I never thought I’d get a Peloton. But the pandemic and … well, we all know how that story goes. Now I have one in my guest room and I’m on it almost every day. First, you should know that, unlike Sam and Cate, I don’t race or join challenges to climb Everest or the like. I have never joined a live class. And I always hide the leaderboard away (that’s where you can see your ranking against everyone who has ever done the same class and “race” against them while you ride, even if the ride isn’t live).
Call me a dilettante, if you want. There’s worse to come.
I count every ride. I do not delete any rides from my tally. Peloton makes a big deal about counting rides. I just passed my 50th ride. I’m way new at this. During live classes, instructors give shout outs to riders who have hit milestones. I hear a lot of 500s and 1000s and even numbers over 2000. How is that even possible?
Here’s the thing. There are a lot of short rides. Other Pelotonites create stacks, to customize their longer rides. I love the shorter options, because the most common way I use Peloton is as the backup singer for another workout. I’ll shorten my run and do a 10 to 15-minute ride when I get home. That has the double bonus of reenforcing my running strength, but also easing out my legs, which get stiff from the pounding. I’m surprised by how much looser and freer my legs feel as a result of this small habit change. Also, this training technique was effective enough for me to get back to running on March 2nd (after 7 weeks of only cross-country skiing) and run a half marathon with a friend on March 27th. Or I ride for 15-20 minutes before a Pilates class. It’s only really once (max twice) a week that I ride for 45 minutes or longer. And, when I do, I’ve started doing the cool down rides on offer when I finish. Taking that option was a psychological hurdle for me.
For a long time (okay the first six weeks of owning the bike) I no-thanks’d the cool down rides Peloton suggested. Five more minutes? What a waste of time. If I wasn’t going hard-hard-hard, why was I on the bike? Then one day, I was so utterly maxed out when I finished my ride that I decided I had to cool down, or I might just get off the bike, tighten up into a tiny ball of lactic acid and then blow apart in a geyser of sweat.
Revelation. The cool down ride was fantastic. Just what I needed. Brought down my heartrate. Brought myself back into focus. Prepared to meet my day with an even energy. I know, that’s putting a lot on a 5-minute ride. But taking that extra time gives my body a real, physically tangible benefit and has a symbolic value that resonates beyond the workout. Some people don’t think the cool down rides count in the ride count. I agreed, until I started doing them. Like rest days, so critical to our body’s ability to repair and rejuvenate, the cool down honours our body’s need for a runway landing after an intense effort. I was so used to crashing into the finish and bump-bump-bumping off the bike and into my day, that the smooth-as-silk-pajamas transition from intensity to cool down to hello-rest-of-the-day came as a surprise.
Yes, I am talking about that how we do one thing is how we do anything business. For me, scaling back is its own kind of effort. As much as I love naps and am reasonably diligent around taking a rest day once a week and don’t work myself to the bone, I also do have a tendency to overschedule and not leave enough transition time to reset my nervous system between commitments. Long ago, I used to get a thrill out of arriving almost late for a plane and sprinting through the airport. I think it was a reaction against my father, who liked to arrive hours in advance, stressing about whether he was early enough (and I take here a moment to acknowledge that a few days ago was six years since my father died and I like to include him in some way in my April posts; I miss a lot about him, but not his pre-travel hand wringing).
Cool down rides count. Because they flush toxins and seal in the benefits of our workout.
Cool down rides count. Because they are role models of how to be gentle with ourselves.
Cool down rides count. Because everything we do counts.
Not to get all earnest and mushy on you, I do mean everything. Take five to regroup and check in. Be kind to yourself. Then it will be easier to be kind to the people around you. Oh, and the planet, too.
For me, the grind ends Friday at the end of the workday. I eat dinner. I race my bike in the TFC Smashfest Friday night series. 🚴 Maybe I watch something. I definitely eat something. And then I collapse into bed. Zzzzz. 😀
Saturday is my rest day. It’s not that I don’t move at all. I often walk Cheddar. I sometimes do Yoga with Adriene. But there’s no fast riding or heavy lifting. This is a chance for my body to rest and recover.
I try to make sure I eat well too. And I aim to get enough sleep, sleeping late if necessary to log the needed hours. It’s a conscious effort. Sometimes naps are involved.
So when this image flashed across my social media newsfeed, I thought actually yes it does. On Saturday I rest.
Tomorrow I’ll do something more active. I’ll also get back to some university work, the review essay I’m trying to write and the college budget for sure.
In my pre pandemic busy times I didn’t need to plan a rest day. Often they just happened when life got in the way off intentional movement. These days I’m finding it helps with the blurriness of time to have things I do on particular days.
On Sunday for me it’s a gradual return to work, a preparation for the week ahead, and my Zwift team social ride. I race in a series on Monday nights. On Tuesdays I watch an episode of Star Trek Discovery with my mother. Wednesdays are the one day, pre stay at home order, that I work on campus. I’ll start doing that again next week when the stay at home order is lifted. Thursday is team time trial night. Friday we order take out from a local restaurant.
None of these things is a big deal. But it helps me to place myself in time, and keep track of time in the pandemic blur. Also since working out is one of the fun things that I can do, I’m realizing it’s easy to do too much of it.
I’m not an American. I can’t vote in the election. I did live in Chicago though for my years of grad school and I have strong ties to lots of lovely people who do live in the United States. In the Before Times, I visited the US a lot. It’s a big part of my professional life. I especially love to ride my bike there in the winter months. But as much as I care, I can’t vote. All of this is just to say is that there is nothing I can do about the American election tomorrow and yet I can’t stop thinking about it. I found this advice helpful, by the way: A safe, sane way to navigate election night — and beyond.
What’s any of this got to do with rest and recovery? A longer and smarter version of this post would draw ties between political activism and the work of the nap ministry. That’s the stuff of future posts, I’m afraid. Instead, I want to talk about rest and recovery in the much more limited context of sports performance because that’s the post I found half written in the blog’s draft folder. Yes, this week, it’s come to that.
I’ve been thinking lots about rest and recovery because as the blog’s regular readers know I’ve been riding and racing with a bike team again, on Zwift. Our team has a very wide range of ages and abilities. We have riders across all categories and lots of us in the D category are 50+. One of the differences for me, riding and racing now. as opposed to twenty years ago, is my need for rest. I don’t just mean rest days, though that’s true too, I also mean the basics, like getting enough sleep at night.
This week I’ve got enough work work to do that I imagine staying up all night and GETTING ALL THE THINGS DONE. But truth be told I never really seriously contemplate it because it’s not even on the agenda. I just can’t do it. That’s another change between younger me and older me. Likewise, I can’t race if I’m tired. Some days I nap and that helps. I try to get eight hours of sleep a night but sometimes if I ‘m working hard and working out hard even that isn’t enough.
I was reminded recently of this piece about recovery and aging athletes, from the now defunct blog The Active Pursuit.
A colleague of mine, and former bicycle racer, who is now 59 years old, put it something like this: “In my twenties I recall being able to do five or six hard workouts a week and race back-to-back days without any trouble.
In my thirties this changed to three or four hard workouts a week and it was more difficult to race back-to-back days. In my forties, two or three hard workouts a week were more than enough, and racing back-to-back days was a bit of a challenge. In my fifties, one or two hard workouts a week were enough and recovering from a race took me about a week. Now, approaching 60…don’t even ask.”
So, if it’s not obvious already the rest and recovery time of a 20 year old athlete is significantly different than that of a 45 year old athlete and different again than someone in her 60s.
Why should you care? Why should I care? Here’s two reasons.
One reason to care is performance. Maybe that’s about speed and strength as measured by racing but it could also be about feeling good and strong at the end of an event rather than feeling beat up and suffering. And by performance I don’t just mean racing, I mean whatever it is that you’re training for. It might be a long ride or a hiking trip.
Another reason to care is injury. Training when you haven’t fully recovered leads to injury and injuries are bigger setbacks for older athletes. We take longer to heal just as we take longer to recover. Injuries aren’t fun at any age but I also want to avoid injuries especially during the pandemic when I am trying to stay away from indoor spaces with non-household members and other sources of help, such as massage therapy, aren’t easily available.
I still haven’t worked out a training and racing schedule for the fall (and here we are November already)! I’m experimenting a bit. I’ve committed to racing with the club Monday, Thursday and Friday nights. On Sunday there is our club social ride. And I’ve got bike training to fit in. Again, younger me could do training rides in the morning and sometimes race at night. But those days are long gone.
I’m working out with a personal trainer once a week outside. I’m also using the TRX, our kettlebell, and playing about with resistance bands. Oh, and trying to get in some Yoga With Adriene. Cheddar, the dog, also needs walks. That’s not all intense exercise but it is a lot of movement and there isn’t a lot of room for rest.
I’m not humble bragging here. Racing and riding are fun. They’re my reward at the end of a long workday. Other things might take effort to get me there but my bike is pleasure even when it’s on the trainer. Exercise is also a thing I do when stressed. Almost always I feel better after. But I need to work to pay attention to rest and recovery and I keep reading how much more that matters with age.
And by “rest” to be clear I don’t mean a day spent sitting at my computer not exercising. I mean being intentional about rest, planning and scheduling a day to focus on eating good food, getting some extra sleep, thinking all the peaceful thoughts, and making only gentle recovery-oriented movements.
“Few studies have examined recovery in older athletes. In 2008 one of my former PhD students, now Dr Jim Fell from the University of Tasmania, compared actual performance and perceptions of soreness, fatigue and recovery in veteran versus young cyclists over three consecutive days of doing 30 minute cycling time trials per day. While we found no differences in cycling time trial performance over time in either age group, the veteran cyclists perceived they took longer to recover. They also felt they were more fatigued and sorer each day compared to the younger cyclists.
In 2010, a French research group compared recovery rates in 10 young (30.5 ± 7 years) and 13 master (45.9 ± 5.9 years) athletes who competed in a 55-km trail run race. The researchers measured thigh muscle strength and muscle electrical activity, blood markers of muscle damage, and cycling efficiency before, then 1, 24, 48 and 72 hours after the race. The older athletes took longer to recover in all measures.
Taken together, the above results suggest that older runners who damage their muscles in training or racing appear to take longer to recover. It also appears the older athletes perceive they take longer to recover.”
“Invest in Your Recovery: As you age, your body bounces back more slowly from intense exercise. Successful older athletes should take their recovery as seriously as their training. “Younger athletes can get away with a poor lifestyle and still perform, but older athletes cannot,” Swift says. Owen agrees that eight to ten hours of proper sleep is the most important part of recovery and training.”
“One of the most important, yet overlooked aspects of any exercise or training program is the recovery phase, or time spent resting. In fact, most coaches and trainers would argue it’s just as or more important than the exercise itself. During this phase, physiologically your body is seizing the opportunity to repair itself to become stronger in preparation for the next exercise stress placed upon it. It is during rest that the body becomes stronger. Not surprisingly, as you get older, the more your body relies on rest and recovery time.
The effects of aging on training and performance are fairly well known. As you age beyond 35-40, there are reductions in maximum heart rate, VO2 max and lean body mass that reduce training output and performance. Recovery seems to take longer. Experts agree that most people encounter a noticeable difference in training capacity and recovery about every decade.
While it may seem obvious that recovery time increases with age, the physiological causes are not yet fully understood. According to a 2008 article in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, one of the most plausible explanations is that aging muscles are more susceptible to exercise-induced muscle damage and have slower adaptation and repair.
The process of training involves some type of muscle overload, then an adaption, which ultimately produces greater muscle fitness. In order to achieve fitness gains, one has to train, create muscle breakdown, recover, and then train again. While the physiological processes in younger and older muscles parallel each other with regard to training, subtle changes in the processes within the older muscles lead to increases in recovery time.”
“Whether you’re a competitive athlete or a recreational one, either finding an intuitive understanding of your readiness to exercise or using some external measures can improve your overall fitness and help you avoid injury,” according to sports medicine specialist and physical therapist Kevin McGuinness, who practices at Washington Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine. Exercising, particularly as you age, might also require a more scientific approach to how you are feeling and how you are doing, he said.AD
The good news is there is some promising research on exercise readiness, according to Carwyn Sharp, chief science officer at the National Strength and Conditioning Association in Colorado Springs. Although there are no specific guidelines yet for recreational athletes, what experts have learned so far can help us enhance our intuitive sense of readiness by throwing some objective measures into the mix.
One way is to monitor your resting heart rate, which can help you understand how well you are recovering from your previous exercise session. If you keep a log of your resting heart rate, you will get a sense of what is normal for you. If it is higher than usual, McGuinness said, that is often a sign your nervous system may be overstressed, indicating a lower level of recovery.”
How about you? What’s your approach to rest and recovery?
Happy Labour Day! If you’re reading this morning from Canada or the US, you know exactly what today marks: the unofficial end of summer and the start of the “new” year (for all students, parents, teachers, and anyone like me who worships autumn).
You might not know, though, that Labour Day has been an official holiday since 1892 in the US, and 1894 in Canada, and that it traces its roots to 1872 Toronto, where a mass printer’s strike achieved legal protections for unions and marked a huge step toward entrenching labour rights for working class citizens.
Labour Day, in other words, is a day of rest that celebrates the recognition that rest is essential for the human body – so that it can be more productive, so that it can be healthier, so that it can be happier, and also so that the humans connected to it can be healthy and happy too.
I was thinking about all of this yesterday, when I decided to pass up the chance to go on a solo bike ride under near-perfect weather conditions in order to play tennis with my partner D instead. He adores tennis (and is really good at it – I am not) but doesn’t yet do long-distance cycling, so a solo ride would have taken me away from him for a good three hours on a rare Sunday together. Moreover, D doesn’t get a lot of chances to play tennis with a partner (however unskilled). I knew it meant a lot to him to play on this glorious day, and I wanted to share that with him. I also wondered if perhaps NOT riding would do my body some good; a change, when it comes to fitness, can be as good as a rest, after all, since different muscles get stretched and worked and your body and brain can enjoy learning something new.
Tennis is the kind of sport that, however intensely competitive players may be, really requires working together. If you offer up a bad serve, the rally won’t ever get going; if you don’t think about landing the ball somewhere that your partner can play it, ditto. For me, right now as I learn, a lot of tennis is about just figuring out how to return the ball, period; that means that D also has to be supportive and kind in his returns, hitting me balls I can play rather than the fast, hard balls he would send the way of a more skilled and agile player.
Here, too, my tennis adventure connects with a core principle we celebrate on Labour Day: the power of collective action. Anyone who plays team sports knows how essential it is to play with and for one’s mates, as opposed to for one’s own gain; the latter might win some games but it will never win the long haul. In any sport that includes others, however – racket sports; group cycling; canoe adventuring; even marathons or triathlons – it’s equally important to be aware of and attentive to the needs of those around us, because our achievements are measured in the small ways we help each other to excel, to be our best selves on the court or on the road or in the pool.
Taking care of one another’s needs, knowing that we might need the same courtesy at any moment, is fundamental to the ethos of all sport, and this ethos is one of the reasons sport is such an immense character-building opportunity for people young and old.
The same is true of life out in the regular world, though. Working together, for one another, knowing that we all benefit that way, makes all our lives better. Together we have the power to stand up to injustice, to stand up for fairness, and to raise our voices together in order to ask for the concessions we need in order to live our best lives. This is why socialized medical care is a massive success around the world, and why nations like New Zealand, with a strong commitment to equity and fairness, have weathered the pandemic incredibly well. It is also one of the reasons that protest movements – like the kind we have seen these past few months in support of Black Lives Matter, in the wake of the deaths of ordinary human beings like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor – quickly gather speed and catch our attention. Humans thrive by working together for common causes, and despite our differences. Differences are as natural as shared human need; we benefit from recognizing the former even as we join forces to meet the latter, every single time.
We talk a lot on the blog about the importance of resting our bodies to build and consolidate strength; we also talk a lot (and feel strongly!) about what it means to be in this together, a team working toward our feminist fitness goals, even when those goals are individual ones. Resting, and celebrating our community, is a big part of our blog ethos; it’s also a Labour Day ethos.
This autumn marks a choice point for the nation that brought us Labour Day under President Grover Cleveland in 1892. It’s worth reflecting on this Labour Day 2020 about what it will take in the years ahead to return America to a place where shared human needs are addressed by shared (not divisive) social vision, where rest is valued by and for all – not just for the richest and most powerful among us.
Readers, how are you spending your Labour Day? Let us know.
I know, I know, all dresses can be nap dresses. You can also nap in just about anything. I’m sure I’ve done it. I’ve regularly napped at work through the years since I often have to stay on campus (back in normal times) for evening events.
But now we are in pandemic times and I’m still working at home, working out at home, and napping at home. I’m starting to make clothing choices that make sense for not much leaving the house.
The nap dress is one answer to what to wear when working at home and napping, because (in my case) very long workdays, inconsistent sleep due to nightmares and pandemic anxiety, and late evening bike races.
Besides, they’re summer dresses and they’re on sale, so I bought one.
“Since sleeping through the night was not happening, I figured an outfit specifically designated for daytime dozing might be just the thing. One could theoretically wear a Nap Dress to bed, but it is decidedly not a nightgown. (For one, it is opaque enough to wear to the grocery store.) It is not the same thing as a caftan, which, though often luxurious, is more shapeless and more grown-up. It is not a housedress, which we tend to associate with older women shuffling onto the stoop to grab the morning paper, the curlers still in their hair. A housedress is about forgetting the self, or at least hiding it under layers of quilted fabric. The Nap Dress, on the other hand, suggests a cheeky indulgence for one’s body, and a childlike return to waking up bleary-eyed hours before dinner.”
Or for more a critical analysis of the trend, read The Uneasy Privilege Of The Daytime Nightgown in which Veronique Hyland talks about the politics of who gets to wear a daytime nap dress during the pandemic. It’s not frontline workers, grocery store clerks, transit workers, and people driving UberEats to pay rent. I used to teach about fashion and I confess if I were teaching about fashion this semester I might give a lecture on pandemic fashion and the nap dress.
I don’t need to know if you don’t like it. I do! Also, yes, I know white is impractical.
Years ago, when I was new to triathlon, I used to train with groups for my swimming and running. Once, two days after some of my swim group had done the Around the Bay 30K (way before I ever thought I would do it myself, which I ultimately did), someone talked about how they had gone for a “light run” the next day. And here they were, back in the pool already. It seemed unbelievable to me that anyone would forgo a total rest day after running 30K. The reason they did it was to get the blood flowing to their tired legs. This approach to recovery is known as “active rest” or “active recovery.”
I used to feel guilty about that sort of thing and blogged about it way back in 2014. Recognizing the importance of rest days and my own struggles to feel okay about actual rest (for myself — I am not trying to be judgmental here about full-on rest), I blogged about taking active rest instead of total rest. But at the time, it wasn’t really incorporated into my workout life as rest or recovery, it was just that I didn’t like taking days off.
Six and a half (!!) years later, I still don’t often take a total rest day. But I vary the intensity of my workouts and take a more conscious approach to switching it up. I do this both with respect to the same activity — harder and easier runs, gentler and more strenuous yoga sessions, for example. And I also do this across my various activities–incorporating a mix of running, Superhero workouts, yoga (with and without Adriene), and walking. Especially since COVID but mostly since joining the 220 in 2020 group, it’s become important for me to do some sort of movement almost every day. That fits perfectly with the idea of active rest or active recovery. After a particularly demanding workout with Alex, I might make sure that if running in on my agenda the next day I take it easy on my run. That’s fine. My objective is to get out the door. Or if I don’t want to go anywhere (COVID has brought out the recluse in me some days), then I’ll do some yoga. A little bit of movement goes a long way to lifting my energy.
The most important thing about active recovery is that it is supposed to be a dialing-down. My personal trainer used to consider all yoga rest, but that’s because he’d never done a power yoga class. Even a demanding flow class wouldn’t really count as an active recovery workout because it’s too much exertion. So if you are going to be honest about incorporating active rest into your program, the experts recommend against using it to sneak in another intense workout under the guise of “active rest.”
This article, “11 of the best activities to do on active recovery days,” explains: “an active recovery day features easy workouts equivalent to no more than 60 to 70 percent of your maximum effort (low to moderate intensity). For example, if you’re training for a marathon, you can use an active recovery day as an opportunity to walk a few easy miles or take a gentle yoga class to work on flexibility.”
I’m also a big fan of listening to my body, and have become a lot more intuitive about my workouts over the years. Though I have a general routine (running 3x a week, Superhero workout 3x a week, yoga several times a week), I know when to back off completely and perhaps do restorative or bedtime yoga and have a nap instead of anything else.
The upshot here is that all high intensity all the time is not a good strategy for anyone. It will result in burnout. But a little bit of movement even on the rest days is fine, and may be exactly what you need. This is not to say that total rest is something to avoid. It’s all a matter of striking the right balance.
Six and a half years ago I asked, “How do you do rest and active recovery?” At the time, I wanted to hear from people who did it “better than I” did. Today I am comfortable with how I do it and I’m always interested in hearing others’ experiences. Have a great weekend!
The ads in my digital media news feeds know what I’m up to. Which is to say staying at home, working from home, exercising at home, spending time with family, and napping. I’m also dressing differently now my life is one big blur of working, exercising, doomscrolling, eating, sleeping etc.
Enter the nap dress. I swear ads for different versions of this dress make up half of the advertising I see these days.
Rachel Syme writes, “Since sleeping through the night was not happening, I figured an outfit specifically designated for daytime dozing might be just the thing. One could theoretically wear a Nap Dress to bed, but it is decidedly not a nightgown. (For one, it is opaque enough to wear to the grocery store.) It is not the same thing as a caftan, which, though often luxurious, is more shapeless and more grown-up. It is not a housedress, which we tend to associate with older women shuffling onto the stoop to grab the morning paper, the curlers still in their hair. A housedress is about forgetting the self, or at least hiding it under layers of quilted fabric. The Nap Dress, on the other hand, suggests a cheeky indulgence for one’s body, and a childlike return to waking up bleary-eyed hours before dinner.”
In “The Uneasy Privilege Of The Daytime Nightgown,” Veronique Hyland talks about the politics of who gets to wear a daytime nap dress during the pandemic. It’s not frontline workers, grocery store clerks, transit workers, and people driving UberEats to pay rent.
“I can appreciate the aesthetic appeal of a nightgown. I get that they’re comfortable, and who doesn’t crave comfort right now? It’s possible that I’m projecting way too much onto a few yards of fabric. But the nightgown, especially as daywear, strikes me as reactionary. Its evocations of passive Victorian and pre-Raphaelite femininity feel like an uncritical throwback to those eras’ mold of white female fragility. The styling of these images evokes sleeping beauties or Ophelias, or worse, invalids. Fashioning yourself as a tubercular Victorian might once have felt ironic; with millions in the grip of a real pandemic—one that is disproportionately affecting Black and brown communities—it feels Marie Antoinette-at-the-Hameau-level out of touch. And in 2020, the idea of “checking out” and into the seductive world of blameless slumber that the nightgown invites us to, does too. It serves as a reminder that while some people are taking to the streets, others are taking to their beds.”
I just hit the goal of 220 workouts in 2020 on the weekend. It sort of snuck up on me. In fact, I didn’t even notice when I first posted it. It’s not something I “had my eye on” the way I did last year. I’ve even wondered whether it seems like a bit of an impossibility or something people view with skepticism.
Last year, using as my basic criterion “if it gets me moving then it counts,” I managed to get in the 219, with a few extra but not many. The vast majority of sessions I counted were either yoga classes, runs, or resistance training sessions. I had a sort of minimum time limit of about 20 minutes before I would count something as a workout. Yoga and personal training were always an hour. And most of my runs are at least 20 minutes and sometimes considerably longer.
By the time 2020, going on the momentum of 2019, I had successfully incorporated conscious movement into my routine every day. Sometimes, especially but not only while I was in Mexico in January and February, I would do something twice a day, like yoga and running, or yoga and a 10K walk. Starting with Adriene’s “Home” yoga challenge in January, I have actually done yoga almost every day since the beginning of the year. When I started to notice the numbers really racking up on my “count” in the 220 in 2020 group, I began to count two things in a day as one workout (like run+yoga OR walk+yoga) unless one of those things was super exerting or considerably longer than an hour). It’s almost as if I felt bad!
But the fact is, the goal of being able to record a new workout often did motivate me to get moving. And once I had yoga as part of my daily routine, I didn’t want to break that streak of daily yoga. But for me yoga alone is not enough — it counts, but I need to either run, walk, or do some resistance training as well.
Another woman in the 220 in 2020 group also hit her 220 on the weekend. And she asked me, “what now?” My first answer was “keep going.” Which is sort of obvious. I went on to wonder whether there is any reason to keep recording and reporting my workouts, though. The group has achieved its purpose for me — over the past 18 months of being part of a group like this I have integrated physical activity into my daily life in a way I hadn’t quite before. This is made easier this year by my sabbatical, so I am much freer than I usually am. For at least a few more months I get to set my own hours. That allowed me to kick into high gear in the fall, with hot yoga every day (oh, how I miss hot yoga! The pandemic has effectively taken that out of my life for the indefinite future). I made a smooth transition to Yoga with Adriene when I went to Mexico for the winter. That gave me a headstart on the transition to online everything that the pandemic has foisted upon us.
The running/walking + yoga combo was just starting to feel old when I discovered, through Cate, the online Superhero workouts with Alex in late April. That was just the thing I needed to add a new dimension of challenge to my fitness life. I had set resistance training and even running aside for awhile, having injured myself last spring and endured a very slow recovery. For me the perfect balance is a routine that includes yoga, resistance training, and running/walking. I don’t tend to take a day off, opting instead for active rest, combining a more restorative yoga practice with a walk.
This commitment to a routine that includes daily physical activity has also been amazing for my mental health. I have had a tough couple of years that culminated in the finalization of my divorce in early January. Sometimes it felt as if regular physical activity was the only thing I could commit to as part of a daily schedule.
When I stepped away from being a regular on the blog at the end of last summer, it was partly because I had very little left to say publicly about fitness. That still holds true, with the occasional blog post (I think I’ve blogged about 5 times since I “left”) and my daily progress tracking in the 220 in 2020 group being the extent of it. Once in awhile I feel compelled to make some social commentary (like my commentary on “the covid-19” weight-gain jokes, which aren’t funny).
As I hit my 220 target early, with almost half a year stretching out before me, I feel that it’s cemented what started when Sam and I embarked on our Fittest by 50 Challenge and started the blog in 2012. The big shift for me during our challenge was to a more internal and personal relationship with fitness. I realize full well, for example, that no one else really cares, nor should they, what I do. This isn’t to say I haven’t felt supported, encouraged, and motivated by the group. It isn’t to say either that I haven’t enjoyed watching the fitness lives of other members — their accomplishments, their routines, the adventurous and exciting things they do. It is to say that, in the end, I do this for myself. And I’ve experienced the benefits in my life.
So the answer to the question, “what now?” actually is, “keep going.” Not to accumulate a higher number (though I will, if I keep reporting in the group), but because it’s now a thing I do that is a positive part of my life. And recognizing that, it makes no sense to stop. I also think it’s pretty awesome, and I’m not going to worry if that makes me sound boasty or whatever, because sometimes I think we are not boasty enough. We minimize things we do that are actually awesome. And since (as noted above) no one else really cares, and since I definitely do care, well…it makes sense for me to regard reaching this fitness milestone about 5 1/2 months early as an actual achievement. [high-fiving myself now despite slight discomfort at what I just said, which discomfort highlights that I’ve internalized the message about how women shouldn’t be self-congratulatory about what they do even though I actually think we should]
So that’s my “challenge group” story for 2020. Do you have one? If so, let us know in the comments how that helps you (or, if you fly solo, why that works best for you).
Hi readers—I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling two things right now: 1) I’m about to bust to get outside, really outside, to parks and beaches and country roads, riding with friends (just one or two), and chatting (at a safe distance) in the backyard with a couple of friends and cool beverages. This is what happens when you get warm sunny days in a row in New England… But: 2) I know that, in Massachusetts and in the US in general, we are nowhere near being able to cruise around town and country safely.
Our nations have to recover from what’s probably just the first wave of infection and illness from the coronavirus. Our friends and family and neighbors need to recover from illness. Our health workers need to take a breath and start to recover from the strain, trauma and exhaustion of caring for very sick and dying people. Our manufacturing and distribution systems need to recover from runs on all sorts of goods, the costs of lost business, the stress of retooling on a dime to produce pandemic-required goods. This takes time.
But who wants to wait around, not doing the things we used to think were normal and mundane, but which we now feel are special and necessary to our lives? Not us. Not me.
But we gotta. It’s not up for discussion. In order to get better and really recover, we have to follow the rules and guidelines and recommendations and doctors’ orders and do what they say. Yes, we’re impatient. No, this isn’t fun. But if we don’t do it, we will relapse, and it will take even longer to recover the second time.
I had pneumonia in the winter of 2018, and I’ve been reminded of a blog post I wrote about resting and recovering, and how hard that was. I’m reblogging it here as a reminder that, despite how clear and unambiguous and no-nonsense I sound above, I don’t like this any more than you do. But we gotta do it. And it’s won’t last forever. It really won’t. We’ll get better. And then we can spring around and organize jaunts and garden parties and BBQs and hang out at the beach all day long. I’m game!
REBLOGGED POST- REST, RECOVERY, AND IMPATIENCE
R&R– rest and relaxation. These words are designed to provoke an “aaahhhhh” from all of us. We work hard all the time, juggling work, family, friends, money, home, etc. Like so:
What do we yearn for? R&R. Rest and relaxation. Just saying it can make us breathe easier. Try it now, and to help even more, look at this picture:
For me lately, though, R&R has meant rest and recovery. Maybe this sounds good too– after all, recovery is a hopeful word and optimistic process. I posted about having gotten pneumonia at the beginning of January. I rested a ton– there was really no choice, as I was flattened– but then started my teaching semester. I tried to take it easy and rest for a while. But then I was ready to resume my regular schedule of (among other things) exercise, training for cycling, occasionally vigorous yoga, and cross country skiing when the conditions cooperated.
Well, no. That just hasn’t happened. I’ve found myself repeating the following cycle:
becoming bored and frustrated with not doing much physically and doing less socially;
forcing myself to do a regular schedule one day with teaching, errands, maybe a yoga class or other physical activity, or an evening social event;
feeling completely exhausted from that one so-called regular day;
noticing my cough coming back and blaming myself and the world for feeling sick still/again;
canceling whatever social or physical activities I had optimistically planned for the next few days;
resigning myself to resting a while longer.
Last week this happened. It was a relatively warm day last week, and I decided to ride my Brompton to an appointment that was a 20-minute ride away. Easy-peasy. Uh, no. 5 minutes in I started coughing. I should’ve turned around. But I stuck it out. When I got to my meeting, I coughed for the next 25 minutes. My friend said, maybe you should take an Uber/Lyft home. I agreed. But did I? No. I thought, it’s only 20 minutes– I’ll ride slowly. Bad idea! I felt horrible and had to cancel more events I had planned.
Today is a beautiful unseasonably warm day in February here in Boston. I’m feeling really antsy and ready to get out there on my bike. I had tentatively planned to cycle with my friend Pata. However I’m going to wait just a bit longer. I’m still coughing, so this time I’ll do a nice walk. It’s not as fun for me as cycling, but I need a little more recovery time.
January: that would be the season of fitness challenges.
Here at FIFI, a good part of last month was spent thinking about them, from Yoga With Adrienne’s 30 days, to Nia Shanks’ 100 days, to the 220 in 2020 groups (check out Cate’s massively inspirational post about its power to redefine what counts as “fitness” here), to what is wrong with office “wellness” competitions (OMG EVERYTHING; click here).
I’ve been an absent voice on all of the above, because I don’t generally enjoy any kind of fitness challenge. This strikes me as very odd, since I’m actually a hugely competitive / super count-y person (aka, like Cate, #completist). I can’t explain it, except to say maybe at some point not too long ago I sort of stopped giving a ….
Flash back to my last post, which was about kinds of wellness planning that Even Slightly Younger Kim would have pooh-poohed. Mental health. Joint health. Less cardio, more mental/joint health. I’m sorry what?
Since the beginning of January, I’ve been to my new therapist every second week, and I’ve also committed to a full session (that’s about 12 weeks) at my Iyengar yoga studio of choice, Yoga Centre London. And I’ve learned two really amazing new things*. (*New to me.)
I’m still doing all my fitness usuals, including time on my bike trainer (I have literally inhaled Call The Midwife, polished off Cheer, and am so excited about the new season of Sex Education [see above meme]), plus swimming and stair climbing, hiking and dog walking. But thanks to the therapy and the yoga, I’ve also realized that some things that seriously do not look like exercise are things I actually need to count as exercise. (Again, shout-out to the 220 in 2020 folks for figuring this out long before I did.)
Two weeks ago Monday I was up at the therapist around mid-day. I was cranky because I’d somehow let her book me into a slot that is usually swim time; I was going to have to sacrifice my swim and slot in something else as a result. I spent a good portion of the morning thinking about what else I could do in its place.
Then the session happened.
I’ve been going regularly to psychotherapy for many years, but this new practice is putting puzzle pieces together in ways I don’t always expect, yet clearly need to see and explore. As a result, I sometimes find myself crying my heart out for the better part of a session; this was one of those sessions.
As I left A’s office, I felt the clear, cold air on my face and realized it would be a perfect day for a ride up to the escarpment lookout that makes me feel most at peace. I made a mental note to pick that over the other options swirling in my brain and drove home.
An apple and a dog walk later, it was clear to me I was not riding anywhere; I was ready to fall asleep on the dog in the foyer while she stood in confusion on the “pause for paws!” towel. I chose to rest instead and reasoned I could fit in a late swim at my regular pool.
Of course, that did not happen.
Instead, I did 30 minutes of simple and relaxing yoga poses in my kitchen while the supper was cooking.
In my cranky head this did not feel like “enough”. But my body knew it was sufficient, because my body had obviously done a huge amount of work in that therapy session, criss-crossing space and time to piece together experiences from my childhood that have shaped the hurt and damaged human I try to ride away from every time I get on my bike. Fitness revelation #1: crying through the feeling is physical as well as emotional labour, and needs to be honoured with rest like any other kind.
Meanwhile, back at supper-time yoga, I was trying to work on my very sporadic home practice, doing the kinds of things I rarely do at home: Warrior 2, Sirsasana (head balance). Less than 15 seconds on my head and it was clear I was in no fit form to be doing that thing; see fitness revelation #1 above.
Again, contrary to my completist tendencies, I gave in easily, knowing it would be unsafe for me to continue pressing when I was not rested or prepared enough to manage safely head-standing. Instead, I began to think about the thing I don’t often think about when I’m doing yoga: the focus on gratitude that shapes the ethos behind the best yogic practices.
Of course everyone wants to be able to do side crow, headstand, handstand, and forearm balances effortlessly; in this way, our collective social attitudes to yoga are hardly different from our attitudes to any other group fitness practice (#competition).
But yoga’s not about that. It’s actually about giving thanks: for our bodies, their changing dimensions, and the labour they do to keep us upright, healthy, strong, and flexible regardless of that process of change. I’m reminded of these things every time we say the Invocation to Patanjali at the start of a class at my Iyengar studio.
Except that I’m also not reminded of those things when we say the invocation, because every time we say the invocation I am LITERALLY OBSESSED with the parts I know and the parts I still don’t know. I sit there, cross-legged on my block, singing out some lines very proudly while waiting anxiously for the lines where I’m more or less humming “um um um thingy thingy thingy” and hoping nobody hears me.
Which means the invocation is the most self-obsessed part of my yoga practice.
I realized this lying on my kitchen floor, my legs up the pantry doors in Viparita Karani (legs up the wall, aka the best yoga pose in the history of the world). I decided then and there to learn the damn invocation already.
That weekend, I downloaded a bunch of YouTube videos of yogis teaching the invocation, and I got into the bath. I sat in the warm, epsom-salty water until I had learned all the bits I had been fudging.
OK, so, again, here’s a thing that most people would definitely not call fitness: sitting in a warm tub memorizing lines. I think that’s technically called homework. But for me, it was so, so releasing. I can now say the invocation easily and instead of fussing and fretting I can think about its purpose, hear the sounds and feel their vibrations. I can move past the embarrassment and performance anxiety and find the stillness in the song. Fitness revelation #2: sitting in a bathtub learning a valuable thing also absolutely counts as exercise, because it is a kindness to our mind-bodies.
I am hopeful that saying the invocation loudly and with depth of feeling will now help me strengthen my headstand, but I’m also super OK if it just makes legs up the wall feel even dandier.