Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Epilogue

In case you are wondering what has become of me since I stopped updating this blog, I thought I would write one last post...

When I started this blog 6 years ago, I gave it the sub-heading:
"Yet another blog chronicling the mid life crisis of some bloke. Only it is for a good cause and you might even learn something from my obsessive travails... Even if it is just what NOT to do."
A theme that has run through the blog since then is that of obsessive behaviour driven by a fear of becoming (or going back to being) a "slob"- sometimes leading to frustration, disappointment and even injury. But, along the way, there have been glorious moments, moments when I have felt very alive (and "craughed" = cry and laugh simultaneously) as well as achievements of which I am extremely proud.

But in parallel, another thread has weaved its way in and out of this blog and that is coming to terms with getting older. I have had this internal struggle between wanting to feel I am giving it my all and at the same time wanting to be able to continue to run into my old age. This year, with my slipped cervical disc, has felt like the final showdown between the two.

In some sense, I have found a way to encompass both aims by redefining what I mean by giving it my all and thus to find a dynamic balance between the two. I have no interesting race results to report this year and yet I feel prouder of myself than I have in a very long time. How can this be?

We spent our summer holidays in Norway where I very much enjoyed walking early in the morning, realizing that walking was anything but boring if, instead of deliberately trying to distract myself, I actually remembered to look around and drink in my surroundings. In September after 6 months off, I finally got the all clear from the spine doctor to go back to running (gently at first) and I am now able to run as much as I like without provoking any symptoms. In fact, the symptoms have all but disappeared - for all I know, they were already present at these levels for a long time before they flared up: I don't believe I would have noticed them if I had not become so intimate with them.

I am truly enjoying running more than I think I ever have, except perhaps when, aged 15, I very first started to go running with my friend, his brothers and their dad. Instead of thinking about the time or the pace, I am not really thinking about anything most of the time; I may be simply sensing how my body moves almost magically of its own accord, just with the small push of intention that I consciously give it. Instead of focusing on a small patch of ground just in front of my feet, I may be perceiving the whole movie as if it were filmed in Widescreen 3D Dolby Quadrophonic "Smelly-vision". Or perhaps I may be feeling how my breathing is going, all the while without me having to tell myself to breathe in a particular way. During the week I tend to run just 30 minutes around the football field, concentrating as best as I can on these sensations, as a mental and physical warm-up before doing my physiotherapy exercises; at the weekend I will just set off and run for as long (or short) and as fast (or slow) as I feel like. I'm not doing any high intensity workouts but, even so, my Garmin watch reckons I am as fit as I was at my peak. I'm not kidding myself into believing I could compete at my best if I wanted to, but I certainly feel as fit as I ever have and that is much more rewarding and enjoyable in the long run.

I have been very disciplined in following the excellent program that my amazing physiotherapist, Mónica, has been tailor making for me. Little muscles have popped up where I never knew they existed before. Thanks to Mónica (and my hard work), I have entered into a virtuous circle: strengthening muscles makes them easier to perceive, which, in turn, makes them easier to activate and strengthen. My posture has also improved when sitting, standing, walking and running by virtue of another virtuous circle: having enough strength in certain stabilizing muscles makes maintaining an equilibrium less of an effort than slouching which, in turn, strengthens those muscles (as well as preventing tightness and pain in others).

Lastly, but - I think - most importantly, I have been keeping up my Mindfulness practice. I have found that it helps me in many ways, especially in reducing stress. As a result I need much less sleep than before, and the extra time thus freed up more than covers the 45 minutes I spend practicing every morning. In fact, I now get up two hours before I have to leave the house for work, giving me ample time to prepare and eat my breakfast very mindfully as well as to shave with a cut-throat razor(!), which better damn-well be done mindfully otherwise I end up bleeding all over the place. I think that paying much more attention when I am eating leads to me enjoying my food more, eating less and more healthily (for example, I have discovered that vegetables are far more interesting than meat if you are actually aware of their tastes and textures while eating them). Accordingly, as a side-effect, I have lost quite a lot of weight and, in particular fat.

This all brings to mind the concept of the "minimum effective dose" that I read about in Timothy Ferriss' book, "The 4 Hour Body". The idea is along the lines that the best way to get a suntan is by exposing yourself to the sun just enough to make a minimal difference every day: any more and you run the risk of burning and the skin peeling off, setting you back to square one. I'm fairly convinced that the physiotherapy exercises have been so effective because they are very specific and I have been concentrating hard on performing them correctly and patiently (i.e., not while watching the TV - most of the time). Most of them have been with rubber bands or weights that are so light that they are only available in pink, and yet I have noticed a much larger improvement than when I was hefting huge loads.

So, in conclusion, I feel the fittest, lightest, trimmest, proudest and most relaxed than I have done in years. I literally feel as though I am ten years younger. Make that 15. On the other hand, this is not the end of a journey or a final stopping place as reading this post from 5 year's ago goes to show. I think the trick is to accept that this is the way things are now, but that everything changes...

Oh, and...

...HAPPY NEW YEAR!

San Silvestre Vallecana 2016: the year of the crab
(On a side note, I was surprised just now to see that the traffic to my site has increased significantly over the last few weeks and yet the only clues are the search phrases that appear in the "stats" section: "ballerina japanese" and "why don't i get intensity minutes on...".)

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