I THINK MANY MIDDLE-AGED PEOPLE give up on their bodies too soon.
I was once a runner. I loved it for its health benefits, and I loved it for its simplicity. A T-shirt, shorts and a decent pair of shoes and I was equipped. I also like weight training. I’ve worked at it on and off since I was about 10 years old. But in recent years I’ve had to stop running, and I had to get incredibly conservative with weight lifting.
Why? Because at 59 years old, my body isn’t what it used to be.
A near lifetime of back pain
In 2000 I had my first back surgery, a spinal fusion. For those who may be unfamiliar with the term it involves installing screws and rods and brackets--and a long recovery period. Afterward, I continued running (with my doctor’s approval) until 2002 when I ran my last race, the Gateway River Run. At the end, I was in so much pain; I knew I had to stop forever. But I couldn’t imagine becoming a couch potato. I knew I had to do something to control my weight, maintain a healthy heart and mental acuity.
In 2004 I tentatively took up the bicycle. I rode an old Haro mountain bike around town that I’d brought with me from Arizona. I wasn’t new to the bike, but I had never been really serious about training. I soon discovered it was something I could do that didn’t hurt my back. So, at 53 I had discovered a new sport, and after a few months of “fooling around” with it, I got serious and went to Moab. Then, in 2006 I became a Randonneur.
Ultra cycling will have to wait
In 2007 I had a series of eye surgeries to repair an uncooperative retina. Those surgeries weren’t very successful and left me with about 5% of the normal vision in my left eye. I was told at the time that my right eye would likely follow suit. The prospect of blindness horrified me! The work on my eye was extensive, spanned a year and a half, and recovery periods meant that I couldn’t ride my bike. I fought off depression, and for the next two years my new sport of cycling was sporadic, but I never wanted to quit. I had to get used to my new visual limitations, and so I chose to ride mostly solo, but I cherished every second of it.
The back came back
In March of 2009 I had my second spinal fusion. The long recovery period once again took me out of the saddle. (By now, I’m really getting pissed!) I want to take care of my body, but my body is making it a struggle.
I don’t often talk about all this stuff, because frankly, I’m embarrassed by it all. I sometimes feel like a train wreck, but I’m passionate about cycling and I want to stay mentally and physically healthy, and I believe cycling does that for me. Right now I’m riding 400 miles a month, with the occasional century thrown in, and would like to ride the Southern Tier—maybe next year. I also plan to ride the Hoodoo 500 as a Voyager, and I have aspirations to race in the Furnace Creek 508. Most of my family thinks I’m nuts (but then many of them think riding a bike 10 miles is crazy.)
My plan is to keep enjoying the most beautiful sport in the world as long as I can see, and as long as my legs can spin the pedals. My endurance is coming back nicely. I continue to add miles each month, and I have no doubt I will continue to improve. I’m probably in the best strength and cardio conditioning of my life. Of course not everyone needs to become an endurance cyclist, but in my opinion, too many middle-aged people give up on their bodies too soon. Our bodies are incredibly resilient. They need to be worked and stretched and pushed. In most cases they can be reclaimed to become stronger and healthier. A sedentary lifestyle will shorten our years and make our final years nagging and uncomfortable. I may not be the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but I’m happy for one thing: I don’t know how to give up.
Tom Milton will be missed. Tom died of a heart attack while riding the Devil Mountain Double Century on April 24th. Tom was the owner and designer of the Selle An-Atomica long distance saddle. He was an experienced cyclist--considered a cycling legend by many--who had ridden this 200 mile event many times. I knew Tom from purchasing his saddles. I found him to be a kind and pleasant man who was knowledgeable and very helpful regarding saddle design and long-distance cycling. He will be missed by many. RIP Tom.