Pique N' Your Interest 

The upward spiral

I miss the good old days, my early 20s, when I could take my health for granted and fitness was optional – a few rugby practices to shake off the blubber, and I was good to go. If I made it to the gym once a week in the off-season I felt great, and I always ate whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.

Those days are long gone. As you get older your metabolism slows down and every year it seems to take longer and longer to whip myself into any kind of shape.

I’m not quite at the point where I’m counting calories, watching my daily sodium and cholesterol intake, or adding fibre to my orange juice to flush out the pipes, but I’m not far out.

I just turned 32 a few weeks ago, which means I’m less than a decade away from regular colon exams and heart exams. I’m almost at the age when the risk of heart attacks and strokes tips heavily in favour of people who don’t smoke, eat right, keep their weight down, and do some kind of regular exercise.

By putting in some hard work now and making an effort to eat the right foods at the right time, I’m hoping to be healthy for a long, long time.

But it’s not easy. I’ve always been a kind of hibernator – I start getting hungry in early fall, pack on a few extra pounds as the days get shorter, then relax until spring. It’s never been a problem in the past because I only needed a few weeks to get back to where I was before I let myself go.

These days? I run, I bike, I eat well, but the pounds just don’t seem to melt off like they used to, and my lungs don’t co-operate. So what do I do? I run longer, I bike longer, and I eat even better, all while enjoying everything a little bit less.

The obvious solution for me would be to stay in shape year-round and ultimately that’s the route I’m going to have to take. That means early mornings and late evenings at the gym, giving up my winter diet of nachos and beer, and fighting my natural instinct to seek out the couch.

What makes things more challenging for me is the fact that the definition of fitness is always a moving target. In the last three years, the amount of daily recommended exercise has increased from half an hour per day to an hour and a half. Between work, exercise and sleep I’ll be lucky to get three hours of free time a day.

Exercising has an addictive, upward spiral kind of effect. If you do a 5 km run, you start training for the 10 km. If you run 10 km, you start training for a half marathon. Before you know it, you’re racing P-Diddy to the finish in the New York marathon, feet crying out in pain, band-aids clamped over your bleeding nipples.

Some people have no problem with this kind of fitness commitment because they’ve based their entire life on exercise. They actually enjoy training for marathons, triathlons, Ironman triathlons, and adventure races because it’s their hobby. When they get to the finish line they’re grinning like idiots because they’ve trained their brains over the years to release endorphins when they reach the point of exhaustion.

Me? I already have a few hobbies that I have no interest in changing. I like playing guitar, I like reading, I like writing, I like laying around and listening to music, I like watching movies, I like watching sports, I like cooking and I like eating.

But something has to give in order to be healthy, I just haven’t decided what. My work life doesn’t have any kind of regular routine to it, so it’s hard to get into a routine in my personal life that allows my to exercise regularly.

I also have to learn to love to exercise. Don’t get me wrong, I like exercise, I have nothing against exercise, but I’m not at the point where I get a rush of endorphins at the halfway mark.

Sadly, my main motivating factor these days is fear. In recent years I’ve made a practice of signing up for long-distance events that are truly beyond my abilities, which in turn scares me into training.

This weekend I’m taking part in the Comfortably Numb Trail Running Race, a 25 km trail run on Whistler’s longest singletrack. There’s over 4,000 vertical feet of climbing, followed by a technical descent.

I’ve never run more than 16 km at one time, and despite almost four months of training I never quite got up to the Comfortably Numb distance. This event will be my longest run, pavement or trail, and I have no idea what to expect.

If I do well, I’ve already committed myself to the Rubble Creek Run in September, and possibly running a marathon in the next two years.

I’m not a great mountain biker and my bike isn’t really built for long distances, but I’m also committed to racing the 42 km beginner Cheakamus Challenge Course in the fall.

My results in that event could determine whether I enter the Test of Metal next year, or commit to the full Cheakamus Challenge.

I’ve also committed to doing the 40 km bike leg of the Squamish Triathlon as part of a relay team for a second year, and might do an Xterra off-road triathlon next summer.

Those goals should keep me busy for a few years, and with a little luck my glands and me will finally come around to this whole fitness thing. Fear can only motivate a person so much.

But man oh man, do I ever miss being 20.

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