Can we talk about sustainability as it relates to age, quality of life… and marathons? 

By February 23, 2018 No Comments

I have an obsession with marathons —and Everest— that I cannot explain. (Maybe I can, but I really don’t want to go there.) I assure you neither is going to happen. However, I do believe this marathon/Everest frame of mind has definitely been an influence on my life. I have only ever run a half marathon, once. I got to the finish line in one piece, and didn’t come last. I did not need to use any of the first aid —really more like long term recovery— knick knacks I stocked up on for the race. I may have been 42 years old. I learned to ride a bike at 35 years old. I just started swimming lessons two months ago. What I am trying to say is this: my life is awesome! Growing older has simply enriched my existence with adventure, challenge, and a sense of freedom I could have never enjoyed in my younger, impressionable years. Which brings me to my point: sustainability, an overused term in modern times, possibly a result of an obsession not different from mine on the part of change-hopefuls and life auditors. Sadly, whichever way you look at it, I don’t think humanity has done a good job on that front. 

“Sustainability is defined as a requirement of our generation to manage the resource base such that the average quality of life that we ensure ourselves can potentially be shared by all future generations. …Development is sustainable if it involves a non-decreasing average quality of life.” —Geir B. Asheim for the World Bank on Sustainability, 1994

It’s the part to do with “sharing by all future generations” and “non-decreasing average quality of life” that we need to work on. In our thirst for instant gratification, we have sacrificed chunks of our future sharing —and even bigger chunks of our health. By depleting non-renewable resources,  taking our own youth for granted, and passing our outdated cultural conditioning to future generations, we have harmed ourselves and the world. The question is, how can we finish the race/s in one piece?

It is clearly never too late. We are dynamic beings. We are meant to be in a constant state of movement. I choose to believe that we are in a perpetual state of evolution, moving closer and closer to the celebration, despite what traditional medicine and our cultural conditioning has us believing. There is always a reason to rejoice. Who we are today is more evolved than who we were yesterday —or a minute ago. An individualised, micro approach to sustainability in how it relates to our personal, human evolution would mean an increasing (non-decreasing) average quality of life for all. Time served and the quality of life are in a direct relationship, in the ideal world. It also means as human beings, we need to invest in a great quality pair of running shoes.

Traditional medicine had me convinced for a while that dreaming about an Ironman triathlon —or taking up cycling or swimming— at my age was scientifically “crazy.” I know, today, that this is far from the truth. I read inspiring stories every day about outliers who achieve incredible feats at all ages. Check out Rich Roll. Today, at over 50, he is considered among the world’s top 30 fittest men. The title of his memoir sums it all up Finding Ultra: Rejecting Middle Age, Becoming One of the World’s Fittest Men, and Discovering Myself.

I am drawn to examples from the world of endurance sports because I believe that the human body is a fascinating creation that holds all the answers we are most likely seeking. Our stories are not only played over and over in our minds, they also nestle themselves into our physical bodies. In fact, the stories our bodies tell us are much closer to the “truth” than any our minds could ever weave. The better the stories, the healthier the body. By implication, the sustainability (non-decreasing quality of life) of our physical well-being is undoubtedly reflected onto the earth and all its inhabitants. When the quality of our internal world improves, the external world will inevitably prosper. 

The human body’s default setting is balance. A little investment in balance goes a long way into building a solid reservoir of “quality” fuel (in all its forms). The investment must be consistent and long-term, requiring effort, commitment, will-power, and trust. In other words, running consistently for 5 minutes every day rather than sprinting for 5 hours once a month.

More or less. Once you get into this investment, you start to dive into the science. Many new doors begin to open. Decoding human elite performance starts to become leisurely reading. Don’t let this intimidate you. Just run 5 minutes every day. Literally. (Do not underestimate the power of physical activity in transforming the world. Creativity and success are organic by-products of physical well-being.)

Our lives today are unfortunately not sustainable from both micro and macro perspectives. Despite the advancement of science and technology, we have not fared well in the health department. As we get sicker, we make the environment sicker. But all is not lost. Thanks to the same science and technology, our world has never been better connected, nor able to access infinite sources of information. It is up to the individual. And that is empowering.

As a human race, I imagine one of our greatest challenges has been impatience. We resort to quick fixes for instant gratification. More often than not, our dependence on finite resources outside ourselves are at best ineffective, at worst highly invasive and life-threatening. That is the antithesis of sustainability. When all is said and done, it simply boils down to “quality”. What is good for us is good for the planet. Life is an infinite number of marathons. We just have to keep moving. One foot in front of the other. Find your pace. For future generations.

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