#Fit@53: How to get started

My pursuit of the Ecuadoran volcanoes has to start at my gut, which has been hanging out with little exercise for the last four years. If I am going to walk up to 20,000 feet (3.78 miles above sea level), I need to be able to run mostly uphill for at least twice that distance several times a week down here on Puget Sound. Strength training, especially in my back, neck and shoulders, in addition to core- and leg-strength, will be my other priority. If you’ve ever had to belay someone who is unconscious down a cliff face, you’ll know it’s not a cake walk.

At 53 years, the first step toward conquering my gut, extending my endurance and increasing my strength without hurting myself is to do an inventory of my initial response to exercise. Stuff in your body no longer works reliably at my age and starting to exercise is like trying to spot the lemons when you walk onto a used car lot.You need to get down on your knees and look under the chassis. Take your time and watch out for tell-tale signs the transmission’s going to go soon.

Mapping my aches and noisy joints proved an eye-opener to me. One of my knees creaks like a door in a haunted house. I’ve got noisy shoulder — the one I have not have surgery on — and I can tell you exactly where I have bone-on-bone grinding in my L1 disc. It’s on the left side of my body as you face me. David Churbuck‘s advice to get an AbMat for situps was a godsend. It enforces full movement of the back that relieves my degraded discs.

I laid out a workout baseline to grow from, establishing over the course off the first week of training my single-set maximum number of situps (45), pushups (1, and I cheated), squats (25), dips (7) and average pace walking and running (3.1 and 4.2 m.p.h. respectively — I walk a lot more than I run), as well as the number of reps in various weight-lifting categories with which I will not bore you here. My focus is on reps, not weight at this point. Older men shouldn’t just go to the gym like they are 20 and start to workout hard. Do more with less. It applies with weights and life.

It took several days to give myself the initial tests, then I increased the training pace to the point where I was and still am muscle-sore at every extremity by the end of the day. There are lots of points of view on muscle soreness, and I tend to find it good in the long run. I hurt, but it is not like I am trying to wake the dead here. I just haven’t used a lot of these muscles for a long time. They are sleepy, complaining as my knees do first thing every morning. My knees get over it, so my muscles will too. I freely acknowledge a perverse logic is in play here. It takes commitment approaching the religious to undertake this kind of project, so consider the gods of perverse logic invoked in my defense.

After a week, I’ve seen an increase in distance run with ease and the frequency of sprints I can sustain. A week ago, on my first run in the hills, I covered about 2.1 miles with about 220 feet of climbing. Today I covered 3.8 miles with 516 feet of climbing in just 10 minutes more than my first time. I’ve lost 3.9 pounds in the week.

I thought that after this assessment I might be ready to cancel the climb for this year. Surprising myself, I think getting into this kind of shape in the time that I have if I want to go to Ecuador this November, is a tremendously difficult challenge. It is not, I’ve concluded, insurmountable. The first peak climbed was overcoming my own self-skepticism. Not that I dislike skepticism, but when I looked myself in the mirror last week after making the reservation to climb the reasons for doubt were legion. The data says it’s doable, with a dose of faith in the gods.

Next, I tackled the question of what I ate, which I’ll write about soon.

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