A few years ago, my cross-country ski mate moved to Montana. We had developed a relaxed, yet ferocious, approach to our shared ski workouts—lots of hard work and lots of chat time. My perfect workout partner. After she left, I lost my mojo.
I almost didn’t notice. For the first couple of years I was dealing with the run up and the aftermath of surgery for a neuroma in my foot. Not that I had to take any significant time off; it was more that the pain prior to the surgery dampened my enthusiasm and then I didn’t quite trust the absence of pain. Even as I write this, I know that my diminished energy for skiing was more to do with losing my partner-in-energy-for-fierce-workouts than it was related to the surgery.
When the ski season started this year, I noticed for the first time how many moments I told myself that I wasn’t fit enough anymore to do a workout from years past. For example, I used to ski up certain gradual hills using V2 (the most powerful skate ski stroke; think of it like the hard gear in the big chain ring on a bike). Now, I was intimidated by the prospect. I told myself that I shouldn’t even try until I got in better shape. Now, that’s a vicious cycle.
Then, skiing on December 31st, I suddenly realized—what am I doing? Just try, I told myself. What’s the worst that’s going to happen? You can’t finish the effort you started? What does that even mean? I’m the one who decides when the effort is done. I’m the one who decides whether I made a good effort or a not. And, if I never make the effort, then I can definitely keep telling myself I can’t.
So, in the middle of my ski, I just tried. I alternated V2 with the moderate ski stroke I normally default to. The next day, January 1, as I was finishing my ski, I got inspired. First day of the year, more, first day of the new decade, try on a new attitude. Plus, I was buoyed by my effort the day before. As I approached the hill where I used to do V2 intervals, I decided to throw in one interval. Just one. Just try. The hill was SO hard. I almost coughed up a lung, as a friend used to say. I got to the top. My technique was a mess. I was done in. I felt that nice glow of accomplishment.
I’m starting to thread back in bits of workouts from the days with my ski pal. It feels good. Fresh. Exhilarating even, as I feel the fizz of enthusiasm returning. As always, the experience makes me question, where else in my life can I just try more? Just try feels forgiving. More about the intention than the outcome. I’m less daunted. I’m less likely to judge myself, when trying is the key to my pleasure, not accomplishing a certain speed.
On January 3, I did the whole interval workout I used to do. V2 up the gradual hill. Fast as I can around and down the other side. Double pole on the barely-discernible-uphill back to the start of the loop. Six times. Just enough energy left for some ski dancing in celebration.
I feel an uptick of overall life optimism from my new and renewed attitude on skis; a zesty feeling I wish I could bottle for the less pleasant days. But life’s operating instructions are pretty clear: Best Enjoyed Now.
A while ago, I was in the market for a sports watch. Having had issues with my small wrists and the size of most sports watches (which I blogged about here), I eventually settled on an Apple Watch. It wasn’t my first choice – I really wanted a Garmin – but it was a good second best option, and small enough not to look ridiculous on me. I really came to love the thing. It provides good statistics on running, swimming, and biking. Especially while I was training for my half marathon that never was, it was really great to track distances and progress. But I also loved it for swimming and biking. I even came to enjoy the other smartwatch features I never thought I really needed, such as calendar reminders or the ability to reply to a text message from my wrist when my phone was hidden somewhere in the depths of my backpack. The features I found annoying, I just turned off.
And then on Monday morning, in a jet-lagged haze (I got back from a work trip to the US on Sunday), I accidentally dropped my watch on the tiled bathroom floor. Even before picking it up, with a sinking feeling I knew what I would find. The poor thing had really face planted into the tiles. And indeed, the screen had completely shattered. I had a “this is why I can’t have nice things” moment right there. But alas, it was too late.
It also has to be said that I’m sometimes not very smart. I hadn’t bought the extra Apple Care warranty for it, and now it’s going to cost me an arm and a leg to replace the screen. It’s so expensive that for the same money I could buy a decent Garmin replacement.
I’m considering it. As much as I loved the Apple Watch, I still think I would love a Garmin more because of the added functionalities for athletes and longer battery life (I’m also informed they are sturdier, which at this point is probably not a bad idea). At the same time though, my wrists haven’t grown since I was last looking for a watch, and Garmin hasn’t seen the light in the meantime and produced a smaller model I like. As I’m hemming and hawing, for now I really miss my Apple Watch. I went swimming without it today, and as I miscounted my lanes I thought back wistfully to the times I could have just tapped its screen to see how much I’d already done. Sad times! 😥
I know some of my fellow bloggers really aren’t into the idea of tracking, but personally, I love it. I find it motivating and helpful as a training tool. So I will be doing something about it – just not entirely sure what yet. Do you all have any advice?
In a TEDX talk Stephen Seiler explains how “normal people” can train like the world’s best endurance athletes. What’s the lesson? “No pain no gain” is a slick slogan, but a fundamentally flawed approach to getting faster and fitter over time.” Instead, Seiler who has spent years studying the training habits of great endurance athletes explains that high volume training in the “easy zone” is the way to build, speed and endurance.
One of the big mistakes is avoiding easy rides. “Most self-trained cyclists assume that only the hard rides matter. But, that’s a wrong assumption. In fact, easy rides are just as essential as the intense rides. You need to do the easy rides as they help in developing your aerobic system and promote the recovery process.”
The trick is, of course, that you need to spend the time you’re not going easy, going really hard. How much time should you spend in each zone? The worry is that self-trained cyclists, that’s us cyclists without coaches, spend most of our time in the murky middle.
From What Everyone Gets Wrong About Endurance Training: “In 2010, a meta-analysis by Norwegian researchers examined the actual distribution of training intensity used by elite athletes across the full spectrum of endurance sports. The conclusion: The best in the world complete about 80 percent of their training volume at low intensity, 7 to 8 percent at moderate intensity, and about 12 to 13 percent at high intensity.”
Here’s the problem though–time. Professional athletes training for competition have hours each day set aside for training, most of it in the easy or green zone. You and I have jobs. We have families. We might read books or go to the theatre. We aren’t doing this full-time. Cramped for time, we look for short cuts. One short cut that’s often promised is high intensity interval training. But apparently, so cycling coaches tell me, this can’t replace a solid aerobic base. Building that base means a lot of time exercising in a zone so easy it hardly feels like work.
More from What Everyone Gets Wrong About Endurance Training : “Successful training for endurance sports is highly nuanced. Athletes do require some HIIT in their programs, but they need a tiny fraction of what is being proposed by many in the fitness industry. The endurance athlete will use HIIT as a supplement to—not a replacement for—the aerobic base work that makes up the foundation of their fitness.”
One, all of this has got me thinking about zooming around in the virtual world of Zwift. I spend a lot of time in Zwift, going hard, racing uphills and competing with past me for sprint PRs. I’m friends on Facebook with a few cycling coaches who complain about the tendency of Zwift to encourage speedy riding rather than base building. I probably should do some more easy paced group rides in Zwift. There are even some good training plans in Zwift. It might be time to stop just playing and make a 2020 plan.
Three, this is all about sports performance not health. For the health benefits, HIIT is just fine.
Four, while I don’t have the hours and hours a day competitive athletes have for base training, I do commute by bike and run errands by bike and all of that is in the easy zone. It counts too.
Five, while I raised the worry about zooming and Zwift that’s true for spin classes too. Spin classes whether on a Peloton bike or in a studio are rarely in the easy-going zone. Again, most of the people in the classes aren’t training for performance. Mostly they’re training for general health and fitness reasons.
Six, thinking about this forces me to think about the kind of cyclist I am. I’m not racing. I’m not training for a competitive cycling season. So can I ignore this advice? The problem is that although I’m not racing, I like to ride with fast people. I want to go out with the local bike club. For a woman rider in her mid fifties, I suspect that means taking my training seriously.
See you in the green zone!
How do you think about training and performance for running/cycling/cross country skiing and other endurance sports?Do you follow the 80% easy rule?
I’m just back from two months in Paris. Running in Paris is a challenge. The Bois de Boulogne has lots of dirt trails and is decently big, but to stay close enough to run there regularly too far from everything else I want to do. There are many other parks, but they are all small or smaller and involve a lot of loops to build a run of anything longer than 3k. We rode the Velibs (social bike system) up to the Buttes Chaumont (a fave park) one Sunday and ran 4 loops; along with a big crowd of runners and other weekenders. The Buttes is the only good place to find hills. Sure, you could run around the streets of Montmartre, but the traffic (foot, bicycle, scooter, car etc…) is not my cup of tea.
By process of elimination then, when in Paris I stay near-as-possible to the Seine and run along the banks. This is lovely, of course. Running past Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Grand Palais, the Eiffel Tower, even the mini Statue of Liberty (one of our weekend destinations for a longer run)—what’s not to like?
Well, not to be a sourpuss, but there are no hills at all, it’s concrete or, worse, cobblestone. Running on cobblestone is charming for a week and then it gets less so. I give thanks for the grace of every run without a trip-and-fall.
Still, I love running in Paris, because I have a set of fun and challenging routines, unique to that city.
First, there’s one-legged stair hopping to start and finish each run. Shortly before going to Paris a few years ago, I was at a cat circus with an eight-year-old. As we cooled our heels out front of the theatre, waiting for the house to open, she was hopping up and down the stairs. I tried to join her and discovered that hopping up a set of stairs is no joke. This was a provocation. I decided I should work on my stair-hopping, on the theory it might give me some extra spring for running. The next week, I was running in Paris, with its endless stairs up and down from the banks of the Seine. On a whim, I hopped up one of the staircases on one leg. To be clear, the first time was more of an attempted hopping. Since then, I’ve incorporated stair hops into my regular routine in Paris (though not in NYC, where I’ve never found the right staircase). It’s a mini HIIT (high intensity interval training) moment before I get into to the rhythm of the run.
The second unique-to-Paris addition is the monkey bars. On most runs, I pass a set of monkey bars, where there are usually some groups doing various strength workouts. I do a one-way pass at a hand-to-hand hanging traverse. It’s only 8 rungs. Exhausting. This year on my last run I managed, first time ever, to traverse there and back. Thrilling.
But my favourite Paris routine is the little exercise yard by the Seine, in the sculpture garden near the Jardin des Plantes. My partner and I call it our “health club.” We spend about fifteen minutes doing a circuit. The “machines” operate using body weight and the ground is covered with a slightly springy substance, making it a nice surface for pushups and such like. Then I do one more set of stair hops (topping the workout with a cherry) and run the less-than-a-kilometer home.
The health club is what I miss most when I get back to NYC. I’m not a member of a gym, so I don’t have much chance to do formal strength training. Instead, I rely on aerial yoga, the little bit of weights in spin class, and a few lunges and pushups at the end of most runs. I long for such an exercise yard somewhere in Central Park or Riverside Park. An adult playground! If anyone reading this has clout with the New York City Parks Department …
It’s such a treat to have the special extras of my Paris running routine. I look forward to the different pace. The change recharges my energy.
I’m back on my home turf in Central Park now. Relishing how the familiar routes feel fresh and exhilarating.
There’s a story we tell here on the blog. Do the things you love, whatever movement fits into your day is good movement, eat what your body feels like eating.
Regular readers, you know our drill. It’s a relaxed, forgiving tune we sing around here most of the time.
Regular readers know too that I’ve been struggling a bit with that tune. These things are all true, I still sing that song, but at the same time things are getting more complicated with age and with injury. I’ve written before about doing things that aren’t fun (so much painful knee physio!) and about rest. Tl;dr: It’s complicated and sometimes I get frustrated.
It’s especially more complicated as we age. It’s especially more complicated for those of us with performance oriented fitness goals. Martha and Marjorie Rose are serious about their lifting. Kim and I have cycling goals. Others run and race. Cate is often preparing for her next big solo adventure. Christine is training for her next martial arts test.
As a group we’ve got a lot going on. We all do some strength work, some aerobic activity for endurance, some aerobic activity for intensity, and some activities for flexibility and mobility. For me, right now, it’s physio, weights, cycling and yoga.
I don’t mean to sound whiney. I’m not really complaining. It is what it is. But what it is is not simple or easy.
So we’re busy but what do I mean by “more complicated”?
Do you remember when if you had a big project due for work or school you could just stay up all night, maybe even for a couple of nights, and push through? If you were working late you could skip meals, no problem. Aging takes away that ability for most of us. We need to be more organized and scheduled with our work and with our lives.
There are new rules for everyday eating too. For example, there’s a whole list of foods I don’t eat late in the day not because I’m concerned about my weight but because of heartburn. Oh, midlife. Lots of my friends are pretty scientific about their caffeine consumption. Luckily, I can still drink regular coffee after dinner but I think I’m the last in my friend group who is able.
All of these changes are present as we age as athletes too.
Here’s Abigail Barronian talking about the aging athlete, “It’s no secret that our bodies change as we age. Muscle mass and strength decline, it takes longer to recover from hard efforts, and our capacity to handle high training volumes can diminish. On top of that, mobility decreases and we become more prone to certain injuries. When an older athlete stops training, their fitness deteriorates significantly quicker than it did when they were young—and building it back is much harder.”
So given all the constraints it’s hard to be relaxed about things. Fitness in midlife and beyond requires more structure and thoughtful planning. If it used to be the fun, intuitive, freewheeling part of your life, that’s a tough psychological change too. Mostly it’s still a lot of fun for me but these days I’m finding the planning and organizing a bit stressful.
First, as we age rest becomes more important and it’s harder scheduling workouts and scheduling rest days, not to mention getting enough sleep. Aging athletes need more rest between tough workouts. I love rest but even for me sometimes the recommended amount of rest feels like too much. In recent years we’ve discovered that aging athletes can still work out hard. There’s no need to dial back workout intensity but there is a real need to rest more between workouts. We don’t recover and bounce back the way we used to.
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.”
The rest and recovery time of a 20 year old athlete is significantly different than that of a 45 year old athlete. It’s different again at 55 and so on. But this means that taking training plans off the internet won’t work. Often they don’t allow enough rest.
From Here’s how to get stronger after fifty: “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.”
When I was younger it was just a matter of juggling, fitting in the activities I wanted to fit in, amid kids and a busy work schedule. But as we age there’s also the matter of resting between workouts which becomes more and more important. I’ve long been a fan of deliberate rest days and every coach I’ve had has talked about their importance. Except now they’re more important and I don’t have a coach to make sure I take them.
Likewise for lifting, as we age there’s more need for rest. I read a study recently that claimed for midlife women lifters the right ratio for strength training is two hard workouts followed by one easier workout with lighter weights. I’m not sure if that’s right or not but the main point stands, it’s complicated.
I’ve read too that after 50 you should move to two rest days a week of which one can be active recovery, gentle cardio or yoga maybe.
What am I trying to fit in? The big and important thing is knee physio and strength training. Say three days a week. Next up is cycling, also three days a week. I would like to do hot yoga twice a week. And I also want to take a complete rest day. Oh and also I have to be flexible and fit things in around a very demanding work schedule.
Second, food is more complicated too. For me, there’s some planning involved. I have medication I have to take each morning on an empty stomach and then wait an hour before breakfast. That’s tricky. I also have medicine I have to take after breakfast because it can’t be taken on an empty stomach. Oh, and I need to get to work sometime.
There’s also this whole thing about aging athletes and muscle loss. Our bodies use protein less effectively so we are supposed to eat more of it, some with each meal. I also need fewer calories to get through the day–thanks also to aging– so protein takes up a good chunk of the calories. Add vegetables. Where’s the room for other food? That’s not easy to organize either.
Thirdly, for pretty much all of us there are complications related to injury. My knee is an ongoing thing and recently Tracy injured her Achilles. When that happens you’re doing workouts but also physio and in my case massage therapy too. It can feel like a lot to manage.
Now maybe you might think that one doesn’t need to take it all so seriously. You can walk to work, stretch once in awhile, and do work around the house. And that’s true. You can. But if your goals are more about maintaining fitness as you age and not losing muscle, it’s complicated. Mostly I’m good with that. But I confess that some days I just want to not think about what I’m eating or when I’m next riding or lifting and curl up on the sofa with a mug of hot tea and a book.
All of this summer, I’ve been so excited about my new bike and getting into cycling, I’ve only mentioned half marathon training in passing. I’ve done a bunch of shorter races by now, mostly 10k. After the last one, a 10k in the sweltering heat in July, I decided that maybe it was finally time to tackle the half. If I could run 10k in 30C and survive (though just barely), perhaps there was a chance I could run twice as far?
To be honest, I was super intimidated by the sheer distance. I could do 10k, but I’d end up exhausted, and at races that included a half marathon option, I always wondered how the hell it was possible to double my distance. But plenty of people were doing it, and some of my running mates were egging me on: “if you can run 10k, you can do a half marathon, no problem!” and “anyone who runs a bit regularly can do a half!”. They meant well, I know, but this sort of encouragement made my anxiety worse. What if I was the sort of person who could run 10k, but not 21? Or who could run more or less regularly, just not very far? I was really quite scared of the idea of trying to run 21k.
I’ve always been one to avoid a challenge rather than risking failure, but it’s something I’m trying to work on: getting out of my comfort zone and push myself to take on things that are a bit of a stretch. Learning to maybe fail.
And so I scoured the web for an autumn half marathon with a flat course that was close enough so I could get myself there on the morning of the race. There was no way I was starting out with a hilly half. I settled on a small race around a former US Army base called the Franklin Mile Run. The US Army left a lot of its German bases in the 2000s and these areas are being redeveloped now, and the event website promised an entertaining and – I noted with relief – almost completely flat course. 29 September, I was on!
I started training “in earnest” following the aforementioned 10k race in early July, so I had ample time to prepare. I didn’t draw up a particularly sophisticated training plan: the idea was to run two to three times per week (ideally three), with one long run on the weekends, gradually increasing the distance up to 18k a few weeks before the race, repeat that a couple of times, and then taper the week before race day. I mapped out the long runs on the calendar, knowing I would hit my first 18k at the end of August. Then we’d go on holiday, during which I would do a couple of shorter runs and one more long run before tapering.
Initially, the long runs were tough. I had this mental block caused by my Fear Of The Distance (FOTD): I wasn’t going to be able to do it, it would be too hard – essentially all the negative self-talk that was trying to protect me from failure by sabotaging me, as Cate recentlypointed out. It was also really, really hot. And so I would go out, afraid that I wouldn’t be able to complete my run, and any difficulty I’d run into – it still being too warm, being slightly uncomfortable in my gear, etc., would compound that feeling and leave me starting out jittery and nervous. There was one particular run, my second 14k, during which I hit a wall at 10k and spent the final 4k shuffling along in suffering, convinced I would never be able to run a half marathon. In hindsight, it was really just too warm that day. I should have taken something to drink and taken it easy. But at the time, it was quite discouraging.
And then one day, I ran 16k and was fine. I’d taken a water bottle and decided not to sweat it (haha!), and it really helped. A friend of mine, who has done several half marathons, had also given me an amazing pep talk the day before. Not the “anyone can do this” kind, but the “you, Bettina, can do this, I know how much you train, you’re clearly in great shape”, kind. After this successful run, I was much more confident. I even knocked my first 18k out of the park. By early September, I was ready. I was feeling strong, doing great for speed, the temperatures were finally coming down, and my FOTD had subsided. Then, we went on holiday, and I got sick. Not ideal, but at this point, two weeks out from the race, I still thought I’d be able to do it.
I got back, went to work almost recovered from my cold, and immediately picked up a stomach bug that was going around. A week and a half out from the race, it was getting seriously worrying. The week before – I hadn’t run in almost three weeks at this point – I was still not feeling 100%. The race was going to be on the Sunday. On the Tuesday, I had planned to do a trial 10k but didn’t manage to get out of work on time – it was also one of the busiest weeks of the year, of course. I finally got myself out for a run on Thursday. I did 10k, which went alright, but it was abundantly clear I wouldn’t be able to do the half marathon. I was gutted. I had been ready! And now, I clearly wasn’t.
It was especially disappointing because I knew I couldn’t just sign up for another half a few weeks later once I was fully recovered. Just two days after the race I was going to have a hyperactive parathyroid removed, which would keep me from exercising for several weeks. By this time, the season would be essentially over and I would likely have to wait until next spring for another go at the half-marathon distance. (There are of course winter races, but none of them meet my criteria of ‘no overnight stay required’ and ‘mostly flat course’.) But there was nothing I could do about it. I hadn’t done anything wrong, I had just been unlucky. I now know that I can do it, so training myself up for another go will be much easier. Still tough, ARGH. Double-, nay, triple-ARGH!!!
Luckily, the race had a shorter option and it was possible to downgrade on the day, so I decided that at least I was going to run something, even if it wasn’t a half marathon. Read on this upcoming Wednesday for the race report…
Have you ever had to bow out of a race (or another challenge you had worked hard for)? How did you deal with the disappointment? I’m curious to hear your experiences.
In August 2012, both 48 years old, Sam and I decided to become the fittest we’d ever been in our lives by the time we hit 50. That gave us two years to make and execute a plan. We decided to blog about our fittest by 50 challenge and also about feminist issues in fitness–stuff that bothered us, made us feel strong. Along the way we brought some more bloggers on board. First as occasional guests. Then as regular contributors. Our fiftieth birthdays came and went. We hit our goals. We wrote a book about it.
And we kept blogging. And blogging. And blogging.
And after seven years and hundreds of thousands of words of training updates, race reports, posts about doing less, posts about intuitive eating, rants about this and that outrageous sexist sport incident thing, post after post about what’s wrong with dieting, missives about putting away the scale, more race reports, more posts about getting back on track after falling out of routine, travel fitness logs, justifications and defences of rest, telling everyone why hormone replacement therapy was a life saver for me, … I’ve run out of steam for these topics and issues.
The clarity that it is time to step away hit me when I was away on my ten-day meditation course a few weeks ago. It’s not as if I’d even been toying with stepping away. But I have been feeling uninspired (and therefore, uninspiring) lately. Since Around the Bay I’ve had no end of setbacks. Though I felt strong the first day back, I soon had debilitating back pain that kept me almost immobile for weeks.
Since then, I’ve traveled enough to interrupt my training schedule. Then, as I’ve tried to ease back into running, my Achilles has been acting up. My physiotherapist has told me not to run. That makes the window of opportunity to train for the Toronto Scotiabank Waterfront Half Marathon on October 20 ever-shrinking. I should not have signed up for it before seeing my physiotherapist. The clock is ticking and I don’t know how I can go from zero to 21K — and without injury — by race day. I don’t really feel like blogging about that.
The clarity came so strongly during my meditation course –it was like a full-body knowing set in and said: it’s time to take a step back and make space for others on the blog and for other things in my life. I think feminist commentary on fitness still matters. And hearing personal stories of triumph and struggle and getting on task and falling away and getting motivated again still matters. But I don’t feel I’ve got anything much left to say.
Not only that, we have built a diverse and energetic team of amazing regulars over the years, along with a huge group of guests. So I can easily leave without so much as a missed beat on the blog. Though Sam and I co-founded it and it grew up around our own challenge, the shape of the blog has changed over these past seven years and it really is a team effort now. I’m enormously grateful to everyone who contributes to the blog’s success by creating smart and relevant content on regular basis.
I’ll be writing a short series over the next couple of weeks as my way of saying “good-bye for now.” In part 2, on Thursday, I’m going to talk about some of my favourite posts by the other authors. In part 3, next Tuesday (August 27th), I’m going to reflect on the posts of my own that I like the best. And finally, in part 4 (August 29th), I’ll reflect a bit on how the blog has shaped, influenced, and forever altered the way I engage with fitness pursuits in my own life. It has meant a lot to me, not just as a way of motivating me to stay on task and try new things, but also by creating a sense of community and camaraderie that I had not anticipated.
On the 29th, it’ll be almost exactly seven years to the day since my very first post. That seems like a fitting date on which to call it a day.