At my age, staying in shape is a full-time job. But getting back in shape after a long layoff, especially by running, is less a job than an auto da fe.
I didn't learn this from reading Runner's World, but from painful personal experience - an experience I'm currently undergoing.
The real issue is not that I'm in lousy shape, but how it happened. The answer's simple: I don't like to run anymore.
My attitude toward running has undergone a bunch of changes since I started, lo, some 40-plus years ago.
I started running just to get into shape for the service. I was a 22-year-old burnout and I hated the idea of running, let alone the reality. But it seemed like the fastest way to get in shape, so I gave it a try.
Of course, it worked, because let's face it - a 22-year-old burnout is still a 22-year-old. So no matter how badly out of shape I was, I got back into it in a matter of weeks. Still, I did not like to run. I felt lousy when I ran. Sure, I felt better after my pulse and breathing returned to normal, but I never looked forward to suiting up and heading out.
Within a few months, even though I didn't like running itself, I found I felt better as soon as my run was over. This was a great thing, since I was in the service and my daily run was a way of coping with the never-ending military nonsense that bugged all of us. No one else on my base ran - at least not if they had a choice - and the favorite "coping" skill was swilling 10-cent Lowenbraus. I don't know if running made me any saner than them, but it sure made me wake up with a lot fewer hangovers.
After a couple of years, I started to like running itself. And because running felt good, I found myself trying all its variations: I ran longer distances; I ran faster; I ran mountains; I ran through fields and over trails. I also ran in any weather, no matter how extreme: My winter record was running 6 miles in 20 below zero; my tropical record was running 6 miles in 100 above. The U.S. post office had nothing on this Dope, you may best believe.
For decades I liked running for running's sake, and though I became far less obsessed about it, I ran almost every day. Then in my late 50s I found myself once again not enjoying it at all.
The reason was different this time, however: Everything hurt more especially my knees' connective tissue. Or more exactly, what used to be my knees' connective tissue, but now had been worn away. And so, instead of my joints being separated by nice thick slabs of collagen, they were pretty much grinding on each other, and thus the Ouch Factor.
Ultimately, it's not a big deal: The pain is manageable and while my knees are creaky, crunchy shadows of their former wonderfully lubed selves, they're still got a lot of mileage left on them. But manageable, pain is still pain, and it was enough to make me shy away from running over the past winter. In fact, I shied away from every other form of exercise too - unless you count eating Smartfood, brownies, ice cream and choc-chip cookies as exercise (which for your sake, I hope you don't).
And so, last week when I embarked on my latest Crusade for Fitness, it was pretty rough going. And it still is. But I've got faith I'll get in shape because I've got something going for me now that I've never had before - a personal trainer.
Let's face it: Just saying you've got a personal trainer is a huge boost to your self-esteem. It means you're serious, you're dedicated, and you've got someone in your corner who'll make sure you put in the time and effort to become a paragon of male pulchritude.
Plus there's something else about having a personal trainer - it's a big time status symbol.
If you're a hot shot athlete, having a personal trainer means nothing - it's just par for the course. But for the rest of us - we wannabes, has-beens or never was's? It makes the rest of the Great Unwashed sit up and take notice.
First, it means you're keeping company with a primo athlete, someone at the top of the game (or at least at the top of the game for a bunch of hicks like us). My PT is surely that - absolutely indefatigable when running the roads.
Next, PTs are glamorous, and naturally glamorous at that - they have bright, shining eyes; white, sparkling teeth; and fat-free bodies rippling with muscle. That describes my PT perfectly.
And finally, PTs confer so much status because they cost so bloody much. If we zhlubs want to get in shape, all we need to do is check out a training plan on the Internet and then stick to it.
So someone who says he's got a personal trainer only to get in shape is as full of bumpf as someone who says he bought a Rolex only to know the right time.
And supporting my PT in the manner to which she's accustomed has put a sizeable dent in the family savings. Between her premium food, supplements, and medical bills, I'll be lucky if I finish the summer outside the walls of a debtor's prison. But it's all worth it to me: She makes sure I get up early and am wide awake when we go for our run. And when we do, she stays at my pace but makes sure I don't slow down. Plus, she runs with a joy that's contagious. And while I don't consider myself either sexist or exploitive, I don't object when our run's over and she gives me a smooch or two.
While all other PTs offer the same services (minus the smooches, maybe), I still think mine is superior to them, if for no other reason than she never brags about all the groovy celebrities and big-time jocks she's rubbed elbows with. Then again, she couldn't, since in the first place she can't talk, and in the second, she doesn't really have elbows.
Of course, my personal trainer is my latest canine addition, Little Lulu - she of The Case of the Purloined Bread fame. (see April 8's InSeide Dope for details).
And it's really true that she loves to run. And because she does, I find myself doing my roadwork just to make her happy.
But if only she'd repay the favor and quit eating the cats' food and my favorite slippers, I'd consider us even.