Groping for Fitness

‘Groping,’ as a word, has seen better days. It came into English from the Old English grapian, “to feel about (as in darkness or drunkenness).” Shortly after, Shakespeare coined the phrase “groping for trout in a peculiar river” in Measure for Measure to describe infidelity. In latter days, groping is mostly a #metoo offence. Don’t grope. Not cool. Actually, probably a crime.

But what I am currently doing, as regards my health, is an approved off-label usage for the word groping.

On a recent sojourn I huffed and puffed at the pedals of my road bike. “This must be a false flat,” I thought. It has been a while since I mounted a cyclo-computer, and this ride reminded me why. I wasn’t making a lot of watts and subsequently not a lot of speed either. “That’s alright,” I reasoned with myself,” spring base miles are meant to be slow and steady. One out of two ain’t bad.

You can’t bank a lot of fitness for very long when you’ve already had your 50th birthday. You can’t just take fitness down off a shelf, dust it off, and be back in the game in a trice. Or maybe you can, but the shelf in question, that mystical, magical storage spot, moves further away from your home every season. I reckon my shelf is now currently about 200 miles from my front door. I’ll just need to work my way over there to pick it up.

If you’ve been through this process yourself, you will know that there are false dawns along the way, single rides where you feel fit and strong, when the flats don’t feel so false, and your friends don’t drop you casually, like the name of their new dentist. It’s just like groping around in the dark for a set of keys or a phone. You think you’ve set your hand on something promising, only to find you’re holding a spoon left on the counter or a clothing catalog you’d forgotten to drop in the recycling bin.

Real fitness isn’t just about being able to pedal in the moment, being able to keep up. It’s in the recovery too. It’s in how you feel the next morning. Of late, when the alarm goes off, I’d rather like for a small cartoon character to drive up in a miniature forklift to remove me from the bed and deliver me to the coffeemaker and then the couch. I am really fit neither now nor later, but this is clearly the way forward, suffering a little at a time, groping my way forward, until the pedals spin freely, and the dumb grin spreads across my stupid face again.

Join the conversation
  1. Wyatt says

    100%. 50 years old and three weeks off for a variety of reasons and a 25 mile road ride felt like the entire tour de france in a day. It wont be better in the woods either (well it probably will be but not from a fitness perspective). Not that I was in great shape before this little break but jeesh, what was there feels all the way gone. Well, gives us something to do I suppose.

  2. khal spencer says

    I don’t worry about measuring up to the young ones or to my distant past adventures. I figure at 68, I can still hop on my bicycles and tear ass around, albeit usually not for such long distances as I used to when I was a youngster. And if I need a 12-30 instead of a 12-23, cassette, so what? Just means I have to use my imagination when experimenting with rear derailleurs.

    My worst experience was being off the bike from August, 2016 to January 2017 as a result of multiple accidents that left me with a broken foot and shoulder surgery. I started to look like the Michelin Man. Took a while to get back into some degree of form. That recovery from being Fat Boy was unnerving.

    Just do it, Emlyn.

  3. TominAlbany says

    I’ve decided to just bludgeon myself into fitness. Sign up for something. Train some. Go ride it. Suffer but finish. Suffer some more. Several recovery days. Six weeks until the next sufferfest. Keep riding. Hope you can get fit on one long ride/weekend and maybe a couple of rides longer than 15 minutes during the week.

    I’ll get some kind of fit. Will I get ‘Farmer’s Daughter’ fit? We’ll see in about four weeks’ time.

    1. Wyatt says

      I’ll see you at the Farmers Daughter. I will certainly be hoping for miracle fitness to appear between now and then as well.

    2. TominAlbany says

      Cool! I’ll be the short, skinny, bald guy on the bike.

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