Aging shouldn't affect exercise, just expectations
Consider your situation, and I think you'll find the same is true for you. Set out with the intention of helping someone, and invariably someone else receives help, too.
One of the regular features of my seventh grade language arts class, for instance, is called "The Quote of the Day." On most days, I put two profound sayings sometimes motivational, sometimes instructional, but always, I hope, enlightening on the chalkboard with a key word missing.
The students' first job is to determine the missing word. To do so, they must think abstractly rather than concretely, something that often isn't a seventh grader's strong suit but something that is essential for success in eighth grade and beyond.
Yet equally as important is the second job: to discuss the relevance of the quotation and the lessons to be learned from it. This is true not only for the students, but for me also.
Discussing something like Margaret Lee Runbeck's belief that "Happiness is not a station in life you arrive at, but a manner of traveling" three times a day does a great job of keeping me balanced and grounded. Similarly, I think you can understand how I benefit from writing this column.
But I'd like to turn the tables today.
Instead of writing with the intention of helping you, I'm going to write selfishly, attempt to make sense of something that's been scurrying through my head like a church mouse through hallowed halls. I'll do so because the end result just might help both me and you.
And the thought that's been messing with my head is that riding the bike just isn't the same anymore because I'm aging.
When I obsess over this, part of me shouts "Duh" when it's not shaking its head and muttering "Get over it already."
I mean, I like to think of myself as an educated man, one who not only reads and reads and reads but also applies what he's read. And everything I've read is that agingand a subsequent decline in athletic performance is inevitable.
It's why Buddhist monks chant in prayer, "I am of the nature to grow old and die."
They want to be fully aware of the process of aging. They want that awareness to trigger a greater awareness that you need to live in the here and now or you're not really living at all.
I get that.
But I also get downhearted when I ride and recognize that I'm not what I once was.
Take the Derby, for instance, the training ride that takes place every Sunday and Wednesday from the velodrome where the last 12 miles simulate a race. Many of the best riders in the area attend, including occasional appearances by the local pros.
In the middle of the simulated race, there's a bit of a hill not much of a hill, really but enough for a climber to make an attack and force the pack to chase. While I've rarely stayed away after such an attack, that's not the point.
The point is to make an all-out effort, yet be able to remain with the riders who eventually catch you.
But recently, the early parts of the Derbies have been so difficult for me that I don't even think about attacking on that hill the way I used to.
What you just read was how much I wrote one Saturday morning before I met four other cyclists all younger than I for an 80-mile training ride featuring numerous long and short climbs that we planned to ride at race pace.
That morning, however, a 25-to-35-mile-an-hour wind whipped out of the west, the direction we needed to go to reach the hills. I thought for sure the ride leader would change the course.
I was wrong.
I'm not exactly a beefy guy, so riding into a headwind is not a strong suit. And I usually ride by the side of the ride leader, somebody who's known for starting a ride hard and riding at the front forever (which is what his partner should also do). And he's also known for winning a number of tough races last year, including the state road race for his age group.
As a result, my mental state was somewhere south of Concern and quickly approaching Terrified as we began. I feared I wouldn't be able to keep pace early and would never get to train on the hills with the group.
That fear was unfounded. While the effort was really tough early, I gained confidence when I could hear the ride leader breathing hard when I wasn't.
When the winds began to gust to 50 miles an hour, the ride leader shortened the ride. We never got to the really long climbs, but I was able to ride right beside the two really gifted climbers on all the other ones except one or two of the short, steep, "sprinters'" climbs.
So was my earlier whining about aging and having less cycling ability middle-age melodrama? Not really.
I ride the Derby on Sundays the day after I do a ride like the windy one you just read about.
That's one of the reasons why the Derby has been seeming so hard. As we age, we just don't recover as quickly as we once did.
What I can't do anymore or at least as well as I used to is do exceptionally hard training on back-to-back days. But that doesn't mean I shouldn't try.
What I should try to do is apply something that I read long ago: the Buddhists' belief that expectation is the cause of all suffering.
And you should keep exercising as you age and not be bothered if it just doesn't seem the same.
Because it isn't. But isn't that to be expected?