A Late Start

This awesome guest post is by one of our favorite Cranketeers, Death Ride Grandma! 

Crabby and The Lobster are undertaking their season migration from one coast to the other, this time via airplane rather than in Fran the Van.  Crabby is most likely, at this very moment, cursing sleepless redeye flights and crappy 6 a.m.airport food choices and barfy ferry rides and the necessity of unpacking random boxes of crap in order to find coffee-making supplies and clean underwear. So how awesome is it to have an inspirational post from an articulate kick-ass blog comment contributor instead of bleary blog blatherings from a semi-comatose crustacean?

And now please welcome... Death Ride Grandma!

Advantages of taking up serious exercise when you’re…when you’re…well, not exactly young any more:

1)    You have a lot less wear and tear on those joints. Runner’s knee? Much less of a worry if you have been swaddling that knee in cotton and wool for 45 years or so.
2)    Really, how many 55-year-olds are regularly setting personal bests?
3)    Regular access to free, legal, safe drugs.*
4)    You can seriously impress your doctor.
5)    And your friends and relatives.
6)    And yourself.

This is my story. Before you go looking for inspiration on your own fitness journey, fair warning: you will not be wanting to find your inspiration the way I found mine.

But I hope you will want to duplicate some of what it produced. I am 61. I have 5 grandchildren. I work full time, commute, volunteer a fair amount. If I can do it, you can do it too.


I run a bit, maybe 5-6 miles a week; I take yoga classes; I tap dance; I spend a couple hours a week weight training; I am known in the abs class as the one who casually picks up 25 pound dumbbells for the core row (I am a little old lady – 5’1” and happily leave my hair gray); but mostly, I ride. Over the last few years I have averaged 6000 bicycle miles a year. This year, as my alias here suggests, I am training for the Death Ride – 129 miles, total climbing of over 15,000’. And I love it.

For a long time, for most of the time my kids were growing up, I did what so many of us do: I gained weight, a pound here, a pound there, a bigger size, then one more.

When I was a kid, I was always outside playing, and I had lots of fun on the playgrounds, but I was never chosen for teams, I am not naturally athletic at all. As an adult, I still loved to walk – fast – and I took tap dance classes wherever I could, but it was not enough. The pounds kept coming, the aches that I assumed were just a normal part of aging multiplied. I signed up for one exercise series after another, and somehow never quite finished them. Ok, I often didn’t even do more than the first class. I forgot the clothes that day; I was self-conscious about the shower set-up; I was tired; something big was happening at work; I had a sick kid; I stubbed my toe. Excuses come easy. Rationalizations? No problem. The hard thing to find was the inspiration that got me past all of that stuff.

Here’s where my story will be of no use to you. When I reached the event that ended up inspiring me, I didn’t appreciate it at all. You see, my inspiration came from a place no one would want to go, and no one could choose to go. When I was 46 I learned I had brain cancer. I had surgery. I found I was sleeping with my jaw clenched from the anxiety. But I didn’t die from it.

[Note: DRG couldn't find any brain surgery photos,
 but I'm sure this is a close approximation. --Crabby]

After a couple of years, when I was off all the anti-convulsant medication, when I had gotten more used to the bizarre reality I had dealt with, and I had taken care of the really big things I’d have kicked myself for not having done had I been one of the, sadly, far more common brain tumor victims who don’t get a second chance (planning for our retirements; some serious succession planning for my business; some traveling I had always dreamed of), I was ready. Really ready to get in shape. I found those old excuses and rationalizations sounded sort of hollow. Next time, tomorrow, later – but what if tomorrow doesn’t come? So I went out and bought a stationary bike and gave myself homework. I was to sit and pedal for 30 minutes a day, every day unless I was too sick to get up; I was to write it all down; I was not to eat any more than I was already eating.

It hurt at first. And frankly, a stationary bike is not all that much fun. But the pounds started to drop off. And after a while, my husband talked me off the stationary bike and onto a clunky bike that went – yikes! – out on the street. The miles started to accumulate, and the views were beautiful, and it started to be something I really looked forward to.

Let me tell you how great, how easy it feels. In the beginning, I was nervous that if I skipped a day, I would, once again, let the plan slide into the growing trash heap of abandoned plans. Now, I am afraid of missing an active day ‘cause I know I won’t feel as happy without my legal, free, guaranteed pure and uncontaminated drugs.* Now I climb hills I dreaded only a few years ago – and call it a recovery ride. Now, I’m one of the ones saying, “Keep it up! You’re almost there!” I went a year and  a half with no car.  My husband and I rode our bikes from Seattle to Boston at a touring pace – leisurely - looking at every town, every wildflower, every bird, talking to lots and lots of great people.

And before you say, yeah, but that’s so not me, let me remind you: I got on a road bike for the first time in my life when I was 51.

I sleep well. I rarely get sick, and when I do get a cold, it seems much milder. I move the way I did when I was a teenager – no hesitation to sit on the floor, to clamber into an awkward spot to hide when my grandchildren propose hide and seek, to rush up or down stairs. Less aches than when I was 30. Really. No feeling out of breath if I run for a bus. As of this morning, my weight is 3 pounds more than it was when I was 15, 20, 27 (then I had that baby and things went in the wrong direction for about 20 years). I have had my weight pretty much where I want it for 12 years now. 

And here’s the part I like best. I admit it. I can eat all the ice cream I want.

So what does it take? I do not claim any expertise, and have no plans to write a book. The thing is, I think most of it is too simple for that. And Crabby’s book has all the important stuff covered already. I’d just say, find something that appeals to you and put it on your calendar; find friends who like it, too, and make appointments you have to keep to make them happy. Or join a group with the interest and make friends there. Maybe you love plants – find a group that identifies all the wildflowers on local hikes. Maybe you love water – think about swimming, or hey, maybe windsurfing. Dance. Do those urban clue-following races with a team. Learn how to stand on your head.

And on the food front? Just stop eating when you’re full. That alone allowed me to stop gaining. Find some little thing you can change for the better every now and again (I went over to brown rice from white; I gradually weaned myself from soda to lemonade, then to water with lemon squeezed into it.) But don’t go all crazy and decide it will only work if you give up your favorite treats, if you will always have to show up at the Christmas party with a baggie full of celery. Eliminating fun doesn’t sound like a good idea to me. Then add a little exercise without adding food. My bike expert/trainer points out that, once you’ve found a stable weight,  if you can get rid of 100 calories a day (that’s like one small cookie, maybe? Or a half hour walk?) you will lose almost a pound a month. It won’t get you into the dress for the wedding next week. So? That never lasts anyway. What I have done is find a few little tweaks that have really changed my life. I don’t want to finish my quest to lose weight so I can go back to “normal” – I found a place that can be normal forever. That’s what works.

Inspiration to make it happen? Well, how hard would you push yourself to get something you really, really like? How far would you walk to visit your best friend? How fast would you finish chores to make sure to see your favorite show? How carefully would you save to buy the camera you dream of? I bet all of your answers involve more effort than a little exercise time would. I promise you, once you have gotten to know this feeling, you will look forward to pushing at least that hard to keep experiencing it.

*Endorphins. I never took drugs that weren’t prescribed, and I resist prescriptions pretty vigorously. I took one Vicodin after my craniotomy, and that was just because the nurse seemed to think I should want it. But this endorphin stuff – wow! I will never willingly give it up.

Thanks so much, Death Ride Grandma, it's great to hear your story!  Anyone else besides me feel inspired?  And what got you guys going?

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