Son of the Circus

Alright, alright, alright.

The body walks, runs and then sits and grumbles. Falls to the chair. Rises to run. Falls. Rises. Falls. Rises. And the consequence of all that standing up and sitting down? Sore glutes. That’s what makes this project compelling: I’m training for my life rather than for a mere event. I’m competing against myself and multifarious priorities rather than against phantom athletes. Welcome to my personal war on slouching and then collapsing into an easy chair and a double serving of an Entenmann’s raspberry danish cake.

Dear reader, forgive me my trespasses. If my motivation has waxed and waned, I’m still here, putting in hours and I’ve now got a plan. More about that later.

For now, let’s look at the tendency toward slouching.

Am I alone in my inclination to recline? Sadly, no. A recent University of Cambridge study, “From athletes to couch potatoes: humans through 6,000 years of farming,”  makes clear that  if were once born to run, we’ve grown accustomed to sitting. It’s no wonder, then, that we middle-age folks, with our comparatively sluggish metabolisms, bog down and go soft. I have empathy for those who have entrapped themselves behind a desk, which seems to have become a national past-time of sorts. Sitting for work was once thought of as the domain of the smart, but turns out sitting is for dummies, because doing so leads to an early death.  Matthew Crawford exquisitely articulated that sentiment in a stunning piece for the New York Times Magazine in 2009, which informed his bestseller, Shop Class as Soul Craft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work. So many of us who have opted for that 90 degree angle of repose would be better off cleaning homes for a living or bailing hay or pounding nails.

The opposite of slouchdom is hyperkineticism, and that’s equally deleterious to one’s sense of balance and flow.

I lived in San Diego at the nascence of the triathlon boom in the mid-80s, and because I was on the periphery of that crowd, I saw the toll all that training took on relationships. One friend packed his 15 hours of weekly running into a marriage. His wife, suspecting he loved the road more than he loved her, asked him to turn pro or to light out. He didn’t have the talent for the former, so he did the latter.

We now know that powerful drugs flood our brainpans when we propel ourselves over distance for an hour or more: beta-endorphins, nor-adrenaline and even anandamide, an endogenous form of the active ingredient of marijuana, THC – so exercise feels good and is honest to goodness addictive, because it activates powerful drugs within. Thus the often irrational behavior that ensues.

Take the Type A Caucasian male who late in his fifth decade hops on a road bike and rediscovers his athleticism, picks up some fitness and begins to take his cycling seriously. He acquires behavioral tics like fretting about body fat, picking at food like an ingenue and shaving his legs. I’ve seen these guys in Europe, hurling themselves at the Stelvio, the Mortirolo, the Giau, as proof of virility and non-deadness. I’ve seen this fellow in, well, my own mirror!

Yes, moving’s far better than basting in one’s own sloth, but the Buddha taught the middle path was the way to happiness, and this breed seems to find personal glory on the most arduous path to Kingdom Come, which he’s happily  sharing with age-group Ironman-distance triathletes, ultra runners, 48-hour obstacle course enthusiasts and hair shirt wearers.

Witness the various custom-animated and scripted depictions of the neurotic tendencies of these animated (literally) endurance athletes. As with most humor, these scenes are funny precisely because of their truthiness. Especially at 1:26.BRKashi

Enough with the homily. Time for a progress report.

Life is good. If I’ve stumbled at times, I’ve also made consistent gains. Two months ago, when Julie Young and Andy Pasternak of Silver Sage Sports got their hands on me, I weighed 162 pounds — 14 percent of which was body fat. Several weeks ago I was 152 and my fat quotient had dropped to single digits. But I’ve been a super slouch these past two weeks — blame it on life — and tonight I weighed in at 155.

At the same time, the training has gone remarkably well, all told and my endurance has improved. I’ve run for 2.5 hours at a crack. I’ve endured three-hour road bike trainer workouts.

And I’ve settled on the culminating adventure, originally suggested by a friend and the only reader of this blog, who recommended a self-propelled circumambulation of Lake Tahoe by bike, foot and paddle, departing from my home and jogging home again, home again, jiggety jig.

And that’s what I’ll do the week of September 15 as I heave-ho around Big Blue.