Fighting FiftyNovember 5, 2010
I am turning 50 in a few short weeks. That number, 50, seems so huge to me. I don’t feel 50 and I certainly don’t want to be 50. But the reality is that I can’t prevent this birthday from coming. I didn’t have any trouble turning 30 or even 40. But the prospect of being 50 has really thrown me for a loop.
For most of this year, my 50th year, I have been rebelling against crossing the threshold into my 50’s. About 7 months ago I came up with a plan to prove to myself that 50 isn’t old, that I am still young enough to accomplish physical feats of endurance. I also decided to make additional changes to my diet. I might not be able to prevent growing older, but I can live in a way that allows me to live better and to be healthier.
I gave up all red meat 4 years ago, becoming a semi-vegetarian, and only eating limited amounts of fish and chicken. Earlier this year, as part of my anti-aging campaign, I decided to give up all animal products, including eggs and dairy. I also added more grains to my diet. The transition to a vegan diet wasn’t as hard as I had imagined. I enjoy cooking and found many great vegan recipes to experiment with. Now and again I do indulge in some dairy, particularly by adding non-fat milk with a splash of half-and-half to my coffee. But because I have hypothyroidism I can’t eat or drink large amounts of soy. I can honestly say I don’t miss meat.
Some may scoff at these dietary changes but the impact on my health has been quite remarkable. I have more energy, sleep better, and generally feel better. My skin and hair are softer. And I have not gotten a cold or the flu since changing my diet.
In addition to these dietary changes, I came up with a plan to accomplish something big athletically. Initially, I thought climbing a mountain would be quite an accomplishment as well as a physical challenge. I can’t afford to climb Mount Everest (and don’t have any serious climbing experience that would make this a realistic option) and couldn’t convince any of my friends to join me on a trek to base camp or on a guided climb to the summit of Mount Rainier. So, I came up with a plan to ride my bicycle from Palm Springs, California to Tucson, Arizona. Yes, I did say a bicycle! And I knew just the person to join me on this adventure – my sister-in-law.
I had no trouble convincing my sister-in-law to ride 300 plus miles on a bicycle. After all, she has been an avid cyclist for at least a decade if not more. At 66, she is in great shape, rides 3 times a week and takes very good care of herself. I broached the subject with an email “Do you have any interest in a long bike trip, say a ride from Palm Springs to Tucson?” She responded enthusiastically to my invitation. “Definitely!” And so, I had a companion for my adventure. Serious training needed to be undertaken.
This past spring we talked about our training needs. Our goal; work up to riding about 200 miles a week. No easy task. If you ride between 12-15 miles per hour, that meant training 13-17 hours per week on the bike. And given that we would ride close to 90 miles on some days on our trip, we needed to build in several very long training rides.
Some of you might be thinking, “hey, no problem, it’s just riding a bike.” Oh, if it were only that simple. Although riding a bike is a non-weight bearing activity, it requires a lot of leg strength and endurance. Not to mention the discomfort of your hindquarters from sitting on a bike saddle for long stretches of time. I slowly built my training distance and in a few months was regularly riding 30-40 miles per ride. Eventually, I added a long 50-mile ride to my weekly training. In the weeks immediately preceding our trek, I did a long, grueling 70-mile ride over hilly terrain. That was the most challenging and exhausting physical activity I had done up to that point in my life. I was drained from this ride, both physically and mentally. But I made it! I was wiped out the next day and my derriere was chaffed and sore. I began to doubt my ability to complete this trip. Would I make it? Could I really ride 80+ miles in one day and still have energy to ride the next day? I began to doubt myself. And to question the wisdom of embarking on such an adventure.
The week before the trip, my anxiety surged. I was nervous and anxious about stringing together back-to-back high mileage rides several days in a row. How was I going to do this? Would I make it?
To be continued. . .