I’ll be taking a few days off. My body has finally given up: I pushed myself a little too far while doing some of the renovation work over the weekend and despite running a full and a half marathon, travelling to both ends of the continent, fighting off numerous proto-infections that threatened to derail everything, and doing dozens of hours of manual labour over the last two weeks while never taking a single minute more off of work, that part where I reached above the stove to adjust some venting was the metaphorical straw that broke… well, actually MY back. I’ve been sidelined and I think it’s my cue to take some down time for a couple weeks. When I can actually walk again without slouching in subtle pain, maybe I’ll do some short, slow runs, but until then…
It’s been two years since I wrote a week of lists, but I thought I would start this last four months of 2016 with revisit to that old meme. So, starting on the first, the eighth edition of the Week of Lists begins, called the “Turning 40ish Edition” with deep and engaging topics such as this one…
I started running (seriously) when I was just around 30ish. In that vein, my thirties have been defined by this sport in which I’ve chosen to participate. Through it I’ve changed my whole life: I’m healthier than I was in my twenties, I have a wider circle of friends, I meet people because of running and I make professional contacts because I run and know other random corporate folks who run. It’s been a wild trek through the fast footfalls of this random sport and the wonderful culture that swirls quietly around it.
But almost ten years in… well, I see 40ish approaching on the horizon and while logically I know it’s just a number, an age, a minor intersection on the single-track trails of life, there is this acknowledgement, in my runner’s mind, that sometimes an uncharted trail changes, gets steeper, curves in a way that you weren’t quite expecting… at least not expecting if you don’t take a minute to plan and ponder where those curves might appear.
Such as that…
5. I Can Suddenly Feel Every Joint Every Morning
You’re not getting any younger. None of us are. I go to sleep each night trying to find a position that isn’t going to leave me waking up in the morning with a crick or a cramp in a strange muscle that I didn’t remember existed until I slept on it wrong. I don’t remember doing this ten years ago. I don’t remember waking up just achy from sleeping. I mean, it’s not a chronic ailment… well, unless you classify aging as a chronic ailment that is. I don’t want to alarm you and make you think I need to see a doctor or whatever. I’m just in a 40 year old body that takes a licking through a desk-sit job all day and a stupidly optimistic marathon training program at night. I need to cross-train more, but I wake up at five thirty to do that and it still takes me thirty minutes just to feel normal. *grumble, grumble, old man comments* People keep telling me that you know you’re 40(ish) because your hearing, eyesight, taste, and all those fun thing start to decay, suddenly and aggressively. I don’t know if that’s true, I guess I’ll find out… but if my creaky morning joints are any indication it doesn’t bode well from here on in.
4. I Take Longer to Mend
I was sick this past winter. I had this deep cough that hung into my lungs for a solid two months. Maybe it lingered so long because I tried to run through it… not push through it like a wall, but just keep up the base fitness level in between fits of coughing and terrible sleepless nights. Two months. Two. Frigging. Months. Sick, it seems, used to mean a bad weekend or a half a box of decongestant before you rejoined the land of the living. Yet as 40ish approaches my body seems to have taken a more casual approach to immunity: I not only went through more than one box of decongestant, I actually became a decongestant connoisseur, a virtual expert on the various brands and blends, and their effects on my mind and body. And then, of course, climbing back out of that training deficit was a pain in the ass.
3. Missing Work Costs Just More When You’re Older
And I’m not even just talking about money here. My jobs have always tended to be a me-and-the-trees kinda situation, but when I was younger my work was usually a little more patient. With age comes responsibility… maybe. Or maybe you’re someone plugging away at a small business. No one steps up and steps into backfill the kind of job many professional 40ish-ers have. No one steps in to do your work when you take a week off, either to go to Disneyland or ice your Achilles tendon because you can’t put any weight on it since running stairs the other morning, no matter how much fun that was. Realistically there are simply just fewer people who can (or will) do you job when you are sidelined. So… to points 4 and 5 above, it’s no longer just a week of binge watching on Netflix: it’s the associated worry that comes with a work vacancy due to a hobby. Explain that to the project manager who wants to know where their status update stands.
2. The Field Gets Increasingly Serious
One of the neatest guys I run with is this older dude who shows up on Sunday mornings and then shows us up on Sunday mornings. He’s told us his age a few times and I should know, but let’s say, easily, conservatively, 70-something. He jokes that when he races he always places in his age category: usually first… and simultaneously last. Only. I asked him how he ran in his prime. In his 40s he was running 2:30ish marathons. Which is hard core, if you don’t know marathons: not Olympic speeds, but enough to place in something like the Edmonton Marathon today. I run with a lot of people in their 30s and 40s. A bunch of people in that 50ish range. A couple people who are 60ish who can clean the floor with me. One guy who is 70ish who runs circles around us. The field gets narrower and stronger. And not that I’m looking to place, but unless I’m some magical outlier to this trend, I either need to get faster… or age is going to kick me to the curb sooner than I realize.
1. Life Seems Busier
Ultimately I know it all comes down to priorities. Setting them. Keeping them. Putting time into yourself and being a little selfish about a handful of hobbies that keep you from becoming a burned out wreck of a human being who is unbearable to be around. But 40ish hits in stride and (it being September this is acutely obvious) life gets jam packed with a rigid schedule of kid, work, activities, family obligations, and commitments. We need to shop for renovation stuff at the moment. Next week I need to spend a couple hours getting a the annual maintenance done on the truck. The lawn needs mowed. The garden needs tending. I have evening events planned on Saturday, Sunday, and Thursday. Kid needs to be here. Wife needs to be there. So-and-so wants to do dinner. This weekend is packed and the next three have tentative plans that involve travel and eating and sitting around not actually training for that race I’m supposed to run. Deep breath. So, yeah… priorities. Planning. And being a little selfish seem like the words of the next decade.
40… we’ll work it out, I know.
It’s the end of June, and that means it’s like half-new-years, and time to assess where things are on the old goal tracking effort. I’d set a goal of running about 1400 klicks by the end of 2016, and I’ve been meticulously spreadsheeting my logged data over the past 6 months. Result: as of the end of June I’ve bumped a small nudge past the 800 klick mark. For those who are quick with math, you’ll note that this is about a hundred and some klicks ahead of schedule… and the marathon training proper hasn’t even really begun. I wrote a couple days ago that my enthusiasm and energy is in a bit of a valley at the moment, so my plan for the next month is going to be to find a way to climb out of there and push on with the longer distances and steeper demands of the marathon build. But otherwise… ahead of schedule is good, right?
I enjoy listening to various podcasts when I work out, when I’m on the stationary bike or even when I’m running!
One of the channels that (almost always) climbs to the top of my playlist each week is Freakonomics, an economics podcast by the authors of that book with the same name that you’ve heard about, maybe even bought, but probably haven’t read.
Yet, if the prospect of an economics podcast just sent shivers down your spine, then put on a sweater and give a few episodes of this one a listen. I suspect you may face your fear to positive effect.
One episode I would suggest for runners is the recently posted “The Cheeseburger Diet” which while it does talk a lot about cheeseburgers, is actually less about cheeseburgers and more about the tangential observation that humans are interesting creatures and we do strange things… like this thing called compensatory behavior.
I’ve heard some of you compensating with my own ears
Compensation: You do it, too. I know you do. Because I’ve heard some of you compensating with my own ears.
So, the podcast led in with a story about one woman’s obsession with finding the ultimate cheeseburger. She sounded like my kinda gal: not because of the cheeseburger obsession, but because of the analytical, over-thinking process she went through of setting up a process, schedule, a grading system, and then (essentially) writing a book-length document chronicling the results and her adventure (which she has no plan on publishing, of course.) In the context, you think the story is leading to something about a new fad diet of eating cheeseburgers and fries twice a week as a model of some unexpected outcome relating to weight loss, but it turns out to be a little more mundane and grounded than that. (Get it? Ground-ed? Hamburger? Oh, never mind.)
As it turns out she followed some classic compensatory behavior. Just like salivating over a fresh burger, this is the stuff that makes human economists drool.
“If you take on some extra risk in one area of your life, you might need to compensate by adding some precautionary behavior in another area. Some of us are certainly better at this than others, but it is a nice act of faith, isn’t it? Faith in ourselves, and our ability to self-regulate, as opposed to relying on some top-down guideline that may produce the behavior you’re hoping for — or, given the power of the law of unintended consequences, may produce the opposite behavior.”–Freakonomics Podcast, Episode 230
Cheeseburger Lady did not actually end up gaining a hundred pounds over her year of eating greazy burgers. Why? Because she made up for it in other parts of her diet: she ate healthier for the other nineteen meals of the week, as she put it, rather than just adding a more fast food to her menu. She compensated for one increasing health risk by consciously reducing another.
All Of You Runners?
Runners do this. I know we do this, because (a) we’re human, and (b) I’ve done it and (c) I’m therefore extrapolating my observational data to include all runners in the entire universe. Can you believe I actually have a university science degree?
Sarcastic exaggeration aside, I’ve noticed that many of us seem to do this in both positive ways and negative ones. We do this in ways that usually relate back to eating more because we’re running more. We do it by saying (stupid) things like: I’m burning more calories by training so I deserve a desert today. Or, I just ran ten klicks so I’m going to have a great big cookie at coffee afterwards. In fact, I’ve heard one particular refrain come from the mouth of many of my fellow runners at one point or another: “I run because I like to eat.” You know that one? I know that one? I may have even said it myself.
eating all the cheesyburgers
In the podcast, Cheeseburger Lady had managed to maintain her healthy weight over the year of her cheeseburger quest, and in fact improved a few other health factors like her cholesterol counts, and the reason proposed was that she had been compensating for a new risk factor (eating all the cheesyburgers) by behaving better in the rest of her life (walking more & eating less other junk.)
As the podcast concluded, it was revealed that Cheeseburger Lady’s biggest struggle came when she stopped eating two burgers per week: she no longer had reason to compensate, perhaps. Her discipline wavered. The balance she’d found between risk-factor extremes had unbalanced, and…
The takeaway lesson, at least I think so, is simple to understand (if not-so-simple to implement.)
We run. We fuel. We eat. We train. We burn calories. We consume some more. And in this complex mathematical dance of calculating optimal caloric intake to meet the ever-changing requirements of a casual fitness schedule we find a narrow path down which one side is hunger and the other side is over-eating. Straying from that path is as easy as under –or over– compensating. And when we compensate as a matter of course, as a purpose for the effort itself, that compensation in either direction becomes an excuse. In other words, if we learned one thing from Cheeseburger Lady it’s that we should not let compensation become justification.
Or, five tasty things I drink to escape the cool, refreshing icy-death grip that soda has on my life.
I fight to drink enough water.
I have great intentions and I know the benefits, but as a guy who –up until about five years ago– got most of his fluids from sugary beverages, switching to simple water has been one of the most challenging aspects of this fitness journey. Soda, pop, cola, fountain drinks… whatever you call them, they may not be the general pariah that drugs or smoking or numerous other addictions have been so labelled. Yet prying them out of your diet fully, completely & forever seems –to me, at least– to be a daily and conscious effort.
Thus, I’ve been experimenting with finding a satisfying substitute for a cold glass of pop.
And that’s the key really: satisfying. Because while it may seem like a first-world problem and a trivial factor, there are folks like me who understand that while rationally accepting water as the ideal replacement for soda is fine, there are moments of weakness when rationality is toppled to the ground by the raw, insatiable need for something nostalgic and emotional. Sweetness triggers the emotional side of quenching thirst. It invigorates memories of youth and fun and innocence. Plus, pop is conveniently sold around every corner of my life, in the vending machine a few dozens steps from my desk, and every time I go to buy lunch someone asks if I’d like a can of something with that. I say no thanks, but drinking fewer calories suddenly, abruptly, painfully becomes a real effort. In other words, addiction is a helluva-thing.
And to top it off, water is swell, but it doesn’t have that emotional kick to replace the big soda-shaped hole in my life.
I’ve been working with a few options to keep myself hydrated despite my irrational snobbery of plain old H20…
Eating more fruits and veg may seem like a no-brainer, but when you work in an office building and the nearest grocery store is eight blocks away, fresh produce is either rare or something that is expensively purchased piece-by-piece from a convenience store.
a snack and some fluid wrapped into one
Actually, there is a little fresh lunch market that’s about a five minute walk from my desk, and occasionally I’ll wander over there and buy what should be called The Most Expensive Fruit Cup in the World® which ends up costing me about four dollars for a little plastic beaker of chopped fruit, which I squirrel back to my chair and munch on. It’s a snack and some subtle hydration wrapped into one.
I’ve heard mixed analysis of this: y’know, that anything with caffeine is a diuretic… that it makes you pee more and so negates the hydration effect of what you’re aiming for by drinking it in the first place. But then I’ve also read that you need to make that tea pretty strong to create a real reverse drag on your hydration with caffeine, so… shrug.
as weak as thirty-year old computer nerd
The thing is that I’m a morning coffee drinker, so once I get through my morning Joe, I’m much more apt to turn to tea to get me through the rest of the day. My wife is a tea drinker, and having spent almost two decades with her I’ve learned to drink tea in her style: as weak as thirty-year old computer nerd. Actually, it’s a bit stronger than I’m implying, but it’s hardly the stand-up strong of English-style tea. In effect, it’s hot flavoured water.
3. Diluted Sports Drinks
a lightly flavoured watery brew
We’ve all heard that sports drinks are pretty much salty, sweat-flavoured soda, so I will eagerly admit that drinking these is not an ideal replacement for water. However, as I’ve learned with much experimentation, there is a sweet-spot (so to speak) in the mix-your-own powdered variety. This is the point to where you can dilute it to about one-tenth to one-fifth the recommended concentration (I just eyeball it so I can’t provide a more accurate measure) and the result is a lightly flavoured watery brew that (for soda junkies like me) is more palatable that plain water but only has about 25-50 calories per litre.
Mathematically speaking, it’s cheaper and probably fewer calories than a convenience store banana, at least.
4. Electrolyte Tabs
I’ve recently discovered a new favourite product to assist with this effort (so you just know I’m waiting to find the website that tells me these things are evil somehow!) I’m not trying to endorse anything here, but I’ve been using NUUN tabs for a few months at the rate of about 5 per week. These are unsweetened, very low calorie electrolyte tablets that dissolve in plain water and –all other electrolyte-positive health claims aside– give the water a nice mild flavour that it’s sweet but which has been encouraging me to drink a lot more fluid.
they sell three flavours in the sports store in the mall
The problem with these is more to do with availability and price. They sell just three flavours in the sports store in the mall near my office, and I’m getting pretty bored of them. Plus, the price works out to about sixty cents per tab, which is not quite coffee-expensive, but it can still really start to add up.
5. Lots of Ice
If all else fails, I’ve found the thing that almost —almost— makes boring old water palatable for me: ice. Lots and lots and lots of ice. Really, almost more ice than water, and often with a few drops of lemon juice from one of those little plastic yellow lemon juice shooters.
almost more ice than water
Icy cold water has a distinctly refreshing feel that I will tolerate long enough to get through the better part of a big glass. Not cold. Icy, dripping condensation from the glass, freeze your tongue icy. The problem is more one of convenience then, really, because I don’t really have easy access to lots of ice at work — or when out and about — or when travelling — or when running… unless, of course, I stick my face in a snowbank.
The Emotional Side of Quenching
I get that after reading this many of you are shrugging it off and thinking “just drink water, man!”
But that’s the thing. There is an emotional component to many things: I don’t dislike water, I just have a mild addiction to flavoured drinks because they trigger a flush of good feelings in my brain. I know water is the preferable choice, and I also know I need to keep myself hydrated… but that soda jerk on my back doesn’t care.
Of course, mother nature, you’re going to make those last 40 klicks towards my annual goal cold, windy and very challenging, aren’t you?
I’ve been remiss in sharing with you. I often ask myself why I write. I mean, why write at all? Why write if no one is going to read it? Why write unless you think you have something worth saying? I’ve been seriously blogging about running for almost eight years. Back at the beginning it was just my impressions of participation in that clinic. But it grew, expanded, and blossomed. As much as the love of the sport and the amazing community has kept me going, the writing about running has tended to keep me honest. The writing feeds the running, and the running feeds the writing. A few years ago I tried to kick off an independent co-operative blog called FEETS.CA. It ran for about a year, collected a few posts, but it never really became what I thought it might. Maybe I gave up too soon, or maybe I saw the truth of my efforts. Either way, I shuttered, and went back to my personal writing… here. And I think that’s the key: I write here because this is the blog I’ve been nurturing for fifteen years, a collection of words that are bigger than just running anecdotes, but a facet that is connected to that bigger story too. So, as of a few days ago, I have “sub-branded” this blog. The words I write about running are hijacking that old FEETS idea, and running with it in a new direction, still connected but bigger and actively seeking more participation. Head Over Feets is my new Running Blogger identity: my overthought words on a topic I adore.
Here we go again… December is Blog-Every-Day Month. No guidelines. No rules. No set topic. No nothing no how. Just an article with at least one complete sentence, every day…
December 8… because many hands make for awesome things.
Our running crew has been formalizing ourselves over the last year. This means a Facebook group, some awesome organized events, and –my contribution– a logo.
I put this design together a few months ago, but Dave posted an order form on the group today that we’ll be getting group be-logoed hoodies in the near future.
In the last few weeks they seemed to have put the finishing touches on the new trail near our house… and then it promptly snowed on it, of course. It’s (roughly) three klicks of pleasantly graded river valley shale trails with benches and (I assumed from the markers) landscaping. I took the GoPro out for a spin, and ended up running nearly ten just before lunch hit.
An ultramarathon. I’m not ready to try one… but I once said I’d never do a full marathon either.
I’m starting to feel a bit guilty, but sometimes you gotta practice what you preach. I’ve been on the injured list. And this calf thing, whatever it was –strain, tear, pull– has taken longer than expected to heal up. As of today, a week after the injury and ten days since I’ve been out running, I feel pretty good. I’d call it 99%. I’d call it not hurting unless I think about it and twist my way into certain pose to make it hurt. I’m going to try a short run tomorrow after one more night of rest, but I’m starting to grow restless.
On the radio this past week there has been some ongoing banter about participating in sports in the (local) winter. They were discussing the value of –specifically– cycling in winter, but for the parts that I heard there was a lot that could be translated into advice on running in winter, too… well, apart from the bits about studded tires. It did get me thinking: despite its late arrival this year, the snow is presumably coming. It’s already pretty cold out, and its only a matter of time before getting outdoors in the deep chill becomes more a chore than a joy. That said (and in light of what they were discussing on the radio) I really do think it has as much to do with our perception of the cold than the actual feel of it. After all, we’re all hardy Canadians. We get this weather six months of the year, and if we really didn’t like it we’ve move away, right? So, here’s what I’ve decided: I’m going to put on an attitude shift this winter along with all my warm woolen running gear, and I’m going to try and think about (and of course write about) winter running is the sunniest light I can muster. That’s gotta be worth a few (psychological) degrees of extra warmth, right?