Freshness Big Year: A slightly faster tortoise

This Big Year shows restraint with physical exercise, the focus being on steadiness, week by week, and a desire for “better” energy. In practice, my jogging could get boring, so the other day, needing to only run 5 kms instead of 10, I laced up my Brooks Beasts, walked down to the flat river path, and attempted some speed.

I flew! Well, I didn’t, but compared to my normal slow speed, I was moving. Over my 5 kms, I managed a pace of 5:53 per kilometer. It’s been many years since I got so far under 6:00. Such fun!

Freshness Big Year: Look ma, I can do it!

See how I balance on one leg. Not such a big deal for you, eh? Me, I include in my daily stretches the torture of teetering on my right leg, then my left leg, each for 30 seconds. Considering that I rarely miss a day of stretching, considering that a physio prescribed one-leg balancing a decade ago, I estimate I’ve tried 3,000 times. I’m extremely flat footed, which makes it tough, but surely it’s not that tough? Well, until today I’ve sometimes managed 50 seconds out of the 60 but never conquered both legs. Until today: I did it!

The secret was something my wife told me a few months back. You’re meant to use your core, advice from an osteo. I’ve always focused on my feet or my knees or my legs, and I wobble and collapse. Until today: I imagined having a core that could keep my legs steady, and lo and behold, my core snapped into action.

You can teach an old dog new tricks. I’m living proof.

Freshness Big Year: Why aren’t my friends vegetarian?

Something I’ve puzzled over, so here’s a book to tackle: Marta Zaraska’s “Meathooked: The History and Science of Our 2.5-Million-Year Obsession with Meat.” I was drawn in by this long paragraph in her introduction:

As we approach the modern era, this book turns to biochemistry. Is there something in meat’s chemical composition that keeps us hooked? Is it the 2-methyl-3-furanthiol or one of the other one thousand volatile compounds that together make up the specific, mouthwatering scent of cooked meat? Is it the umami taste (Japanese for “delicious”) that is found mostly in meat, mushrooms, and milk? Or is meat actually necessary for staying healthy? Despite the risks of cancer and heart disease, what if the human race would be even worse off without meat, a planet full of small, immune-deficient weaklings? Are some people, those with a gene mutation that makes them dislike the scent of androstenone (a mammalian pheromone), destined to be vegetarians, while others, those who are particularly sensitive to bitter compounds in fruits and vegetables, more likely to love meat? Is it the skillful marketing and lobbying of the powerful meat industry, with its $186 billion worth of annual sales in the US alone, that keep us hooked on animal protein against our best interests? Or maybe, just maybe, do we eat meat simply out of habit, because it got so engrained in our culture and history that we just cannot let go of it? After all, what would Thanksgiving look like without a turkey or a summer grill without a burger? Do we eat meat because over the centuries it has come to symbolize masculinity, power over the poor, power over nature, and power over other nations? Is our love of meat a kind of addiction—psychological, chemical, or maybe a little of both? And if it is, will we ever be able to break it? Is telling people to “cut down on meat” no different from telling a chain-smoker to go cold turkey?


Hello, Big Year: Freshness

In 2016 I jogged very regularly (Jogging Big Year). This year I labelled as my Fitness Big Year. I introduced cycling and, after experimentation, settled on an authoritarian regimen of compulsory daily exercise, in fact nine times a week (3 rides, 3 jogs, 3 gyms).

One option for 2018 is to build on a slightly stronger body (for a 62-year-old) and expand my riding, perhaps even engage in competitive activities. But writing must take priority, so I’ve decided to do much the same as in 2017, with a twist. The “fitness” concept worked well but I’m not at peace with my diet or my sleeping, so I’m aiming for a year of jogging/cycling/gym steadiness with improvements.

The idea is to translate my healthy exercise levels into quality energy. I call it Freshness, standing for vigor, vitality, energy, zap, etc., etc. Here’s the rather odd combination I’ll strive for:

  • 90/30/3 – each week, and only in the afternoons, exercise 9 times, cycling 90 kms, jogging 30 kms, and gym’ing 3 times. Note that the jogging and gym’ing weekly targets are unchanged from 2017, whereas in 2018 I’m actually reducing cycling from 110 kms/week to 90. Why the reduction? Time imposts, that’s all.
  • I’m looking at annual targets of cycling 3,000 kms (quite a bit less than 2017’s 4,000), jogging 1,200 kms (up from 2017’s 1,000 kms but of course way less than 2016’s 1,700 kms), and 100 gyms (unchanged from 2017). Even though I’ve set these as annual targets, in 2018 I’ll focus much more on making each week pristine, rather than focusing on the an annual goal that can let me have a slack week followed by a catch-up week. The aim is regularity, so that I grumble less and simply get used to habitual exercise.
  • M-W AFDs + 14 – absolutely no alcohol for the first three days of each and every week, and no more than 14 standard drinks per week. Why this weird impost? Well, I’m the addictive type and like my wine, and have, over the last few years, experienced a seemingly never-ending cycle of imbibing just a bit too much, trying to curb consumption with resolutions and systems, and periods of irrational guilt. All my research says 14 standard drinks is an absolute maximum for me at my age. Why Monday to Wednesday? Because my personality prefers to get the bad times out of the way at the beginning of a week, with the prospect of release at the end.
  • 2 alarms – each and every day, set an alarm to go to sleep and one to rise. Insomnia is a phenomenon that puzzles me. I’ve always managed on little sleep, sometimes sleeping soundly, at other times being fitful. Right now sleep quality and quantity are not great, so in 2018 I’d like to get to a better place. 10:15 PM to sleep . . . 5 AM to rise . . . will steady application of these alarms instil deep, refreshing sleep? Let’s see.
  • No snacking cheese – each and every day, stay away from cheese platters (cheese in recipes is fine). Why such a strange rule? Whereas in 2016, I kept my weight largely down to optimum leanness, this year I’ve ended up consistently over. I’m not overweight by much – one kilogram or maybe one and a half – but again, this is an issue that’s troubled me. I love calories and my exercise level means I can indulge, but I need to cut something out, and fine cheese (which I can’t resist but isn’t nirvana to my taste buds) seems the ideal target. (An ancillary reason is the ethical call from some friends to go vegan, which I can’t make myself do, so assuaging my conscience with a cut in dairy feels great.)
  • No afternoon snacking at home – each and every day. After exercising, I can scoff any amount of crap, leaving me feeling guilty afterwards. So why not just cut out the dangerous pre-dinner period? Let’s see if it works.

Andres’s Big Decade: How to obsess in 2018

I can’t wait for 2018! So much is going on in the lives of me and my family and friends. For the third Big Year (I’m turning 63 next year) in my Big Decade, I’ll swing at four obsessions. They range from all-consuming to “should be simple to fit in.” Not all details are settled yet but here’s 2018’s framework (beyond the joy of life itself):

1,000 Big Year

The nuclear power history book is still my albatross. After a maddeningly ineffective 2017 attempt to frame my writing push, in 2018 I focus on process and output. For each day in 43 weeks*, I draft 1,000 words (4 pages); draft uninterrupted between 5 AM and noon; ban morning Facebook and emails; micro plan, monitor & review.

You’ll note none of the “finish this or that by such-and-such date” project plans I’ve issued over the last two years and then clawed back. That doesn’t mean I won’t plan. I will and I’ll publicize in order to increase my accountability.

Tractor Big Year

Huh, you say? The working title for the book is Reactor but you don’t suck the life out of a title by using it all year. Hence Tractor, rhymes with Reactor? For each day in 43 weeks, I spend an afternoon hour researching, planning, readying for, and executing publication of Reactor.

Freshness Big Year

In 2016 I jogged a lot. This year I’ve tackled “fitness” by introducing cycling and arriving at an “exercise daily” regimen that works. Next year I’ll still exercise daily but at slightly lower intensity, plus I’ll address alcohol, diet, and insomnia.

“Freshness” is code for wellness, energy, and vigor. Note that 2018 can’t be the year to cycle huge distances, to do much tough or long-distance hiking (with one notable exception), to race, or to speed up. Instead I’m setting artificially strict regulations for 52 or 43 or 39 weeks (depending on which rule). I’m sure you’ll be amused at this quirky list:

  • 90/30/3 – each week, and only in the afternoons, exercise 9 times, cycling 90 kms, jogging 30 kms, and gym’ing 3 times. (Annual targets are 3,000 kms, 1,200 kms, 100 gyms.)
  • M-W AFDs + 14 – absolutely no alcohol for the first three days of each and every week, and no more than 14 standard drinks per week.
  • 2 alarms – each and every day, set an alarm to go to sleep and one to rise.
  • No snacking cheese – each and every day, stay away from cheese platters (cheese in recipes is fine).
  • No afternoon snacking at home – each and every day.

Stillness Big Year

“Stillness” is code for mindfulness, meditation, peacefulness, etc., etc. I could have called this the Headspace Big Year, but Headspace is a commercial product. I commit to spending 10 minutes each and every day following guided meditation according to the Headspace app.


Doing four Big Years flirts with overstretching but I believe I’ve structured the obsessions suitably. One big year, the most important one, carries a massive time commitment. Two of the four require an hour or two a day. The final one only takes ten minutes a day.

I’m now deep into practice for each of 2018’s four challenges, so that I can leap out of the gates on January 1.

2018 is bound to be a fascinating twelve months. I’ll do my best to make sure it’s also joyous, effective, and balanced.


* Travel and family commitments mean that, depending on which Big Year is involved, 2018 is 52 weeks or 43 weeks or 39 weeks.