Fall Fantasies

It’s Monday morning.  Thursday is Thanksgiving.  Many of my colleagues are taking the entire week off.  I’m saving what’s left of my vacation for the end of the year.  I expect to be able to get caught up at work before the holiday with so many people gone.

The morning starts rather abruptly with a 6:30AM call with a colleague in Great Britain.  It’s the only time one of our volunteer testers for a project I’m involved with is available to talk through what we need him to do.  It’s now 7:30AM and I’m already overwhelmed with how much I need to get done before Thursday.

Not only do we have this testing going on, but four of the other projects I’ve been working on are coming to a head and I’d like to get them all to the next major milestone before taking off for the long weekend.  What I really need is a walk, but it’s not happening today.  Having gotten started working, I’m on a roll and I’m not stopping now.

Now it’s Tuesday morning.  I’m up long before dawn now, the dawn coming so much later these days.  I am working out this morning.  It’s my last training session with Kory and then my package is done.  He’s offering a boot camp class in the mornings starting next week, so I’ll be doing that.  But, this morning, I have my final one-on-one workout.

Once I get out of the gym, I decide I need the walk I skipped yesterday even more today.  Pat is out of bed when I get home, so we get ready to go.  It’s been a week since we last walked by the riverfront.  The trees have dropped many more leaves; the crews are still out there blowing the leaves and hauling them to the compost piles.  It seems endless.  From the look of things, there will still be leaves to remove after Thanksgiving.  There are far more leaves still on the trees than there were in Columbus, but I don’t think fall is much more than a week behind.  I wonder if there will still be any leaves on the trees in the mountains this weekend.

I realize that I am wearing a T-shirt and a light sweater as we walk around the park.  Pat is wearing only a T-shirt.  It seems like a repeat of before we went up to Columbus–it’s in the 60’s and the sun is barely up.  I like this warm weather stuff, I have to admit.  I like changing seasons and cooler weather, too.  But there is a lot to be said for not being cold.

The river looks the same.  The sky is overcast, so there aren’t interesting reflections on the water this morning, but the blue heron like it just the same.  A pair of them flies over the water, rounding a corner and landing too close to the shore for us to see from where we stand.  We walk to an overlook and lean out over the rail, trying to spot them.  But, they have either flown on or parked somewhere hidden behind they honeysuckle taking over the space between the path and the shoreline.

As we look for the heron, a large shadow passes over our heads, catching our attention.  This often happens when a large bird flies between us and the sun when we’re out for walks.  Today, it turns out the sun has briefly appeared from behind a cloud long enough to cast a shadow from a car crossing over the bridge.  This phenomena shocks us every time.  The bridge is far enough away that it seems impossible that a car could cast a shadow over our heads, yet it happens on a regular basis.  There is something wrong about cars casting shadows that can be mistaken for airplanes.

We get to the far end of our walking route and head back towards home.  The leaves are piled in lines down the center of the sidewalks.  The crew is taking a break under the bridge.  We step carefully, trying not to displace any of the leaves waiting to be swept up and hauled away.  I think back to the falls of my childhood.  I have a generalized memory of my whole family being out in the front yard creating massive piles of leaves and taking turns running and jumping in them.  In my mind, that was what every fall was like.  Yet, when I actually remember specific times, I remember thinking piling up the leaves and jumping in them should be a lot of fun, but actually doing it turned out not to be all that exciting.

More clearly, and therefore, probably more recently, I remember raking and raking and being amazed by the amount of raking required to clear the yard of leaves.  I also remember enjoying mowing the last few times in the fall–I felt like I was vacuuming whoever’s lawn I was mowing, sucking up all the leaves and debris into the mower bag and leaving a trim, bright green stripe of lawn in my wake.  The difference between where I had yet to mow and where I had already mowed (mown?) was so striking.  I loved the unambiguousness of my accomplishment.  There are a lot of days I wish I’d stayed in the lawn mowing business.

When my neck aches, my head aches, and I can’t point to a single thing I’ve actually gotten done after a long day sitting at my computer, I start to long for a job that involves physical labor.  Recognizing that this probably sounds better than it would actually feel by the end of a long day of challenging physical work, I sometimes fantasize about being a park ranger.  I realize I don’t actually know what a park ranger does all day, but just the idea of hanging out in a park for a living seems very promising.

When the park ranger fantasy surfaces, this is usually when I decide I should clean off my desk.  That’s about as close to physical labor as my job gets these days.  Is it any wonder that I have to go to the gym when the best I can do for exercise on the job is throwing away scraps of paper and putting my pens back in the pen holder?

Returning from our walk in the park and settling myself at my desk, I realize that even the pens and papers are disappearing from my work life.  Soon, I will have to pop my laptop in and out of its docking station for physical activity on the job.  I promise myself I will stand up and pace while on calls today.  This, of course, doesn’t happen because while I am on calls, I am also doing at least 6 other things that all require sitting at my computer.  I am reminded of an idea I had many years ago for a line of office furniture that requires you to move while you work.  I find myself thinking maybe I should build some prototypes for myself.  If only I knew how to weld.


Walking and Running

I am working out with a trainer at a gym that seems to largely cater to younger people (younger than me, that is).  When I first signed up for training, the trainer asked me if I had an event I was getting ready for like vacation or a wedding.  Apparently I am unusual in that I don’t get motivated to workout by major events in my life.  I just want to be able to do fun things that require moderate fitness and I have a hard time getting to the gym if I don’t have an appointment.  I’m OK with only going to the gym 2x a week.  I’d rather get exercise outside or in yoga class (which I have yet to go to since moving to Chattanooga).  My trainer sent me “homework” that suggests what I should be doing on the days I’m not working out with him.  He congratulated me for deciding to make a “change.”  I’m not sure if he really gets the notion of just maintaining.

That said, today I am going to the gym at 5:30AM.  This is because it’s hard to get convenient times in the morning before work and, by joining up with another woman, we will work out for an hour instead of a half hour.  I’m not quite clear on why I can’t just go at 6:00Am for a half hour, but apparently this woman likes to train for an hour.  In any case, the alarm goes off at 4:45Am and it’s the first time my alarm has gone off before I was awake in about 2 months.  I’m a little annoyed that I booked an appointment at 5:30AM at a time when I couldn’t sleep past 4:00AM, but I’ve now slept until 6:00AM several days in a row and, of course, I have to get up at 4:45AM.  But, I steel myself and get out of bed, trying to remind myself how good I feel after I work out.

After having some coffee and doing some basic grooming (like brushing my teeth and running my wet hands through my crazy hair to try to calm it down), I pull on workout clothes and fix myself a bottle of water.  I walk next door and stow my jacket in the locker room.  I have 10 minutes, so I get on a treadmill.  Today, it’s clean–possibly an advantage of coming in at 5:30?

I walk for a while and then realize that it’s after 5:30AM and there is no sign of my trainer.  He had mentioned that the woman I was supposed to work out with hadn’t signed up yet two days ago, so I find myself wondering if I’m working out with him at 6:00AM instead.  Since he’s a punctual guy, I decide I might as well get some cardio and step up my treadmill pace.  I alternate 1 minute intervals of walking and running.  I really hate to run.  I don’t know why.  I have vague memories from childhood of spending most of my time running around outside chasing things like run away balls and, later, boys.  I remember racing across the field outside my elementary school and trying to outrun the wind.  I’m not sure how one knows when one is outrunning the wind, but it seemed like a fun game at the time.  Yet, by the time I was 15 and thought seriously about trying out for track for all of 24 hours, going out for a morning run felt like torture.  And that is how I have continued to feel about running ever since.

Unfortunately for me, walking on a treadmill is about as interesting as watching concrete harden.  I have to do something to break up the time.  So, I run one minute at a time.  Each run interval, I go a little faster until I get to an 8 MPH pace.  For those who prefer not to do math, that is 7.5 minutes per mile, more than 1 1/2 times the average pace of Mutai over 26.2 miles at the Boston Marathon.  Did I mention that I feel like I’m sprinting at a 7.5 minute/mile pace?  I might be able to run faster, but I have too many visions of shooting off the back of the treadmill and crashing through the window behind me to try.  So far, I’ve only come off a treadmill once, and it was worth it to see the look on my trainer’s face that day since I sustained only a minor bruise.  But, there’s no one around to catch me today, so I’m good with maxing out at this pace.

After spending 20 minutes alternating running and walking, I decide I should start slowing down.  I figure my trainer will arrive at 6AM and I don’t want to be too out of breath to start lifting.  I slow the pace to a 4.0 MPH walk and decrease the incline to slow my heart.  After a few minutes, I slow down some more and keep slowing down the pace every 30 seconds until I’m crawling along at 3.0 MPH.  My trainer arrives and walks by to let me know he’s there.

When I join him, he’s headed to the Smith press so I can do squats.  I tell him I just did running intervals on an incline as I mop my face with my shirt (I keep forgetting they don’t provide towels).  He asks me if I usually do cardio before lifting.  I laugh and explain that I thought we were starting at 5:30 and thought I’d do cardio since I was there.  As it turns out, he had texted me last night to tell me we would go at 6:00AM instead, but I didn’t get his text before turning off my phone for the night.  For a moment, I am nostalgic about the days when we had landline telephones in our homes and people actually called us on them when they wanted to tell us something.  But, times have changed and now technology makes our lives both easier and, sometimes, more annoying.

I do the squats on my tired legs and complete a tough 30 minute leg workout.  Doing legs always makes me dizzy.  The up and down of squatting makes me light headed after a while.  I’ve been told this is because I have low blood pressure.  Whatever the reason, I think it’s a good excuse for the fact that I accidentally (I swear!) walked into the men’s locker room after my workout.  Truthfully, I didn’t make it around the corner to actually see anything, realizing that the entry looked unfamiliar, but I sure scooted out of there quickly when I realized my mistake!  There are surveillance cameras all over the gym–I bet I made someone smile at least.

When I make it into the correct locker room, I take some time to really stretch.  There is space in the women’s locker room with an exercise ball and two matts on the floor.  I’m not sure what you’re supposed to do there, but stretching seemed like a good use of the space.  I went through several yoga poses, practicing yogic breathing.  As I relax into pigeon pose, I realize I haven’t stretched for weeks.  I really need to get yoga back into my schedule when we get back from our upcoming trip–every muscle feels like wood.  After spending 20 minutes trying to regain some flexibility, I’m pretty sure it’s time for a nap.  But, I head home knowing that there will be no nap today.

Do Nomads Need Personal Trainers?


The Hill

I imagine trying to explain the concept of a personal trainer to a nomad. Where would I start? How would I explain that if I don’t make time for exercise, I don’t get any to someone who spends most of their day on their feet?  Then, how would I convince them that it makes perfect sense to pay someone to appoint a time and place for us to meet so s/he can tell me what to do? How crazy would it seem that I am so far removed from the physical activity of my ancestors that I have to learn how to stay fit? As crazy as it may seem to our ancestors, the reality of mainstream life is that many of us spend most of our waking hours sitting at a computer.  For me, while I manage to work walking, biking, and yoga into my routine, I have a harder time with strength training. So, I embrace my mainstream-self and sign up for a three month personal training package.

It’s a funny thing about working out. When I first worked out with a trainer, it was all about the weights. Then, circa 2002, more holistic body movements came into fashion, returning us to childhood gym classes with medicine balls, balancing balls, pulleys, and a wide assortment of other torture devices. Today, trainers seem to have shifted even more towards using your own body weight and have added bursts of cardio into each workout.

Here in Chattanooga, the trainer took me out to do hill runs between strength exercises. I’ve never actually done hill runs. Maybe because I grew up in Columbus, OH? Thankfully, it was a short hill. He prodded me to “sprint” up the hill. I was breathing too hard to explain that I was sprinting; I flashed back to playing co-rec softball and running for first base with my teammates yelling encouragements like, “Drop the piano!” And that was on a flat surface. I can run fast, actually. Even very fast for short distances. What I can’t do is accelerate from a stop. I’m a slow accelerator. This is a mystery to me. It’s like my legs are too long and my brain loses track of where they went. If I get into a rhythm for a while, something in my brain clicks and it knows where my feet are again and knows how to tell them to move faster. Of course, getting into a rhythm and running are not two things that occur in the same sentence for me very often–I would far rather get my cardio with a set of wheels taking all the abuse.

But, today, I run. The heat and gravity push against me like a wall. I keep pushing back, knowing the hill will end soon. My breath accelerates faster than my legs. I reach the top before I give out. I take a moment to breathe deeply, trying to restore my heart rate to something that simulates normal. I look at my trainer who laughs at me. I ponder briefly why I am spending money to have someone make me do things I don’t want to do. Then, I bounce awkwardly back down the hill backwards (another twist of modern training), giggling to myself as I experience a flash of the childhood silliness that goes with skipping backwards down a hill. I realize this is fun. Then I do push ups at the bottom and feel pride that I am strong enough to do them well.

Fitness is a funny thing. I’ve learned over many years of vacillating between couch-potatoeness and obsessive (if clumsy) althetic-ness that black-and-white thinking does not allow me to sustain fitness. Killing myself in the gym leads to pain and exhaustion, which leads to sitting on the couch for stretches that can reach months. Working exercise into my life sustainably has now given me a lot of years of moderate fitness. Realizing that I will never be a good athlete was a break-through moment for me. Accepting my limitations (which I am grateful are just a lack of coordination and desire) and allowing just a little regular exercise to be enough maintains my health. Ultimately, health is my goal–I accept that I will never again look like I did when I was 25 or 28 or 32 . . .

In moments (of which there were recently many) when I can do things like lift a heavy box and carry it confidently, I congratulate myself for finding this balance. There is something empowering about knowing I can do something. It opens doors to taking on tasks that would otherwise seem daunting. It allows for possibilities like hang gliding, bike tours, backpacking, and even just taking the stairs. This precarious balance between stressing myself and reducing stress creates a daily experience of can-do versus wish-I-could-do. I run that hill not because I want to but because I want to know that possibility is open to me, too.