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Archive for June, 2012

You hear about second wind in marathons, often around mile 22. Just when you’re out of air, out of energy, and the finish line is a breath too far, all of a sudden the body (mind?) finds its rhythm again, breathing steadies, legs carry you onward. Sometimes, anyway.

Other times, you see those depleted runners sitting on the curb, within view of their goal, stopped miserably in their tracks.

Who can forget marathon champion Paula Radcliffe when she knew she couldn’t go on after 36k during the Athens Olympics?

All the planning, training, preparation, and Gatorade in the world is sometimes just not enough.

The restorative renewal of a second wind when you need it most, whatever the shape, type or distance of your marathon – it’s a beautiful – and sometimes mysterious – thing.

And it just happened to me.

I finally saw the ortho surgeon a few days ago, expecting to get a date for him to scope my knee and fix the cartilage tears that have made walking so difficult, next to impossible for any length of time.

My hope (a fairly faded one as time has marched on) was that all could be dealt with in time for me to recover for Camino in September and not miss too much work in my new job. I am a dream weaver.

He looked at my MRI, poked, prodded, pulled and pushed at me, asked a bunch of questions about my activity level, pain, etc. and then pronounced: “I don’t recommend surgery at this time.” What???? My doctor had been 100% convinced the only solution was a surgical one.

But he (I suppose we learn mostly from TV that surgeons only care about wielding the knife) said whatever I’d been doing since the scans were taken had been helping tremendously. I described my gym program. He said I was strong with tremendous range of motion in legs, hips, joints, especially for someone with this injury.

He also said in addition to the injury, I have moderate to severe arthritis in one part of the knee and surgery won’t help that anyway.

It’s not as if my knee has been reborn. The cartilage tears are long and jagged and won’t heal themselves. But the inflammation and fluid build-up, a big part of why my walk became a limping hobble, have largely disappeared! And the muscles supporting/stabilizing the knee – they’re much stronger and are doing the job pretty well!

So Stefan, I dedicate this second wind/second chance to you – I am ever grateful.

Then the doc said the magic words: “Don’t cancel your Camino trip.” Hallelujah!!

He said I was already active, which would make it easier to get back into the walking swing. He cautioned Go Slow. Start with short easy walks. Wear the knee brace. Build up *gradually*. After all this hope and glory, he did get a tad buzzkill at this point and said there are no guarantees.

He said if the inflammation and fluid come back, I have to stop and he will reconsider surgery. He said, well, if this happens a few days before your trip, that’s life. Very true.

Like others before him, he finished with LISTEN TO YOUR BODY.

Sometimes I have selective hearing. But I will give this very good advice another chance.

The Camino certainly seemed to have a few words for me in these past few days, beginning, of course, with the wonderful doc news.

Later I heard from someone close to me who passed this blog to a colleague who had just discovered the Camino and was longing to do it – the whole thing – as a much-needed time for reflection, healing, discovery.

Then I went with family to a small Celtic concert, held in an old old bar in my town that used to be the site of brawls and drug busts. It still has some attractive rough edges.

The headliner was the fey and charming Nuala Kennedy who played flute and tin whistle to old Irish reels, jigs and new mashups along with her fiddle and guitar player.

Turns out Nuala had collaborated with Canadian Oliver Schroer, a musician who walked all of the Camino in 2004 and recorded his musical reflections along the way in a record titled, simply, Camino. He died several years later, and Nuala played to him and for him – odes of joy and lament both.

Here’s his beautiful song Field of Stars, sung in a Toronto church, the last time he performed before he died.

In the preface to this album, he says:

“El Camino. The Road…

It is continuous, unbroken, yet changing. The one constant is the sound of footsteps – the heartbeat of the pilgrimage…”

And excuse me for yanking you from the sublime to the earthly, but the final word from Camino jumped out at me from the loo at the bar. The first graffiti scrawl I read was ONWARD written in huge letters on the stall door. My word for the year. Come on, that’s gotta be a message, yes?

Of course, there was also “Eric is my big sugar daddy” and “Call me for a good time” (no phone number, though).

So I’m moving onward. Taking the chance and not cancelling plane tickets and other Camino plans.

I will continue with the 4-times-a-week gym action, early in the morning before work at the Donkey Sanctuary. There’s a beautiful 2k trail around a pond there, perfect for practice walks and longer trails when I get back in gear – I know, who can be so lucky?

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Edith Wilma Connor holds the Guinness World Record for oldest female weightlifter. She’s 77. What’s more, she didn’t start strength training until she was in her 60s. She had a stressful desk job and was looking for a good way to release tension.

She found it in the gym, and not hoisting ‘Barbie weights’ either.

That apt descriptor comes from yet another over-60 woman who started strength training after finding her previous workout regimes weren’t helping her get stronger or leaner.

Check out her lens on this subject – it’s short easy reading, and another persuasive message about how important it is for women – especially after 40, 50, or 60 – to get over their fear, distaste, discomfort or even disinterest and go for the iron.

We’ve all heard this message a million times. Weightlifting does more for the heart, bones, and overall well-being than just about any other form of exercise. Yes, you most certainly have to eat right, too. You need the right fuel to do this and you won’t lose fat until you combine good nutrition with lifting.

I didn’t listen either…until I did.

The core of the program I’ve been on this past year is strength training. Of course that, and everything else involving movement, took a back seat for a good long while until my knee was able to handle life in the gym again. To be honest, I think I stayed out too long.

My knee’s still injured, I’m still awaiting surgery, I can’t walk well without a brace, and can’t do any long or even long-ish walks at all, but it turns out there’s a *lot* I can do that doesn’t involve twisting or pounding the knee (in the way those treadmill intervals did, for example).

Caveat: If you can, get a good trainer. Lifting big heavy things has to be done right, especially if you’re injured.

It’s been happy times in the gym these days because I’ve been able to do dead-lifts again, and other resistance exercises.

HIghlight: 95lb Romanian dead lifts. Not the weight I was lifting before but still heavy! In these ones you don’t start with the bar on the ground and you only lift as far as the picture on left shows.

Still – it’s a real lift and it was great! I have hand calluses to prove it.

Other recent workouts have included:

  • Assisted Pullups – 135lbs 12 reps x 3 sets
  • Lat Pull Downs – 50ish lbs 12 reps x 3 sets
  • Free Motion Row – 70 lbs 12 reps x 3 sets
  • Bench Press – 55lbs 12 reps x 3 set
  • Free Motion Fly – 20 lbs, 12 reps x 3 sets
  • Wall Angels (slides) – 12 reps x 3 sets

So here’s the thing, the reality gloss I’ll provide so no one confuses me with Edith or anything. (never gonna happen). Mostly, I’m in the gym surrounded by men who could lift what I lift with their baby fingers. The occasional much younger woman shows up and can also leave me in her sweaty dust. Now and then someone in my demographic shows up and I silently cheer. I have not transformed into Wonder Woman; my progress is slow. Stefan calls me persistent. I’ll take that.

And it’s all ok. I’m not for a minute comparing myself to guys or youth or even Edith who has clearly committed herself to weight training at the championship level. But I do show up. And lift stuff up and down. No one’s looking at me. I’m not looking at them (well, except for the occasional awestruck stare when someone lifts something really massive, with quiet focused effort).

And it really really feels good and it helps – with my previously persistent lower back pain, with many regular life chores, and – well, there’s something else to it. Something I’ve found difficult to name. Something more internal or mental or even, yes, spiritual. I’ve riffed on this theme before. Toyed with the idea of powerfulness – in all of its meanings – and the simple lure of getting stronger.

But it was in taking a break from the more heavy duty weight lifting that I began to feel a more fundamental connection to this weird solitary activity, one that had never ignited my interest before. I knew as I got older I was ‘supposed’ to get with the weights program, given loss of lean muscle tissue and bone loss.

So now I’m doing it but it’s not just about following medical advice; if that were the case, well, there’s a lot I’d be doing that I’m most certainly not. It’s also not about trying to hang on to youth, though I am glad to hear about older people who say they’ve become more mobile, flexible, and have more stamina now that they sling iron around in a gym 3 days a week or more.

I just kind of like it. Some days I love it. It won’t replace walking in the great outdoors for me; that’s a whole different zen. But there’s definitely a hook.

So what in heck is it exactly? What I used to love in the gym was high intensity cardio classes – ones where you really go flat out for an hour, sweat buckets, and jump around a lot. I still sweat and it does get the heart rate going but weightlifting is much more focused, more ‘specific’ somehow, more alone.

I will say there’s an extraordinary sense of accomplishment, however brief, when all the reps are completed in good form. My head clears. I’m not yapping. I’m not worrying. As one t-shirt I saw said, ‘shut up and lift’. Ok. It feels strangely meditative.

When you google weightlifting and spirituality, a lot comes up about Sri Chimnoy, an Indian spiritual leader I remember people talking about in the 70s (the hippie years for me and a lot of that’s still in me, without apology). While his main claim to fame was about his religious teachings, he also attracted attention when he became a master weightlifter after starting at age 54.

He tied strength training and his spiritual path together, and said: “The reason I have entered into bodybuilding and weightlifting is to inspire everybody to pray and meditate so they can bring to the fore their own inner strength. If everybody brings to the fore his own inner strength, the world will eventually be inundated with peace.”

Inner strength. World peace. Good enough for me.

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