosseum is slowly crumbling. That’s because, according to the second law of thermodynamics, everything deteriorates over time. That’s true, whether we’re talking about the world’s seven wonders or human beings. Seeing as I’ve had hip surgery and two extensive shoulder surgeries, I know the time is coming when legless rope climbs and muscleups will be distant memories. Yes, that can be scary, but being unprepared is far more terrifying. I’m strengthening other parts of myself now instead of waiting for the Colosseum to come crashing down around me. That means working on my mental and spiritual fitness by journaling, reading, praying, and practicing my Spanish (Hola!). My goal is to increase my understanding of world issues, societal problems, and the professional concerns of my peers. I’ve spent years becoming a subject matter expert on nutrition and physical fitness; combining this with what I’m learning about mental and spiritual health is already helping me be a more well-rounded mother. As I focus on growing and learning, I can help my children understand at 13 what took me 40+ years to figure out.

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In 2015, I was one of seven women competing to be the first female Army Ranger in history. I was also one of the oldest in the group. As we fell into formation one morning, a hard charger leaned over and said, “Damn, I bet you were wild when you were younger.” I wanted to reply, “I’m STILL wild!” but everyone would have called me out on that lie—and they’d have been right. The truth is, I’m not the person I once was. While accepting this has been a slow process, and my ego sometimes still gets bruised, I’m thankful for the person I’m becoming and have no interest in slowing down anytime soon.

Lisa Jaster, PMP, serves as a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army Reserves while also focusing on her civilian career, family life, and personal interests. In 2015, Lisa made history as one of the first three females to graduate from Army Ranger School. She is a partner and senior contributor at Talent War Group, a keynote speaker, and an executive coach. Lisa also serves on the board of directors for two non-profits: Team Red, White, and Blue, as well as Dive Pirates. She retains her sanity through strength training and practicing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Lisa is married to Marine Col. Allan Jaster, a reservist and the owner of the financial advising firm Archer Consulting. The couple enjoys raising their children, Zachary and Victoria, at their family home in New Braunfels, Texas.

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