Enjoying Competition in the Great Outdoors


At the fine age of 80, after his wife’s death, Fauja Singh moved from India to the UK to live with his son. Being in a strange country and speaking a foreign language, Singh found himself isolated until he rediscovered an old passion – running. Twenty one years later, he is the marathon world record holder for adults 90 years of age and older, clocking in at 5 hours and 40 minutes.

Singh’s rapid rise in the marathon world started 17 years ago, when at age 80 he completed the 26.2-mile race in six hours and fifty minutes. What made this achievement so special was the fact that he knocked 58 minutes off the previous world best in the 90%20 age bracket. Since that time he has competed in more marathons and holds many world records. Singh’s achievements have not gone unnoticed. In 2004, Adidas signed him to appear in a major advertising campaign that also featured soccer great David Beckham. The campaign’s tagline, “Impossible is Nothing,” reflects not only Singh’s achievements, but also those of older athletes from around the world.

In the U.S. alone there are over 250,000 older athletes. These athletes desire to compete, no matter what their age, and have created national and state-level Senior Games and Senior Olympics.

What can you do to tap into the rising numbers of older athletes who want to compete outdoors without getting injured? Whether it’s the training for the Senior Games or for a weekend competition (librarian by day, world record holder by night), helping the 50%20 adults achieve their dreams is a valuable business.


The following are eight tips to share with your staff and clients as initial approaches to building “Life Champions”:

  1. Don’t underestimate your clients’ desires. When an older client wants to train for a competitive sport, or a competition such as the marathon or triathlon, don’t discard their commitment or capabilities. Fauja Singh is only one example of what happens when desire is set in motion.
  2. Understand the aging body. Many of the perceptions of what the human body is capable of in old age are not only incorrect but debilitating to a generation who’s true potential may be snuffed out by ageist points of view. Today, gerontologists have found that many of the issues we attribute to aging are more a function of disuse. When your clients choose to challenge their bodies and minds, they are capable of pushing past what was once thought unachievable.
  3. Set goals.When setting goals for your client, identify the challenges they will face along the way. Your job is to create a realistc picture of what they will have to do, and not do, to achieve those goals.
  4. Make short-term advances. Be sure to monitor your client’s progress on a regular basis to ensure that they are making the desired improvements in their performance. This is not only a way to motivate older athletes, but is an important process in ensuring that their body is able to handle the trainings. For example, an older body takes more time to heal after a competition, so you may need to encourage your client to compete less frequently, but to go for it when they do. Competing less may improve their actual performances.
  5. Create a foundation. Before starting your clients on a sports-specific training regime, be sure to build a solid foundation by having them participate in a regular fitness program that includes cardio, strength, balance, range of motion and flexibility training. Once they have the foundation in place you will be able to build upon it, bit by bit.
  6. Get rest. Since an older athlete may require more rest to recover from their training, be sure to structure the program to take this into consideration. Also recognize that people over the age of 50 are more likely to experience aches and pains. These conditions may not have a considerable impact on their program. However, some may suffer debilitating pain; for these indvidiuals, you will need to adjust their training. Some may find relief by doing flexibility exercises throughout their program, or less strenuous sessions in the pool. You can also try making the warm-ups and cool-downs longer and more gradual.
  7. Water counts. Aging reduces the body’s mechanism to alert us about thirst and dehydration, placing older clients at risk. This can have an impact on the older person’s ability to compete or process their medication. Remind your older clients to hyrdate before, during and after training.
  8. Enjoy the experience. For many older adults, whether participating in team sports or an ultra-marathon, the most rewarding part of the journey into competition is the experience they gain and the challenges that they overcome during the process. Make sure to recognize and reward these along the way.

Future champions

By helping your customer to enjoy their competitive spirit outdoors, you are helping to create an environment that says, “It’s never too late to pursue your dreams…and we will help you.”

What are you doing to inspire older adults to enjoy the competitive side of physical activity and sports in the great outdoors?