He’s not an ordinary athlete. When Outside magazine featured Steve Ilg on their cover in May of 1992 he became both famous and infamous. The cover, as Ilg laughingly admits, was later voted by readers as one of Outside magazine’s least favorites. Maybe it was the finely coiffed mullet he sported or the cover’s brash title, claiming he could break you. Maybe it was the unsettling look of serene confidence on his face.

Moving past the cover I read about a sports polymath, a multi-sport mutant according to another article. Ilg was extraordinary at a number of pursuits from running to biking to climbing to a multitude of winter sports. But what truly intrigued me was that he preached with an uncommon passion a lifestyle that rejected sport specialization.

At the time I was training for my first triathlon and had found a new level of fitness by combining biking and swimming with my love for running. Combining the sports I felt not only stronger in each but more durable and healthier than ever.

Ilg though was preaching for a life that went beyond cross-training. He believed and is now even more adamant that sport is a noble and even spiritual endeavor through which we can more fully experience life as a whole. His ideas of Wholistic Fitness combined sport disciplines, yang endeavors he calls them, with the yin of meditation and yoga.

I was so intrigued by this approach that I interviewed him for a regional magazine. Some 25 years later we reconnected for this podcast.

Ilg at 55 is no less strong. Last winter, from his home in Durango, Colorado he raced in events ranging from 5K to 50k. He competed in snowshoeing, ski mountaineering, fat tire bike and winter decathlons. Remarkably, he made it to the podium of every race he entered. Incredibly, he won seven events outright.

He, maybe with just of touch of irony, often refers to himself as “Feeble Ilg” and he does project humility and gratitude for what life has brought. Yet he’s also fiercely competitive and embodies what he calls the athlete’s warrior spirit.

I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did. Your comments, as always, are very much appreciated.


Total Body Transformation: A 3-Month Personal Fitness Prescription For a Strong, Lean Body and a Calmer Mind

The Winter Athlete: Secrets of Wholistic Fitness for Outdoor Performance

The Outdoor Athlete: Total Training for Outdoor Performance

Health Mark IVO18110 Yogacise 2-In-1 Yoga and Exercise Bench

Steve Ilg on Facebook

Steve’s website: Wholistic Fitness: Fitness as a spiritual practice

Show Notes:

How as we age our focus changes from yang to yin

To be athletic is to be supple and strong, enduring and capable

The addiction to comfort: how it severs our connection to wholeness

Everything is training, even brushing your teeth

The 5 Noble Fitness Disciplines

The 4 Lifestyle Principles

The athlete as warrior

If you are not feeling the yin you may not be training hard enough

No easy days: every day is challenging but in a different way

Racing Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, from Durango to Silverton and beyond

The importance of morning rituals. Poop early

You are only as young as your spine

Holy hunger… why its good to be hungry

Don’t eat fearfully, eat sacredly

Shifting to pranic nutrition

Ilg’s new book



Enter your comment here

How will you choose to age?

You’re getting older. We’re all getting older. And you have questions. Important questions about how to navigate these next years, however many we’ve been granted.

Maybe, like me, you are wondering, how can you ensure you are capable and aware and able to actively and vigorously participate in life during this time?

The thing is, I don’t have the answers. I’m not a coach, a psychologist, a scientist or an athletic trainer. I don’t have a program to sell you, a course for you to take or some surefire way of losing weight or staying sexually active forever. I can’t recommend any supplements or trick exercises. None of that.

What I do have is my commitment to finding and engaging with the most informed, the smartest and most inspiring age-focused people in the world. I believe we’re going to need all of these people, all of their wisdom and knowledge, to figure this out.

On this journey I look forward to bringing you the age stronger explorers, the thinkers, the crazies, the ones who are leading the way on this journey. I want to talk with and learn from those who have successfully struggled with what we’re struggling with now.

I’ll be looking across the world for those who can help us be better today and stronger tomorrow.

I do have some little experience doing this sort of investigative work. For the past 15 years I’ve been part of the associate faculty at the Center for Creative Leadership doing Executive Presence research. There I’ve had opportunity to interview some of the world’s top educators, business leaders and many of our nation’s senior military officers. I’ve researched their work and asked them challenging questions about what they do, hope to accomplish and the legacies they yearn to leave.

Before that I was editor of a state-wide sports magazine and then publisher and co-owner of a large regional magazine and book publishing company. We produced monthly magazines and internationally award winning outdoor adventure guides.

So as I think back on it I’ve spent much of my adult life doing research and interviewing people to get at the real story behind the story. I’ve learned not to accept easy answers or be content with overly complex or confusing information.

Now for Age Stronger I want to find those people who can share with us their hard-won knowledge, cutting-edge research and first-hand experience about how to age in a way that maximizes our ability to perform as humans, as parents and grandparents, as athletes, and as conveyors of wisdom gained through personal experience.

I’ll be bringing to Age Stronger my curiosity, my skepticism, and my determination to know more and do more. Hopefully, in that process I can help you avoid the truly stupid, avoidable mistakes—some of which I seem to have made already—as you’ll discover as we get to know each other better.

As I look around I see a world in great flux, filled with often contradictory information about how to age, what we should be doing and what we don’t need to be doing. What foods we should be eating, what exercises we should be doing, on and on.

And the thing is, what little we think we know is constantly shifting. What was thought to be brilliant last year is now believed to be the worst thing you could possibly do. More than ever, and especially if you are acting on this information, you need to be very careful about what you believe and what you choose to do.

Now I know this shaky, changing landscape isn’t for everyone. It’s much easier and popular to have “answers.” We all want a guaranteed program that we can simply follow (although very few of us actually do). It’s so nice and reassuring to have certainty. We all love it. I want that too but with a dash of skepticism.

As much as I might want to believe that any one bit of research or any one finding is true I want to hold that knowledge as conditional wisdom, something that is true for now.

This isn’t religion. It’s a journey, another stage of our lives. And like most true journeys of exploration new things will be popping up and taking us off the path we were on. The maps we’ve held dear and trusted will no longer be enough. Like any other explorer we’ll need to figure out which guides to trust and then we’ll have to deal with the discomfort of finding a new way.

For many years I was a cardio-junkie. I did triathlons, ran mountain races like the Pikes Peak Marathon, rode my bike, raced a bit and enjoyed long tours like the Bicycle Tour of Colorado, Ragbrai, Triple-Bypass and others. But as I’ve gotten older (I’m 63 now) I’ve discovered I need to be doing much more, like mobility exercises. And to my dismay it’s clear I’m losing muscle mass. So I need to be lifting weights. Ok. But how much? How does lifting differ at my age from what a much younger person or older person might need to do? What areas do I need to target and how much do I need to do to meet my athletic and life objectives of not becoming prematurely weak (ok, weaker) and decrepit. I may not know the answer right now. Maybe you do (if so, let’s talk). But I’m determined to find that out and much more.

Another thing: Getting older can be a bit lonely. Friends who run, bike, hike and swim with you drop away for a variety of reasons. Some retire and move to be closer to family. Some retire and move away to play in warmer lands. Some drop out due to illness or injury and most sad are the ones who precede us to that ultimate destination.

So those of us left need to hang together, to encourage and motivate each other. Not just for ourselves but for the generations coming along behind us. It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve discovered what a powerful motivator how we live can be for others. Our lives, what we do, ripples out in ways we can scarcely comprehend. Sorry to be so metaphysical but I think that’s true. So we need each other and others need us to take this journey, to age stronger and enjoy a vigorous life longer.

I hope we can take part in this aging stronger journey together. I look forward to your company.

Enter your comment here