Let’s face it: middle age sneaks up on you.
At 52, I can still ride year ‘round, but it takes longer on chilly mornings to get the neurons firing and the muscles following suit, even after the ritual java jolt. Old injuries, which used to crop up only occasionally, have moved in the furniture and hung pictures on the walls.
I explain to younger friends that it now takes twice as much preparation to do two-thirds of what I used to.
To be honest, my body still does a lot of what I ask of it, and to help it along, I eat scrupulously, get enough sleep, do yoga, take supplements. All the healthy habit boxes are checked.
But the two biggest secrets to success haven’t been virgin pomegranate seed oil or some trendy core workout. No; for your enlightenment, I now unveil the closely guarded tricks of the aging athlete:
- Pick your moments
- Only ask of your body what it can do
That’s right: good old fashioned accommodation.
I read about 60-year-olds knocking off 800-mile bikepacking events, and think “I couldn’t even do half of that!” It’s been an ongoing process accepting that my relatively healthy body won’t do what many others will. Along the way, I’ve learned that acceptance, applied judiciously, can actually lead to more fun and satisfaction on the bike. Anyway, those 60-year-olds are genetic outliers, and no amount of training or supplements will ever make me one of them.
Picking moments: I’ve always had trouble training for goals; my body and mind usually rebel at repetitive regimens. These days, this is more true than ever. Everything works out better when I wait for my body to tell me when it's time to go for a long, hard ride or a tour.
If the legs are spunky and bouncing back quicker from hard days, I'll suddenly find myself online, looking at a few state parks to hook up for a tour, for example. I can plan these bigger deals six-ish weeks in advance: short enough to know I'll still be healthy at rollout, long enough to invite friends to share in the excitement of planning and scheming.
Being realistic: Sure, incremental training still works it wonders, and, in all honesty, I still beat personal records for distance or elevation now and then. But those moments come less frequently. (See "Picking moments," above.)
The true bitter pill, however, is that some things simply aren't practical any more. I could try, and perhaps even succeed, but at what cost? Probably days of exhaustion afterwards. I care too much about my wife, my clients, and myself to be at half-best for that long—all because I wanted 30% more fun from my latest adventure.
Aging sounds like a drag, right? Well, the dirty secret is that I have more fun now, with mainly achievable events and only occasional scary ones, than I did in the days of pushing myself relentlessly.
Maybe age does bring a bit of wisdom, after all.
Illustration © 2016 More Sky Better