Monday Musings: par!

My friends, Sunday was a great accomplishment in my golf life. Maybe I was inspired by watching Rickie Fowler’s 7 consecutive birdies (!!) in the Hero World Challenge.  Maybe I was picking up some pro golf techniques by osmosis as we watched hours on end of golf coverage. Or maybe, maybe the universe just knew I was due for a golf win. Whatever the cause, the end result was this: a sweet, beautiful, all-natural, mulligan-free, legitimate par. My first ever on a non-pitch-and-putt course.

It was just like any other day on the greens. I was trying desperately to get some air on my hybrid shots, hacking away (literally) at chip shots, and putting like a champ (seriously, it’s the only decent part of my game), and I was still lucky to shoot a 5 on a par 3. Then I stepped up to the fifth hole and everything changed.

I teed up. I grabbed my trusty hybrid club. I took a deep breath and hoped for the best because, let’s face it, that about all I can do most days and it’s even more true when I haven’t played golf in two months (unless you count the tiny putting green at Golf Town…which you shouldn’t). There were no practice swings. There was no positive self-talk. There was no conscious thought whatsoever. There was just me and my hybrid, in the zone for one brief moment.

I made good contact. I know the sound because it happens so rarely for me. I watched as, miraculously, the ball took flight up in the air.  I watched it flying closer and closer to the green, only to drop to the ground just shy of the green. But then the universe handed me a gift. I got a generous bounce, and then another generous bounce, and then a thank-you-lord little roll. Before I knew it, my ball was on the green.  I’ve done this only twice before. This in itself was a miracle. There may have been jumping up and down.

Once I made my way to the green, I knew this was going to my first legitimate birdie. Spoiler: it wasn’t. The ball was a good 40 feet from the hole but, here’s the thing, I am occasionally freakishly good with my long putts. I was also still riding the high of perhaps my best tee shot ever.  I was going to sink this putt. I took my time, lined up the putt, practiced a couple putting strokes. Then I putted.

I missed.

It was tracking the whole way, right on line, and it was all looking so magical, that is until the ball just petered out and came to a stop.  I didn’t get the weight right. I was still four feet from the hole, a dangerous putt for me since I have a tendency to think I don’t need to line it up from that distance. My boyfriend told me to take my time and line it up, and for once I listened. I looked at that ground from all angles, determined to find any sign of a break. I took another deep breath and gave that putt my all.

As a casual (i.e. undeniably unskilled) golfer, there is nothing sweeter than the sound of a ball falling to the bottom of the cup on a par putt. You would have thought I hit a hole-in-one for all my excitement and jumping up and down.  I know, I can see some of you giving me serious side eye right now, wondering how on earth one par score over months of golfing is worthy of an entire blog post. To you I say: you cannot steal my sense of pride and accomplishment here. I got a par. Without a mulligan. On a reasonably long par 3. That is a good day in the life of a wannabe golfer and I am going to ride this wave whether you think it worthy of celebration or not.

Never you mind that I shot a 10 on the next hole…



Training Tuesdays: walk this way

Anyone else have Aerosmith/Run DMC in their head now? No? Okay, moving on then…

It’s no secret to regular readers that I’ve been off the running train for some time now. I’ve been focused on building strength and trying to find non-running forms of cardio that don’t make me want to slam my head into a wall (if one more person mentions swimming or biking…). The reality is that my true workouts have been a far cry from what they used to be. But I can tell you that I’ve been doing something for the past month or so that’s made a huge difference to my overall health and well-being. It’s simple. It’s easy. Anyone can do it. It’s walking.

Calm down, now, I can hear your snorting and chortling from here. I get it, to real runners walking is not a form of exercise. It’s a way to get from A to B, or maybe something you do when social norms indicate that running isn’t an appropriate mode of transport.  Hear me out, though. I’m not suggesting walking to be a replacement for running, nor even a real replacement for workouts.  What I am saying is that walking can have some seriously solid benefits.

In the past month, I’ve gone from maybe 2 km of walking a day to an average of 6 km/day with many days above 10 km. Weekend days sometimes even creep past 15 km. That’s a lot of walking.  As a result of this increase in foot transport, I’ve noticed the following:

1. Better sleep: I’m having better quality sleep these days. I’m not waking up nearly as much and feel better rested as a result. I notice that I’m more tired on days when I walk more, and I’m asleep much sooner after my head hits the pillow than I used to be, which is a great segue to…

2. Better mental state: I’m a wonderful combination of naturally anxious and naturally negative. In other words, I’m a treat. Workouts are great for helping me to moderate my emotional reaction to life’s events, but I find that the combination of walking and being outdoors is particularly effective. There is something about the fresh air, paying attention to the environment around me, and good conversations that really calms my mental chatter. It’s a similar benefit to what I used to get from running, just minus the burning legs and general muscular discomfort and injury-crippling high impact. As an added bonus, the reduced mental chatter helps me sleep better (told you there was a segue back there).

3. Better injury recovery:  For the injured, walking is a wonderful remedy. I firmly believe it’s not just giving up running that’s helped my injury stabilize. Walking has allowed me to increase my general activity level without putting stress on an unstable bundle of ligaments and joints. My trainer has noticed my increased mobility and improved form and I’ve noticed a decrease in general stiffness and pain. For anyone who’s suffered a significant injury, you know that’s a winning combo.

So yeah, walking isn’t a replacement for running (or swimming or biking or hiking or [insert intense physical activity here]) and it’s not going to give you amazing cardiovascular fitness, but it can make a meaningful difference to your overall health and well-being.  There’s a reason something simple and easy is called a walk in the park. Why don’t you take a walk on the wild side and give walking a chance? Okay, are those enough tired walking cliches for you? I think so. Happy walking.

Tuesday Fitness Fail: Lost Tennis Opportunities

As we were packing up our house, I came across my tennis racket. I haven’t used my tennis racket in about a decade. In fact, when I say “my racket”, I actually mean the hand-me-down racket that boyfriend gifted me because I discarded mine years ago in Calgary when it had already been sadly neglected for close to 5 years. Suffice it to say, I haven’t played tennis in 10 years, so when I came across the tennis racket and had to decide whether it came to our temporary rental or went into storage until we move into our new place, the decision seemed obvious: send it into storage.

My thought process went something like this: I haven’t played tennis in 10 years. I don’t have anyone to play with, anyways. Where would I even play? It’s almost winter. I’m rusty and out of practice. It takes up too much space. The list goes on and on. All I can say now is: rookie mistake.

As it turns out, there are tennis courts all around me. There are some right across the street. There are other nearby courts. Worst of all, just 1.5 km from our house, there is a court with a practice wall! This was the most devastating of discoveries because the practice wall eliminates my most significant obstacle: having no opponent. It also doesn’t help that we’re having a gloriously sunny and mild Fall so far, which makes me want to do nothing but get out there and dust off the old backhand.

Now, every time we walk past a tennis court, I stare at it longingly, and imagine my poor tennis racket stuffed in a box with other fitness gear, never to see the light of day until next Spring. I think about how I could be getting my (supremely mediocre) game back in action. I imagine my former hustle, lightning fast chasing down balls. My whole game used to revolve around my hustle. When I imagine all of this lost opportunity, I kick myself and wish that I’d had the foresight to anticipate that the magical confluence of free time, neighborhood parks and balmy autumnal weather could resurrect my game.

Trail Tuesdays: I watched an outdoor survival movie and I’m never hiking again

Recently I wrote about watching too many murder mysteries. Well, in an effort to diversify my viewing habits, I unwittingly surfaced an even scarier breed of entertainment: outdoor survival movies.  It shouldn’t be surprising for me. After all, watching 127 Hours and Into the Wild weren’t just cautionary tales for me, they were horror stories pure and simple. As it turns out, as much as I am afraid of murderers and rapists like the vast majority of the population, my biggest fear is actually dying alone in nature. It may seem irrational, but given how much time I used to spend in the great outdoors, it is actually far more statistically probable than my being murdered.

This weekend, we watched a little-known Canadian movie called Backcountry. Years ago I watched a really bad made-for-tv horror movie about an insane predatory bear in the woods, so bad in fact that even a thorough Google search didn’t surface its name, and I expected Backcountry to be similarly kitschy, unrealistic and full of over-the-top bad special effects.  Well, Backcountry was kitschy for sure, but it was also more terrifying than I expected. Long story short, a couple gets hopelessly lost in the Northern Ontario wilderness and then gets attacked by a really unusually pissed off black bear. I’ll spare you the spoilers but suffice it to say that there were many, many a scene that I actually couldn’t watch because it was too graphically awful and horrifying. And when someone wasn’t in the midst of a vicious bear attack, I was experiencing deeply unsettling discomfort at the thought of being so very lost in such a vast wilderness.

Perhaps the fear of being lost in nature comes naturally to me, care of many of my own near-getting-lost experiences, one of which actually occurred in Ontario’s wilderness. That was the near-getting-lost event that sticks with me the most because in the depths of Ontario’s forests there are no directional markers. Out West, I would be more likely to identify mountain ranges that would give me a sense of direction and, because the West is so mountainous, it always feels at least a relatively safe bet to just walk downhill. In Ontario, however, there are no peaks and valleys and I can personally attest to the fact that every “viewpoint” from escarpments in the forest looks identical, to the point that even within a two hour hike I convinced myself that my brother and I were walking in an endless circle, destined to die from hypothermia on an unseasonably cold day in October.

Alas, we clearly survived, but that experience has stuck with me.  What made Backcountry even more terrifying was the added element of bear attack. I can think of nothing worse than being near death from a bear attack and also having no idea if you are heading towards safety or further into danger. To say watching this film was a bad way to spend a Saturday night is an understatement. Not only was I left emotionally scarred, albeit temporarily, but it also made me solemnly vow that:

  • I will never hike in Ontario again. Ever. Apparently, bears be crazy out there.
  • I will never go deep into any nature by myself again.*
  • I am done with outdoor survival films as a genre. My naturally anxious self does not need reminders of human vulnerability to the elements…and sadistic wildlife.
*I reserve the right to revoke this second statement at such time that the shock value from watching this film wears off, which is not quite yet, but hopefully soon.

Trail Tuesdays: Hiking Humble Pie

Ever wonder where the expression “humble pie” comes from? I did. So I looked it up.

Sounds delightful, doesn’t it? With that little learning moment out of the way, let’s get on to the real heart of this post.

On Saturday, I went on my second trail adventure of the entire summer.  It was a 12 km out-and-back with a measly 261 m of elevation gain. It nearly killed me. I’m not joking. My entire lower back and gluteal region seized up like nobody’s business and rendered me couch-bound for the entire night. The only positive to this was that it got me out of packing boxes. Other than that, not only did it suck but it was humbling.

I’ve said this before about chronic injuries, and I’ll say it again: they are some of the most humbling experiences a formerly obsessive athlete can face. I expected that I would be exhausted, huffing and puffing, and sore from a hike with substantial elevation gain. I was mentally prepared for that, which is precisely why I chose a trail without crazy elevation gain.  I was not, however, prepared for experiencing such severe post-hike stiffness and pain from such a relatively easy hike. I had been overly confident. I had been sure that I could just dive right back into trail life even though I’ve done virtually nothing on the trails in well over two months. It was precisely this false confidence, perhaps you could even call it cockiness, that had me eating humble pie Saturday night as I lay there in pain.

If I were talking to a first-time hiker who experienced a depressing experience like mine on Saturday, I’d give the following advice: pick your early trails wisely, start slow, gradually build your endurance and fitness, and don’t get discouraged when it’s hard (it will get easier). Somehow, though, it’s so much harder to heed this advice when you’re coming back from an injury. As a returning hiker, I’m fighting against my own expectations. And I tell ya, those expectations are stealth and silent little buzzkills. Expectations will whisper in your ear “This won’t be so bad. Nay, you should be able to do this!”  Reality sees things differently. That abyss between expectations and reality is what I like to call a nice slice of humble pie. I’ve now tasted it and it is every bit as unpleasant as its definition sounds.

Real Talk Thursdays: I watch too many murder mysteries

Does anyone else watch Dateline and 48 Hours Mysteries and Criminal Minds? Does anyone out there have a backlog of 26 episodes of those shows (combined, not each….as if that’s somehow better)? No? Just me? Well, let me tell you, don’t get started. If you do, you will turn an utterly innocent event into the most terrifying moment of your life.  You will be convinced that you and your boyfriend and his parents are about to be viciously bludgeoned to death in a peaceful campground in Washington State. In fact, as the event is happening, you will hear Lester Holt narrating the tragic story of your death, his measured and slightly lilting voice commenting on the irony of such a horrific event happening in a place meant to be a relaxing respite from the daily grind. It’s not pretty and it’s not worth it.

As you can tell, I had a bit of a scare last weekend, a moment in which I experienced legitimate terror even though there was actually zero threat to our safety.  We were down at the campground enjoying the great outdoors, chilling around the propane fire pit (fire bans are in effect everywhere here). It was around 10 pm when my boyfriend’s mother decided to go to bed. My boyfriend wanted to go for a walk to see if any stars were visible since it was supposed to be epic meteor shower season, never mind that it was almost completely cloudy. At any rate, we left the fire pit behind, and his father putting away the last couple of things in the shed. All was good, one might even say idyllic.

When we returned, my boyfriend’s father was no longer outside, so we turned off all the lights around the trailer and settled inside to get ready for bed.  We’d been in bed for maybe 20 minutes or so when I heard a shuffling noise outside that got progressively louder. At first, I tried to tell myself it was just a wild animal. But then there was a very clear sound of someone pushing something heavy on the deck. I poked my boyfriend “Hey, do you hear that?”. He mumbled and then fell back asleep. Then, even in the total darkness outside, I saw a figure move past the window.

My heart jumped ten feet outside of my chest. Someone was outside. At best, he had robbery on his mind. At worst, it was murder. The possibilities escalated quickly in the dark corners of my mind.  I poked my boyfriend harder and said “there’s someone out there!!!!”  He jumped up, I turned on a light inside, he yelled “HEY!” and it sounded as though the person outside was heading away from the trailer. For a brief second I felt relief that whoever it was was fleeing on foot, but still terrified that my perfect weekend getaway destination might be a hotbed for crime.

Then things got even scarier. My boyfriend headed for the door as if he was going to go outside to check things out. I watch enough murder shows: you do not go investigate the situation. You do not poke the bear. I was in the midst of telling him that he was not going out there when I saw the door handle wiggle. Someone was trying to get in our trailer!!!!!  That was it, I was in full-blown “we are about to get murdered” mode. I held onto that door handle like there was no tomorrow…because I feared there would actually be no tomorrow.

That was the moment when my boyfriend calmly said “Is that you, dad?”

And it was. Apparently, he’d still been out in the shed and we’d turned all the lights out and locked the door on him, so he had been stumbling around in the dark trying to find his way to the door to get in.  Regardless of the situation’s innocence, or my boyfriend’s mocking (as though he hadn’t at all contemplated that it was more than a petty thief, pft!), it took me a solid half hour to calm down out my terror mode.

Only once I was calm again, and as I lay in the quiet of the night, did I firmly vow: no more murder mysteries…

…at least for a while.

Trail Tuesdays: sun safety

Sometimes my trail Tuesday posts start to feel like a steady string of PSAs. Perhaps I’m just becoming a worrier as I age. No matter, today I have yet another trail safety post, this time about staying sun safe in the mountains.

Being a ginger, I am no stranger to sunburns. Being a sissy when it comes to heat, I am also no stranger to minor heat stroke. In other words, sunshine and heat are no joke, and their effects are only amplified when hiking in the mountains. At altitude, less UV rays are blocked by the Earth’s atmosphere, something to the tune of 4% for every 1000 feet of elevation! Combine this with exertion, sweating and heat and you have a recipe for heat stroke and/or sunburn. Yikes!

sun safety for sunshiney trail days

1. Carry extra water: I used to carry tiny ass bottles of water for full day hikes. I never got thirsty. I have no idea why. That changed suddenly and inexplicably a few years ago when I started to experience dehydration in a big way and needed to carry tons of water.  I have never experienced such a feeling of mental anguish and physical defeat as when i dropped my last water bottle off the side of the mountain at the tail end of a 32 km day hike in 30+ degree weather.  I had to hike out the last 2.5 km, which doesn’t sound like much but it feels long when you’re thirsty, and then had to drive another half hour to get to any form of beverage-selling civilization. Even though I had consumed a full 2 L of water on the hike (before I dropped the last bottle), I was still kicking myself for not having more. Carry a lot of water. A lot.

2. Cover yourself: Wearing a hat, light-weight long-sleeved shirt and pants keeps the rays off your skin, meaning no unsightly sunburns.  I used to think it was way hotter to hike in pants, but I’ve found as long as they’re loose fitting and light-weight fabric, they actually feel cooler than shorts. Plus, no one has to suffer the sight of my alarmingly pasty white legs. And don’t forget your sunglasses, particularly if you’re hiking anywhere with snow.  Sunshine + snow = hella glare that you don’t want to deal with for hours on end without the benefit of sunglasses. Even if you’re not near snow, the effects of sunshine on your eyes can be quite damaging without UV-blocking sunglasses. If you’re like me and enjoy the wonder of sight, you do not want to mess with your eyes.

3. Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen: I know, I know, sunscreen’s not actually good for you either. At least there are more and more natural sunblocks available on the market so you don’t have to fear that you’re trading off a sunburn in exchange for toxic chemicals.  As I mentioned, hiking at high altitudes will make the sun’s rays even more damaging to your flesh, even if you think you don’t burn. One summer years ago, I had been hiking so regularly that my legs were beyond needing sunscreen for the average hiking excursion–or so I thought. Then one day I spent 2.5 hours on a ridge top in unobstructed sunshine and it proved to be too much for my delicate flesh. Between the length of time and higher elevation than my typical hikes, the backs of my legs were done like dinner. I have never had such a defined sunburn line nor a stark contrast between burned and normal flesh. In fact, the line of the sunburn was visible for months. Months.  So yeah, wear your sunscreen (see also: cover yourself).

4. Watch for signs of heat stroke: Sometimes heat and exertion will just get the better of you. Pay attention to your body when you’re hiking in the sunshine. Yes, you’re going to get warm hiking in the summer sunshine, but there’s a difference between being hot and heat stroke. Keep an eye out for the following symptoms: headache, dizzyness or light-headedness, rapid heartbeat, nausea, weakness or lack of sweating despite heat.  I’ve had mild heatstroke only a couple of times and it was noticeably different than just being hot and tired and, in my case, was definitely due to pushing the limits of distance and elevation gain in high temperatures without sufficient food and water. I’ve learned my lesson. If you see early signs, pay attention and act accordingly (i.e. do something to try to cool yourself down and avoid further overheating), instead of stubbornly continuing to climb upward as I did. That expression do as I say and not as I do is meant for people like me.

Okay, now I promise (I think) to avoid PSAing you to death. From now on in, you can just enjoy your hiking season.