It’s the new year and my newsfeed is full of inspirational images and sayings. Mostly I’m not a fan but I do love the ones generated by Inspirobot: “an artificial intelligence dedicated to generating unlimited amounts of unique inspirational quotes for endless enrichment of pointless human existence. “
A red and pink heart shaped rock, resting on fall leaves on the ground, sprinkled with snow. It’s hand painted and the black letters read “every day is a fresh start.”
You can read all my past monthly check-in posts here. They all have a content warning for discussions of weight loss, including this one.
What’s up? (and down?): I’m working out a fair bit. I’m going to easily make my goal of 218 workouts in 2018. I’m doing lots of different things and enjoying them. But something feels different now. It’s catch as catch can. I don’t mean that in a bad way but I’m not training. It’s not purposeful. It’s fun and it feels good but I’m learning that, for me, that’s not enough motivation. It’s got me thinking about life and plans and what makes me tick.
On the one hand I’m impressed that I’m managing to work out while dean-ing, but on the other, I want to achieve something. I need goals, people. Big goals. Like being the fittest by fifty! But not that. I’ve been there and done that and co-written the book. You can buy it here.
I’m a type A goal achieving sort of person and I need that in my fitness if it’s going to be fun.
But there’s only so much Type A my life can take. And Dean-ing is a big job. I don’t mean that just in terms of hours. It’s also about scope of responsibility and making big plans. It’s no surprise that my big fitness burst took place during my break from academic admin roles. I was Chair of Philosophy at Western from 2002-2011 (with a year off for good behavior somewhere in the middle, hello Australia!). I started Dean-ing in 2018. The fittest by fifty challenge and this blog began in 2012. Tracy and I turned 50 in 2014.
So big ambitious jobs and big ambitious fitness goals aren’t fitting together very well for me. That might be just fine. The one, modest but very important goal I do have concerns my knee. It’s a lot of work! All of this damaged knee maintenance is wearing me down. Yes, I’m doing the thing. I’m losing weight. I’m doing physio. I’m so far successful at wearing the knee brace when I am doing long walks.
And fitness is still fun but I’m also still sad about all the things I miss: No more running. (See sad bye bye running post.) Definitely no more soccer. I’ve also said goodbye to Aikido, but not here on the blog. I’ve been too sad to even write about that loss. I’ve got a post in the drafts folder about how I miss throwing people around but I can’t finish it.
I keep thinking I should just stop blogging about fitness-y things, make it a less central part of who I am. Blog about dean-ing? Or, sometimes I keep looking for big fitness goals I can do, like riding and lifting. Or continue to make progress with swimming. Or new things I want to try like horseback riding.
Oh and it’s dark, really dark. We’ve got the earliest sunsets right about now. And some days it doesn’t ever seem to get light at all.
On the bright side, I’m really loving my new job. I love the College and all the exciting work that’s being done here. I also love Guelph. You can come check it out in January at the Night at the Museum Event. Register here.
In my no excuses winter cycling plan I talked about making big summer cycling commitments as one of the ways I motivate myself to train for cycling through the cold snowy months of winter.
I thought I’d share those summer commitments with you. Now I’m doubly committed. I planned to do the thing and I told you about it.
In May Sarah, Jeff, and I kick things off with the Five Boros Bike Tour.
“The Five Boro Bike Tour is an annual recreational cycling event in New York City. It is produced by Bike New York. Conducted on the first Sunday of May, the 40-mile ride includes over 30,000 riders. The route takes riders through all five of New York’s boroughs and across five major bridges.”
Here’s Kim and Sarah R and me and Sarah lining up at the start.
June is our biggest thing. We’re doing a ten day bike tour of the northwest coast of Newfoundland. It’s a lot of riding, a lot of hills, and also likely some rain. It’s June 29-July 8. So far it’s Sarah, Cate, David and me. But if you’re interested, sign up!
On August 11 we’re doing the One Day Friends for Life Bike Rally. Sponsor me here.
I understand that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is pointless.
However, I still HATE being told that I have to step out of my comfort zone.
For me, even the phrasing is upsetting.
It’s a disorienting piece of advice, like being told to abandon everything you know and leap into the unknown.
My immediate reaction is to say ‘NOPE.”
So, I was really expecting to agree with Melody Wilding’s Please stop telling me to leave my comfort zone it seemed like it was going to be the sort of advice I use with my clients. I was expecting to be disappointed that I hadn’t written the piece.
That’s not how it worked out.
Even though she and I share a lot of the same perspective on the value of ‘comfort zones’ and the same distaste for being told that leaving that zone is the only way to grow, I found her depiction of leaving a comfort zone to be very odd. It was as if, for Wilding, there were only two states of being – living in a comfort zone or constantly maximizing your stress.
That’s a very extreme view. It’s no wonder that she wants to stay in her comfort zone if the only other option is full crisis-mode.
I don’t want anyone to regularly spend time in full crisis-mode, that’s not good for your health. However, I also don’t want anyone to stay confined to a ‘comfort zone’ if they want something else for themselves.
That’s why, when I have to coax my clients toward change, I encourage them to EXPAND their comfort zone. To take small risks, be slightly uncomfortable, and gradually increase what the actions and activities that they are comfortable with.
I tell them that change is difficult and it can be uncomfortable. And I remind them that some people enjoy the disorienting feeling of jumping right into something new. If my client doesn’t enjoy that feeling, then there are lots of other ways to change and to grow – slowly.
It will require a certain amount of willingness to be uncomfortable, and maybe even a few minutes of panic, in some cases. However, they can build up their tolerance for those feelings.
And, in talking about this whole issue with some of the other Fit is a Feminist Issue bloggers, I came to realize that there was an aspect of the issue of comfort zones that I had been missing.
Since I am firmly pro-comfort zone, I didn’t know that there are people (Hi Mina!) for whom the comfort zone is actually UNcomfortable – it feels too safe, too easy, too controlled. So getting away from that comfortable feeling feels GOOD to them, they aren’t ‘stepping outside their comfort zone’ in the same way I am. They are stepping TOWARDS something that feels better for them.
(So, perhaps there are multiple kinds of comfort zones. Maybe some are about staying the same and some are about constant change, depending on what feels right for you.)
But, when it comes to what we usually mean when talk about comfort zones (i.e. staying in a ‘low-risk’ area skills-wise), I agree with Wilding about their importance. There is a lot of valuable work to be done from within an individual’s comfort zone, a lot of good things come from there. I don’t advocate making yourself miserable for no reason, or worse, just to show that you can step outside your comfort zone.
And I think that she and I are probably operating in some of the same spheres – calculated risks, small steps, gradual growth – but I think that there is something off about setting up comfort and panicked stress as a dichotomy.
Ultimately, these quick snippets of advice that get tossed around as memes are lacking in nuance. They are one-size-fits-all and it can be annoying the way they held up as received truths.
When you are trying to make changes in your fitness, your self-care, or in your habits, you have to take your own path.
Maybe you thrive on the stress of the unknown and you love the challenge of overcoming your discomfort and meeting your goals. If that’s the case, keep stepping towards what feels good.
Or, maybe you are more like me (and, apparently, Wilding) and you find that full-on discomfort is overwhelming and prevents you from making progress toward your goals. If that’s the case, keep taking those small steps outward and EXPAND your comfort zone until you are where you want to be.
Neither approach is bad or wrong in itself. It just might be the wrong tool for a given person and we can’t presume that our approach is the ONLY way to get things done. Obviously, different tools work for different people
One of my favourite writing quotes is by A.J. Liebling – “The only way to write is well, how you do it is your own damn business.”
The same principle works when it comes to making changes – “The only way to change is by changing, how you do it is your own damn business.”
So, my question is, how DO you like to change?
Do you jump toward that feeling of discomfort or do you prefer to deal with it step by step?
When Sam posted a link to Peter Sagal’s article, “The case against running with headphones” I was ready to object. But I kind of liked what he had to say (which I’ll get to in a minute). Personally, I like running with headphones sometimes and other times I don’t. In the morning, it helps me get going when I’m feeling sluggish. But I occasionally reach a point, especially on a long run, where I just want to take in the silence, be alone with my thoughts, focus on my body and my form, on my immediate surroundings, and listen to my breathing.
I have friends who feel differently, who specifically listen to music when they run so that they don’t need to hear their breathing. But I find the sound of breathing, even the exerted breathing of a run, to be meditative.
Peter Sagal started his journey to music-free running by wanting to present for big events:
It occurred to me that if I was going to train and practice and focus on achieving something, when the time came to actually do it I could at the very least pay attention. A race, most especially and counterintuitively a marathon, requires more focus on the moment than someone who’s never done it might imagine. We scan our bodies for discomfort, we check our pace, we count the miles and measure our remaining strength against the remaining distance.
On race day, I go both ways. When I got my personal best on the 10K in September, I ran to a playlist for much of the time. But when the last couple of K came, I turned off the music and did exactly as Sagal described. I didn’t want to zone out to the music, I wanted to be mindful and present to what was happening. My thoughts also narrowed to exactly what was going on and positive affirmations and reminders from my training.
I did the same for the recent half marathon. For more than half, I ran without music because I was with Anita. But at a certain point, we agreed to do our own thing and we both put in our earbuds. I enjoyed my new playlist, but as is my habit, I don’t play the music all the time. Periodically, I hit pause and focus on the people around me, the sound of my feet on the pavement, my stride, my breathing, the next sign post, the feeling of the wind on my face, my body position and whether I’m relaxed or tight. Music tends to distract me from that sort of thing. Sagal agrees.
If I don’t leave my headphones behind when I run, I wouldn’t spend a single minute of my waking life free from input.
In other words, in a day there are few opportunities to unplug. Running can be one of them. And in place of the noise from a device, running let’s you work through thoughts — conversations you wish you could have, perhaps some venting, all the build-up. I also experience some creative bursts when I’m running. Or insights about areas of my life where I’ve felt stuck and then, on a run, especially a long run alone, I can sense a shift. These are all the more likely if I’m not listening to music.
The upshot of Sagal’s article is that the only way to run mindfully is to run without music as a distraction. Of course, not everyone wants to run mindfully. Or perhaps not all the time. When I run with people, for example, it’s even more likely that the social aspect will overshadow the running itself. We run, but we use each other as a distraction. Anita and I comment all the time about how quickly the time passed on a given run when we were together, chatting. True, we check in once in awhile with “how are you feeling?” and true, we are “unplugged.” But if Sagal is making a case for more of an inward and mindful approach to running, then that would require going solo too.
My formula is to mix it up. I include a combination of group runs, solo runs, runs that include music, runs that don’t, and runs that have a bit of both. There are times I want to be mindful, times I want to be distracted. It sometimes depends on the type of run. I am less likely to want music during fast intervals because I need to be very focused on what I’m doing to maintain my speed during the intervals. So I’m far from all-or-nothing when it comes to headphones. In fact, making and running with a fresh playlist is one of life’s little pleasures for me.
In our Fit Feminist Challenge Group we have a thing every Tuesday called “Try This Tuesday.” It’s a way of encouraging people to try new things, using the “Try This” entries in Fit at Mid-Life as prompts.
This week when I posted I realized I haven’t actually tried anything new myself in ages. When Sam and I did our challenge in the run up to 50 a few years ago, one reason I got excited was that I discovered triathlon. It was new and a bit scary and super challenging. It involved a learning curve and pushed me in a different direction. And I haven’t felt that way about anything workout and training wise since.
Enter Stand-Up Paddle-boarding. As regular blog readers may know, among other things I’m a sailor. My partner lives on our boat, Guinevere, and I visit him from time to time (yes it’s a slightly unconventional arrangement and it works well for us!). I’m visiting at the moment and he surprised me with an SUP. This was a huge surprise because we have been talking about it for a few years.
I always say, “wow that looks like a good workout.” He always says “I can’t see why anyone would want to do that. And where in the heck will we store it?!” (Space on a boat is at a premium). But at the boat show in Annapolis this weekend (I wasn’t even here yet) he found a great deal and texted me that he got a SUP!
I couldn’t wait to try it. So this morning I took it out for a spin in Spa Creek, where we are at anchor. I worried that I might fall in (it’s lovely on the water but not as nice here in the water, which is briney and dark). I’ve seen people struggle. Often they start on their knees.
I read a “ten tips” primer on the internet and watched a short YouTube video about paddling style. You’re supposed to bend your knees, use your core, keep your paddle vertical and your bottom arm straight, and turn the contoured paddle to face the opposite of what you think it should (you don’t want to scoop the water).
So I started on my knees to get used to the paddle. Then after a couple of strokes I went for it and stood up. Luckily it was a flat day on the water, no waves at all. The board is solid and though I did lose my balance a couple of times I didn’t actually fall in.
I paddled around for about 20 minutes or so and even stayed upright without difficulty when a couple of people went by (slowly) in small boats that produced a bit of wake. I followed the directions from the video. It’s quite the workout. I need to work on technique still, but I did get into a good rhythm and I know I’m going to love using the SUP.
But it’s actually a lot more stable than I expected it to be. Loads of fun. I’m glad I got out yesterday because the edge of Michael is rolling our way and it’s probably my last chance until the Bahamas at Christmas time.
If you’re a nine-ender in age–that year before a decade birthday–you are more likely than members of any other age “demographic” to want to make big changes. This is especially true if you’re in a middle age nine-ender year, before 40 or 50 or even 60. And even more so if you’re a man, according to this news report in the National Post.
What are the most popular sorts of changes? No longer is it motorcycles, fast cars, and reverse highlights. No. The most popular changes are cutting back on or cutting out alcohol, going vegan, and engaging in extreme sports like Tough Mudders. Men often wait until their 40s and 50s. Women sometimes kick into gear on health changes at 30. Regardless, a looming new decade can be a great motivator.
When Sam and I started our “Fittest by 50 Challenge,” which was the instigator of this very blog, we were 48. Fifty seemed clearly in sight already by then for some reason, and we decided to take a two-year run up to it instead of a one-year run up to it. I am really grateful we did. Not because 50 is some magical age by which we absolutely needed to be our fittest, but because fitness is a process. If I’d coasted along the same way as I had been for one more year, I wouldn’t have attained my Olympic distance triathlon goal by my 50th birthday.
It took me close to a year to decided on triathlon as my goal and then another year to train for the Olympic distance that challenged me to train harder and without regard to anything other than performance goals. It also completely took my mind off of the upcoming birthday. And by the time I got there, it changed my view of what it meant to age.
I couldn’t have predicted at 48 just how transformative the challenge would turn out to be by the time I hit 50. On my 50th birthday, I posted about what it felt like to be fit, feminist, and 50. When I re-read that post it fills me with joy. And gratitude because mostly these days I have that sense of general contentment. Not that everything always feels fantastic, but overall, life is just so wonderfully good. I think the challenge had a lot to do with it.
So if you’re at a nine-ender year, or even if you’re not, and you have decided to set some new health and fitness goals for yourself, and you go at them in a consistent and sustainable way, maybe you too will experience that sense of transformation that I did. I’ve done lots of cool things to date, but I think the fittest by 50 challenge and all that has flowed from it is definitely among the most significant.
To all the nine-enders considering a big change, go for it. Choose something that excites you and chip away at it. It’s much more satisfying than a motorcycle (I know this because I did the motorcycle thing too, in my early forties, and it didn’t do nearly as much for me as the fitness challenge did!).
If you’re in or have recently gone through a nine-ender year, did it prompt any changes? Tell us about it in the comments. We’re all ears!