1. Getting Older
Most people don’t catastrophically lose their health, it just ebbs away from them day by day.
So for me, I left high school at 78kg (172 lbs) and now weigh 93kg (205 lbs). So that’s 15kg (33 lbs) in 15 years.
That might sound like a lot, but 1kg/year = 2.7gs/day.
You could put on 2.7gs/day by eating just two more peanut M&Ms than you needed.
That’s the margin of error. And I’ll have to close it if I don’t want to be 108 kg (238 lbs) by the time I’m 45.
2. Never Pushing Your Limits
Modern adult life presents very few opportunities to by physically exhausted in a good way.
That feeling of being drenched in sweat, flat on your back, gasping for oxygen, your muscles overloading with lactic acid happens less and less the older you get.
I miss going up to my physical edge and leaning into it, stepping a foot on the other side. And then doing it over and over again, until the edge isn’t there anymore and I can search for it again.
I miss that.
3. A Lack of Context
University and High School provide an environmental context that supports athletic excellence.
You have sports. The sports have leagues. The leagues have teams.
The teams practice together under the guidance of a coach, then compete at regular intervals for recognition. And even individual sports follow the same pattern: training together as teams, being coached, competing and benchmarking.
Normal life doesn’t have teams, coaches, training, competition or recognition.
So the problem, restated, is: after high school you start physically disintegrating and you stop testing your physical limits because adult life rarely has an environmental context that supports you doing those things.
Slivers of Hope
I’ve found this context for brief periods in my life.
Once at Chelsea Piers in a bi-weekly track running class — all levels, led by an ex-Olympic sprinter, running through active warmups, intervals training, and having times and PRs recorded on the whiteboard.
Once in Darwin, training for the Arafura Games. 4 training sessions a week (a long road run, an intervals session on grass and two track sessions) with a group all working together to qualify for middle-distance races.
More recently, SF Hill Runners has given me the closest thing to a physical challenge in a compelling environment, but our runs are too infrequent and too casual to completely solve my particular problem.
I think there are elements of a solution happening in Crossfit boxes, Barry’s Bootcamps and SoulCycle classes. Team. Coach. Practice. Competition. Leaderboard. But those things aren’t for everyone, and they’re not for me.
The answer to the problem is to create an environment around you by:
- finding a sport
- assembling a ‘team’
- working with a coach
- regularly competing, and
- keeping score in an objective, measurable way.
One way this might look in real life:
- You’d have a group of friends committed to being active across a range of agreed areas: weight-lifting, calisthenics & bodyweight exercises, agility training and running & other endurance activities.
- You’d train regularly (2–5x per week) under the guidance of discipline-specific coaches.
- You’d do regular benchmarking to track your progress.
In Part II of this article, I want to dive in to how you’d define those athletic benchmarks.