Age is (only?) a number.

I am on a mission to get all the parents out of the chairs.  We have a lot of adult students at the karate school.  But, unfortunately, there are many parents who watch their kids take class, but never get out of the chairs.  I spend a lot of time encouraging, cajoling, and harassing these people to get out onto the floor and work out. A common excuse I hear is “I’m too old”.  (This from people much younger than me!)

I’ve been running for about 20 years, and did quite a bit of racing in my mid 30’s.  Especially at trail races, I was one of the younger runners.  The first time I ran the Nipmuc Trail Marathon, there were about 100 runners, and only a handfull of them were under 30. I never occurred to me that older people would stop running. This winter I read an article in the local paper about a group of men in there 70s and 80s who were still running. They call themselves The Geezers.I chased some of these guys at races back in my racing days:  I want to still be running  that strong in 20 or 30 more years.

Much research has been done showing the benefits of exercise on healthy aging. Even people who were not active all their lives can benefit from activity taken up in later years.

Dara Torres swam in 5 Olympic games.  At her last games she was 41 years old, most of her teammates were half her age.  And compared to many other great athletes, Torres is just a youngster!  Merlene Ottey ran in 7 Olympic games.  In 2010, at the age of 51 she competed at the European Athletic Championships and ran 100 meters in 11.5 seconds.  WOW!

Jhoon Rhee brought Tae Kwon Do to the US, and was inducted into the TKD Hall of Fame in 2007.  He is 81 years old now.  I saw him on TV a few years ago at a martial arts award ceremony.  At a challenge from the emcee, he dropped to the floor of the stage (wearing a suit) and did 100 pushups.  Keiko Fukuda died recently at the age of 99.  She was a 10th degree black belt in Judo, and taught classes into her 90’s.

Jack Lalanne died at the age of 96.  He spent his life encouraging people to live healthy lifestyles, eating well, and working out.  He worked out regularly up until his death.

We have a team of local heros in Central MA.  Team Hoyt is made up of a father and son, ages 41 and 71.  They compete together, father pushing son in a wheelchair at races and triathlons.  At the Charlton Road Race a couple of years ago, I chased them up Masonic Hill.  Never caught them!

The longest distance I’ve ever raced is marathon.  At the trail marathon I met many people running their shortest race of the season.  Lots of them were ultrarunners.  One of the greatest ultras is the Leadville 100 miler.  In 1993, the winner was a 52 year old Tarahumara Runner named Victoriano Churro.  His teammate, Cerrilob, 42, came in second.  The oldest runner ever to finish Leadville was 70 year old Charles Williams in 1999.

So, I tell the chair people they are never too old to work out.  As a matter of fact, if they don’t get out of the chairs now, by the time they are my age, they might not be able to get out of the chair!  So go work out, especially outside.

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Rail Trail!

The woods are not as interesting in the winter as at other times of year.  Everything is covered with snow and looks the same.  There are very few critters to see, and nothing is growing.  Towards the end of this winter, though, I added  a new activity.

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I bought a new bike!  I call it a road bike, but Specialized calls it a multi-use bike.  I guess the proper term would be hybrid.  I bought it to ride for fun, to work, and on errands.  Panniers make it good for commuting and grocery shopping.  Anna got a new bike, too, and we found a fun new place to ride:  rail trails!

I read somewhere about the Norwottuck Rail Trail, and since Anna is going to school in Amherst, it seemed like a good ride to try. The trail starts in the center of Amherst, and runs on old railbed all the way to the center of Northampton.  The trail doesn’t go through UMASS, but there is a connector that runs from Southwest residential area to the trail near Route 9.

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The route is mostly level, and is all paved.  The road crossings are well marked, and the busiest ones, at crosswalks, have lights. There is a long bridge across the Connecticut river. Driving on the Route 9 bridge across the river, you can see the rail trail bridge, but I always figured it was an abandoned railroad bridge.

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This is the approach to the bridge from the Hadley side, going towards Northampton.  The river is huge, and the bridge is really long.  It has a deck made of weathered wood, and is fenced on both sides so there is no way to fall into the river!

There are many underpasses along the trail.  I don’t know if they were built from scratch for the trail, or if they were re-purposed from the railroad days.

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Shortly before the trail arrives in the center of Northampton, there is a weird spot.  I don’t know if the trail builders ran out of money, or ran out of ideas. The trail ends in a neighborhood near some railroad tracks that seem to still be in use.  A sign says “Rail trail toward downtown” but there is no sign of the trail.

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It turns out that you have to walk along a short dirt path, along the tracks for a while, carry your bike across the tracks, walk along the tracks a bit more, and down another dirt path.  Then the rail trail re-appears! Better signage would be appreciated.

Northampton is a busy place! It took us about an hour to ride there, and Anna says the bus ride isn’t much shorter than that.  The trail runs past an old trail station. and over a really cool bridge in downtown.

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There are lots of restaurants, and quirky little shops in town.  There are tons of people walking around, and way too much traffic. People park bikes everywhere.  We found a small bike rack near the end of the trail, but people lock bikes to railing, benches, and other bikes.

We had lunch at a really good casual restaurant called Local Burger.  Grass fed burgers with your choice of toppings, homemade fries and great milkshakes.

There are places along the trail where parking is provided, and there seemed to be more trail users near these areas.  Lots of runners, walkers, families with kids on scooters, and of course, bikers.  We saw two groups on fancy road bikes, wearing techy riding clothes, but most of the riders seemed more casual.  What surprised me though, was how many people bike without helmets.  I wonder if they drive without seatbelts, too.

This summer’s project is going to be to find, and ride, rail trails and bike paths around southern New England. I’ll let you know which ones are worth the trip.  Heading out soon for a trail run.  Go play outside.