Sunday, June 19, 2011

Am I in the best shape of my life at age 45?

This is a little long but it may be found worth reading by some (I do), so bear with me on this one...

I asked myself this question as I was running the lake Fayetteville trail (5.5 - 6 miles long) this morning. For some, avid runners and bikers, it's a piece of cake. Others take it as a nice place to go for a walk. And I guess everything in between too.

I never enjoyed or liked running. I did it in my early years because of sports (it is required as a warm up for soccer, volleyball, basketball or whatever physical activity you are into, right?), so I actually grew up hating it. After finishing college, only sporadic exercise would come my way although I still managed to play volleyball here and there, some even competitive but I ended up becoming a couch potato (lean for the most part, but a couch potato anyway.)

Being absorbed into work, traveling and more work, and the psychological burdens of a world in recession, unemployment, social unrest and the loss of the Miami heat (yeah!!!), it’s easy to lose the balance required for a happy life. I have even battled depression in times when that balance doesn’t seem to be within reach. Happiness is a choice for the most part, but one has to help oneself by means of keeping the level of endorphins up and what a better way than through a bout of exercise (laughter helps but friends and family are not always available, especially when traveling for work.)

After several attempts to go back to a physical activity (tried volleyball again, soccer and weights), I gave up. I realized that the best and easiest way to accomplish this is through, yes, you guessed it: running! I have to admit it; running is easier than soccer. You only need your shorts, tennis shoes and (sometimes) a shirt and yourself. And you can do it on a boring treadmill, the neighborhood, a park, indoors or outdoors. And on any surface!

About three or four months ago, when I started running, it wasn't fun at all. After about 3-4 weeks I had a significant breakthrough by running the whole Lake Fayetteville trail in its entirety in just a little over one hour. Wow I thought. Then I hurt my hamstring muscles and had to abandon running for about 4-5 weeks but started doing bicycle rides hoping to resume running soon after that. When I started running again it was only in very short bouts, 15 - 30 minutes at a time, at least three times a week.

People influence people in different ways. I decided to complete at least one week of daily exercise when my dear friend from Kentucky heard me tell my short story of running and said she got inspired (who inspired who?) It's been a little over a week and have managed to get some sweat every day so, today, father's day, I decided to go back to lake Fayetteville and run it in its entirety for the first time in about 7 weeks since my hamstring injury. Here is what happened.

Right before 7 am, I got to the veterans park and started running with the usual routine: going clockwise from the veterans park, through the dam and the boat dock area, then the frisbee golf course which is only about one fifth to one fourth of the whole loop.

By this time I try to distract myself from the thought of feeling tired. I try to concentrate on the noises around, usually birds and some bugs, but also the occasional dog and even the traffic on the highway nearby -can't see it, but can hear it). There is a section with some pine trees where you can perceive that typical smell of trees of this family and that is another diversion from my thoughts of tiredness).

The copperhead passing bridge is about half way through and by that point my attention also includes the flowers and weeds that grow along the trail. There are all sorts of plants, from lupines, red and white clovers to grasses and other graminacea (grass and cereals included in this family) species, including something that looks like wild oats and wheat. Of course there are some thistles in bloom (beautiful flowers from those buggers.) This kind of mental diversions really take away thoughts of quitting because I'm tired by that point...and I really enjoy seeing the changes in vegetation from one week to another. I can’t wait for the capulin trees to bear ripe fruits, which, to my advantage, it seems that nobody pays attention to (not even Hispanics as this tree is widespread in the central part of Mexico)

I took the unpaved part right about the 3.75 mile mark and within a couple of minutes, I was right behind the botanical gardens (for those who do not know the Lake Fayetteville trail, come along, it's very nice and, with a stop at the botanical gardens, it offers at least three hours of nice view and the opportunity to learn some botany at the gardens, so come along!) It was here where I heard some noise and movement that at first, thought would be a rabbit. When I turned to see what it was, it was a nice looking, healthy doe (a female deer) that got surprised by my "sudden" presence (she might have been a little deaf as didn't hear my puffing coming; and she didn't get my scent either...I wonder if this was a sick deer now... ;)

Deer is one of my favorite animal species and seeing this one within ten yards, I even thought of stopping to watch this beautiful animal (nice excuse, eh?) I overcame the temptation and continued running as I felt I was closing up to something. The park had already some people around so I thought traffic was already cleared the path from that kind of critters but it didn't. As I continued going through the woods, I felt some spider webs on my head, a sign that not much traffic has come through this section at this time of the day (or hikers/runners shorter than me had come through.)

I got to hear a woodpecker as I was approaching the end of the trail. I find amazing the intensity of the noise these birds make when carving the holes on trees, with only their beaks and being such small birds (for the noise they make.)

By the time I got back to the veterans park, and thus the end of my loop through Lake Fayetteville, I checked the time and realized I had done just a little over 55 minutes!!! Not a big deal for experienced runners, but quite a breakthrough for me who just started running and is 45 years old and had not done this trail in less than an hour before.

So, coming back to the original question of this blog, and considering my short running experience and the enjoyment I get through this trail and the boost in feeling well, I will say yes, I am in the best shape of my life at age 45.

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