Friday, May 24, 2013

Friday Mad Science: On Turning 40.

For the longest time, it’s seemed like I’ve been nearly forty.  At physicals the last couple of years, doc’s have told me, “You’re almost forty now, so you need to start blah, blah, blah...”  I had to get glasses for the first time last year, whereupon one of my friends immediately said, “That’s what happens when you turn forty!”  Hrm.  Well, I may have glasses now, but no power on Earth can make me wear them, it seems.  And finally, this year I even started racing in the 40-44 year old age bracket in triathlons--because age is figured at the end of the triathlon season for some reason--and that just made it more real than ever.  
And now, finally, the day has come and gone at last.  There’s no more hiding from it.
I am 40.
Sally has asked me a couple of times if this triathlon this is really some kind of manifestation of a mid-life crisis.  If I’m trying to prove something to myself.
Like that’s a question.  I mean, of course, right?  It’s always been important to me to live a healthy lifestyle and to be as athletic as I can be, but I could accomplish that easily without the extremes of multi-sport racing.  What I couldn’t accomplish, though, is proving to myself that I’m still the same guy I that I was.  Triathlon drives the point home.
I always tell people that triathlon is a journey, not a destination; that you don’t sort of accomplish the sport, and then that’s the end of it.  Rather, it’s a way of life, with a few races thrown in to provide focus.  And if you care about that sort of thing, the races become a measuring stick for your performance--against your athletic peers and your own past lives, your former selves.  Your glory days.  I guess my point here is that while it may be true that the way of life is still the important part--the point is still to stay in shape and live a fit and healthy lifestyle--the fact is that more and more, I also want to succeed against the yardstick of history, too.  I want to be who I always was, even though reality says that life and circumstances change everyone.
Anyway, I feel good.  Sometimes really good.  
I may never be the same swimmer that I was--that’s been true for nearly two decades now--but I can still do what I want, and there are still times when my body responds like it’s seventeen.  Those moments still feel as golden as they ever did.  But there are also limits, and I find that if I don’t respect them, if I don’t use both my brain and my athletic discipline, injuries are assured.  It’s frustrating, but it’s also truth.  It’s not enough to just want it and to be willing to work for it any more.  These days I have to be smart about it, too.
All of which has me thinking a little about what it means to be forty and to still be some kind of athlete.  Not a professional athlete.  Not a guy on scholarship or one of the Academy’s Corps’ Squad teams.  Not somebody who gets his name in the papers after winning the local championship.  But an athlete, still.
These are some of my thoughts on turning forty.
1.  As I said, I feel good.  I can still do what I want and even perform at a high level, but these days I have to be careful about allowing myself enough downtime to recover afterwards.  Rest is essential if I don’t want to get injured, especially when I work with any real intensity.
2.  The corollary is to that I mostly don’t work hard.  Instead, I work at a modest, even boring, pace.  Because then I can recover quickly, and that allows me I can get out and work again tomorrow.  But it sucks because I’m naturally a mid-distance guy, and like working hard.
Eddie George is a famously accomplished
practitioner of yoga.
3.  Stretching is important.  Vitally important.  I never set out to become Bhagwan Rajneesh, but the truth is that I like yoga, and it helps keep me healthy and working rather than injured and on the sidelines.  It’s depressing how dedicated I’ve had to become to it, but being active and actively involved in yoga beats the Hell out of being stubborn and stuck with chronic back and knee problems.  Not for nothing is Eddie George one of my heroes.
4.  I’ve noticed a depressing tendency amongst some of my peers to really put all of their focus into their jobs or their kids.  And I know that a lot of my wife’s friends think that I’m a selfish asshole because I make triathlon a priority, I make time to train on the weekends instead of spending every waking moment at home with my family.  But that seems crazy to me.  Kids learn what they see; they become who we are.  Modeling a healthy, happy lifestyle for them is vitally important.  Bottom line, I don’t want my kids to grow up to be stressed out workaholics, so that’s that’s not the lifestyle I show them through my example.  Instead, I try to keep myself balanced and focused, and hopefully some of that will rub off.
5.  Along similar lines, I’ve started to notice a striking divergence in general overall health between my friends who are forty and active and my friends who are forty and inactive.  It’s scary.
6.  Everybody thinks they’re gonna be young forever, but reality is that you wake up one day, and you’re an adult.  You’ve got the cares of the world on your shoulders and a family to support, and there’s no safety net.  You either produce, or you’re out on your ear.  Against that, you can either have some kind of release, or you can let the stress slowly eat you alive.
7.  I get it when folks throw themselves into their work.  You want to provide the best environment for your kids, and sometimes that means working your ass off to earn a little extra money.  Been there, done that.  It’s not ideal, but sometimes it’s necessary.  What I don’t get is when folks--especially mothers, but occasionally fathers--throw themselves into their kids in the same way.  Especially with the kids, you see the parents out there going crazy, clearly trying to will their kids on to victory where they themselves have fallen short.  It’s the worst kind of vanity, and it drives me crazy.
Here’s a fact: if you want your kid to be a winner, you need to let her see you on the podium.  You need to model the success that you want her to achieve.  
If you set the expectation for success through example, your kids will rise to the challenge.  But if all you do is talk, eventually your kids are gonna figure it out and start blowing you off.  It’s not that your kids can’t or won’t rise above your level of achievement, it’s that being a success is a lot easier when you know ahead of time what success looks like.
8.  Every day isn’t the mountaintop.  But some days are, and you have to be smart enough to know them when you see them.  When you have a good thing going, let yourself be happy about it.
9.  The corollary to that is that even small victories are worth celebrating.  
When you’re twelve, folks can’t wait to celebrate you and talk about what a great life you’re going to have.  When you’re forty, life ain’t like that anymore.
During my last review, my boss said, “Never take a raise for granted, especially in a tough economy.”  That was good advice.
10.  There are very few problems in this world that a good day on the bike can’t fix.  Riding well won’t help you pay your house payment, but it’ll at least make you better able to deal with your circumstances and perhaps give you a little perspective.

Anyway, that's what's on my mind.  Thanks for indulging me.

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