Recently I started trail running, mountain biking and paddling after a three-year hiatus. My focus has been on hiking with my dog these past few years, but due to medical problems with his eyes my dog can’t hike much lately, which makes me sad. I thought I would console myself by getting back into some of my old sports.
So far there’s been nothing consoling about it whatsoever. It’s been painful. The short, neighborhood dirt road bike loop that used to be my “slacker ride” for days when I didn’t have much time or didn’t feel up to making much effort now takes me an hour and a half and exhausts me. Running is even worse; each time I run I have to take the next two days off while my creaky knees recover, and there’s a suspicious nagging pain in my Achilles tendon.
Everybody complains about getting old, and I know it’s not supposed to be any easier for me than for anyone else. But I was practically a full-time endurance racer for a number of years, even though I was never elite, and it’s hard to accept that I don’t have it in me anymore. My past experience also leads me to overestimate what I can do, so I end up hurting myself even more.
Today, as I walked my bike up a steep hill that I used to ride with ease, I thought about why this sort of thing is such a psychological difficulty. I think it’s about having to lower the bar. In our work, we get used to always raising the bar, setting higher and higher standards for ourselves as we become more learned and experienced in our fields. I have no doubt that I’ll get better and better as a trainer, writer and facilitator right up until the day I can’t do it anymore because I’m too old to travel or can’t remember people’s names. But when it comes to recreation, I have to keep lowering my standards of performance and accepting that I’m slower and weaker.
If there’s a lesson in all this, it’s to never, ever take a break again until I’m ready to quit for good. Getting back on the horse is just too damn hard.