aging · cycling · fitness · traveling

Cycling into one’s retirement years

As you likely know three of the regular bloggers here–Cate, Susan, and me– plus occasional visitor Sarah and friend David, spent the last ten days on a Newfoundland cycling adventure. I’d done it before. See here.

But I loved it so much I wanted to do it again and share it with friends. This time I loved that it rained different days of the trip and so I got to endure and enjoy different sections of the journey. Labrador looks different when it’s not foggy and rainy!

There’s lots to write about: the lovely people we rode with and met along the way, the rugged beauty of Newfoundland, the hills, the wind, the rain. It was hard and challenging and rewarding.

Me, David, and Sarah holding our bikes above our heads in front of the Newfoundland and Labrador sign

One of the things that always hits home on these bike trips where the majority of the participants are in their retirement years is the scope of what’s possible in the second half of life.

There’s Pixy who at 63 isn’t just biking the Nfld trip. She’s riding all the way home to Connecticut, solo, carrying all of her own stuff. Keith and John were both 72 and looked like they belonged on their bikes. Now they might be older than me but they have one big advantage, time to train. They expressed admiration for those of us working full-time, getting out on our bikes in the evenings, early mornings, and weekends. But still, thinking of the trip’s retirees, there’s something lovely about having that fitness, that drive to train, later in life when there’s time to enjoy it.

One way to tell this story would be to focus on the bus that accompanied us every step of the way. Not our sag wagon and gear truck. The seniors’ bus tour that was visiting all the same places. Writing this post a few years ago I might have contrasted the seniors on the bus tour with the seniors on our bike trip.

I’m less sure what to make of that contrast these days.

What 70 looks like isn’t just a matter of choice. Things happen. My knee has made me painfully aware of that. I also started thinking about the 30 somethings on our bike trip. Most people their age couldn’t do this trip either. It’s a matter of choice, of luck, of training, and of interest. I’m not sure that that’s different for seniors than it is for 50 somethings and 30 somethings.

You’ve got to want to travel this way. You have to think the rewards outnumber the hardships. And you’ve got to train and get ready and make cycling fitness part of your life. That’s true for all of us.

The whole bike trip crew boarding the ferry to Labrador
aging · Sat with Nat

Nat realizes she is high maintenance!

Honestly, I forget I have a high maintenance body. It’s only when I meet new people and see their genuine shock at what I do to keep my body feeling good that I realize I’m high maintenance.

I strive to walk every day. My walking commute helps me manage my stress and incorporate movement in my life in a manageable way. My partner is also a fan of a post-evening meal stroll. I also walk on my Wednesday lunches with two dear friends who happen to be colleagues. We laugh, catch up and enjoy the beautiful park near our work.

I play rec league soccer once a week with other colleagues. I play defense and am the second oldest player on the team. (Right Sue?)

Lately I’ve been back on my bike on the weekends in preparation for our local MS Bike Tour. I love cycling. It’s the one activity I do that gives me a big endorphin boost. These days 40 km is enough to get that lovely feeling.

Twice a week I’m doing weights at lunch with another colleague at the little gym onsite. We joke about how pumped we are getting. I’m trying to manage some tennis elbow & shoulder pain that has been nagging me.

Sometimes, not as much lately, I go to yoga on Sundays. In the nice weather I’m much more likely to be out in my garden digging, dividing and weeding. Turns out it’s a lot of squats and wheelbarrow dead lifts!

With all this movement surely I look like a shredded, buff, lean woman? Oh heck no. All this movement is just enough to support my mobility and mental health. I’m so high maintenance!

I’m very thankful I can do all these things that involve movement and often great company. I feel confident in what my body can do and don’t really feel any compulsion to abide by anyone else’s ideas of what I should or should not be doing.

I joke with friends that in my mid-forties I get to choose: pain from lack of movement or pain from working out. The working out pain has a different texture and flavour. I feel kind of badass as I limp around the day after soccer.

I’m fairly sure I can only achieve this level of activity thanks to regular massage, chiropractic, a night guard, good footwear, blood pressure medication and a CPAP machine.

Have you ever been surprised by others reactions to your activity level? I’d love to hear about it. Natalie smiles into the camera without makeup or jewelry

What high maintenance looks like!
aging · fit at mid-life · injury · motivation · running

I Recommitted To Running, But There’s Been A Bump

I want to renew my running vows. I want me and Running to hold hands and skip through a flurry of confetti in great outfits; the way we did back at the beginning of our relationship 25-years ago. 

As some of you know, I did a half-marathon in April (The Half Marathon I’m Dreading). I was not proud of my time. I self-sabotaged. My training was not exemplary. My head was not in the right place. Not the first time. The run made me realize—I love you, running, but I’ve let our relationship go stale. I love you more when we spend quality time together. When I pay more attention. When I push, even a little. When I commit. I have let the inevitable slowdown of age interfere with our joyful communion. Time to do something. 

Early in May, a friend invited me to join her Hood to Coast team. Hood to Coast is a 199-mile (36-leg) relay with teams of between 6-12 members. My partner has done it four times. But with a men’s team. I prevaricated. I said I needed the weekend to decide. I went hiking in Joshua Tree National Park with my partner. Side note: the Mojave Desert is spectacular. I hemmed and hawed. I decided, no. Wednesday, I hit reply to my friend’s invite. Started to type, “I’ve thought about it and I’m not going to join.” Instead I typed, “Sure. Sign me up.” 

What? Where did that come from? I’m a writer. My fingers often come up with words all on their own. But my fingers don’t usually take over decision-making. Sunday night, a few days after I signed up, I told a friend I was upping my game. The strategy of public commitment. My goal: To find the enthusiasm and focus of my years-past beginner’s mind. And at the same time, be mindful of not burdening that focus with performance pressure.   

Monday, I went for the first run with my new Warrior Queen headspace. My IT band hurt so much. I had to abandon my run. 

Aaargh. 

If you run and you have never had IT issues, you are extremely lucky. The iliotibial band is a big tendon running down the side of the leg from pelvic bone, over the hip to the knee. Pain usually manifest on the outside of the knee. In my case, pain is around the hip bone.   

But I’m committed. The Internet of Things delivered recovery plans. There’s time. I dusted my exercise ball.  I can cycle to stay strong. I replaced the exercise band I apparently threw out in a fit of optimism. I’m having fun doing short bursts of strengthening exercises throughout the day. I work at home, which makes that easy.  

So far, I’ve done:

  • squats,
  • single leg squats (a serious balance challenge), 
  • wall sits, 
  • abductor and adductor exercises with the band and ball, 
  • foot and arch strengthening exercises, and
  • a hamstring exercise, which involves lying on the floor, putting my feet on the exercise ball, elevating my hips and then doing repeats of pulling the ball toward me with my heels and pushing it away. The ball is squirrely, so there’s a lot of readjustment in every set. 

I’m also rolling on a trigger point tube. I can feel a big, painful bloop, halfway between my knee and my hip, as I roll over the muscle just behind my IT band. Plus stretching, but lightly. Plus acupuncture. Plus a Traumeel injection.

Silver crown on white background. Ashton Mullins on Unsplash

Fingers crossed; I heal with time to train. Patience. If I don’t heal, I still have my new WQ headspace for other sports and life in general. I feel a particular need for mental-emotional strength, because my new book, Run Like A Girl 365 Days a Year, is coming out in a month (featuring interview material with Samantha and Kim of this fabulous blog!). In one of those poetic convergences of life strands, the book is about the transformative impact of sports in women’s lives, just as I am living many of its questions with this latest injury. So, while I aim at WQ mind, I also know that if I don’t heal in time, I’ll probably be pretty disappointed. It will test my re-commitment. For now, I will ride the wave of renewed intention.

What’s your experience with renewing vows with a sport or other life activity or habit? 

aging · fitness · training · weight lifting

An Old Woman and Her Weights (Guest Post)

by Mavis Fenn

I joined a mainstream gym in August of 2006. I had been a gym member before but not for a long time. I was a ‘cardio’ woman. Faithfully, I mounted the treadmill and ran: warm-up, steady, peak, and cool down. That was me. Walking around on my way to and from the change room I would see these women lifting free weights. I didn’t know how to do that. I tried the machines. They were ok, a nice addition to my running. But, it seemed to me at the time, that they weren’t quite ‘it.’

There were a couple of women who were as regular with weights as I was with running. I was afraid, afraid I would injure myself or, in the case of kettle bells, others. Finally, I decided I wanted to try free weights and would ‘spring’ for some sessions with a trainer so I could learn how to use them properly and safely. My first trainer was nice but not happy where she was; most trainers don’t realize there are sales involved and there is always pressure to sell. She left for work in a factory.

They asked me to choose with whom I would like to work. I had seen a petite, well-muscled woman who always looked so serious and focused (at least to me). I pointed and said, “her.” The woman looked slightly puzzled, perhaps wondering why a mature woman like myself would choose an obviously serious trainer. “Alison, why?” she said. “Because I want to make her laugh,” I replied. For over a decade now, there has been lots of laughter along with lots of hard work. I learned that I was in control of the weights and the only limits were either genetic or self-imposed. Alison taught me how to overcome those self-imposed limits. When my, “no, I can’t” was based in fear, she pushed me to go outside of my comfort zone. I did because I trusted her to know me, emotionally, intellectually, and physically, aside from my insecurities. For me, training is a team sport.

Nothing has empowered me more than lifting weights. It has enhanced my self-esteem, made me more independent and adventurous, and in control. I have a sense of pride in my ability to manipulate heavy objects and my body to lift them. Make no mistake, I am not good at it but I am a certified “gym rat.” Others recognize my determination and acknowledge my efforts. I belong. I have learned through experience at several gyms Alison and I have trained in that it isn’t really about the size or shape of your body, it’s about your dedication.

A few years have passed since I began training, thirteen as a matter of fact. I am old now or older if you prefer. My training has changed too. It is still about challenging myself and doing the best and most I can. The focus though has shifted to building muscles to protect my arthritic knees, to allow me to get out of a chair gracefully, to be strong enough to stand upright and firm (and throttle a fantasy purse snatcher). I may be old but I refuse to be vulnerable.

I will continue to do as much as I can, as hard as I can, for as long as I can. And Alison will be right there beside me to keep me from toppling over. And occasionally, there will be Queen (We are the Champions) and 200 pound deadlifts.

Thanks to Alison for allowing me to use her name. If you are looking for her, she’s at https://www.facebook.com/pg/alison.push/posts/?ref=page_internal

Image description: blue kettlebell in the green grass

Mavis Fenn is an independent scholar (retired). She loves lifting weights, Yin yoga, and Zumba Gold. She is mediocre at all of them.

aging · fitness · health

How Bettina learned to stop worrying and love the physio (well, maybe ‘love’ is a strong word)

My mother has back problems. And shoulder problems, neck problems, and arm problems. In short, she’s a chronic pain patient. It started when she was in her early fourties. One day, her shoulder started hurting and never stopped. The rest came as she went along. She tried cycling, she got back problems. She tried swimming, she got elbow problems. Knitting, lifting anything even remotely heavy, too much yoga (and you never know in advance what “too much” is), sitting anywhere with even the hint of a draft, are all out of the question. Being my mother – one of the most strong-willed people I know – she soldiers on. She’s now 71 and still does light yoga, a lot of hiking, and a huge amount of daily physio exercises.

I’m in my mid-30s now. Needless to say, one of my main fears is that I will run into the same issues. Granted, I have a few things going for me that might, at least, buy me some time and at best, prevent me from ever having the same amount or intensity of issues. My mother was born in rural post-war Germany, when good nutrition wasn’t a given. As the daughter of farmers, she spent a lot of time crouching in potato fields when she was young. She worked as a nurse for years and did a lot of heavy lifting. She didn’t really exercise regularly until she was middle-aged.

I, on the other hand, started swimming when I was in primary school (at the insistence of my mother, because it was supposed to be good for my back). I’ve always exercised regularly. I was well-nourished from the start. I’ve never worked a physical job. And yet.

So, in anticipation of Really Bad News, I postponed visiting the orthopaedist for a Really Long Time. But earlier this year, fear finally got the better of me, so I went. “I don’t want to end up like my mother”, I told him, and asked what I had to do to prevent it. “Are you in any pain?” he asked, which I happily denied. He looked at me slightly funny, but gave me a thorough examination. Apparently apart from a tendency to hunch and wonky hips, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with me. But just so my insurance could get its money’s worth out of the visit (by paying more money), he prescribed me five sessions of physiotherapy.

Photo of a bendy wooden doll. Bettina is trying to get her body to stay that flexible.
Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

I went to the physiotherapist and got similarly quizzical looks. It seems like if you’re not in pain, you’re not supposed to be there? I was surprised. And I realised my privilege of being relatively young, fit and “healthy”-looking has a consequence I hadn’t really considered much: people mostly concerned with healing don’t expect me. That was an interesting experience.

Luckily, my physio is awesome and adaptable, and was happy with damage prevention rather than control. He realised quickly that I actually do a fair amount of sports. So in the first session, we did a test that’s normally administered to athletes to discover their musculoskeletal weaknesses.

My lower back, hips, and shoulders are my weak points, with the lower back being the weakest. So my physio has been giving me exercises to do at home to strengthen it, and I’ve been trying to incorporate them into my routine. Honestly, I don’t enjoy them much. They’re exhausting, which probably means they’re working, and fairly boring. But that’s why I went, wasn’t it? To do things to hopefully prevent me from being in pain. So I’m going to take a page out of Sam’s book and try to do my un-fun physio exercises regularly. I’m also trying to focus on yoga routines that centre on my “problem areas” and incorporate asanas that are similar to the exercises I’m supposed to do, like Warrior 3, or chaturanga.

So what’s the verdict after four out of five sessions? I have a better awareness of my weak points and how to correct them. I have a bunch of exercises I can do at home. I’m curious to see if they will bring long-term improvement. Watch this space to find out how long my newly-found love… er, tolerance of physio lasts.

Do any of you have experience with physiotherapy? And how to be disciplined and make it stick, even if the benefits aren’t immediately obvious?

aging · cycling · disability · hiking · running

Aging Ungracefully (Guest Post)

By Mavis Fenn

About a month ago, my son and daughter ran the Round the Bay 30 km road race in Hamilton. A brutal course, complete with Grim Reaper. I never could have completed it. As I stood at the finish line, I marvelled at those crossing: varied in age, gender, race, and from a range of provinces and countries. Some finished strong, some not so strong, and some struggled to make that final footstep. And my heart hurt as the waves of runners crossed the line.

I didn’t understand the heartache. I haven’t run for years due to a meniscus tear and arthritis in my knees. I have large velcro braces for both knees when I need to walk for some distance, and will be trying gel injections by the end of summer. My knees are always stiff, and frequently painful. I lift weights, do yoga, and Zumba Gold (now Aqua). I intend to ride my bike this summer. My life is still an active one; why the heartache?

After some reflection, I realized that I had not yet given up the idea of running. In the recesses of my mind was the idea that I might run again if: I lost some weight, got some heavy duty running braces, and so on. That won’t work for me due to other issues. I am not a runner now and I will not be a runner in the future. That’s it.

The wave of runners crossing the finishing line destroyed my “magical thinking.” I was experiencing grief. The death of an ability; the death of something that gave me great pleasure; the death of part of my identity; indeed, the recognition that I was dying. I have experience with grief. I let it into my heart and embraced it. Grief brought with it remembrance of my father who lived until 94. He did what he could as long as he could. When a door closed behind him, he opened another one until there were no doors left. I have closed the door marked “running” behind me. I have not paid enough attention to the doors in front of me, biking and walking.

Time to move on. I will always enjoy watching that wave of people crossing the finish line at the Round the Bay but I am content not to be one of them. I am working on my fear of bike riding, and slowly increasing my walking. Endurance is the key.

Mavis Fenn is an independent scholar (retired). She loves lifting weights, Yin yoga, and Zumba Gold. She is mediocre at all of them.

accessibility · aging · fitness · yoga

Sam has become “that person” in the fitness class!

Years ago I remember watching a woman in a yoga class at the Y who seemed to be just doing her own thing.

The instructor would tell us what to do and sometimes free spirit lady followed along and at other times not. I was puzzled. Why even come to class if you’re not going to do the thing the instructor is doing? What’s that even about?

Zoom ahead twenty years and OMG I’ve become that woman in yoga class. I was at bike-yoga at the university. The instructor kept demonstrating postures I can’t manage. Some are ones I’m positively told not to do. Instead whenever the pose was one of the forbidden/impossible ones I did my own thing.

My knees were happy. I was having a good workout. But some of the university students looked at me in a funny way. I think they thought I didn’t hear or see what I was supposed to be doing. And then it dawned on. I was free spirit yoga lady.

I’m okay with that. I’m with Cate that knowing your body and what it needs and doing that is one of the joys of aging.

How about you? In group fitness classes do you ever do your own thing? How does it feel?


Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash