Sunday, July 8, 2012

Back in Training

Unlike my previous life where I used to say “don’t let work interfere with your training,” I’ve let work interfere with my training. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been working out – I just haven’t had an objective. As some of you will remember, my goal has stayed the same, but the road to that goal has changed. Last year, I was going to do an Ironman competition, but work and life got in the way. In the last several months, I’ve simply taken a look at it and I’ve said, “My road to the Ironman is still there, but I’m taking different steps to get there.”

I’ve been unable, though I’ve tried for the past 5 months, to gain entry into a full Ironman event. Because of the demand for entering these competitions, these events are closing out within 5 minutes of going online. My son, however, is doing an Ultraman this year – twice the Ironman distance over a three day span in August. He’s also competing in an Ironman competition in Florida in November. At this stage in the game, even if I was able to get in, I’m not trained well enough to do it.

So I made a decision, two weeks ago, that I was going to enter a half Ironman. I’m back in training. There are two events – Ironman Augusta, GA in September and Ironman Miami, FL in October. I will probably enter for the Augusta Ironman as it fits my schedule better. Ironman Miami occurs around 4 days before the AAMG, a major medical conference, and my schedule will become more hectic, so it’s more reasonable that I would attend Ironman Augusta.

That being said, I have now revised my training to compete in a half Ironman - a 1.2 mi swim, 56 mi bike ride and 13.1 mi run. I’m very confident that over the next 14 or 15 weeks, I can get ready for a half Ironman and be somewhat competitive.

As my dad used to say, “If you keep getting older, all of your competitors will die out.” So I’m doing that. He used to win events when he was 75; that’s when he won his first gold medal in the Senior Olympics. I haven’t gotten to that age yet, but I understand what he meant now – eventually all of your competitors will die out, so you have to win something. If you live long enough. That’s what I’m banking on. If I live long enough, I may not get to Hawaii until I’m 100, but I’ll get there.

In all seriousness, though, I get questions all the time. “Why do you want to do stuff like this when you’re 71? What’s the purpose? What are you trying to prove? Why don’t you just eat bonbons and sit on the beach?”

For me, the answer is pretty simple. The major thing that I’ve learned since starting preventive medicine 31 years ago, and teaching people about exercise and nutrition for over 40 years now, is that more and more, the key to success for everyone who’s interested in staying healthy is to either rekindle within themselves the athlete that they were when they were younger, or, if they weren’t athletic when they were younger, to become an athlete during the aging process.

One of my recent patients never rode a bicycle on the road. He’s now one of the top cyclists in Florida at the age of 55, and he just started 2 years ago. I think that we all were, at one time, athletes. I think that every one of us, at one time, dreamed of winning the gold medal at the Olympics, or becoming the best at something athletic. Maybe it wasn’t competitive athletics, but becoming the best ballerina. It almost always has to do with something physical.

The more we get into looking at competitors, the more we see how important athleticism has become. Everyone knows that 20 years ago, tennis players didn’t run, cycle and lift weights. 15 years ago, golfers never paid attention to strength training until Tiger Woods showed them that fitness was a key component to his ability to hit the ball out of a thick rough farther than anyone else, simply because he’s stronger and more fit. Now everyone is training like athletes, even golfers, though golf is not a particularly athletic sport. It now requires you to be athletic in order to be competitive. Racecar drivers run and lift weights. Every athlete has learned that there is an advantage to cross training. The Ironman, or triathlons, are, in my opinion, the ultimate in cross training. It requires that you swim, upper body aerobic conditioning; you bike, lower body aerobic conditioning; and you run, using all the muscles in your body. You have to lift weights and be flexible, so yoga and weight training become an important part of your regimen. 

At my age, at 71, if I’m going to be able to complete a 2.4 mi swim, a 112 mi bike ride, and 26.2 mi run, I’ve got to be more disciplined about how I train. One of the things this has taught me is that the gift of doing the Ironman in 1984 really was a gift. I was taken out of athletic competition because of an injury – I was hit by a car and had to stop competing. It’s a lot harder training to do an Ironman now than when I was 30 or 42, but while it’s harder, it’s also much more meaningful for me. I cherish the ability to still to get on a bike and compete. 

Now I have a very competitive tri-bike that I ride. I’m faster, and stronger, than I was a year ago, or even two years ago. It’s a lot of fun to know that you can bring it back.

For everyone, I think that you should pick a goal. Pick a goal and become an athlete. It could be a one mile walk for cancer, or a charity bike ride where you’re doing 10 miles, or even 5 miles. No matter what it is, make it playful. I don’t want this to sound serious. The reason I do it is because I feel like a kid. I get my cycling hat on, my helmet, and I go outside and I play. It sounds silly, but it’s true. When I was 8 years old, I played baseball every single day and I sat outside waiting for somebody to play baseball with me. Now I’m 71 and I’m waiting for someone to invite me on a bike ride.

Keep it playful, but remember that there’s a real benefit to being athletic during the aging process. If we can get everyone in the country to get back to sport, it would be the best gift we could give ourselves. I really want all of you to send me questions and give me an opportunity to answer them. Anytime you want to come and join me in an event or a training event, let me know and I may let you in. That’s my message for today.

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