Just as an unchallenged mind begins to falter, so too, does an unchallenged body.
My attitude toward the fitness/age dilemma has always been one of, just Keep Moving. The logic is, if you hiked/ran/ biked yesterday, chances are you will be able to do it today.
Physically, people usually don't fall off the fitness wagon just because they turn a new decade...40, 50, 60, 70. 70 is the new 50, right? Take Bobbie for example, over 75 and still putting in 45 to 55 (mostly) "trail-miles" a week, not to mention thousands upon thousands of feet in elevation gain/loss. Has she slowed down? Of course, but not near as much as if she wasn't out there every day.
In fact, unlike me, Bobbie rarely takes a day off. Even after a tough week on trails that include tons of elevation gain/loss, her idea of taking it easy is to go out and put in 6 or 8 "flat" miles. What's the secret? Well...
Consistency: She just keeps moving...always has.
Motivation: This has more to do with her desire for quality of life rather than quantity.
Rewards: Sound sleep, sharper mind, improved flexibility, mood enhancement, and gets to eat dark chocolate goodies...which is also mood enhancing :)
It helps to have a few like-minded/committed hiking/walking pals (Ruthie, Bridget, and Yours Truly, to name a few). Exercise partners can really help maintain motivation levels...a key ingredient to success for all achievements. But hey, Bobbie's going to go outside and exercise come rain or shine, snow or blow, with or without company. Hmmm. Perhaps I should add "Discipline" to the list.
So after that dissertation on the how and why...let's get back to Twin Peaks and my timed ascent...from home, mind you, not the trailhead.
We'd had a couple of warm weeks since I was turned around by snow and ice on Twin Peaks steep, north-facing aspects. Thus, I thought maybe it was time to give it another go.
Bad-ass hiker babe, Ruthie, was itching to claim her first summit on Twin Peaks, and I was itching to get my annual spring speed run out of the way before summer's wretched heat moves in...heretofore defined as any temperature above 75 degrees. Fortunately, we got an early start, and right on the heels of a blessed cool front.
I have a love/hate relationship with Old Twin Peaks Trail. Under full sun it can be a suffocating solar smelter. And when it's dry (it hasn't rained for weeks now), it's a tenacious test of traction, stamina, and staying upright. And so it was...a basic hard-pack soil base sprinkled with loose gravel marbles. To make matters worse for a P R attempt, a winter's worth of deadfall laid across the trail. Still, other than obstacles of traction and deadfall, I couldn't have asked for a better day to "put the pedal to the metal," unless there's still snow up high. Sheesh, it's always something...heat, snow, ice, wind, marbles, deadfall...altitude.
Every summer I try to enter into my various collection of P R runs and/or bike rides with low expectations. I blame the "it" factor...an undeniable nagging negative that comes with being another year older.
"It" has many faces (all of them ugly), one of which is the growing frequency of having an "off day," you know, days where, even in perfect conditions and mind frame, you just don't have it. When it happens on a casual hike I can usually push through "it." But on a timed ascent, I'm stuck with "it." "It" is unpredictable. "It" invariably sucks. "It" is the nagging imp in my ear saying, "Not today, buster. Hee hee." I usually find out if "it" is going to show up within 20 to 30 minutes.
My long standing P R for Twin Peaks (from home) is one hour, 39 minutes, and 50 seconds. And by "long standing," I mean a PR that happened when I was considerably younger, and in training for the 17 mile Imogene Pass Race from Ouray to Telluride.
I've come within a few seconds of equalling that P R a couple times. But with each passing year, hope fades. Like I said, low expectations = less disappointment. Simple math for aging athletes who need to adjust to the "brave new real world" of Geezerhood. Still, there's a little boy buried in the deepest secret part of every male's brain that asks the question: What if???
So Ruthie shows up at our front door right on time, as usual, while Hiker Babe Bridget waits for us near the trailhead. I get a little moody and nervous before a timed ascent...especially Twin Peaks, with its 3,000 feet of elevation gain. I felt the familiar tingle of adrenalin rise in my bloodstream, butterflies riot in my stomach, and the general uneasy mix of dread and anticipation.
Strolling down our driveway amid the usual coffee-inspired pre-hike banter among friends, I busied myself with zeroing out a stopwatch and setting my Gaia App to "record." Ugh. Will I ever outgrow this inner caveman syndrome, the curse of inventing new "dragons" to slay in today's absence of real ones? Not likely. Pushing "it," is what I do...what I've aways done. Sadly, it's all I got beyond being tall and fetching items off top shelves for Bobbie and little old ladies at Walmart. "You can sleep when you're dead..." I reminded myself.
Once on Oak Street at the end of our driveway, I hit the "Start/Record" on my stopwatch and Gaia App and used the first couple hundred yards to ramp up to a comfortable brisk, pace. As the Ruthie/Bobbie banter slowly faded from earshot, I withdrew from the buzz of giddy townies and tourists breaking out of "shelter-in-place" mode. Legs complained on the first rise, so I tried to bring to mind something to distract from the labor of love/hate waiting for me. An hour and 40 minutes is a long time to be maxed out.
I shot Bridget, a Twin Peaks veteran, a little wave as I power-hiked by. "The gals are right behind me," I said between gasps. By now, she's acquainted with my "shot out of cannon" starts. Someday I'll "smell roses." Just not today.
Old Twin Peaks Trail was in typical form...steep hard-pack, sprinkled "marbles." It was difficult to get a good push off without slipping backward. Soon I was enveloped by the trail's concave, breezeless oven...a full sun beating down that plunged me into a raging, eye-sting sweat, with a moderate state of anaerobic shock setting in. Slipping and sliding, I fought determined foes, a trifecta of gravity, age, and maybe one too many beers the night before.
Just when I thought "it" was winning out, I found a less taxing rhythm. I granted permission for my mind to take me away, to flit around freely, if nothing else, maybe chase off a few of those butterflies in my stomach. More often than not, a distracted mind can be your best friend when struggling with a P R attempt. Just let it go where it wants, and stream wild random thoughts.
It was so hot I didn't feel particularly fast going up Old Twin Peaks Trail, certainly not on pace with previous times. Still, in stifled air and solar heat, I continued to maintain near 80 percent of max anaerobic threshold while waiting for an ever-recalcitrant "second wind."
Previous P R paces have landed me at the junction of Oak Creek and Twin Peaks Trails in just over 50 minutes. This time, however, my stopwatch read 60 minutes flat. Ten minutes off pace. Ugh. There would be no making up 10 minutes, not at this altitude, especially when working around/over considerable deadfall. Oh well, just keep moving...let the mind to wander and allow the body to slip into "automatic."
Between gasps for breath, I was able to take short pulls on a hydro-pack filled with undiluted Gatorade. Nothing like glucose to replenish sagging blood sugar. For a borderline hypoglycemic like me, sugar is critical for max-effort endeavors. It didn't take long to I feel the second wind I'd bee waiting for. Hello old friend. Bout time you showed up.
Suddenly, my legs felt strong and breathing came easier. I'm always surprised by the dramatic turnaround. Gatorade is my drug of choice. Either that or maybe all those hikes with a 25 pound pack were finally paying dividends. In less than 3 minutes I felt 10 years younger and stronger.
Long story shortened for expedience, and the fact that no one besides me really gives a shit, I reached the saddle between Little Sister and Twin Peaks in one hour, thirty minutes flat...the same time as a couple previous P Rs and near P Rs. Wow. I had made up the ten minute deficit...in spite of altitude and deadfall.
From past experience, I knew it was possible to push from the saddle to Twin Peaks in just a tad over 10 minutes. It would all depend on how much snow was left in a north-facing section of trees. About then, a view of Lovely Ouray inspired sagging quads.
Collapsing against Twin Peak's conglomerate-rock base, I hit my stopwatch and Gaia App: One hour, forty minutes, and 40 seconds. It was less than a minute off my P R, in spite of a slow start, slip-slide conditions, encumbering deadfall, and snow workarounds.
It is said (mostly in weight rooms) that real progress takes place outside your comfort zone. I think it applies to all achievement oriented endeavors...be it art, music, sports, fitness, business, or weight loss. I've learned to enjoy being out of my comfort zone when on a timed quest (it's an acquired taste). I figure I can always "smell dandelions" on the way down.
Bottomline? I need physical challenges. I need sacrificial dragons for my inner caveman. Others can and do challenge themselves in different ways, and that's okay, too. If I live long enough, the day might come when it's a challenge just to get out of bed and dress myself. But for now, I have a few mountains left in me. A P R, or even a near P R, brings inexplicable, deep-down gratification to my soul and can tear my eye faster than a Hallmark Movie. It's my proof of being, my fountain of youth, my identity. Beyond that, reaching the top shelf is all I got.
If your dreams and goals don't scare you just a little bit, maybe they're not big enough.
I rambled on today for your reading pleasure or displeasure. I know there are a few "shut-ins" out there...still sheltering in place, and I've noticed a trend where blogs and bloggers are posting less frequently nowadays. Hopefully this will give you something to read besides bad news.
Maybe even you are outside doing something fun instead of reading this :)
Peace out, beautiful people.
Thanks for indulging my stopwatch vice, and coming along on our summit of Twin Peaks, where Lovely Ouray is even lovelier from on high...
mark and bobbie