Tag Archives: attitude

Sorry, Getting Older Doesn’t Suck

Yesterday I was at the annual picnic for the tech company I work at, conversing with some folks around my age. I don’t remember what sparked it, but someone made a remark about how getting old sucks.

“I can’t think of a single good thing about getting older,” she said.

And everyone else agreed.

I said being over 50 allowed me to start my big race an hour earlier. People chuckled but no one built on that small offering, so I let the topic go. My co-workers are well aware that I do not lead the avvv-erage middle-age lifestyle, and I didn’t want it to turn into a “me vs. the rest of them” comparison. But I can’t agree with the attitude that getting older contains nothing to appreciate.

I won’t generalize here; I understand that everyone’s life experience is different, and factors like genetics, environment, and educational and work opportunities all play a role in how things turn out. So I’ll just cover a few things I personally appreciate about this point in my life (age 56) and what I can look forward to.

One is the very pleasant surprise of continued physical fitness. Since I started running races at age 47, my strength and stamina have only improved. This year I ran my longest race ever, and am on track for my most yearly miles run, too. Terrific trainers, a sensible diet, and appropriate rest have all contributed, but in the end it’s the desire to reach for new goals that keeps me out there. And that desire is as strong and motivating as ever.

Bike ride today to recover from yesterday’s long run? I’m in!

My outlook has changed, too. Little things bother me much less than they used to. Annoying people, bad drivers, certain football teams losing – I’ve learned how to let go and move on, at least most of the time. It’s really liberating.

I’ve also lived long enough to pick up on some longer cycles. Economic downturns? Social upheavals? Don’t like our current set of politicians? This, too, shall pass. (I’m not saying sit back and do nothing – absolutely be an activist for something you really believe in – but understand that time really does change everything.)

And I care a lot less about what other people think of me, or whatever crazy adventure I happen to pursue. Why? I learned that most people never thought about me much in the first place. But that’s not what’s in the mind of someone fresh out of college and looking for a job, or raising kids (oh, man, are parents sensitive or what?) or trying to get in with the latest “cool group.” (*) It takes life (i.e. time on Earth) to figure that out.

Even my wife was okay with WNBR. (But she knows what I look like naked.)

Case in point: I can go to a naked bike ride and not be the least self-conscious about it. People taking photos? So what? Good luck trying to humiliate or blackmail me. No worries about scandalizing my parents, since they’ve both passed. And my daughters? With my youngest approaching 30, it’s too late to corrupt them further. Deal with it, kiddos.

 

Now, obviously I can’t keep up my current activities forever. At some point, what I’m able to do, and what I want to do, will change. But that’s okay. As my Aikido instructors like to say, every end is also a beginning. What those beginnings will be, I have no idea.

But mystery is part of what makes life fascinating, isn’t it? And ongoing discovery and pursuit of new things is part of what makes it fulfilling. That’s what I believe makes the rest of my life worth living.

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(*) Note: groups that are actually cool – like runners – are happy to accept you as you are. At any age.

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Running 50 Miles: Be Happy, Damn It!

SOME BIG NEWS came out of PR Run Club last weekend. At least it was big news to us! Three of our runners went to the Endurance Series Challenge in Ontario to run a hot, hilly 50-miler. Here are our intrepid badasses.

Alan (center) rocked the course, finishing 3rd overall male. Farsad (right) won his age group. Paul (left) was running his first-ever 50-miler, expected to go through hell (and did), but pulled himself together and got across the finish line.

Now, guess which one is my running coach. And how I feel about his performance.

I bring this up because of something I caught myself doing again today. Hearing about their race results naturally got me thinking about my own 50-miler (the Dirty German) earlier this year. In all-day rain on a flooded course I’d finished in the top 20 and third in my age group. Cause to celebrate, right?

Well, sure! Except my finish time was an hour slower than I’d hoped for, which if I’d achieved would have put me fourth overall. If only I’d spent less time at the aid stations. If only I hadn’t been so conservative on the third loop. If only, . . .

If there’s one thing a competitive runner has to accept to remain sane, it’s that once a race is over, it’s OVER. Done. In da books. And if I’d performed as well as I could under the circumstances, I need to be satisfied with it. To feel otherwise is unfair self-punishment.

The trouble, of course, is that time and recovery are terrific at making me forget about how hard I pushed out there. Three months after the event it’s easy to look back and think, “I could have done X, Y, and Z better” without remembering why I made those decisions at the time, in the moment.

Sure, I can do 7-minute miles through that!

When I recapped the DG50 for my coach, he agreed I’d run a good, smart race which demonstrated I was ready for my 100, just as we’d intended it to do. If I run it again next year, are there things I’ll do differently? Yes, circumstances permitting.

Which really makes me appreciate how my coach handled his race. Not only was it his first 50-miler, he’s still dealing with a nagging injury that affects his ability to run long distances. He struggled, he felt the heat, and at mile 36 he fell in the mud. I’ll let him describe what happened next:

I picked myself up and observed my cracked and leaking water bottle. I saw my carefully curated ice cubes melting in the hot sun and mud. So I did what any self-respecting PR runner would do and carefully wiped the precious ice cubes off with my doo-rag, got on my feet and ran the remaining five miles to the next aid station where Molly the puppy licked me on the face and a paramedic looked at me and asked me if was okay.

“Well, I’m running 50 miles on a muddy trail designed by a sadist. What do you think?”

“You seem fine.”

And so I had to continue

And so he did. Congratulations, Paul! You gave it what you had, and you got ‘er done. That’s setting a great example in my book.

Does This Phone Make Me Look Fat?

I WAS TEASED YET AGAIN recently about when I’m going to get a smartphone.

And yet again I supplied one of my stock reasons (*) for continuing to use my Stone-Age flip phone.

I don’t deny smartphones are useful. On a recent trip to Colorado, my wife and daughter used their phones to navigate to restaurants, research bicycles, and take photos of our hikes and the beautiful mountain scenery. Occasionally they even used them to make phone calls.

At the top of Horsetooth Falls in Fort Collins, reached without any help from a fitness tracker.

At the top of Horsetooth Falls in Fort Collins, reached without any help from smart devices.

But as has become so apparent lately, it’s easy to get too absorbed in all this connectivity. And a new catch phrase has appeared to describe it: digital obesity. Like the term implies, it’s meant to correlate with the problem of physical obesity.

This article in Fastcoexist sums it up pretty well. (Excerpt condensed.)

The more people eat (and consume, in general), the better it is for those that provide food. That’s the point of the…food additives that every consumer unwittingly ingests every single year. These substances are the lubricants of over-consumption … That is the same principle that is happening when you use Facebook or your smartphone. The food industry actually calls this “cravability.”

A new kind of obesity is now looming with our information, data, and media diet. [T]here is already way too much of information available, and it is way too tasty, too cheap, and too rich. Not a single day goes by without yet another service offering us…more news, more music, more movies, more, better and cheaper mobile devices, and a seemingly total social connectivity. Many of us are likely to pig out like we’re at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Never before is so much information available at a moment’s notice. And it’s so easy to gorge on digital content that the rest of our lives can suffer. Time we used to spend interacting (in-person, I mean) with family and friends, or in solitude and reflection, is instead spent binge-watching Netflix or playing video games online.

And what about physical activity? The flood of data has carried there too. Smartphone apps, GPS watches, and fitness trackers give us real-time information on just about any vital sign or body function. But I wonder if people who buy data force-feeding gear actually benefit. Do they use the data to exercise more or exercise better, leading to increased fitness?

fitness-tracker-comic

My guess is that it depends on one’s attitude toward fitness. Just buying the gear isn’t going to turn a couch potato into a gym rat. They can even backfire when the information they supply is blindly believed, as this article describes.

My wife bought a fitness tracker and uses it to track her walking goals, such as 10,000 steps in a day. But it was part of her general plan to increase her fitness; she was already walking more and going to the gym. Her device is a support tool, not a change agent. And I use a Garmin GPS watch while running, but I can run fine without it (although I reflexively tap my wrist when I stop).

For me, exercise time is “disconnect” time. Running, cycling, Aikido, and gym workouts are my way to step away from the data buffet. (Believe it or not, I still print paper maps for my long bike trips instead of a nav app.) Disconnecting quiets my mind, allowing the subconscious to process the information I’ve taken in. Many people use meditation for the same purpose.

digital-obesity-quote-g-leonhard

Not owning a smartphone also saves me from some of the digital flood that creates Poke-zombies and distracted drivers. But my laptop supplies all the digital food I could want. Just reading emails would take up an entire day if I let it. And Quora is my favorite junk food – it has far too much interesting content to be good for me.

There’s more I could say, but for now I have to go. Can’t wait to find out if “an Imperial Star Destroyer is well designed from a military point of view.” Yes, that’s an actual Quora question, and someone provided a detailed answer. Check it out, if you dare – it’s addictive. You have been warned.

(Note to readers: thanks for stopping by my digital restaurant. I assure you my posts are non-fattening, and full of nutritious bits. And they’re organic, too. Honest.)

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(*)  These include high cost of data plan, fragility on trails, and lack of situational awareness, which is the one I chose this time.

Run Woodstock Part Deux: Shutting the Brain Off

Ninety percent of this game is mental, and the other half is physical. – Yogi Berra

Training for my first marathon four years ago, I ran 16 miles along the back roads from Honor, Michigan to Beulah and Benzonia, then back. It was a pretty route, but by mile 13 I was sick and tired of running it. Not physically exhausted, but mentally.

Three miles still to go, the little voice in my head said. That’s practically forever.

There was no shortcut back to my car, so I had to stick it out. It helped that I’d strategically parked at an ice cream shop. But I was pretty discouraged. In two months I have to run this and ten more, the voice said. Given this run, how am I gonna do that?

Shirt-Running Sucks - 2

The answer was to do more long runs to get the mind used to that distance. And after making some basic adjustments, such as conceptually breaking up long runs into manageable segments, I had no more trouble with self-doubts.

First 2 miles in. Just 30 more of those to go!

First 2 miles in. Just 30 more of those to go!

With that level of mental discipline I got through my first marathon, first 50K ultra in 2012, and first 50-miler in 2013, so I figured I would be okay for the 100K in 2014. Instead, I hit several mental challenges that I was unable to overcome:

Empty Tank of PatienceDistance stretching. Four miles (the distances between aid stations at Woodstock) are short hops on the road, but on singletrack that same distance seems doubled. Distances also stretch out in the dark, so trail running at night called for a full tank of patience. Instead, it was one of the first things I ran short on.

The worst was the section leading to the second aid station. During my second loop it seemed like I would never get there. When I finally did, all I could think about was having to do it twice more. My attitude had soured, and I was no longer having fun – a bad sign on an ultra run.

I thought so!

I thought so!

Pain management. Sore feet and chafing got worse as the night wore on. By the third loop the Body Glide wasn’t working and I was constantly adjusting my shorts, without much relief. More pain came from tripping on roots and rocks, and from branches in the trail that stung my ankles. I dealt with this increasing discomfort by getting more and more frustrated.

Bonking. When inadequate hydration and electrolyte management caught up with me, I didn’t have the focus to work through the nausea and correct the imbalances, and allow myself to recover. Despite having plenty of time to rest and still finish the race, I dropped out at the 56K mark, done in by a combination of things, but above all, insufficient mental discipline.

Yeah, that pretty much covers it.

Yeah, those tabs pretty much covered it.

Over the subsequent year I fixed the bonking problem, but as Woodstock 2015 approached I still worried that I needed a way to handle the mental challenge of those loops in the dark. Help came from an unexpected and last-minute source.

The night before the race I went to a local runner’s clinic on handling long runs. Most of the advice I’d heard before, but one comment stood out: the need to shut the brain off.

Not completely, naturally; a trail run requires being alert to the course and your physical condition at all times. What needs shutting off is the mental chatter – the continuous stream of trivial thoughts, especially the negative self talk and worries. So I would work on getting into a “zone” – a disciplined, quiet mind, at peace with itself and living entirely in the moment. Here’s how I applied it.

One flag at a time.

How do you finish 100K? One flag at a time.

– I created a mantra for myself: Focus on the trail in front of you. The milestones will come. Every time I began to fret about how much distance I had left, I silently repeated this mantra and I would settle back into the zone.

– During the stretches when the aid station seemed light-years away, I would remind myself, It’s really not that far. It just seems longer. I even used it when I passed a runner on that interminable second segment. “Man, they must have moved the aid station,” he said. I assured him out loud what I’d been telling myself silently.

– When I tripped over roots or rocks I told myself firmly that it was over and in the past. Then I’d forget about it. If that didn’t work I would stop and walk until I returned to the zone. Running is a happy activity for me; I would not run angry.

– When pain came in my feet, legs, or shoulder, I did not fight it. I acknowledged it was there, embraced it as part of the experience, and let it go.

– Staying hydrated and salted kept me on an even keel. I had no nausea or swings of equilibrium to deal with. But just in case, I was prepared this time to deal with it. As I overheard one pacer telling his runner, “You’re not having a bad race. You’re having a bad moment. You will get through it.”

marathon-sticker

The results exceeded my highest expectations. I stayed in a steady, positive mental state throughout the race. And one week later I’m still on that high. Maybe I should do this more often?

Make More Mistakes