Friday, November 18, 2011

November Birthday

I celebrated my birthday recently. For several days leading up to the big day, I was not feeling healthy or strong. I did a treadmill run (my first run in 11 days) last Thursday and again on Monday. But I cut short the Monday run because my back hurt and I had an abdominal cramp. Last Saturday I hurt my shoulder simply by angling my arm awkwardly while taking off my shirt. It had not fully healed by Tuesday when I tried doing a swim. Freestyle was out, but I could do breaststroke and backstroke. But I cut short the swim because my feet were cramping up. I was really fatigued and felt like doing nothing. So on Wednesday I went into the office for a couple hours and then came home to rest. I figured I had a virus that was affecting my joints and muscles. As I lay on the couch watching a movie (Contact by Carl Sagan), I realized that maybe I wasn't sick. Instead, maybe I was worried about my birthday and turning a year older. Yep, that was it.

I am another year older. The aforementioned shoulder injury is chronic and while I can be pain-free for months at a time, it keeps coming back several times a year. The muscle cramps are sometimes harmless, but sometimes not. If my calf cramps up, it does so with such great force that the muscle is damaged and it takes a week for the leg to heal and for the pain and stiffness to go away. My mother has this problem, too, so there isn't much hope that I will avoid it as time goes on. My body is aging and I can't stop it.

I also feel left behind by my age. Given my love for and skill in swimming today, I wonder what I could have been had I started swimming at a much earlier age. I seriously feel that I could have been an All-American swimmer or maybe even an Olympic swimmer if I had gotten the training as a boy. My body is made for swimming. I've also started doing triathlons this year. I love them! My training partner and I have somewhat joked about doing the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii before we reach the age of 40. He and I can dream about it, but neither of us has the time to train for something like that. As hard as I work to keep to a workout schedule, my job requires me to work at odd times of day and on weekends, and so I can't make fitness part of a weekly routine. I just do it when I can fit it in. This is perhaps the most frustrating thing of all, because one big motivator for me with regards to being an athlete is that I am in complete control of this aspect of my life. I direct what activity I will do and how long I'll do it. If I want to get faster, stronger, thinner, or bigger, I know what I have to do to make the goal happen. But that darn job gets in the way. Or an injury. Or foul weather. Or the end of daylight saving time.

All of the above were the thoughts that crossed my mind as I lay on that couch earlier in the week. Woe was me! Of course, as soon as I realized that I was feeling this way, my mood improved. Obviously I was being silly. Age 37 is not the end of life or any limit to reaching fitness goals. Sure, my responsibilities at work will get in the way of training. Or an injury. Or foul weather. But all these are temporary set-backs. I have the love of fitness now. I love triathlons and swimming and riding my new road bike. A birthday will not take this love away. In fact, a steady progression of birthdays is what has allowed me these opportunities. At age 32 I had never commuted to work by bicycle. I do that now. At age 33 I had never lifted weights. I do that now. At age 34 I didn't know how to swim. I compete on a swim team now. At age 35 I had never ran a 5K race or competed in a triathlon. I run on a regular basis now, and I've done three sprint-length triathlons. The swim team and the 5Ks and the triathlons have helped me make new friends. If I had died at age 32 I never would have experienced these things. So now as I look forward to my upper 30s and 40s, I wonder what amazing things I'll get to do. It's a grand journey and a little shoulder injury, muscle cramp, backache, late night at work, or snowstorm will not get in my way for long.

My most recent 5K race took place in an October snowstorm. Clearly I'm now addicted to athletic competitions.
So what will age 37 (technically my 38th year) bring? I am a little wary to make predictions, but I know I'll be running longer distances, cycling over steeper hills, and swimming faster. I plan to do a 150-mile bike ride with my friend Dan. He and I will also sign up for at least three sprint triathlons, and I really want to do an Olympic-length triathlon, too. If I accomplish any one of those goals it will be enough to brag about a year from now when I celebrate my next birthday.

For the record, as a 36-year-old, I:
ran  98 miles,
biked 476 miles, and
swam 105 miles.
These totals include two competitive bike races, two sprint-length triathlons, two 5K races, and eight competitive swim meets. I plan to do more than this as a 37-year-old!