Mindset

Random thoughts on training in my 40’s

Working with a bunch of under 30 guys means that I’m perhaps a tad more sensitive to my age than is reasonable. I promise you that once I came on board, coach's meetings became more challenging, especially when we talked about training “middle aged” clients. 

Josh: Generally we won’t have a 40 something year old…

Me: What? What won’t you have a 40 year old do? Hmmm??? What??

Josh: Drag an SUV across the parking lot with her teeth. 

Me: I'll be tying a rope to the SUV in the parking lot if you need me...

The most challenging part of aging for me, and I know I’m young, is balancing my athletic skills and wants with the realities of a 41-year old body that I’ve already put through the ringer playing various sports throughout the years. 

My competitive days might now revolve around golf and slow pitch softball, but I still want to train like an athlete - not just because it’s fun, but because it’s who I am. So with that in mind, here are those random thoughts.

1. Don't tell me I can't do something

 I want to be like Donna, and Eileen and Kathy and so many of my other clients who are working out and training hard, and smart, into their 60's and beyond.

I want to be like Donna, and Eileen and Kathy and so many of my other clients who are working out and training hard, and smart, into their 60's and beyond.

Listen, I know there are things I shouldn't do anymore, in the interest of my long-term health. I might have to let go of that goal of running a marathon, given that I spent the past four months side-lined from my most recent attempt. 

But, if you know what's good for you, and me, you'll never tell me I can't do something. Maybe that's hard-wired from my years of being one three girls in Little League, but I'll break myself doing something if you tell me that I can't. 

We all have particular gym identities, and mine is that of an aging athlete. For me, that means that I want to throw medicine balls, deadlift until my face falls off, and move like an athlete. Let me do that, ok? 

2. Recovery isn't a suggestion, it's a necessity

I didn’t think anything about running or working out every day when I was in college and my early twenties. This week, as I’m finally picking up a training routine after being hampered by injury, I’m on my fourth day in a row of training, and my legs know it. So tomorrow’s workout will be foam rolling and light stretching, because I’m not a spring chicken any more. (More like early summer).

Recovery doesn't necessarily mean sitting around on the couch. Foam rolling, a massage, light stretching and walking can be part of a recovery day. 

3. If I don’t warm up, I pay the price

Pretty much what I just said. If I don’t warm up properly, which is following a complete foam rolling routine and a full body warm up, I’ll tweak something sooner or later. Our muscles aren’t filet mignon, they’re beef jerky. (It's a gross but effective analogy. Just think about ripping apart that jerky. You're welcome for the visual.)

You don't want to tear muscles because you skipped your warm up, right? Me neither. Let's get out there and show those Milennials how it's done.

Right after we warm up for 20 minutes and slather ourselves in Biofreeze...

4. I still think of myself as an athlete

I’m not going to the Olympics (maybe the senior ones someday) or making money as an athlete, but I still think of myself as an athlete. That means I want to train like an athlete. I want to move in other planes of motion. Think about the cone drills, back pedaling, drop step moves and shuffles we do when we play a sport. I might not jump onto a 32 inch box or explode on a sprint (I use the term sprinting very loosely) like I did when I was younger, but it's still important to train power and explosiveness. And I still want to move like an athlete. 

Playing sports isn’t just something that I used to do; it’s how I first learned to relate to the world. I was on my first team when I was five, and was on teams almost every year of my life right up until 2015. 

5. Be smart when it comes to injury

Remember that commercial about being like Mike? Yeah, be like Mike, but don't be like Kim. I’m the best example of what NOT to do when it comes to working out around an injury, for all of the above reasons. I find it hard to balance my competitive mentality with the restrictions of an injury, but the reality is, the sooner you take care of an injury, the sooner you get back to doing what you love.

This is an "area of opportunity" for me. But I think my last injury did more to teach me patience than anything I've previously dealt with.  

6. You might have to train differently than you used to

We have a client who has had a double knee replacement and double hip replacement, and she has a crazy hard core athlete mentality. But she’s also accepted the limitations of her body and embraced what she can do. It’s not that she can’t train - it’s just that she has to train differently. And she’s made peace with that.

All of us would do well to follow her lead. 

I often joke with clients that there should be a support group for aging athletes, and I mean that. I’m not sure that there’s anything more defeating than when you ask your body to do something (run a marathon, weed the garden, play a pick up game with your kids) and you find that you can’t do it.

Feeling betrayed by your body is an awful feeling. 

But it does no good to sit around and overthink about it. And it does no good to pretend that your body can do exactly what it did when you were 20. If we can learn to adjust expectations (not lower them necessarily), then perhaps we can embrace the privilege that is growing older.  

Often, I find it’s helpful to both have a coach, who can program for you, and a solid community of people who can keep you sane when you’re on the sidelines. 

And if anyone out there is looking for a coach, I'll be opening up a few spots in my private coaching group in September. 

Be strong. Be kind. 

 

Good things happen when you show up

The story goes like this:

A former gang member trying to leave the gang life was assigned, among other activities, to a meditation group. Two weeks into the class, the instructor called his supervisor and complained.

“He doesn’t want to be here,” the teacher said.

“Where is he right now?” asked the supervisor.

“Here.”

Um…..

 Show up, laugh, learn what a bird dog is....laugh some more...photo by  www.leisejones.com

Show up, laugh, learn what a bird dog is....laugh some more...photo by www.leisejones.com

The student was in the class four months before he put his phone down and began to actively participate. I was struck, as I listed to the story, at how often that kind of situation occurs at the gym or with fitness related activities.

People come to the gym for a variety of reasons, and in a lot of different situations. Some folks show up because a doctor said so, some show up because if they don't change something in their lives, they'll have to go on medication, and still others come because a friend dragged them through the doors, metaphorically kicking and screaming (literally though, sometimes bitching and moaning). 

But I'll tell you right now, that showing up is the hardest part of adopting a new routine. 

In the past few months, I've fallen out of my meditation routine, so I spent the past week trying to reclaim that space. The best I could do was to sit on my meditation pillow for five minutes, which I did three times this week. 

I didn't meditate. 

I sat there, shifting around, thinking of everything I had to do that day, and then I got up when the timer went off. 

Sometimes, showing up is all we can do. Meditating feels hard for me right now. For others, being at the gym is hard - they don't want to be there. They don't love working out. Many don't even get the reward of feeling better at the end of the workout. They're just relieved to check it off the list.  

Some people fall in love with working out right away, but many folks don’t. I can think of one client who came to the gym for a full year and “tolerated” every minute of it. She openly hated working out, and it was always amazing to me that she somehow made herself get to the gym. 

I asked her once what her motivation for coming to workout was when she disliked it so much.

"I realized one day that I was the fat friend in a group photo," she said. "I don't know when it happened, but I suddenly saw a photo on Facebook and realized that was me." 

Somehow, despite her dislike of the workouts, she kept showing up. She didn't want to be at the gym, but she got there at least twice a week. 

Then something interesting happened. She missed a week when she got sick - and when she came back she realized how much better working out made her feel. Mind you, she'd lost 40 pounds through the process of showing up and putting in the work. But it took a year for her to want to come to the gym.

Even now, she doesn't love it. But when you're building a new habit, it's helpful to have a reward at the end of the behavior, and for many of us, the reward is that we feel better after the workout. She feels that now, but she didn't for the longest time. 

Maybe you’re showing up to the gym because a friend dragged you. Maybe you show up, do half of a warm up, and shuffle through the workout. You know you "should" do more, but you don't have it in you.  

I believe that if you keep showing up - if you keep putting in the effort - that one day you will realize that you don’t have to measure up to some abstract unattainable idea of who you should be. 

Let me repeat that last phrase one more time:

One day, you'll realize that you don't have to measure up to some abstract unattainable idea of who you should be. 

You just need to be you. 

Keep showing up. 

And good things will happen. 

Life lessons - you can let go but you can't give up

We sat at Cafe 21 in the heart of San Diego’s Gaslamp district and watched the marathon finishers file past, one small group at a time.

I pushed my omelette around on my plate and sipped my coffee. 

“That was supposed to be me,” I said to Sheila, watching yet another gaggle of runners stroll past the sidewalk cafe. Some looked less beaten down by the miles and the California heat than others, but they all shared a similar expression.

Satisfaction. 

They all looked satisfied. I saw it in their faces, in the finishers medal around their necks, and the way they all seemed to carry the lightness of the day ahead. Whatever they did for the rest of the day, they’d be wearing the satisfaction of having completed a goal. 

“There’s always next year,” Sheila said, and I cringed. 

Next year.  

Those words are meant to comfort but they've always felt hollow to me. 

Next year. 

I pushed away from the table and leaned back in my chair, sipping my coffee.

 I didn't run a marathon but I did see a few stellar sunsets. 

I didn't run a marathon but I did see a few stellar sunsets. 

What’s the difference between giving up on something I’ve always wanted and letting go of something I’ve always wanted? 

Both of them are attitudes.  

But one of those attitudes is throwing in the towel. It’s a mindset that says I’m never going to do this, I’m never going to get there, I’m never going to achieve my goal. I’m never going to meet someone, I’m never going to have a job I like, I’m never going to have a body I can appreciate. 

Screw it. If what I’ve been pursuing is never going to happen, then why bother? 

So you quit. 

That’s giving up. 

Letting go - ah that’s more complicated, isn’t it? Because letting go is also a mindset and an attitude. But letting go is more about embracing the circumstances. Accepting your situation for what it is and making peace with yourself. 

Making peace with yourself. 

Letting go means trusting that you are enough as you are, right here in this moment, and that the pursuit of whatever goal you’re chasing does not define you. I don’t believe that pursuing a goal and embracing yourself as you are, right now in this moment - are separate from one another. 

I haven’t given up on the possibility of running a marathon. But I spent the better part of these past few days in San Diego trying to let go of my own expectations. I spent time on the beach, at a baseball game, reconnecting with my partner, of whom I’ve seen so very little lately. 

Had I come out here to run the marathon, we’d have had some time together. But the pace would have been different. Less exploring, less walking, less connecting. 

Yes, I still moped around a bit on Sunday - mostly out of the frustration that my body can't always do what I ask of it anymore. 

But, as we walked around  San Diego and I looked at the marathon signs and banners hanging in the streets I tried to shift my self-talk from "that should be me" and "why can't I stay healthy for anything" to "I'm grateful for this time away with my partner." 

I tried to shift the soundtrack. Sometimes that's enough. 

The trouble with numbers

125

4

100

1200

125 pounds was the weight I thought was perfect for me.

4 was the size of pants I thought I should wear.

100 was how many calories I burned in one mile of running, approximately.

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1200 was the number of calories I thought I should eat in a day.

Those numbers have been burned onto my brain since I was in my early twenties - maybe earlier. 

We have relationships in every part of the fitness process - we have a relationship with exercise, we have a relationship with food and many of us, especially women, also have a relationship with the numbers. When I was a freshman in high school, my friend Jodi told me that if we multiplied our height, then that was our ideal weight. 

My ideal weight came from a friend who heard it from someone who read it somewhere and I thought that number was gospel.

At 5’5, my ideal weight was 125 pounds. Less was okay, and throughout high school I weighed 115 pounds. But when I went off to college and gained a little weight. I was ok as long as I weighed no more than 125 pounds. Though I didn't proclaim to anyone that I was on a diet, the minute my weight went over 125, I ate nothing but salads and was strict about staying below 1200 calories, which was another number I soaked up from somewhere I can't remember. I also knew that running burned roughly 100 calories per mile, so I'd run three or four miles. 

This was my unwritten rule for myself. 

That is the unwritten rule for so many of us. 

The rule of my ideal weight exploded in my face in my early thirties when I took up strength training. I was feeling stronger and enjoying the workouts but I wasn’t prepared for the scale to go in the opposite direction. Instead of going from 130 pounds to 125, I went to 135. Then to 140. 

Intellectually I knew what was going on - I knew that muscle weighed more than fat and blah, blah, blah, science. I knew that. 

But I still could not reconcile this new number. Because the old one, as bogus as it was in its foundation (shockingly, not everything I learned in high school locker rooms was true…) was absolutely seared into my brain. 

Seeing a number on the scale that was more than my ideal weight made me feel shameful. I felt bad about myself, despite what I knew intellectually.  

For many of us, certain numbers bring elicit memories and emotions. 

Maybe it was how much you weighed on your wedding day or when you graduated from college or some other positive time in your life. The ideal number in our head triggers positive memories or experiences. And that’s what we want.

For many others, there is a goal weight in mind - those who have struggled with weight all of their lives might have a number in mind as an end to the journey. 

Once I hit this weight….fill in the blank.

Once I hit this weight I’ll be happy. Once I hit this weight I can stop going to the gym seven times a week. Once I hit this weight….

And it’s not enough to intellectually understand that it’s ok if your weight goes up when your muscle mass goes up and your body fat goes down. Because sometimes you can tell yourself over and over again that it’s ok, but you never really buy what you’re trying to sell yourself. 

Developing a relationship with your body that doesn’t have numbers is so. hard. to. do. 

It is so hard. 

Because we sure as hell don't like the other feedback we rely on, which for most of us is mirrors. Just this morning I got up, took one look at myself in the mirror, and was thoroughly disappointed with what I saw. I haven't trained consistently because of injury, so I feel sluggish and quite frankly, didn't like what I saw in the mirror. 

I share that mostly because I know there are so many out there who feel the same way. 

So what do we do? With the numbers and the feedback?

We work on it. I know - that work is hard and complicated. But we create awareness where we can, we remind ourselves, at every opportunity, that we are more than a number. 

We ask for help. 

We offer help.

We remind each other that we're beautiful. 

We lift each other up. 

In the words of the ladies over at Girls Gone Strong - "strong women lift each other up."

How gratitude changed my mindset

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I have been working on a project for the past six months. 

I’ve spent almost ever waking hour, when not at the gym, working on this project. The process was a source of energy and light for me, a place where I could bring my creativity and a way to work through some of the grief I’ve experienced in recent months. 

I was cruising along, checking off boxes and getting things done, until my godfather unexpectedly passed away in April. I took a week off and went home to Pennsylvania for the funeral. I thought I’d continue to work on my project while I was home during my down time. 

But instead, I got nothing done. 

By the time I got back to Maine, my self-imposed deadline had passed and I found myself sitting down everyday, trying to force myself to finish. Then I found myself avoiding the entire process in ways that I hadn’t done before - I was watching Netflix, reading a book, checking social media - avoiding the entire thing. 

The soundtrack was playing in my head. I have always, always, always struggled to finish creative projects. All I could think was well, here I go again. 

And not in that good "Whitesnake" kind of way. 

I have a therapist I work with and whom I trust a great deal and out of desperation, I asked her for some advice. I didn’t need a pep talk, I didn’t need anyone to cheer me on or tell me I could do it. That wasn’t going to motivate me. I’m not wired like that.

So that’s not what she said.

She offered this quote from Nina Simone “You have to learn to get up from the table when love is no longer being served.”

She suggested that sometimes it is us who is no longer serving love to ourselves - and she reminded me to not come back to the table until I could sit with love and gratitude for the process of creation I’d begun in the first place. 

It’s a nice thought. And while I could appreciate it intellectually, emotionally I was thinking something more like:

“Son of a *&^^%$%*&^^%*&(.”

I just want to finish what I set out to finish. But without a better idea, I followed her advice and stepped away from the process. 

I let go of my self-imposed deadline. 

I had to. 

And that was difficult. It took a great deal of energy for me to let go of my expectations. It hasn't been easy. I still felt awful that I'd already missed my self-imposed deadline; that I already let myself down.

But I stepped away from the process. Instead of avoiding the work - I let myself work on other creative things.  

I worked on gratitude - on being thankful for the process of creating. Sometimes I could genuinely be thankful. And sometimes I was begrudgingly thankful.  

I tried to flip the script from "here I go again" to "let it be." 

Because the Beatles. 

Easier said than done. 

We do what we can to move our own needle forward. 

Whether it's for a personal project, nutrition plan, or fitness. We do the best we can with what we've got. 

Even if it's only a little bit at a time. 

But if we can just let go, even a little bit, of those inner expectations, the world opens up for life to unfold naturally, in a way that isn't forced.