Let me explain. I am coming up on (yet another) birthday. The odometer, as they say, is turning over – again. While this birthday isn’t a milestone per se, it does represent an increasing digit that seems to happen faster and faster every year.
A funny quirk about the governing body that oversees all things triathlon is that participants must race as the age they will be on December 31st. My birthday falls in November, so for most of any giving racing season , I race under the age category I’ll only actually be for 42 days of the year.
On the one hand, this makes it very easy for me to adapt to the increasing number. For example, I’ll be 54 soon. I’ve been used to saying I’m that age and having the world see it (in the form of the age group identifier number that gets temporarily inked on my calf when body marked at triathlons). So, 54 doesn’t bug me so much.
What bothers me a little bit more than I have cared to admit until now is that on January 1st, 2013, I’ll have to race as a 55 year old (the age I’ll be on December 31st, 2013). Fifty-five is one thing. The other – and more frightening thing – is that I also move up Age Group categories next year.
Sayonara, Age Group 50 – 54. Welcome(?) to Age Group 55 to 59.
So why is this such a frightening proposition? It comes back to my being delusional.
You see, triathlon tricks me in to thinking that I am much, much younger than I really am. All that swimming, biking and running, along with some yoga and strength training thrown in, provides for me a little “cover” of agelessness.
When I’m in the pool or on my bike or trotting down some path, I believe that I’m just as capable – make that more than capable – than my 15, 20 or even 30 year old self.
My best and most treasured friend and triathlon partner – Natalie -- is 20 years younger than me. I never, ever feel a difference in our age when we are training. (I do usually feel a pang of envy when she kicks my butt by running , pedaling or swimming faster).
How can it possibly be that I’m going to be 54? How can it possibly be that I’ll be racing against other women between 55 and 59? (And, how, how ,HOW can it be that I’ll still be finishing mid-to-back-of-the pack thanks to some incredibly strong and fierce athletic machines with names like Jan and Helen, among others?)
Thanks to triathlon (and eating well, not drinking (anymore) and trying to get enough rest), I feel totally ageless, fully strong and luckily healthy. Unlike many of my non-athletic friends, I’m not on medication (except for occasional use of an inhaler used to address some very minor asthma issues); I’m not winded when I have to walk up a flight of stairs and I’m not wearing mom jeans or appliqué shirts. (Not that there is anything wrong with that….).
What triathlon can’t help though, is some of the wonders of nature wrapped in the aging process like sagging skin; more jiggle than not; and the need to see my hairdresser every six weeks to wisk away the grey. The external changes – and the rapid pace of them -- are the things that shock me the most.
I sometimes ponder the fact that, when Natalie is my age, I’ll be 74 – going on 75. And that these next 20 years will undoubtedly wiz by faster than the last twenty.
Nat will undoubtedly still be racing in 2032. If I’m lucky, I might be able to squeak out some sprints or may be an Oly or two.
I sure hope so.
Triathlon has given me so much. Besides physical strength, it has given me a huge sense of accomplishment and self confidence. I’ve made great friends. I’ve had the luck to train and work with a couple of wonderful Coaches; I’ve raced some great venues; I’ve experienced the beauty and wonder of seeing the world from the middle of a lake, out in the middle of farmland, and in the heart of a big city – sometimes all in the same day!
I know myself better though. In twenty years, the likelihood of me looking okay in a wetsuit (or not getting slowed down by my non-aero batwings flapping in the breeze), is pretty slim. I may just have to watch my friend race, while I just stand on the sidelines ringing a cowbell.
That is when I hope my delusion keeps up its pace with me. I hope I can “trick” myself in to believing that what I look like out on the course matters less than how I FEEL out on the course.
I’m just not a “sidelines-bell-ringing” kinda girl.