Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Tao of Physiques

In a town full of Olympians and elite athletes, sometimes it is hard to keep up.  There are so many levels of greatness, strength, ability and dedication it is hard to realize sometimes that we all are even participating in the same sports. How many times have I been climbing steadily on my Mountain Bike only to have some lycra clad, twenty-something, hammer head - blow right by me.   I’ve been boot packing hard to a slack-country peak, in raging cross wind blizzard, only to be passed by Bodie and Schlopy, who dropped their skis at the top, clicked on, and dropped in without missing a beat.  I’ve been skating confidently out on the track only to have Billy DeMong pass me like I was standing still.  Even my good old slow-twitch friends can lock in on a climb on their bikes or skis, for hours at a time, while I will eventually lose focus, interest and energy.  And it is not just age.  I know dozens of old folks in their 60’s and 70’s who can put me to shame; any sport, any time, any day.  Who are those guys?

After 35 years of this lifestyle, we old school guys are a little beat up and worn out; ridden hard and put away wet, too many times.  This routine is hard on a fellow and the winters can sometimes wear you out.  My back can get so stiff and stoved up from overexertion, or that first deep cold snap, that I now walk around like Festus or Uncle Joe.  We have, however, learned to pace ourselves.  We have learned what we are good at and when we are good at it.  I know that I am much better in the morning, at anything.  Noon is good but by 2 PM I am a brain dead, physically unmotivated, basket case.  When I go out on a morning hike or a ride and I am filled with enthusiasm and good ideas but by the afternoon, if I’m still at it, I become disconnected and I feel like I am slogging in the Bataan Death March. 


 I have realized that I am an interval guy and not a long distance endurance athlete.  I’ve got friends that feel if two laps or two hours of exercise is good, then five or seven must be better.  They are just getting going when the sun is going down.  I love that and respect them but that is not me.  To me life is best done in intervals, with a critical rest period in between. Sometimes the rest period is the most important part of a work out, when muscles build and grow    I love to exercise every other day, to enjoy the rest day, feeling fresh every time from the diversity of doing other things.  No heavy legs or bored heads. 

Every sport we do has a built in micro interval rest that makes long distance endurance possible.  We rest one leg with every step we take when we walk and run.  Every bike pedal stroke has a rest time or at least a time when we activate other muscles to let the primary ones rest, if only for a micro second.  When we ski we weight the downhill ski primarily and unweight the uphill ski slightly to let it rest while it helps us carve on an outside edge.  When we Telemark we load our front ski and let the back one dangle slightly, resting and subtlety helping the carve while initiating the next turn.

It is much like reading music or playing your favorite song.  The music is great but it is the quite parts in between, the rest notes, that set the time and tempo and tone of a song.  Everyone loves the song with the funky break.  Every crescendo needs a decrescendo.  Many great visual art works have their blank or negative space that accentuate and focuses on the main components.  It is the bland background that makes the Mona Lisa smile.

It works for our brains as well.  If I over focus on a difficult task for too long, I get lost, dazed and confused.  I take a break and go for a walk or talk with someone, or even take a bike ride or a swim, to incubate.  I can come back and all the pieces of a problem can fall into place effortlessly.  Sometimes. 

Politically we tend to swing on a pendulum between right and left, to give us alternating breaks from overbearing ideology or a monopoly on which way the country is leaning for we are mostly centralists who just see things from a different perspective.  Or socially with good friends, it is good to take an emotional rest from them now and then.  Even with our own families, sometimes the best time is time spent apart where we can recharge for some future quality time.  I love to do biennial trips with family and friends instead of annual classics because doing something every year gets boring and repetitive and besides, there is so much to do in this world that if you focus on annual trips you won’t have time to do anything new or different.

Be who you are.

The point is we need a little more consideration for moderation and the moderates, the rest and the spaces in between. We need to appreciate the dilettantes and the dabblers, the underachievers and non-achievers, those who stop and smell the roses, just get B’s or come in fourth place and are comfortable with it.  Let’s hear it for those who are not necessarily the brightest and the best, obsessively driven by their passion and dreams, who are not unyielding fanatics, who don’t need to be wrong or right, who don’t really care who wins or losses, who are content to just be.  It has taken me years to realize and to admit to myself that it is my nature, it is who I am.

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