The Third Third

Guest blog by Dave Hensleigh, Authentic Mexico Travel

Life is in Thirds

We experience many things in thirds including life itself. The first third is that set of years from birth through marriage -or first child -or first career. It seems to have gone quickly, it involves many transformations, and can be rough. Usually some anchor people influence us greatly. We emerge from it thinking we are getting old–over the hill.

The second third stretches to age 55-65 or so and is that hunk of time known as the earning years. It is when family grows and leaves –and then perhaps comes back. Some people get stuck here. Some surge forward. Some figure that when it comes to an end, they will check out.

And that was largely the M.O. for the last generation. When you get to 65, you retire, get some golf clubs or join a reading club and live it out in neutral, watching grandkids go through the first third and acting interested.

The “Third Third”

Debbie Hensleigh has written on this site about the opportunity we now have in this last third of life to transform, contribute, and make a difference. She invented the term “Third Third”.

Not only is our life expectancy and life quality way higher than that of the last two generations. There are also needs and opportunities to give that demand our involvement in this third third.

Zeke Emanuel wrote in the last Atlantic magazine “By the time I reach 75, I will have lived a complete life.” His article “Why I hope to die at 75″ is a thoughtful compelling essay on quality of life and how prolonging life often leads to extended periods of something less than life. And he may be right that for many the third third may be shorter and involve difficult health and life choices.

Atlantic Magazine, Ezekiel Emanuela

Zeke Emanuel has argued that life beyond 75 will most likely be of questionable value for most. Photo from Jake Chessum, Atlantic.

But still I will argue that there is an opportunity in these years that some will miss unless we view it differently.

And we have to nurture and maintain certain life qualities and components to make that last part work. Like to “Need Less, Give More” for example.

My Third Third

I recently ran my first ultra marathon. On the eve of my 65th birthday, with my soon to take effect Medicare card in my wallet, I took off in the dark with 280 youngsters to run the Run Rabbit Run 50 miler in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. It was the best day of my life. And the most physically demanding 14 hour day I have faced. A great way to launch my third third.

The race was in thirds. The first was social, finding our way in the dark, we chatted as we wheezed up that huge incline. It was sobering as we climbed Mt Werner, and that first third was over before I knew it. The middle third was a tough crank–I mean really hard. I climbed Rabbit Ears Peak, waded through mud, and used all of my reserves as the trail undulated through Rocky Mountain splendor. I was numb in the hands, hungry and nauseous, rubbing raw all over, sweaty crusty. Along the Continental Divide, I found myself alone a lot having to encourage myself.

Then the last third truly slammed me. As I took off from Long Lake, almost unable to walk,  I learned so much about what I will experience and what I need for my last part of life.

There were 13 long, demanding miles to go. I was beyond exhausted  and I hurt all over. But I had trained–it was not about trying, but about training and I had it. I had a goal and it was impossible. But I stuck with the plan and it worked.

I had learned to, 1. take nothing extra that is not needed, 2. don’t compete, and 3. don’t get in a hurry.

But most of all in those last grueling miles, I learned that I need to listen for encouragement because the course could eat up every bit of heart I had.

As darkness approached, I was slipping, physically gone, and climbing up an undulating slope that seemed 1000 miles from the finish. I passed a couple who had helped me keep going, I passed some guy who wanted to chat about the wonders of Hoka shoes, and I ignored some self-absorbed 20 somethings as I went by. I was just getting one foot in front of the other in what ultra expert Bryon Powell calls “Relentless Forward Progress“.

Just then, I heard a little bell in the distance–to make a long story short here –I wrote about it on — and I will write about it later–that little bell got me to the last aid station. Then, my son Wilson met me with a headlamp and a bunch of “you can do it” words and I finished strong.

In my third third, one of the most critical components is to be around people who will encourage me to finish strong.

Run Rabbit Run 50 Miler

When you set out to run an ultra on a demanding course at age 64, you better have some encouragement and help–especially in the third third.

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  1. Dave you are a great inspiration for us in our first third. I would of thought I was in my second third…..I guess I shouldn’t rush it but you make it seem so exciting!

  2. Pingback: How Less is More Need Less, Give More

  3. Pingback: Why Need Less, Give More? - Need Less, Give More

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