Fit by Forty

fallrun

This thing is gonna happen! (My Fit By Forty update)

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Yep, I’m still lumbering forward with my ‘Fit by Forty’ goal, and it’s going pretty well, all things considered. I’m not ‘fit’ yet, but I’m not forty yet, so it’s all good!

Celebrating my 39th birthday two days ago highlighted how little time I have left to reach my goal, and helped me clarify a few things.

Firstly

How will I know if I made my goal? At what point is a person considered ‘fit’? Is it when your old pants fit? When your wife says, ‘hey baby, you are looking fit!‘? When you don’t gasp for air after climbing the stairs from the basement to jump into bed, lying there in the dark, listening to your heart pounding, wheezing, considering your own mortality in the dark, thinking of that book you read where the guy died of a heart attack after carrying his groceries up flight of stairs to his apartment and then just laid there on the couch and watched his ice cream melt and died? Or maybe he didn’t die, you can’t quite remember, but you do know that you’ve got to get in better shape because it’s hard to wheeze quietly here in bed in the dark so you don’t wake up your wife?

Well, instead of making the fitness goal something ambiguous that I worry about late at night, I’ve decided that if I were to run a half-marathon, most people would agree that I would have reached a moderately adequate level of fitness. So that’s my goal- a half-marathon before next November 9th.

Secondly

I’ve been encouraged in my decision to use running as my primary method of achieving said moderately adequate level of fitness.

Running certainly gives you the most bang for your buck – I go out the door and I’m immediately burning calories. I don’t have to drive anywhere or meet anyone else, I just start walking really fast and next thing I know I’m running. Easy as that.

I’ve kept at it too! My knee has been bothering me a bit, but I haven’t let it stop me, which I think is a good sign. I’ve actually run consistently since we got back from our hike in August, with my longest run up to 7 km, and my pace improving steadily.

And, what do you know, I actually like running about 50% of the time. Today I ran on the path near our house (as I usually do) and the sun was shining and the birds were singing and I wasn’t huffing too hard yet, and I just had to pause and take a picture of the path because it was so lovely. (The picture at the top of this post.)

Thirdly

I’ve really got to improve my eating habits. This is gonna be the hardest part, since I really do like to eat, especially things that aren’t good for me, like a dozen donuts in one sitting, or four bowls of ice cream, one after the other. (Just joking! I haven’t eaten that much unhealthy food in a LONG time! It’s been at least a week.)

So, yeah. That’s the state of things for me. Feeling positive. And excited. And hungry. But mostly positive.

open road

Take One Step, Then Another, Then Another: How a Big Decision is Made by a Thousand Small Decisions

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It’s almost my 39th birthday: 45 more days.

Which means it’s almost my 40th birthday: 410 more days.

Which means my ‘Fit by Forty’ goal has to kick into high gear. Or higher gear at least.

When I started my ‘Fit by Forty’ plan last year, I pictured a slow and steady progression towards better health: every day I imagined I would look at myself in the mirror and smile and nod approvingly, watching my figure getting steadily slimmer, filled with inspiration to continue on my fitness quest. I imagined I would look back over all my runs with a twinkle in my eye, laughing at how I used to barely be able to run 5km, while I planned my next marathon.

I did not picture that, one year down the road, I would have made only a little progress. I think I’ve lost maybe 5 pounds, which works out to something like 1.8% of my body weight. Hm.

Still, I haven’t given up yet. On the contrary: as it has dawned on me how little progress I’ve made, I have actually strengthened my resolve. It’s made me realize that the goal was a bit more ambitious than I had previously imagined, and that I’m going to work a lot harder than I thought I was going to. I thought it would be a bit of a walk in the park to get fit over a period of two years: that after a bit of initial sweating, it would get easier and easier. Turns out, it’s going to involve a lot of sweating, and huffing and puffing, and generally feeling uncomfortable and outside my happy cozy squishy comfort zone.

The good news is that I am running again, after a bit of a hiatus. I’m back to running three times a week, without any skipping or excuses. My daughter, Zara, has run with me many times (she has a goal of increasing her cardio, which will help her dancing, so she wants to run as well) and that has been very fun and enjoyable and special. She is a lot like me in many respects: we can run 20 minutes together without saying a word, just huffing and puffing, but both of us are very happy with that. Of course, she’s fitter than me, so she has pushed the pace, and I’m very grateful to be challenged.

I’m also extremely pleased to have found that my consistent running is starting to make a difference. Not in my waistline yet – I look exactly the same – but in how fast and far I can run. Running hurts just as much as it always has, but I can actually go faster and further than I could before. So that’s nice.

howwespendourdays

I read a quote yesterday from Annie Dillard: ‘How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.’ It really resonated with me. The big ambitions and goals are rarely accomplished in a flash of inspiration and zeal and passion; rather, they are accomplished over and over, incrementally, in each small step that precedes the next one. A big decision is really the result of the culmination of countless other smaller decisions.

Each run I go on takes about 3,000 steps (give or take). That seems like a lot to count, one-by-one. And that’s just a short run, compared to what my beautiful wife does! I’m happy to take each step, because each step gets me closer.

I have about 150 runs to accomplish my ‘Fit by Forty’ goal. I can’t skip any: I’m going to need each one if I’m going to make it.

me + kids

How to find a Running Partner: the DIY strategy

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As I press forward with my running goals (maybe ‘stumble forward’ would be a more accurate phrase) I’ve been thinking that I need a running partner.

My sweet wife Janine has had a wide variety of running partners over the years. Bright and early on any given Sunday morning, she will head out the door while the rest of us are still sleeping, and meet them, and run for an hour or two with them. They push each other, they encourage each other, they talk to help the time and the miles pass faster.

So I was thinking I should get me one of them ‘running partners’ too. I sure would appreciate something to help the miles pass faster. Even if it is only a single mile sometimes. Which it is. But I still would like it to go faster.

It’s hard to have the courage to ask someone to come running with you when you yourself feel like your running is humiliatingly bad and slow. And I really didn’t know who I was going to ask. I mean, I had no idea how to find a running partner who would be slow enough for me.

So I asked my kids, because I can force them to run with me even if they say no. Besides, why else did I have kids but to have them at my beck and call?

First I went out on a run with my 14 year old daughter, Zara. Zara goes to several dance classes a week, and is a very flexible dancer. For the last few months Janine and I have encouraged her to run twice a week to help counteract the drop in physical activity that occurs with many young teen girls. Zara has been running, but quite reluctantly, and never any longer than her bare minimum run (also known as a bamiru). I figured that she could be a good match, so off we went.
Well, her first comment was how slow I was. Then she said she may as well have been walking since I was going so slow. Then she did walk. I told her to run ahead, but she didn’t want to do that. Instead she had the nerve to remark to me (while I am sweating and spitting and huffing beside her) that her legs were a teensy bit sore from dance the day before, and that she might not be able to run the whole distance.

After a few minutes of struggling to maintain a pace that she might consider half-decent, I was exhausted, and I decided to take a short walking break. Zara was only too happy to join me walking and suggested that the short walking break didn’t have to be too short. In fact, she wouldn’t mind if it were a long walking break.

It occurred to me that the two of us were really too similar to be good partners: neither one of us REALLY wanted to be there; we both wanted to lie down and take a nap; we wondered if it was all worth it; and we complained to each other about how uncomfortable the whole thing was.

We must have looked like a couple of grumpy old ladies.

We finished the run. I really appreciated the quality time with my daughter, but I could hardly call the run a success.

* * * * *

The next week I took my 12 year old son, Caleb, along on my run.

Caleb has started swimming with a club and is really enjoying pushing himself. He was always a bit of a pudgy kid, but his swimming has made him slim right down. Also, having watched him swim, I knew he would be far faster than me at running, so I assumed he would leave me in his dust. I was wrong.

Firstly, although the boy is sleek and fit and graceful in the water, he runs sort of like a camel. I was happy to give him a few pointers on his running form.

Then, he was determined to stick with me. He was remarkably encouraging, telling me to keep it up, chatting away happily while I ground away at the miles. He told me about the kinds of things his swimming coaches say to keep them motivated; he talked about how he wants to do a triathlon some day. We had a really great time, him talking and me huffing and puffing.

Finally, he started having trouble with his asthma, and had forgotten to bring his puffer along. He had to walk for quite a few long stretches, while I kept on running. In the end, he was wheezing badly enough that I ran back to the house to get the car to pick him up. He was fine as soon as he got his puffer, but imagine how great I felt: digging deep to put on every last bit of speed I had, racing home to save my son. I ran like a hero that day.

My advice, so far, on how to find a running partner? Find a kind-hearted, encouraging person who does another sport but is bad at running. Best if it’s your own child, for convenience. Choose a child that doesn’t share your weaknesses. Bonus if he has mild asthma attacks to give you extra motivation at the very end of the run.

bare minimum run

Bamiru – the Bare Minimum Run

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You know how sometimes, occasionally, it’s a tiny bit challenging to motivate yourself to get out the door and do your run?

It could be that I’m the only one who ever feels this way, and if so then please excuse my ramblings, but maybe you also occasionally feel less than excited by the prospect of pulling on running clothes and schlepping around outside in the cold, sweating and spitting and stumbling all over the sidewalk.

One of my best tricks for getting out there when I really don’t feel like going there (or anywhere) is what I call the ‘bare minimum run’, or bamiru for short.

The bamiru is a run that you know you can do, even if it’s late and you’re a bit under the weather and you’re not feeling ambitious or even motivated. It’s the quick run around the block that you can squeeze in between events or first thing in the morning or even late at night, right before bed, because darn it, today’s Wednesday and I’m supposed to run on Wednesdays and I really can’t skip because I skipped Monday’s run.

You know you can do the bamiru because you’ve done it lots of times. Or maybe just a couple of times. But the point is you ran it before and didn’t die, so you know you can do it again. And you probably won’t die this time, either.

The bamiru has saved me a thousand times (or maybe more like three times) when I REALLY didn’t feel like running but I knew I had to because I had eaten seven donuts earlier that day. I don’t want to run, but I know that I can at least do a quick bamiru and get it over with.

SO– let’s break down the elements of the bamiru:

Bare: Not literally. No naked bamirus if you please. No, bare just means no special prep, just go out the door. Nothing fancy. No muss, no fuss. Just a run.

Minimum: If you can’t do anything else, at least you can do this. You’d like to do less, but you can’t, so you might as well do the minimum.

Run: That’s what it is. A run. AKA moving legs fast.

So, in conclusion, let us all embrace the mighty bamiru for the running blessings it bestows upon us, even when we are not in a running mood.

runkeeper man

The Face of a Man who Keeps His Runs (a TRUE RunKeeper)

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Look at this face. LOOK AT IT! That is the face of a Run Keeper.

He’s got the dark glasses that say, I don’t want you to see my eyes because they are so intense behind these glasses.

He’s got the wiry facial hair. No use keeping it only for Movember: this man keeps that facial hair all year round. He’s just that manly.

And are those patches of snow in the background? Yes. Yes they are, but they don’t keep Mr. RunKeeper from his run. No they don’t. He runs anyway.

runkeeper runkeeper

He even takes a picture of himself using his running app, appropriately named ‘RunKeeper‘, designed for keepers of runs. Boy, this guy sure is a keeper of runs. If he’s got a date with a run, he keeps it.

So he uses the RunKeeper app on his phone to take a picture of himself. Has he put some fancy instagram-style filter on this photo to hide the fact that it was too low-res for this blog? Maybe. But maybe he’s so badass, his pictures just come out pre-filtered. Or maybe he just put the filter on. Probably that one. But in any case it sure does make him look cool.

Anyway, the guy took a picture of himself running. Well, actually he stopped for a second to take the picture because it’s hard to take a selfie while you’re running. It gets blurry. So he stopped first. And then took the picture with his RunKeeper App, which conveniently attached the picture to the run, so he can go back and admire how badass he looks in all of his running pictures. So he always takes the pictures at the beginning, because it’s hard to look badass when you’re wheezing and collapsing, which he often is at the end of a run.

runkeeper runkeeper

He can also use the RunKeeper app to see his pace along the way. Like, he can see how his pace dropped significantly in minute 5 when he got an email from a client and felt compelled to read it instead of just taking the 20 minutes to run without distractions. But after that dip in his pace, he can see that he held a pretty consistent speed.

It also shows him his route with a convenient little map. This is especially helpful when he is somewhere else, like Ottawa, and goes out for a run, and can’t quite remember how to get back, because he can see his route and just follow the orange line. But this guy wouldn’t need to do that – no. He’s not the kind of guy who would start running and lose his way. That kind of guy would be called a RunLoser. No, he’s a RunKeeper.

And while he runs, his RunKeeper app talks to him in a calm but firm feminine voice: “Ten Minutes,” she’ll say, if he wants her to call out the time in five minute intervals. And if he has to stop to check that email, and he pauses his run, she’ll say, “Workout Paused.” And he can’t help but hear the disapproving tone in her voice. And he thinks, who is she to judge me? She’s just sitting in some recording booth, says things patronizingly into her microphone, while I’m the one out here running in the snow.

And then he thinks, stop being silly, and he gets on with his run, until he staggers home, and she says, “Workout Complete!”, and he can tell that she’s just a little proud of him, even though he only ran 2.63km, at least he did it without a break.

runkeeper runkeeper

And then the RunKeeper app gives him an award for his hard work, and he’s proud of himself too.

poutine

Pursuing Poutine and Pudge… :(

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Since my last post I have not exactly been pursuing the thrill of running.

First I skipped a few runs. Mostly because I didn’t want to run so I didn’t.

Then I went to Ottawa to visit family and while there, I enjoyed Poutine-fest: a celebration of the greasiest, fattiest, heaviest food known to humankind, generously bestowed upon us by the Quebecois. I can’t believe that someone thought, let’s take this greasy, salty food—french fries—and add some greasy, salty topping—cheese curds—and some greasy, salty sauce—gravy. Mine even had an extra additional greasy, salty topping—bacon. (As an aside: one sometimes hears arguments about what constitutes REAL poutine as opposed to the “pale imitation” that some restaurants serve. Arguing over what makes REAL poutine is like arguing over what makes a REAL Big Mac. You might be right, but no one cares because you’re eating garbage.)

After that calorie-fest, I skipped a few more runs. Because I was “sick”. (I was indeed a bit under the weather, but I was still well enough to work.)

And now here I am, feeling grumpy and guilty and sad that I’ve taken steps backwards.

I wasn’t trying to pursue pudge, I swear, it just happened.

So anyway, now I’m back at it again. I ran again today for the first time in over a week. It felt terrible.

night run

Pursuing the Thrill of Running

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When you try to run when you’re out of shape, it’s a tough slog.

You drive past real runners out on their morning run: slim, lithe, light on their feet, they skim on the surface of the road, like water-bugs on a pond. They practically skitter. They look good in their running clothes. So you think, I’ll run when I get home.

You pull in the driveway, head inside, pull on your running clothes (why does this shirt have to be so snug around my middle?), and immediately you feel like a fish out of water. The clothes don’t feel right on you. But you brush your discomfort away and head out the door. You jiggle in more places than seems normal. You spit and sweat and huff and puff like you’re really angry at something. And your feet feel like you have concrete shoes on: not just that, but you’re wading in thick clay, and you feel like you’re just about ready for a walking break but then you notice you’ve only been running for 2 minutes and 30 seconds.

So you keep at it. You’ve decided that this time, for real this time, you’re going to start a pattern of fitness that you’ll stick to. You’re not going to give up at the two-week mark, like you’ve been known to do. No, this time is for real. You want to get Fit by Forty, and you only have 728 days to do it.

Plus, you hear that some people actually like running. Not you, of course. Running is just a means to and end; a necessary evil; the painful payment required to have a healthier body. But you’ve heard a legend that, when some people run, they feel God’s pleasure. They actually run because they find a certain thrill in it.

You shake this thought from your head. Sweat and spittle fly with the head shake. You’re just a bit dizzy. Your legs hurt now, and your feet hurt, and your chest hurts. You’re breathing hard. You’re nearing the halfway mark, where you usually take a walking break.

Then, for one fleeting moment, it happens.

For a second, it does actually feel good. You feel like you don’t need a break—that you could keep going, and going, and going. You feel the breeze in your face. Your body hurts, but at the same time it feels good. You feel strong. For a moment a memory comes back to you: You’re a teenager, downhill skiing. You’ve been at it all day and now it’s night. The ski hill’s lights shine bright in rows like streetlights. You feel the freedom of the night air on blowing on the ski hill, cold on your face. You’re sweaty under your ski jacket, and you feel simultaneously warm and cold, and you feel alive. You’re flying down the hill, like you could just keep skiing all night. There’s a girl with you: she came to ski with you. She’s a the first girl you kissed, and you kissed her nervously on the ski lift just a second ago. You’re fourteen.

The cool air blows on your face, crackling with the first hints of winter, blows through your sweaty hair and you realize with a start that the memory is 24 years old, that it’s laid dormant in your brain for more than half of your life now, but it came back like it had happened yesterday. The thrill of the run fades again, and you hurt all over, and you want to stop, and you don’t feel strong, rather, you feel old and fat and tired. But you smile a bit.

As you run home through the night, through the sleeping neighbourhood to your sleeping runner wife, you smile, because you felt that thrill for a moment. And it actually really did feel good.

running fights depression

Running Fights Depression

Posted by | Balanced Runner, Fit by Forty, Why I Run | 2 Comments

I freely admit that I fight against Depression.

When I’m depressed, all of my motivation evaporates, nothing seems appealing, and everything seems overwhelming and tiring. Getting out of bed takes a major act of will. I feel like I deserve an award just for showering and brushing my teeth in the morning. I feel like doing nothing except sleeping all day.

The last thing I feel like doing is going out for a run. And yet, according to a new study, that’s exactly what I should do. Because running fights depression.

According to a study out of the University of Toronto (yay! my alma mater), regular physical exercise can reduce future episodes of depression. So if, like me, you know that you are prone to depression, engaging in regular physical exercise makes a big difference in reducing the risk of developing depression. The study, which stretched over a 29 year period, found that even moderate exercise, like walking or gardening, can ward off depression.

Obviously this does not mean that exercise is some kind of magic bullet: you can exercise a lot and still experience depression. And telling a depressed person to “just go out and exercise” probably won’t help all that much. (Instead they will probably just hate you.)

For me, however, it’s encouraging to think that my quest to be “Fit by Forty” will have a positive impact on, not only my physical fitness, but my mental health as well. In my experience, it makes sense: when I go out for a run, even though it’s hard and it hurts, afterwards I feel better about myself. In the past I’ve found exercising outside to be especially helpful for my mental health. Something about getting dressed in my workout clothes, getting “out the door”, smelling the fresh air, and feeling the warm sunshine lifts my spirits, especially considering that my daily routine often consists of spending hours huddled in the basement by the flickering glow of my computer monitors.

Although “getting out” and doing anything can be helpful for depression, exercise is especially helpful for physiological reasons. As anyone who’s studied biology can tell you, exercise causes your body to release endorphins. These endorphins interact with receptors in your brain to inhibit your perception of pain and actually trigger positive feelings (similar to morphine). Following a good workout, runners may experience a sense of endorphin-induced euphoria, commonly known as “Runner’s High”. Other studies have found that these exercise related endorphins can be an effective tool in combating mild to moderate depression.

Now, there is a certain pathetic irony to be found in the fact that the thing to treat depression is something that requires motivation. But I guess that’s why it’s smart to start a running habit before you get depressed.

Checking in on running status update: Today was my 6th run and I ran my longest run so far (4.4km). I know it’s not a lot, but it’s nice to know I’m progressing slowly. I ran outside and the sun was up, which was nice (the last few times I ran outside it was night). I’m planning to choose a race to train for  so I’ll have a goal. Not sure what I should do yet, though. Maybe a 10k?

Running Discipline

Pursuing Running Discipline

Posted by | Fit by Forty | 6 Comments

Janine says I should write an article on running discipline. She’s a lot better than me at discipline, but I’ll give it a shot.

First: checking in. I have run twice since my public declaration to get “Fit by Forty”. It was dark and raining both times, but thanks to our shiny new treadmill (won by my wonderful wife!!) I ran in the warmth and comfort of my basement, watching Netflix to help pass the time. Today I will run again for the third time. We’re out tonight until about 9:30, so I’ll have to do another late-night run, although this time I plan to go outside.

I’m only on my third run and I am tempted by thoughts of skipping it, “just this one time”. This is the hardest thing I’ve found about running in the past: it is very hard to consistently muster the discipline to run even when I don’t feel like it.

The biggest struggle for me is that, at least for now, running is a painful and very unpleasant experience. I feel sweaty and hurty all over. On my last workout I chose a program on the treadmill that was too hard for me, and I felt like I might indeed die before the workout was over. I kept checking my heart rate and wondering if my heart was going to explode. I imagined dropping dead. The treadmill would cheerily toss my sweaty corpse against the basement wall where I would lie, rigor mortis contorting my limbs. Janine would find me in the morning I would be a mangled mass, and then, boy, she’d be sorry.

My imagination skills are a lot stronger than my discipline skills.

I always start a new fitness routine with great enthusiasm, and it only takes a few hard workouts for my visions of the New Slim Trim Me to fade into the background as I realize how much work it is to move from fat to fit. Running especially requires an immense amount of discipline to keep going. When I run I am chasing my own discipline, and I’m not sure I’m going to catch it. At least this time I am also being chased by the social pressure I have brought on myself by making this process so public.

Janine constantly impresses me with her seemingly endless stores of self-discipline. She gets up most mornings at 5:30am to go run or swim. When she races, she often pushes herself to near-exhaustion by the finish line. I really appreciate that about her, because she’s so different from me. I am (to put it mildly) not exactly a disciplined guy. I’m creative guy! a critical thinker! an imaginative fellow! …but not so great when it comes to doing some chore reliably and consistently.

Running is going to take some real discipline on my part. I hope I can do it this time.

P.S. I take great comfort in the kind comments that many of you surprised me with on Janine’s facebook. Thanks!

P.P.S. Janine says this post is not very encouraging, and re-reading, I see that she’s right—it is a little depressing. Sorry about that… so let me put a positive spin: I have run twice and am going to do my third run today. Hooray for my running discipline so far!!

big jimmy

Fat by Forty OR Fit by Forty

Posted by | Fit by Forty, Runner Profiles | 2 Comments

James, aged almost 38, jokes that his goal  is “Fat by Forty”.   He is confident in his self worth, so he can joke about the fact that he has steadily been gaining weight over the past 16 years of our marriage.  James never lost the baby weight of our three children (those sympathy pounds that he accumulated) whereas I did.  Truth be told, James really does want to become more healthy and he often starts diets or runs for even a month here and there, but then the stresses of life take over – or minecraft time cuts into his training and resolve.

James just told me that he would like to run a marathon one day.  He ran a half marathon when he was 22, just after we were married.  James went for the family hike on Thanksgiving Monday and he needed to take a two hour nap when we came home.  He realizes that without some serious effort, he will not be able to keep up with his children for much longer.

Can we change his trajectory – and make his new successful goal “Fit by Forty”?  What can we say to motivate James?  James is considering joining this website, with his story of gaining fitness and being the average man who wants to become more fit.  We have dreams and plans, such as a multiple day bike tour of PEI or multiple day hikes in new and exotic places.  Without some training, these possibilities will not be attainable for James.

James’ comments:

So I feel a need to weigh in here (haha, get it? weigh in? …nevermind). Let me state firstly that this whole thing is my idea. I can’t help but feel inspired when I see Janine and all the other incredibly fit people out there “running for the thrills”. For me, at this point, running is less “thrilling” and more “painfully excruciating”… but maybe with some encouragement and the added social pressure of making my progress public, I might be able to muscle my way past the painful part to get to the thrilling part?

I’m motivated to make my “fit by forty” journey public because I hope that my own experiences will be an encouragement to some of you out there who, like me, are not as fit as you wish you were. If I feel like I’m partnering with people out in internet land on the goal of increased fitness, I know it will help me follow through with my own goals. And hey, if I can do it, anyone can!

Ok, I’m off to do my first run in a while. I’ll report back tomorrow…

(Bonus pic: wow, I used to be skinny.)

wedding pic