Pavement to Paddle - Evolution of an Aging Athlete

Posted on September 18, 2015 by Austin Cox

infographic on the transition from running to standup paddle boarding

The Need for Speed

The internal need to move in life is an intrinsic part of most competitive athletes. An unrelenting desire to push harder, faster and longer in search of the ultimate endorphin reward is how our bodies, minds and souls are wired. Having always been in a bit of hurry in life I have sought out activities or sports that call for acceleration, speed and a bit of endurance. As a child I quickly learned I could run fast and that pushing my legs to hyperactive turnover gave me the greatest joy growing up. While other sports like baseball, football and basketball were of passing interest, running was what captured my spirit. While I was fast, I eventually learned that others were faster sprinters and I needed to combine my speed with the willingness to suffer for longer. Moving to San Diego in my early 20’s introduced me to one of the top distance running communities in the US at that time. Carlsbad 5000 picture copy

The Top of Your Game

 Training with the best athletes in any sport typically makes you better as you learn what they know and develop the discipline and workout routines that they have utilized to succeed in the sport. The process is both painful and rewarding over time. Track workouts, interval training, fartlek and long runs over the years gave me great outcomes and joy in competitions ranging from a mile to the half marathon. My best results came in my late 30’s and early 40’s and I had found a happy place in my competitive and personal life! “The physical rigors of pavement pounding and 50+ miles per week of running over the years had taken its toll on my body” Every endeavor has a lifespan and although I can still run a bit today, the physical rigors of pavement pounding and 50+ miles per week of running over the years had taken its toll on my body. When your rehab time begins to approach your training time in a sport, you either need to NOT have a job or realize the limits of your physical capability. Today I marvel at my friends who are still running and some very well, as my body was telling me to find another avenue of physical self- expression or risk surgery or physical disability. In cycling I found another sport to feed my forward motion passions! Having done a couple of triathlons I found that cycling was a wonderful way to train and cover a lot of ground without the joint and tendon impact that running demanded. While I did race my bike I began to ride with other semi disabled runners and we simply extended our competitive natures to another form of movement. Unfortunately there was a unique awareness that came with riding a bike in San Diego. Gone were the open, traffic-free streets and roads and unlike running where your mind could get lost along the route, on a bike you HAD to be aware of yourself and others every second. While most people seldom fall on their bikes, the times they do can result in serious injury or worse. isle surf and sup paddle boarding mission bay san diego

Running/Cycling Days Over

 On a long ride one day with a friend, we decided to get off the main road and take a side street to avoid traffic. Slowing down to turn I was unaware of a patch of gravel on the road and promptly felt the bike go out from under me and my body hit the pavement. Despite only going about 5 miles per hour, the resulting impact left me with at least two or three broken ribs along with a partially collapsed lung, which I discovered after x-rays at Sharp Hospital. OK, I guess if I’m going to fall while exercising I’d better find a sport that provides for a softer and safer landing! Ironically a good friend and former World Class marathoner had mentioned trying out paddle boarding. This invitation could not have come at a better time. While running and cycling on relatively flat surface does not require a great deal of concentration or balance; standing on a 12 foot board even on relatively flat water was certainly a challenge during my first experience. My immediate thoughts when I had first seen a paddle boarder on the ocean were, 1) that looks pretty hard and 2) it sure doesn’t look like much of a workout. Well I was about to learn that it really depended upon practice, the water conditions and the size of the board I was on. Four years later I now have a number of paddleboards and race and train others on SUP techniques. There is indeed something wonderful about reinventing yourself in life! paddle boarding san diego


1) Begin on a large stable (typically 32” or wider) board you can borrow or rent. 2) Choose a flat water location such as a bay, lake or cove for your first few paddles and avoiding windy days or times when possible. If your first paddle is not a good experience, you’re less likely to try again. 3) Find an experienced paddle boarder or instructor to demonstrate the basics and safety aspects of paddle boarding. 4) Attend a local paddle board event, expo or race and try out different boards from various companies before your buy one. 5) If you have a competitive nature enter a paddle board novice division race and test your skills in a shorter one to two mile race!


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