fitness · motivation · running · training

Running with headphones, or not

Image description: drawing of a line of musical score with a trebal clef and notes, with the lines diverging apart, curling off in a different directions at the right end.
Image description: drawing of a line of musical score with a trebal clef and notes, with the lines diverging apart, curling off in a different directions at the right end.

When Sam posted a link to Peter Sagal’s article, “The case against running with headphones” I was ready to object. But I kind of liked what he had to say (which I’ll get to in a minute). Personally, I like running with headphones sometimes and other times I don’t.  In the morning, it helps me get going when I’m feeling sluggish. But I occasionally reach a point, especially on a long run, where I just want to take in the silence, be alone with my thoughts, focus on my body and my form, on my immediate surroundings, and listen to my breathing.

I have friends who feel differently, who specifically listen to music when they run so that they don’t need to hear their breathing. But I find the sound of breathing, even the exerted breathing of a run, to be meditative.

Peter Sagal started his journey to music-free running by wanting to present for big events:

It occurred to me that if I was going to train and practice and focus on achieving something, when the time came to actually do it I could at the very least pay attention. A race, most especially and counterintuitively a marathon, requires more focus on the moment than someone who’s never done it might imagine. We scan our bodies for discomfort, we check our pace, we count the miles and measure our remaining strength against the remaining distance.

On race day, I go both ways. When I got my personal best on the 10K in September, I ran to a playlist for much of the time. But when the last couple of K came, I turned off the music and did exactly as Sagal described. I didn’t want to zone out to the music, I wanted to be mindful and present to what was happening. My thoughts also narrowed to exactly what was going on and positive affirmations and reminders from my training.

I did the same for the recent half marathon. For more than half, I ran without music because I was with Anita. But at a certain point, we agreed to do our own thing and we both put in our earbuds. I enjoyed my new playlist, but as is my habit, I don’t play the music all the time. Periodically, I hit pause and focus on the people around me, the sound of my feet on the pavement, my stride, my breathing, the next sign post, the feeling of the wind on my face, my body position and whether I’m relaxed or tight. Music tends to distract me from that sort of thing. Sagal agrees.

If I don’t leave my headphones behind when I run, I wouldn’t spend a single minute of my waking life free from input.

In other words, in a day there are few opportunities to unplug. Running can be one of them. And in place of the noise from a device, running let’s you work through thoughts — conversations you wish you could have, perhaps some venting, all the build-up. I also experience some creative bursts when I’m running. Or insights about areas of my life where I’ve felt stuck and then, on a run, especially a long run alone, I can sense a shift. These are all the more likely if I’m not listening to music.

The upshot of Sagal’s article is that the only way to run mindfully is to run without music as a distraction. Of course, not everyone wants to run mindfully. Or perhaps not all the time. When I run with people, for example, it’s even more likely that the social aspect will overshadow the running itself. We run, but we use each other as a distraction. Anita and I comment all the time about how quickly the time passed on a given run when we were together, chatting. True, we check in once in awhile with “how are you feeling?” and true, we are “unplugged.” But if Sagal is making a case for more of an inward and mindful approach to running, then that would require going solo too.

My formula is to mix it up. I include a combination of group runs, solo runs, runs that include music, runs that don’t, and runs that have a bit of both. There are times I want to be mindful, times I want to be distracted. It sometimes depends on the type of run. I am less likely to want music during fast intervals because I need to be very focused on what I’m doing to maintain my speed during the intervals. So I’m far from all-or-nothing when it comes to headphones. In fact, making and running with a fresh playlist is one of life’s little pleasures for me.

Where do you stand on running with headphones?

 

hiking · menopause · running · training

Now That Getting Stoned Is A Legal Training Option

Before I dive into this post, I want to put a caution up front. This represents my personal views. I’m coming from a cannabis-positive direction and will not look at the risks and downsides. Others will represent that perspective, to be sure!

Yesterday the recreational use of cannabis became legal in Canada. As if I needed another reason to miss my homeland! By way of celebration, I considered getting stoned this morning before my run, but I’m only a baby stoner and consuming cannabis straight out of bed (and by myself, since my partner is away) felt more than a wee bit outside my comfort zone.

photo-1498671546682-94a232c26d17
lush green cannabis plant

This article in Canadian Running about the potential benefits of cannabis on training might change my mind about running stoned.

By way of background, I consumed virtually no pot until I was into my thirties. Then a few years ago I became intolerant of alcohol, likely related to the onset of menopause. I was never a big drinker, but I enjoyed the social aspect. I miss the festive feel of a cocktail or the last glass of wine around a dinner table littered with the debris of a long meal. I’m glad that I have access to edibles (products like candies or brownies containing cannabis) and enjoy them as an alternative that never gives me a hangover.

Cannabis products didn’t really figure in my athletic life. Sure, there was the marathon I finished where a friend with a joint was at the finish line, touting the anti-inflammatory benefits. I can’t remember if I recovered more quickly from that marathon. Until recently, I had not used cannabis specifically as a recovery tool. Yes, I am likely to consume in the evening after a long effort, but that’s a reward, a celebration. The pain relief is a bonus and I haven’t tracked the efficacy.

Then, about a year ago, I had a period where my hip flexor started bothering me out of the blue. Putting on a pair of pants was uncomfortable. Running got hard and slow, because lifting my leg invoked the pain. My partner counseled me to use the CBD oil he’d bought a while back. I was skeptical. Then I was a grateful convert. Since then we’ve bought a couple of other CBD products for muscle pain, and my acupuncturist uses it. Wow. Nothing topical has worked so well for me. This summer when I was training for a 30k mountain run, I would mix CBD cream with foot salve, to my feet’s delight. I used it on my sketchy hamstring and my cranky shoulder blade muscle. All were happy.

IMG_2122
White plastic bottle labeled Muscle Melt Active Cannabis Heating Rub, beloved by Mina’s muscles

While training for that long run, I did a couple of runs with some younger folk. They were mountain goats with incredible endurance, agility, quite a bit of speed and a lot of good cheer. I also realized that two of the three of them were stoned. That gave me pause. I had never thought about the potential training benefits of cannabis. If anything, I assumed that being stoned would diminish my ability to work out.

The day after one of our four-hour training runs, my partner and I decided to do a 10-mile, steep hike, as a way of being on our feet, without using the exact same muscles. I suggested we follow our mountain-goat friends’ example. We had a cannabis candy as we started up the trail.

I was curious to see how it would feel. Would we be slower? Would we lose the thread of the hike? Would we just sit down and admire the forest? Nope. We charged up the mountain and got to the top as fast, if not faster, than we usually do. We were so jazzed by our ascent that we run-hiked back down. We were so focused on whether we were having a “better” time on our hike, that we didn’t even notice our performance. We concluded that the forest had seemed just as spectacular as always, the view from the peak as breathtaking, and the high meadows of wildflowers as eye popping. With or without cannabis enhancement, we got the same joy out of the experience. It was only afterward that the performance side sank in. Hiking stoned was hiking strong.

That one anecdotal event was not enough to change my training habits. I didn’t overcome years of a strict church and state separation of the workout part of my day and the relaxation part; that prude in me who clucks her tongue at having too much fun when I should be working. I thought of that hike as a one-off. But when I add in the new information from the Canadian Running article about the potential benefits of cannabis during training runs, well, I can feel my no-no stance crumbling.

I’m always curious about new training modes, so why not running stoned? Have you tried it? What are your experiences with cannabis and training?

athletes · training

Trying the tri-adventure in its last year… Join us!!!

This year for the first, and last, time I’m joining this blog’s Cate Creede in the tri-adventure. You can read about Cate’s connection to the event here.

I’ll have more to say later about my specific plans and my training and also about fundraising. I’m not asking for money just yet but I am asking you to join in.

What kind of event is the tri-adventure? “The TriAdventure is not a typical triathlon. Our activities are not timed, and there are no prizes for finishing first. Our participants challenge themselves with the physical activities involved in the event, but are also challenged to raise over $1,200 for 51 vulnerable children in Kasese, Uganda who have been left without family support through poverty, HIV/AIDS or violence. The reward is knowing that your effort helps fund a program that begins with food, shelter and education and aims to help these children become self-sustaining citizens who contribute to a vibrant, diverse global community.”

When is the Tri-adventure? It’s August 16-18, 2019.

Where is it? Camp Wahanowin. That’s on the north side of Lake Simcoe, about 2 and 1/2 hours drive from Toronto.

Can you tell me more about it?

From the website: “Join an amazing community of people for ONE LAST TriAdventure weekend where we will acknowledge, as a community, the incredible work we’ve done together over the past 15 years to create, sustain and bring a dream to life. This will be our final massive fundraising push that will take the whole project to the finish line over the next 5 years.

Whether you were engaged in a whole series of Triadventures or have only been part of one, we would love you to be part of this amazing final event with all the familiar elements you know and love and a few special additions.such as the two recent Nikibasika graduates who will be joining us!

In this final year, we are thrilled to announce that two of our recent graduates Phionnah and Smith are coming to Canada to bring first-hand thanks and messages from the 52 young adults of Nikibasika community. They will be with us throughout the weekend sharing their stories and meeting the community of supporters who have taken a stand to support them. They will also be participating in internship programs while here. You won’t want to miss this opportunity to celebrate together.

Also, each and every person who signs up for the Triadventure Finale will get a commemorative cycling jersey or hoodie to mark this great moment.”

You can read more about it here, https://www.facebook.com/TriAdventurePage/

http://www.triforafrica.org/

And you can register here, https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/triadventure-2019-the-finale-tickets-37787495416

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I’m hoping we can gather a whole crew of fit feminists to mark the occasion of the last tri-adventure. Join me! Join Cate! Join Sarah! Join us! It’ll be fun. It’ll be rewarding. I promise.

fit at mid-life · fitness · food · health · nutrition · training

Visit Tracy at the NJ VegFest 2018 this weekend

Image description: Poster with SATURDAY 10/6 at the top, the heading "Speakers" on the left, with photos of Dr. Joel Kahn and Tracy Isaacs underneath, and "Chef Demos" on the right, with photos of Gianna Ciaramello, Mini Dhingra, and Alyssa Miller underneath.
Image description: Poster with SATURDAY 10/6 at the top, the heading “Speakers” on the left, with photos of Dr. Joel Kahn and Tracy Isaacs underneath, and “Chef Demos” on the right, with photos of Gianna Ciaramello, Mini Dhingra, and Alyssa Miller underneath.

Hey everyone! Exciting times. I’m going to be one of the speakers at the New Jersey VegFest at Meadowlands Expo Centre this weekend. My talk, “Feminist Fitness Is for Everyone, including Vegans,” is at 1 p.m. on Saturday, October 6th. I’ll talk about what feminist fitness is, how Sam and I took that approach for our Fittest by 50 Challenge, the blog, the book, and being a vegan athlete at mid-life.  They’ll be selling copies of Fit at Mid-Life: A Feminist Fitness Journey (Greystone Books, 2018) and I’ll be sticking around after my talk to chat, sign books (whether you buy it there or bring it with you), and of course eat!  [I might also talk a little bit about my next book project, which is about ethical veganism and the expectation of moral perfection that vegans and non-vegans alike seem to adopt]

Marisa Sweeney and Kendra Arnold are the two main organizers and ever since they asked me to do this I’ve been following the NJ VegFest scene with envy. It’s not limited to this event — there was an Atlantic City VegFest in the summer (with a 10K run) where Scott Jurek spoke. Marisa and Kendra do an outstanding job and I can’t wait to experience one of their events first hand and to meet them.

It looks as if it’s going to be an amazing time, quite apart from my talk. There are going to be chef demos, other speakers, and loads of vendors serving up delicious vegan food. If you want to get a preview, I suggest following @njvegfest on Instagram.

One of the things Sam and I love most about the blog is the community that has sprung up around us. If you do decide to come, please please please say “hi.” I would love that.

I also have a favour to ask of people who live in the Manhattan area. Anita and I will be looking for a good running route on Sunday morning to do about 15K. If you have any recommendations for where we might do that distance without encountering too many traffic lights we’d love to hear from you.

Here’s the Sunday line-up for the VegFest:

Image description: Poster with SUNDAY 10/7 at the top. Under that three columns. "Food Justice Panel," with photos of Vincent DePaul and Michelle Carrera; "Supporting Vegan Kids and Caregivers Panel," with photos of Beth Cruz, Melody Lin, Michelle Carrera; "Chef Demos" with photos of Tere Fox, Amanda Borges, and Chef Rootsie.
Image description: Poster with SUNDAY 10/7 at the top. Under that three columns. “Food Justice Panel,” with photos of Vincent DePaul and Michelle Carrera; “Supporting Vegan Kids and Caregivers Panel,” with photos of Beth Cruz, Melody Lin, Michelle Carrera; “Chef Demos” with photos of Tere Fox, Amanda Borges, and Chef Rootsie.

 

fitness · running · training

Have you ever regretted having done a workout?

Image description: Anita and Tracy selfie, Anita on left, short dark hair, smiling, Tracy on right, short blond hair, smiling, garden in the background.
Image description: Anita and Tracy selfie, Anita on left, short dark hair, smiling, Tracy on right, short blond hair, smiling, garden in the background.

Yesterday was Monday. Usually a rest day for me. But since I was working a fairly tough gig in Toronto all weekend and my legs and feet were just so tired, I had to pass up my usual Sunday long run. Instead Anita and I made an unusual plan, and that was to run for two hours on Monday after work.

After work arrived (well, we kicked off a bit early to get the run in) and it was raining. And cold. And the wind started to pick up. These conditions could sometimes mess with me and make me start rationalizing my way to skipping the workout.

But having made a plan (one of my best winning strategies is to make a plan with someone to meet for a workout) and also wanting to catch up (Anita was out of town for awhile and we hadn’t really chatted in over a week) secured my commitment. Deciding in advance that we would run at an easy, chatty pace made the two hour commitment more approachable.

We decided on our route and off we went. Anita said at the beginning that the time would fly. And it actually did. And so did we. Both of us ran strong and felt amazing. We have been agonizing a bit over our upcoming half marathon. We’ve been training differently and have slightly different goals (Anita wants to do 10-1 intervals and I want to try running continuous but we both would like to cross the finish line at 2:25.

But today we both had an amazing run, despite the cold and the wet and the wind. In some ways, it was just perfect running weather. The rain stopped by the time we had changed into our gear, and it never resumed. The wind was cold, but not so terrible that we wished for more clothing than we’d chosen (capris and long sleeved t-shirts).

We ended up out for 2 hours and 11 minutes and we came in the last stretch at a tempo pace (the whole run was not at a tempo pace, but it feels good to lay it out at the end). We checked in with each other regularly about how we felt and we both kept remarking, almost not quite believing, just how fabulous the run felt.

The only tough part came right near the end. There is a gradual yet brutal hill out of the park heading back to Anita’s place. It looks almost like nothing. But it goes on FOREVER. Since we were already over our two hours, we agreed we would run to the end of that tough bit and then take a short walk break, then run the rest of the way home.

I’ve entitled this post “have you ever regretted having done a workout?” I like this question because my answer to it is an unequivocal, “no I have not.” And sometimes this one certainty is enough to get me doing a workout that I don’t want to do. The other morning I was messaging Cate and Christine about wanting to stay in bed. We are all quite supportive of whatever decisions each of us makes, recognizing too that rest is an essential part of a balanced workout strategy and not something we’re great at. But then when I said maybe I’ll go for a short one, Cate reminded me quite rightly that I would feel better.

Out the door I went. I was in Toronto and it’s especially refreshing to go running somewhere that’s not my usual turf. And guess what, within minutes of feeling the pavement under my feet, I did feel better. And by the time I got back to my hotel room, I felt positively amazing. I mean, the run was energizing for sure. So I felt literally better. But like I said, I never regret having completed a workout. I’m always happier for it.

Under the usual conditions (that is, assuming I don’t get injured because of the workout), there is no downside to getting that workout done. And often, it’s not just about having done it. As today’s run with Anita attests, there are those times when its awesomeness presents itself while it’s happening. The end isn’t always the best part of it!

Have you ever regretted having done a workout?

aging · fitness · motivation · training

Are you a nine-ender? If so…

Image description: Tracy on the right Sam on the left, both smiling, wearing caps and sunglasses, medals around neck, people, trees, and sky in the background, after the Kincardine Women's Triathlon in 2013, when they weren't quite yet 49.
Image description: Tracy on the right Sam on the left, both smiling, wearing caps and sunglasses, medals around neck, people, trees, and sky in the background, after the Kincardine Women’s Triathlon in 2013, when they weren’t quite yet 49.

If you’re a nine-ender in age–that year before a decade birthday–you are more likely than members of any other age “demographic” to want to make big changes. This is especially true if you’re in a middle age nine-ender year, before 40 or 50 or even 60. And even more so if you’re a man, according to this news report in the National Post.

What are the most popular sorts of changes? No longer is it motorcycles, fast cars, and reverse highlights. No. The most popular changes are cutting back on or cutting out alcohol, going vegan, and engaging in extreme sports like Tough Mudders. Men often wait until their 40s and 50s. Women sometimes kick into gear on health changes at 30. Regardless, a looming new decade can be a great motivator.

When Sam and I started our “Fittest by 50 Challenge,” which was the instigator of this very blog, we were 48. Fifty seemed clearly in sight already by then for some reason, and we decided to take a two-year run up to it instead of a one-year run up to it. I am really grateful we did. Not because 50 is some magical age by which we absolutely needed to be our fittest, but because fitness is a process. If I’d coasted along the same way as I had been for one more year, I wouldn’t have attained my Olympic distance triathlon goal by my 50th birthday.

It took me close to a year to decided on triathlon as my goal and then another year to train for the Olympic distance that challenged me to train harder and without regard to anything other than performance goals. It also completely took my mind off of the upcoming birthday. And by the time I got there, it changed my view of what it meant to age.

I couldn’t have predicted at 48 just how transformative the challenge would turn out to be by the time I hit 50. On my 50th birthday, I posted about what it felt like to be fit, feminist, and 50. When I re-read that post it fills me with joy. And gratitude because mostly these days I have that sense of general contentment. Not that everything always feels fantastic, but overall, life is just so wonderfully good. I think the challenge had a lot to do with it.

So if you’re at a nine-ender year, or even if you’re not, and you have decided to set some new health and fitness goals for yourself, and you go at them in a consistent and sustainable way, maybe you too will experience that sense of transformation that I did. I’ve done lots of cool things to date, but I think the fittest by 50 challenge and all that has flowed from it is definitely among the most significant.

To all the nine-enders considering a big change, go for it. Choose something that excites you and chip away at it. It’s much more satisfying than a motorcycle (I know this  because I did the motorcycle thing too, in my early forties, and it didn’t do nearly as much for me as the fitness challenge did!).

If you’re in or have recently gone through a nine-ender year, did it prompt any changes? Tell us about it in the comments. We’re all ears!

fitness · motivation · swimming · training

You can love a thing and always suck at it. That’s okay. Also in not unrelated news, Sam starts swimming lessons.

Susan gave me some framed pictures from our cruise for my birthday, photos of me in the water. Such happy memories from our cruise. Thanks Susan! I look really happy. And that’s the thing. I love being in the water. I’m not scared of fish. I’m not worried about drowning. I can tread water and float really well. It feels great moving in the water.

But you’ll never see that smile indoors. And swimming, here in Canada at least, is mostly an indoor activity. Also, my swimming isn’t at a level where it’s a fitness activity. I’m not sure why, bad technique probably, but unlike running and cycling, I don’t seem to get faster with training in the pool. When I trained with the university students’ triathlon club I was the anchor person of the slow lane. New people came and then after a time moved up to a faster lane.

Then last week this article made its way into my newsfeed, Revel in the joy of doing things you’ll never master.

And I wondered, could I enjoy swimming without getting any faster? Does everything have to be about speed and improvement? Couldn’t swimming just be pleasurable even if I remained a slow swimmer?

I begin swimming lessons later in September. I’ll let you know how it goes!

In the meantime here’s me 11 years ago, with Susan, after the Kincardine Women’s Triathlon. I was happy but I was also last out the water of those who weren’t rescued. The thing is I was in zero danger. No need to rescue me. But I was just slow, as usual. Maybe that’s okay.

Maybe part of my learning to love swimming means getting comfortable with staying in the same place?

How about you? Do you have a thing you’re not good at but that you love anyway?

Susan and Sam, 2007