81-Year-Old Ironman

Jon Adamson, a 81-year-old Ironman

Jon Adamson didn’t take up running because it was fun; he did it, because his friend’s early death led him to a shocking realization.

When he was in his early 40s, his 38-year-old friend had a heart attack and died. “He didn’t have the best lifestyle, but it really shocked me,” says Adamson, now 81. “If it could happen to him, it could happen to me too.”

Adamson entered middle age as a sedentary person, but now he and a group of five friends were inspired to start a running group.

It was the early 1970s, and the notion of running as a hobby was uncommon. “When I started, I could run less than a block,” says Adamson. “I thought to myself ‘this is not good,’ but I kept on. Soon I found out I liked it, and I was pretty good at it.”

His group started running local 5Ks and 10Ks. And when a triathlon came to town in 1982, they jumped at the chance, even though they weren’t swimming and didn’t even own bikes. “It wasn’t a good experience, but of the four of us who went down there and did it, three of us wanted to get more into it.”

Since then, Adamson has competed in more than 200 competitions and won dozens of awards.

Racing Through Life

In the late 1980s and into the 1990s, Adamson was competing in full Ironmans, a 2.4-mile swim and 112-mile bike ride followed by a 26.22-mile run. But in his 70s he switched to half Ironmans.

“Things have changed as I’ve gotten older. I’m not competing in the longer distances like I used to,” he says. “As you age, you can still compete and work out, but you have to be smart about recovery time. I was a better athlete in my 50s and 60s than I am now, but that doesn’t mean I have to quit.”

Adamson still swims, bikes, runs and lifts weights three days a week. The impact of all this training is evident; he looks like a man 20 to 30 years younger than his actual age. A retired corporate manager, Adamson has always been competitive — running down the goal in front of him with singular determination.

At 81 Adamson even recently started competing in off-road triathlons that involve mountain biking and trail running. “It’s like a whole new sport to me,” he says. “I’ve done pretty much everything in regular racing, so I was ready to try something a bit different.”

Running Rewards

For those who aren’t involved in the sport, it’s hard to understand why anyone would subject themselves to such a grueling hobby.

“It’s a good, healthy way of staying fit,” says Adamson, “but I think the best thing it’s done is put me in contact with people throughout the world, the people I race and train with and the people I coach.”

Adamson’s racing career has had many highlights, but the pinnacle is definitely the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii. From 1993 to 2003, Adamson made it to the championship seven times. He’s also raced in New Zealand, Canada, England and Australia.

Last year he competed in the off-road Xterra World Championship in Maui. In the race’s 23-year existence, no one his age had ever finished. They had to create a special 80-plus age group just for Adamson.

Of course, it helps that he has a partner in crime. “My wife is involved in the same sport, and we race and train together all the time. I got her into the sport about a year after I started. She’s done a lot of the same races, including Hawaii, so it’s one of the things we do together.”

Life Outside the Race

Unlike many people his age, Adamson has a full social schedule. A charter member of Life Time Fitness in Alpharetta, Georgia, he likens his favorite health club to a resort. There he swims laps, runs on the treadmill, takes spin classes, lifts and catches up with his friends.

In a tradition that began about 10 years ago, Adamson and his friends gather at Life Time Fitness for his birthday bike ride, tacking on another mile for every year of his life.

Setting the Stage for Success

In 1999, Adamson added coach to his list of titles. It all started when a triathlete friend needed some guidance. “She ended up being a very good athlete and did well in competitions,” he says, “so the word got out.”

Adamson’s coaching business grew until he was coaching up to 20 people. These days he’s cut back to six to eight. Some of his clients call him “the boss.” Others “the beast.”

Adamson coaches competitive racers 10 to 15 hours per week through online software, face-to-face meetings, phone calls, texts, emails and ride-alongs. “It’s rewarding to see them improve and achieve their objectives,” he says. “They really enjoy racing faster and placing better, and it’s a good way for me to spend my free time.”

No Signs of Slowing Down

More than any actual accolade, racing and training is a way of life for Adamson. He still runs 16 miles a week, cycles 100 to 120 miles and swims 6,000 to 8,000 yards a week. That may sound like a lot for an 81-year-old, yet at the height of his racing career, Adamson was doing twice that amount and working a challenging, full-time job.

It’s all part of that decision he made 40 years ago to not become a statistic. “If you don’t stay active, your heart, brain and muscles will start to deteriorate. If you just sit around, you gain weight and loose cardio capacity, and then your health fails, and everything becomes harder. You have to stay healthy as long as you can.”

No Time Like the Present

With a flourishing racing career that began in his 40s, Adamson is proof that it’s never too late to be healthy. For those interested in getting started, Adamson recommends getting some guidance. “A good coach can save you time, keep you from getting injured and help you improve much faster.”

Whether you’re age 18 or 80, Adamson is an inspiration to get up, get out and get moving. “There are a million ways to stay active,” he says. “Get on a bike, go to the gym, work out, see people, stay busy. You’ll look better, feel better. Your whole life is going to be much better.”    

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