They say old habits die hard, but these days, as my life and I continue to evolve, I beg to differ. Having been beholden to the endless gritty details of high performance for so many years, one would think that it would be hard to drop the many habits ingrained in me over two decades. Not so.
For me, being an athlete meant being on the clock 24/7. I punched in once and the clock never stopped. Everything I did and every choice I made was connected to my performance. Even going on vacation to let myself rest in preparation for the next season was part of the job. Eating the right food, eating enough food, getting enough sleep, regular therapy, following the training program, specific warm-up routines, focus during workouts, stretching before bed… I never ever let up.
And then, after 23 long years, I finally punched out. I quit my job and swiftly became unbound to the fiercely stalwart tasks that defined my path to the top. Life strangely evolved into a nebulous vacuum, void of time, space, and direction. For a time, I grasped at the now meaningless habits that gave my life structure in order to maintain some sort of daily routine but eventually, I relented.
When I finally let go, I discovered the beauty in following the ebb and flow that nature provides. When I ride my bike in the Rocky Mountain foothills, I let the terrain set the pace, not the program or the clock. Responding only to changes in grade, I work hard when the hills climb up and rest when they flow down. Freedom from prescribed intervals at a specific heart rate or intensity is wonderful.
On days when I feel tired, I rest. On days when I feel lazy, I push. On days when I feel good, I hammer. I love to ski, ride, row and just plain move. And all those old habits fell away without consequence as I learned, for once, what balance truly is. I will admit that I occasionally still eat with ratios of carbs and protein on my mind and enjoy getting plenty of sleep, but everything else simply evaporated. I don’t warm up, warm down or stretch, ever. Glorious.
And then one day last week I went for a run. It was a lazy day and I needed a little push to get moving. Chilly, yes, but always better to be outside. I ran down the path along the mighty Bow River, watching my breath cool in the frosty air. Bright sun on my face and all that. Then, a ‘pop’ in my left calf. Huh?
I stopped to stretch it out against the trunk of a large poplar. I continued on but the pain threshold had me stop a few steps later. I attempted to run a few more times but in the end I had to walk home. Thwarted by my bum calf, I walked home full of disappointment with myself for letting my habit of stretching before bed, of stretching at all, lapse so ruthlessly.
I resolved to resume a somewhat regular habit of stretching. My aging muscles and bones are, it turns out, not immune to the effects of poor maintenance, especially in light of the abuse I regularly inflict upon them. If I wish to uphold the level of activity I currently enjoy, it would do me well to punch in again every once in a while to prevent the risk of another bum calf, or worse.
The first attempt at lengthening my shortened muscles was shocking; my range of motion was significantly limited in comparison to those rigid days of routine stretching. Heeding the warning bells in my brain to not stretch too hard and risk further damage, I let nature take over and slowly, gently, eased into the task.
Now reacquainted with the old habit that I cast aside so easily, I’m relieved I experienced this minor hiccup to remind me of the value of my past diligence. Although there is no longer any connection to performance, nor urgent desire to adopt that rigid mindset, it feels good to cherry pick the best of the bunch in order to sustain my new life as a weekend warrior.
And thankfully, now, I can punch out any time I choose.
p.s. Big changes are coming to The GrovesLine and kristinagroves.ca. Stay tuned!