What's the Time Barrier?
The Time Barrier combines mountain, time, and age.
4,800-foot Mount Moosilauke in New Hampshire. The local Abenaki Indians believed that an angry god lived on the summit, and they had the good sense to avoid the place. I've been in a whiteout blizzard up there in August. An 80-mile-an-hour gust once blew me over when I got above tree line, tumbling me into the scree. It can be eerie and creepy in the early morning, and the angry god resentfully shares the summit with a crazy doctor who, according to local lore, invented an immortality elixir to save his dying wife only to show up too late at her bedside...but that's a different story.
The real story has to do with a cool experiment that could help anyone over 30: a training regime based on solid research and top experts. At its conclusion this summer, I'll begin writing a book that tells my tale and details all the tools I employed.
In my case, 56 minutes and 59 seconds, or a minute longer after my birthday, August 27. Let me explain:
The shortest and most popular route to the Moosilauke summit, the Gorge Brook Trail, starts near Dartmouth College's Ravine Lodge, crosses the Baker River, and ascends 2,800 feet over 3.7 miles. The fastest recorded time up Gorge Brook is 36 minutes and change, though that's misleading; the trail has been lengthened a couple times since then, as trail crews have rerouted it around washouts. Nonetheless, the trail remains an excellent test of VO--the body's ability to take up oxygen--aerobic fitness, in other words. The Dartmouth College ski team holds a time trial every year in the fall. Used to be you'd get kicked off the Nordic team if you couldn't make the summit in 50 minutes. Now the time trials are just a way to see how much physical training the skiers need. Alumni and other old guys (all men) follow the Dartmouth students, running last. Most of these gents are real athletes, including ex-Olympians. And then there's me.
When I was in my thirties I ran the mountain several times every summer, turning in unimpressive times--47 or 48 minutes. Two decades later, I'm loaded with scar tissue. I don't get the incredible, cocaine-like endorphin high coming back down. My glutes have weakened. I look like an old guy just getting out of a chair. But that's the cool thing: while 47 minutes isn't impressive when you're thirty-something, 57 minutes is awesome, practically impossible, when you're 58.
I turn 58 this summer. Is there a better experiment to see how old I really am?
The bad news is, I've been trying, and failing, to run my age for six years. My best time was 60 minutes and 3 seconds. Which means my running age is older than my calendar age. So far. But this year I have more aces in my deck: I weigh less, I'm stronger, and I've been getting cool new therapies to make my geriatric hips and glutes behave. I'm training earlier and better and have some of the world's top experts advising me. This could be the year when I break the Time Barrier and look at my watch at the summit and hear the inaudible crack of the years falling away.
I really hope I succeed. I may not have many more years to try. Nearly all of my forebears, including my parents, died before they turned 62 of cancer (mother's side) or wasting neuromuscular diseases (dad's side).
And if I fail? Then I fail. This isn't some test of manliness. (It's a good idea to have your masculinity settled by this time of life.) I'm not fighting anything, exactly. You might call it: