The day of reckoning looms on the horizon. Time, like a vulture, circles above, preparing to swoop down upon its prey. The accumulation of years are beginning to catch up to a person. Or more likely, tackle him to the ground.
The joints creak and pop. The muscles become sore and stay sore for days. The body is stiff. Guttural groans emanate when standing. Recuperation is a multi-day event. And bedtime, it comes earlier and earlier.
In September, another birthday rolled around. I turned 46. I’m in pretty good shape for my age. But I’m not the man I used to be.
I made an offer to my son. “If you want to train for a 5k, I’ll run with you.” He’s 10 and doesn’t go much for athletic endeavors. I expected him to say, “No.”
Never offer to do something when you’re counting on the other person saying, “No.”
He said, “Yes.”
And so it began.
At one time, as a much younger person, I could play basketball for hours on end every day and never feel any pain or stiffness or soreness. I expected it to go on like that forever.
In college, the Saturday before classes were to start, a friend asked me to join him on a run at the track. In the middle of the afternoon.
It was August. In West Texas. The temperatures reached one hundred degrees and stayed there.
I went. We ran. It was fun.
As soon as I returned to the dorm, another friend asked if I’d hit baseballs to him.
We jogged over to the baseball field. I hit fly ball after fly ball to him for about an hour. Then we switched and I shagged fly balls.
Again, as I returned to the dorm, I ran into another friend.
“Up for some tennis?”
We played four or five sets.
And I felt great. Then and the following day. No sore muscles. No stiffness. No achy knees or ankles. No pain. Ever.
Those were the days.
To train for a 5k, we used the couch to 5k app. The app starts you off easy and progresses to the point where you can run an entire 5k.
How hard could it be? I’ve been riding a bike for 5-10 hours a week for over 10 years. Before that, I used to run 3 miles 4 times a week. I am in shape.
Conditioning was not the problem.
Remember all those years of playing basketball from age 7 to 20 on concrete courts 7 days a week? My knees do.
As we began our 5k training, I also maintained my normal biking regimen. We ran on Mondays or Wednesdays, Fridays and Sunday mornings. I also biked on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. During the week, I biked for an hour, on Saturday and Sunday, the bike ride could be anywhere from 2 to 4 hours.
The first week went well.
The second week…
We ran on a Friday night. Saturday morning I got up and biked three hours. Sunday morning we ran. Sunday afternoon, I went for a bike ride. Well, I was on a bike and pedaling. I had no speed or energy and everything hurt. My wrists, my shoulder, my neck, my back. I felt a sharp pain in my right knee. An early indicator of tendonitis.
I could’ve eased up. Could’ve.
Ice became my friend. After every bike ride, I iced both knees.
One Friday, while we were running, my son cut in front of me. I felt a sharp pain along the back side of my right calf.
I added the application of BenGay cream to the affected area to my daily regimen. The pain went away after three days. During that time, I continued running and biking.
The following weekend, I felt a sharp pain in my left calf. I knew what to do: ice on the knees, BenGay cream on the calf, and maybe some pain relievers.
I invested in some leg compression sleeves for my calves when we ran. They seemed to help.
I kept thinking I would start to feel better. My body would adjust to the running. Or at least I hoped it would. We were only three weeks into an eight week plan and we’d yet to run anything longer than three minutes at a time.
Maybe it wasn’t a matter of fitness, but a matter of age.
I hope not.
On the second Saturday in September, I lined up at the start line for the Cowtown Classic in Fort Worth, a 59 mile bike ride. The wind was light and from the north. The temperatures mild. A perfect day for a bike ride.
As for my asthma flareup in August, I’d recuperated fine. The only drawback, I’d spent two and half weeks doing nothing, then had two weekends of bike riding to get ready for the Cowtown Classic. Finishing would not be a problem, how I would ride would be the issue. I forgot about trying to set any PR (personal record). After all, I’d been sick and was set to turn 46 in a week.
Have fun. Take it easy. Enjoy the gorgeous scenery.
Sometimes, I don’t listen to myself all that well.
We set off at eight o’clock. Up and down rolling hills at the start. I started well. Calm. Focused on breathing. Averaging a decent speed. I snuck into a group or two and drafted off the others.
I was riding smart. Conserving my energy.
I checked my time at the one hour mark. Woah! Faster than expected and at a moderate pace. How could I be doing so well? I’d been sick for two out of the last four weeks. This made no sense.
At the one and a half hour mark, I checked my time again. Even faster. A quick mental calculation and I discovered that if I maintained my current average, I’d annihilate my previous PR by nearly half an hour.
A monster PR and my 46th birthday only a week away.
What is this thing people call getting old?????
I turned down a road that went flat for a particularly long stretch. I maintained 25 mph and hit 30 mph in some stretches. (Fast for this amateur rider). I could not believe how well I was doing.
The road turned to the left. Then came a stop sign where we turned left again. The road cut to the right and went straight up.
My memory of last year’s route came back. I’d forgotten about it until this point. (Was this a sign of senility?) The first half of the course was fast and flat, the second half slow and uphill.
One uphill climb came after another and another and another. That astounding average time dropped like a rock. I recalculated my potential finish time. Getting a PR looked suspect.
At mile 56, we crested a hill, turned a corner, and faced another uphill. I requested an increase in power from my legs.
“No,” they answered.
“Let’s go. Only three miles to go!”
“No!” they shouted louder.
“Mind over matter!”
I felt a little twinge in my left hamstring.
“Feel that?” they said.
“Keep asking us to push harder and we’ll initiate cramps that’ll make you cry.”
“Can we make it to the finish line?”
They conferred. I couldn’t hear what they said.
“We’ll pedal at a rate we deem capable. But if you send a message to increase the power. It’s over.”
Or, depending on your perspective, I surrendered to their demands.
With no energy left, I spun light gears and pedaled fast. I tried to sneak into groups, but they were either going too fast or fading faster than I was. I dropped my forearms onto the tops of the handlebars and tried to make myself as small a target for the wind as possible. It didn’t help that I faced a headwind.
I continued to check the time. I still might get a PR. As long as my legs kept up their end of the deal.
The last mile or two contained a multitude of turns. Every time I came around a corner, I hoped to see the finish line. I didn’t. I wanted to be done and off the bike. Finally, we rounded a corner and the finish line appeared. I tested my legs to see if they had anything left.
I spun the pedals faster in a smaller gear and crossed the finish line 6 minutes faster than the previous year. A new PR.
I’m not sure how I did it.
46 might not be the new 26, but it ain’t 56 either.