What Gets Measured Gets Done: Don Gaines’ Fit After Fifty Story

by Alison McIrvin
Don while hiking Mount Rainier

Spending time in the woods on the trails became a lifelong passion for Don Gaines when he was a senior in high school. Despite having no athletic experience, once a buddy introduced him to hiking, Don was hooked.  

However, after high school, his focus was his education and starting his career, so he didn’t get out much in college or his early working years, limiting his hiking to five or six times a summer.

Life in his 30s and 40s included marriage and building his career — not necessarily taking care of his physical health. Although he had no health issues, Don realized he needed better conditioning and strength when he was nearing the end of his 40s and facing a divorce. He started working out; ramped up his hiking to year-round — rain, snow, or shine; and finished his 40s in the best shape of his life.

[Related: Hiking Guide for Adventurers Over Age 50]

Don smiling on Cannon Beach
Don loves taking active vacations, like this visit to Cannon Beach.

Don and some buddies were hiking a Seattle-area trail known as Cable Line on Tiger Mountain twice a week. Although Cable Line is only 1.5 miles long, the elevation gain over that distance is 2,022 feet, so at times you feel as if you were climbing a cliff face.

They began timing themselves until Don set his personal best at 41:01. One of the guys remarked that continuing this year-round might mean that they could climb Mount Rainier. Don had not previously given summiting Mount Rainier much thought, but from that point on, kept training with that in mind.

A big training challenge was to do a “three mountain day,” which included Cable Line on Tiger Mountain, Mount Si, and Granite Mountain. All three are part of the range known as the Issaquah Alps along the Seattle I-90 corridor. The three hikes totaled about 14 miles and 10,000 feet of vertical gain, accomplished by the friends in roughly 12 hours. They went on in 2000 to successfully summit Mount Rainier.

Don hiking Mount Rainier
The idea of hiking Mount Rainier one day kept Don motivated to work out and challenge himself.

Don’s early 50s saw some minor injuries as well as life changes that, to a certain extent, took his time and attention away from fitness. Previously, he had been faithfully doing 100 pushups each morning; but at age 55, he could only manage about three. Don knew he needed to make some changes as he was thinking about retirement.

[Related: Starting to Exercise After Age 50]

Don is a big believer in measuring progress and results, so he joined a gym, hired a personal trainer, and set a goal to hike or walk at least 1,000 miles a year. Don tracked all of this in a spreadsheet, believing that “what gets measured gets done.” Well… Don did it!

Now at age 62, Don continues to work out twice a week with a personal trainer and keeps up in all the activities with his favorite hiking partner, his wife, five years his junior. He sets his hiking and walking goals each year to 1,000 miles and 180 hikes. This year he is already ahead of schedule.

Don posing with his bike in a forest
Don uses cycling to help mix up his workout routine.

Don snowshoeing up a mountain
Knee-deep in snow… that’s how you know he really loves it!

Hacks that work:

  • Walk or hike with someone.
  • Work with a personal trainer.
  • Stay active so you can be active.
  • Keep food and drink in the relatively healthy categories.
  • Remember that fitness is a lifestyle, not a destination.

“I work out … because I love being physically active and being able to do the things I enjoy in life.”

In addition to his passion for hiking, Don loves to take active vacations and also cycles. His motivator for staying in shape is enjoying life and vacations with his wife. Walking tours such as the Tour du Mont Blanc, the Dolomites, and Cinque Terre as well as hiking the Scottish Highlands are examples of motivation trips that keep him training on the trail and at the gym.

Don and his wife Sue hiking with Thornton Lakes in the background
Don’s wife is his favorite hiking buddy.

“I work out not so much because I love working out, but because I love being physically active and being able to do the things I enjoy in life.”

Don has seen his share of minor injuries and setbacks, but he pushes himself forward by maintaining a “just do it” attitude. He decided that sitting around doesn’t improve his fitness. If he wanted to get out and do things, he needed to start by setting goals, tracking them, and just getting out and doing them. It is simple, but it works.

Clearly, what Don measures, Don gets done!

How do you measure and track your workouts for your fitness success?

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