“It has long been known that one horse can run faster than another – but which one? Differences are crucial” — Robert A Heinlein

I had a nice lunchtime swim at the Steiner West pool today.

Small_empty_poolI really enjoy swimming these days – a couple of months ago (before I got sick for three weeks) I stopped swimming drills or repeats or what-have-you and just started swimming 2000 yard sets as a workout. No warm up, no cool down, just jump in the pool and swim 2000 yards without stopping (disclaimer – usually I’ll stop halfway or three-quarters through for about ten seconds to get a big drink out of my water bottle; this helps to prevent cramping). I find swimming like this to be very rewarding – it’s a comfort, which is strange, because a year ago every length left we wanting to stop for breath. Now I can swim for a long time very comfortably and happily.

However, “now I can swim for a long time” does NOT mean that I am in shape.

Not too long ago, I got injured at the ski hill, and the nice PA in the clinic referred to me as an “active adult”. (I let her live).The concept of  “active adult” seems to involve being old but still doing stuff.

Once upon a time, I was a reasonably fit athlete – heck, I was regional class. I was as likely to place in my age group as not at most local races, and even won some races outright. Now I am in the worst shape I’ve ever been in as an “active adult” and, other than the few weeks off sick, I’ve not missed any training time at all – I’m just out of shape because I am OLD.

Now, I am fully aware that being an “active adult” means that I’m in “better shape” than most of my peers. I’m sure that it also means that I’m in better shape than I would have been were I not an “active adult”.

But none of that helps, because even though I’m in much better shape than a hypothetical Jim who was sitting on the hypothetical couch for the last thirty hypothetical years eating hypothetical CheezIts, I am in much worse shape than the real Jim that I was two or three years ago. (I’m not going to debate the reality of the past – take it down the hall, thankyouverymuch. I have memories of being that Jim, and I do NOT have memories of the hypothetical Jim who never worked out).

So the difference that I’m living with is not the difference between “the shape I’m in and the shape I might have been in” but is, instead, the difference between “the shape I’m in and the shape I was in”. And that’s a much sharper, much more painful difference.

Every day, I am painfully aware of how fast I’m going downhill physically. For the last two years, I’ve been slowing down at an alarming rate, and it doesn’t seem to matter how hard I work – how much volume or intensity is involved – I keep going downhill. I can’t do anything about it. I’m admitting it out loud right now, and doing so is not freeing at all; it’s discouraging. I only seem to be able to keep working by pretending that I’m going to turn a corner Any Day Now(tm). Whenever I actually take a long look at my running log – looking at the distances and paces over the last few years – it makes me want to go home, climb on the couch, and become that hypothetical Jim who hasn’t been wasting hours every day for the last twenty-three years doing stupid stuff that, in the long run, didn’t seem to help because, look! I’m in terrible shape!

I have to admit – many times lately, it’s occurred to me that now would be a good time for God to come get me, because this body has been used up. I’m ready to start over in a different body (based on my spiritual development, I doubt that I’m through with the cycle of births and deaths. I’m pretty sure I’ve got at least one more runaround).

Maybe my body in the next life won’t be as good as this body, but at least it won’t be OLD.

I envy Ethel – she has just started working out hard, so for a long time, she’s going to be improving, and even when that curve flattens out, it’ll be a long time before she endures the Long Slow Painful Slide Into Abysmal Oblivion – but I can feel the grease on the skids, and I see the oubliette right  in front of me, a yawning chasm into which I will disappear any day now, hopefully to come out the other side as a newly born upper-class Ethiopian with Haile Gebrasselaise’s mitochondria.

In the meantime, I’ll keep swimming – and not looking at my watch.

  1. Alan B. said:

    But I could swear that you were making similar comments those couple of years back when you were in so much better shape. 🙂

    • Not exactly – two years ago next month was when the slide really started, which was the last time that I got sick for weeks. Never have recovered.

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