Life is long and working out, pretty vigorously (for you), for six days a week… forever! Well, it can be tricky. There is not a question in the world that it is exactly the right thing to do… the critically important and necessary thing to do. The only thing to do, if your life is going to be worth a damn, in the ‘Third Act. But it gets hard, man. It gets very hard. And you may start to slip.
Me, this summer, for instance. There was a lot going on, and I was very busy. (It is so pathetic that I would ever mention that: people tell me all day long about how busy they are and I scorn them…Yell at em! Say that it is all about priorities. This stuff matters more than that stuff. So do it, you silly son of a bitch. Now I was the silly son of a bitch. Pathetic.) But I was busy…I had some serious writing problems. And travel. And I had the sniffles for a dreary stretch. Yah-da, yah-da, yah-da. So I would sometimes skip two days in a row. Even three. And on some work out days, I got a little sloppy. And I had a bite to eat. Especially in New Hampshire where we just spent three weeks with kids and grandkids. A joy but there was some food. And the occasional drink. Every single night, come to think of it. Put on a pound or two. Hey, it just happens, sometimes. And I could tell that my aerobic fitness was slipping some too. My recovery rate was not amazing and I felt tired doing things that would not have been tiring before. Huh. Probably just a periodic bump or detour of some kind.
Fine. But, because I am a lunatic, I began to think with real horror that maybe this little detour into sloth was THE BEGINNING OF THE END! Hey, I am old; it has to happen some time. Why not now? (Stupid in retrospect but it happened). This horse-shit could just keep on keeping on, until I, of all people, was a nasty, stinking mess. For the rest of my short, embarrassing life. In sharp contrast to what I had promised you and myself and everyone else for all these years. I’d get the sniffles, but serious this time. I’d get boring. I’d, um… die! Hey it happens to people my age. Fall down, go boom…. never get up. Have a weensy heart event and just cork off, inexplicably, under the bright lights of some Podunk emergency room. (Why are emergency rooms always lit like bad Chinese restaurants? And noisy? … good grief. Imagine dying in such a tacky place!). I didn’t much like the pictures that were starting to rattle around in my neurotic head and thought: Hey! I gotta do something! And I did. And everything is fine. What did I do? Well, it will be familiar to some of you but, hey, it saved my life. So you have to hear about it. What I did was to set myself a damn good kedge. And commit to it as seriously as ever I could. And already, in less than a week, it has worked like a charm. Weird. Sweet. Live affirming. And doable! Kedge, kids. It saves lives. And makes them vigorous and fun again.
For those who are new to YNY, a “kedge” is literally a little anchor. In days of sail, ships in trouble used to row a kedge half a mile ahead of the main boat. Set it. And then pull the big boat up to the anchor. It was called “kedging.” Still is. Only for us it means, setting a tough and demanding physical goal…a ski trip, a boat race, a half-marathon…and pulling yourself to it. To reset your resolve and remind yourself who you really are.
I just got admitted to the October 17th
Head Of The Charles Regatta, single sculling. It is an extremely demanding race, and it isn’t worth doing if you’re not in very good shape. Even in the Over 70 Group (that’s me, kids) no one shows up who doesn’t know what he or she is doing and who is not in good shape. I have exactly two months to get in good shape and avoid disgrace. Last year I butchered it for reasons so dark (and silly) that I won’t tell. This year…it ain’t going to be like that. I don’t think. We’ll see.
For me, this kedge is mostly a serious endurance piece but it also has a serious weight element. I want to drop 10 pounds (maybe twelve) to make the endurance part easier. And to jam on the breaks on slow, awful weight gain, which seems to be creeping back into my life this summer. It is so easy to succumb to that slow, almost invisible weight gain, after age 40. And so hugely important not to.
The central, endurance part mostly means lots of time on the water. Some long distances but also some of those awful INTERVALS. I do not care for intervals. No one cares for intervals. But they are the only reliable route to serious, aerobic enhancement, and I mean to do a bunch of them. Finally, there is strength. You are not going to build significant new muscles at my age, and certainly not in two months. But, interestingly, you can do a hell of a lot with pepping up the signaling system that runs the existing muscles. And that can be huge. One of my favorite trials showed that an out of shape guy in his 60’s can double the strength in his legs in eight weeks. But here’s the thing: all the gain in the first six weeks comes from improved signaling. Sending the right signals to the muscles – the right sequencing, the right intensity and so on – is at the heart of real strength, at any age. And that you can have a real impact on, in two months. So I’m doing that, along with very serious aerobics and careful eating. Busy boy.
On the careful eating front, it’s back to that dreariest of exercise, keeping a “food diary” in which you record every stinking thing you eat. Boring but the only thing that works. Also making that familiar list of things you love that are rotten for you… making some resolves.
So here I am this morning: it was just blue berries for breakfast. Just fresh tomatoes and a couple of virtuous crackers for lunch. And a blazingly hard, four mile row in 90 degree heat this morning. Not a pretty performance but I was there, man, and going for it. Wouldn’t want to see the movie, but I was there. Because I am on a kedge. Gonna be younger this October. Okay, maybe not younger in my case. But moving hard. And cute as a button.
A last word. The reason to do a kedge is the same as the reason to do the whole YNY regimen. It lets you do stuff. Like row in the Head of the Charles or ski in Aspen or cross country in the Berkshires. But that is all incidental. The real reason – as I proudly remind myself these days – is that it makes you so much more cheerful, optimistic, energetic and, frankly, happy. You feel way, way better. And that is worth some trouble. Will it stem death? Apparently not. But you will give the grumpy, old fool a hell of a run. All the way to the waterfall.
THE ASPEN RETREAT, LATE SEPTEMBER
If you are scratching around for a great kedge and have some time at the end of September (September 27 – October 1
) for heaven’s sake come out to our fall, YNY Retreat at the Aspen Club. It is the height of leaf season; there are some spaces; and it is reliably one of the best kedges that most of the guest have ever done. They learn everything about how to exercise, at a depth they had not imagined. It’s fun, and it works. They all go home – whether serious athletes or somewhat older people who want to reset their clocks – with stars in their eyes and a new resolve in their heads and hearts. Get ahold of Kate Lokken in Aspen (firstname.lastname@example.org
) and tell her you’re coming. There are also a couple of spaces still open at the mini-retreat at my place in Lakeville, Ct (October 9-11
). They’ll probably be gone by the time this comes out, but ask anyway. That is going to be major fun.
One sweet story that came out yesterday that bears on this. Biff, a lovely guy from
Texas, came with his wife to an Aspen Retreat over a year ago. He did not look exactly like the other guests because he was an easy 50 pounds overweight, his belly looked like a huge cannonball, and he could not do any of the major hikes. But here’s the thing. He learned some stuff, and he took home a huge resolve. Biff phoned me yesterday morning on Kate’s cell phone, from the top of the Ute Trail. He had lost 50 pounds. He had climbed the Smuggler Mine road that morning. And now he and Kate were calling from the top of a much more serious trail, the Ute, which he would not have dreamed of climbing a year ago. He was proud as punch. And cute as a button. Michael Fox (head of the Club) and I had promised to fly to Texas and take Biff and his wife out to dinner if he lost 50 pounds. That’s one of the true highlights on my calendar this fall. Hope I look okay. But listen…if Biff can do 50, I bet I can do 10. Easy-peasey.