What You Need to Know When You Are an Athlete As an Adult

I grew up a sedentary nerd, resentful of physical education classes, and failed miserably in the few sports I tried. But when I was twenty, I found some types of exercise that I didn’t hate, and at thirty I started using the word “athlete” to describe myself.

It’s strange to be an adult newbie to this business, but we also have some advantages over people who started playing sports in their teens and teens. Here are some helpful tips and words of wisdom:

You are competing in a different league, at least figuratively

There is always someone on your team who competes with you in the race, who started running / playing / something else at a young age. And they’re incredibly fast, incredibly talented – okay, okay. You won’t catch up with them anytime soon. My local 5Ks always have a group of young people who cross the finish line at 15, 16, 17 minutes when my goal is in the mid 20s. Yes, I envy. But it normal.

Fortunately, many sports have age groups or other clearer classifications. I can see myself living in a group of 30-39 women and not worry about that teenage guy who beat me up for ten whole minutes. Or maybe you will gravitate towards a team or group where other people are of about the same skill level. You don’t have to pretend to be a high school athlete.

You have a reason to be here

You don’t play sports because you’ve always done it, or because your father wants you to be successful. You are now an adult and you decide you want to try this thing, and you decide that it is worth changing your work schedule or arranging babysitting. You can quit smoking at any time and this makes your stay even more special.

You know your body

Okay, this body may have problems of its own. There is a need to find what works for your body: on the one hand, you may be overprotecting that knee that you injured many years ago. But after living for so many decades in your body, you know how it feels when you really hurt, so you can tell the difference between pain and real trauma.

The more experience you get from exercise, the better you will learn to define your own limits: when you get a little tired, too overheated, too tired. And at least you are not puberty while trying to figure out what your body is capable of doing sports.

Can you survive

The next time you run 5 km, stop and see who else follows you. Most likely, there are very few people in the older age groups. I chuckled happily when I realized – like a very slow runner, kind of a beginner – that I had a sure path to a medal in the age group. All I had to do was keep running until I got old. Then I would be, if not the fastest, then perhaps the only person in the older age groups. Automatic victory.

But even before you start competing with eighty-year-olds, you will outlive many people. Many high school and college athletes drop out after graduation; perhaps they didn’t like it very much, and they have more interesting things to do. But you’re here because you want to be, remember?

You gotta work on it forever

If you really enjoy a new sport, you can embark on a multi-year improvement plan. See people running ultra marathons, 30, 50 and even 100 miles. You can’t train for this for a semester, but if you’ve spent some time preparing for a marathon, you may well decide you want to go further. Set high goals for yourself – you’ll get older when you reach that goal, but heck, you’ll be in good shape.

You will become less fragile when you really grow old

One of the best things you can do for your future self is exercise. We get weaker and weaker as we age, but exercise helps your heart, brain, mobility, and more. Stay strong.


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