Tag Archives: 50

Sorry, Getting Older Doesn’t Suck

Yesterday I was at the annual picnic for the tech company I work at, conversing with some folks around my age. I don’t remember what sparked it, but someone made a remark about how getting old sucks.

“I can’t think of a single good thing about getting older,” she said.

And everyone else agreed.

I said being over 50 allowed me to start my big race an hour earlier. People chuckled but no one built on that small offering, so I let the topic go. My co-workers are well aware that I do not lead the avvv-erage middle-age lifestyle, and I didn’t want it to turn into a “me vs. the rest of them” comparison. But I can’t agree with the attitude that getting older contains nothing to appreciate.

I won’t generalize here; I understand that everyone’s life experience is different, and factors like genetics, environment, and educational and work opportunities all play a role in how things turn out. So I’ll just cover a few things I personally appreciate about this point in my life (age 56) and what I can look forward to.

One is the very pleasant surprise of continued physical fitness. Since I started running races at age 47, my strength and stamina have only improved. This year I ran my longest race ever, and am on track for my most yearly miles run, too. Terrific trainers, a sensible diet, and appropriate rest have all contributed, but in the end it’s the desire to reach for new goals that keeps me out there. And that desire is as strong and motivating as ever.

Bike ride today to recover from yesterday’s long run? I’m in!

My outlook has changed, too. Little things bother me much less than they used to. Annoying people, bad drivers, certain football teams losing – I’ve learned how to let go and move on, at least most of the time. It’s really liberating.

I’ve also lived long enough to pick up on some longer cycles. Economic downturns? Social upheavals? Don’t like our current set of politicians? This, too, shall pass. (I’m not saying sit back and do nothing – absolutely be an activist for something you really believe in – but understand that time really does change everything.)

And I care a lot less about what other people think of me, or whatever crazy adventure I happen to pursue. Why? I learned that most people never thought about me much in the first place. But that’s not what’s in the mind of someone fresh out of college and looking for a job, or raising kids (oh, man, are parents sensitive or what?) or trying to get in with the latest “cool group.” (*) It takes life (i.e. time on Earth) to figure that out.

Even my wife was okay with WNBR. (But she knows what I look like naked.)

Case in point: I can go to a naked bike ride and not be the least self-conscious about it. People taking photos? So what? Good luck trying to humiliate or blackmail me. No worries about scandalizing my parents, since they’ve both passed. And my daughters? With my youngest approaching 30, it’s too late to corrupt them further. Deal with it, kiddos.

 

Now, obviously I can’t keep up my current activities forever. At some point, what I’m able to do, and what I want to do, will change. But that’s okay. As my Aikido instructors like to say, every end is also a beginning. What those beginnings will be, I have no idea.

But mystery is part of what makes life fascinating, isn’t it? And ongoing discovery and pursuit of new things is part of what makes it fulfilling. That’s what I believe makes the rest of my life worth living.

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(*) Note: groups that are actually cool – like runners – are happy to accept you as you are. At any age.

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My Life as a Rat

PASS THE CHEESE, PLEASE.

I’ve been feeling like a rat lately. Not a gym rat – a lab rat.

EMU Running Science Lab - treadmill

Unlike my involuntarily conscripted rodent comrades, this is my own fault. Like many runners who enjoy the sport, I want to be able to run, and run well, for many more years. And being over 50, I have a greater sense of the importance of training properly. One serious injury could put me out of action for a long time, perhaps forever.

So ideally, I’d like to continue running both for fun and in competition, while minimizing the risk of something seriously bad happening. This is one reason I have a running coach, and why I weight train under professional supervision. But is there more I can do?
There is a need to retool yourself, and you should not expect to stop.
– Randall Stephenson, chairman and CEO of AT&T, as quoted by The New York Times

Fast After 50 bookI’ve been reading Joe Friel’s book Fast After 50, and I highly recommend it to anyone approaching the half-century mark or “on the high side” of it. He pulls no punches in saying that decline in physical condition after 50 is inevitable. The good news, however, is that exercise slows that decline, and can even lead to some improvement.

The keys to training and performing well, Friel says, are: first, stop comparing yourself to the athlete you were, and focus on the athlete you are now. You may never achieve another PR in some event, but that’s no reason to stop competing if you enjoy it. Second, training intensity is more important than training volume in maintaining a high level of performance. The trouble, as he sees it, is that older athletes tend to begin replacing their speed workouts with more long slow distance (LSD).

This philosophy fits what I’ve been coming across more often in the mainstream running press. To maintain fitness, strength work and high-intensity training is essential. Higher volume at low intensity is better than nothing, but it will not keep me at my peak fitness potential.

But in order to be at peak fitness, I need to know what my current fitness factors are, and what things to work on. For example, what is my maximum heart rate? How well does my body deliver oxygen to the muscles (VO2max) and what is my anerobic threshold? And are there things in my running form that I can improve to be more efficient as a runner, and avoid injury?

So I began looking for opportunities to find out.

When Student is Ready - inspirational-quotes_15445-0And soon I came across an article in the Ann Arbor News about the Running Science Lab at Eastern Michigan University. They have two programs that anyone can sign up for: a physiological analysis, and a biomechanical analysis. The analyses would provide a benchmark of my current running fitness markers, and look at my running gait to identify areas of stress that could lead to injury over time.

Me on Zero RunnerThen came an opportunity to try out the Zero Runner, a training device that is designed to replicate running form without the foot impact. (Here’s a review of the Zero Runner from Detroit Runner, a fellow run blogger.) And on the heels of that came a University of Michigan study that was looking for distance runners to measure healthy variability and pacing strategy.

So, which of these did I sign up for?

All of them, naturally.

So in some upcoming posts I will share what I went through, what I learned, and what, if anything, I will change as a result of all this. At the very least, I hope you find it interesting. And maybe it will inspire you to do some of the same!

rat-treadmill-282x300The trouble with the rat race is, that even if you win, you’re still a rat.
– Lily Tomlin

Why Am I Doing This? Oh, Yeah, the Payoff

During a flatter part of last weekend’s long run, I chatted with a guy who’s big into triathlons. He’s doing Ironman Boulder this summer, and part of his preparation is a trip to an Olympic facility for two weeks to work with top coaches. He’s about my age and the two-a-day sessions are, to put it mildly, brutal.

“You’re killing me!” he told a coach after one particular grueling session in the pool. “You’re used to working with athletes thirty years younger!”

“The payoff comes in June, Michael,” he was told.

The coach was correct, of course, and those of us in the throes of training know it. But there are two issues with just accepting that, “the payoff comes in X” and moving on. It doesn’t make training any easier, and it assumes we survive to get to the payoff.

Jim Mora Playoffs Rant

Payoffs? Don’t talk to me about PAYOFFS!

The conversation came back to me while reflecting on this past week of training. While I train and race year-round, January through March is technically my off season, so this is the time to hit it hard. I’ve stepped up my weekly mileage and added an extra session at Body Specs, and boy, am I feeling it.

My coach and gym trainer are keeping an eye on me so I don’t overtrain. But see above for how that makes me feel.

Assuming that I do get through this and end up stronger and faster, my payoff begins as early as April 9, when I join the Martians for a marathon through the streets of Dearborn, in an attempt to qualify for Boston next year. After that, trail season begins, with another April marathon, a May 50-miler, and my first-ever 100-miler in June. I’m still working out plans for the second half of 2016, but for now I think I have enough to train for.

If you’ve read this far (and if you have, thank you!) you may be wondering why all this training and racing is worth the payoff. After all, what’s to gain? A couple more medals? And is the satisfaction of finishing these races worth the time, the effort, and the pain?

My brother perhaps expressed it best once when my wife was telling him about my latest ultrarunning exploits. “Does he enjoy torturing himself this way?” he asked her.

Richmond Half 2015 - middle

I’m up to 287th place! Yes!

I’m tempted to quote Mark Twain, who said, “I hate to write, but I love having written,” but the analogy doesn’t really apply. Yes, there are times during a race or in training for a race that are no fun (last week’s hills come to mind), and yet there is something fulfilling about the act of running for me that is hard to describe.

Mark Twain quote about exercise

Yesterday’s run was a good example. It was a fifteen-miler, with a good portion of it at marathon pace, on a cold, windy day. But I distinctly remember thinking, somewhere in the middle of that run, today, right now, there’s no place I’d rather be.

DWD LM - 099

Dances with Dirt – Hell, 2014. Payoff, baby!

Train on, everyone! The payoff is ahead – and right now.

Perspective Regained: Hills are Hard, But . . .

“I want you to push yourself on the hills,” my Saturday running assignment read. “Dig deep and crest the hill before you let off the gas.”

Saturday’s route would be a 14-miler that included several of the more punishing hills in the Ann Arbor area. In particular, the climb up to the Barton Hills Country Club is a soul-sucking slog even on good days. And after a week of stepped-up training I was feeling less than 100 percent from the start.

Coach Rob Morgan

This man (Coach Rob) was responsible for today’s route. He’s also married to Coach Marie. I sense a conspiracy here.

It was my own fault, of course. I was dumb enough to tell Skip, my Body Specs trainer, and Coach Marie that I wanted to work on getting stronger and faster over the winter. They have taken on the task with alacrity; on Thursday I actually heard an evil cackle from Skip as I groaned my way through one particular torture involving hand dumbbells.

And the Saturday long run? Normally I look forward to it. But this one was more like a trip to the dentist; you know it’s in your best interest, but it ain’t gonna be no fun. I was fretting too much about it, so I went to bed early and read a chapter about the Battle of The Bulge from Killing Patton, which my father-in-law loaned me over the holidays.

And those few pages were enough to restore my sense of perspective.

In December 1944 the men of the 99th Infantry Division faced a surprise onslaught from the German army, digging foxholes and defending themselves in freezing weather without winter clothing, waterproof boots, or sufficient weaponry.

American infantrymen of the 290th Regiment near Amonines, Belgium. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

American infantrymen of the 290th Regiment near Amonines, Belgium. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

They suffered intensely and took heavy casualties. But they blunted the attack and played a key role in preventing the Germans from reaching the key port of Antwerp. And they did it because it was their job, and it had to be done.

And me? I was going to have a challenging run the next morning, but it would be done with warm clothes, good shoes, and plenty of sleep beforehand. And I could stop early, or even not run at all, if I chose.

So long, worry and self-pity. Which was a good thing. (*)

The run went about as I expected. Per instructions I ran the level parts at a steady 8:15 to 8:30 pace. Then when a hill came up, I took off hard and tried to sustain the effort until after I crested the top.  I didn’t always make it, and many were the times I was bent over gasping for a bit. But a funny thing happened. Despite very tired legs I kept up a solid pace the entire way, and I even repeated a hill on the way back to see how my time differed from early in the route.

Coach Marie was at the studio when I returned. “You look good,” she said. So much for any attempt to complain that it was too much for me. This spells trouble for next week. I can’t wait.

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(*) I have more thoughts about the contrast between that generation and ours that I will save for a future post.