Running Doesn’t Get Any Easier, But Let Me Tell You What It Does Do…

This week, I’ve decided to guilt you off the sofa with another smug-assed update about my new running career.

Woman standing on beach with arms in the air in celebration.
Photo from Unsplash. Catherine McMahon

Cue drumroll: Last week, I reached my target of 4kms for the Mothers Day Run For Breast Cancer. In other words, my weekly jog/hobbles around the lagoon in our new suburb has paid off. Go me! And while I would love to describe to you in triumphant detail the exhilaration of reaching such a pinnacle of fitness at the age of 53, I’m too knackered. Worse, I’m worried. You see, I suspect that I’ve potentially put myself in a dangerous psychological place now. With five weeks still to go before the official run (You can sponsor me here, because as you can see, we need all the help we can get), I’m worried that I may have peaked too early, which means that the next few weeks are going to prove a battle to get motivated.

But if it makes you sloths out there feel any better, I am also here to confirm that running doesn’t get easier – that is indeed a myth – and that in no way has this new sport become my raison d’etre.

For while it is tempting for me to paint a dazzling image of me crossing the 4kms mark, legs reaching across the finish line with the litheness of a gazelle – that’s simply not how the moment was, as I’m sure that most of you can imagine. The fact is, the mechanical process of moving my legs fast never gets any easier. And frankly, if it wasn’t for sheer will-power and the image in my mind of the big brekkie and coffee I promised myself at the end of each practise session, it is unlikely I would have stuck to such a ridiculous goal.

For the record, I would also like to point out that I will never want to set myself another goal and increase my distance. I will leave that to those of a competitive nature. For me, this run was only ever about a personal goal and raising money for a worthy charity, and once I tick that box, I will resume my Friday nights with a bottle of wine and a packet of pork scratchings.

But let me tell you what this silliness has done. It has made me feel better overall – mentally and physically (sort of). I haven’t lost weight – indeed, my calves have packed on something that the old man has identified as muscle – but the push to get outside and into the fresh air twice a week has helped me develop an old person’s greater appreciation of the outside world and nature. I have more energy, I feel more positive, and I’m drinking less alcohol – because it is definitely more challenging to get my legs going after bevvies the night before.

Goals and finding ways to push ourselves outside of our comfort zone, (or simply into a different zone), are so important at this stage of our lives. And it’s important to remind ourselves of how lucky we are to reach middle age, at all – a gift denied to so many victims of breast cancer.

New challenges and experiences keep me mentally alert and curious – and ultimately youthful, I hope – in what can be a disconcerting last chapter of our lives. For me, this year is about running, but next year’s challenge might entail another new hobby, travel, or meeting with a different social group – whatever it is, the curiosity that gets me there is what will keep my mind sharp.

Anyone that knows me – but in particular I must mention the crowd who did the Jane Fonda Workout with me for high school sport, (when everyone else was playing proper sports) – would laugh if you told them that I had taken up running – at any age. But perhaps, more importantly, in a period of my life when I feared that there were no surprises left – apart from those generously supplied by Kurt – I have surprised myself.

Go on, sponsor me…

“Running Really Does Get Easier,” Said No Novice Runner Ever

Image of woman running up steps in orange runners.

There’s no doubt in my mind that what this year’s fun run is really about is another narcissistic attempt to deny the physical evidence that my body is as old AF and, well, a bit buggered.

The papers – or “the news” (as my millennial daughter corrected me yesterday morning because she has never read a hard copy newspaper) – continues to be full of stories of New Year’s resolutions that never got out of the starting gate, Dry January fails, and Januhairy – the least challenging resolution for the menopausal/hormonally hirsute amongst us.

Privately, I have made a couple of personal resolutions – that for legal reasons that involve the old man, I can’t share publicly with you yet – but I have made one that I’m happy to talk about.

This May, I will be competing in the 4k Mothers Day Classic Fun Run to support breast cancer research.

Yes, FOUR FUCKING KILOMETRES, and A RUN! The “fun” part, I’m not so sure about.

I did a similarly crazy thing a little over ten years ago when I celebrated my 40th birthday – don’t ask me why I have this tendency to come up with harebrained schemes such as these, although I suspect that wine has something to do with them – when, in the wisdom of what I will now refer to as my youth, I signed up for the London To Brighton bike ride, to prove that I was still young, hot and fit to raise money for The British Heart Foundation.

And evidently, few life lessons were learned from that day of shame. Either that or I have parked them in the dying brain cell department of my brain along with memories of childbirth and whatever I once saw in Johnny Depp.

In my defense, the temperature that day in the UK was (an unheard of) 33 degrees – the precursor to what the intelligent among us now accept as climate change – but added to which, I was also sporting a rather debilitating injury, incurred at training the week before; the result of a nasty brush with gravel. That meant that I had to compete with two stitches to my right elbow and severe PTSD in relation to every getting on a bike again.

To cut a long story short, I was the only competitor to cross the finishing line as the event organizers were planning their retirements – although twelve hours to complete fifty-two miles is apparently a record…of sorts. I was also the only competitor to be slapped around the face by their husband halfway around the course when he feared for my sanity – although, again, in my defense, my bum was really sore.

There’s little doubt in my mind that what this year’s fun run is really just another narcissistic attempt to deny the physical evidence that my body is as old AF and, well, a bit buggered. However, my ambition is not to complete this year’s run in a credible time. No, all I’m really aspiring to do is not look like a complete twat as I cross the line – IF I cross the line – ie. I’m hoping for no sign of poo or wee on my pants, that I haven’t stolen water from the nearest dehydrated child spectator, or taken the bus to raise money for a commendable cause.

I’m also hoping that on this occasion I don’t have to beg a steward to pull me up the last hill in return for sexual favors – something the organizers of the London To Brighton event got very sniffy about.

In case you’re wondering, I don’t know why I don’t organize a coffee morning, eat all the cakes, and be done with it, either. It’s not like I’m one of those stoic people who can put their mind to anything for a shot of very public altruism. Frankly, I couldn’t apply myself to catching a Huntsman spider if the lives of my children depended on it – something you might have picked up on in my last post. I’m not naturally a “charity” type of person – other than my belief that it begins and stays at home, ideally in my bank account.

However, I’m proud to say that I have reached the 2km mark in my training – not an easy feat in the humidity of a Sydney summer – and my only question at this stage of my running journey is when the fuck it gets easier? When will my legs and boobs stop hurting? When will my thighs stop sticking together? Will I ever enjoy it?

The Hidden Link Between Muscle Tone And Weight Gain In Middle Age

photo-1530021485406-a5cf64d461ba

I know I drone on about the unfairness of weight gain in middle age a lot. I don’t want to sound like some narcissistic bitch bemoaning the first-world problem of the loss of my youth, beauty, and self-esteem, (which I am…obviously), but we women of a certain age have a lot to come to terms with.

Almost a year ago, as I began to watch the weight creep on, I decided to try something new. I took up exercise again. I suppose I got caught up in the hype of wanting to look young again – thank you Revitalift – and so I’ve been secretly beavering away at some fitness stuff in an attempt to shed the kilos and keep the old ticker working as it should.

I suppose I thought I’d surprise you. If women’s magazines are anything to go by, many of us struggle with our weight at this age and I thought that one day I would put up my before and after photos and my secret to losing weight on this site and you’d all hate me. I’d sell my story about how I did it, and how simple it really was, because all it really involves is loving yourself, drinking lots of red wine (not white) and walking to the pub instead of catching an Uber. I thought I’d be one of those unrealistic representations of health that you see in photos of beautiful, young people in the gym. Only I’m no longer young and beautiful.

But then, in a moment of sheer madness, I decided to get on the scales – something I haven’t done since the last time I couldn’t do up my jeans – and to my horror, I discovered that I’d gained six kilos. This, after almost killing myself for a year.

And the problem with that is that I’m not the sort that sees the unfairness of life as a challenge. I see the world in black and white – as in I’m the type that receives that kind of devastating news and heads straight to the pantry for a six-pack of Kettle Chips and a bottle of Baileys, in spite of everything I write about accepting myself for who I am.

To be honest, I’m feeling kind of cheated right now about all that time I spent gritting my teeth through the pain in my lungs and the swelling in my knees, and my disappointment isn’t entirely linked to vanity. It’s linked to the unfairness of working so damned hard for fuck-all results. It is linked to the sacrifice and unfairness of losing not only my looks, my hair, and my memory, but of also having to come to terms with how my clothes sit on my new size 14 frame.

We’ve all heard overweight friends say things like, ‘I don’t know why I can’t lose the weight,’ and then we watch them eat and become smugly judgmental. And I will admit to enjoying my food as well. On occasion, I have been known to give in to my body’s natural bent for eating MOST of the pies, and yet, in general, I eat healthily at least five days a week.

And yes, (before The Alcohol Police remind me), I am fully aware of those naughty wine calories, which I had hoped would be compensated by my hour of exercise each day. Two glasses of wine equate to 160 calories, which by my calculations, equates to an hour’s walk. Added to which, I must lose the equivalent amount of liquid in sweat during my jogs around the park.

Cortisol can be another cause of weight gain at this age, and I admit that I have been content in the past to latch onto the excuse of stress as a result of Kurt’s antics and living with the old man. And yet I can’t even blame the boy at the moment, who has been suspiciously tame for a while now.

Which leaves only a couple of possible excuses reasons for this weight gain. 1. The first is that biologically-speaking, many middle-aged women gain weight during menopause – something to do with an extra padding of fat to protect our crumbling bones, which is vital if we want to continue to outlive men and lead the human race. Because seriously…who wants to leave this world on something boring like a fall, unless it’s in a bar, of course? But as I’m not officially in menopause yet, it has to be the second reason.

2. Muscle tone.

‘Making Self-Love Habitual’

‘Self-lovers don’t diet. They eat what they want, when they want, but do so mindfully.’ (Jacinta Tynan, Sydney Morning Herald)

reading-925589_960_720Admittedly, I’m still working on the ‘mindful’ part of this comment, but I’ve been doing a lot of research recently about loving yourself and this article – How To Make Self-Love An Instinctual Habit – confirmed to me how easy it is to change your outlook if you look at it as something that needs and deserves the same care you give the rest of your body.

Ie. If you value yourself.

 

I also rewatched Tim Minchin’s Nine Life Lessons again  – frankly, one of the best video clips online, in my opinion – in which he recommends embracing life and taking a positive approach wherever possible, even if (naturally) you err on the side of “glass-half-empty-dom” or like him, take the piss out of people for a living. 

Recently, I have tried to mix things up a bit within the confines of my own personality – to adopt new interests and remove bad habits, so that I embrace life more proactively. Recent health studies into dementia stress the importance of learning new skills – crosswords aren’t enough, it seems, (much to the old man’s disdain) – and so, after my last stay in the Doldrums Hotel, I’ve introduced nine habits of my own (below) that I’m forcing myself to do I’m cultivating within my lifestyle to help improve my mental outlook:

  1. Reading – As a teenager, I was an avid reader – anything from Mills and Boon to Jane Austen, and loads of Jackie Collins in between. It provided escapism, fuelled my eschewed dreams of romance and relaxed me when I was feeling anxious. And then I had kids, and the opportunities for reading time dried up. I tried various book clubs – that forced me to read books I wasn’t interested in – and when I began to write seriously, fiction had to be replaced by articles, how-to-write and self-help manuals. Anyhow, recently I’ve forced myself back into reading before bedtime, and not only am I sleeping better, I’ve also been inspired by what I’m reading from both a creative and educational standpoint. You’re never too old to learn.
  2. Fangirling – I know it sounds as pretentious AF – and by way of a pathetic excuse, I will say that this new pleasure of mine is somewhat tenuously linked to my writing – but I love to listen to author talks. NC and I attended a Q and A with the writer Emily Maguire last weekend, which included High Tea and Champagne.  What better way to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon?
  3. Masterchef – After a sabbatical of seven or eight years, I decided to give Masterchef another go and I’ve dragged the old man in for the ride. Neither of us has massive culinary aspirations – and I’ve ignored the notebook he passes to me each time the show starts – but what’s not to love about watching the journeys of this likable, brave group of amateurs, who are willing to make mistakes so publicly in search of their dreams?  The arrogance and bizarre eating habits of the chefs are equally entertaining as is the occasional public slaying of the professionals. Miss you, Brendan – talking of fangirling!
  4. Exercise – Admittedly, I never thought I’d include this one in a list such as this, and after years of wobbling down my street in a vain attempt to shed weight, that’s no longer my goal. These days, I exercise to keep my brain fit and healthy. Nothing too strenuous – mainly walks and swimming – but just enough to stop my mind reaching into those dark corners where it prefers to reside.
  5. Simple cooking and eating – I’ve always been an advocate of four-ingredient cooking (preferably three), and recently I’ve turned my hand to a few new dishes. Soups have been my thing in these cooler months and I’ve worked out that you can basically knock up any sumptuous vegetable soup with one hero vegetable and a base of potato, onion, and stock. Comfort in a bowl. I sprinkle a handful of crisp bacon on the top to disguise the fact it’s vegetarian from the boys.
  6. Friends – I know – obvious, right?  And yet ageing and menopause can conspire to push you back into the doldrums more than you’d like, making you socially anxious. And one day, the thought of staying at home under a blanket with the dog on the couch sounds far more appealing than making an effort to see people. Having moved back to our old neck of the woods, I’m so grateful to old friends for forcing me out.
  7. Writing/Journalling – For me, writing has been a life-saver. It’s cheap therapy for me, and really, I should be paying you for listening. There was a while back there when I was so focused on my manuscript that I rarely left the house, when I felt like I had nothing much to say and I parked the blog for a while. But recently, I’ve got back into it with a renewed fervor. My world hasn’t suddenly developed more layers, but it has evolved and developed different layers, and I have begun to enjoy the writing process again. I’ve also started writing a new blog about interior styling here for anyone who is about to sell their home or is passionate about interiors.
  8. Resting – I haven’t resorted to nana naps (just yet), even if some of my friends swear by them, but I do force myself to sit down occasionally. Over-stimulation fuels my anxiety and when I am impulsive and rush, I make mistakes. This has been one of the hardest disciplines for me.
  9. Medication – In the wake of recent events, I can’t emphasize this example of self-love enough. There is no shame in taking medication for an illness – many people are forced to. There should be no stigma attached to taking medication to live a normal life, especially when a normal life is not being afraid to leave your house. Obviously,  I would love all my nine points to be based on organic, holistic ideas, but the reality is that some people need more than that. To enable a quadriplegic to ski, he needs the assistance of a specially-designed chair;  to help someone with anxiety leave their front door, a pill can work. So, what’s the problem?

Hiking, And How To Unhinge An Already Rocky Marriage

It may surprise you to know that the old man and I are not adventurers. We will never jump out of a plane, never consider it personally fulfilling to scale the Himalayas or even camp locally, so it was with some trepidation that we set off on an adventure last weekend.

 

My arty shots – it’s obvious why the old man had to carry the backpack and that he took the first, blurred photo

 

I had decided in my wisdom that we needed a team-building exercise. Working together from home, in the same space, at different stages of our individual mid-life crises, means that sometimes we forget that there is a world outside and our mutual respect for one another gets lost in the cyberspace of real life and its drudgery. Although we are fortunate to have a beach at the end of the road, I decided that what better way to rekindle the spark of our working partnership than with a challenging hike.

So on Saturday, we bravely left the safety zone of our suburb to head to the Australian bush, in search of paradise – a walking track in the Kuringai National Park that leads to a beach called Flint and Steel. We’ve walked the track before – around seven years ago – when we were younger, fitter, our marriage was stronger, and I imagine it wasn’t thirty degrees in the shade.

I was responsible for making the packed lunch and packing the backpack, while the old man mooched around the house searching for his sunglasses for about an hour. As this was a team-building exercise, on this occasion I didn’t argue with him when he instructed me not to pack for a two-week holiday – mainly because somehow, (and I still don’t know how), I had coerced him to carry the bag so that I could take arty photos (chortle, chortle). So in went a single bottle of water (huge mistake), snake anti-venom, flares, spider anti-venom, a British flag – so that I would remember to “stay calm” in the event of dire straits – and a splint because you can never be too careful in this country. Mentally, I had also allocated the old man’s towel as our ligature and his lunch and water as my rations should we get lost.

The craggy track down to the beach is only about a kilometer, but as you can imagine, the ascent back up is a bitch – think climbing a massive sand dune in Dubai, on your period, and you might get the picture – it is the sort of climb in which it is impossible to carry enough water to keep your wilting body hydrated as  the sun beats unforgivably down on you. Eventually, with your heart ricocheting inside your rib cage and your lungs drained of oxygen, you forget the mechanics of how to breathe completely and death becomes a more favorable option.

The old man scoffed at me when I insisted we take our small beach umbrella – because unfortunately, there are no toilets, coffee shops and very little shade in paradise – although one couple did manage to lug a whole fucking gazebo down with them.

‘Well, you’re carrying it then,’ the old man said, begrudgingly, straight after the row about his baggage allowance and his earlier sarcastic comment, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to get into the backpack as well?’

‘Well, if you don’t mind?’ I had replied before I realized that it was one of his funnier dad jokes.

As I mentioned, the old man is every bit as grumpy, mean and begrudging as I am these days, and he can’t blame menopause. Frankly, I worry about taking him anywhere in public at the moment. Two fifteen-year-olds nearly beat the crap out of him on the tennis court the other day after he accused them (very undiplomatically) of going over into our court time – heaven forbid – and an app to warn cyclists when he is out on the road would definitely be in their interest. Suffice it to say, I spend a lot of my day apologizing for my husband’s behavior and researching male HRT.

It turns out that there is nothing better than a relentless, hot, uphill climb with dangerously-low water supplies to truly unhinge one’s marriage, and it is amazing just how quickly one can forget what was definitely one of life’s moments only minutes before. For in that mountain climb back to civilization, I completely forgot about the clear water of the ocean, the gentle crash of waves and the sand between my toes, set against nature’s background music of mating cicadas and the sway of palm trees in the breeze. How easy it was to forget how smug and grateful to be alive I had felt as I lay on that un-spoilt piece of paradise, where not even the biting ants on my towel or the motor boats with their spluttering engines and squealing, entitled spawn on inflatable donuts, could spoil it for me. No, all I could think about on that walk back up was my miserable AF husband screaming at me to get a move on before we died of sunstroke.

Aqua Aerobics: Welcome To The Middle-Aged Club Of Fitness

Firstly, I believe that this is an appropriate opportunity for me to issue a formal apology to those women that do aqua-aerobics, that I may have slighted in the past with a secret snigger of immaturity as I swaggered past them, head held high, towards the fast lane of the pool.

water-aerobics-1670754_1920

Because yesterday, I joined them, and I haven’t laughed as much since the old man tried to walk through a friend’s patio door.

 

The three of you that read my post last week, might remember the video I shared by Randy Pausch here, in which he gave his recommendations for happiness – one of which, was to keep having fun. And as I am leading a rather self-imposed, solitary existence at present, with scant opportunity for a laugh – aside from making fun of my husband – I realized with a sadness the other day that he was right, and that I don’t do anything silly anymore – at least not the kind of public activity that pushes me out of my comfort zone. 

 

Not that aqua aerobics is “silly”, I hasten to add, as I discovered yesterday, but I have to admit that frolicking publicly in water and drawing attention to my shoddy fitness level, middle-aged body, and my age, (due to the stereotyping that only middle-aged women do aqua aerobics, that yes I know, I am guilty of influencing), is something I would have run a mile from in the past.

 

However, there was a relaxing and embracing ambiance when I entered the pool yesterday with twenty or so women my age, who like me, obviously don’t care that much anymore, all of us similarly kitted out in our tummy-flattening cossies and highly unflattering swim caps, one eye focused on the proximity of the nearest toilets at all times. Because…water!

 

At least that was our vibe until Iron Woman, our aqua teacher, rocked up – muscles flexed, tummy taut – the only woman (I believe) that could complete the whole forty-five minute Jane Fonda-esque workout on land ie. no water to absorb the pain and shock to the joints – which led to the swift departure of our gung-ho, ‘we’re-just-here-for-some-fun’ attitude, and in its place, a steely determination to zap our muffin tops.

 

She threw sets of foam dumbells at us, no doubt to wake us up, then cranked up the eighties music on her beatbox – loud enough to scare the mums and bubs in the baby pool next to us – as it became obvious that we weren’t really there to have fun and we sucked in what’s left of our pelvic floors and focused.

 

The last time I did Jane Fonda at a professional level was at high school – an option for those kids with zero hand/eye coordination, who also couldn’t run. But what wonderful memories managed to bypass my early onset dementia as we grape-vined from left to right through the water and pranced around like children, star jumping here, power walking there, all of us without a care in the world – the perfect sample group for a council urine test of the pool.

 

It took me a while to realize that the foam weights only work underwater, where there is resilience, and for a while there I looked like the only mum who’d nicked her teenage son’s festival drugs as I waved my weights around in the air like one of those people that guide aircraft on runways – Job title, anyone? And it was hard work – I could feel the pain in my glutes immediately, and several times caught myself looking longingly towards the café, drooling for the taste of my first muffin of the day.

 

But what a wonderful invention those weights are. You can even put them under your armpits so that you float while you do the leg and tummy exercises – the perfect opportunity for a sneaky gulp of wine from your water bottle, head resting on the lane rope, as you perv on the lifeguards.

 

 

Never Judge A Book By Its Cover

Picture the scene. I’m at the local pool, in the fast lane even though I know that I have no right to be there after two weeks of culinary debauchery and enough alcohol in my body to pickle every organ, but I don’t feel too guilty because there’s some cheeky geriatric in there, too, and we’re eyeballing each other because even though she’s only slightly slower than me there’s an etiquette at the pool and that bitch knows it and should fucking keep to her side of the lane so that I can take over her if I can muster the required amount of speed. swimming-924895_1280

Anyway, suddenly this Adonis enters the pool at the shallow end and the heart rate of every woman over-fifty increases dramatically. His appearance is like all our cougar prayers have been answered at once as his body glides into the water, he fixes his ‘I’m a bonafide swimmer’ cap in place and prepares to take off. Back to the body, which is the body of Thor, and I’m sure that many among us in the water, transfixed by this rare beauty in our pool and with tongues hanging out, are all wondering if he has the hammer to match in those tight little white budgie smugglers that are the only fabric to cover a body as ripped as Channing Tatum’s. And he must be supremely confident, because who the fuck has the sheer impudence to wear white budgie-smugglers? and then further exerts his machismo by waving his muscled arms behind his head in a gesture of warming up and athleticism not usually demonstrated at our pool.

 

And as the sun shines off the water to highlight his perfect, glistening torso, we wait in silent anticipation, mixed with a tinge of sexually-heightened fear, as the only athlete among us adjusts his goggles one final time to show us what a real swimmer does,and  takes off into the water in what can only be described as the most uncoordinated doggy paddle I’ve ever seen, finishing at the other end of the pool a panting disappointment.

 

It was a harsh reminder never to judge a book by its cover.

 

Which is a behaviour we’re all guilty of sometimes, mainly because we’re human and because we get indoctrinated and brainwashed by the media and ignorance. And in the same way that I was oh-so guilty of several second looks, provoked by anxiety, at certain individuals on my plane the other day, after all the hype about terrorism and the terrible sadness that very same day after the latest plane crash, we need to close our minds to stereotyping and the panic it can create.

 

Just as my son has been unfairly judged when people see the slashes on his arms and the scars on his legs, and others are misjudged for their own marks of self-expression or pain, sometimes we need to stop and think and understand that life is rarely black and white and that there is more complexity than we realise. We need to recognise that perhaps the boy with the shaved head does so because he thinks it makes him look tougher, less vulnerable and less likely to be picked on by the bully who has probably dealt with other sorts of shit that have made him so insensitive to that boys needs. We need to understand that that same boy cannot leave the house at all sometimes due to the brutal constraints of anxiety.

 

Adonis may have been a disappointment to us middle-aged saddos in the pool, but luckily we recognised that his swimming technique is probably one tiny microscopic element of his persona that is forgivable.