Sunday, October 28, 2012

Use it or Lose it

I like simplicity and am drawn to things that present their essence quickly, without a lot of difficulty or pageantry. Nature is generally like this. There isn't a lot of mystery in the circle of life, things are what they are, or they aren't.

George Harrison said 'We get born and we die and that which is left is the essence of that of which we are, our souls.' I can wrap my mind around this. Aging is part of that circle. Handled with perspective, grace and a measure of courage, it can be a the best chapter of our lives. 

Having said this, there are unique challenges for athletes in this process and I've been thinking about these things. Yesterday I was talking with my friend (JG) who is 62 years old. We were discussing training and aging, and general riding stuff like that. JG is has been an athlete his whole life. He was football standout and alpine ski racer for Dartmouth College and has remained highly active today.

On TV JG could play the role of a high powered executive lawyer, cut right out of 'Boston Legal', because he is one; or play the parts of a national level masters alpine racer and bike rider because he does these very well also. He trains Super G w/ my daughter Anna, a ranked FIS skier, and the real deal in alpine racing, so that is really saying something.

The thing that everyone will tell you about JG, if they know him, or ride with him, is that he is the strongest guy out there relative to his peer group. And it's not even close. At an age where most guys have packed themselves away to activities 'suited to the elderly', JG rides with the hard guys around here that are 25 years younger.  In fact he even crashed twice last week, both very heavily.  He told me they were his first crashes in over 12 years but that didn't dissuade him at all. JG is about 6ft 2" -200+ lbs and must have put holes in the assault but he looks no worse for wear...tough dude.

So anyway as we were talking about training and such, he said to me that he never stopped competitive sports and being active with intensity.  He went on to mention that today he worries that if he stops he won't be able to pick it up again, or do it at the same level, so he never stops, and he won't stop until he can no longer do it.  I wholeheartedly agree with this approach!

I didn't coin the phase Use it or Lose it but it's something I talk about all the time and the first thing I share to people when they ask me how I have maintained much of the same capacities I've always had.   Like JG, I tell them that I never stopped doing all the same stuff I always liked doing as a kid.  If I liked doing them when I was young, why shouldn't I like doing them now?  I don't have a degree is physiology behind this , but I understand much of it, and trust me  use-it-or-lose-it  worksIts natural law and germane to all aspects of  life not just athletics.

Condensed into even simpler terms use it or lose it says that if you do the same activities at the *same intensities  you did when you were young(er) you'll maintain your youth and strength better than anything else you could possibly do.  *Note 'same intensity'

Here's an interesting read around this stuff. Vo2 capacity in veteran athlete.  It mentions several trial studies and there's a bunch of science and such, but it pretty much just says Use it or Lose it.

I don't worry about aging in the same way I used to, or dying for that matter.  But that isn't to say I'm in a hurry for either.  I'd like to have as much exuberance and juice for life as possible.  Life is much more fun that way.   Hopefully I'll be rolling out miles of good road 50 years from now. 

Peace and roll strong.

1 comment:

  1. Skip - This is a great post and that article is worth a read. I fully agree with the use-it-or-lose-it conclusion. There is a great masters mountain runner in New England, Dave Dunham, who has kept data on his race performances and PR's since HS. He is age 49 now and has been running for 33 years, accumulating over 114k miles. Dave has won Mt. Washington 3x, finished top 20 in the Boston marathon, has been on national mountain running teams, and is a fierce competitor in any running race.

    I think he calculated that at age 49 he has slowed down 17% since his prime years. His times in races that he has data (he has a ton of data - over 30 years of running logs) are roughly 15-20% slower than at his prime. Check out his graph of his best 5k times over the past 30 years:

    While you may lose some pure speed as you age, you can slow down the process, and make up for some of this by adjusting what you race and how you race. Dave is never far off the pace of the overall leaders in New England mountain races. He often talks about training hard simply to minimize his slow-down.

    One final comment:

    Years ago I was riding the gondola at Killington with a guy who had to be well into his 70's, maybe 80's. Granted, downhill skiing is not cycling or running, but it still requires a certain level of athleticism, coordination, and strength. So I asked the guy, how do you do it, what's your secret? He responded with a wry smile, I just never stopped...