What has happened to the good old mid-life crisis, hey? When I was a lad, and this was all fields, the men of my parents’ generation had their mid-lifes with sports cars and affairs. These days it’s all juicing and marathons and Iron Man. So many guys in their late 40s and early 50s are signing themselves up for these epic events - great displays of human strength and endeavour. I’m all for epic, and as a man not far from mid-life myself, I understand the need to prove yourself outside of the work environment. But it makes me chuckle sometimes, how little time and preparation people give themselves to achieve epic.
This occurred to me last week ,when a friend of a friend got in touch to see if I could help him train for an event. He was 55, hadn’t ridden a bike since his teens and even then had never done more than 15 miles. He had a sedentary job in the City, and a fairly swanky bike that he didn’t really know what to do with. Yet he’d just signed himself up for a big cycling event that would involve him riding 200 miles in two days, and what’s more it was happening in seven weeks. On top of that, because he split his week living between London and Dorset, he wanted only to train on the three days of the week he was in Dorset - his days in the City were redundant for training as far as he was concerned. Would he be able to do it? he asked me.
As a personal trainer I never want to say something can’t be achieved, but equally I had to break it to him that we could only do what we could with the time and the tools that we had. My advice was to break it down into chunks, take the challenge in stages. If we could get him fit for even half of the first day that would be something. I also had to point out that just because he was in London, didn’t mean he couldn’t ride: there are spinning clubs and cycle clubs. He needed to get his body used to being on the bike again after so long. The magnitude of what he was hoping to achieve hadn’t really dawned on him.
And it struck me that his blind optimism is symptomatic of a desire among today’s mid-lifers, for an instant sort of epic. It must be due, in some part to cycling’s current popularity, and the fact that so many of us get buoyed along by the media, and the successes of friends who are also into cycling. Many of us have a rosy, nostalgic view of cycling, as it’s something most of us did as young people. But spending 10 hours in the saddle on two consecutive days is a different kettle entirely, and cyclists can find themselves in dark places emotionally during these big challenges, not to mention the saddle sores and the wind burns and the overwhelming fatigue.
But it’s also about a sort of insta-fix attitude towards ticking that box, that in the end will never feel as epic as it could, and should, if the training was taken more slowly and as part of a wider lifestyle change. To my mind, the journey to the event should be every bit as epic as the event itself. It is possible to achieve great things in six weeks of manic, hardcore training, it’s true, but it is better for long term improvement to set these big goals much further ahead. That way you can work towards them gradually and feel pleasure and pride in the improvements you make along the way. You can also make sure you succeed, not set yourself up to fail. But most importantly, you’ll get the most out of the experience, and actually enjoy being epic.