aging · athletes · meditation · running · soccer

I Had A Midlife Crisis and Didn’t Realize It At The Time

Extreme Athleticism is The New Mid-Life Crisis provoked me to wonder if a series of ultra-running events I did when was 44-45 were motivated by fear of aging.

At the time they felt organic. Not like I was trying to outrun my aging or shore myself up for the years to come, as the article suggests. More like I had been trail running for some years, enjoying increasingly longer distances and then thought, “Could I run one of those ultra distances?”

To be clear—I’ve never run more than a 50k, though the trails add challenge to that distance. The longest event, time-wise, was in Cape Town, South Africa. Three Peaks Challenge runs up and down the three smallish mountains that push that city toward the sea: Devil’s Peak, Table Mountain and Lion’s Head. That 50k run took me 9 hours.

mina 2
Mina running down rocky steps on Table Mountain in Cape Town

I went into the longer distances as someone who had run marathons, done half-ironman triathlons and even the Canadian Ski Marathon a couple of times (a two-day, 100-mile cross-country ski). I wasn’t a stranger to the borderline extreme.

Yet, before I did any ultra-runs, I thought that anyone who undertook such an endeavor was trying to avoid something they didn’t want to think about (not just aging). Even when I did the ultras, I felt like the extremes I participated in were just the right length. Anything longer had a whiff of desperation. Yes, that was highly subjective, probably wildly inaccurate and judgmental. I was thinking like that old joke about the driver who thinks everyone driving slower is an old grandpa and everyone driving faster is a danger-on-wheels. (A side note: Who decides what’s extreme? One person’s extreme may be another’s daily dose in these times of ever more punishing activities.)

If you’re getting the feeling that I’m avoiding the question I opened with. You’re right. Until I wrote this, I didn’t want to think that I had a mid-life crisis (more judgment). Looking back now (at a distance of seven years), I see that maybe I was. I had published two books and still felt like a struggling writer. My marriage was not in the best period. I was looking for some way to feel special and strong. When I finished ultras, I felt invincible.

My foray into ultra-running was sidelined by Morton’s neuroma, a nerve inflammation that feels how I imagine an electric cattle prod applied to the ball of my foot would feel. I finally had surgery to remove the neuroma about 18 months ago.

Summer 2017 was my first back running in the mountains. I was cautious (and elated just to be running at all without extraordinary pain). This past summer, I did quite a few 3 to 4 hour runs, including the Sierra Crest 30k I wrote about in this post: Compare and Despair. As I was training, I kept asking myself, “Do I want to be doing more of these longer runs? Do I want to aim for another 50k or even something longer?” Right now, the answer is no.

Unless I live quite a long time, I’m probably past mid-life. Is that why I don’t feel a zeal for the extreme? According to the Medium article I mentioned at the top prime time for the uptick in extreme athletics is 40-49. I hate the thought that I’m not doing the extreme runs anymore because I’m too old or I can’t. Anyhow, I know that’s not true.

Have I accepted my mortality? I’d like to think that I have after much meditation (plus silent retreats, plus a vision quest), but I’m also sure that I have not achieved such equanimity.

What I do have are other challenges on my plate—finishing my book, my first ensemble play being produced at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in March 2019. I don’t feel like I need the extra scare of an ultra run on the horizon, too. I’m enjoying my sleep and time to read novels on the couch on the weekend with my partner.

I’m happy. I don’t feel like I need to prove to myself that I’m strong. I am.

But … I also love running for long stretches of time in the mountains or forest. Another ultra-run is not out of the question. So, if I’m not in midlife anymore, then maybe I wasn’t running far because of a crisis in the first place.

What about you? Have you had or are you in the midst of a mid-life crisis? What does that look like for you?

Guest Post · soccer

Society Empowerment through Sport (Guest Post)

Sport has the power to change the world.  It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.  Sport can awaken hope where there was previously only despair.  Sport speaks to people in a language they can understand.  –Nelson Mandela, 25 May 2000

Oyugis is a town of about 10,000 in a rural part of western Kenya.  The vast majority (72%) live in poverty.  Only 5.6% of the households have piped water; 3.3% have electricity.  HIV/AIDS is rampant: 25.7% of the county (Homa Bay) population is infected (the highest rate in Kenya) and 61,000 households include an orphan.  This has a profound impact on the community – 48% of the population is under 15.

The conditions are especially difficult for women and girls. 12% of girls have a live birth before age 15.  Most primary schools (K-8) in the region do not have toilets, so when girls reach puberty, most stop attending school.  Sanitary products are not available.  As the statistics indicate, many of these girls end up pregnant and with HIV/AIDS. What might one hope to do in such circumstances?  How is change even conceivable?  Soccer.

I met Festus Juma in 2010.  He deeply understands the power of sport for community development.  Having family in the Oyugis region, he also understands the power of soccer to motivate local youth.  Festus directs the Society Empowerment Project (SEP), based in Oyugis, which leverages soccer/football to teach life skills in areas such as HIV/AIDS prevention; health and sanitation; agriculture & nutrition; reproductive health; peace building; and substance abuse.  Girls, in particular, gain opportunities to become fit and strong, to build friendships, and have contact with adult role models.  The program also prepares them for youth leadership through training in coaching, refereeing and tournament management.

A current goal of the SEP is to register a girls team in the Kenya Premier League.  Doing so will enhance their status in the region.  Stronger and better educated girls and women will reduce domestic violence, improve reproductive health and well-being, and decrease HIV/AIDS infections.  This is a proven strategy for community development and it changes lives.

Together with my son Isaac, I have been working with the SEP since 2011.  Isaac played soccer through high school.  Seeing a photo of children in Oyugis playing soccer barefoot on dirt patches, he was shocked by the comparison with his teammates who had several pairs of cleats and fancy uniforms.  We began to collect used cleats, uniforms, and other equipment to send to Kenya.  (The team featured on the SEP facebook page is wearing Boston Blast jerseys!)  It is not cheap to send equipment to Kenya.  It is not easy to build a sustainable program that empowers girls in a region where not even food and water is easily available.  But sport motivates and strengthens those who participate.  And it awakens hope.

 

You can reach Festus at: festus.juma@yahoo.com and he can provide information about how you can send used (or new!) equipment to the SEP, and about other ways to help.  Donations can be made on the SEP website.

Sally Haslanger is Ford Professor of Philosophy and Women’s & Gender Studies at MIT.  She works on feminist and critical race theory.  She is an adoptive mother, a social activist, and recently was client of the month at her gym!

 

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body image · Sat with Nat · soccer

Thanksgiving-Birthday-A-versay aka Nat’s personal New Year

It’s the first full weekend in October and in Canada that means a long weekend widely celebrated as Thanksgiving. Our family enjoys a giant feed of food. It also falls very close to my birthday and my wedding anniversary. 

The changing season and the celebrations feel like a personal New Year. A time for reflection and change. 

Soccer season wrapped up and my team, Zidane in the Membrane, won B division. We had a fun season. I grew as a player, forced to play mid-field I found out I’ve gotten a bit better. 

Smiling soccer players crowd together, laughing and sweating
Zidane in the Membrane 2017 is a motley group ranging in age from 21 to somewhere in the 50s. Our bright orange jerseys are easy to spot.

My big achievement this year, aside from hitting the ball effectively with my head and getting called on a foul, I was unanimously chosen by my team as “most sportingly”. In a nod to my feminism the organizers changed it from “sportsmanship”. Awe! Everyday feminist feels. 

Workout wise I’m heading back to the gym for cxworx classes Tuesdays at 4. The class this week was humbling after several months of not doing those moves. I often have to modify exercises because I don’t have the thrust to mass ratio or my round body simply can’t do some of the moves. So it’s a cognitive load with the cardio, strength and balance. I do like it though but the first day back I was weepy for the guilt of not being back sooner. I did wear last year’s soccer jersey. It cheered me up. 

I’m loving Walking Wednesdays with my pals Tracy & Stephanie. We loop around the beautiful park in front of our office. 

I’m throwing some treadmill running back in the mix. I want to improve my endurance and sprinting in soccer so I can be better in mid-field. 

All in all, I’m feeling good about turning 43 this week. I’ve lots of friends who model what fitness in my forties & fifties can look like. 

My sweetie and I are celebrating 22 years of togetherness. It’s official, I’m now at the age where I’ve lived with him longer thanIve lived without him. I’m thankful we keep finding good reasons to enjoy each other and fitness stuff is a big part of that. 

So my folks are in town to celebrate my eldest son’s high school commencement. It’s basically the family High Holidays! Food, family and the time to enjoy it. Many things to be thankful for. 

Cheers!

cycling · Sat with Nat · soccer

No tears, no injuries!

Sunday I got to ride about 80 km with Sam, Sarah and David. It felt pretty good and we ran into lots of cyclists on the road. We ate yummy food. It was under 30 C so it felt fresh and lovely. 

No tears on the side of the road! Yay!


Mid-week Sam offered to hand me down cycling bibs and shorts that were too big for her. They fit great and helped round out my gear for the bike rally. 

Thursday I played soccer and while we lost 4-6 it was a great game. We had good attendance so even got subs. Everyone brought extras since it was quite hot. I felt good and didn’t get injured. Wahoo!

I’ve signed up for the MEC 100 km Sunday. It took me 6 hours last year with stops and a moving average of 19 km/hr. I’m hoping for 5 to 5 1/2 this year. I’ll keep you posted!

Sat with Nat · soccer

Have your friends talked to you about soccer?


Sunday while sitting in Susan’s hot tub after a grueling hot hilly ride Sam turned to me and said “I’ve been meaning to talk to you about soccer.” All eyes shift to me and David laughingly says “Soccer intervention!”

I had been struggling with my right calf after pulling it the week before in soccer. It slowed me down and triggered cramping. Not fun.

Sam went on to explain how things had gone with her knee (read more here). To put it shortly:

Akido-yes!

Cycling-absolutely!

Running-we can work with that!

Soccer-have you thought about quitting that?

I can’t remember what Sarah and Susan said but Cate asked me about injury rates on my current team.

They are high and someone does get hurt every week. It’s one of the problems of mixing skilled and unskilled players together. The poorly skilled are likely to hurt themselves and others.

Sarah pointed out that skilled players are more precise. Sam offered they manovre the ball away rather than whack at you.

Cate mentioned she felt the same way about downhill skiing, fun but too high an injury price to pay.

It did get me thinking. I had hoped I’d adapt to the sudden starts and stops. Sam offered that one never gets adapted to that.

I couldn’t play this week as I still can’t run on my calf. It’s too bad, I do enjoy the camaraderie and teamwork.

I’m not sure that I will sign up next season. What about you? Are there some sports or activities you deem too risky to do?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Sat with Nat · soccer

Accepting the tentacle of friendship a.k.a. Saying ‘yes’ to soccer

My workplace announced this week we are having a soccer league this summer. A couple colleagues popped by my desk to ask me if I wanted to be on thier team. I scoffed. I said that I wasn’t very good at soccer and declined, assuring them all I would do is catch the ball with my face. 

The next day I realized I had made a mistake, these lovely folks had asked me to play with them. I am able to run and kick. It occurred to me the youngest players will be 21 years old. Most will be clustered around 30. I was worried  I’d be too old. My partner laughed and reminded me I’m 41, I keep forgetting!

I’m at my best surrounded by people and having fun, what better way to get to know some folks I work with a bit better?

It’s co-ed teams playing full field outdoor soccer. I’m thinking I’ll want to ramp up my running until the season starts in May. 

Here’s hoping I have fun, make some friends and get a smidge of exercise. 

  

cycling · soccer

Celebrating the athlete you are now!

Like many of my friends I’ve been taken with the idea of minimizing, of owning less. It’s a rich person’s task, I know. I’ve been reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. She dubs her technique the KonMarie method. If you’re interested in tidying, and in organizing, you’ve likely heard of it.

I have a house stuffed to the gills with belongings and I want to own less of it all. Mostly it’s not my stuff and it’s the teens and twenty something’s stuff that gets to me. I’ve tried to persuade them that our continued happiness all living together depends on them treating it more like a rooming house, where your stuff stays in your room, but in a three story house there’s a certain inertia to stuff staying on the first floor.

But I’m doing my bit. Most of my excess stuff falls into three categories: aspirational clothing (not too small, not aspirational in that sense, but aspirational for a lifestyle I don’t have, lots of party dresses, not enough parties), sporting goods, and books. I’m keeping the party dresses and asking for more parties, and the books? Well, I’m a professor and we’re a family of big readers so most of the books stay. But the sporting goods for sports I no longer do? They’re going.

Key to the KonMarie method is the idea that you should get rid of things that don’t bring you joy and that you should celebrate who you are today.

Here’s her advice about the clothes you should ditch:

“I’m not talking clothes that are a little tight, or things that you might be able to wear if you lost five pounds. I mean clothing that you’re hanging onto from years and years and years ago, that you would need a whole new body type to wear. Getting rid of old things is a part of making peace with who you are now.”

“Keeping only what sparks joy helps you realize who you are right now. As you’re saying no to certain clothes that don’t spark joy, you’re also often shedding what and who you were — or who you thought you wanted to be. You get a stronger sense of and appreciation for who you are. It’s a healthy exercise in self-reflection and a gentle but powerful letting go of the past.”

I warmed right away to the “joy test” and the idea of celebrating who you are now.

The athlete I am now doesn’t play soccer. I’ve said goodbye to soccer.

So bye bye soccer cleats and shin pads and socks. Bye bye soccer ball.

A friend who used to row competitively let go of some of her old lists of rowing contacts. She realized she was already still keeping in touch with the people who had remained friends.

I’ve got a full bureau of cycling stuff with my helmet, shoes, and Garmin on the top. That stuff brings me joy, though I did weed out some cycling jerseys, so it (mostly) stays.

Can you let go of the athlete you once were and celebrate the athlete you are now? If you did, what you let go of and what would you keep?