By the time you’re reading this, I’m packing my bag to fly to Atlanta to run an ultramarathon. Running? Who cares? Yes, but also beside the point, because this TCIF isn’t about one type of vigorous stupidity or another. It’s about fitness, aging, expectations and where, if ever, the twain eventually meets.
I have always been an athlete, maybe ever so slightly above average, but never great, not on foot, not at games, not on the bike. When I was in high school, a small, private school with a graduating class hovering around 100, I was briefly one of the better players on the soccer team. That’s my level.
The good (actually pretty bad) news is that as you age the athletic cohort keeps shrinking. I went from a pretty average teenage athlete to an upper echelon middle-aged athlete, simply by virtue of attrition. Apparently, a lot of gifted athletes didn’t find it rewarding enough to stick with it, and/or adult life overwhelms us and our best intentions. I’m fortunate to love, and on many levels even need, vigorous exercise. It keeps me sane. It keeps me calm.
When I was 39, I signed up to run a mountain half-marathon (the difficulty of which I badly under-estimated). I had ridden a lot of big rides, and this felt like a thing, running, that my body would eventually want to stop doing. I roped in my regular cycling partner, and through myself at it.
Turns out, I didn’t lose the ability to run. In fact, the more I ran, the less pain it caused me. I began insinuating runs into my busy riding schedule. Then, last year I broke my collarbone and copped a subsequent case of frozen shoulder. That begat a lot more time on feet, and less on pedals.
And so here I am in my 50th year running an ultramarathon, which is the land-born version of a double-century or some other outrageous cycling boondoggle. There is a certain sense of using it before I lose it still, but there is also the idea that I am celebrating the brilliance of my body, such as it is, at this late(ish) date. I am fitter than I expected to be at this age, even though I’m nothing like as good as I used to be, and for that I’m deeply grateful.
That means this week’s TCI Friday asks, are you fitter than you expected to be at your age, less fit, or right on the money? How do you measure? How do you feel about it? Is it important to you to push the bounds of your fitness, or are you content to maintain whatever level you’re fortunate to find yourself on, on any given day?
I don’t think that I thought much about how fit I’d be at my current age (56) until perhaps 10 years ago (certainly no more than that). That time frame roughly coincides with how long I’ve been cycling seriously. At 46, I think that I would have said that by 56, I’d be experiencing the beginning of the inevitable decline. Well, I’m still getting PRs and my Cyclocross Points keep going in the right direction, so I guess I’m fitter.
My 2044 goal, BTW, is to win the US Cyclocross National Championship. Given that I’m a Cat 4 For Life, this is hardly a shoe-in. In 2044, I’ll be the spry young buck in the 80+ field. As that field often contains only 1 contestant, well, I think you can see my strategy: make it to the starting line.
Hey, Jeff? I’m also 56 and I’m going to race against you! (the good lord willing and all that…)
So far I’m in much better shape inside and out than 90+% of men half my age. That comes from a lifetime of making my fitness a top priority. I push myself on the bike and in the gym and don’t see that ever changing. Robert Marchand is a cycling hero and I will absolutely beat his hour records some day.
But I only run when I’m late for dinner.
I only ever thought about my future fitness in terms of, will I still be working at it or not. I’m not fitter than I was 20 years ago. Probably not even close. But, I’m pleased with how I’ve managed up to this point and keep trying to build. I run during the winter because I’m not a big fan of winter biking and I like the break. I’ve only ever been a 5k kind of runner though. I’ve never strengthened my core enough to allow me to run further without taking on too many aches and pains.