Friday, October 12, 2007

With age comes difficulty

my orange bike

***

When I ran high school cross country a couple decades ago, training began three or four weeks before school started. We ran three miles, then five, then seven.

By the time school started and the cross country season was underway, we were running brutal workouts at least five days a week, competing full-bore in races, and running eight to ten miles after school a couple times a week.

For me, progress was rapid and there were few, if any, injuries. There were even some long runs during which my mind would wander and sometimes I would almost forget that I was running. I was just breezing along like a jackrabbit across the mudflats of San Mateo.

Boy, how times have changed. Those mudflats are now occupied by Oracle buildings and parking lots. I don't even want to ponder what happened to those jackrabbits.

Now everything is much more difficult. A brief foray into running a few months ago came to an abrupt end after I experienced a sudden onset of knee pain. For a couple days I hobbled around and could barely even ride my bicycles. That concerned me greatly, because bicycling is my main form of mental and physical therapy at this point in my life.

Fortunately I recovered and a short time later I finished overhauling my new road bike. I decided to give up running, preserve my fragile knees and stick to the low-impact exercise provided by my two-wheeled machines. And so began what I call my “bicycle experiment.”

The idea is simple – to make myself ride faster. I do so by recording the average speed and time for my rides. Then I try to beat those numbers. I hope to show steady progress over a period of time and eventually enter some bicycle races. My goal is to simply be a respectable competitor who can keep up with the pack.

Unlike my cross country experience of the 1980s, the progress now is slow. A month’s worth of numbers (most of which I didn’t post on this blog) show a gradual improvement in speed, or maybe not. It’s hard to tell because there are so many variables – headwind being one of the major ones.

The most common ride is what I call the Short Stack. It’s an 11.5 mile ride from my house, to the Airport Business Park, around the loop for five miles, and back.

My average speed for this ride was 18.1, 18.6 and 18.1 last week and the week before.

Then on Wednesday I maintained an average speed of 18.5, which I thought was pretty good being that I felt extremely lethargic and kind of crappy. Heck, I almost didn’t go for a ride and felt like I was catching the cold bug that’s going around.

On Thursday, I was huffing and puffing, sweating and cursing, and was able to maintain an average speed of 19 mph! That might be slow to others, but it was my fastest yet on that route. If I can repeat this record in the next week or two, I’ll be happy.

Then I’ll shoot for 19.5 and, eventually, 20.

I’ll also hope for no injuries. A couple weeks into this experiment, I developed a serious wrist pain. It hurt like hell. The problem: A new style of handlebar resulted in muscle strain.

That’s pretty fucking lame and not something one expects from simply changing the type of bicycle one rides. But one could suffer worse insults, like this week when a can of frozen orange juice rolled out of the freezer, hit my bare foot and left one of my toes black and blue. The pain and swelling eventually subsided, but for awhile it felt like a major trauma. I could barely walk across the room. I spent one evening applying an ice pack to my toe and popping aspirin.

And so it goes. As you get older, there are more pains and aches and everything is a little more difficult than it was before.

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