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.

51454859_1993339414054876_4207737317672091648_n

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

 

katie-moum-446408-unsplash.jpg
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.

 

fit at mid-life · fitness · Martha's Musings · traveling · walking

Stepping on it …

By MarthaFitat55

 

IMG_E1210
Image shows a chart of steps achieved in a week.

 

 

Last month after almost eight months without a fitness tracker, I bought a new one just a day before I went on holiday. I had been missing my fitbit, which readers may remember that I used to track sleep, and with a return to swimming, I thought it would be good to get one that was waterproof too.

As with anything I undertake, I made sure I had a couple of “regular” days to see how I was doing stepwise, and then I was off. My average step count — if I do not think about moving in an active way– is about 5000 steps. When I travel, the count goes up since I tend to rely on public transportation or my own two feet.

I was happy to find that the counts steadily increased with each day, and about three days in, I was easily making the recommended 10K step count. In case you are unfamiliar with this concept, getting 10,000 steps a day helps you feel better, have lower blood pressure, and more stable blood sugar levels. These days though, the thinking is that we should aim for 15K because:

More recently, some researchers have suggested 15,000 steps might be even better. A snapshot study of Scottish postal workers found that individuals who walked an average of 15,000 steps per day had normal waistlines, healthy cholesterol levels, and a lower risk of heart disease.

Well, on my travels, I saw those Scottish postal workers and I raised them to 20K levels. In Fitbit language, when you make 5000 steps, you get a boat shoe award. Hit 10K, and you get a sneaker award, and 15K will net you the urban boot award. I collected those and in my last week and half, I was regularly collecting between 20K and 25K steps a day.

I did a rough calculation at the end of my trip and learned I had walked more than 300,000 steps in my three weeks, a record for me. But that wasn’t the only thing I learned. The first couple of days I experienced a wee bit of soreness in my feet as I ramped up the number of steps, but as time and I rolled on, that eased.

Since I have been back, my step count hasn’t been quite so stellar. And I have more stiffness and less flexibility. Part of that might be attributed to my return to more formal footwear, but I am inclined to think it is because I am moving less.

I also have a fairly sedentary job. As a writer, I don’t move around a lot, and that means I have to think about making sure some fitness activity is a priority for me every day. Enter the Fitbit again: I can set reminders to take a wallk or go up and down a flight of stairs.

The reality behind hitting your step quota is that more movement is better, and increasing the challenge or intensity of that activity is wonderful. Since I have been back from my break, I have been looking for ways to keep moving, whether that means bypassing the front door parking spot when I visit clients, taking the stairs both up and down, or taking a brisk walk of ten to 15 minutes.

The weekend after I returned, Fitbit sent me a message that I had achieved the Great Barrier Reef distance badge, or a total distance of 1600 miles. Totally I chuffed, I looked up the next badge, which is Japan, equal to another 289 miles. I may not get on a plane any time soon for my next hoiday, but walking to Japan virtually will be the next best thing.

— MarthaFitat55 lives in St. John’s. She, in fact, owns several pairs of sneakers, one pair of hiking boots, and a lovely pair of cherry red rain boots, but not a single pair of boat shoes.

feminism · fit at mid-life · fitness · media

Sam and Tracy on Daily Blast Live! Resonating with journalists everywhere!

Image description: Low angle urban street shot of Tracy, standing in workout clothing, Sam, in workout clothes with a black tank top that says FEMINIST, on her bike, standing with one foot in the pedal. Stop sign and building in background.
Image description: Low angle urban street shot of Tracy, standing in workout clothing, Sam, in workout clothes with a black tank top that says FEMINIST, on her bike, standing with one foot in the pedal. Stop sign and building in background.

Sam and I did another TV thing the other day, and it was great to have an opportunity to visit her in Guelph, where she’s heading into her ninth month of the big new job! We had to be in the same room to Skyped in to do a taped interview for Daily Blast Live! It’s a TV show that is syndicated across over 40 stations in the US and also shows on YouTube and Facebook. We’ve learned a couple of things about TV and interviews in general since the book came out and we’ve done some media. One is that TV interviews are super brief and you have to get to the point really quickly. Here’s our Daily Blast Live segment, which was only a 5 minute interview to begin with and then got edited down to about 2:30.

The other thing we’ve learned is that, especially for the women who interview us, the book really resonates with the interviewers in a personal, non-journalistic way. Even in the parts that they kept, this interviewer was enthusiastically committed to our book and its message. But throughout the five minutes we were chatting with her, she expressed a personal identification with the book and its message several times.

This particular interviewer didn’t turn to a sad personal story. But we have had many an interview where at a certain point the person asking the questions switched from her journalistic role to her own life, her struggles with body image, fitness, dieting, and weight loss. It’s never a happy story. At least so far it never has been.

We don’t feel great about the sad stories, but it’s not as if it’s news to us that many (most?) women have a vexed relationship with their bodies, workouts, and food. So it’s encouraging when our feminist fitness message resonates with anyone, even the journalists who are interviewing us.

Here’s to feminist fitness!

cycling · fit at mid-life · fitness

Kim gets out of a rut by getting back into the saddle on a spontaneous solo bike holiday

fullsizeoutput_10b1

(A grey road bike with orange bar tape and white lettering reading ‘cervelo’ set against a backdrop of rolling countryside. This shot was taken in celebration at the top of Ditchling Beacon, the great stinking East Sussex hill in the blog post below.)

If you follow my posts on FFI, or follow me on my teaching blog, The Activist Classroom, you know I’ve been a bit low lately: not resting enough, feeling frustrated with work, unsure about my fitness commitments.

I’ve had some significant change in my life over the last handful of years, but now that I’m more settled, in a wonderful new community, I’m realizing that my emotional upset isn’t just keyed to all the changes: it’s also more.

I’m at midlife, so there’s that. I’m looking into the next 20 years of my career, and wondering what it is I really want to do. I’m in a new relationship, which is fantastic but also makes for the adjustment of well-loved (and relied-upon, and sanity-saving) routines. And… and… and…

It’s an emotional cul-de-sac. And I’m in it.

Usually, when I’m not in a great place, I’m cheered immensely by getting on my bicycle. There’s incredible freedom in just rolling, sometimes punching a hill and coasting down the backside, letting thoughts pass in and out, engaging in some supportive self-talk. It’s like meditation for me.

fullsizeoutput_10c3

(Another glam shot of my orange-and-grey road bike, this time set against a tree trunk in a forest setting. I put a filter on this shot to make it look a bit nostalgic; I miss my bike these days.)

Lately, though, jumping on my bike has not been as regularly possible as in the past. I’ve made a commitment to row quite frequently with the master’s squad at my new local club, and that’s eating a lot of free time. (More on my vexed relationship with rowing in a post later in the summer. I’m still working it out.)

With up to 10 hours per week at the rowing club – and practices scheduled directly against the group rides organized by my cycling club – I just can’t find the saddle time I’m used to. And I’m really quite bummed about that.

I had a chat with Cate about all this over breakfast a couple of Sundays ago. She said: you know what? You need to do what nourishes you.

Forget about the rowing club commitment for a bit; nobody is going to die if you say you can’t make it to practice. They’ll work around you. And you need to work for you for a while.

Very shortly after this breakfast chat I was packing for a work trip to London and Belgrade. I had 10 days in the UK ahead of the conference I was attending in Serbia. I was going to just spend it with friends.

Then I had a brilliant, spur-of-the-moment, idea.

Why not carve out a couple of days just for riding? Someplace wonderful! Someplace I know, but haven’t been in ages. Someplace restful, scenic, where I can be alone and at peace on the bike all I want.

fullsizeoutput_10cc

(A black-and-white photo of an iron sign that reads “Best Kept Large Village in East Sussex, presented by the Sussex rural community council”. That’s Ditchling, my cycling home for two days in early July. And what a fine little town it is!)

I always travel to England with my road bike; I first learned to cycle properly there, and I know the ins and outs of the home county roads well. So I was always going to have my bike with me already. (NB: traveling with a bike is easier than you think! You need a good bicycle box for airline travel, but otherwise it is not that complicated.)

The morning of my flight, I sat in my garden and arranged two days in Ditchling, East Sussex. It’s a short train journey from central London (about 50 minutes), but a world away, in the rolling South Downs just over the hills from Brighton.

I have cycled there twice before – riding the “Puncheur” cyclosportif (aka, a gran fondo ride), which happens every spring in the area – and I’ve stayed at the wonderful, picturesque Bull inn too.

The Bull team told me I could park my bike in their locked shed overnight, and accommodated all my cycling needs (ice water constantly on tap; friendly faces telling me about their own cycling adventures). I arrived on a sunny Monday afternoon, dropped everything, and headed into the hills, GPS maps for my bike computer downloaded from the Puncheur’s website.

Then, the next morning, I retraced the race route I’d last cycled in 2014.

(A group of four photos from my long ride in Ditchling. There are rolling hills with parched grassland – there was a drought going on – and copses of greenery dappled throughout. In one shot we see the roadside sign for The Crown freehouse in Turner’s Hill set against a bright blue sky. In another I’m smiling into the camera with my helmet and glasses on; I look pink but that’s the filter. My kit is actually green. Oh, and there’s a sheep chilling behind me. I’m in the Ashdown Forest.)

It’s a pretty tough ride, at 101.5km and almost 5000 feet (1560 metres) of climbing, including a brutal 3/4 mile category 4 climb (Ditchling Beacon) at the end.

But hey, I wasn’t actually doing the race! I reminded myself, when things started to get iffy, that this ride was just for me, and I was in charge of how it went: nobody was watching, and nobody was timing me. (OK, I was timing me. But that’s a little bit different.)

When I saw cows and sheep in the road, in the pretty Ashdown Forest, I stopped to photograph them. When I felt drained and like I probably couldn’t go on much longer, I stopped at a public footpath to eat my lemon drizzle cake, purchased from the sweet Green Welly cafe that morning, and take in the view.

And when I got to the bottom of the bloody Beacon, really drained from a long day on my own in the sun and wind, I said: you know you’ve got this. Just spin nice and slow; you’ll get there.

And I did.

At the top I snapped some photos of the view, cheered my achievement, and noted that I had beaten my 2014 route time by almost 20 minutes. That means that, even though back then I was 4 years younger and 15lb lighter, since then I’ve obviously grown stronger, and even more able.

The lesson for me? Although things feel a little bit crap at the moment, and I’m not quite sure what’s ahead, at the top of the beacon I knew: my bike and I have got this.

Ride on!

Kim