aging · birthday · fitness

The Liberatory Power of Aging (Tracy turns 57)

Image description: Tracy, smiling 57-year old woman with grey hair just shy of shoulder length, dangling earrings, two necklaces, tank-style top, abstract painting in background.

So I turned 57 yesterday, and though I didn’t much feel like celebrating (because it’s hardly any sort of milestone birthday), I did. I took the day off and did only things I enjoy, starting with a 6 am workout with Alex and a hot yoga class a little bit later. I had lunch with a friend at my new favourite lunch spot (The Tea Lounge) and we each bought some of the art that was hanging on the restaurant wall. My parents drove in to spend the weekend with me, which is a celebration in itself that makes up for many missed visits during the pandemic. We went out for dinner to a fancy place (fancy at my mother’s request and it was amazing) and my mother baked two cakes for this afternoon. And we are getting take-out tonight (also at my mother’s request: “why should we cook?” she said. Why should we, indeed?!).

Birthdays always make me take stock, reflecting on what the year has brought, where I am “in life,” what’s working and what might need to change.

What has the year brought? The past year has brought a sense of monotony that I have not known before. At times, during pandemic stay-at-home orders, I felt as if I was living one long day. Yes, it was punctuated by sleep and meals, zoom sessions for this and zoom sessions for that, but oh the sameness of it all. Some days it took real effort, I have to say. Thank heavens for the kittens!

And yet, I developed routines, like regular workouts with Cate’s trainer Alex’s virtual training sessions, running, walks (sometimes with a neighbour in my building) and at-home yoga (mostly with Adriene). Despite the joy of being able to get out again, I am resenting having to revise these routines (so I can get out the door to get to work in the morning now that I’m not longer working at home).

The virtual world also opened up some new rituals with friends and family out of town. Movie night on Friday and Monday night dinner (all on Zoom) with my friend and former grad-school housemate Diane who lives in Iowa. Regular family zooms on Sundays with my brothers and parents, everyone joining from a different part of the province. Daily check-ins with my friend Steph, who lives in London but during lockdown (especially through the winter) we couldn’t see each other in person much. Fairly regular Wednesday evening fireside gatherings with a great group of women (even through last winter). Another Sunday call with my friend Manon who lives in Guelph. And periodic check-ins and occasional visits from a few other reliables, including Sam (but I guess we’ve been doing that since she moved away a few years back) and my step-daughter Ashley who lives in Vancouver.

Looking back then, I would say this year brought: monotony, consistency, and a focus on valued relationships.

Where am I “in life”? I think even writing this post indicates that I am in a sort of existential moment. Maybe that’s another thing the pandemic brought. Let’s just say I’m not where I expected to be as I turned 57. I’m on my own again, for the first time in a couple of decades, and not feeling super-motivated to change that. Though I do sometimes miss having a steady companion, I appreciate my solitude more. I’ve got a few more years of career ahead of me before I retire, and am trying to decide whether to ramp up or start winding down. If ramping up (the likely choice), ramping up in which area? Research and teaching? Administration? Still mulling.

Work is not life, of course, so where am I with other things? I’m reading more. Doing less photography. Doing more yoga, less running. Sleeping more, travelling less. More attention to family and close friends, less spreading myself thin across too many commitments.

A consistent theme for me of late, and I think it has come with age, is that I feel less “beholden” to others. I’m at a place in life where I really do feel tired of being so concerned with what others think of my choices. It’s exhausting to wonder whether I “measure up” to some external standard(s) that I may or may not embrace. I’ve had a lot of time through the pandemic to consider what I value. Experiencing more quietude and solitude has brought me in touch with my inner compass, with less of the magnetic pull of noise and busy-ness and the opinions of others to interfere with where it’s pointing me.

That can make me feel strangely and paradoxically untethered sometimes, but radically free and unburdened at other times. That’s where aging has a certain liberatory power. I have wondered at what age will I stop being so motivated by the prospect of approving others. It may be this age: 57.

What’s working? Hey, you might be saying: isn’t this a fitness blog? Well one thing that is working lately is my approach to fitness. And that’s partly because more and more it is guided by what I feel like doing. I realize that some people will say they can’t do fitness that way because they don’t usually feel like doing anything. In fact, I myself have said in the past (2013) that “intuitive fitness” doesn’t work for me. But I came to change my mind about that (2019).

My word of the year, “mindfulness,” is working. I’ve had a lot of time to pay attention and cultivate awareness in ways that make me feel more and more grounded. If I feel “off,” which has happened a lot during the pandemic, my commitment to mindfulness has helped me uncover what is going on with me rather than distract myself from it. Over time, this has been a great practice that always keeps me hopeful.

Doing less, which has been a theme of mine throughout the life of the blog, is definitely working for me these days in the rest of my life. I am not one of those people who idealize the pandemic for the way it made us all hit “pause,” but I have to concede that I like having more unscheduled time, more quiet evenings at home, and fewer social commitments (despite that it sometimes felt monotonous). I plan not to return to the old, overfull schedule.

What needs to change? I’ve had a lot of change over the past three or so years, and I’ve not quite settled yet. I called this post “the liberatory power of aging” because I really feel free to go in whatever direction I want. I’m less beholden to people, as I noted earlier, but that’s partly because I’m at an age where people aren’t expecting anything much. Rather than lament that, to me it’s a source of freedom. What that means to me is that although there are some things (within my power) I would like to change, like more photography, more writing (both scholarly and creative), more meditation, more knitting, and more consistent running, I’m still uncertain where this “transition” is going to land.

And I’m okay with that, and with this rambling blog post that may not be all that interesting but still felt good to write. Happy birthday to me.

Have you felt freer as you got older?

birthday · fitness · monthly check in

Sam is Checking in for August 2021

August 2021 is looking more like August 2020 than I might like in terms of the pandemic. As a result the pause on my gym membership continues until January 2022.

August is also the month when we start to lose the evening light and activities that depend on the light come to an end. The evenings are getting dark early for outdoor riding. No more weeknight Snipe racing either.

Racing on Guelph Lake, photo by Guelph Community Boating Club

It’s not all bad news. I did just order a new fancy wheel off bike trainer from Speed River Bicycles and I’m about to sign up for Zwift Academy Road. I’ll blog more about that later.

August is also the month the blog celebrates its birthday. Happy 9th Birthday blog! (We’re also coming up to our 5000th post. Wowza!)

August is also my birthday month.

I turn 57 on Tuesday. Friends tease me about the multi-event birthday celebrations but with family scattered and with conflicting schedules, I tend to celebrate my birthday with friends and family over a few days.

Here’s photos from Celebration #1, with Gavin in Guelph.

Celebration #2 involved riding 57 km with friends and family.

It was a stinking hot day (heat alert!) but we did it. Actually almost 60 km for my 57th birthday. There are no rules for birthday rides in my opinion but I’m glad we managed the distance given the weather. Phew!

There’s more celebrating yet to come on my actual birthday, August 31st, including an afternoon mammogram. Wish me luck.

aging · birthday · cycling · fitness

What are the rules for birthday rides!

A white coaster bike on a street under a sign that reads “Follow that dream”

I’m a member of a Facebook group for cyclists over 50. There’s a great group ethos of supporting one another however far and fast we’re riding. We even seem to have, knock on wood, laid the e-bike controversy to rest. It’s also the most geographically and racially diverse cycling group I’ve ever been a member of. 10/10 if you’re a cyclist over 50, who uses Facebook, recommend.

One of the common things that members post are photos of birthday rides. I love them. But what I don’t love are all the people who seem very insecure about what counts. Like, someone says “I’m 68 and I want to do a birthday ride. Is it okay if I do in kilometers or does it have to be in miles?”

Just today someone asked if it still counted if they did their birthday ride on a trainer because it’s cold and snowy in their part of the world on their birthday.

Can we scream together?

In response someone recently posted this lovely list of ‘birthday bike ride rules.’

Rules for birthday ride

  1. You must do your age or not.
  2. You must do it on your birthday or not.
  3. You must do it in one continuous ride or not.
  4. You can’t substitute kilometers for miles or not.

These rules must be strictly adhered to or not.

Next month I’m turning 57 and likely I’ll gather up a group of friends and ride 57 km but I also hope that if I make it to 80 while still riding bikes I won’t feel pressured to ride 80 km. Any distance, at any age, is a celebration of life and movement.

Happy Birthday and have a great ride!

Bike with a basket of flowers
birthday · Guest Post

A pandemic birthday tradition I’ll probably keep (Guest Post)

by Beverly Frans

Last year as my 54th birthday approached with no prospect of celebrating normally due to the covid lockdown, I decided to undertake a serious (for me) physical challenge instead. I’d recently watched a video where a guy did a marathon over the course of 24 hours by starting each hour with a 1.8 km run, then carrying on with his day until the next hour. That seemed like an attainable challenge except for the part about running and the part about 24 hours. On my daily walks I mulled over different possibilities for doing something pretty big but also doable at home or nearby and preferably not in the dark. It was my birthday celebration, after all.

I settled on doing a half ironman distance rowing/cycling/walking day. A few days before as I started to have niggling thoughts that this might not be the most fun way to spend a birthday, I posted about it in my women’s cycling club’s facebook group figuring that telling a bunch of people what I was planning would be insurance against wimping out at the last minute. I hadn’t reckoned on receiving a couple of dozen messages of support, though in hindsight, that’s exactly what I should have expected, since it is a very supportive and encouraging bunch.

The day went off without a hitch. I rowed 8 km, Zwifted for 90 km, and walked 21.1 km up and down my country road, stopping only for snacks, second breakfast, lunch, pee breaks, more snacks and clothing changes. There are definite advantages to creating your own home-based event and being the only participant. My reward was a flood of post-exercise endorphins, a huge appetite for birthday cake, and a massive sense of satisfaction.

A couple of weeks ago I turned 55 and to celebrate I did a made-up row/cycle duathlon consisting of 10 km of indoor rowing followed by 150 km of Zwifting, topped off with 30 more km of indoor rowing. This was a considerably bigger challenge (I had never even spent more than about 90 minutes on the rower) but I had more time to prepare for it since I decided to do it back in January when I was setting goals for the year.

I don’t need to remind anyone that this year has been a lot. To add to the general misery, the menopause symptoms I’d convinced myself I’d somehow miraculously avoided hit me with a vengeance. All of a sudden this winter I felt every day of my age and my confidence took a hit. Fuelled by stubbornness and meno-rage, I persisted with my plan, even though it was seeming more and more like a really foolish idea.

I’m pleased to say I completed the whole thing in less time than I predicted (and completing was always the only goal), and because I was unable to find any record of anyone else ever doing the same thing, it occurred to me that I am probably the current world record holder for this event. (9 hours 48 minutes in case anyone is interested in challenging it.) And I can confirm that it was, indeed, a foolish idea. Except that it was also one of the best things I’ve done lately, so I’ll probably do it again.

Even though my Oura ring is still grumbling at me about recovery, I’m already thinking about a bigger and better challenge for next year. I don’t know how long I can keep raising the bar, but I know that completing a significant physical challenge is a splendid way to start a year. The satisfaction of finishing something large and silly like that is a pretty remarkable antidote to the angst of being another year older.

Bev on her trainer

Bev has recently discovered the joy and pain of doing hard things for fun but mostly likes doing easy things. Cycling is currently her main obsession. She lives in Almonte, Ontario where the road and gravel riding is superb.

birthday · charity · cycling

Some days even I’m a completist…

Three years ago I wrote about not being a completist and about blogger Cate and accountant/duathlete Cathy who are. See Are you a completist? If so, you’ll wonder why Sam didn’t go for a short Sunday night bike ride!

Yes, this Sunday night, just home from the farm and a long drive from Prince Edward County, here I am just getting off my bike having ridden an oddball number of kilometres on the trainer. Why, you ask? It’s a reasonable question.

Again, weekly distance goals on Zwift that were almost, but not quite, met. My goal is to ride 100 km a week on Zwift. This week, I had done almost that (94 km or so) plus 50 km in Prince Edward County, the last of my summer charity rides, Pedal for Parkinson’s. But those were outdoor kms and they don’t count on Zwift.

You can sponsor me here by the way. I’m still a few hundred dollars away from my goal.

But likely the weekly Zwift distance goal wouldn’t have gotten me back on the bike.

However, tomorrow is also my birthday and I have a tradition of riding my age in kilometres on the weekend nearest my birthday. I’d ridden 50 but I am turning 56.

Back on the bike!

I chose to ride in virtual France. I kept going after 6 km had passed, just because. It’s very pretty virtual scenery.

Now I can call it a week. I’ve ridden more than 100 km on Zwift and my age in kilometres.

Night night!

Person standing by a bike at sunset. Photo by Robert V. Ruggiero on Unsplash.
birthday · blog · fitness

Happy 8th birthday to the blog!

The end of August is birthday season around here. Tomorrow, August 31, I’m turning 56 and today, August 30, the blog turns 8.

It’s no surprise, of course, that the blog and I have our birthdays so close together. I started the blog with Tracy as part of our fittest by fifty challenge, two years in advance of our 50th birthday. You can read the whole story here.

Have a magical birthday!

Eight years ago to the day I posted A bit about Samantha and Tracy posted A bit about Tracy. Our first real posts were a few days later but that was the day the blog was born.

Since then we’ve grown and changed. 4285 posts under the bridge. This is my 2180th post! Tracy has left the group of blog regulars and others have joined. We’re now a group of a dozen bloggers sharing our voices as they connect to themes of feminism and fitness.

We’ve also hosted more than 200 guests and if you’ve ever thought about joining us and guest posting you can read about how that works here.

Occasionally I start to wonder if we’re needed. And then I see things like this!

You can follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and we’re “FeministFitness” on Facebook.

birthday · family · fitness

Happy Birthday Mallory!

Happy birthday cupcakes!

My daughter Mallory, herself a fit feminist, has blogged here a few times.

Mallory Goes Thanksgiving Canoeing

Using “Carrot” to Earn Fitness Rewards 

Six Things I Learned on my Six-Week Bike Tour 

Our Algonquin Canoe Trip

My (Accidental) Barefoot Triathlon

Today is her birthday. She’s turning 28 years old. That strikes me as unbelievable. Some days I still feel like I’m 28! I’ve written lots about making fitness part of my family life and Mallory is a big part of that story.

She does some things that have never really been part of my life–swimming and rock climbing, for example. Together we both love camping and cycling. She’s also an intrepid outdoor adventurer, having done lots of solo tramping, in New Zealand, and winter camping, here in Ontario. I’m in awe of those things.

Thanks to covid-19 we’re not together physically for her birthday. And we aren’t camping or biking or rock climbing or swimming. Instead, we are physically distancing. We’re doing our part to flatten the curve. We’ll save the real party for later but today we’ll chat on Zoom, and have cakes in separate houses and separate cities.

I’ve been annoyed lately at the all people posting about how what we are being asked to do is simple and easy, just stay home and watch Netflix. But being apart from your children–even if they’re adults–on birthdays isn’t easy. Even a few weeks ago we were all talking about going away together for the weekend.

These are pictures from just a few of our adventures together. There will be more.

Happy Birthday Mallory!