Lack of exercise takes its toll

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By Greg Woods



By this time last year I had gotten myself in to pretty decent shape for an old guy. I was running a couple of times a week and riding my bicycle about 45 miles a week. I was a couple of weeks away from my first duathlon.

I figured that with my impending retirement from teaching, I would be able to maintain my exercise more regularly.

Even with the new job writing for this paper, I was able to increase my cycling mileage and run occasionally throughout the summer. My riding continued during the fall sports season even though the opportunities were more limited as I covered a plethora of autumn events.

My cycling season culminated with a 45-mile ride in preparation for a 100-miler around the county.

But, alas, weather cancelled the big event and I ended up putting the bike away for the winter. I am not a cold weather person. I like to hole up during the cold months and hibernate. This year was no different.

I did very little during the months of November and December except go to basketball games and watch sports on TV.

But as the New Year loomed on the horizon, I decided to make a resolution and actually keep it. I would work on my core and upper body during the winter months. I’ve never been very good at this aspect of exercising. The book on me was good legs, wimpy arms. As for my core, well let’s just say that, at 50, it was pretty much non-existent.

So I resolved to do sit-ups, push-ups and light weights. When I say light weights, I mean very light. I had a couple of 10-pound dumbbells and I decided I would go for low weight, high reps during the upper body portion of my workouts.

When Jan. 1 rolled around, I dutifully rolled out of bed for my first workout. It was not spectacular. I did a few sit-ups and pushups and then picked up the dumb-bells. I got through the first workout okay and thought that as long as I took my time and slowly increased the workload, that I might actually begin to show signs of some muscle definition.

I stayed faithful to the routine throughout January and February and felt a difference in my arms and stomach. During March, I began to experience occasional pain in my upper back that made it hard to sit at the computer for long stretches while I banged out basketball stories and the opening of the spring sports season.

I limited the number of days I worked out. If I worked out more than a couple of days in a row, the pain would get so bad that I was uncomfortable .

Finally, I just stopped and began to visit the chiropractor who took x-rays and then gave me a thorough and easily understandable explanation of why my back hurt. As he talked I was getting a clear picture of the problem. I can translate his prognosis in a simple sentence: I’m getting old.

So I had a dilemma–if I stopped all workouts, I would lose everything that I had done so far to strengthen my upper body; if I continued, I would be in perpetual pain.

So I compromised. I decided that I would start riding the bike again and worry about my core once my visits to the chiropractor began to pay off. The problem with that plan was that we had a more typical spring here in Kentucky than the one last year when it was like we skipped March and April and went straight to May.

Cold, rainy weather combined with coverage of spring sports greatly inhibited my ability to get on the bike and ride for miles and miles as I did last year.

I also had a problem with self-motivation. Last year I was on a mission to get in shape and stay in shape and I did until my back started to go. Now it would be back to square one.

The first few times I rode, I could tell I had lost a lot of conditioning, but it was not as bad as I thought. I wasn’t able to get out and ride as much as I needed and when I finally got a chance to go on an extended ride last week my lack of conditioning caught up with me.

I decided to go for a ride last Wednesday when it was beautiful and sunny outside. But I had to finish some yard work that I had been neglecting first.

By the time I got on the bike, it was 87 degrees with a stiff wind blowing, masking just how hot it was.

I decided on a route that I had enjoyed very much last year. It was an 18-miler down Fallen Timber Road to Scobee Lane and then on to Sulphur Road for the return home. Last year I got to a point where I could do the ride in well over 16 m.p.h … in the right conditions.

That day the conditions definitely were not right. The wind was blowing about 10-15 m.p.h. from the south, which was the direction for the first third of the ride. By the time I made it to the one big hill that I had to climb – I call it Mings Hill because Tom and Kathy Mings live at the top of it – I was gassed. Riding for six miles in a headwind was the same as riding uphill the whole way.

I made it to the top of the hill, but had to stop when I turned on to Scobee and take a rest.

I never have taken a rest that early into a ride. It was at that point that I began to wonder whether I would make it all the way back to my house. It was a thought that never would have occurred to me in the past.

After a short break and a long pull on my water bottle, I remounted and continued the journey down Scobee Lane. The rest did not seem to help very much. I was riding at less than 10 miles an hour and coasting at every opportunity. When I reached the end of Scobee a couple of miles later, I got off my bike for another rest. I noticed that my skin was covered with goose bumps and I drained one of my two bottles of water. I sat there a little longer in the grass and then commanded myself to get back on the bike and finish the darn ride.

As a cross country coach, I would have spotted the first signs of heat exhaustion and sat the affected runner down immediately. Their day would have been done right then and there. But as a stubborn old geek who abhorred the idea of giving up on a workout, I ignored the early symptoms and pedaled on. Two miles down the road I got searing pains in my neck to go with the exhaustion. This new pain was so bad that I could not keep my head up for more than 30 seconds at a time. Finally I pulled off the road and sat down for another rest.

At first, I told myself that I would just sit there for a longer rest and then I would be okay to continue.

But then visions of someone finding me on the side of the road in a heap began to creep into my brain. Then a scarier thought crept in. My wife would not be happy if she had to drive me to the hospital because of my stubbornness/stupidity.

That clinched it. I swallowed my pride and called my wife. I explained the situation and she dropped what she was doing to come and get me.

As I rode home with her I tried to break down what had gone wrong.

Let’s see–lack of conditioning, two hours of yard work, stiff head winds, deceptively hot day and middle age. It all seemed clear to me… after the fact.

As I spoke of these things, my wife nodded in agreement with my assessment.

I could not see her eyes. I’m sure they were rolling into the back of her head though.