aging · birthday · fitness

The Liberatory Power of Aging (Tracy turns 57)

Image description: Tracy, smiling 57-year old woman with grey hair just shy of shoulder length, dangling earrings, two necklaces, tank-style top, abstract painting in background.

So I turned 57 yesterday, and though I didn’t much feel like celebrating (because it’s hardly any sort of milestone birthday), I did. I took the day off and did only things I enjoy, starting with a 6 am workout with Alex and a hot yoga class a little bit later. I had lunch with a friend at my new favourite lunch spot (The Tea Lounge) and we each bought some of the art that was hanging on the restaurant wall. My parents drove in to spend the weekend with me, which is a celebration in itself that makes up for many missed visits during the pandemic. We went out for dinner to a fancy place (fancy at my mother’s request and it was amazing) and my mother baked two cakes for this afternoon. And we are getting take-out tonight (also at my mother’s request: “why should we cook?” she said. Why should we, indeed?!).

Birthdays always make me take stock, reflecting on what the year has brought, where I am “in life,” what’s working and what might need to change.

What has the year brought? The past year has brought a sense of monotony that I have not known before. At times, during pandemic stay-at-home orders, I felt as if I was living one long day. Yes, it was punctuated by sleep and meals, zoom sessions for this and zoom sessions for that, but oh the sameness of it all. Some days it took real effort, I have to say. Thank heavens for the kittens!

And yet, I developed routines, like regular workouts with Cate’s trainer Alex’s virtual training sessions, running, walks (sometimes with a neighbour in my building) and at-home yoga (mostly with Adriene). Despite the joy of being able to get out again, I am resenting having to revise these routines (so I can get out the door to get to work in the morning now that I’m not longer working at home).

The virtual world also opened up some new rituals with friends and family out of town. Movie night on Friday and Monday night dinner (all on Zoom) with my friend and former grad-school housemate Diane who lives in Iowa. Regular family zooms on Sundays with my brothers and parents, everyone joining from a different part of the province. Daily check-ins with my friend Steph, who lives in London but during lockdown (especially through the winter) we couldn’t see each other in person much. Fairly regular Wednesday evening fireside gatherings with a great group of women (even through last winter). Another Sunday call with my friend Manon who lives in Guelph. And periodic check-ins and occasional visits from a few other reliables, including Sam (but I guess we’ve been doing that since she moved away a few years back) and my step-daughter Ashley who lives in Vancouver.

Looking back then, I would say this year brought: monotony, consistency, and a focus on valued relationships.

Where am I “in life”? I think even writing this post indicates that I am in a sort of existential moment. Maybe that’s another thing the pandemic brought. Let’s just say I’m not where I expected to be as I turned 57. I’m on my own again, for the first time in a couple of decades, and not feeling super-motivated to change that. Though I do sometimes miss having a steady companion, I appreciate my solitude more. I’ve got a few more years of career ahead of me before I retire, and am trying to decide whether to ramp up or start winding down. If ramping up (the likely choice), ramping up in which area? Research and teaching? Administration? Still mulling.

Work is not life, of course, so where am I with other things? I’m reading more. Doing less photography. Doing more yoga, less running. Sleeping more, travelling less. More attention to family and close friends, less spreading myself thin across too many commitments.

A consistent theme for me of late, and I think it has come with age, is that I feel less “beholden” to others. I’m at a place in life where I really do feel tired of being so concerned with what others think of my choices. It’s exhausting to wonder whether I “measure up” to some external standard(s) that I may or may not embrace. I’ve had a lot of time through the pandemic to consider what I value. Experiencing more quietude and solitude has brought me in touch with my inner compass, with less of the magnetic pull of noise and busy-ness and the opinions of others to interfere with where it’s pointing me.

That can make me feel strangely and paradoxically untethered sometimes, but radically free and unburdened at other times. That’s where aging has a certain liberatory power. I have wondered at what age will I stop being so motivated by the prospect of approving others. It may be this age: 57.

What’s working? Hey, you might be saying: isn’t this a fitness blog? Well one thing that is working lately is my approach to fitness. And that’s partly because more and more it is guided by what I feel like doing. I realize that some people will say they can’t do fitness that way because they don’t usually feel like doing anything. In fact, I myself have said in the past (2013) that “intuitive fitness” doesn’t work for me. But I came to change my mind about that (2019).

My word of the year, “mindfulness,” is working. I’ve had a lot of time to pay attention and cultivate awareness in ways that make me feel more and more grounded. If I feel “off,” which has happened a lot during the pandemic, my commitment to mindfulness has helped me uncover what is going on with me rather than distract myself from it. Over time, this has been a great practice that always keeps me hopeful.

Doing less, which has been a theme of mine throughout the life of the blog, is definitely working for me these days in the rest of my life. I am not one of those people who idealize the pandemic for the way it made us all hit “pause,” but I have to concede that I like having more unscheduled time, more quiet evenings at home, and fewer social commitments (despite that it sometimes felt monotonous). I plan not to return to the old, overfull schedule.

What needs to change? I’ve had a lot of change over the past three or so years, and I’ve not quite settled yet. I called this post “the liberatory power of aging” because I really feel free to go in whatever direction I want. I’m less beholden to people, as I noted earlier, but that’s partly because I’m at an age where people aren’t expecting anything much. Rather than lament that, to me it’s a source of freedom. What that means to me is that although there are some things (within my power) I would like to change, like more photography, more writing (both scholarly and creative), more meditation, more knitting, and more consistent running, I’m still uncertain where this “transition” is going to land.

And I’m okay with that, and with this rambling blog post that may not be all that interesting but still felt good to write. Happy birthday to me.

Have you felt freer as you got older?


Happy Belated Birthday to Me

Birthday-Candles-Cake-WallpaperI’m never the best at remembering other people’s birthdays beyond the Facebook acknowledgement. For example, last week I sent my nephew a very belated card for his birthday back on September 5th. But it’s not so often that I forget to acknowledge my own birthday!

It’s not that I failed completely — I did meet my parents for lunch in Toronto to celebrate my birthday on Thursday. But I usually do a blog post on my birthday, and it didn’t even occur to me until way later in the day when I was about to wind down for a good rest before a three-day stint representing Arts and Humanities at Western at the Ontario Universities Fair.

My blog posts are usually a stock-taking of sorts and some forward-looking planning. Here’s from my 49th birthday. And here’s from my 50th.

This past year, particularly the last few months, have been trying for me. My fitness routine has faltered quite a bit as I come to terms with some big life changes. I’m not talking about menopause, though that’s been an issue too. Instead, I planned my spring badly, with a 30K and then a marathon too close together. It knocked me down completely. See here and here for the sad details.

And then there was Renald’s retirement and his move onto the boat. I like to think of us as worldly and progressive, and in some ways we are. His retirement dream, to live on the boat and winter in the Bahamas and summer on the east coast of the US, requires good health.  I’m not ready yet. He’s older than me and has worked hard. Waiting didn’t make a lot of sense. Yadda, yadda, yadda. So the intellectual reasons support this arrangement but the long-distance relationship has been difficult for me.

And then there was the flood on Labor Day weekend. It destroyed my condo and the repair is so extensive that I need to relocate for at least six months (along with over 20 other unit owners in the building). with the students just back and classes about to begin, it was not the start I’d hoped for in my new role as Associate Dean in Arts and Humanities.

So what fell to the side? Race plans. Workouts. Early mornings. What did I prioritize? Sleep.

Now, feeling rested and re-settled, albeit temporarily and with just a limited amount of stuff, into a comfortable condo on the other side of downtown, I’m ready to get back to a routine that prioritizes health, fitness, and self-care.

For me to stick with anything, I need some goals. My short term goal is to run a sub-60 10K by Halloween. But to be quite honest, I don’t see that happening. Instead, if I can hit sub-65 this time and then train for a sub-60 in the spring, that will do. In the longer term, I want to plan for the Kincardine Women’s Triathlon in July and the Olympic distance triathlon again next August in Bracebridge. I have a bit of trepidation about an August race because it can be so unbearably hot, but I like Bracebridge and think that August will give me time to train.

I’d also like to get back to the weight room.  This is a challenge when you’re doing triathlon training. For one thing, weight training pulls in the opposite direction or so they say. It’s also difficult to fit everything in. Say I wanted to do two swims, bike sessions, and two to three runs a week.  The Beautiful Badass Muscle Sculpting program that I’m interested in trying is a 4x a week split routine. Nia Shanks (from Lift Like a Girl and author of the Beautiful Badass workouts) says that if you’re doing it right, then you probably won’t want to do a lot else. But the triathlon training is an additional 6-7 workouts a week.

All of this leaves yoga right out of the picture because there’s just no time.

So I’m torn. I’ve already signed up for swimming, my 10K is a month away, and winter indoor bike training starts up in November. The workout program is 16 weeks.  This is my problem: I want to do everything and it’s not realistic. What to dispense with? This is something I need to think about over the next little while so I can know what to focus on.

Oh, and I just bought a new triathlon bike, which is an odd thing for me to have done. I will blog about that another day.  Further goal: to become comfortable on my triathlon bike.

Happy belated birthday to me. I’m okay with 51.

aging · Uncategorized

This Is What a Fit, 50, and Feeling Fabulous Feminist Looks Like!

50 sunflower TI never experience birthdays neutrally. And this year, I resisted 50 for quite a long time. No big party plans because I didn’t feel like celebrating. I wrote about my unhappiness about 50 here.

Early on Saturday morning Sam, Nat, Mallory and I went out for a leisurely ride on the bike path.  I left my house at about 7:20 a.m. The morning air felt September crisp.  I encountered Natalie on the way to the meeting place at the Forks of the Thames (yes, we have our own Thames in this London).

Sam and Mallory were there.  The four of us set off at an easy pace, chatting as we rode along the path beside the river.  We fell into pairs, Natalie and Sam riding up ahead, Mal and I behind. Happy group.

Towards the end of the ride, a feeling of perfect peace washed over me.  I had an experience of total contentment that went beyond the impeccable weather, the splendid company, the feeling of connection and camaraderie, and the creamy decaf soy latte at the Black Walnut after our ride.

September can be like that. I had a similar and most unforgettable thing happen twenty years ago, when Mallory was 2 years old.  Sam and Mallory and I spent an afternoon on a picnic blanket on “the hill” on campus, as spectators at a kite flying contest.  Nothing dramatic that I can relate here. I don’t remember the kites or what we had as our picnic. But time felt like it opened up that day and  became endless.  Peace and contentment just fell into my lap.

I don’t know if this has something to do with decade birthdays. The kite contest day was just before I turned 30. No doubt, I had anxieties about that milestone as well. But the experience this weekend was bigger than before. Everything seemed okay.  Being 50. Doing what I’m doing with my life. All the choices I’ve ever made up to this point.

All of it settled into place as I pedaled along on Saturday morning.  The feeling lingered through the day. I squeezed in the most effortless errand to Costco (on a Saturday morning!) and still got back with plenty of time to make it to the first hot yoga class I’d attended in months. On a different day, I’d have been rushing around and probably wouldn’t have made it to yoga at all.

As I did the class, I had more power in my practice than I had when I last did yoga. A testament to the gains I’ve made through weight training and triathlon training over the past couple of years.

After class, things just sort of flowed right out of the studio and down the street, ending me and a friend up at Veg Out (my absolute favorite restaurant — they are catering my cake party later this afernoon!).  I told him about how peaceful I felt about the looming birthday. It didn’t even feel looming anymore.

And so the day went. The peace brought with it an immense sense of gratitude.

What corner did I turn that’s made me feel this way?  I think it all just sunk in. I have had an amazing time over the past couple of years, seizing onto the fittest by 50 challenge that Sam and I set for ourselves.  “Seizing” may even be too strong a word for the modest but consistent effort I’ve put in. I just showed up and did what was in front of me, day after day, allowing for mistakes and missteps, letting every little thing add up to a big moment.

I’m 50. I’ve done not one but TWO Olympic distance triathlons in less than two months. I’m training for the Toronto Half Marathon.  I’m committing to the road bike, even signed up for a winter indoor trainer class that starts November 1.

I saw the Grand Canyon and went to Burning Man.

I’ve ridden bicycles in Zurich, Madrid, along the South Rim, Las Vegas, and the Nevada desert.

My swimming is getting faster!

Sam and I have an awesome and exciting book proposal (stay tuned) and an agent to help us find a home for it. We are working on a research grant for a project that, whatever the research council decides, we believe in and think is worthy.

Renald and I are downsizing to a simpler, more manageable lifestyle (condo!) and that’s kind of exciting.

My step-daughter is a talented artist who is following her dreams. AND she says her positive body image has a lot to do with my example.

My parents are coming for the weekend to celebrate with me.  In South African tradition, it’s appropriate to wish them a “happy birthday” today too.

I have wonderful, solid friends in my life–the kind that would go to the wall for me. And lots of them want to take me out for dinner and lunch to celebrate my birthday! Like, we’re booking birthday meals into October, okay.  How amazing is that?

I’m satisfied with where I’m at today and I feel good about who I am. There’s a sort of joyful exuberance bubbling up inside of me these days. Feeling several shades of fabulous, actually.

It bodes well for life after 50.

Happy birthday to me: fit, feminist, 50, and fine with that!