One of the rather largish events that occurred during my hike last month to Mt. Goddard was the onset of Acute Mountain Sickness (or Altitude Sickness) in which my body simply refused to function the way I wanted or needed it to. This was alarming on two levels: not just that that we were on a hike and this substantially slowed myself and everyone else down, but that this was the first time my body has completely failed me.
Certainly I have challenged myself over the years and there have been things that were too heavy or distances that were too long. And one simply becomes more injury prone (at least it seems so) as one grows older, at least without an increase warm up period. And yet never once has body said to me "I am out" and went on strike.
It was shocking. And ponder inducing.
In reality as I thought about it, this was really an internal discussion that has been going on for a year.
Back last year - almost a year ago precisely - I sustained an injury at a Highland Game (which, to be fair, was my own doing). It was significant enough that I entered rehabilitation for 3 months and had an impact on my training. It was pretty clear at that time I would not throw again.
I still went to the gym and worked out and still continued to walk. And then, in March of 2023, I got laid off.
The lay off did not have a direct impact on my training - other than the fact that one starts looking at expenses and a monthly gym payment is probably not going to be on the list. And so I canceled my gym. The good news was that my Municipal Utility District has a recreational arm that has a gym and that it was 1/12th the cost of my current gym (and an annual fee at that). The not so great news was the equipment was more limited. Sufficient for a program, but there would be no Olympic lifts going forward.
This actually is part of a larger internal discussion I had been having with myself and my coach, The Berserker.
At some point - really before the injury - I had asked him about the fact that I seemed to be making very little progress. Yes, I was maintaining what I was lifting, but it did not seem to be improving at all. His response was "You may have just hit your limit." Hard words, especially in a society that thinks there are no boundaries to what you can do. Turns out there are.
To be fair, just before the Mt. Goddard Hike I was at the heaviest I have been in my life (note that hiking miles a day with minimal eating has a great weight loss side effect) and that is one thing my reading suggested might help with those pesky triglyceride levels.
Are there amazing benefits from lifting weights? Certainly, and it is not something I intend to stop. At the same time, I wondered, what am I really training for?
Amongst my readings, I found a reference on a site called the Bioneer on a theoretical training program like the Spartans might have followed ("might have" being the operative phrase; we really do not know). The article quotes a phrase from Plutarch's Life Philopoemen (A Greek General of the Achaean League):
"They told him (and it was the truth) that the habit of body and mode of life for athlete and warrior were totally different, and particularly that their diet and training were not the same, since one required much sleep, surfeit of food, and fixed periods of activity and repose, in order to preserve or improve their condition, which the slightest influence or least departure from routine is apt to change for the worst; whereas the solider ought to be conversant with all sorts of irregularity and all sorts of inequality, and above all should accustom himself to endure lack of food easily, and as easily as the lack of sleep.
On hearing this, Philopoemen not only shunned athletics himself and derided them, but also in later times as commander he banished from the army all forms of them, with every possible mark of reproach and dishonor on the ground that they rendered men useless for the inevitable struggle of battle men who otherwise would be most serviceable."
Now, I would never argue against anyone doing athletics, nor am I inherently training to join the military or become a Soldier of Fortune. But it does raise a really good question, at least in my mind: Is my training actually resulting in practical uses?
That is real point, at least to me. In some cases yes: between spending time at the gym and on Produce (A)Isle, I suffered no inability in my abilities on the Mt. Goddard Hike related to strength or endurance; in fact, I felt great every morning. That is the sort of practical application I am looking for. And should be strong, or at least strong enough to complete tasks that involve work around the house or (eventually) around The Ranch. But if my strength is completely based on my ability to have the perfect conditions to do that, it will perish when those conditions are gone and likely just when I would need them most.
Will I still work out at the gym? Absolutely, and I am trying to find ways to supplement my lack of "heavy" lifting. But inherent strength improvements are no longer my primary goal. Instead, I am looking for the kinds of improvements that are sustainable over various conditions.
I already think next year is going to have a lot of challenges. The last thing I am looking for is a physical failure because I have to change my program or my gym - again.