So Tired, So Happy

I told the Grade 5/6 kids at school yesterday that I planned on riding the elliptical for three hours today – 11:00 – 12:00, 12:30 – 1:30 and 2:00 – 3:00. I said I’d text “Jayne”, their teacher, to report on my progress.  Nice to have an audience.

Fifteen minutes before showtime, I was at the gym’s water fountain, ready to mix up my electrolyte drink.  I bent down to get the bag of powder from my backpack.  When I started to stand up, I schmucked my head on the corner of the fountain.  Woo.  Dizzy.  I was staggering a bit and a woman asked me if I was all right.  “Sort of.”

A few minutes later, adequately recovered, I began to laugh.  My great athletic day … off to an inauspicious start.

Once I had gathered my essential life forces, I put on t-shirt and shorts and texted Jayne.  In response, she shared how the kids laughed at my predicament.  I’d told them that I was fine.

The first hour, I went slow, in the spirit of a marathon rather than a sprint.  I told the crew afterwards that I was “pleasantly” tired, not an adverb I usually associate with fatigue.  The response from Cyberland?  “Go, Mr. Kerr, go!  You can do it.”  That felt good.  And I was proud of myself, schussing along at a moderate pace, keeping my heart rate under control.

Hour number two was far more of a grunt, and the breathing was heavy. Plus pain behind my right knee.  I waited to see if it would mellow, and five minutes later it did.  When the second 60 minutes were up, I felt “unpleasantly” tired, but happily still vertical.  Once the bod had returned to some version of normal, I texted Jayne and the kids, in advance of my 2:00 pm relaunch.  “What will happen if I’m completely pooped at 2:30?  I’ll do what comes naturally – I’ll think of you!”

And the response: “You can do it!!  They’re all cheering!”  I wasn’t so sure I could do it but you gotta go with what those young people say.

The third hour was a slog, but strangely and wonderfully, I didn’t once think of quitting.  Twenty-five young humans, and one older one, were cheering me on.  Around 2:45, I really needed the support.  Everything was slowing, except my heartbeat.  The breath was a gasp.  But lo and behold, 59 minutes turned into 60, and I’d done it!  The equivalent of 60 kilometres, 15 more than I had done before.  Yay!

It’s three hours later now and I’m sitting in a London library.  I feel slow and weak.  “Well, Bruce, what exactly did you expect?  You’re not a machine, you know.”  True.  And whatever I am, having a lot of kids pulling for me got me over the top.  Thank you.

Strength

I like myself a lot.  I think I’m kind and compassionate.  I’m working out on the elliptical in the gym and soon with the bike on the road.  So cardiovascular health is coming my way.  But there’s one aspect of life where I’ve always defined myself as “less”: strength.

In 1980 or so, I lost an arm wrestle to my 11-year-old niece Diana.  And yes, I was really trying.  Growing up, I related to that skinny kid on the beach who had sand kicked in his face.  I go the gym now and see the huge weights that some of the men and women are hoisting.  And the “less” starts to grow.

I’ve dabbled in strength training over the past few years, even hired a personal trainer, but I would always find reasons to fritter away my expressed commitment.  During some sessions I was fierce in my determination to do all the reps but then injury or illness always seemed to derail me and my progress returned to zero.

Today I began again.  Light weights but I did my full Day One program.  And oh, it felt good.  I see the opportunity right in front of my nose – to be strong, not with big, blocky muscles, but still, able to grunt my way up hills on the bike, climb stairs with ease twenty years from now, and have my body support my spirit.

One version of spirituality focuses on the sweetness beyond this physical round, on epiphanies of the soul, feeling the depth of the present moment.  Another emphasizes the glory of the senses – the body moving through space, the pleasures of a soft breeze or a fine meal.  But there’s more: the chance to embrace both.

I can be more than my heart and head.  I can include my biceps and quads.  No need for the V-shape but lots of room for a different type of meditation – the intensity of contracting muscles can be in partnership with stillness.

It’s possible that physical fitness can allow me to reach more people with my caring.  I’d like that.

 

Day Five: Wrong, Strong And Speedy

I woke up bleary-eyed this morning and recalled a horrible story I’d heard a few days ago.  A man was found dead in his Cuba hotel room, cause unknown.  His sister flew down from Canada, and was taking a light plane to her final destination when it crashed, killing everyone onboard.  So sad.  I had thought yesterday I’d write about this tragedy but then I became enthralled with a triangle.  Now we’re one more day removed from the accident and I don’t want to break my rule about having my writing stay in the present.

All these muddled thoughts came out of me as I rolled in bed.  I imagined writing the story.  But I couldn’t remember it.  Confused, I realized that I couldn’t even remember the death and plane crash happening.  I tried to bring forth my cognitive capacities in the shower … but nothing came.  My brain made it up!  Nobody died.

What a fascinating organ of the body.  Tricking me like that.  Creating a dream that felt so real.  I’m going to have a good talk with this brain of mine.

***

After lunch yesterday, I looked at myself and saw that some energy had returned.  Maybe I could strength train.  It had been a week since I’d lifted weights.  So off I went to the gym in the village beside my hotel.  A hot walk.  But such ecstasy when I opened the door to a flood of air conditioning.  I sat a bit and let it flow over me.  Guess I’m just not a tropical flower.

Since food was a very recent memory, I decided to do yoga first.  What a marvel to stretch slow and easy, sometimes feeling my vertebrae settle in.  My left hip has been tight for as long as I can remember and my work with it felt just right.  What sacrilege that I ignored stretching until well into my thirties.  (And strength training until well into my sixties!)  Now I was lying on my back with my arms out to the sides.  My head goes left and my legs right.  Oh sweet twisting motion.  A transcendent human being would no doubt just be revelling in the present, but I have to admit I was thinking golf swing.

Now for the machines and free weights.  I’ve memorized the terms so I can sound authoritative: leg press, leg extension, torso twist (golf again!), tricep extension, bicep curl, pectoral, omni raise and hammer curl.  What a hunk of muscle I am.

I had to figure out the subtleties of the machines since there were differences from home.  Let’s see … one kilogram equals 2.2 pounds.  It was all a part of the process and I enjoyed being “on the mat”, a martial arts phrase praising the virtues of simple participation in the act, with no performance thoughts intruding (except for sometimes).

[Interlude:  It is so hot today with virtually no breeze.  I’m exercising my digits in the shade, fortified with coffee, but I’m sinking slowly in the west.  I thought part of my title was “Strong”.  Oh well, Bruce.  Keep going.]

Aided by my superstar headband, I was giving ‘er.  Not quite the weights I was using at home but close.  On some machines, the last few reps were tough but I turned on the fierceness to get the job done.  Waydago, guy!  Air conditioned sweat was pouring off me and I knew I was pretty much the king of the world.

Today, the heat-filled weakness has returned but my path is clear.  I want to be strong for the present and the future: climbing stairs, walking eighteen holes, making love.

***

Two hours before sunset, I was on the beach, without my Speedo.  No, I’m not talking nudity here.  Just happy to be in the shade wearing t-shirt and shorts.  Small thoughts percolated in my head.  “You’re here for a beach vacation, Bruce.  Get tanning.”  “Real men are brown.”  “Dance down the shoreline.”  In the here and now of yesterday, I said no to them all.

I was under a thatched roof that had to stretch a hundred yards, affording a clear view of the water and wildlife.  Animals fitted out in skimpy bikinis drew my immediate attention.  Some local species, no doubt.  But soon my gaze lifted to the gulls flying by.  Heading to the right, my elevated friends were bucking a hurricanal headwind.  They were staying close to my structure to cut the breeze some.  I wondered at the wings and muscles working furiously.  The birds had their own gym, with no membership fees.

The coolest, though, was right to left.  Gulls blasted by at warp speed, their wings folded back.  Oh my goodness … one of the wonders of the world.  They took turns doing a sprint in front of me and I was the better for it.  I celebrated the joy of the world.

Right now I’m withering in the shade.  But the fronds of the palm trees across the garden from my writing spot have just started to stir.  Yesterday the dance was rich and full, arms waving in a glorious flow.  If that’s not to be today, maybe I’ll retreat to my air-conditioned room after I upload this blog post in the lobby.  Hey … sometimes retreat is just what the doctor ordered.