The Scores Are In
My winter wellness mission is accomplished. Like all goals, the price needed to be paid. The price is the grind, doing it when I didn’t want to do it; when I was too busy to do it. Doing it in the dark and the cold. Mission accomplished. For one moment in time, because you are never standing still.
I’ve been fortunate to avoid COVID and am now one of the fortunate vaccinated people. As often is the case, ‘fortunate’ comes with quite a lot of effort. It’s been a long winter of social isolation and following the rules. I’m not an anti-vaxxer or a COVID denier, rather I see it as my societal duty to protect others by protecting myself. While vaccinated now, I’m pretty sure that Bill Gates isn’t that interested in monitoring my every move. I can see the microchip glowing in my arm when I turn the light off at night though.
I was able to deliver on my plans in the diet, training and mental health area. Looking at the list of small routines I adhered to, I have to ask whether they were all worthwhile? What really worked? Did the long list of small routines in their own right deliver a benefit? The discipline, the repetition? Regardless of the long list of small components, just getting them done again and again is a benefit.
Diet & Supplementation
I weigh less a year into lockdown than I did at the start. After an early work from home food binge, I knocked myself into shape and cut back on the sugar. Having a regular exercise regime helps because not a lot of calories get consumed on ten Zoom calls a day. I weigh 3.5 kilograms less now than in February 2020.
As always, I play around with supplementation, out of professional and personal curiosity. On my hit list is nootropic capsules for mental acuity. When I take them, I feel sharper. When I don’t, I lose a tiny edge. Placebo? – much more than likely, but when it comes to feeling sharp, perception is what matters. I feel sharper, therefore I am.
High-quality CBD oil is a miss for me. It’s very expensive and the benefits I was seeking are in inflammation reduction and helping me sleep. I don’t have trouble getting to sleep, it’s the staying asleep that’s the issue. No perceptible reduction in any inflammation-related twinges, no improvement in sleep. The current bottle I’m using is the last bottle.
Keeping up my daily omega oil, vitamin K2 and vitamin D has been simple. I also take a good multi-vitamin. I’m not sure it helps me, but I’m a man of habit. I noted all the press related to vitamin D helping in COVID prevention. I just kept going.
It’s occurred to me that I’ve become largely vegetarian over the last couple of years. I love a good steak, but with no restaurants open, that’s off the menu. We live in a loft-style apartment and trust me when I say high-temperature rib-eye steak cooking doesn’t help the environment. I’m on trend, but through my living arrangements and the closest shop being an organic greengrocer. I’m so North London.
Winning on diet and weight control. Wellness mission objective one accomplished.
I’ve worked with some really good coaches. But in the end, I’m my best coach. And my worst. Bad coaches are very fixated with their methodology and the client fits into their narrow world view. The worst coach I ever had was formerly a professional and Olympic class cyclist and he just burned me out. The best coach I ever had listened and adjusted to my lifestyle and work pattern much better.
Yet it’s become apparent to me that my best coach is the way my body feels in the morning and what my heart rate variability says to me. I’ve listened to the best coaches, yet 5-6 days a week eventually kills off my progress and results in retrenchment. After going it alone for a few months, I bought a training plan which would improve my functional threshold. I scrapped it after six weeks of trying to do it six days a week. I’m my worst coach when trying for six days with my body telling me to turn it down.
The older athlete cannot train six days a week. My mind is stronger than my body’s ability to recover. Over 50 years old recovery is as important, if not more important than the training. Over 60 and it’s even more so. I feel my best frequency of training is four times a week, with the very occasional very gentle Sunday ride if I’m up for it.
I mentioned some weeks ago that I had studied the concept of shorter and more intense sessions for older athletes. More recovery sessions. Very few of the long slow rides. There’s probably a queue of people forming to tell me this will bite me eventually. But I’m not training for any Gran Fondo length events, as there aren’t any. I’m training to be healthy.
My five-minute power on the bike is the best it has been for six or seven years. I went to Richmond Park last week and did my personal best on two of the best known small climbs. My heart rate variability is high. Best of all my Garmin tells me that my calculated Vo2 maximum is in the top 10% for athletes of my age. I know it’s not a real Vo2 but it’s a relative measure that I have been improving for months. If you can measure it, you can improve it.
Wellness mission objective two accomplished.
I should write training programmes or a training book for the veteran athlete. Believe me, they don’t exist right now. No coach or author has really got their head around it. Or the market for it is too small. There aren’t huge numbers of people my age giving it real hammer.
The Dark Sludge Of WFH
Working from home has not sat well with me at all. The darkness of winter was a challenge for me. Dark when I started, and 10-11 hours a day at the desk were tough. Man up, I hear you say. I just found it hard. Dark, seated, talking to two-dimensional digital people. I realised I very quickly fell into a negative pattern where I would forget to go out for three days.
Or I would sit at my desk in front of a big screen for hours, and when I finished for the day, I would carry my phone and iPad into the lounge automatically. The emails continued into the evening.
Mental sludge started to wash over me very quickly. I was conscious that any creative thought or learning disappeared. Look how the frequency of this blog fell away for example. I didn’t read a novel for months. I skimmed the daily newspaper, rather than read it.
As mentioned in a recent blog, learning chess was a great avenue for me to explore. I have a chess coach now, and that’s something I look forward to each week. A time out with no work or email to explore something I’m not good at. It’s a humbling game, no doubt. I love the process, I love the learning.
I’ve done small things such as put a Lightbox on my desk. My daily meditation streak is closing in on 500 days. We keep small routines like a film night or comedy film night. We still have a date night on Friday, even though we can’t go out. Familiar routines help break up the daily Zoom slog.
I find I lose touch with friends and family and remind myself every so often I need to say hello. Isolation is a real danger. I’m fortunate. I worry about people who live on their own in these tough times. True isolation being a cruel and corrosive challenge, I can imagine.
My physical health is not taken for granted, I work at it. It’s become apparent to me that a proactive and consistent approach to my mental health is also important. Doing nothing invites trouble.
Wellness mission objective three accomplished. This was one I felt could go either way a couple of times. Such is the nature of mental wellness. Sometimes you don’t know you’re struggling until it’s too late. But here I am.
Does The Road Run Out?
Wellness mission accomplished. But when does the road run out? I’ve been wondering about that more. At what age and life stage does the notion of progress in fitness end? At the moment I’m aware that I can’t put in the training volume anymore. It’s been five years since I rode a century for example. Four good days a week on the bike, or three days and a good weights session are the limits.
I’m still doing things that surprise me. I’ve mentioned a couple of performances that have exceeded those from six and seven years ago. My blood pressure was the lowest it has even been when measured at a recent medical. But there’s a strong sense of being on the cusp. At what stage does it just become pure maintenance? At what stage does it become managed decline? Is there a stage when I just say ‘screw this, I’m wasting my time’?
A similar conversation has started in my head about my professional life. At what stage does that run out, and what’s the effect on mental health? I’m not walking into an extended period of my life where my physical and mental health simply wither. How do I stay mentally and intellectually stimulated once my current 60-70 hour work week pattern is over?
Life runs out eventually. But the road from now until that running out also needs a plan. Drifting into decline won’t do it for me. And I’m absolutely sure that my future doesn’t include daily golf.
More to follow.
Also published on Medium.