In 2011, as Todd Steben realized his 50th birthday wasn’t too far off, he wondered if he was the person he wanted to be.
The answer, he decided, was not yet. It was time to make a change and get into better shape.
“I have four children and I wanted to show them that being an old desk jockey, you don’t have to be that stereotype,” said Steben, who weighed almost 200 pounds at the time. “You can still be active, vital and enjoy the outdoors.”
The Olympia accountant, now 53, took a job closer to home so he’d no longer have long commutes to Tacoma or Renton. He started looking for exercise opportunities and joined the Beasts Obstacle Course Race Team.
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Obstacle course racing soon became a passion for Steben as he found himself getting into better shape. In 2013, he finished 17th in his age group at a Spartan Sprint race in Washougal. Last season, weighing less than 175 pounds, he won his age group in four races. He took first in his age group in the Spartan Race West Region Open Series and the Spartan U.S. Open Series. Series winners are determined by personal scores from the top five races.
“I think it’s some of the best fitness you can have,” Steben said. “Running is great, it’s got it’s limitations. Bike riding is great, but the same thing. Weight training is also good in its own right. But obstacle course racing, I find to be one of the best means of having overall body fitness and some mental toughness as well.”
He hopes his success will inspire others. He started a wellness program at his workplace, Lewis-Mason-Thurston Area Agency on Aging.
“I hope that I’m setting a good example,” Steben said. “I’m trying to age as well as I can.”
Steben is training for his next race, which will be in late January or April, but he recently carved out a few minutes to field some questions:
Q: Aside from the fitness, what do you like about obstacle course races?
A: I like to challenge myself and prove that I can do things that I might not have thought I could. And it reminds me of being a kid. It’s like a time machine. I’m a little older than I like to admit, but I can still play in the mud, smile and have fun.
… You learn something every time. We can all gain when we are learning.
Q: How would you describe the difference between those fun mud runs and the competitive obstacle course races?
A: You can be as hardcore as you want. If you want to be competitive and run against, in some cases, professional athletes, you can do that. … Or you can go family-oriented and get out there with your wife and kids. I think (race organizers) do a nice job of making it accessible for everybody.
At the Warrior Dash last year in Bonney Lake, I ran the competitive race and when I got back, I ran the more recreational loop with my wife. So I got my competitive stuff and I got to share something with her on the same day.
Q: Do you have tips for cleaning up and warming up quickly after one of these races?
A: I take a camping water container with soap so I can do a mini rinse-off right away. I have a towel and sports kilt. I get out of my wet stuff pretty quick, clean myself up and get dry. I put on some compression garments to get warmed up quickly. … It’s like a miniature little camping exercise. (He recommends wool socks and shoes that drain well. He suggests avoiding Gore-Tex shoes because they keep water in.)
Q: What do you want people to know about fitness?
A: Fitness and wellness are everywhere now. The teams, groups, tribes are all welcoming. I signed up for a class at a gym in Olympia and I was afraid I was going to be the awkward, old guy who embarrassed himself. But the trainer was super welcoming and encouraging. That helps your motivation and accountability.
I’d encourage anyone to look online, look at work, look at the gym. We have a wealth of opportunities. Sign up for something and connect with some people. They can help you and you will be stronger for it.
Q: Do your kids respect what you’ve done?
A: They say they’re proud of me, which is kind of a bizarre thing because I always thought the parents were supposed to be proud of the kids. My daughter tells people that I’m doing OK with this stuff. They’re in their 20s and I’m hoping that in a long-term way they’ll see what’s possible as you get older.
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