Sometimes we need a reminder of the wisdom in Clint Eastwood's great line in Dirty Harry: "A man's got to know his limits."
One of the hardest things to figure out is just what the limits of our physical abilities are. The longer I'm a TOJ, the more I realize that finding out what they are gets riskier. As you age (which athletically is just past 35, younger than many think), it's difficult to separate what's the natural fall off in speed, power, agility and strength versus just plain lack of motivation and discipline to push yourself as hard as you can to maintain these.
We're inspired by against all odds stories in athletics, like the crippled veteran who gets out of the wheelchair and finishes a marathon. Or the 50 plus guy who deadlifts several hundred pounds. They move us to try harder, longer, faster.
Recenty a friend in his early sixties ran his fastest time ever in the Moab Half Marathon: 01:36:15, an excellent time at any age. He's a classic example of what may be possible if you really go after it. He's worked obsessively hard for years to prepare for that performance. I hope he can keep it up because I know it's important to his sense of well-being.
However, I've been reading Lee Bergquist's Second Wind: The Rise of the Ageless Athlete, which recounts the stories of TOJ's in many master's level competitive sports. They live for their competitions. There are some inspiring stories, like my friend's, of continuous improvement, although those are exceptions. The rule is their performances are starting to falter because of aging and mounting injuries. Their limits are rising faster than they can neutralize them through training. Their days are numbered as competitors and you hear a tone of sadness and frustration, if not outright depression in their stories.
This TOJ let go of competition years ago. Exercise, for its own sake, is a joy of my life that I look forward to every day. But the pursuit of fitness can be as excessive and misguided as competition when a TOJ ignores Dirty Harry.
I already have a good routine that consists of running 2x/week, weight circuits 2x/wk, strength training 1x/week, kettlebells and bodyweight work 1x/wk, and a day of rest. Thinking I needed a challenge, I decided to attend a 35 minute bootcamp at our fitness center. A great trainer put on the music, and working with body weight, light dumb bells, and a weight bar, she took us through a Tabata routine (continuous fast exercise with 10 second rests) of fast squats, forward and side lunges, punches and kicks, and plyometrics (jumps). When it was over, I was drenched with sweat and pleased that I could still do it.
But two days later, my glutes and adductus longus were so sore I groaned when I got out of bed. I wasn't injured, but I'd taken my lower body to an outer limit for no good reason. I found out I could do it. A better question was should I? I missed my circuit training the next day and only did a light jog the following day, wincing with every stride.
For TOJs, just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should. A TOJ's got to know his limits.