Going, Going, Gone! Dealing with mortality….


This is the famous “bathtub curve”, which is used in reliability engineering (taken from here). It is often used to model the lifetime of components in a system; it is useful to know when we expect things to break down. And yes, it also applied to the lifetime of animals, including human beings. In fact, one of our study problems in class was to look at the death notices and obituaries in the local newspapers and to plot the data.

Over a long enough time, the data fits.

I’ve been thinking about this a bit more recently, in part due to one of my wife’s friends dying after a long battle with cancer. He was 78 years old, and he had to confront the choice between “taking a treatment that has outcome X but quality of life price Y” versus accepting the likely outcome and not trying…thereby not putting himself through such a hard ordeal. That isn’t as easy decision to make.

My wife is a bit older than I am and one might think that she thinks about it a bit more than I do. However, I push myself athletically (sports) and I am keenly aware of the decrease in my abilities to do certain things. Whereas my wife will realize that she can’t walk a medium distance (3 miles) anymore I am aware of the fact that certain things take me longer and that I am noticeably weaker than I was. Those who don’t play sports might not notice as much.

She sent me this some time ago; it did make me chuckle:


But with the humor was some sadness; she (and other women) mentioned “growing invisible” with age. Younger women get more noticed. I had joked elsewhere that I had let this woman in line in front of me (that was a joke; someone else took this photo; not sure as to where):

But yeah, there is a difference between older women (e. g., my age group peers at races, or women at the public gyms) and younger ones, and women tend to be judged more by appearance than men are. Men: we are mostly judged by our status and wallets.

But I am keenly aware of how my body is headed toward entropic equilibrium, even though I was never an athlete.

I was 39 years old here (September 1998); old by athletic standards but younger than I am now; this was a hot weather marathon in which I ran 3:55 (207/1067 was my finish place):

I still had visible muscles. And yes, I was still pushing for my best possible time.

From 2 years later (end of a 10K)

Now: similar weather. Place: 306/331 (Instead of upper 1/5’th, I was almost dead last!)

Muscles: GONE! Will for a “fastest time possible”: GONE! I was just happy to finish the race in a vertical position and to avoid the medical tent.

Afterward, I went home, sat in the air conditioned house and took a nap and did nothing the rest of the day.

Back in 2003, I have WALKED a high altitude marathon (6000-7000 feet; Park City) almost half an hour faster, got sick, took a quick nap, and then went rock climbing.

And yes, the degradation of performance is a frequent discussion in gyms, at races, etc. And while I bring it up, others often bring it up first.

Though I struggle with it, I embrace it a bit too. For example: at a recent Race For the Cure, I finished my 5K run (25:48; which is about 5-6 minutes slower than my late 1990’s times) and then went back on the course to cheer the finishing runners. Without thinking about it, I found myself yelling for ….the older women. I didn’t make myself do this; it just happened; it was a “good for you…keep at it! happy to see you out here trying!”

Yes, it is different. In years past, the idea: “what can I do to give myself the best possible chance of the fastest possible time, or the heaviest possible lift, etc.” Now, it is more “how can I train to be able to participate and not injure myself?”

In years past, I dealt with aches and pains one at a time. Now I deal with them collectively; part of my training is doing PT for my: back, Achilles, rotator cuff, piriformis and knees, and I have to deal with all of these on a constant basis. The bathtub curve applies to all of these problem areas too. 🙂

Note: I still have fun with it though; I still scheme and plot; I want to get into the 24’s again (5K) (ok, I really want to go under 24); break 1:50 for the half marathon (got 2:01 on a hilly course and windy day) do a sub 5 hour marathon and to get 225 on the bench press. I’d like to return to swimming too. I still enjoy the process. But the long term strategy is different and I also realize that the finish line is likely to be empty when I get there.

The maximum of the bell curve has moved past me, and, at least in the marathon, so has the inflection point.
That’s ok though; mostly what I like is the self-challenge.

Now I am off to do still another recovery type workout and do some math.

Update I did my Cornstalk 5.1 mile course in 48:12; that is my second fastest since 2009. It was cool and drizzly and I felt good (9:44 out, 8:53 back). Then I did some leg stretches/strengthening. As I said: I am still scheming, still trying to get “better”.


May 23, 2013 - Posted by | big butts, butt, marathons, running, spandex, weight training | , , ,


  1. Amazing!!! Respect! I`m a beginner 28yo runner and I`m running a 10k race and trying to get below 1:10! Hahah 😀 All the best to You.

    Comment by Maguma | May 23, 2013 | Reply

    • Best of luck with your goals; at your age, you’ll probably make rapid improvements!

      Comment by blueollie | May 24, 2013 | Reply

  2. Ollie, honestly, I think you look pretty much the same in both pictures. (Hm.. IDK if you should take that as a compliment to your aging or a diss to your younger self..)

    I have found that the most tedious part of growing older is NOT the burgeoning crows feet or blossoming dark spots, but recovery takes SO much longer than it did when I was younger. Not even necessarily athletic recovery, but bouncing back from a night or two of poor sleep, or from the mystery pains from “sleeping wrong.” I see my teenagers sprawled across a couch, arms and legs akimbo, neck at an odd angle, and find myself jealous of their ability to wake up the next day and not be in pain.

    Comment by Jennifer J-W | May 24, 2013 | Reply

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