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Keith A. Kenel triathlete

Following three months of growing inertia, loss of strength and a declining endurance level which was punctuated by an increase in insulation caused by eating more Calories than I burned I set off on my first spirited bicycle ride of the new year. It did not take me long until I was thinking back to my college days and some of the fitness courses that I took. One thought that kept creeping back into my mind was the phrase “minimum desired fitness level.”

A minimum desirable level of fitness is sometimes defined as having the energy to carry out our daily activities without experiencing undo fatigue. I have often thought that when reading this definition out-loud that it would be essential to emphasize the word “minimum.” As a lifestyle choice I do not generally consider minimum fitness as desirable but because I live near the middle of a country that is over 3,000 miles (5,000 km) wide and at a latitude that puts me about as north of the equator as the continental U.S.A. is wide I have come to accept that my fitness level will experience crests and troughs.

I am a fitness enthusiast not a hard-core, hard-body, hardly have time for a life, fitness-nut. Once the summer roles around and I have spent a few months  logging time, distance and effort cycling, running, swimming, regaining strength and increasing flexibility I will likely return to what passes as my adulterated version of top form. But because this past winter provided me with  especially challenging weather I am currently operating at as low an ebb as I hope to experience  and while it is true that by the time June arrives I plan to be healthier, leaner, stronger and faster currently I am reaping the fitness that I have sown. Basically I was feeling sorry for myself.

It’s not as though I don’t know better. Every fall I promise myself that this will be the winter where I do not gain weight and where I do stay active. Where I will curtail my caloric consumption and make  better dietary choices; and I do! For a while.

With the coming of cold, dark, slippery days my desire to get outside and physically push myself wanes and I slowly begin to substitute short, easy movement sessions for exercise. Running three plus miles at race pace is exercise, walking on a treadmill at an easy lope while reading a book is movement. Movement is a good tool in achieving a healthy life balance and enjoying that minimum desired fitness level but it is insufficient if we wish to channel our inner athlete. I managed to get an hour of movement in most days this winter and I thought this would be good preparation for the upcoming task of returning to my former state; turns out I was overly optimistic.

So I once again begin my ascent from a minimal level of fitness. Starting over every winter is humbling. Six short months ago I was competing in events from 5K races to Olympic distance triathlons and I was fit enough to harbor hope of receiving a third place age group finish at smaller, local, less competitive events. In June of 2013 after finishing a local 5K I walked up to a high school age young man that I know and asked how he did. Smiling at me he said, “I got third.”

“You did?!” Was my quick and sardonic reply, “That’s impossible; I got third.” I paused for two seconds while he looked at me as though I were not only old but also senile. He knew full well that I had been nowhere near the front pack of five minute milers and I had in fact finished a bit ahead of the median runner but he didn’t know how to respond without appearing rude. Having had my fun I added while grinning, “In my age group!”

Starting over is a painful activity that each of us does during the course of our lives. My self pity is an understandable but inappropriate response to a temporary set back, especially as I created the situation where I now find myself. Since I seem incapable of learning how to maintain a higher level of fitness during the off season by using indoor cycling (ugh!), performing high intensity intervals or climbing on my treadmill and running for an hour I should learn more important lessons. Lessons about life.

Embracing neophyte fitness participants and encouraging them to keep moving is an example of using my fitness troubles to help others. Starting to take control of our lives and bodies is important and when someone does this for the first time the experience can be daunting. I am confident that I can reclaim a body of which I am proud but what about the folks who have never had a healthy, fit self? I can certainly relate to and encourage emerging athletes from a position of less fitness than I might from a more advanced level.

Starting over may be humbling but getting started can be frightening. The unknowns can be daunting and without a track record of success it is easier to quit when we experience obstacles for success. So as I struggle onward I will be sure to be inclusive and encouraging of my fellow travelers, however they are working to better themselves. After all, we are all in this together and a word of encouragement, actions worth emulating and a big dose of empathy can all go a long way in giving our fellow travelers a hand up, and that’s what new beginnings are all about.

Every Phoenix has to start from ashes, lets go start some fires.