Project 64

Why Project 64?

It’s my 64th birthday today. When I was young, I remember that was an age when people were winding down – a lot of retirement talk. My parents and their parents and broader family looked old at that age. They looked worn down by life. Their health wasn’t as good. Environmental and social habits didn’t help; for example, heavy smoking was a feature. The schedule was retirement, a few more years of declining health, and then death in the early to mid-seventies.

No one beats time, and no one cheats death out of the invoice it presents. Many people, especially wealthy men, have deceived themselves on this issue. The buzz phrase at the moment is “quality of life”. We statistically live longer in the western world due to higher standards of living. Providing we belong to a certain social class and enjoy steady work, of course. We live longer. But we want to live longer while being physically and mentally capable.

We can make sensible lifestyle choices to try and stave off disease. Modern medicine is much more effective, and even diseases once viewed as a death sentence can be managed.

Having gotten this blog off to a suitably cheerful start, I had better explain Project 64. Of course, I want to have a decent few years in front of me still, and statistically, this should be odds on. But that’s not what I’m primarily looking to do. I’m looking to be the best version of myself. Intellectually and physically. More than anything, I want to remain curious and be intellectually challenged. Decent fitness is a means to that end. I enjoy the feeling exercise brings me, and more and more, we understand the many mental and physical benefits it brings.

The Best Version Of Myself

Project 64 is about being the best version of myself. Putting my age in the project name is to get past the age issue and focus on being the best version of myself. I recently read several articles on strength training for people in my age group. I was trying to dig into high-intensity training and the necessary recovery techniques. What I found was patronising language. I’m not even in a care home yet, and already the language is gently shuffling towards addressing me as though I’m senile.

As a post-script, after I published this blog, Instagram served me an ad for a ‘retirement community’ company. And I received an unsolicited email with ’15 can’t miss deals for seniors’. This is my future.

I’m not really up for falling into the ageing stereotype. There are some good things about ageing, including having some accumulated wisdom, perhaps being a little more emotionally aware. In my case, I’m fortunate not to have money worries, and therefore I have the latitude to pursue things that might interest me. I’m blessed to have a great job, and even after 58 years, I still like going to work. In fact, I love going to work.

I’m going to take the world on my terms until health or age overtakes me. What I’m not going to do is be defined by my age or stereotypes of what a man my age should do. I’m going to stay curious, and I’m going to challenge myself. I’m going to be me.

‘The best version of myself’ was said to me by six-time Olympic cycling champion Sir Chris Hoy. Forget the narrow view of him being an elite athlete. As well as being incredibly easy to get along with, he exudes wisdom when it comes to life in general. He told me he just wanted to be the best version of himself. That hit me like a brick to the forehead.

For years I had been striving and pushing and shoving and jostling with my life. What was I trying to do? Why not just go with the flow, like many other people I crossed paths with. Because I’ve always wanted to be the best version of myself. I’ve failed badly at times, so very badly. But when I realised what I had unconsciously been trying to do, life started to come more tightly into focus.

Now What?

I like to set myself goals. In fact, if you’ve read any of this blog, you might think that that’s all I ever do. But coming up to my 64th birthday, I decided to have some fun with myself. My fundamental goals haven’t changed. I want to enjoy my work and make a success of the business I’m fortunate to run. Look after my mental health; I know I can encounter serious problems if I don’t have a conscious strategy. Underpin my health by staying as fit as I can within the constraints of my now slightly second-hand body and my hectic work life. I want to be curious and try new things. They don’t have to be major, life-changing things, but I don’t want a grey routine.

I’m going to pursue the idea to set myself weekly and monthly challenges and make sure I get them done. Things that, when achieved, will help achieve my aims. Things that aren’t always that serious or sensible. Arriving at the same destination, but sometimes not by the conventional mode of transport.

6,400

To get things underway, I decided to use May to attempt a physical challenge. Something I can fit in around my day without too much distraction. I’m aware my time exercising has been sliding for a few weeks. COVID lockdown has dragged on me in recent weeks. Enthusiasm for exercise has slipped a bit, work has been a touch too prominent, and three kilograms of fat have somehow shown up inside my clothes. As is always the case for me, that’s a perfect Petri dish for gloom and depressive thoughts to grow.

For May, I decided to do 200 bodyweight free squats a day. 31 days in May, 200 a day, and I should hit 6,400 for the month. 100 for each year of my life. I’m on track as I write this on the 22nd. I had to do a mammoth catch up a few days ago, doing 1,000 in two days.

Is There A Plan?

Weight app screen showing body fat and weight today

I don’t have a massively well thought through Project 64 roadmap; I’ll make it up as I go. There are some obvious ones, such as 64 cycling laps of Regents Park in a week; 64 climbs up the notably lung-busting Swain’s Lane climb in a month; 64 sets of 100kg deadlifts in a period I still have to make up.

At the end of the series of goals, there has to be tangible and useful progress. I had my annual medical two days ago, and all was good. However, the doctor gave me a reasonably stern lecture about losing 5kgs of weight. My body fat has crept up to an unacceptable 25.2%.

I have set goals to lose 5kgs of weight and drop my fat level down to 20%. Actually, 18.8% would be better, as a 6.4% reduction would fit the theme. But that’s a cheeseburger too far, I think.

Using a body fat approach leads me down the road of building more muscle mass rather than just squeezing weight out. As a 64-year-old, my muscle mass is under the cosh from Father Time, and so a reshuffling of my bodily proportions is as important as only looking at the scale.

For full disclosure, here’s the screenshot from my Withings app. If you look closely, you can see the measures for weight and fat have leapt up. As a psychological insight, that’s because I haven’t stepped on the scale for a while. When my weight starts to creep up, I adopt an ostrich-like approach and pretend I don’t have a bathroom scale.

My watts per kilogram during cycling are average and I don’t see that changing much. It hasn’t done for the last ten years, whether I’ve been taking it easy or training hard. My VO2 maximum is excellent and given I’m more focused on high-intensity training than I am on long cardio sessions, that’s a reasonable performance marker for me to track.

Good Foundations

I’m not going to flail away at daft exercise targets, though. That’s a recipe for overtraining and all the negative issues that spring from that, including compromised immunity, injury, and mood issues. I’ve been told there’s no such thing as overtraining, just under-recovery. I don’t subscribe fully to that, but there’s a lot I can do with good fuelling and making time to recover properly. The best version of myself can often get overconfident when good fitness arrives and decide to do a little more than he should.

I have no excuse when it comes to nutrition, as performance nutrition occupies my waking hours professionally. My biggest aim is to ingest enough protein. Sounds easy, but I need around 200 grams of protein a day to meet my needs. I’ve decided to start using the MyFitnessPal app to help me track this. It’s a clunker of an app, in my view, but if I don’t measure my intake, I won’t hit the target.

Some basic supplementation also helps me. Nothing too esoteric, although given my genetic predisposition to cardiovascular disease, I have been taking Vitamin K2 for several years as well.

There’s A Brain In There Too

It’s too easy for me to fall into the trap of setting and pushing physical goals. That’s odd in some way because I’m measurably average at best when it comes to physiological attributes and athletic performance. No one in my family tree has ever been remotely athletic. And that shows when it comes to my own physiology. I’ve been fortunate to be blessed with an agile and voracious mind, though. That needs feeding as I work through Project 64 as well.

I mentioned in previous blogs that I took up chess a year ago to try and exercise my mind. Magnus Carlsen shouldn’t be worried, and again I’m average. The way I play chess doesn’t help. I address games as though I’m playing an iPhone game and try and fit important moves between calls and sometimes even when on calls. The game calls for respect, and I haven’t been respecting it. I need to work harder on that.

Even though COVID lockdown has resulted in a lot more time indoors, my reading has drifted. I need to feed my mind with more books. I have drifted into that corrosive netherworld of semi-surfing my web browser, looking at social media, and flicking through online publications. All digital movement and no learning or reflection. My reading needs to increase during Project 64, and I benefit from the escapism and learning that reading brings me. Not sure I can read 64 books in a year, but I can most certainly read more.

There’s another avenue to explore too. I can’t quite form it in my mind. There’s another intellectual pursuit beckoning me. I can’t quite see its face yet, but it’s there. I don’t know if it’s a major educational exercise or a spiritual exploration, but something is out there waiting for me.

Project 64 + 1

I started writing this on my birthday, and it’s now the morning after. It’s time to bring this opening diary entry to a close and press send. I have opened the day by entering my breakfast protein intake into the clunker MyFitnessPal app. And I’m now looking at my bike out of the corner of my eye. The sharp-eyed will have noticed the ikigai text in the photograph of Ross Edgley. Ikigai is an important concept to me. This new project is an important element of my ikigai. I’m not so shallow that I can only be motivated if I put my life into neat projects. But I must have a purpose. Project 64 encapsulates me seeking that bigger purpose, that more meaningful mental and physical state.


Also published on Medium.

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