Five Lessons for Retirement I Learned from Running

In another season of life, before kids and when Saturdays meant sleeping in, I ran a few half-marathons. Granted, there was the one time I passed out and woke up in an ambulance to be treated for heat exhaustion at the local ER, but let’s put that one race aside for now.

A bit of context for you: I am not a runner, and I never really have been a runner. I’m slow, I’m built more like a figure skater than a runner, and I’ve never had a good routine of working out at the beginning of the day. I picked up running because I liked being outside more than exercising in a stinky gym. I also liked the challenge of pushing my body to do something that it would NEVER in a million years do on its own, just for “fun.” In reality, I would register for a half-marathon and then figure out how to cross the finish line.

The great thing is that our bodies are amazing, and even my non-running body learned how to get through a half-marathon over time. I had no choice but to prepare for it because my body could not run 13.1 miles unless I created a plan. I found various half-marathon training guides and figured how to work the training into my already full schedule. I announced my goals and got the support of my husband, my friends, and even my coworkers. I even ran a few half-marathons with friends — those were my favorite because of the accountability and the fun factor of doing something difficult yet rewarding with other people. I developed a new rhythm of life, and I would become so committed to my goals that I’d push through blisters, aching muscles, and missed social events. Eventually, race day would come, and (except for that one time) I would accomplish my goals of finishing, having fun, and doing something healthy for me. And even that one time I didn’t finish and instead saw the inside of the ER, I had a lot of fun and certainly got a lot healthier by just training for the race. Besides, I learned a lot about how to better prepare to avoid a DNF (Did Not Finish) in the future.

The principles needed to train for a big fitness goal can translate into the preparation needed to create a plan for our retirement years — or a plan for someone we love. Aging should come as no surprise, and yet so many of us remain optimistically in denial about the potential pitfalls and complications we could encounter in our later years. Here are five lessons I learned from running that can help in the world of care planning as well:

1. Set your goals

 What do you want your life to look like when you’re 75, 85, or 95? What are your needs and strongest desires? (Or, if you're caring for someone else, consider your loved one’s needs and goals.) Think about your income, where you want to be living, what activities you want to be doing, how you would want to receive care that you might need, etc. You might even rank your priorities within those different goals, as individual goals don't always align. For example, you might love your beautiful home by the beach that’s close to your friends, but you might also want to live near your oldest child, who lives in the Midwest, as you start to need more help. Which goal is more important to you? Alternatively, which option will help you achieve your other goals?

The author with other runners after the finish of the race

2. Tell people about your goals

The people who are important to you will support your goals. Or if they don’t, they can provide important feedback about how realistic your goals are and how best to achieve them. I urge you to talk with your spouse, your children, and other loved ones who will carry out your wishes on your behalf. These people can’t do things for you if they don’t know what’s important to you. They can also help you stay on track with your goals in the coming years. I can’t stress enough how important it is to have a team of support in older adulthood. So keep investing in those who invest in you and make you better.

3. Gather the support and resources you need

There are professionals that can help you maximize your financial security, protect your legacy, maintain your physical and cognitive health, manage big transitions, and more. There is no shame in asking experts to help you. In fact, that’s wisdom. Professional advisers will evaluate your goals and priorities and help you work towards them. Just think of having different coaches, all with the same purpose of helping you achieve the best possible retirement years.

4. Make a plan that works for you

Goals are great — but if they aren’t achievable, you might give up. When it comes to your late retirement years, think about what you will realistically be able to afford in terms of housing, care, and activities. Some people choose to stay at home, while others decide to move. Think about your physical, cognitive, spiritual, mental, and emotional health; then incorporate choices and activities that support those various aspects of health. Consider how your diet, exercise, sleep, social connectedness, mobility, and income now will affect your ability to live comfortably and vibrantly in the future.

The author with other runners after the race

5. Stay committed

One thing is for sure: aging is complicated, and life can throw you some curveballs in terms of health, finances, relationships, and more. Yet if your goals help bring purpose, joy, and contentment into your life, then stick with them — or adjust them accordingly. Be disciplined now, even if the payoff is still years down the road. And don’t forget to keep those special people close who will cheer you on, even in the tough seasons.

Aging is a lifelong endeavor — a marathon, if you will. So think about how you can prepare now to make your later years worth living. It would be easy to arrive at 80 years old unhealthy, unhappy, and insecure in retirement. As the wise saying goes, “Fail to plan, and plan to fail.” It takes a lot more discipline to plan ahead for a good life down the road, but your future self will be so glad that you did.

My challenge to you is to spend some time now to set goals and develop a plan to fill your later years with as much purpose, joy, and health as possible. And, heck, you can even give yourself a medal, a treat, or some new shoes every birthday as a reward for planning and running your race well. Just take one step at a time, and you’ll get there!

Stock photo from Depositphotosadditional photos from Jill Love, with thanks to friends who helped get this non-runner across the finish lines!

About the Author
Jil Love

Jill Love works with seniors, adult children, and other family members to plan, prepare, and bring clarity and relief to families overwhelmed by the many facets of senior care. Her interest in senior care began when two of her grandparents developed dementia. She became a certified nursing assistant as a teen and found that she loved working with older adults. Her search for a career blending business, seniors, and healthcare led her to a retirement community, where she met Leslie Peters, with whom she founded the consulting firm Peters & Love. Jill has an RCFE license and holds an MA in Gerontology from USC’s Davis School of Gerontology.