Sunday, November 18, 2012

Why I am Delusional...

One word:  Triathlon.

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.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The New York Marathon that wasn't....

In case you were wondering how the weekend went….

As many of you know, Warren (my husband) and I were on deck to run the New York Marathon last weekend.   I got in via the lottery and Warren was running via the charity runner program running for UNICEF.

It would have been Warren's second marathon and my 11th.  We spent the summer and fall training together (Warren ran with me as I was getting ready for Ironman Wisconsin and then continued to train after Imoo was over….)   Our goal was to run the race together, not worry about our time and to just have fun.

Enter Hurricane Sandy.

After the storm hit the east coast, we debated for a long time about going to run the race.   Race and city officials assured us that the race would go on, but we weren't sure that this was the right time to run the race…. That if the race did in fact happen, there would be a cloud over it.  

We finally decided to go (everything was already paid for; we'd either run or not, but either way, we'd have a very interesting experience).

We arrived in New York on Friday afternoon.  We stayed near Times Square and, from our location, you would not have known there had been a storm.  Everything above ground from 39th Street up  was running smoothly.  There was power, food, water, cell coverage. 

The local news was very much 24/7 Sandy coverage.    The areas hardest hit were lower Manhattan, Staten Island, and parts of Queens/Long Island.   It was hard to imagine the water, the sand and the damage unless you saw the footage.

We were just leaving for a UNICEF-hosted dinner when officials announced the cancellation of the race.   Warren and I just looked at each other and shrugged.   What was there to do?   On the one hand, we were disappointed but on the other, much bigger hand, we both understood this was the right decision.

Now on to Plan B.

We went to the UNICEF dinner and met some really incredible people from all across the world that had trained and raised money.  About half of the runners were doing New York as their very first marathon.  Again, people were disappointed, but everyone understood the reasoning for cancelling the race.   The organizers let the runners know that the money raised was already being put to good use, funding projects aimed towards immunizations and providing clean water.   During dinner, NY locals filled others in on volunteer opportunities available throughout the city where we could help those that had been impacted by Sandy.

So on Saturday, Warren and I walked down to lower Manhattan and volunteered for several hours.  We helped provide food and water to people (mostly elderly) that lived in high rise apartments.  Their electricity had just been turned on that morning, so they could finally get out of their apartments.  Again, we met some really terrific people -- other volunteers and those in need -- who were kind and generous and only wanted to help. 

Sunday, the UNICEF team met in Central Park, where we joined thousands (literally) of other runners that created an impromptu run.    We ran loops of the park (which was the original marathon course, back in the day).    Runners from all across the world, along with wheelers and Achilles Runners (those who are disabled) and their guides were there.   We also had many, many spectators along the course that cheered us on and provided water (on their own dime).  It was a very special event.

While not the race we expected, Warren and I were able to accomplish what we set out to do:  we ran together, we didn't worry about time; we had fun.  It was a very interesting experience indeed. 

We also had one additional benefit we didn't plan for, but which made our weekend:   we had the chance to give back a little, providing a little time, some kind words and a little cash (in the form of donations to relief organizations).

Thanksgiving is coming up.   Personally, this is my favorite holiday.   I get to spend time with family, have a meal I love, and still usually find some time to reflect back and to be grateful for the gifts that have come my way:  health, friends and family, a warm house.    I'm thankful that I have the means to help others in need and I encourage you to give back in ways that you can to the people/places/organizations that are meaningful to you.   I'm willing to bet that you'll receive much more in karmic returns than you ever could have expected.

You will all be on my gratitude list this year….   Just so you know.