fitness · motivation · running · training · winter

Winter running has begun!

Image description: Headshot of Tracy, smiling, droplets of melted snow on face, frost on her headband (a paisley Buff), smiling, grey running jacket with melted snow visible, empty streetview of an intersection and a red brick building in the background.

Winter running! Just the other day I posted in my 220 in 2020 group that I have officially become a “fairweather runner” because I skipped a Sunday run a couple of weeks ago. Susan chimed in and said, “because it was a hurricane!” Well, maybe not quite a hurricane, but the winds were gusting up to 90 km an hour and it was pouring rain. Not many people would want to venture out in that.

Fast forward a week, and it was a mild 1 degree C and snowing on Sunday morning. This time I actually felt eager to get out there. It was almost perfect, easy to dress right (early winter tights, a short-sleeved t-shirt, a buff to keep my ears protected and my head from getting wet, and a windproof/waterproof running jacket), and it felt somehow inviting. If it’s going to be cold, I’d rather have cold and snow than cold and rain. Plus I’d rather run in light snow than in blazing sun on a hot and humid day (yes, I’m Canadian :)).

Lots of people complain about winter running. I’ve blogged about it before. See my old old post “Gearing up for Winter Running” where, 8 years ago I was trying to figure my gear for my first season of winter running. I also used to feel fearful about it (see “Getting over the fear of winter running”). Sometimes I’ve had to brace myself for it. Sometimes I’ve hit a wall with winter running. It has its pitfalls. Like it can be icy, which is a hazard. Sunday wasn’t at all icy, though some slush had started to accumulate by the time I was well past the halfway point. It was mild enough that the pathway stayed reasonably clear. That’s not always the case. I’ve run through heavy snow before and it is not fun when there is no clear path and you’re wading through snow or taking risks on the road (I do not like doing that but I have done it).

Winter running can also be dark if you run in the early morning or after your work day. Pandemic life means I can get around that this year by going for more lunch time runs. In fact, I have a pact with a friend in another city in which we run “together” at lunch time a couple of times a week. That just means we text each other before we leave and check in about how it went after we’re back. Running buddies can really help with getting out the door in less than ideal weather, even when they’re somewhere else.

This year I didn’t have to brace myself for winter running. That’s because the first real winter run that I did landed on a temperate day with a little bit of snow. I bailed once the week before, where at Tuesday lunchtime it seemed like a blizzard. My pact friend and I decided to go for a walk instead that day, and once we were each out the door we called and had a phone call, walking and chatting with each other instead of running (it’s good to have a back-up plan for when you just can’t even). Compared to that day, my Sunday snowy run felt absolutely lovely. And we’re in the early days of winter right now, so I haven’t hit the wall. That said, I probably won’t force myself out into the kind of weather that would make me hit a winter running wall if I ran in it regularly. And I’ve had winters where, because I was training for a particular event, I couldn’t afford to skip a long Sunday run just because there was a blizzard. This year, I can cozy up with a cup of tea and watch the weather rage if that’s what I’d rather do.

That must be why I look so happy in the pic I’ve used in this post. This year, I get to go out in the winter weather that makes me feel good, not like I’m battling my way forward with each precarious step. And if I don’t feel like it, I’ll do something else instead.

How do you feel about winter running?

cycling · fitness · training · Zwift

Anaerobic depletion is about as much fun as it sounds, Zwift Academy Workout #8

As you know, I’m racing to finish Zwift Academy before the November 25th cutoff. It’s still touch and go whether I’ll make it. I’m trying to fit it all in.

Thursday night was a tough team time trial effort with TFC Phantom with missing team members and technical difficulties. Friday night was the usual TFC race with the usual suspects. We race as a team Thursday night and then Friday we race against one another, with a nice mix of cooperation and competition.

TFC Phantom Thursday night line up, Sam and the guys!

Saturday, my 💓 heart was all about sleeping in but that wasn’t to be. I only had five days left to finish Zwift Academy. Workout #8 was scheduled for 9 am.

I did manage to sleep until 8, make instant coffee and toast, and hop into bike clothes and onto the bike.

My playlist was the Awesome Mix, Songs to Sing in the Shower and then some jazz/soul by Joni NehRita.

Joni NehRita

NehRita gave a talk on Friday as part of the Improv Institute’s Thinking Spaces series. Her presentation was called “Love + Protest.”

Here’s a brief bio from her website: “Jamaican-Canadian artist Joni NehRita writes songs about unity, hope and social justice. Her jazz-tinged brand of soul is infused with rhythms & sounds from her Afro-Caribbean background. A multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and producer, she has a gift for writing infectious, well-crafted songs that are deeply personal.

This year NehRita releases her 4th full length album, “Love & Protest” which is a marked step further toward global roots/world music. She has played festivals & concerts (both as a solo artist & backing other artists) in North America, Australia, England, France, Germany & Oman. She has also sung with the KW Symphony & Hamilton Philharmonic.”

Love it when my work introduces me to new music and a new artist.

Digression over now back to Zwift Academy!

From Zwift here’s the description of workout 8: “This Zwift Academy workout helps build your attacking power level for a solid punch. Short efforts all under 1min will make you feel the burn.”

https://youtu.be/RMrtajoddgI

I loved seeing all the different country flags over the riders heads. And as usual I enjoyed the banter and chit chat during the warm up, cool down, and the chunks of recovery riding.

The first half was all out sprint efforts and then having exhausted our anaerobic abilities, we recovered and turned our attention to three one minute efforts will above FTP. Not fun. But I did it. We survived. Yay!

Just one more workout and two more group rides or races to go. Wish me luck!

competition · cycling · fitness · training · Zwift

Canadian cycling on Zwift

CYCLING CANADA EXPANDS VIRTUAL CYCLING OPPORTUNITIES:

“As national federations around the globe continue to gear up for the inaugural UCI Cycling Esports World Championships on December 8-9, Cycling Canada is excited to announce an expanded multi-platform virtual cycling calendar for the 2020/2021 winter season.

“Virtual cycling represents an exciting discipline of the sport which allows our community to stay connected in a virtual world year-round” said Josh Peacock, Events & Partnerships Manager at Cycling Canada. “We are thrilled to play a part in helping to grow this discipline in Canada, while at the same time keeping our growing cycling community connected.”

Cycling Canada’s virtual cycling events will kick off on November 2 on the Zwift platform with the introduction of the Cycling Canada “Weekly Tune-up” group ride series and “Wednesday Night Race Series”. Both initiatives will be listed on the public Zwift event calendar, open to all Zwift subscribers.”

See here for more details.

Things start tonight with a tune-up ride at 8:05 pm EST.

“Every Monday and Tuesday at 8:05 p.m. EST, Cycling Canada will host 45 minute group rides open to all skill levels and abilities on rotating courses. Monday rides will be co-ed, while Tuesday rides will be exclusive to women. Course offerings will vary from week to week in an effort to provide a well-rounded mix of training opportunities for Zwifters of all backgrounds. The weekly tune-up will be a medium-paced social ride (2.0 – 2.5 w/kg), led by some of Canada’s top coaches and athletes. Zwifters can expect a fun, interactive community atmosphere with regular efforts to build fitness. The weekly tune-up series will also serve as a social pre-ride for Cycling Canada’s Wednesday Night Race Series, offered on the same course as each week’s ride.

Every Wednesday at 8:05 p.m. EST, Cycling Canada will host a public race open to all skill levels on rotating courses in line with our weekly tune-up rides. This series will offer something for everyone while exploring every corner of Zwift’s virtual world. Zwifters will have the opportunity to register in one of five power-based categories, including a women’s specific category. This series will not include a ranking or series points, but is rather intended as a means of offering a fun weekly challenge for Zwifters of all abilities.

For a complete list of Cycling Canada Zwift events, including course maps, click here. Sign up to participate via the Zwift Companion App, or click here for the complete Zwift event listing.”

I’m not sure that I can take part regularly. See this morning’s post about racing and scheduling rest and recovery :). But I am hoping I can make it to some of the events.

Enjoy! If you go write and let us know what it was like.

fitness · racing · rest · training

Aging recreational athletes, rest days, and the US election

Why Rest Day Is The Hardest But Most Important – For Fitness Sake
Rest Day Dog

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.

Like this Yoga With Adriene practice:

This has been an issue of mine for a long time, pretty much since we started the blog. See, from nearly 8 years ago, Fitting it all in and scheduling recovery time. Different activities, younger me, but the same problem.

Here are some of the things that I’ve read on the subject, while browsing the internet for rest and recovery advice.

We’ve Proved It – Older Athletes DO Take Longer to Recover 

“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.”

Here’s How to Get Stronger After 50 | Outside Online

“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.”

Aging Athletes Need More Rest and Recovery – Dr. Newton’s …www.drnewtons.com › Dr. Newton’s Daily Apple Blog

“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.”


Injury prevention gets harder as you age. These methods help

“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?

fitness · running · training

They’re All Good Runs: A Case for Autoregulation

When you go out for a run or ride, how do you decide how long you will go, how hard, or how fast? Less time lifting weights these days has meant more time running for me, and I’m approaching it a new way–I’m using autoregulation to determine my goals for each outing. For any activity, autoregulation is allowing data from the experience in the moment to determine your outcomes for that event.

Choose your datapoint. Autoregulation does not mean “go for as long as you feel like.” I’m not just running until it doesn’t seem fun anymore. Honestly, for me, the first mile has always been rough, with my body telling me all about how I’m making it do something it isn’t well-designed to do. It can take even longer for my breathing to even out. If I were to use these cues to tell me when I’m done, I’d never run more than half a mile.

What I have learned, though, is that while I may sound like a freight train as I puff down the middle of the road, my pace can remain pretty steady. I start my runs these days around an 11-12 min/mile pace. If I get feeling really loose, maybe if there’s some downhill bits or someone annoys me and I get a surge of adrenaline, I can speed up for a while to perhaps 9:30-10 min/miles.

So, that’s the datapoint I use to autoregulate my runs; I check my pace. As long as I’m running faster than a 13 minute/mile, I keep running. And when I see my pace drop below 13 minutes/mile for a couple checks, I’m done. Usually, my pace drops off really fast. Sometimes that happens after a shorter run, maybe 1.5 miles, sometimes it takes longer. However long I go, I know I’ve gone a distance that challenges me without overdoing it and without cutting myself short.

Choose your route. Obviously, a potential downside to this method is ending up some distance from home and needing to walk quite a ways back. Until my distances become consistently longer, I’m keeping pretty close to home. I started my runs as loops around the perimeter of a beautiful, historic cemetery a few blocks from our house. I can run one loop, about three quarters of a mile, or any distance longer than that without ever being more than a few blocks from home. As I’ve gotten stronger, to mix it up, I also run through the neighborhood along a 3-mile loop. If I can only run one side of the loop, I’m still only a little over a mile from home, which is a nice walk to cool down with.

Celebrate each run. I think the best part of this strategy for me is that it’s reduced the stress of feeling like I need to accomplish something specific on my runs. When I first got back into it at the start of Stay Home Save Lives in March, I gave myself the “add 10% to the distance” rule and tried to adhere to it week to week. It was fine at first, but then, maybe 5 or 6 weeks into it, I hit a wall. I couldn’t run further. I’d try to push through it, and my stomach would start to roil, my legs would ache, my heart rate would spike, and my pace would slow down to slower than if I’d been walking. It felt bad, and I didn’t feel successful.

When I started to give myself permission to just run until my body said stop, the distances run to run varied more, but each run felt better. I didn’t push myself to having a sour stomach all day. My hip didn’t ache for the next week. I had energy for my lifting the following day. It was better. And after a while, the distances started to tick upwards again. It isn’t linear. Every run isn’t further than the run before it. But the trend is slowly becoming longer and longer, and there are moments when it really feels good again to be running. That is why I’m out there in the first place–I want it to feel good, I want to feel good.

This week, I ran just over three miles for the first time in years. There were periods during that run that it actually felt easy. I’ve always laughed at the advice to keep it at a “conversational” pace. Running and conversation have never been in the cards for me. However, for a block here and there, I think I COULD have had a conversation! When I checked my pace, I was surprised to note that I hadn’t slowed down, I was still trucking along around 11 min/mile. So I kept running.

Autoregulation has been a welcome tool for me to enhance my running endurance during these challenging times. It allows me to listen to my body; it gives me a goal that I can pursue without judgement. It has taken away a stressor (externally derived goals) while still allowing me to challenge myself and improve over time. I am so grateful that I can run, and now I am really enjoying it again.

Photo description: Feet in grey and orange running shoes, ascending concrete stairs.

Your turn, dear reader: How do you decide when you’ve gone far enough? Do you predetermine distances or use autoregulation to decide how far to go? I’d love to hear from you.

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found ignoring her ragged breathing, picking up heavy things and putting them back down again in Portland, Oregon.

220 in 2020 · fitness · habits · health · motivation · rest · running · schedule · strength training · training · walking · yoga

220 in 2020: goal achieved, now what? Hint: keep going

image description: Tracy selfie. She’s smiling, wearing a Buff on her head and a workout tank, upper left arm tattoo of flower visible, home workout equipment (e.g. running shoes, cans of beans, chairs, blanket, bin with resistance bands, yoga mat on floor) in background.

A few of us have blogged about participating in “220 in 2020,” which is basically a group where you keep track of your workouts, with a goal of working out at least 220 times in 2020. Cate and Sam started talking about it back in 2017, when they did “217 in 2017.” It got Sam to think more explicitly and more expansively about what counts. And Cate has talked about the motivating power of this type of group and how it’s altered her relationship to working out. I jumped on board last year, with the 219 in 2019 group that spun off of the Fit Is a Feminist Issue Challenge group that Cate, Christine and I hosted for a few months in the fall of 2018.

Reflecting on “what counts” is not a new thing for me. Way back when Sam and I started the blog in 2012, I was already wondering what a workout actually is for me. I revisited that question when I joined the 219 in 2019 group. Then I concluded that “if these challenges are meant to get us moving, then whatever gets us moving counts.”

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).

aging · fitness · training

Sam’s max heart rate is slowing down but that’s okay, she isn’t

A beating cartoon heart

So I’m back training again. I’m riding and racing on Zwift. I’m working with a coach. Hi Chris! And that means I’m paying attention to data.

I’m also paying attention to some comparative data. Because I’ve been riding and using a Garmin and Strava for years, some things are interesting to track over time.

My ftp has gone up. (FTP stands for Functional Threshold Power and represents the highest wattage number you can expect to average over an hour.) All good. It’s fun. I like measuring and tracking progress.

Yay!

Except what’s striking is that my maximum heart rate has gone down, like way down. A lot. Fifteen years ago when I used to race crits, do short distance duathlons and do flying laps at the velodrome, I had a max heart rate of 182.

Here’s younger Sam racing in a crit. Thanks Greg Long for the photo.

Now my max heart rate is 164 or so. I used to do time trials at 168. Now my time trial heart is more like 150. That’s the highest heart rate I can maintain for a good chunk of time without blowing up.

Remember the old formula? 220 minus your age? That’s pretty much right for me now. I suppose I shouldn’t care. My top speeds haven’t gone down and neither has my power output. But what’s it all about?

See Heart rate and age: “The relationship between the heart and exercise has been studied for more than six decades and the research is clear: Max heart rate—the highest heart rate you can safely hit during exercise—decreases with age regardless of lifestyle or level of fitness. Why the drop? The reasons aren’t completely known, but a 2013 University of Colorado Medical School study found that one reason could be slower electrical activity in the heart’s pacemaker cells. Basically, “your heart can’t beat as often,” says Roy Benson, running coach and co-author of Heart Rate Training.
However, a lower max heart rate may not necessarily affect your splits. “It’s not a foregone conclusion that a decrease in heart rate max means a decline in performance,” says Joe Friel, coach and author of Fast After 50 and The Triathlete’s Training Bible. “That’s a very common but unsupported view of athletes who are ill informed about the science behind heart rate. They assume a high heart rate means a high level of performance. Not true.”

I started to go down the rabbit hole of reading journal articles about why max heart rate declines. But really, do I need to know? I am still puzzled about why it doesn’t seem to matter as much as I thought it might.

I’ve written about heart rate training before.

See here:

Take it easy: Why train with a heart rate monitor, part 1

Go hard! : Why train with a heart rate monitor, part 2

Obviously, I need to open up my Garmin/Strava settings and put in some new numbers.

Do you track heart rate while exercising? Have you noticed it dropping with age?

Photo by Nick Hillier on Unsplash
dogs · fitness · training · weight lifting

The missing puzzle piece of Sam’s pandemic home workout plan

You know that I left the gym early. I don’t remember when I last went but I posted about my decision to leave on March 9th. It’s been awhile since I’ve set foot inside the gym, the yoga studio, or the Bike Shed.

So I’ve been working out at home for awhile now. Mostly it’s all fit together pretty well.

Piece one of the puzzle is that I’ve been riding and racing my bike virtually. Hello Zwift! Piece two is that I’m back together with Yoga with Adriene, enjoying her Yoga for Uncertain Times series quite a lot. Piece three is everyday exercise walking Cheddar the dog.

Cheddar, napping post walk

But the fourth piece is not working out quite so well. It’s there but it’s a work in progress.

That’s at home strength training. I’ll confess we weren’t as well-prepared. We have a motley, somewhat random collection of tools. The one great thing is Sarah’s TRX which we mounted in the living room which is now combo home office for two and home gym for three. We also pandemic panic purchased a 25 lb kettlebell the day before the shops all closed. Sarah also has a lone 8 lb dumbbell from her injured shoulder physio days. And we own some resistance tubing with handles, one is not very much resistance and the other one a bit too much. You read about that purchase here.

My son is home from university and he’s regular gym goer. He usually lifts pretty serious weights most days of the week. I think at first he thought he’d wait it out but now he’s planning home workouts for us, scouring Instagram for ideas. I’m really glad he’s here.

It feels a bit like the cooking challenge where you’re given random oddball ingredients and asked to construct a meal. But he’s doing a great job.

How to make chest and triceps day out of this?

Sam’s random home gym bits and pieces

We’re making do but I miss the gym. How about you?

Once it warms up we’re going to hang the heavy punching bag in the backyard. Will report back!

covid19 · fitness · habits · motivation · training

5 Motivating Things to Tell Yourself to Get Exercising Again

Finding it hard to get moving these days? Struggling to consistently work out with your routines thrown off? Consider telling yourself stories about yourself to help you get started and keep you going. It’s what I’m doing, and it’s really paying off. When I’m struggling to stay motivated, these internal narratives push me through to the next set.

“I never regret getting started.” This one is completely true for me, and for that matter, I almost never regret working out. Very occasionally, when I’ve been pushing too hard, or I’m coming down with something, or my life is exceptionally stressful elsewhere, I find that I just can’t finish a workout. But even then, I’m glad I made an effort. My body feels better, my thoughts usually feel clearer, and I like knowing that I did what I could. This story gets me into my workout gear and gets me to give it at least a start. I almost always finish.

“I’m an athlete and this is training, not just another workout.” This story (and it is a fiction in my case, albeit a powerful one) helps me focus on the task at hand. When the goal is training, the movement and intensity matter. I can focus on what muscles I’m using, the quality of the contractions, and on how my technique matters. Whereas if I’m just “exercising,” there’s some permission in my head to back off and go through the motions–after all, I’m still getting in my daily movement, so what does it matter if that last set was a little easy or sloppy?

“I am choosing to be a person who does this, it isn’t something I do out of obligation.” Yes, taking care of myself makes me a better wife, friend and daughter. I’m nicer when I take time to work out. I’m also decreasing the likelihood that I get certain diseases and conditions. But, I have a choice every day about continuing to do this work. And some days, I choose to take a break. It’s all ok, but it isn’t ok to act like someone is forcing me, because they’re not. When I tell myself this story, I reduce the rebel inside me that wants to say “Eff you” to the world and skip working out to “do whatever I want,” because this IS what I want.

“I am lucky I get to do this.” I cannot overemphasize how deeply motivating this story is for me. I have been physically disabled to the point that walking a block would make me lightheaded, breathless and in pain. It has taken me years, decades, to get to the level of fitness I’m at today, and I do not take it for granted. I feel so lucky that I’ve been given this time to push myself. This story reminds me to acknowledge this reality with gratitude.

“I’m at the gym right now.” This is a story I’ve had to start telling myself specifically during my home workouts these days. If I’m at the gym, I’m not checking email, doing chores, talking to the cats, or otherwise wasting time. The goal is to use the hour to get some lifting done so I can “go home.” Incidentally, I’ve started to tell this story to my husband, too. Now he knows that when I’m “at the gym,” unless it’s urgent, conversation and other interruptions can wait until I’m done. I am really loving finding some “alone” time even when I’m never alone in the house these days.

In the midst of the surreal realities of our current situation, I am finding the structure of my lifting to be a valuable tool for self-care. These stories, the mindset with which I approach my lifting, have become important to get me off the sofa and to my trusty resistance bands more days than not.

Your turn, dear reader: What are you telling yourself to help you stay motivated?

Marjorie Hundtoft is a (mostly online, and not very good at it, yet) middle school science and health teacher. She can be found using positive imagery and self-talk while pretending to pick up heavy things and put them back down again in Portland, Oregon.

Image description: Someone standing in white sneakers on a checked carpet.
fitness · training

Endurance tips for life these days (3 of 3)

Hi readers! As part of our continuing coverage of life in these unusual times, we asked our bloggers to comment on their experiences of long-term training and long-term projects. What is it like to be immersed in a process that’s important, for which the outcome is uncertain– in terms of time and what it will be like? How do you manage the discipline, the repetition, the discomfort, the uncertainty?

We’re posting their replies this Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 2pm. We would love it if you would add your comments and offer your own tips from your training experiences. How are they helping you (or not!) during this time of sheltering and isolating in one place? We’ll post those comments in a separate post next Monday.

If you want to (re)read Monday’s post, check it out here.

If you want to (re)read Wednesday’s post, check it out here.

Today, we hear from Sam, Kim, Martha and me on how training experiences are shaping what we’re doing now.

First up is Sam, who says “put your own mask on first!”:

There’s a lesson from long distance, group cycling that I think is helpful for this long haul of staying at home and social distancing. It’s about taking care of your self first.

In any group ride where there is an explicit commitment to sticking together the group is only as strong as its weakest member. You don’t always know how other people are doing but you do know how you’re doing and you can take care of your own needs as a big part of the team effort.

On a group ride that means at the start arriving well rested, bringing your own snacks, and making sure your bike is good repair. Along the way, it means pacing. Don’t wear yourself out at the front. You let other people know if you’re getting tired, before you’re exhausted. Take time to drink and eat.

The best thing you can do for the group is making sure you’re doing what you need to take care of yourself. If you’re a stronger ride, then you can help make sure others are doing okay. But put your own mask on first, as they say.

How is this true in pandemic times? Many of you are caring for small children and I know in that context things are a bit different. But in terms of your relationship with older children, partners, parents etc it helps to do all that you can to keep yourself on an even keel.

Here we’re five of us under one roof, plus dogs and a cat, and we’re sharing space full-time in ways that we have never done before. There are two us working in the dining room and living room, twenty-somethings hanging out in the back group, and it’s a delicate balance of cooking and cleaning and working and playing games and exercising. It’s easier if we are all in reasonable moods and I notice that we are all being pretty generous in terms of our household contributions. We’re each eating well and getting enough sleep. We’re talking about our fears and anxieties, taking care of ourselves and one another.

It’s not perfect but I feel a bit like I do on a great group ride. Yes there are stronger and weaker riders but we’re all doing our part, asking for help when we need it, and doing what we need to do so we don’t fall apart on the others.

Next up is Martha, on quilting and focus over a long project:

If you had asked me last year if knowing how to quilt would help me manage the challenges of the staying safely at home during a pandemic, I would have probably laughed heartily. Mostly because quilting involves a lot of math, which is not my strong suit, and mathing can cause me stress.

Quilting, because of the math and the patterning, requires focus. Some people can cheerfully chain piece away; I have to be very focused. It requires a lot of TEA, both the liquid kind and the metaphorical kind.

TEA, according to project management thinker Charles Gilkey, is time, energy and attention. In one of his weekly newsletters addressing pandemic issues, he asked what we could let go, what we could freeze (or pause) and what could we continue to offer TEA and still be productive and engage in meaningful work.

My most successful quilt projects require organization to keep all the parts together. They also require balance: too much work on it at any given time, and I can make mistakes; too many distractions and I lose focus and attention, also causing mistakes and frustration. Quilting is also an iterative activity; each piece builds on itself. Each part brings its own demands for TEA even as it offers patience and a sense of accomplishment when achieved.

The pandemic, like quilting, has a lot of complicated bits and a lot of simple bits. I have to trust in the process of social distancing even though I might not see the impact right away. I can only control when and how I shop for necessities, when I will work, and when I will relax. Letting go, pausing, and (re) engaging are cyclical and important parts of creating and managing this new normal for me and my family. It might not look the best, but it is good enough, and sometimes that is more than okay.

Here’s Kim, on developing resilience and power she never knew she had (which we all have, too!):

Long ago now (well, ok, in 2013; it feels like a lifetime ago!!) I trained for the biggest endurance challenge of my life. In July 2013 I rode 450km in 24 hours and 14 minutes, as part of a charity race from London to Paris (England to France) in support of kids with disabilities in arts and sport.

My then-husband arrived home one day eight months before and announced he’d signed us up. I was REALLY cross to start, but then the work began and I didn’t have the energy to be annoyed anymore. I remember well that we started with a schedule and a plan; it was not orthodox, which is to say it was a bit loosey-goosey, but that suited our world at the time.

We built stamina over 25 mile rides, then 30 mile rides, then 40 mile rides, each weekend, and so on. I lifted some weights, badly I think, and swam a lot (less badly). We gathered friends from among the others signed up, and started going out for longer rides. We discovered enormous pleasure and beauty in new routes from our house in South London into the hills toward Sussex; we rode the now-infamous Box Hill route that featured in the 2012 Olympic road race, many times!

Eventually, one super rainy and gross weekend, we did an Imperial Century (100 miles, 8 hours) along the Dorset coast. I remember that ride chiefly because just before the second feed station we all had to ride through a huge slick of wet livestock poop. YUP.

The training had its ups and downs, but it created a rhythm to my life between fall 2012 and summer 2013 that helped me cope with another huge transition: from living and working in Canada to living and working in the UK.

What I remember most about that time now is making packs of new friends, discovering power and resilience in myself I never knew I had, becoming stronger than ever before, and learning how to tune into nature (what’s the wind speed? From where? Any precipitation? Here or in Brighton?) in ways I never had before. I cherish the memories of that difficult but valuable time.

Finally, here’s me, with a few words on how training mirrors life– focusing on now and focusing on today.

Life feels weird right now. Working and moving and cooking and cleaning and relaxing and socializing and sleeping, all at home, creates all kinds of challenges for me. I have to create a new-new schedule for everything and try to stick to it with very few external constraints to keep me on the straight and narrow. This is not my forte, maintaining internal motivation to keep to a consistent schedule involving every aspect of my life. I guess it’s really no one’s forte.

I’ve trained for bike racing, long cycling events, big group rides and triathlons (and tap dance concerts in the distant past). When I let myself sink into the rhythm of a training plan, submitting to the schedule (you see how anti-authoritarian I am about this?), I discover beauty in two things.

Thing one: the now. When I am doing a workout or practice or exercise, I’m just doing that thing. There’s no multitasking, no talking on the phone, no trying to sneak in another email while grading. There’s just me and the hill, me and the 2 or 5 or 15-minute intervals. I’m breathing. I’m moving. I’m sweating. I’m hearing my own breathing and the bike sounds. Even if I’m outside, I don’t focus much on what I am seeing. It’s rather what I’m feeling and hearing.

That now is a place we can go where we leave behind the rest of the world, for a little bit. I’m working on finding ways to be in the now for writing, or my zoom therapy, or my online class interactions with students. Cultivating that reserved space and time creates a calming space for me.

Thing two: the training schedule. When I have a weekly/monthly schedule laid out with all the sessions I am to do, I feel like I’m off the hook (even if I’m the one who created it). It’s there, and I just do what it says when it says. Tuesdays used to be sprint drills, and Thursdays were threshold intervals, and Saturdays were long rides. Life was simple in that respect.

I’m finding a little of that simplicity through a training schedule now. It’s building up and getting more structured as I can tolerate that structure, but it’s happening. I’ve got my zoom yoga classes 3x/week, and am working on scheduling walking 5X/week. That’s what I got right now.

Readers, what are you doing to develop endurance through this strange period we are going through? We would love to hear from you.

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