aging · competition · fit at mid-life · running · training

The Half Marathon I’m Dreading

One month ago, I signed up for the Shape Half Marathon in New York on April 14. I haven’t run a regular road half-marathon in about a decade. I do still participate in the occasional trail running event, but some years ago I decided that I’d run enough road races. To compound my dread going in, I knew I wasn’t even going to be able to start training until March 14th(literally only 30 days before the race). Sure, I would be cross-country skiing for the weeks before then, so not out of shape, but certainly not in running form. I only signed up because a friend asked me to. The race is on her birthday, so … Before I could second guess myself, I registered.

Well, I’m remembering why I don’t do road races anymore. My head. My head. My head. I know I’ll be slower than my last half-marathon, yet I don’t want to know. I’m aging. I didn’t start running seriously until I was in my late 20s. It took me a while to find my strength. Which means that I had the good feeling of beating my younger self until I was well into my forties. Not so anymore.  A lot of days I don’t think anything of my generally slower pace. When I’m not training for a race, I’m able to think: How lucky am I to still be running? How good does it feel to travel on my own two legs? How strong am I? But these days, when I’m out for a training run, I think: Why am I so slow? Why am I so tired? Where’s my spring? Where’s my lightness? My zip? 

Pile of old wooden wall clocks, by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

The looming race screws with my sense of self-worth. My mind turns on me and I can’t access my gratitude. Sigh. There’s no joy in the training. Thank you, Sam, for pointing out earlier this week thatwe are not always going to have fun in our workouts. Though I want, as Tracy pointed out, to have some kid-like funwith my body. I am not having fun with this training. I’m having frustration and self-recrimination instead. 

Also, I did not ease into my training. I decided that with only a month to train, I’d start with a 14-mile run. You don’t need to tell me how ridiculous that was. Plus, I wore not just new running shoes, but a new kind of running shoe I’d not tried before. So smart. Turns out the new shoe style did something nasty to my calf, which has taken a full two weeks to almost heal. Two weeks during which I continued to run haphazardly, because how could I not do at least four 2-hour runs before the race? More like 2-hour lopsided slogs through a haze of discomfort. Last week I was only able to run once after my long run, because my body was in pain and exhausted. And I’m not even sure that my “long” run was actually a long distance, because I was in Illinois, running somewhere unfamiliar, and I don’t track distances. All I know is that I was running for more than 2 hours; who knows how far or not far. 

You get the picture. I’ve done a lot wrong to prepare for this race. I might have done better to rest for the full month and then run on the day in my old, familiar running shoes. Am I self-obstructing so I have an excuse (other than time and years) for a poor result? And by “poor” I just mean relative to my own past results.

I’m writing this with 10 days to go before the race. Here’s where I’m at: I know I can run 13.1 miles. That’s not the challenge. The real obstacle is my thinking. I’m competing with my younger self and that’s a losing battle. I need to make the mind shift. As one of the guided meditations I often listen to asks, “If I am not this body, who am I?” Or, I could just keep being disappointed in my physical self for the whole rest of my life (!). But that doesn’t seem like a wise choice. I know that how I think and what I think are choices. That’s step one. Step two is actually implementing that knowledge. 

So hard. Working on it! 

Anyone else slowing down? I’d love your thoughts and insights on how you’ve come to peace with the new normal.  

femalestrength · fit at mid-life · fitness · habits

Some things that make me feel great about my body (this year)

This week I’m super busy and super-stressed about being super busy. But, I am also feeling pretty good body-wise. That is, I’ve been doing more activity and more types of activities that have gotten me out of my winter movement doldrums. Infusing my physical life with some novelty has been refreshing; it’s almost like spring has come early. Well, almost…

Sam posted about some of us trying new things, and for me it’s not over yet; more new things may be in the offing. Stay tuned to the blog for details.

Last year this time I posted about 6 things that make me feel great about my body. I’d like to update the list to reflect what’s happening this year.

Yoga is sill on the list, definitely. Last year I wrote this:

Hanging out in downward facing dog or wide legged forward bend, I feel strong, stretched out, grounded, engaged with my muscles.  In shavasana (corpse pose for resting on the mat at the end of class) I connect with the floor, feeling my limbs and back and head and belly all sink into relaxation and stillness.  And when I get up to leave I feel grateful for the body I have.

Last summer I discovered yin yoga, and it’s added enormously to my enjoyment of yoga, my enjoyment of my body in stillness, and my enjoyment of my body stretching and experiencing shifts from that stretching. I love it.

I also wrote last year that I loved primping and poufing and prettifying myself from time to time, especially focusing on my hair. This year, I’d say I’m not so into that. I do like wearing clothing that feels comfortable, sleek, with pretty colors, and accessorized with more color. What I want more this year is comfort and ease in the clothing on my body.

Walking was on my list last year. But in September 2018, I sprained my ankle, and was in physical therapy for a long time. I’m a lot better, but these days am preferring the gym or the yoga studio to loads of walking. Paying attention to where I still need more healing seems like not a bad thing. Also, working on strength and flexibility through different exercises is where my happy place is (for now).

Cycling was and is and will always be on my list of things that make me feel good physically. But these days I’m letting myself spend more time on other activities before turning to cycling more. Now that spring is here and temps are rising, I’ll be outside on two wheels a lot. It’s been a nice change of pace, however, to try out other ways to move and work my body.

A new addition this year has been weight training. I’m still in the early stages of working with a trainer, but so far I love it– working with free weights feels elemental and pure. I really enjoy how I can tune in to my body when deadlifting, benching, etc. I am still in the process of putting it in place in regular rotation, but I’m getting there.

Finally (and I’m not putting out a content warning, but I will talk about my eating here):

I have had to change some of my eating habits because of a health problem (I had pancreatitis recently). This different way of eating in response to and because of that diagnosis has resulted in my feeling a lot better than I had in a long time. I’ll blog about this sometime, complete with content warning. But for now, let me just say that some health-enforced changes have resulted in my body feeling a lot better. Yay!

Are you doing anything that is making you feel luscious, yummy, energized, comforted, serene, on fire, ready for anything? Let us know– we’d love to hear it.

Two pairs of legs in blue tights intermingled-- I don't know what activity this is, but it seems like a happy image, so here you go.
Two pairs of legs in blue tights intermingled– I don’t know what activity this is, but it seems like a happy image, so here you go.
femalestrength · fit at mid-life · fitness · Martha's Musings · motivation · training · weight lifting

Fostering resilience through fitness

By MarthaFitat55

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Image shows a small fire surrounded by stones in the woods. In the background, a person wearing jeans and a plaid shirt holds a small branch. Photo by Jenelle Hayes on Unsplash

Every day I find myself using something I learned in my almost ten years with the Guiding movement.

While I might not ever go camping in the woods again by choice, should I land there, I know how to build shelter and fire and how to find water. I use my map reading and orienteering skills when I travel; I am conscious of my footprint on the earth and what I need to do to take care of it.

With my Brownie pack and my Girl Guide company, I learned to be part of a team, to solve problems jointly, and to respect others and their gifts. I learned to set goals, to acquire new skills, and to cultivate resilience and strength in myself and others.

I am grateful to the fabulous women who gave their time to support us girls in growing up to become competent, committed, and engaged members of our society.

Today is Thinking Day and I am reminded of what a great space for girls and young women the Guiding world is to learn some practical skills. And this reminds me that I have found or built other spaces where I can continue to grow and develop.

Like the gym. Not the gym of my childhood though. That place was fraught with stress and fear, the kind that is negative and immobilizing. While I know my gym of today can sometimes cause me stress (hello, wonky hip) and a little fear (goodbye Jacob’s ladder), it’s the good kind of stress and fear.

Photo by Meghan Holmes on Unsplash
Image shows a gym with green carpet and grey tile. In the background, a person moves ropes while another does pushups. Photo by Meghan Holmes on Unsplash

The gym is a place for me where I can build the skills that will make me strong, and I hope, keep me that way for a very long time.

The gym is a place where I can push myself to try new things. And it’s a place, when things don’t work, I can try again, or figure out a way to do it differently.

The gym is a place where I learn how marvelous our bodies are: for the things they do naturally and the things they don’t and the things we may need to re-learn how to do all over again.

For me, the gym has become a place of opportunity and a place where I value physical strength, in the same way being in Guides developed and supported others kinds of strength.

How about you? What does the gym mean to you (if you go to one)? What are the other places where you grow and support resilience and strength through fitness?

MarthaFitat55 is a writer lifting all the things, physical and mental.

aging · fit at mid-life · fitness · monthly check in

54

Today’s my birthday. I was going to do a big reflective post like I did last year.  Turns out, last year I  was full of gratitude for my life.

I still am.

But I don’t feel quite as reflective.  I’m good.  It’s February, and I am tired, and I’m still recovering from the flu.  But… I’m good.

I got home at 7 pm last night, and was super tired, but I went out for a short run and pondered what it means to be 54.  And I realized that 54 is really mid-life.  The things I’ve been working toward for decades — intentionally and just by wandering through my life — have come together. I am known for what I do, and I’m doing harder, better, more challenging and far-reaching work than ever before.  I’m on the edge of seeing the end of a volunteer development project with kids in Uganda I’ve been working on for 12 years.  I have the resources to have a home I love and to do all the travel I want.  I got serious about saving for my future a few years ago and don’t feel quite as panicked as I once did. I have the perfect cats. I have community and family I know and trust and care for.  My body moves the way I want it to, most of the time. I like my shoulder and calf muscles. I can do 108 sun salutations and ride 100 km. I have history and experience, and I’m living the fruits of that.

And the middle means… being stretched by aging and waning on one end, aging that just is, isn’t mindset or a construct, but just is.  My fingers are knobbled with arthritis that wasn’t there two years ago — I catch sight of my finger poking at my phone sometimes and am taken aback.  How is that my finger? That is an old person finger!  I’m fatigued, often — by unrelenting menopause, and disrupted sleep, and just less physical resilience than I used to have.  I had the flu in January and briefly caught sight of what it means to be frail and to live alone and to have your sink back up when you’re fighting a fever of more than 39.  I can feel hints of fragility and physical limits — and these are new.

And at the same time — 54 means still being tugged at by novelty, and adventure, and possibilities.  I still haven’t written all of the things that are in me, or learned swahili, and I know there are stories of who I am that haven’t unfolded yet.  There are chapters to be lived I haven’t even imagined yet, people to be loved and known I haven’t met yet, oceans to bob in and coasts to walk and roads to ride on.

54 is knowing myself. Knowing that even though I was tired when I got home last night, what my body and soul needed was a run from home to Coxwell and back. It’s knowing that I’ll sleep better and feel more satisfied in my soul if I scrub the kitchen before bed. It’s having a trusted spidey sense about what’s the right thing to do for myself — whether that’s yep, I need to do this work right now, there’s no other time to do it, or yep, yoga is what my body needs right now, not a spinning class, or yep, this is the right person to go on this date with, or yep, this is a good time to have a glass of wine. Or knowing that I am going to have a complete sugar crash that will mess with my life if I eat this brownie at this moment in time — and I don’t eat the brownie. It’s a knowing that comes with deep listening to myself, to what has unfolded because of the choices I’ve made in my life.

At 54, some pathways are off the table.  I’m not going to go to med school, or have a baby, or a 25th wedding anniversary, or, with this body and its various aches and vulnerabilities, run another marathon. Some things, you just time out of. And part of being 54 is being okay with that, in a way I wouldn’t have been five years ago.

For me, 54 is more about stretching myself more fully into the spaces I already know I love — rather than taking big leaps in new directions.  It’s getting better at the work I already do, and stretching into new niches. It’s embracing my role as Auntie Cate, for my own nieces and with various other people who wander into my life. It’s knowing that traveling alone truly feeds me in ways nothing else does — and finding every possible option to do that.  It’s going deep into yoga and shaping myself into forms I’ve never even seen before.

Like this one, from my Iyengar class on Wednesday.

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I don’t even know what that’s called — some kind of advanced fish pose. It was… exhilarating, opening in new ways. We spent about 45 minutes of that class in various forms of trikonasana.  It was intense, and hard, and focused.  And my body found new alignment, new edges.

That’s what 54 is.  Joy in going deep and full into the self I already am.

I’ll take it.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives, works and practices yoga in Toronto.  She likes to count things, and notes that this is her 90th post for Fit is a Feminist Issue.

 

aging · fit at mid-life · fitness · Martha's Musings · menopause · walking · weight lifting

Menopause, memory and fitness

By MarthaFitAt55

 

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Picture shows a paved highway shrouded in fog. Photo credit: Katie Moum on Unsplash

Last week SamB shared an interesting article from the New York Times discussing the brain fog of menopause. I was mightily relieved to read the article. Like the subject of the article, I once enjoyed a wonderful memory, and in recent times, I was dismayed to discover it had left me.

 

To learn there is a link between brain fog and menopause offers me hope. Over the past five years I have been actively working on improving my fitness. I have found yoga to be quite useful in helping me loosen up my ligaments. I have found swimming to be excellent at working my hip joints. My trainer creates programs that are diverse, work different parts, and are usually fun to do.

The challenge has been remembering how the strength exercises work. Despite the fact I have been doing a hip abductor stretch for five years, I never remember which arm goes up with which knee. Or she’ll say let’s do (insert name of exercise I’ve done multiple times) and all I remember is “blah, blah arms” or “blah, blah glutes.” What I do with the arms or my glutes is a mystery and I wait expectantly for my trainer to fill in my all too frequent blanks.

For awhile there, I was feeling quite stupid about not being able to remember an exercise from one week to another. Or I could remember someting I learned more than two decades earlier, but couldn’t recall a simple piece of information several hours after learning it.

Brain fog, or more properly termed “menopause-related cognitive impairment,” in women is disconcerting. We are responsible for many things: appointments, processes at home and at work, information, data. When you are used to being able to manage all the little bits in life without much effort, it can become worrisome when you lose that facility.

Luckily severe cases of brain fog can be managed with a short course of hormone therapy. However, if that’s not suitable, here something that can help: more exercise!

According to a report published last spring by Harvard Health, regular exercise can rewire your brain and help improve your cognitive skills and your recall. Plus regular exercise can help you sleep better, which also helps maintain your cognitive abilities and keep your mood elevated.

The good news is that cardio exerise really helps; the bad news is that strength training does not. However that doesn’t mean you need to ditch the weights. Variety in exercise offers you benefits in different areas and you don’t get bored doing the same thing over and over.

Right now I’m going to keep focused on my workout plan, I am not going to stress myself out over the need for repetition in instruction, and I will add in a couple of extra walks to keep the blood flowing to my brain as well as my feet. I will also celebrate the small wins like remembring when it is my turn to post!

— Martha is a powerlifter who lives and writes in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

 

 

 

athletes · fit at mid-life · fitness · Martha's Musings

Medals, recognition and being fair to all

matteo-vistocco-240766-unsplashBy MarthaFitat55

I have a box that I keep sentimental bits and pieces in for safe keeping. There’s the usual flotsam and jetsam of life: a ticket to my first Broadway musical, the tassel from my high school graduation mortar board, a funny postcard from my mom, a plastic Mickey Mouse, my girl guide pins and so on.  Hiding in the box are also two mementoes from two sporting events I participated in: my first ten mile road race and my first (and only) rowing medal.

I hear a lot about how everyone wins these days, from school yard sports days to intramural sports. But what if you signed up for a race and no one was there to see you cross the finish line? What if you forked over your cash, and there was no medal because they ran out? What if you registered hoping for a personal best and the timing mats were gone so no one, including yourself knows your official time? Or the most most worrisome, you were promised water stations and sign posts, and neither were available by the time you reached the designated areas?

Hard to believe but these are all true stories as reported in this open letter to race directors published a few days ago. That ten mile road race I ran back in 2003? You do run on a road, and for the first two hours, the race route is closed to traffic. Go longer, as many walkers and some slower runners do, and you have to hope for the best as the road re-opens and the cars move in. But is it really fair though that only the elite athletes get all the perks — the water, the cheers, the medals, the time chips etc?

I understand time limits and I know many of these races depend on volunteers and the goodwill of the residents in the neighbourhoods these races go through. I really do. The first year I ran the Tely Ten, back in 2003, there were about 1400 participants. In the 2018 race, there were almost 4100 runners, walkers, and wheelers. That’s a whole lotta people getting their fit on.

Even though there’s three times as many people, the actual time difference for the back of the pack has gone from three hours and 17 minutes to three hours and 33 minutes. That’s only a 16 minute difference. So why are the water stations packed away, the roads opened, etc?

Part of me suspects this is the kind of anti-amateur athlete bias we see in other sports. I still remember the dismissal female rowers got for their Regatta efforts in some media coverage. They were only in it to lose weight or look good opined a few, both on and off the record.

Perhaps the feeling is if you can’t train enough to keep up with those who can run a 10 mile race in under 90 minutes, you aren’t a real athlete? Maybe people think you aren’t committed to your fitness goals  or you aren’t training hard enough to keep up.

Whatever the reason, there’s a growing chorus out there saying every participant should have the opportunity to finish a race on equal footing with the same treats, water, supports, medals and timers whether you lead the pack or bring up the rear. Especially if you have paid for the privilege of being in a particular competition.

While I wasn’t best pleased to discover there would be cars in the roadway as I headed into the homestretch of my first real race, I did get my official time. I cannot imagine the feeling of having run a race and learning I had been bumped from the chip because I wasn’t fast enough. I can’t imagine not having water on a super muggy race day and having to depend on the kindness of strangers or making sure I could carry enough to keep me going. I cannot think how I would feel if I lost my way on a race course because the signs got picked up sooner rather than later.

We talk a lot here in Canada and also in the US about the need to become fitter so we can reverse the trend of fatter kids and obese adults. We have started having conversations on how we can best support access to affordable modes of exercise and sport and make them safe and inclusive spaces as well. And yet, when it comes to events that help us set benchmarks and allow us to compete with others, why do we have to treat the back of the pack with less respect than those at the front?

As race planners look ahead to 2019, we have to find a way to make sure everyone has a chance to compete on a fair playing field. From rowing, I learned we all have to pull together to make the boat fly. It’s time we pulled together so everyone, including those at the back, get a fair shake too.

Martha gets her fit on through powerlifting and swimming.

 

 

 

 

fit at mid-life · fitness · food · health · nutrition · training

Visit Tracy at the NJ VegFest 2018 this weekend

Image description: Poster with SATURDAY 10/6 at the top, the heading "Speakers" on the left, with photos of Dr. Joel Kahn and Tracy Isaacs underneath, and "Chef Demos" on the right, with photos of Gianna Ciaramello, Mini Dhingra, and Alyssa Miller underneath.
Image description: Poster with SATURDAY 10/6 at the top, the heading “Speakers” on the left, with photos of Dr. Joel Kahn and Tracy Isaacs underneath, and “Chef Demos” on the right, with photos of Gianna Ciaramello, Mini Dhingra, and Alyssa Miller underneath.

Hey everyone! Exciting times. I’m going to be one of the speakers at the New Jersey VegFest at Meadowlands Expo Centre this weekend. My talk, “Feminist Fitness Is for Everyone, including Vegans,” is at 1 p.m. on Saturday, October 6th. I’ll talk about what feminist fitness is, how Sam and I took that approach for our Fittest by 50 Challenge, the blog, the book, and being a vegan athlete at mid-life.  They’ll be selling copies of Fit at Mid-Life: A Feminist Fitness Journey (Greystone Books, 2018) and I’ll be sticking around after my talk to chat, sign books (whether you buy it there or bring it with you), and of course eat!  [I might also talk a little bit about my next book project, which is about ethical veganism and the expectation of moral perfection that vegans and non-vegans alike seem to adopt]

Marisa Sweeney and Kendra Arnold are the two main organizers and ever since they asked me to do this I’ve been following the NJ VegFest scene with envy. It’s not limited to this event — there was an Atlantic City VegFest in the summer (with a 10K run) where Scott Jurek spoke. Marisa and Kendra do an outstanding job and I can’t wait to experience one of their events first hand and to meet them.

It looks as if it’s going to be an amazing time, quite apart from my talk. There are going to be chef demos, other speakers, and loads of vendors serving up delicious vegan food. If you want to get a preview, I suggest following @njvegfest on Instagram.

One of the things Sam and I love most about the blog is the community that has sprung up around us. If you do decide to come, please please please say “hi.” I would love that.

I also have a favour to ask of people who live in the Manhattan area. Anita and I will be looking for a good running route on Sunday morning to do about 15K. If you have any recommendations for where we might do that distance without encountering too many traffic lights we’d love to hear from you.

Here’s the Sunday line-up for the VegFest:

Image description: Poster with SUNDAY 10/7 at the top. Under that three columns. "Food Justice Panel," with photos of Vincent DePaul and Michelle Carrera; "Supporting Vegan Kids and Caregivers Panel," with photos of Beth Cruz, Melody Lin, Michelle Carrera; "Chef Demos" with photos of Tere Fox, Amanda Borges, and Chef Rootsie.
Image description: Poster with SUNDAY 10/7 at the top. Under that three columns. “Food Justice Panel,” with photos of Vincent DePaul and Michelle Carrera; “Supporting Vegan Kids and Caregivers Panel,” with photos of Beth Cruz, Melody Lin, Michelle Carrera; “Chef Demos” with photos of Tere Fox, Amanda Borges, and Chef Rootsie.