Cow-calf commentary: Getting back in shape

Toward the end of last summer I developed a bone infection in my left ankle. The infection took root in an old surgical site where a disrupted Achilles tendon repair was done a decade ago. Most likely the cause of the infection was common skin bacteria which got into my bloodstream from barbed wire scratches. The bacteria found a place to thrive in the hardware left in place from the Achilles repair, which also left a path for them to enter the heel bone.
It took about five months of intravenous antibiotics and surgery to finally overcome the infection. I had the surgery On Dec. 10, and by Jan. 10 I was well on the road to recovery.
Of course five months of forced idleness took a toll on my level of fitness. By the time I was able to hobble around the block I realized that I’d lost a lot of muscle mass and gained a lot of fat mass. Not a
good combination.
So I began walking and doing a bit of strength training and some beginning Cross-Fit training.
At age 56 coming back from a physical deficit is not as easy as at age 26. But, as it turns out, it’s do-able. By the time calves started hitting the ground in late February I was slowly gaining the upper hand.
One of my favorite exercise regimes over the years has been hiking in the prairie with pack and rifle. Such hiking is a good physical challenge. Prairie ground is twisted and uneven compared to parks, fairways and walking paths. And it’s treacherous to the uninitiated or the unwary.
Yucca and prickly pear can poke and tear with their sharp spines, scourging feet and legs. Even the seed heads of mature grasses contain barbed spikes that penetrate clothing. Hiking the short-grass prairie requires an eye for terrain and a lightness of foot. The pavement plodder or lawn stroller will either quickly learn or be down and injured within a few
hundred feet.
I add a pack and rifle to make the hike more difficult. Occasionally I take the opportunity to do some shooting, but mostly the pack and rifle are there to increase the challenge and boost the efficiency of the hike. Hiking the prairie also gives me the opportunity to monitor and examine the health of the ecosystem that we rely on for our livelihood.
My first recovery hike on Feb. 15 was a mere 3.4 miles, but it nearly did me in. At the end of the hike, I was soaked in sweat, seeing spots, very tired and very sore. The next morning I felt quite good but also quite sore.
I fell into a pattern of doing prairie hikes every other day, with training and walking on the non-hiking days. Monday was a typical non-hiking day.
I did bench press, squats, curls and sit-ups, followed by one of the homemade exercises I’ve developed, which is to flip a tractor tire over a bunch of times. I finished with a 2.5 mile walk.
The tractor tire weighs 185 kg or 407 lbs. It’s 1.73 meters or 68 inches in diameter. Using the law of levers I can work out that I’m lifting just over 123 kg or about 272 lbs and the force required to do so is about 213.345 Newton meters. So in a very loose sense I’m lifting 213.345 kg or 470 lbs for each flip.
I do four sets of six flips plus one more flip to make 25. I do it as quickly as I can, which isn’t all that quickly, but comes in at about 45 seconds per rep for a total of three minutes, give or take 10-15 seconds. It’s a really good anaerobic workout. It makes my heart pound like a trip hammer and it takes a good 3-4 minutes to catch my breath.
Easter Sunday was a hiking day. It felt like a good day to push limits and see what progress I’ve made.
I intended to go about six miles with pack and rifle. Hiking the perimeter of the pasture I selected is pretty close to six miles, and it also features some interesting verticality, roughly a 500-foot elevation change.
There are two ways to hike the perimeter, obviously. Clockwise and counterclockwise. The distance and elevation changes are the same. On the clockwise route the uphill pitches are steep and short while the downhill pitches are longer and less steep. The counterclockwise path is the reverse. So does it make any difference, which way I go?
Well, for cardio purposes the difference is pretty profound. Long uphill pitches and short downhill pitches mean working against gravity for longer periods and with gravity for shorter periods. That yields more cardio work on balance. The other way means fewer minutes of more intense cardio and more minutes of much lighter heart load. They both have a place, but Sunday I wanted more load for a longer duration.
Once I hit a good pace and rhythm it turned into an excellent experience. Along the way, I was feeling good enough to traverse the banks of the two canyons that bisect the pasture. This added a couple of miles and some challenging short, steep pitches. So by the time I’d finished three hours had sped by and I’d managed to put in 8.4 miles.
It’s coming back. Not as quickly as I’d like, but that’s life.