TKOs, Strategic Retreats, Halls of Mirrors and Being Adamantine

It would seem the year that was getting punched in the face has won via technical knockout.  This is not to say goals haven’t been achieved – they have – but it is to say that 2017 has stepped up to take back the idea that while you can fight age, no you cannot fully outrun it.  A seemingly obvious truism, but it is a lesson I think we each learn in our own way.

An ironic lesson perhaps that I started on a fitness journey to be sure that I reclaimed everything I possibly could because I was all too aware that life is short, opportunities come by once and I was determined not to allow Father Time to advance on me without giving myself the best opportunity to enjoy my one trip here.

In June, the year that was getting punched in the face punched back and I was put out of commission for 6-weeks. Made worse by the fact that at the fact that at the beginning of June I was bold enough to say that I was dissatisfied with punching in the face and was going to tear the face off the year.  On the 10th, I had fallen down a mountain.  9 stitches in my forearm and tendon surgery on my foot.  Had I to do it again, I probably wouldn’t continue the remaining 20+ miles of the race, but I was headstrong enough that I was not going to quit.  Hard to know if this was a “win” or if it was failing to accept a strategic retreat.

But that was an accident.  A failure perhaps of training, a failure to pay sufficient attention to what was required of a highly technical trail race.  Perhaps a failure of focus.  It was not a failure due to age.  Anyone taking on that race, under the same circumstances would have suffered the same injuries.  In fact, I feel confident in saying not too many people would have had the fortitude to continue on to finish – for better or worse.  In my mind’s eye, the fact that someone less than 1000 days from age 50 was out there on that course was testament to the idea the Reaper was getting further away in my rear view rather than closer.

This is different.  This is the reality check.  There may be times when the Reaper seems further behind, but that is perception in the hall of mirrors that is life.  After that involuntary layoff, I doubled down on my efforts.  More miles on the odometer.  Faster miles on the odometer. More races on the calendar.  Longer races on the calendar.  I improved personal records on 5k races, 10m races, 50k.  Running more, running faster, running more frequently.

And then, that pain in my heel.  I “knew” at the end of my run what it was.  It wasn’t an ache.  It was acute and localized.  I was pretty sure I had done something to my Achilles.  I was hoping it was a strain.  I ran a few more times, each time my pace suffered, my pain increased.  One last struggle of a run and the accompanying pain the next day, I knew I had to go to the doctor.

IMG_4181

And thus I find myself in an immobilizing walking boot.  My year of goals without fear is over.  I accomplished more than 1100 miles on a plan of 1000.  I ran something like 47 races even while missing more than a few while recovering in June and July.  I failed at some goals, but I succeeded at my most important ones.  It’s important now to focus on what I want to accomplish in 2018, and what this injury means for those goals.  Right now, there’s no surgery planned.  The doctor seems content to give me a few weeks in the boot anticipating that time should give me the time to heal and then work toward strength building.

I took too long to admit it, but I did. Like my experience in June, I tried to solider on and get it done.  Unlike my experience in June, I quit before it cost me more than it already had.  Perhaps a degree of learning or growing up on my part to realize that calling a strategic retreat isn’t an admission of defeat – it’s the appropriate reconsideration of the requirements given changing conditions on the battlefield.

Building an athletic level of fitness is not a means to fully prevent injury or illness.  It is, however, a means to mitigate those injuries or illness.  A runner may in fact be less likely to suffer a heart attack, but that runner is also more likely to have a heart that can mitigate the damaging effects of a heart attack.   Stronger hearts fare far better in both survival and recovery rates.  Because I’ve been running, because my body is strong an injury which may have completely ruptured my tendon 2 or 3-years ago, resulted in a partial rupture.  Why was my tendon prone to rupture? I’m less than 800 days away from age 50.  Time waits for no one, age will come to collect its toll.  The object is to resist.  As any personal trainer knows, resistance creates strength and strength allows further resistance.

The Reaper still remains, hiding somewhere in that hall of mirrors.  Ultimately, he will come to collect his due, but just like everything else in life, putting in the work to prepare for that which may come is the best way to get the best results from any encounter.

I’m determined at this point not to follow the path I followed in June.  I let my nutrition go and gained weight.  I focused on what I could not now do instead of what I could do and my conditioning suffered for it.  I’ve found vigorous activity keeps my emotions in check and keeps my head in all aspects of my Life’s game. I’m a better, more full and interesting person when I have been working out.  I’m determined not to see why I cannot run.  I am determined to see what I can do to maintain fitness while I’m recovering from this setback, what I can do to avoid a similar setback and what I can do to be sure I find the opportunity.  I’ve been duly reminded that I’m not 20 and bulletproof.  I’m screaming toward 50 and far from bulletproof, but I’m in the game.  If I’m to stay in the game, I need to be sure I’m more cognizant of the rules.   It’s all about resilience. Positioning oneself to be able to resiliently face the challenges in front of us is the key.

Doing the work – no matter how slow the results – to position yourself to best withstand whatever form the Reaper presents himself is your best bet for surviving and thriving despite the Reaper’s call, whether that’s wearing your seatbelt, or maintaining heart health and a generally healthy lifestyle.

Sometimes that means a strategic retreat.  Something that’s easier to acknowledge later in the battle than sooner.  In June when I hadn’t  accomplished anything that was hard to hear.  In December, it’s easier.  I’ve done the work, and now I have the perspective.  I’m glad – eternally grateful – that I realized that in the middle of my life, and not in the December.

Advertisements

Keeping It Between the Navigational Beacons

Life itself is a process of navigation. Sometimes we successfully navigate the beacons, sometimes we don’t.  Thankfully, in most of life’s endeavors there’s a pretty significant fudge factor.  Imagine if life were strictly a journey from place to place: in order to get to where you’re going you have to be exactly on point and the slightest deviation will put you a significant distance away.  If you have a 1-degree variance from your intended destination, over 500 miles you’d be more than 8-miles off track.  1-degree!  And that’s if you know where you’re going.  If you don’t have a goal, and just roll with whichever way the wind blows, you’re liable to wake up someday wondering where all the time went and why you haven’t accomplished anything you expected to.

Oftentimes though, the carefully planned path is overly rigid.  Sometimes you want to take a detour and see what else might lie beyond.  Plan that path too carefully, you’re liable to wake up someday and wonder about the path not taken.  If your path requires 100% accuracy – perhaps your assumptions are a little too exact, or require full control over extraneous variables for which there is no way you could possibly account – you’re likely to be very disappointed.

And then there’s all the in-between.  All the space between drifting without a goal and being overly structured.  That’s where I’m thinking about when I say it’s a process of navigation.  It’s the voyage toward the ideal goal along the charted path there.  My life has taken some twists I hadn’t planned for, but sometimes resiliency is the better navigator.  It’s getting by the obstacles that get in your way. It’s about having a destination in mind, but being flexible enough that one, or two, or more roadblocks won’t drive you off course.  It’s about paying attention to how much variance is acceptable and how firm your end goal is: maybe you’re 5-degrees off course but you realize that you’re enjoying where you’re going and decide the heading you’re on is better than the one on which you had planned.  Without that reality check, you wind up somewhere completely different than your expectations.

An article in The Atlantic suggests that the conventional wisdom that with age comes increasing happiness, is changing.  The author posits a couple of different potential reasons for this; the rise of individualism, an absence of emotional bonds.  I’m going to posit my own.  We spend an inordinate amount of time planning and setting expectations.  The generations coming to middle age and beyond now were raised with the expectation that they would do better economically than their parents; and it turns out this may not be so.  It’s about navigating the definition of happiness. We spend a lot of time alone, but very little time in introspection.  We know what we want to do, but we’re planning to get there instead of enjoying the here and now.  We have more capacity to touch more people, but less capacity for those meaningful relationships.  We have the knowledge of the entirety of human history at our fingertips, yet our work often needs little more information than how to press a button.  We give ourselves little wiggle room, and in our highly structured lives, we forget that resiliency matters.

I’m gettin’ paid by the hour, an’ older by the minute.
My boss just pushed me over the limit.
I’d like to call him somethin’,
I think I’ll just call it a day.

That said, the substantive body of generational and of “happiness” research suggests we do become happier as we get older.  The dawning of middle age was difficult for me.  I took a hard correction in course, really thought about what I wasn’t getting out of life, and reset what those expectations were.  What I didn’t do was decide it was all crap and throw it in the trash.

I started this post literally more than 4 years ago.  I have little doubt the direction it would have taken then would be substantially different than where I am today.  I cannot remember a time when I have felt more empowered by having a goal, having built a plan with a significant fudge factor in it, and working that plan. I’m happy with my work; I have a meaningful career I worked hard to cultivate and got lucky to have been in a few right places when it mattered.  I never grew up with a plan of what I wanted to do, I was however one of the lucky ones who found something I was interested in early and followed that path.

So how does one keep it between the navigational beacons?  By keeping the channel wide, by paying attention to the general direction, knowing what the journey generally should look like, and keeping tabs on where we are along the journey.  By finding meaning in what we do every day, instead of finding meaning in the ultimate goal.  The goal isn’t worth getting to if the journey isn’t worth having.

 

 

The Old Woman and Hockey: A Bond

Growing up, I lived across the street from an elderly woman, Minnie. She was the stereotypical “old lady” who just didn’t like kids in a neighborhood just crawling with kids. Frankly, we were all a little afraid of this large, scary woman who really didn’t like us. My family moved to the neighborhood when I was 4, and for the next 6-years I pretty much lived in fear of this woman.

1980 saw the US Olympic Men’s Hockey team defeated the heavily favored Soviet team to advance to play for the gold medal – “Do you believe in miracles?” At age 10, I had no idea what had happened, but I knew it was something big. Jim Craig, the US Goalkeeper, was from Massachusetts and was a bit of a crush for Minnie. To this day, I have no idea how I came to be in her favor, but it was like a thaw had occurred. She began to share with me her significant collection of Sporting News back-issues, and fostered in me a love of the Boston Bruins. What a pair we must’ve been – the elderly shut-in and the junior high student standing together on her front porch, with nothing apparently in common, talking about the Bruins.

I don’t think I ever learned the origin of this love of hockey – whether it was simple infatuation with the hometown hero or if it went back to a childhood in the Canadian Maritime Provinces – but it was real and it was genuine. She taught me to love Rick Middleton and Terry O’Reilly…and the Bruins.

She did not live to see the 1987-1988 Stanley Cup Finals, and perhaps it is just as well given the way her beloved Bruins fell to the Oilers, in 4 ½ games. With the arena air-conditioning battling to control the rising temperature, the electric system in the Boston Garden became overtaxed and ultimately failed. The 3-3 game was canceled in the second period. In the next game, the Oilers won their 4th Stanley Cup on home ice.

I thought about her the day of Game 7 of the 2010-2011 Stanley Cup finals. I can picture her large frame in a drab housecoat and slippers cheering on Tim Thomas, Shawn Thornton, David Krejci, Zdano Chara, Milan Lucic, and Mark Recchi, although I can also imagine her sometimes ribald commentary about how to actually pronounce some of the names and asking “exactly what is a ‘Canuck’ anyway?” There might even be a play on the phonemes that the slang for “Canadian” and the slang for carnal activity share in common, although I cannot say for certain. I got to share a bond with this woman in a way that I think she had not allowed herself to share with anyone in a very long time.

So here’s to that elderly woman, long since deceased who was doubtlessly cheering on the Black and Gold “B.” Godspeed Minnie, and God Bless.

VIDEO:
Game 4 1987-1988 Stanley Cup Finals: http://youtu.be/7yTVfJNQQiw