Legs, Don't Fail Me Now!

I am an athlete. I am, don't laugh. I'm not a good one, but I think anyone who spends time pursuing athletic goals, whether they be professionally or as an age grouper, you get to call

yourself an athlete. The problem is, this picture with all my old gear is a damn good representation of the athlete I am today, and I'd love to know where he went. Gone are the days of pain free {fill in the blank} that I could do every day and excel at. Excel, in my case, is relative. Relative to how bad an athlete I was as a kid.


I played basketball from 3rd grade through 8th, baseball until I was 15 and soccer and track in high school. I sucked at all of them, and my teammates told me often. I feel like I'm not painting the picture of how bad I was. I almost always the worst player on the team. I would start to not suck completely just as I aged out of whatever league I was in and then I sucked brutally all over again, but I didn't care. I just loved to play sports, especially baseball. The upside to being the worst player on any given team was that I usually got put on really good teams to balance out all the star athletes - which was a real boost to my ego - and these teams often won the championship. As much as I sucked, according to league rules, they had to play me. I got at least 1 quarter in basketball (even my mom only played me the minimum when she coached my basketball team for three seasons...two of which we won the championship) and at least 2 innings in baseball (which was never enough for me but more than enough for my teams), so I earned all those cheap, plastic trophies I had sitting on my mantle.


When I got to college, I became a long haired musician who drank and smoked more than I should and who eventually ended up in catastrophic shape. I played one season of baseball and that was the extent of my organized athletic endeavors for a while. In case you were wondering, yes, I sucked in college too. I only played home games (apparently they didn't want to waste the extra gas for the bus to haul my 145 pounds of pure tendons and ligaments around) and I only got two at bats the entire season: a strikeout and a single, so my average was a stellar, non sucking .500!! Aside from frolicking on the quad, the most exercise my lungs received was from running to class because I was late.


Fast forward to my late 20s after a decade of poor habits, I woke up in the middle of the night struggling for air. My doctor told me I had "allergy induced asthma" though I knew the truth; it was the cigarettes. The athlete in me wasn't dead, it was just resting (and struggling for air). It burst forth and took over. I quit smoking and started running. I started running on a treadmill and three times a week. I did this for six months until I torqued my knee somehow, most likely doing squats (my legs, chicken like in stature, are lucky they can hold me up, let alone barbells). Thus began, though, 20 years of running (and running injuries) and eventually triathlon (and triathlon injuries). I pushed my limits with a marathon and a couple of half-ironman races (still time for a full ironman maybe...) though I have found I do better with shorter distances and that is where I excelled, relatively. I was an above average runner and swimmer and a below average cyclist but I had an above average tolerance for pain, and that is what competing in running races and triathlons is; pain, at least if you try to compete. Sure, you can just "do" the race, but it is called a RACE for a reason! I liked to race and I liked to win even more, and while I never outright won a race, I at least was able to place in my age group a few times.

I had some great years and not just because of the competition, though that was good, but because of the camaraderie you build with your fellow racers and others in the community. Alas, it has been a few years since I did a triathlon and even quite some time since I did any races at all. Why? Because I suck again. Or, do I suck again because I stopped racing? That is an uncomfortable realization to come to, because it puts the onus on me when it is much easier to blame the rigors of a soul sucking job and looking after four kids and struggling like any other parent struggles. The truth is, the onus is always on ourselves. To paraphrase what Mark Manson says in his book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, it all comes down to how much you are willing to suffer for what you want to achieve. These days, I am not as willing to suffer as I was in my 30s. I guess I just want to chill a bit. The price I have to pay is that now when I run, I look like an aging wildebeest that has accepted it is going to be eaten by a lion. I lumber along, slower than when I first started running 20 years ago, and everything hurts, most notably, my lungs, knees, ankles, feet, toes, elbows and soul.


Writing this made me nostalgic, so I decided to look back and take stock of my achievements and compare them to what I am capable of now. I am not the best record keeper since I moved a lot so I often threw away a lot of memories, but I have some records from my racing days including

this great website, www.athlinks.com that logs race results from across the world, including mine. I have competed in at least 75 different races, 25 of which were triathlons, between 2002 and 2013 and sadly only two times between 2014 and 2020. Thinking back on it now, I can't believe how many I did and most importantly, how I got up so early in the morning for these aces (seriously, why can't we race in the afternoon like civilized people!) I recorded a lot of the statistics from my races and the times are so far out of my reach these days. I can kiss goodbye running a 6:30 mile (which was an achievement for one with as little natural athletic ability as me) and say hello to a 10:00 or 11:00 minutes a mile from here on out (and only a good day). It seems the lack of competition, along with age related decline (see these studies here, here and here), are working in tandem to wear me down.


While I will never be OK with my decline and I will keep trying to improve with my limited time/energy/desire/talent, I can live with it. I will also get to live with it for a long time because the health benefits of regular exercise such as running include a longer lifespan and reduced disability. The question this raises is do I utilize the time I have gained from the blood, sweat and tears I shed to live a long, healthy (and boring) life , or do I forfeit the extra years I earned by indulging in less healthy endeavors and enjoy a few less years a whole lot more?


Comment and let me know what you think I should do and what you would do, and while you're at it, hit like and subscribe to my blog so you can be the first to know when a new one is available.

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