My Big Decade: The first 4 years

Big Decade years

I’ve been on this Earth a bit over 64 years. Four years ago, I launched a Big Decade of goal-oriented daily obsession. I’ve run 11 Big Years since. Were they worthwhile?

As discussed a few days ago, my four grandiose writing-related Big Years packed a punch but were not unqualified successes. In contrast, as trumpeted yesterday, the three very different Big Years that targeted my body rather than my mind succeeded brilliantly.

At age 60, I envisaged some nutty cultural blitzes. “Read a book every day, Andres,” I promised, for example. Well, I’ve only tried one such Big Year, listening to a rock music every day over 2017. Although that habit hasn’t maintained much momentum, the Big Year was a hoot and hugely enriching. That said, I can’t see myself trying any other cultural extravaganzas for the next couple of year at least.

Something I did not imagine in 2015 was the idea of doing some interesting study each day, but I’ve tried the concept twice in recent years, with satisfying results. In 2018, my Tractor Big Year saw me committed to researching, each and every day, the vista of self publishing. Two mystery novels in late 2018 and early this year were the heart-warming result. And this year my Wings Big Year, covering the generalities of birds, has given my knowledge a fillip it wouldn’t otherwise have had. I don’t think 2020 will see any such “new knowledge” Big Year, but surely I’ll try something else in future years.

Weirdly, my 2018 Stillness Year, which involved only ten minutes a day of Headspace-app-based meditation, was a spectacular triumph. Who would have thought allocating so little daily time would add so much? Enriching my days with tiny stabs at something new will probably be a feature of the next six years.

Overall, the Big Decade idea rocks! I’ve worked harder, stayed healthier, learnt more, and added variety. Bring on the next six years, I say.

I need an exercise-related Big Year!

My exercise history

In each of the first three Big Years since I turned 60, I employed something to do with exercise. I then decided this year to drop exercise from my daily obsessions. Now I reckon I should add physical effort onto the 2020 roster. Why?

You can see from the handwritten chart that my 2016 Jogging Big Year saw a massive increase in running kilometers, from around 1,000 kms to 1,700 kms. I’ve never been as fit and trim and physically energised as towards the end of 2016. With the 2017 Fitness Big Year, I added cycling (a move that was probably a good idea, though it hasn’t panned out as anticipated), and notched up 4,000 kms on the bike while winding back jogging to 1,000 kms again. I still felt fit. The 2018 Freshness Big Year was a more holistic concept. Although it did some good, my legs broke down twice and both my jogging and cycling diminished (although they never ceased). I put on some weight.

There is no exercise-related Big Year this year. I’ve succeeded and failed again on the weight front, and I’ve reduced my distance horizons to 5 kms on foot and 10 kms on the bike (that’s puny!). I’ll end up with a more consistent year than last year but no improvement.

What has become clear is how central physical movement and effort are to my overall energy, emotions, and sense of well-being. I’m now thinking of a renewed vigorous push in 2020. I’ll announce on that front in a few days.

Cycling never caught on

Cycling Big Year

In 2017 I ran a Fitness Big Year, in which I took up cycling with a vengeance while trying to keep up some jogging and some gym. I remember that for a few short months I clocked up 110 kms every week. At my low speed, that’s nearly six hours of cycling a week. Each week was exhausting, but I was fit. I was fit, until I got injured, and then I wasn’t fit, and gradually I began missing my targets. In 2018 I kept up regular cycling as part of a Big Year, more like 40 or 50 kms a week. Then I got injured again and starting putting on weight and … it was a bit of a train wreck.

Now, as part of a refreshed exercise regime, and not part of a Big Year at all, I suddenly find myself being incredibly regular with my cycling. Three times a week without fail. The thing is, I only get out for half an hour, pumping my legs hard over only 10 kms, and, even more boring, mostly I do just one route (which includes a suspended section under a freeway as per the image above). But am I bored? Not at all. I’m loving the steady discipline. Biking is no longer a huge challenge, no longer tilted at grand tours or (heaven forbid) racing, but just a means to breathe hard and work those quads.

So after three obsessive years of Big Years that included obsessive cycling, now I’m now longer officially obsessive but am regularly (VERY regularly) getting on the bike. Something good and sweet has taken hold of me!

Fitness Big Year: Phew, got there . . .

The photo is a Darwin suburban jogging scenario. It’s not an easy place to jog but I got out every day, mostly doing shorter runs (5 kms) but managing one 10 km effort. Back in Melbourne, yesterday I ran a final short route to achieve 2017’s goal of 1,000 kms. What a relief!

And today I’ve cycled one last time, just 20 kms, to meet the year’s goal of 4,000 kms.

And on Friday I visited the gym for the 100th time, right on target.

In the end I reached my goals. It took more effort, both physical and mental (much fussing over when and how), than I’d anticipated, and possibly I shouldn’t be putting quite so much emotional effort into exercise. But, hey, I feel as robust and fit as I’ve ever felt, so I’d say it was all worthwhile.

2017’s Big Years: Sayonara

Farewell to a trio of obsessions (and when I say obsession, I mean day on day, everyday, not quite mania but sometimes damned close):

Writing Big Year – you drove me mad and I let you down and you didn’t “work,” but I can’t gainsay the many huge gains I made over the year. I’ll learn from you and turns 2017’s disappointments into 2018’s successes.

Fitness Big Year – you were tough to uphold (man, did I bitch and moan!) and I recast you a few times, but I’m now half a cyclist on top of being a jogger, my fitness is improved (whatever that means), and I’m addicted to daily workouts. My gratitude to you, old friend.

Rock Music Big Year –  your daily aural treat was sublime, and if you haven’t rekindled my old fixation on life-saving toons, something nascent smoulders inside me now. Bless you (and I wish I could repeat you in 2018).


Fitness Big Year: I’m fitter than ever. Why am I slower?

In 2016 I ran 1,700 kms in 10-kilometer sessions. I’m slow and my pace ranged between 6:10 and 6:40 minutes per kilometer. I got under 6:00 a handful of times.

2017? I’m still jogging 10 kilometers (also shorter distances) but all year I’ve struggled to get back to 2016’s speeds, slow as they were. My 10-km pace is now around 6:40. I can barely imagine 6:20 or faster!

I feel stronger, more robust, and “fitter.” Why not faster? I can think of physiological reasons. At my age, does a year older mean slower? Does cycling mean tired muscles? What role does diet play?

Maybe, maybe . . . but might it be the mind? I’ve always observed how much my thoughts affect my running, generally adversely. My brain forever invents reasons to not head out into the day. During runs, my mind chatters like a grumpy monkey. Adding in cycling over 2017 might constitute a factor, for riding a bike is nothing as invasive and painful as pounding the streets, and maybe my mind wants me to abandon running for riding. Perhaps my problem is mental not physical.

If it’s all in the mind, can I run faster in 2018? Dangerous territory . . .

Not a bad excuse at all

The dog ate my homework . . . the classic excuse. A couple of days ago, desperate to jog some kilometers towards my end-year goal, I headed to the clothes line to fetch my drying jogging shorts. I found them on the ground, chewed up by an enterprising dog. A great panic ensued. (A trip to Kmart fixed me up.)

Higher Calling, a recent book: Why cycle up mountains?

Reading about an interest is a powerful way to pursue that interest. Over 2017, while trying to instil a habit of regular bike riding, I tried to read as many cycling books as I could absorb.

Higher Calling: Road Cycling’s Obsession with the Mountains, written by troubadour writer Max Leonard, is my final cycling book of 2017 (and next year I’m switching topics), so I was disappointed to get little out of it. Leonard is an energetic, adept writer, but after an intro dealing with “Everesting,” which I do find fascinating because I know people involved in it, the book loses narrative coherence, at least in my view. The cover blurb describes Higher Calling as “blending adventure and travel writing with the rich narrative of pro racing,” and to me that’s what it felt like, an unholy mix of stories from all over the shop, stories told well but to me, a beginner cyclist, somewhat baffling. In the end, it’s a stylish read but it certainly doesn’t answer its opening question: “why do we have this obsession with cycling up mountains?”

Fitness Big Year: I still don’t know what fitness it but am fitter

The 2016 Jogging Big Year segued into the 2017 Fitness Big Year. I took up riding bikes but hoped to keep running. But how does one define fitness? At the start of this year, I recall asking everyone what fitness means and how I would know whether I was making any progress.

Here I am a year later and fitness remains a slippery concept. It’s “relative,” I’m told, or “it depends on your aims,” or “if you improve, you’re fitter.” You can’t hop into a “fitness MRI” that gives you a “fitness score.”

Partway through 2017, I gave up worrying about the issue. Keeping up the cycling, jogging, and gym visits was stress enough. But over the second half of the year, I caught myself grinning and saying to myself, “I’m better, I feel better.” Through trial and error, I’ve ended up with a weekly slate of nine outings (three gym, three bike, three footpath) that seems to suit me. Certainly my cycling has gotten faster (it’s still slow), certainly I’m stronger (and less inclined to pull muscles) in the gymnasium, and if jogging hasn’t seen any real lift, at least I am still doing it. For a couple of months, I held my weight down to what I think is optimal, and I’m not far above that now. Perhaps most telling, hamstring and other niggles have abated and I recover faster from killer runs or longer rides.

This sensation of being “fitter” remains intangible but it’s real. I count the 2017 Fitenss Big Year as a success.

Fitness Big Year: Am I obsessing too much?

This Big Year has morphed a bit over the year. The emerging experience with adding cycling to the jogging habit has led my to a weekly regimen: cycle 3 times for 90 kms, jog 3 times for 30 kms, do my gym routine 3 times. Nine activities a week, which means a couple of days a week I double up. This cycle, still rather new to me, seems to zing!

But I like to overlay annual targets, so I aimed (after a couple of edits) for 4,000 kms of cycling, 1,000 kms of jogging, and 100 gym sessions. An annual goal is, I’ve found, a wonderful motivator. And it allows you to occasionally “catch up” if life really assails your routines.

Well, right now I’m caught in a vice. With 12 days to go (with five of them in Darwin, in that swelter that makes longer jogs impossible and where I can’t cycle or go to the gym), I need 57 more cycling kms (doable), and 70 more cycling kms (needing almost daily running, which is hard on me), and 4 gym visits (difficult to fit in). And I ask myself: does it matter if I end up with 990 jogging kilometers? One part of me answers: of course it’s not important, what counts is regularity, the weekly targets. Another part of me, the dangerous one, demurs: of course you need 4,000/1,000/100,  Andres, achieve it no matter what!