Fasting, Fast and Slow

As I start this blog post, I’m in the last 4 hours (not that I’m counting!) of my fifth fast. A few of you have been asking how it’s going. (If you’re confused, head to my last post.) Below, a bit of the fasting play by play. If you’d rather skip the diary part, and just hit the takeaways, scroll down to below the photo.

January 2: Fasting from dinner 1/1 until dinner 1/2

7am- awake; it’s a holiday so I’m not going into work. Will this make things easier or harder? I help the kids with their breakfasts and am not tempted to join them. This will be a piece of cake! Right?

10:30am: first hunger pangs. Not a good sign, given 7.5 hours left until I eat.

Noon: time is starting to pass more slowly. How early can I force my family to eat dinner? I cook the kids’ lunch. Does the chicken apple sausage always smell this good? I open a peach Hint water and it tastes almost like candy.

2:30pm: serious hunger pangs. I try to do a bit of work during the kids’ quiet time and drink lots of lemon ginger tea.

4pm: I no longer feel hungry! Amazing!

5pm: I’m ravenous. That 4pm lack of hunger was a joke. Dinner is in one hour and I can. not. wait.

6pm: Dinner at last! I’m expecting my body to want to eat a ton, to make up for all the calories I missed during the fast. Instead, I let myself have seconds, but my meal is only a bit larger than usual. I go to bed feeling sated– neither full nor hungry.

January 5: Fasting from dinner 1/4 to dinner 1/5

Morning: I’m at work, and fasting feels easy. My body doesn’t seem to miss the breakfast that I skipped. This might mean I should be skipping breakfast more often.

Noon: I go to the Dailey Method (a barre class) during lunch hour. I go despite having very little energy. At the point in class where we go into plank, I can barely hold it, and put my knees down after 30 seconds. It feels like no fuel is getting to my muscles.

Afternoon: lots of tea. My muscles feel tired, but I am surprised not to feel too hungry.

4pm: hunger kicks in.

5:30pm: ferry home from work. I am telling everyone around me about my fast and how few minutes I have left until I get to eat. I can’t help myself. I update them every 10 minutes. I dream of the dinner that G will have prepared: fish fillets, sautéed spinach, and couscous.

6:15pm: I get home and practically run to the kitchen. The couscous and spinach are ready, but my fish isn’t cooked yet. What??? I feel like a husband from 1950’s TV, expecting my dinner ready and hot the moment I get home, and angry when it’s not. I eat the spinach and couscous while making the fish as fast as I can (catch the pun?).

January 9: Fasting from dinner 1/8 to dinner 1/9

Morning: I do yoga before work. This is normal for me- I usually work out first thing in the morning, before eating anything. However, the non-fasting me would eat breakfast as soon as arriving to work. My fasting self gets to work, promptly pours a cup of hot tea, and tries not to think about the food I’m not sending to my body. Post-workout, I definitely want food. Tea is not the same.

Noon: I have work to do at my desk and barely notice that I didn’t eat lunch.

Afternoon: More herbal tea. Then a Peach-Pear LaCroix. Back to back meetings help prevent me from thinking about food too much.

5pm: Early ferry home- this means early dinner! Again, I have to tell all my seatmates about my fast. It’s as though I have nothing else to talk about. People are interested or else they are good at faking it.

5:45pm: Arrive home. The au pair made dinner for the kids but not for me (here comes the angry 1950’s husband again!). I whip together a plate and scarf it down before driving my daughter to piano lessons. Food is a relief; my body feels much better right away.

January 12: Fasting from lunch 1/11 to lunch 1/12

Noon 1/11: I eat a sizable lunch, and I even allow myself a piece of cake afterwards. “After all, I’m about to fast!”

Afternoon: perfectly normal. It feels nice not to be tempted to snack.

Dinner: I don’t even feel hungry. I sit with my family while they eat dinner, but I don’t feel deprived. If anything, I wonder why I so often make myself eat dinner when I’m not hungry.

Bedtime: My stomach feels pleasantly empty. Not empty to the point of growling, but nicely “un-full.” I suspect I’ll sleep well. (I do.)

Morning 1/12: I am hungry. I bring the kids to school and make myself an herbal tea. T minus 4 hours until I get to eat.

10:15am: A friend picks me up for us to drive down to a meeting together. I am now very hungry. I tell him about my fast and how excited I am for lunch (Indian food). I drink more herbal tea and stare jealously at his latte.

11:30am: We arrive at the meeting. Lunch is supposed to be at noon. Our host says lunch will be late. A small part of me dies.

12:30pm: Lunch arrives, but there is some debate about whether we should finish the presentation before breaking for lunch. “Please, please, please let us get lunch!” I am thinking. As though she could read my mind (or hear my stomach growling?), our host stops us for lunch. I am first in line for the Indian food. (So much for my month of kindness.) I have a full plate and return for seconds.

January 17: fasting from lunch 1/16 to lunch 1/17

Afternoon 1/16: I am baking a cake. It is so strange not to be able to taste the batter.

Dinner: I’m not hungry. I don’t feel deprived.

After dinner: I return home from piano lesson to a house that smells like freshly-baked cake. My stomach growls. I make the cream cheese frosting and frost the cake. I don’t taste it– probably a first. I force G to taste it for me. He approves.

7am: Ferry into the city. I am hungry and I am carrying a cake that weighs about 10 pounds. I tell a friend of mine about my fast. She gives me two packets of tea. I head to the gym and do 1/2 hour of weight training.

8:30am: At work and there are treats galore. Doughnuts, chocolates. I make an herbal tea.

10am: More tea. T minus two hours until feast time.

11am: I am now on my third herbal tea.

11:40am: The smells of lunch are making their way to me. I walk by the lunch area 3 times in 5 minutes to see whether they have finished setting up.

11:55am: Lunch, finally! I make a large plate of Vietnamese food and down about 1/3 of it before I have to hop in my next meeting. It is so satisfying.

1pm: I present the cake to the birthday girls. We each have a piece. It was worth it.

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Hummingbird cake. You can’t eat this on a normal diet. 

So– two weeks into my fasting experiment, here are a few of the things I’ve noticed.

  1. It’s easier than I thought it would be. I had this idea that skipping meals would feel terrible, that I’d be cranky, nervous, or de-energized. In practice, it’s not that hard.
  2. Except for the last two hours. I’m sure that much of this is psychological. If we took away all clocks, would the last two hours before I break the fast still be the hardest? Would my body even know that those were the last two hours? Surely not. But, since I am surrounded by clocks, and since my work schedule is relentlessly calendar-driven, I am constantly aware of the time. And there’s no escaping it: I am HUNGRY for those last two hours. And they pass soooo sloooowly.
  3. I usually eat for reasons other than hunger. Namely: because it’s “time” to eat. Or because I am a social being, and everyone else is eating dinner, so I should, too. In my non-fasting life, it is rare that I feel hunger. I almost never get to that point. I am so busy feeding myself every 4-6 hours, when would I give my body a chance to get hungry? It is almost refreshing to eat out of hunger. It feels… new.
  4. “Hangry” is an apt coinage. I am quicker to get angry when I am very hungry. I am also quicker to lose my focus on work, so focused am I on my next meal. I’m waiting to see whether this is a passing phase.
  5. I feel like I’ve been duped by the “eat frequent, small meals” or “always eat breakfast” mantras. Haven’t we all been saying these to ourselves and each other for years now? Hasn’t this become the wisdom of the ages- unquestioned in its truthfulness? I think back on all the breakfasts I’ve dutifully eaten, or the frequency with which I often eat, and I wonder– could I have been wrong? If I’m being honest, it feels good to skip breakfast on a morning after a big dinner. It feels good *not* to eat frequent, small meals. What if these “truths” have been misguided?
  6. Lunch to lunch fasting is easier (for me) than dinner to dinner. I had initially thought to fast from dinner-to-dinner because that would just mean fasting during the workday– which seemed easy enough. And while it wasn’t hard (except for the last two hours), I do think lunch to lunch is even easier. Personally, I hate going to bed on a full stomach. But if my last meal before a fast is dinner, I’m tempted to eat heavily. And then I’m full at bed time, and then I sleep poorly. Blah. Whereas the lunch-to-lunch fast means I go to bed without dinner (not a challenge), and then I only have to make it through the morning hours without breakfast, until I get to eat again. Incredibly doable.
  7. I am losing weight without too much burden. When I’m not fasting, I eat the way I normally would. I exercise the same amount. I don’t feel deprived. And I don’t have to follow crazy diet rules, or count calories, or track what I’m eating. Which is nice. And I’ve lost a pound per week so far, which is a reasonable pace of loss.

So for those who ask me how it’s going, I’ll tell you: I’m kind of into it. It’s a fun, “fast-inating” experiment. I feel more in touch with my body than I have in a long time (ever?). I’ll report back again at the end of the month, but for now, I feel like I may have stumbled upon something that’s game-changing.

On the Fast Track

Ah, January. That time of year when we reassess ourselves: our habits, our downfalls, our opportunities. Oh, and our bodies. Who among us is ever content with our body? Last January I embarked on a month of veganism, which I rather enjoyed (although not enough to keep it as a permanent diet). This month, I’m turning to another diet and sometime fad: intermittent fasting (IF).

First, an explanation. “What happened to December?” you ask. Well– you know how a lot of magazines only put out 11 issues each year, shrewdly combining December and January into one issue? Because they know that at least two weeks of December will be completely shot, thereby making it nearly impossible to produce the usual amount of output? My December was chaos, between work obligations, holiday plans, and travel. So let’s consider my blog a magazine, and this is the December/January issue.

I did use December to decide on and research the fasting concept. As it turns out, there are a lot of different ways to fast. Oh, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

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First: why would I fast? Well, aside from the fact that I’ve never done it– which is the first criterion of any “year of 40” experience– I’ve long been intrigued by it. I’ve never really had an excuse to fast. There are those who fast for religious reasons: for Ramadan, for example, Muslims fast from sunrise to sundown for an entire month.¹ A perusal of Wikipedia reveals a number of other cultures and faiths that incorporate fasting as a part of their tradition.

I don’t practice a religion, and even when I did, my Presbyterian-Catholicism upbringing didn’t ask me to skip meals. But the fact that so many cultures and traditions include some version of fasting makes me curious. What do they know, and what do they experience, that I don’t?

It isn’t primarily cultural curiosity that leads me down this path. I’ve also paid attention to the research about possible health benefits of intermittent fasting (IF), or of calorie restriction. Studies of IF make lots of claims: We can live longer. We reduce the likelihood of strokes, of diabetes, of heart disease, of degenerative brain diseases later in life. Our bodies clean out their dead or damaged cells (“autophagy“). Oh, and we lose weight, and possibly maintain the weight loss better than we would with other diets.

Frankly– if the evidence is to be believed– why wouldn’t we fast?

So, I decided to try it, and with a fair amount of excitement. I then had to choose which fasting approach to follow. Sunrise to sunset? 36 hours? Low calorie, or no calorie? This is where the research finds little consensus. One popular method of IF has you eat the same amount you normally would, but within the space of 8 hours (so you “fast” for  the other 16 hours). For instance, if you finish dinner by 8pm, you wouldn’t eat again until noon the next day. I considered this idea, but I decided that if I were going to try fasting, I might as well swim in the deep end.

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For no reason other than it sounded challenging, but not impossible, I decided to try 24 hour fasts, on two non-consecutive days each week (as it turns out, this approach has a name- the 5:2 diet). In practical terms, this means that I eat dinner one night, and then I don’t eat again until dinner the next night. During the fast, I drink only water or unsweetened tea. On the five non-fasting days of the week, I eat normally.

I don’t know that I can hope for any tangible results from the fasting experiment, other than shedding a few pounds, but I’m curious to see how it goes.

In my next blog post, I’ll detail some of my fasting experience so far. Stay tuned!

* * *

¹This becomes more challenging depending on the time of year that Ramadan falls, and where you live in the world. If Ramadan falls in June, as it did in 2016, and you live in Iceland or Alaska, you may be fasting for 22 hours straight, every day. And wishing you lived, in, say, the Maldives.

30 acts of kindness. 1 act of meanness.

So: December 28. My Year of 40 is almost over. But before we get ahead of ourselves, I owe you the rest of the details about November, my month of “small kindnesses.” I know you’ve been eagerly awaiting my follow-up post, revealing those kindnesses. You haven’t been able to sleep, so much have you been anticipating this post!

Toss and turn no more, dear reader. Below, I offer you the complete set: 30 acts of kindness, and as a bonus, one meanness.¹

My month of small kindnesses, in chronological order (one per day):

  1. Sent out a copy of the slides from my resume workshop to a number of attendees who had requested them.
  2. Had coffee and gave career advice to a woman who had sought me out.
  3. Did additional research into possible VC firms for our next fundraising round.
  4. Donated to the Entelo Movember campaign.
  5. Helped anthropologists by tagging penguins and identifying African animals.
  6. Donated rice via World Food Programme by playing vocabulary and geography games.
  7. Gave the doormen in our building their favorite treats. Also, gave a Walgreens gift card to a homeless man.
  8. Complimented a woman on her dress. Gave away some Hillary tattoos.
  9. Unloaded dishwasher at work. Gave my au pair a break by picking up kids at school and giving them baths.
  10. Bought coffee for a colleague.
  11. Reached out to one of our junior employees for a post-election “walk and talk.”
  12. Brought Theron with me to the grocery store.
  13. Gave up my seat toward the front of the plane (for a worse seat) so that a couple could sit together.
  14. Bussed my table’s dishes at a conference.
  15. Bought coffee for a homeless man.
  16. Went in the hot tub with G even though I just wanted to go to bed.²
  17. Gave a banana to a homeless woman.
  18. Gave an orange to the doorman at work. Met a woman for coffee to help her problem-solve at her new job. Cleaned kitchen even though it wasn’t my mess.
  19. Let the kids do yoga with me.
  20. Took the kids to get haircuts (giving G a break).
  21. Bought more salad for the company lunch when we ran out.
  22. Prepared and served hot chocolate and cider to our employees.
  23. Made homemade chili for dinner for friends & family.
  24. Erred on the side of generosity when filling out evaluations of my peers.
  25. Brought my niece and nephew to the park.
  26. Managed lunch orders for extended family.
  27. Bought holiday gifts that give back.³
  28. Volunteered at Glide; gave a Walgreens gift card to a homeless woman.
  29. Agreed to host my peer networking group when the original host backed out.
  30. Gave up my favorite seat on the ferry.

Looking back on the list, I’m struck by how truly small some of the kindnesses are. For example: giving a person a compliment is something that requires no extra effort, time, or money on my part. And yet, it undoubtedly gave the recipient a boost, perhaps even made her day. I’ve enjoyed this nudge out of my comfort zone- and really, a small nudge has been all that is required to bring these kindnesses to the surface.

Still, I am no saint. I had one massive unkindness that I’d like to own up to.

Notably:

  1. Took movie seats for me and two of my children from a woman who had been saving them.

I cringe even writing that. But I did it. On November 29, at the 3:30 screening of Moana. I can try to explain it away (the movie was starting; two teenagers on the other side of the block of seats told me to do it; there were no other seats together left in the theater; I was desperate)– but the fact remains, I should not have done that. The woman saving the seats was angry — as I would have been, in her shoes.

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Does my act of meanness take away from my acts of kindness? I know we are yin and yang; we have both aspects in each of us. While I don’t think I can completely purge myself of all meanness, perhaps the more that I focus on kindness, the fewer such meannesses will ever surface. Perhaps the nudge toward kindness will no longer be required, because kindness will become my new default.

My main takeaway from the month is that being a kind person feels good (a lot better than the feeling of taking someone’s saved seats), and that generally speaking, there are opportunities to be kind all around us. We just have to look for them.

* * * * *

¹I’m sure there were others. This is the one that has stuck with me.

²I know what you’re thinking: that doesn’t really count. Look, not every kindness has to be a hardship on me, okay?

³I have been doing more of this in recent years. I like giving gifts that have a positive impact somewhere else, in addition to the recipient. Some of my favorite sites for this:

Do you have other favorites? Please leave them in the comments!

Small Kindnesses

We all have narratives we tell about ourselves. There are words that we think pertain to us and other words that we would never use to describe ourselves. For instance: “confident” is a word that I would comfortably claim, and I believe that it’s a word that others would attribute to me, as well. More “Jill words” might include extroverted, candid, and ambitious.

The word “kind” has never been on my version of the list. To be clear: I don’t think I’m unkind. But I don’t believe “kind” is a word that jumps to mind as one of my dominant attributes. And maybe it’s time for me to take small steps to change that.

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Apologies for the generic “kindness” photo.

With this in mind, I made November my month of small kindnesses. Each day, I am holding myself accountable for (at least) one small act of kindness. The kindness must be “incremental”- something above and beyond what I would normally do in my day.

I am also trying to make sure that not all, or even most, of my acts of kindness are driven by money. It would be easy enough to check the box by giving a dollar to a homeless person every day, but I’m not sure I would come away from the month with the feeling that I’ve learned anything.

I was curious to see what effect these acts of kindness would have, both on the people to whom I show kindness, and on me. Two-thirds of the way through the month, I have a few interesting findings.

  1. Kindnesses are both easy and hard. When I’m thinking about my goal, and looking for opportunities to be kind, they present themselves readily. (Full dishwasher at work? Jill will unload it! Heading out for coffee? I’ll grab an extra for one of my colleagues! etc.) But when I’m wrapped up in my work, or busy at home with the kids, it is very easy to forget to look for ways to be kind.
  2. Kindness is addictive. I am really enjoying performing these small acts, and I feel more alive and zestful than ever. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
  3. The kindness feels more rewarding when there’s a direct human impact. This might be specific to my own experience. I’ve noticed that, in terms of the emotional lift they give me, not all kindnesses are created equal. For instance: bringing a smile to our doormen’s faces by bringing them their favorite treats gives me a bigger high than helping unknown anthropologists save time by tagging animals in the Serengeti online.

At the end of the month, I’ll chronicle the 30 acts of kindness I performed, along with any final take-aways. Stay tuned!

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This was my baby in April. It’s easy to be kind to cuteness like this. 

Tri-ing 40 on for size

The night before my triathlon, my 4-year-old son brought me the book “The Race” to read to him and his sister. A reimagining of “The Tortoise and the Hare,” this book was exceedingly appropriate in that moment.

“What place are you going to get, Mommy?” asked my 6-year-old daughter. “First, or second, or third?” “Umm… probably 48th,” I said, choosing a fairly arbitrary number. Having no idea how many people had signed up, I figured perhaps I’d get 48th among females, or in my age group, or something. “Remember, mommy is going to be like the tortoise- slow and steady. My goal is just to finish.”

And finish I did, but I’ll get to that. First, a few notes from my triathlon experience.

In triathlons, you have to get “body-marked”- meaning they take a Sharpie and put your bib number on various parts of your body. They also write your age on your calf. They told me I was 40. I politely corrected them: technically, I’d turn 40 one week after the triathlon. Doesn’t matter, they said; they assign people’s age groups based on their age at the end of the calendar year. In its way, this was a small win: although I had to embrace 40 one whole week early, I also got placed in an older (and, no doubt, less competitive) age group.

Seeing people’s ages on their calves during the race had an interesting effect. In the absence of knowing anything else about them, I reduced the athletes to an age, a number. If someone passed me who was much older, I felt impressed. Similarly, I couldn’t help but feel a swelling of pride if I passed someone who was much younger.

The swim: I was pleasantly surprised to find that the water was warmer than when I had swam in the Bay just days before (and nearly hyperventilated from the cold). I swam steadily, but as it turns out, I’m terrible at “sighting” (e.g. aiming for my target). Every time I looked up to take stock of where I was, I would find myself off-course. Indeed, the swim was my weakest segment, but I was pleased to make it through. Most of the fellow white-caps (e.g. women over 40) had left me in their wake, and the orange cap group (men 45+) caught up to me, as evidenced in the photo below.

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A wetsuit isn’t flattering on anyone, right? Right?

The bike: two mistakes here. First, I had drunk too much water prior to the swim, so I got on my bike with a full bladder. After completing my first of 3 loops without seeing a single bathroom, I faced the question: could I possibly hold off another hour (until the transition to the run, where there were facilities)? No, I could not. As I debated whether I’d be able to find a tree that was sufficiently hidden, I spotted a restroom in a parking lot (the bike portion took place in a state park), and luckily enough, it was unlocked. I lost a few minutes but had a new surge of energy after getting back on the bike. (Note to self: drink less water next time.)

Second mistake: you are required to get off your bike and walk it into the transition area. I unclipped my shoes to do so, but as I swung my right leg over the bike to walk it, my left foot clipped back in (unbeknownst to me). So I toppled in slow motion onto my left side. Ouch. Luckily, nothing was bruised except my pride (and really- even that wasn’t bruised too much. I’ve always been the clumsy one in the family.)

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I look happy here, so I must have already found the restroom.

Last: the run. As I suspected, this was my strongest leg. Whereas I constantly had people passing me in the swim and the bike, on the run, I was the passer. Even though I was committed to being the tortoise, my competitive nature can only be suppressed so much. Passing people felt good.

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That person running the other way in the picture? He’s heading toward the finish line, while I’m just starting the run. All good, says the tortoise.

The run went by fairly quickly, and I made up some of the time I had lost on my swim and on my transitions.¹

I crossed the finished line and learned that I had finished in 3:02. In the abstract, it’s a time that didn’t mean much to me. I looked at the details and discovered that I was faster at the swim (33 minutes) and on the bike (15mph average) than I had been in my training, and about the same in my run (8:40 min/mile). So, I was pleased. Later, they posted the results, and I discovered that I placed 2nd in my age group. This was a first! I had never been on the podium before. They called my name, and people I didn’t know cheered for me, and I was given the choice of a towel, a hat, or a backpack.²

Sadly, my family wasn’t around for my finish or for my podium moment. The shuttle bus they were waiting for never arrived; by the time they drove as far as they could and walked the rest of the way, I had been finished for 45 minutes. No matter: when they finally arrived, the kids had their pick of the leftover post-race goodies (bananas! yogurt! ice cream sandwiches!) and we enjoyed some family time on the podium.

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So… triathlon, check. Everyone told me “I would be hooked” after my first one. Am I? I’m not sure. I’m not hooked on open-water swimming (and would need to buy a wetsuit if I planned to do that regularly. Also it would help if I could learn to sight). I do like the road biking in China Camp, but again, I’d have to buy a decent bike if I planned to make triathlons a regular thing. So I suspect that I’ll go back to doing the occasional road race. One of the beautiful things about running, from my perspective, is the complete lack of gear. Running shoes, and you’re set. As a result, I can – and do- go running anywhere. Swimmers and bikers don’t have that advantage. However, triathlons do offer the benefits of variety during training, and a better full-body workout. Also- it seems they appeal to far fewer people than running races, meaning if I ever hope to make a “podium” again, I should probably stick with triathlons. 🙂

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Tomorrow I turn 40, and you know what? I’m ready.

* * * * *

¹My first transition (from swim to bike) took me nearly 5 minutes. You know how long it takes most people? 1-2 minutes. So… there’s definitely room to improve there. I’ll blame my Strava app, which inexplicably refused to open and load properly.

²”Please tell me you chose the backpack!” said my friend. And then we both had a good laugh.

Fit to be “tri”-ed

Anyone who knows me can vouch for the fact that I’m a competitive person.¹ Also, I like to exercise. So when a milestone birthday rolls around, I’m inclined to celebrate by undertaking a new physical challenge. For my year of 40, I decided I would attempt my first triathlon.

Over the summer, I scanned the triathlon calendar, and I ended up choosing the Marin County Triathlon. It is practically in my backyard, which is a big plus, and the timing of it, literally one week before my 40th birthday, seemed perfect. Plus, having committed in July, I was left with about 12 weeks to train: enough to be able to do the race comfortably, but not so much that I would get sick of training.

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Some background: I’m pretty comfortable as a runner. I’ve run distances up to a marathon before, and a 4-6 mile run is a typical workout for me. Swimming is something that I’ve done for exercise, off and on, over the past 8 years. During that time, I’ve gone from being unable to swim even one lap of freestyle, to today, when I can comfortably swim a mile. Of the three sports, biking is the one I have the least practice in. I don’t even own a bike; the only biking I’ve done in recent years has been commutes of 1-2 miles on a heavy, sturdy, Bay Area Bike Share bike.

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Me, running on the beach in Costa Rica

The Marin triathlon offers both sprint and olympic distances. I initially signed up for the sprint distance (500m swim, 8mi bike, 5k run), mostly because I have so little time to devote to training. Then a friend badgered me into switching to the Olympic distance– so I caved, under peer pressure. For the Olympic, I have to swim 1500m, bike 22 miles, and run 10km. The individual distances, done separately, don’t intimidate me; putting them back to back is where the challenge lies.

The triathlon is one week away, but I thought it might be fun to share some things I’ve learned so far.

Things triathletes know that the rest of us don’t:

1. A “brick” is the most essential, if most dreaded, part of training. I heard this term bandied about soon after I started training. A brick is a back-to-back workout of two different sports, generally bike followed by run. I assumed that it was an acronym, like Bike Run Intense Combo (or perhaps Bike? Run? Ick!), but I was told that the term “brick” refers to how your legs feel during the run. Meh, I think I like the acronym better.

2. The race is won or lost on the bike. This was very disappointing for me to learn, given that the bike is my weakest event. It turns out, the amount of time you save by being a great swimmer compared to an average swimmer is almost negligible, compared to the amount of time you can save by being a great biker versus an average biker.

3. Everyone who signs up for triathlons generally dislikes the swim. My theory: the strong swimmers have figured out #2 and said, “Why should I bother with triathlons?” Whereas the strong bikers are all, “Sweet, I can dominate this sport.”

4. People obsess over the transitions. Real triathletes (I am not counting myself among them) figure out all sorts of shortcuts to make their transitions (the time it takes between sports) as short as possible. Examples: oil your body, to make your wetsuit easier to get off (I might actually try this); take your feet out of your bike shoes while you’re still biking, so that you can hop into your running shoes more quickly (I would probably fall and break a bone if I tried this).

My goal for this triathlon is just to finish. I don’t care what time I get. I’ve sort of made up my training schedule as I went along, based on what I could fit in, when. For the curious, I’ve posted my actual training schedule below.

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I’ll post again in a week. In the meantime, wish me luck!

* * * * *

¹To wit: my husband would generally prefer that I not play games with his family.

Pura Vida con las chicas

One of the tragedies of my adult life is that I’ve found myself living so far away from most of my dearest friends. Take, for example, my best friends from grade school. We live plane-rides apart: Seattle, Denver, Los Angeles and San Francisco. With busy lives (jobs, spouses, children) — coupled with the high cost of travel — we rarely get to see each other. It requires a nearly super-human effort to get us all in the same place, even though we generally want nothing more than that.

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J.A.A.A.M

My year of 40 is also their year of 40, give or take a few months. I knew I wanted to see them, and a 40th birthday trip felt like something I could get them to rally behind. Also, in “year of 40” style, I wanted us to go somewhere I had never been. Nine months after the planning began, we made it: a week in Costa Rica, all together.

Readers, it was everything I had hoped it would be and more.

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Sunset over Playa Guiones, Nosara, Costa Rica

We were looking for a town in which we could do yoga and go surfing. Astrid had heard of Nosara from a friend, so Ashley set to researching it, and the town seemed to meet our requirements. After settling on the last week of September (based on everyone’s travel and work schedules), we booked our flights and reserved a bungalow at the Harmony Hotel.

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The pool at the Harmony Hotel

One noteworthy thing about traveling to Nosara is that it is a 2 ½ hour drive from the nearest airport, and the second half of that drive is on a pothole-ridden dirt road, making for one of the bumpier rides I have ever been on. The natives (and the expats who have discovered Nosara) like this feature, as they say it keeps a lot of the tourists away.

September is the rainy season in Nosara, and the weather report in the days leading up to our departure was incredibly depressing. 100% chance of rain: morning thunderstorms, afternoon thunderstorms, evening thunderstorms. This was the forecast for every day I was to be in Costa Rica. I packed my raincoat, books, playing cards. I figured I would have to hunker down in our cabin, and I was rather disappointed at the prospect.

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Sunny days. Umbrella used as sunshade or prop.

Fortunately, the forecast was a vast overstatement. Most days, an afternoon or an evening thunderstorm would roll in for a half-hour or an hour. Nada mas! These thunderstorms were epic: lightning, heavy rain, loud claps of thunder. I actually loved the rain, which didn’t impact our activities at all.

Better still, the rain keeps tourists away. I suppose the threat of a “rainy season” makes most people choose a different time of year to visit CR — all the better for us. The town was like a ghost town. There was one couple with a baby who stayed at our hotel; our yoga classes only ever had 1-2 participants besides us. We had the pool, the restaurants, the vast beaches, almost all to ourselves. Some of the businesses had shuttered for the season, but enough restaurants were open to keep us fed, and we wanted for nothing.

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Aerial yoga (a first!): we comprised 5/6 of the class.

Our days in Nosara were like a dream: a beautiful, leisurely pastiche of eating well, physical activity (run/walk/surf/swim/yoga), time for ourselves, and time with friends. We could fit so much in our days, when there was no work to interfere, no children making demands, no commute to rob us of precious minutes.

 

 

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Yoga in paradise

The next time I’m asked, “What would your perfect day be like?” I might respond with a description of my last day in Costa Rica. It went like this:

Wake up. Go surfing. Eat a delicious breakfast. Read and relax for an hour. Do an intense level 2/3 yoga class. Indulge in a tropical green smoothie. Get a massage. Shower, read some more. Go out to the beach for champagne at sunset. Watch as a sea turtle makes her way to the ocean, having laid her eggs. Walk to a restaurant and enjoy dinner and drinks with friends. Walk back to the hotel. Sleep soundly.

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Mama sea turtle crawls back to the ocean

Our trip was magical, in part because of Nosara, and all it offers, but moreso because I experienced it with my friends. I cherish them. I already miss our belly laughs, our stories, and our pondering of life’s great questions.

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Champagne on the beach at sunset

Fortunately, we have agreed to do this again for our “year of 45.”

 

 

Why I’ve been dialing complete strangers

I’m not very politically involved. I tend to shy away from discussing politics, unless I already know a person really well, and I don’t engage in or provoke political discourse on social media. I think this stems from a deep-seated proclivity for conflict-avoidance,¹ coupled with the feeling that many of my friends, family and colleagues are more knowledgeable about politics than I. I have never registered with a political party, have never attended rallies; at most I’ve given a few bucks here or there and gotten a bumper sticker in return. 39.9 years, and I have generally avoided politics for all of them.

Until now.

We face a somber reality: the most dangerous presidential candidate in my lifetime stands a chance of winning the White House. Narcissistic, misogynistic, jingoistic, xenophobic, short-tempered, deeply insecure, ignorant, and any number of other adjectives that describe someone who should never lead our country, Donald Trump stands shockingly, terrifyingly close to being chosen to do just that. I shudder to think that he could be president.

Feeling so strongly, am I not obligated to do something? Especially in light of his facing an incredibly qualified opponent who stands for so much of what I believe in?

And so, for the month of August: political activism.

HFA

I knew I was not a good candidate for going door to door, because: three small kids. But I did think of something that I had no excuse not to be able to do- something I could do from home, when the kids were asleep, with minimal time commitment. I went to HillaryClinton.com and clicked “Act,” where I quickly learned how to sign up for phone banking.

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The sign-up was surprisingly easy, and within two minutes, a red button saying “Call” stared at me. No training was required, no vetting that I wasn’t secretly a Trump supporter, trying to infiltrate the campaign. These are good, trusting folk, these Hillary For America organizers. I was nervous: was I really ready to call random people and pitch them on why they should support Hillary?

Here’s how it works. You sign up for a state to call. You are given a name and phone number to dial, and a complete script to use. I took a deep breath and went for it.

The first time I phone banked, the only state that was “open” for calls was Hawaii.² I read through the script and was immediately troubled. They wanted me to say “I am a volunteer for Hillary for Hawaii here in Kauai.” But… my “here” is not in Kauai, even if I wish it were. Am I really supposed to lie, right off the bat, as part of my phone banking duty? I decided that I would allow myself to go slightly off-script so as not to say anything that felt wrong to me, like lying about where I was calling from. Sadly, I didn’t reach a single live person that shift.

Hawaii call

The next shift, I hopped on the phone on a Sunday afternoon, which meant I had many more states to choose from. Iowa needed me to make 3 calls. I was told it’s the first state to vote, with voting kicking off in September. Okay, Iowa- I’m here for you! I clicked on “make calls,” and was informed that all the calls had been made. Fantastic! On to the next state.

I clicked on West Virginia. They wanted me to make 5 calls to Hillary supporters in that state. I clicked “call,” and got the message, “Problem accessing phone banks. Whoops! Something went wrong. We’ll reach out when we get this settled.”

I tried West Virginia again, and was told, “Way to go! You called everyone on the list. Can you grab a few more calls?” Sure- this was easy!

Next, I tried Rhode Island. Same message. Either there were plenty of phone bankers, or the system had some major bugs. Surely some state could use my cell phone minutes and my ability to read from a script?

I clicked on Massachusetts, and finally — FINALLY — we had a winner.

I tried calling a 24 year old male named Louis. No answer. I continued: Bil, Sidonie, and Patricia: all went to voicemail.

Finally, an answer: Deb! I gave her my intro pitch, and she said she’s not registered in Massachusetts. I asked her where she’s registered: California. (Why, that’s where I am! Good thing I hadn’t pretended to be calling from Massachusetts!) The script hadn’t prepared me for this turn of conversation. Me: “Uh, that’s great. I’m actually there to0. Listen, can I ask you- because we’re trying to find out how many supporters we have in different states- can Hillary count on your support on election day?” Deb, after a pause: “Yes.” And the line went silent.

My heart slowed down.³ I made it through my first live call! And I didn’t totally bomb it!

I go back to the phone for more: Martha, Chad, Mark (number not in service), William, Patricia, Karen (number not in service), Michael, Paula, David. This phone banking is not for those who seek instant gratification — it’s very hard to get someone to pick up. This doesn’t surprise me, since I would react the same to an unknown number calling me on a Sunday evening. Still, now that I’m the unknown caller, I’m silently begging people to answer their phones.

Another Paula, this one an 81 year old female. She answers! I tell her who I am, and she says, “Isn’t it rather late to be calling?” (It is 8:30pm Massachusetts time.) Once again, I stutter and go off-script. “Well, we’ve found that this time in the early evening is the best time to find people while they’re at home, uh, before they go to bed. If it’s too late, I could try back some other time.” Paula: “Oh no, that’s all right, it’s just that I’m tired is all. Why are you calling, dear?” I go back to the script and ask her if Hillary can count on her support. “Of course!” says Paula. It turns out that Paula had even volunteered for Hillary in the primary, and she will again, if the timing works out, but it all depends, because “her husband isn’t well.” I feel bad, but I press on: this is the first time I’ve made it this far in the script! I ask her whether she could possibly go to New Hampshire next weekend, and she says that Elizabeth Warren is coming to speak next weekend, and she’s “the top,” so she can’t miss out on that. I agree, and congratulate her for having volunteered in the past, and Paula and I hang up cordially.

So, after all of this phone banking, what have I learned?

  1. Taking action, no matter how small, does give a person a sense of accomplishment. Even if that accomplishment is letting H4A organizers know when a number is no longer in service.
  2. Even though the Hillary Phone Bank organizers encouraged me to fib about my location, I am still strongly supportive of Hillary (and I would be even if her opponent was someone other than Trump).
  3. Elizabeth Warren is the top.
  4. Volunteering for a campaign feels a bit like a gateway drug. I confess that I have since gone on to purchase Hillary paraphrenalia, again, a first for me.

In my newfound role as political activist, I would be remiss if I didn’t encourage all of you to make sure to vote on Election Day and help us elect Hillary. You might even try phone banking, or doing something that requires you to leave your house (and if so, my three children and I tip my hat to you).

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¹I remember when my older sister used to try to argue with me. She would yell and try to provoke me with her words and tone of voice, and I would refuse to engage. I’d stay calm and usually walk away, and this would drive her crazy.

²This is what I get for attempting to phone bank at 10:15pm California time. Hawaii is one of the most reliably blue states in our country. It’s a gimme for the Democrats in modern presidential elections. Why are we spending volunteers’ precious time calling a state that is guaranteed to go Hillary? Might we not want to reallocate our resources? (Says the campaign newbie who, two minutes in, thinks she knows what’s best. I’ll pipe down now.)

³Readers may be interested to note that phone banking for Hillary gave me a bigger adrenaline rush than jumping out of the airplane, back in April. Yeah, I know. Weird.

 

A Tale of Two Sequels

When I originally conceived of the “My Year of 40” concept and started thinking about different things I could do each month, one of my first ideas was to learn to code. How very millennial of me! Plus, I work at a software company; code is all around me (as are millennials).

More importantly, coding is right up my alley. It’s a mash-up of foreign languages and logic problems: two things that are super fun.¹

My only real coding experience was when I taught myself HTML back in 1999. I read “HTML For Dummies” and that was all it took. HTML, learned. Three very basic but orderly websites, built.

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Coding = Fun! An example of SQL.

Fast-forward to 2016. I haven’t coded in 14 (!) years, and yet, there’s a part of me that fantasizes about coding for a living. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to solve problems every day, just man vs. machine? And then turn off your computer when you’re done for the day, and not have to bring your work home with you? And not have to worry about the team that you’re trying to grow and develop, and the company-level strategy that you’re trying to guide, and the hopes and expectations of 90+ employees on your shoulders? (But I digress, and also, I exaggerate.) The fact is, I liked my coding of old, and I was ready to tackle a new language.

The engineering team at my company primarily uses a language called Ruby. I would love to learn it, but I’m not sure how I would use it unless I were to actually start working on the engineering team. Instead, I decided on a different language: SQL. (Pronounced “sequel” or “S-Q-L.”)

SQL, as I understood it, was a way to get actionable insights out of data. We have lots of data at my company, and we store it in a database. If I want to query the database, I have to use SQL.

I also chose SQL because we have a company subscription to a learning platform called Udemy, and one of their most popular courses is called “SQL for Newbs.” Perfect! HTML for Dummies, SQL for Newbs– I embrace humility in my quest to learn to code.

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My course and the instructors. Highly recommended.

I started the course with four of my colleagues, and we had been taking our time with it, doing about a half-hour every two weeks.²

I needed to move a bit faster, in large part because I had a deadline for myself. My goal was to learn enough SQL to run my own query and get one actionable insight by the end of July. Specifically, I was hoping to query our candidate and employee data to discover answers such as which candidate sources yield our best-performing employees.

Unfortunately, I didn’t count on one thing: the data I wanted to query was not the data in our database. Not to get too technical on anyone, but I would have had to create my own database and essentially become a database administrator before being able to apply SQL to that data. No, thank you. At that point, we would have bid the fun farewell.

Stymied, I still haven’t run my SQL queries. I will, I promise- but not in time for this month’s post. Instead, I have another sequel to share.

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Despite what my hairdresser said, this was not blond.

Last month’s attempt at “blond” came out more like a honey color. By this past week, with my roots showing, I felt like a fading tiger. Back to the salon for a sequel, and this time, we went for the bleach. I mean, if I’m trying to be blond for my year of 40, let’s do this thing!

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Blonder than before. I feel daring.

So now I’m bleach-blond, literally, and I feel funky and not at all myself. Which, in my year of 40, is kind of the goal.

* * * * *

¹I recognize that some of my readership may disagree with me on this point.

²This leisurely pace is not recommended if you hope to retain anything at all from the lecture.

A Stoic, Powerful Lady

I like exercise. A lot. I’m one of those people who goes a little bit crazy if I go two or more days go in a row without exercising. I don’t need to be prompted to do it; if anything, it’s the reverse: I’m usually begging for time (from my husband, while he watches the kids) to do it.

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Me + exercise = happiness

My natural affinity for exercise, coupled with my penchant for thrift, means that I have never splurged on a personal trainer. Until now. (Thanks, year of 40!)

My approach to finding a good personal trainer was one of the least rigorous decision trees I’ve ever faced. Do I belong to a gym? Yes. Does the gym allow outside trainers? No. Which of the gym’s trainers should I choose? The one the YMCA assigns me. Just fill out a questionnaire, along with my preferred training schedule, and the YMCA will find my match. Easy peasy.

First, what am I hoping to accomplish through personal training?

  • Weight loss?
  • Improved cardiovascular fitness?
  • Strength?
  • Better muscle tone?
  • Athletic improvement?
  • Functional training (e.g. for a race)?

I looked in vain for an “all of the above” option. How could I narrow down my goals to just one?  Nearly a year after giving birth to my third child, I’m not where I’d like to be, body-wise or fitness-wise. Still ten pounds over my goal weight; still not running as fast as I used to; muscles a bit flabby compared to years ago. (When I’m feeling uncharitable, I’ll look at my kids and think to myself, “Were you worth it?”) Help me, personal trainer!

Enter Rick. The complex algorithm involved in the above questionnaire had deemed us a match. But in a sign that our relationship was doomed from the start, Rick was hard to get a hold of. I emailed — crickets; I called — he didn’t respond; he texted back; we couldn’t find a time to connect. Finally we chatted on the phone, but we still couldn’t agree on a time to meet. Four weeks (!) after I initially set wheels in motion on finding a personal trainer, we finally had our first session.¹

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Rick has thrown almost everything I thought I knew about personal training out the window. To begin, we didn’t start our first session with a weigh-in. How can we measure improvement if we don’t have a baseline? Nor did we write down a series of exercises, number of reps, and what weight I should use for each exercise. When I asked him about that, he said, “Nah. Takes too long. I don’t want to waste any of our time with writing. Next time, bring your phone and I’ll take pictures; then you’ll remember what we did.”

 

Twice a week we meet, and Rick throws a battery of new exercises at me every time. It makes my head spin. Every now and then he’ll say “let’s do that one we always do,” and then launches into an exercise I’ve never seen before. We go for half an hour, doing a series of drills that he seems to come up with on the spot. He reminds me of a puppy, finding something new that catches his eye, and wanting to play with it. We dart all over the gym; one moment at the kettlebells, then over to the mats, then back up to the free weights, now over to the machines, but only after we grab some ropes and go to the group exercise room.

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One of the many exercises Rick throws my way. 

Also like a puppy, he craves feedback, an emotional response to everything he’s giving me. He says he can’t read me- “you’re stoic! I can’t tell what you’re thinking!” I resist giving him feedback, because what I’m usually thinking is, “Oh please get me through this exercise. Only 10 more reps. I hate this one. It’s so painful. Ugh. Just get through it. Why am I doing this again?” Rick, if you’re reading this: it’s not you, it’s me!

To be fair, sometimes I like it. I like being told what exercises to do, and how many of them to do, and having someone else keep count for me. I like being encouraged right when I’m most inclined to stop. But it’s definitely a love/hate.

Rick gives me heavier weights than I ever use on my own. He says I don’t sweat (not true) so he thinks he’s not working me hard enough (also not true).  He has me do far more reps than I want to do. I guess this is the real benefit of personal training: pushing you harder and further than you would choose to push yourself. He may remind me of a puppy, but clearly, I’m the one being trained. He calls me “lady.” (Like Lady and the Tramp?)

“Okay, lady. I want 20 reps. Go! Come on, lady. You got this! You’re powerful!”

I grimace; I push through to the end of the set. Or sometimes, I don’t. I stop, and rest, and Rick modifies his demand: the goal drops to 15 reps, and I can feel his disappointment. I’m letting Rick down.

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Stoic on the outside. Inside: 

In the end, I will let Rick down some more, because I will not sign up for another set of sessions. My penny-pinching wins out: I can’t possibly justify spending this kind of dough on twice weekly personal training. Especially when (and Rick, this is not your fault)- I have actually gained weight over the last month.² Sigh.

An aside: I actually did two new things this month. Did you catch the second one? Look at that last photo; see if you can spot what’s new.

* * * * *

¹A long enough delay that I had to push personal training to June and find something else new to do in May. You remember floating? Yeah, that was just filler.

²I know, I know. “Muscle weighs more than fat.” Blah blah blah. Just get me back to my pre-kids body already!