Feeling Frail (and a Touch of Finding Ultra)

Off into the Alps again for the last of the mountain races I’m participating in this year (and possibly the last official event since it looks like the Wachau marathon will fall victim to chile pepper-related events yet again).

You’d think that someone who does marathons and longer distances would be fit and feeling strong.

Even as such practices make it necessary to push through pain, however, they also make for a greater awareness of one’s being a body. And so, weaknesses become more noticeable: the cold caught after the mountain marathon around the Traunsee lake (nobody said such events themselves were good for fitness), the dearth of core and strength training in favor of endurance running, the recurring neck pain…

Of course, it is also a matter of comparison. Typically, a matter of comparison with imagined figures: It is true that I’m slow compared to professional athletes and even many non-professionals, but the concern raised by a bad day of feeling lousy and somehow weak is a concern mainly just because a part of me thinks that my energy levels should always be high.

Compared to most everyday joggers, runners, hikers,…, I could be, and I generally am, happy with how I’m doing. Even dehydrated and with the backpack on my shoulders, I push on, past so many.

Still, even as I don’t see much of a need to get faster – part of the reason why I choose to participate only in certain events and otherwise just go running by myself is to avoid the pressure to just focus on “personal records” and the like – I would like to get into even better shape, become fitter.

Many who aren’t into fitness think that anyone who goes running must be a fitness nut – and it does simply become part of a way of living, even part of who one is. There is no more “Should I go running today?” Rather, it’s natural. Necessary, even.

And yet, many a runner in their free time may be a slacker during the workday, forgetting that an active life is an entire active life, not just some training time carved out on the side. Moreover, even for someone who is into fitness, it is easy to become so enamored of the one pursuit that others are forgotten. I am a runner, perhaps – but strength training is just as uncomfortable for me as any physical exertion is for someone who’s completely out of shape.

Pain avoidance still works, even as certain kinds of pain have come to be perceived as pleasure… but it contributes to the feeling of a certain frailty, and it may in fact produce imbalances that aren’t exactly helpful.

Witness the neck pain. Obviously, a result of all the time necessarily spent reading and working in front of the computer…  Until I experimented not just with a chair of a different height, and sometimes with working while standing up, but also – quite simply – with a different pillow.

Turns out I thought I slept on my side a lot and needed a pillow adjusting to that and supporting the head. Except, gradually changing, it turned out that sleeping without a pillow is the most comfortable position and avoids the neck problems…

Tired after the Bergmarathon

Especially now that I’m around middle age, the focus on getting better gets stronger.

Maybe it’s just the usual contrarianism – but shouldn’t the rampant rise of overweight and decline of fitness from childhood  (and by now, already in childhood) through middle age and into one’s later days tell us that we’d better take ever-better care of ourselves?!

“Perhaps one of the rewards of aging is a less forgiving body that transmits its warnings faster—not as betrayal, but as wisdom.” —Gloria Steinem

Endurance, strength, learning abilities – they all may peak in the second decade of a life.

Still, endurance is as much a matter of consistent, careful training and mental strength as it is of youthful sprite (if not much more so); strength can be maintained and built up; knowledge can certainly be deepened and expanded further and further… and where’s the fun in living out a script of stupid teenage fitness and exuberance, followed by a daily grind until one is nothing but bone meal, slipping through jobs, and easy fun, and family responsibilities into convenience food in front of the TV, right into despondency and dependence, or just the fade into death?

(At the  beginning of this summer, I read Rich Roll’s memoir “Finding Ultra” – and I think it had quite the effect on my thinking. I’ll put up my thoughts on that in a next post.)

Some of that may happen anyways, aging is not kind – but we can look ahead and do what we can, so why the f*#& should we “go lightly” when there are better ways open to us?

All it takes – as much as that can be – is that we take it on and do something. Something other than denying and ignoring, remaining to caught up in convenience and comfort that we forget all the adventures and experiences that still await us, right as the bodies we are, in the places we live and can move through, in the more we can do and learn.

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