How Four Turned Into Eight

A few months back, I mentioned the National Senior Games, and that I planned to do four events: swimming, cycling, running, and triathlon.

The actual scheduled (pending specifics on what swimming events are which days) is now out. It’s turned into eight event days: three days of swimming, surrounded by a triathlon, 10K run, and 10K, 20K and 40K cycling events.

Oy vey.

It’s doable, I am telling myself at the moment. It’s fourteen months away. Plenty of time to work out worry and panic prepare. I can do this. The events are spread over 11 days. There is time off built in. No hotel stays needed, though there is a lot of driving.

On the one hand, I’m stepping into a big pile of unknown on this. I’ve competed two and three weekends in a row, but never something like this.

On the other hand, I may never get another opportunity to do this.

On the one hand, I hurt thinking about it. On the other hand, I’d hurt more if I didn’t do it. It means the next fourteen months have very little else in the way of commitments or outside activities. It also means having a really handy excuse not to do things I hate (“Oh, sorry, can’t go there/do that; I have training in the morning/this evening/all weekend.”).

At the moment, the little square paper with the schedule is staring up at me from the desk, like an orderly reminder with little shaded boxes and numbers and “X” marks and dates. It’s a conscience and a call to do both the impossible and idiotic.

Suffering Has No Age Limit When It Comes To The Cold

If you live just about anywhere in the U.S. (except for Florida, where I am), it’s been an awful couple of weather weeks.

It’s worse than cold. It’s snow, ice, wind, and temperatures no one expected in places no one has see this kind of weather in years, if ever. It’s a literal killer winter storm that’s taken the lives of children in their freezing homes, old people on breathing machines, families trying to stay warm in their cars. They died in house fires, from carbon monoxide poisoning, on the roads escaping the storm or heading into it to help others, and from lack of necessary medical care, such as dialysis, oxygen, or medication for chronic conditions.

While the seniors among us seem to suffer disproportionately in times of disaster, Winter Storm Uri, as it is now known, wasn’t picky about its victims. Nearly 70 dead in Texas alone, the youngest age seven and the oldest age 86. In the ruins of lives and homes, the state government has batted the blame from agency to agency, blaming everything from the unexpected weather (because the forecast for this storm, available days in advance, apparently was not important or just fake news) to the green new energy power used by the state (because unlike Texas’ non-winterized turbines, the properly maintained machinery used in Canada, Siberia, and Norway work just fine in even colder temperatures) to the unprepared power company (run by people selected by the state government, which chose the cheapest energy solution rather than the safest one).

Texas is the bulls-eye example of what happens when a state government forgets that it’s the people who have the real power. Individuals and small companies are stepping in and stepping up to help communities with food, water, blankets, and firewood. States are helping by sending power crews to fix downed power lines. Hospitals already overwhelmed by coronavirus cases are making room where they can for patients moved from other facilities closed due to lack of power and water. If you want to help states across the country, you can donate to the Red Cross here. If you specifically want to assist the state of Texas, this link is for the Houston area, and this link is for other areas. One of the world’s most respected chefs, Jose Andres, led his World Central Kitchen into Texas to feed people, as he does anywhere in the world where there’s a need. You can donate to his organization here.

Disasters like this don’t stop to ask your date of birth, your race, or your political party. They just barrel through your hometown and take down everything, including its heart and soul. But there’s always some good folks showing up as the feed-and-clean crew, ready to help.

The Swan Song Half Was Almost A Washout

Well, it’s all over but the soreness tomorrow. I have to say I feel decent at the moment. Not sorry I did those 13.1 miles, but not planning on another one. In fact, I told The Husband he is welcome to drag a rusty knife across my throat if I so much as mention the idea.

I am glad I did this one (it was on my bucket list) and the timing was good, given the lack of live races during the pandemic. And for the first eight miles, the weather actually cooperated. Mid-70s, overcast, and then…Mother Nature went into full rage mode.

I’ve lived in Florida over 40 years, and never can I recall seeing (or running in) rain like that. The skies let loose like we haven’t had rain in months (actually, it is the dry season, and we haven’t). The race course flooded fast, running shoes became sodden weights, and the power of water from above actually stung your skin and eyes. Troopers (or fools) that we are, we kept going, and as far as I know, most everyone finished.

Then I had to drive home, mostly in that rain. We’re talking a whiteout deluge where the location of other cars, road signs and foliage cannot be accurately determined. I am grateful to my dealership for those new tires, recently installed, that kept me on the road, even if the water’s roar beneath them was unsettling. I am grateful that I had the forethought to toss a full set of clean, dry clothes in the trunk so I had something to change into before heading into a Wawa near the race venue for very large and very cold soda beverage for the road. I got the largest one that would fit into my drink holder. I gave up diet soda years ago, but just this once, I thought I was worthy and deserving (for the record, I do not buy it, nor keep it in the house).

But mostly, I am grateful for one more chance at a half-marathon. I am done with that distance now, moving on to concentrate on triathlons, swimming and shorter race distances, including some trail racing. It’s been a good, if painful ride, and I took the opportunity to do what so many others cannot or will not do. I respect anyone who looks at that distance, or its bigger cousins the marathon and ultras and says, “Oh, hell no!” It’s not easy, and training is often miserable. But the payback is lording it over your couch potato friends. Because what we lack in humility we make up for hubris — and good health.

Johnny, We Hardly Knew You

I went to a memorial service Friday, and of course it was difficult. No matter how hard anyone tries to make them fun, lighthearted, and filled with good memories of the deceased, it’s still awful. Especially when the good died young, full of plans and hopes, and was someone you thought would be around for innumerable hours of need.

Johnny gave a lot more that he ever received. He owned and ran successful businesses, served in local government of the town he called home for many years, nurtured a family, and spent far too many hours volunteering and mentoring other people. He packed a lot into almost 67 years on the planet, with very little personal time. What time he had, he spent collecting, repairing and driving old cars, and he had plans to purchase aircraft to house on his recently expanded property. He had a lifetime of knowledge and stories, and never tired of telling you who he knew, how he met them and most importantly, what those individuals meant to him and taught him. Even when he was surrounded by people asking him for help and favors, when he spoke to you, you knew you had his undivided attention. He reveled in the joy of sharing what he knew, so others could carry the stories onward. Little did we know we would be asked to carry on without him this soon.

His death, like so many others in these pandemic times, was fast and with no warning. No goodbyes, no final words, and no best wishes. The virus did not take him away; a massive heart attack accomplished it instead. There is no good way to suffer a loss like this, no map to navigate empty and lonely times when you’ll pick up the phone to call or text, only to stop halfway and realize the dead don’t take a smartphone with them. Though Johnny was incredibly tech-savvy, and always had the latest device as soon as it was available, he no longer needs it. Personally, I’ll always look up to a guy whose energy was boundless, whose devotion to others bottomless, and whose enthusiasm for packing 30 hours of life into 24 hours day after day never diminished.

We miss you Johnny. We only wish we’d had more time.

I Got A Digital Babysitter For The Holidays

The smartwatch was not my idea, I swear.

The Husband thought I needed one. I’m not sure if he meant well or is trying to kill me. But I am wearing it. And despite my best efforts to dislike the thing, I am attached to it. Bad pun, and it won’t be the last one for 2021.

It’s comfortable, and it’s all black, so it is sleek and cool-looking. And it does a lot of stuff, and tells you things about yourself you didn’t know, and maybe didn’t want to know. Like your resting heart rate, your workout heart rate, how many steps you take, calories burned, floors climbed, food and water consumption, what the weather is, alarm settings, relaxation reminders, pace and distance for a host of different exercises. You can listen to music on it, and if you want a Get Smart moment, you can use it as your phone, thus giving new meaning to “talk to the hand.”

I wasn’t thrilled with all of this information, and not keen on the idea of the “community” that comes with owning the device. The virtual community is very keen on me, however. They welcome you with the enthusiasm of Richard Simmons, but it’s a Billy Banks-tough crowd. Everyone has an agenda, and wants to talk about what they’ve accomplished thanks to the motivation provided by their wrist-borne minder.

And I’ll admit that wearing a smartwatch changes things. I compared the miles shown on my bike ride to those on my bike-mounted GPS and the computer-mapped ride route. The bike isn’t as accurate when compared to the watch and computer. And I do run longer with the watch on, mostly out of guilt because it’s in running mode and tracking me. And so help me, I bought the digital water bottle that syncs to the watch, in order to track my fluid intake (OK, I justified it because the price was good and I tend to become dehydrated. I also bought running socks and shirts, so the shipping was free).

And I did make some other decisions, such as cleaner eating, more respect for physical pain (I have a stupidly high tolerance for pain), taking more chances with different types of competition, and of course getting the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available.

Did I need a smartwatch? Nope, but it’s interesting wearing a nudzh on my arm. I will be curious to see it it makes me a better competitor over the coming weeks and months.

2020: We Dove Into A Dumpster Fire And Found Flowers

Who would have thought, on Jan. 1, 2020, that the world would look like this on Dec. 31, 2020?

Masked, isolated, separated, and searching for the elusive “new normal.” Kids and parents working and schooling from home, and all of them wondering why the idea of an open concept home was ever appealing. Schools sanitized yet many empty; parents fearful of sending their child healthy and returning home with an unseen virus capable of killing an entire family.

Signs and placards everywhere, reminding us of the elementary-school rule about washing your hands and covering that cough and sneeze. Realizing that there’s nothing social about social distancing. Thinking that maybe you don’t hate your Uncle Harry that much anymore, his bourbon breath and bad jokes aside, because you miss just having him around.

Friends and neighbors without jobs, surviving on slim margin of help from state unemployment — if they could get through the red tape to apply. Local businesses busted and storefronts empty, with “Temporarily Closed” signs on the doors, but the dusty and dilapidated look of these places dispels any notion that they’re ever coming back.

Hungry people who lined up waiting for hours in food distribution lines for a week’s supply of groceries or a few hot meals. People who never had to ask for help until now, ashamed to do so and yet afraid of the empty refrigerator, bare pantry, and children who asked why they couldn’t just go to the grocery store like before.

We saw the hospitalization, mortality, and infection statistics; mere numbers until you see the people behind those numbers: the parents, grandparents, children, teachers, coaches, preachers, and perhaps worst of all, the doctors and nurses who fought for us, only to get sick and die themselves, fighting to the end.

We got angry at the cov-idiots and mask-holes, the personal freedom-fueled fanatics who considered safety precautions as an affront to their pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness, rather than as a means to protect everyone. Because the virus is everyone’s fight. A virus does not care who you are, what you believe or what you’re willing to live or die for. If you’re insist on being vulnerable, step up to the infection soapbox.

We are in the process of learning why Black Lives Matter. Not because they didn’t before 2020, but because this year gave us several senseless deaths that brought multitudes into the streets, shouting that it’s been too long waiting for change. The pandemic and Black Lives Matter came together because we were mostly at home, focused on the news for lack of much else to do, and the shooting deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and almost 200 other Black men and women this year alone were brought right to our digital doorstep. That they were doing nothing to deserve this kind of death only highlights this country’s racial disparity.

We also saw a lot of good things. From those who donated their stimulus checks to charity, the #TakeOutTuesday in support of local restaurants, people connecting through online video platforms, neighbors cooking for neighbors and strangers, the comeback of board games, vinyl records and the increase in streaming services, the discovery that fresh air and outdoor exercise really is good for you and that life’s big moments don’t need fancy decor and a large guest list to be creatively celebrated — these are the positives to be proud of in 2020. And the greatest positive: it comes in the form of a little glass vial, complete with syringe, and while the vaccine alone won’t save us from ourselves, it offers more than hope in a bottle. It represents science, not politics or conspiracy theories, as the path to pulling out of the acrimonious and antagonistic asylum that was 2020.

Leggings For All? I’ll Leave Them To All Of You

Winter finally arrived in my stretch of the woods. And out came the women in leggings. No pun intended, but it’s fine if you read it that way.

Leggings are such a fashion oddity. They seemed to have morphed from the black tights we wore back in the winter days of my Dark Ages youth, somehow meeting up with cycling shorts and giving birth to the much-loved (or reviled) wardrobe wizard that was meant to be worn for workout classes, running, and yoga, but trended into a constant in the closet.

As you’ve guessed, I am not a fan of myself encased in leggings. My legs are really short (and don’t start with me about how higher heels lengthen my legs. Those would have to be eight-inch heels in order to make a difference) and while my badonkadonk isn’t bodaciously big, it sits atop those stump legs and makes leggings look like I’m trying to contain the remains of a septic system gone south.

That’s not to say I don’t own tights. I do own a pair of black and scarlet cold-weather running tights, which are out and ready in anticipation of a chilly morning run tomorrow. But I wear them only for running or underneath cycling shorts when it is cold. I am not wearing them anywhere else in public. No one deserves to see that.

And while I do see women who look fab in the winter combo of leggings and knee-high boots, and I think that by a certain age and stage in life, you should be proud and happy to wear what you want and present the proverbial middle finger to the world that says otherwise, I also believe in self-respect and honesty. Not to mention having a full-length mirror in your house. So before you tug on those tiger-striped leggings and shiny, skinny-heeled boots, ask yourself: do I look hot, or do I look desperate? Am I proud of this outfit, or would my pride be better served if I either donated this ensemble or stashed it until next Halloween?

Aging gracefully isn’t about getting too old for a particular “look.” It is about knowing when that look crosses over from “Well, hello beautiful” to “Oh, hell no.” And then how to update that look so it works. Or pack it up and send it to the nearest vintage clothing shop.

Four Events, One National: Good Idea Or Bad Fantasy?

So…I qualified for four sporting events for next year’s National Senior Games: running, swimming, and cycling. You can count; that’s only three. The fourth is the triathlon, which technically does not have a required qualifier. The games run 11 days in November, which means, if things were perfectly spaced out, I could be competing once every three days.

I’m not sure if this is a potential achievement worth going for, or a very bad place to crash-land very hard. That’s a lot of rough play for someone who’s closing in fast on Social Security and Medicare by that time.

The exact schedule for the Nationals has not been posted yet, so there is no way of knowing what events are scheduled which days, if there is any overlap or where the events are (for the record, the event is supposed to happen in the general vicinity of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, but Broward is a big county). But let’s pretend everything is awesome (a lot to ask after the way 2020 has gone) and I could do all four events.

Right now, my brain says no problem. Think of the fame of winning medals in all four of those events. There could be media coverage, my photo published on seniors’ websites, commercial endorsements (I’m picky, though; I would only endorse what I’d use, such as fiber supplements, antiseptic bandages, ice packs, heating pads, and reading glasses), and deep and meaningful conversations with other famous athletes (trading training secrets with Serena Williams and comparing butterfly times with Michael Phelps).

My body says “No, seriously…have you really thought about this? Even if you do nothing but train every day, how do you get through a dozen days of hell with your sanity intact and the ability to put one foot in front of the other? There aren’t enough pain pills in the pharmacy to fix your busted butt when that’s over.”

So there’s a lot of wishful plotting doused with a heavy dose of reality. At this point, I don’t know which of the four events will be possible, though it is nice to know I have choices. Many people only show up for one sport, because that’s all they’ve got. I’d like to think my pony’s got more than one trick left.

Trail Was Mud…Run Is Done!

I did it. First trail run is run and done and part of history. No slips, falls, trips or other athletic accidents. I did get lost finding the park, but I left the house so early (I build it in and call it “What if I get lost?” time) that I was on time.

I had a map and GPS, but the roads around the park make no sense (they go by names and numbers and change according to which city you’re in, which apparently confuses the GPS as much as this driver), but now that I know where it is, I’ll never have an issue finding it again.

There was rain for the last mile or so, but it made very little difference; the place was a muddy mess before the skies opened up. It had rained for a few days, so it was not just the mud and puddles, it was the smell. Think wild night in the zoo elephant house seasoned with a week’s worth of picnic trash. It certainly keeps you moving.

There were fewer than 40 runners total, and that made social distancing easy. This type of running is a different mindset. It’s more about survival, less about speed. I was surprised to see older runners (including a four-generation family!) tackling the course. Then again, I think I was the only newbie out there, both to the sport and the course. But people were nice and welcoming.

Four days later, my quads are still tired, but surprisingly, nothing really hurt. I needed no pain medication, and even found I could do housework and lawn care after the race without feeling bad.

Am I hooked on trail running? I have to say I enjoy it, but not to the exclusion of road racing. I do have another trail opportunity in April, but definitely need more training, especially running on grass, which I found the most challenging part of last week’s race (sand, rocks, gravel, tree roots, mud, and water don’t seem to be an issue). I want to do the April race because it’s in a city that boasts the state’s best fried chicken, which I’ve eaten before and think about often. And to drive that far for a race, there should be a reward like fried chicken.