Playfulness is a wonderful attribute. One I’d like to revive.
Last Thursday afternoon. Lunch swim workout in the books. Walking across Foss Intramural Field back to the office. One of those perfect, sunny, 60-ish, post summer/pre-fall September days in the Pacific Northwest that you wish you could bottle. Frisbees filled the air.
Somewhere between young adulthood and adulthood I stopped playing frisbee. I used to be a SoCal legend in my own mind. At SoCal beaches my signature move was to huck it way above the waves like a boomerang into the onshore wind and then,
hours, minutes, maybe 15 seconds later, catch it to the delight of hundreds, my girlfriend and a few other friends, myself. I don’t think our frisbee even survived the recent move.
Somewhere in adulthood I stopped playing, not just frisbee, everything it seems. Yes, swimming, running, and cycling can be child-like activities, but not the way I tend to do them. I train. I have distance and time goals. And tiny gps-enabled computers and apps that tell me how far, how fast, and many other things in between. Yesterday I ran home from church, 7.5 miles in 56 minutes and change, for a 7:30/m average (first half, downhill). At one point, I saw two good friends walking the opposite direction. We said “hello”, and even though we haven’t talked for a month, I kept going. You know, the average pace and all.
Hell, I don’t even PLAY golf anymore. And I’m not alone. Do any adults ever think “What a nice day, I should ask the rest of the office to chuck the frisbee for awhile.”? And yet, nothing is more natural for young adults on college campuses than to stop and play.
How to cultivate a playful spirit? What might my swimming, running, and cycling look like if I approached them as play? What about other non-work activities?
Before you suggest low hanging fruit like mountain biking, you should know I sometimes struggle staying upright even on intermediate trails. With that caveat, I’m open to any other suggestions.
What do you do, if anything to maintain a sense of playfulness?
This post was inspired by reading a LetsRun.com forum thread on the subject. Here are two contributions that stood out to me:
I’m 6’1″ and ran competitively until my early 30’s. You can see what scaling back the running and getting older does.
Age 18: 117
Age 25: 140
Age 35: 160
Age 45 (now): 190
Know what happens between age 35 and 45 when you pretty much quit running? 30 pounds. That’s what happens. Fortunately I have plateaued at right around 190 for the past few years. Not surprisingly people tell me I look better than I did when I was 120lbs and looked “sickly.”
As you get older it is easier to put the weight on, and significantly harder to lose it. I now sport a ‘Dad Bod’ like many guys my age. I’m not an obese slob but I could certainly stand to drop 20 pounds.
The margin of error disappears after 40. In my 30s, I could pig out now and then without any consequences. Since turning 40, one big desert or dinner and I will gain a pound or two on an otherwise light 5’8″/135-40 lb frame. When i am injured or just lazy, I will very quickly gain weight and level off just below 150. It then takes about 1 month to lose 2 lbs by watching diet and running 50-70 mpw.
As mentioned previously, there is a self regulating aspect to getting old. If I eat a sugary desert and drink a lot of booze at dinner, I will wake up around 3 am feeling like I just drank 3 cups of coffee due to all the sugars suddenly metabolizing. The result is that I rarely have deserts and have cut back a lot on booze.
1. Most importantly, decide if it matters. Unless you have a compelling reason or two to not be overweight in later life, you will be, because as the LetsRunners make clear, overtime metabolism slows and self discipline erodes. A double whammy.
I suspect I’m unique in this respect. It’s nice that the Good Wife digs my slender self, but truth be told, my main motivation is running and cycling well. By which I mean maintaining some sort of rhythm running and cycling longish distances with others who still run and cycle pretty damn fast. Even more specifically, I enjoy running and cycling uphill which is hard enough without an extra 5 or 10 lb. pound spare tire.
For most the question is whether a general appreciation for better mobility and physical and mental health is sufficient motivation. Based upon my people watching, it doesn’t appear to be. If you can’t write down a specific and compelling reason or two to avoid weight gain in later life, you may as well skip the rest of this post and enjoy a Big Tom’s milkshake or giant snack of your choice.
2A. Don’t buy your favorite processed sugary snacks and alcohol unless your young adult children are visiting. Also, “they” are right to recommend eating before grocery shopping. “They” are also right to say always use a list.
But even in later life, everything in moderation. I enjoy a beer, or chocolate covered raisins, a piece (or two) of cheesecake, a bowl of ice-cream, but only on days when I’ve burned quite a few more cals than normal. Typically, weekend afternoons after a long or especially hard run or ride. I’ll deny it if you tell her I told you, but the always slender and sexy Gal Pal has a soft spot for Skinny Cow ice cream sandwiches.
2B. Eat on the road and in restaurants in moderation. Take charge of your food purchasing and prep.
3. Switch your dishes out. I’ve learned the only way I can control my portions is to use smaller bowls. Now it’s to the point where I have winter bowls and summer bowls. Two winter bowls = one summer bowl. In the summer, I cycle further with much greater intensity. Last night, for example, I burned 3K calories on my 54+ mile team ride. I weighed 169 pre-ride, 164 post. This morning’s bowl looked like a replica of Mount Rainier, Raisin Bran, Honey Bunches of Oats, raw oats, washed down with a large smoothie. In a few minutes, pistachios, banana with pb, huge serving of pasta. On the way home from work, pretzels, Cliff Bar, and then I’ll graze before dinner.
It’s painful switching to the winter bowls, which I should probably do a month from now. You would chuckle if you could see me try to max that baby bowl out without having the contents overflow the sides. Like playing Operation, the key is the first, delicate spoonful. Winter also means next to no desserts, very little beer, no joy in Mudville. And I still gain a little weight.
Most people want to get in shape in a fraction of the time it took them to get out of shape. A vast majority also want to win the lottery and fall in love over night.
The key to success in endurance athletics is building strength, stamina, and mental toughness over time. The key is taking the long view towards incremental improvement, week-to-week, month-to-month, year-to-year. Am I stronger, fitter, more confident this week, month, year? I’ll never be strong, fit, and confident enough. When most successful, there’s positive momentum, movement along the continuum. Positive momentum requires waking up and getting out the door, even when I don’t feel like it. Especially when I don’t feel like it.
How to create positive personal finance momentum? The key is incremental improvement which results from saving more than I spend month-to-month, year-to-year, and then investing in passive index funds month-to-month, year-to-year. Building the strength, stamina, and mental toughness to hold on for five, ten, fifteen years. Rebalancing on occasion.
How to be a better human being? By being a more active, patient listener this week, this month, this year. By being a little more friendly to others, more empathetic, more curious, more understanding.
It’s much easier to write about the long view and incremental improvement than it is to apply it consistently. In some important ways—including as an endurance athlete, as a blogger, and as a close friend—I’m lacking positive momentum right now. This is the point in the post where I wish I had an inspiring insight to close with.
Postscript: Alexi has momentum in her life.
Pay for me to travel to Norway next year to compete in this completely irrational swim-bike-run adventure and I’ll detail my experience for PressingPausers worldwide. My wife will play the role of sherpa. Norway’s kinda expensive (the exact words on a pin my family presented to me mid-way through our extended Norway visit) so I’m going to estimate about $10k.
First I’ll have to “win” a lottery which only ten percent of applicants manage to do.
I’ll also have to gain about 50lbs for the swim otherwise I’ll wash up on the shore of the fjord like a completely frozen, farmed salmon. Your $10k should cover the uptick in groceries in the months leading up to the race.
Can I finish it? Earn a coveted black t-shirt? Let’s find out.
Emily Oster’s findings in the fitness essay I included in the previous post rest on the following premise—people exercise to lengthen their lives. I run, swim, and cycle quite a bit further and faster than the research says I should because I enjoy pushing myself. And as far as I know the research doesn’t answer this question: Are the costs of more extreme fitness habits lessened when one increases the volume and intensity of their activities over many years? My gut tells me yes. My gut also tells me cross training lessens the costs.
But I’m okay being wrong because I don’t care if I live to 100. The more familiar I get with the 80’s and 90’s, the more inclined I am to trade quality of life for quantity. Which leads to how to age.
There are two approaches, but I don’t know which is better. The first is to remind oneself on a daily basis that you’ll never be younger than you are at this very instance. Meaning carpe diem. Live with urgency. Do the iron-distance triathlon now because it’s going to be even harder in a few years. Travel the world now because it’s going to be harder in a few years. Hike the Wonderland Trail or the Camino de Santiago before hiking to the mailbox is all you can manage.
The alternative is to accept the inevitability of physical decline and embrace life’s limits. Reject “Bucket List” mania. Live more simply. Slow down, travel less, invest more in friendships. Find joy in daily routines. Watch nature. Enjoy coffee, food, and drink. Go gently into the future.
Two paths in the woods diverge. Which to take?
1. Given Kathryn Schulz’s prodigious talent, the New Yorker’s future is bright. As frightening and superbly written as anything I’ve read in a long time. The Really Big One. Subtitle—An earthquake will destroy a sizable portion of the coastal Northwest. The question is when. Made me want to buy in Bend, Oregon.
2. By Emily Oster, What’s the Optimal Speed for Exercise? Last pgraph:
“If we take this research at face value, we learn a few things. First, some exercise reduces your risk of death. Second, the optimal walking/jogging exercise is light to moderate jogging. The optimal speed is between 5 and 7 mph, and if you do 25 minutes about three times a week, you’re all set. Nothing in the data suggests that running more — farther, or faster — will do more to lower your risk of death.”
3. From the Wall Street Journal, The Sane Way to Cycle Competitively.
4. Pathetic to the point of sad. From LetsRun.com, Lehigh Valley Got it Wrong: The Evidence is Conclusive: Mike Rossi—The Viral Boston Marathon Dad—Is A Marathon Cheat And Should Never Have Been On The Starting Line in Boston.