Sunday, February 4, 2018

I Can See the Future

Still processing all the feels from MWC last week.  I went into it knowing I would be outclassed, but didn't really realize the reality of how seriously these women in my age group train, and how hard they compete, and, especially, how much fun they are!  So many lessons, squeezed into one action-packed week that felt like it lasted a month.

My first race was okay, 7.5k classic in a driving snowstorm.  I was last in my age group, but within spitting distance of the two women just in front, and I had a terrifically fun time.  When I crossed the finish line, the announcer proclaimed, "Best smile of the day!"  So that was a win in my book.  The second race, 30k on a relentlessly hilly and technical course, was another story, and I JPQ'ed:
"JPQ:  Whereas DNF exudes a certain panache, evoking images of being pulled valiantly from the course due to missing a cut-off, or needing an IV after puking your guts out, Just Plain Quit applies to us weasels who could’ve kept going, had no physical reason not to, but chose instead to be the littlest piggy."  (anon.)
Never will I forget seeing 91-year-old Charley French stride confidently up a steep hill while I stuttered and stumbled in a slippy-slidey herringbone, vowing to myself, "Next year, bounding!  And learn how to wax!"  Never will I forget women like Betsy Youngman, Gretchen Lindgren, Kate Ellis, and Jan Guenther, flying effortlessly up hills and flinging themselves exuberantly down the other side, taking the sharp corners like a speed skater.  I was pretty disappointed in myself, although I totally deserved it based on the lack of serious committed training I did this year, but it was only one day out of the week.  The rest of the week was just one example after another of vibrant, interesting, competitive, active older men and women who have found the secret of vitality, and I want it for myself!

I got home late Sunday night, mind abuzz with all I had seen and heard, and early Monday morning, when my radio alarm, which is set to NPR, turned on, the first sentence I heard was some researcher saying, "When people turn 65, they start becoming more frail," and I just laughed out loud.  You, Mr. Researcher, are hanging out with the wrong people!  Many of us are at an age where we can choose what road we will follow as we head toward the golden years.  We can, as Mr. Researcher claims, become old and frail and fragile, creeping through our remaining years with wobbly knees and hunched-over backs, uninterested in life, our horizons shrinking and our joie de vivre disappearing.

Or we can choose the path taken by my new friends at MWC, getting stronger and bigger and faster and happier, thriving on competition, excited about the world.   Bill Gifford tells us the secret in his fun new book, "Spring Chicken: Stay Young Forever or Die Trying":
"Physical parameters like strength and VO2 max tend to move in one direction with age: downward. But it’s not the same for everyone. A recent study of aged Scandinavian cross-country skiers found that the older athletes had preserved much of their aerobic capacity, relative to their youthful selves; and they were far ahead of the age-matched control group, a bunch of sedentary older guys who lived in Indiana.  
"Which seems like the ultimate unfair comparison—Nordic ski gods versus Midwestern couch potatoes—but who would you rather be? The skiers had done a better job preserving their ability to pump blood efficiently, the elasticity of their arteries, the suppleness of their lungs. Biologically, they were simply younger. On a practical level, this meant that they had an easier time walking around, climbing stairs, and as Howard Booth put it, participating in life. They’d never stopped using it, so they didn’t lose it."
There are multiple paths to a rich and vibrant old age, but cross country skiing is the one I choose because I love it so much, and because I find it endlessly challenging and fascinating.  And specifically cross country ski racing, with its attendant attention to the ebb and flow of the training year and its focus on intensity and strength, flexibility and balance, not to mention the fact that it happens outside, where the happies are.

There are very few role models for me in my sport here in Seattle, but this week at MWC has shown me the way to my best future, and I am putting myself firmly on that path.  Gonna be fun!

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