30 Years of Group Fitness

30 Years of Group Fitness

It was 30 years ago this week that I built up the courage, took a risk, and stepped into my first aerobics class, and I have been hooked on group fitness ever since.  Doing group fitness for four or five hours a week for 30 years means that I have been in studios for about 6,000 hours with several hundred different instructors, and thousands of fellow students!  Class formats have changed over the years, but my love and commitment to staying fit through group classes has never changed.

In her the TED talk, Dr. Susan Pinker cites a scientific study that identified the top ten factors for what it takes to live to 100.  Smoking cessation, for example ranked third.  Exercise came in a paltry seventh, and being lean vs overweight was eighth.  The top two factors, by a significant margin, were social integration and close relationships.  In addition to busting butt and burning calories, group fitness classes provide a great opportunity to promote social integration and form close relationships.

To commemorate these 30 years, here are two related posts I wrote two years ago:

  • Why I Love Group Fitness

I joined a health club in November 1988 which had an indoor track.  Being too wimpy to run outdoors in the cold weather at the time, I began my thrice weekly routine of running 30 – 40 laps around the track for the next four months.  How do you spell B-O-R-I-N-G?

Every now and then I would peak into the group fitness studio and notice that people seemed to be having a good time inside.  I finally built up the courage to give it a try.  Although I stumbled through the choreography at first, I was hooked on group fitness from Day 1.

Back then you basically had two choices: high impact aerobics, or low impact aerobics. Step came along in 1991, followed in rapid succession by spin, kick boxing, barbell classes and various forms of circuit training.  Today most gyms offer many group fitness options, so there is something available to satisfy everyone’s interests and fitness goals.

So, in a nutshell, here are five reasons why I love group fitness:

  1. I can put my head in neutral, and just follow the skillful guidance of my instructor.
  2. I get to do challenging and beneficial exercises that I would never attempt on my own.
  3. I feel like I am part of an accountability group that I never want to let down by slacking off.
  4. I have had the privilege of meeting many great people over the years.
  5. And by gosh, it is still a lot of fun!
  • Duty, Discipline, or Delight

A person can be motivated to exercise out of either: Duty, Discipline or Delight.

  1. Duty: Something you feel like you have to do but don’t particularly like it or feel comfortable doing it
  2. Discipline: It becomes less painful and part of your schedule as you get into a groove
  3. Delight: It becomes a joyful part of your life as you see the fruit of your efforts

Here are my tips for how to come the place where working out is a delight:

  1. Find something you really like to do (there are so many exercise options available today)
  2. With people you like to do it with (even if it is by yourself)
  3. Mix it up or make a change whenever necessary to increase your level of delight

Another way to look at this is moving from something you HAVE to do, to something you WANT to do, to something you GET to do.

Here’s to the next 30 years of fitness and fun!

cardio 1

Aging Backwards

Aging Backwards

Denny McClain was the last major league pitcher to win 30 games in a season.  Now 74, reflecting on his past 50 years of triumph and tragedy, McClain said, “I’ve got a whole lot of things to talk to God about.  Number one is, you have this damned old-age thing screwed up.  We should have been born old people and aged into childhood.”

Die first and get this out of the way.  Pass the wisdom of age onto a younger version of myself when my vitality is at its peak and end up a glimmer in my parent’s eye.  What an enchanting idea!  Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way.  Time marches on, and all of us yields to the unchanging law of entropy.

My reading vision started to fade in my late 40’s.  In my ignorance, I asked my optometrist what percent of people experience declining eyesight.  His response was 100%.  I have had one knee replaced. The skin above my knees is getting droopy despite the number of squats and lunges I do. Eventually my hearing will start to fade, and my reaction time will slow down. There is a world of difference though between the intrinsic effects of aging and the preventable effects of aging.

For example, with the proper mental self-care and good fortune, I don’t expect my mental facilities to diminish. My mother at 95 years old is still as sharp as a tack.  According to the MacArthur Foundation Study on Successful Aging, “the three key features that predict strong mental function in old age are: regular physical exercise, a strong social support system, and belief in one’s ability to handle what life has to offer”, and I am fully committed to these habits.

I have aged well though. I will be 67 this month, but I look much younger than that.  My biological age is much younger than my chronological age because of my unwavering commitment to a healthy lifestyle. My increased focus on resistance training has paid off too; my last caliper measurement in December showed that I have decreased my percentage of body fat to 12.6%; my lowest since my early 40’s.

I also have better than average genes. My mother still has more brown hair than grey.  I have a smattering of grey in my beard, but I don’t plan to touch it up with “Just For Men.” However, the MacArthur study has shown that heredity is less important than environment and lifestyle in determining mental and physical health as we age. I also recognize that some health issues are outside of our control, and many people face neuromuscular, oncological or other health challenges that are not related to their lifestyle choices.

I am thankful that I am still able to keep up with everyone in the challenging interval group fitness classes where I am typically the oldest person in the class. Last year I lowered my walking half-marathon personal best by seven minutes to 3:10. Eventually my physical prowess will succumb to the effects of aging, because nobody wins the battle against time.

There was one day though when I felt old.  I came in for an interview for a personal trainer position, and there were a couple of 20 something trainers sitting around the desk who cast what appeared to be a disbelieving glance my way. Then it occurred to me, “THEY THINK I AM OLD.”  “Old?” “I’m not old,” I protested to myself. And then other occasions came to mind when similar things happened in my interactions with younger people. It was like in the movie “The Usual Suspects” when the detective played by Chazz Palminteri drops his coffee cup when he realizes who the real Keyser Soze is.  I understand though, after all I was young once too. However, it took me a day or two to shake this feeling.

Maybe they are right though – maybe I am old.  I just don’t feel like it yet.

In some ways I have aged backwards. I was a church elder in my 20’s and now I am a personal trainer in my 60’s.  I once again have a kindergartner living in my home, so I interact with parents who are half my age. Mentally I have never felt younger or healthier than I do now.

Our physical body ages and deteriorates, but our spiritual person is eternal. Maybe I feel younger now because I am more conscious of tapping into my spiritual person on a daily basis.  Eventually, I will have an incorruptible body for eternity. In the book “Where is God When it Hurts”, author Philip Yancey describes the contrast between the struggle of aging and the hope of eternity:

“Belief in a future home beyond this one should affect more than how we die.  It should affect how we live.

Robertson McQuilkin, former president of Columbia Bible College, was once approached by an elderly lady facing the trials of old age. Her body was in decline, her beauty being replaced by thinning hair, wrinkles, and skin discoloration. She could no longer do the things she once could. And she felt herself to be a burden on others.  “Robertson, why does God let us get old and weak?  Why must I hurt so?” she asked.

After a few minutes’ thought McQuilkin replied, “I think God has planned the strength and beauty of youth to be physical.  But the strength and beauty of age is spiritual.  We gradually lose the strength and beauty that is temporary so we’ll be sure to concentrate on the strength and beauty which is forever.  It makes us more eager to leave behind the temporary, deteriorating part of us and be truly homesick for our eternal home.  If we stayed young and strong and beautiful, we might never want to leave!”

I don’t always understand the meaning of Bob Dylan’s lyrics, but the words “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.” in his epic song “My Back Pages” ring true.


(P.S. There is a great book by Miranda Esmonde-White titled “Aging Backwards.” It is an excellent read about how to reverse the debilitating effects of aging through Essentrics flexibility training.)

Kinetic Chain Check Points

Kinetic Chain Check Points

I have been posting for the past two years on topics related to healthy living, but I have yet to give you a definition of what “health” is.  I will attempt to do that today.  According to Webster, health is “the condition of being sound in body, mind, or spirit.”  Wikipedia defines health as “the level of functional and metabolic efficiency of a living organism. In humans it is the ability of individuals or communities to adapt and self-manage when facing physical, mental, psychological and social changes with environment.”  According to the World Health Organization, health does not merely represent the absence of disease, but also reflects a state of optimal physical, social, and psychological well-being.

That’s a good start, but how do you assess whether or not you are healthy?  In the physical dimension we use measurements such as blood pressure, blood lipid counts, percentage of body fat, and body temperature to assess where we are in relation to acceptable standards of health.  In addition, there are dozens of postural, movement, and performance assessments that measure our physical condition and capabilities.  I want to focus on one postural assessment and apply it to other areas of our life.

The kinetic chain is the combination and interrelation of the actions of the nervous, muscular and skeletal systems to create movement. All systems of the kinetic chain must work together to produce movement. If one system is not working properly, it will affect the other systems and overall movements.

Our body has five kinetic chain check points: feet, knees, hips, shoulders, and head. A static postural assessment gives you a “big picture” of how someone uses his or her body day in and day out. When performing a standing postural assessment, we check 24 areas related to these kinetic chain check points from three distinct viewpoints: eight from the front (anterior), eight from the side (lateral) and eight from the back (posterior). We check these areas because training with proper posture ensures optimum results and decreases the risk of developing muscle imbalances, joint dysfunctions, and tissue overload which can lead to injury.

One of the things we check from the anterior and posterior view is whether the knees are turned inward (valgus).  Valgus knees are a biomechanical imbalance that can lead to IT-band tendonitis, Patellofemoral syndrome or an ACL injury. Valgus knees are caused by specific muscles that are potentially overactive (Adductor complex, Biceps femoris, Lateral gastrocnemius, Vastus lateralis, Tensor fasciae latae (TFL), and specific muscles that are potentially underactive (Medial hamstring, Medial gastrocnemius, Gluteus Medius, Gluteus maximus, Anterior or posterior tibialis, Vastus medialis).  Our job as trainers is to identify these imbalances and design corrective exercises that address the over utilized and underutilized muscles.  We use four interventions: – inhibiting (Self Myofascial Release (SMR) such as foam rolling) and lengthening (static stretching) overactive muscles and activating (active isolated movements) and integrating (active integrated movements) underactive muscles.

Enough of the technicalities; let me get to the practical application of how we can apply these principles to other areas of our life.  I can’t address every area in this post, so let me use the example of a father who needs to spend more time with his children.  This would be an example of a relational dysfunction.

First, we need to look at the situation from multiple perspectives.  In the field of organizational development, they call this triangulation.  For example, if a company wanted to improve customer service, they need to get the perspective from each of the affected stakeholders: suppliers, employees, customers etc. This would correlate to viewing our posture from the anterior, lateral, and posterior views.  There are some things which you can only see from a particular vantage point.

Next, we need to recognize that we are not always in the best position to assess ourselves; we need others to check us out.  In the book “Streams of Living Water” by Richard Foster, he states, “We invite others to travel the journey with us.  Such persons become both companions and mentors.  They provide us with discernment, counsel, and encouragement.  Often, we are too close to our own training plan to see that we are overachieving and setting ourselves up for failure (overactive muscles – my addition). Or to see that sloth is setting in (underactive muscles – my addition) and we need encouragement to venture out into the depths.”

After we have identified our overactive and underactive “muscles” we need to make the necessary changes to bring the affected area of our life back into alignment.  Which overactive activities do we need to reduce?  This could be altering work assignments or schedule, or outside activities.  Which underactive activities do we need to increase?  This could be being home to eat dinner with the family, helping our child with homework at night or getting involved in a weekend extra curricula activity such as hockey or gymnastics.

The main requirements are to recognize that there is a problem, be open to help and commit ourselves to do whatever is necessary to fix the problem.  We need to be patient with ourselves.  It probably took a while for the problem to develop, so it might take a while to resolve it.  Coming into proper alignment though is always worth the effort.

Perhaps starting the new year right should include a five-point “postural” assessment that covers these areas:

  1. Spiritual
  2. Psychological
  3. Physical
  4. Relational
  5. Purpose


Letter to the President

Letter to the President

On the eve of Election Day, I thought that this would be an appropriate post for Healthy Living.

My granddaughter Violet went trick or treating last Wednesday with some new friends, one of whom was three years old.  When Violet got home, she told my wife that the three-year-old was getting all the attention and extra candy because she is only three, and everyone thinks little kids are cuter than big kids.

She wondered if she should write to the President to change this way of thinking because it is not right.  My wife suggested that she write to Ellen, but Violet insisted that she wanted to write to the President, so here is her letter (as dictated to my wife):

Dear President Trump,

I think it would be good if the big kids could be cute too and not just the little ones. Tell this on every show. We want both of them to be the same amount, the big kids AND the little kids.

Goodbye from Violet Natt

I am 5 years old.




My maternal grandparents came from a small shtetl (village) outside of Warsaw, Poland named Kossover. The Jews in Kossover faced repeated pogroms (persecution) by the Russians causing many of the Jews to emigrate to the United States after World War I. Those who left were fortunate. Those who remained in Kossover were exterminated in the Holocaust a generation later.

My grandparents Abraham and Esther were childhood sweethearts in Kossover.  My grandfather migrated first with his three brothers and sister. He never saw his parents or three younger siblings again – they perished in the Holocaust.  He and his siblings worked in New York City’s Garment District; they were all hard-working people.  My grandfather was instrumental in establishing the Fur and Leather Workers Union and securing fair wages and better working conditions for employees.   My mother tells me that he often came home bloodied from beatings that were leveled upon him by goons hired by the factory owners.  He died in January 1961, so I was not yet nine years old, but I remember him as a kind and humble man.

My grandmother migrated to the U.S. with her sister about three years after my grandfather, and they were married here.  A third sister died of smallpox in Europe.  My grandmother had a heart condition as a result of contracting rheumatic fever as a child.  She died in 1937 at the age of 37, so I never met her.  My mother was their first child. Their other daughter died two hours after delivery.

A friend of my grandfather visited Kossover after the War and told my grandfather that you can’t even tell that civilization ever existed in Kossover. I couldn’t find any record of Kossover on Google either, so if it wasn’t for my mother relating this story to me, I would never know that Kossover ever existed.

Hitler tried to wipe out all the Jews from Europe, but he didn’t succeed. I am living proof that the descendants of Kossover are still alive today.  And so are my two daughters and granddaughter.

(Dedicated to the victims of Tree of Life Synagogue tragedy)

Ole Miss

Ole Miss

“People only get what they are willing to fight for.” James Meredith

Exactly fifty-six years ago today, on October 1 1962, despite the resistance of Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett and the solid white establishment, James Meredith became the first African-American student to attend the all-white University of Mississippi in its 116-year-old history.  This required the intervention of the federal government and armed troops – an event that was a flashpoint in the Civil Rights Movement.

There were many powerful forces in place, dating back to slavery, that limited options for black people in the segregated Deep South. Mississippi was the last bastion of the confederacy in 1962, and Ole Miss was its Fort Fisher.  Even the name ‘Ole Miss’ was a term slaves used to refer to the wife of a plantation owner.

The hatred leveled against Meredith for defying the institution of white supremacy was unimaginable.  Racism, white supremacy, and its predecessor slavery, the issues that James Meredith confronted, stand unparalleled as the worst forms of human behavior imaginable. Meredith stated: “We are engaged in a bitter war for the equality of our citizens. The enemy is determined, resourceful, and unprincipled.  There are no rules of war for which he has respect.”

‘Black colleges’ are great institutions that have produced the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Marian Wright Edelman, Langston Hughes, Alice Walker, and Toni Morrison, to name a few. So why did James Meredith leave the warmth, encouragement and security of his environment for the hostile environment at Ole Miss?  Why wasn’t he content to finish his college career at the all-black Jackson State College where he attended from 1960 – 1962? I was curious, so I read his book “A Mission from God – A Memoir and Challenge for America” and I understand a lot more about what motivated this great American.

He writes in his memoir, “My greatest single reason to act is my son.  He is only one year old, and yet I have already spent countless sleepless nights, trying to answer this question of my conscience – when he grows up and sees all of the injustices and learns the illogical justifications upon which they are built, he will ask me, what have you done to correct these conditions?  What will I give as an answer?”

It took repeated attempts by James Meredith, but eventually he won.  Today 23% of the student population at Ole Miss are minorities, and in 2006 Ole Miss erected a statute in his honor.

Now Dance!

Now Dance!

“There are short-cuts to happiness, and dancing is one of them.” – Vicki Baum

The other night, my wife, Cheryl and I were hanging out in our living room with our five-year-old granddaughter Violet. Cheryl and I were acting a bit snitty toward each other.  Most of our conflict is related to issues related to neatness and order, where we live on opposite ends of the spectrum like Felix and Oscar from The Odd Couple.  However, this and other dissimilarities have not prevented us from living harmoniously together for nearly 45 years.

Violet, sensing the tension between us,  said to us incrementally,

“We need to have a meeting.
It’s about marriage.
Stand up.
Face each other.
Hold hands.
Now dance!”

I don’t know where this wisdom came from, but it was profound and powerful and brought instant obedience from us.

Dancing is not foreign to us. We took East Coast Swing and Lindy Hop lessons for two years so we know how to cut a rug, even if it is literally on our living room rug.  Somehow obeying the wisdom of our five-year-old granddaughter and dancing together broke the impasse between us and brought a sense of levity and joy and whatever the issue du-jour was, it instantly vanished.

Other than being male and female, there are other factors that often cause dissension between us. For example, we are both first borns and have been socialized from infancy to be the center of attention and get our own way.

In addition, we both have strong choleric personalities. Cholerics are dominant and seek to be in control of situations. They are extroverted in the sense that they will meddle in others’ affairs and ‘speak their mind’ if they feel it is necessary, rather than minding their own business. And they can be proud and generally believe that they are right, and have immense stubbornness about admitting their flaws, unless admitting these flaws would make them look better than others (“I’m strong enough to admit I’m wrong, unlike you”).

Cheryl and I have many friends who have walked with us and encouraged us on this marriage journey. Many of them are neither first borns nor choleric, but they have issues too.  Cheryl recently told me that one of our best couple friends were having disagreements about a situation in their lives. I said incredulously, “You mean Tim and Nina (names changed) have disagreements?”  “Of course!” she said.  “Well how about Rob and Dinah?” I responded.  “They are human too”, Cheryl replied.  All of a sudden, I started feeling better about the state of our union.

Dancing can do wonders to release tension between people.  Unless you are Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, it will reveal your shortcomings and make you feel vulnerable.  It also brings unity between two imperfect people and makes the “serious” things between them seem less important as they move and groove together.

Cheryl and I have learned to dance together for 45 years and we manage to work through our issues and grow in love and commitment. I wonder what good could be accomplished for our nation if, for example, Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi danced together.

P. S.  We just signed up for a five-week seminar called CHERISH where we will learn more about how to move beyond loving and respecting our partner to cherishing them.  I need this.

Healthy Mindsets

Healthy Mindsets

Dr. Caroline Leaf is a cognitive neuroscientist, bestselling author, and mental health and mind expert.  In her latest book “Think, Learn, Succeed”, Dr. Leaf describes how different mindsets, through quantum effects, change our brains. Through following the simple steps outlined in her book, you can change your brain and experience a successful life.

I recently purchased the Kindle and Audible versions of the book, and I have literally devoured it day and night.  I have read a number of her books; this one brings together many of the key findings from her 30 plus years of research and clinical practice.

The book is divided into four sections:

  • The Mindset Guide
  • The Gift Profile
  • The Switch On Your Brain 5-Step Learning Process
  • The Science

I obviously can’t cover all these areas in this short post, but I wanted the share some of her quotes regarding mindsets to hopefully whet your appetite to check out this potentially life changing book.

“A mindset is an attitude, or a cluster of thoughts with attached information and emotions that generate a particular perception. They shape how you see and interact with the world. They can catapult you forward, allowing you to achieve your dreams, or put you in reverse drive if you are not careful. A mindset is therefore a significant mental resource and source of power. Your mindsets set your expectation levels, which will either be positive or negative.”

“Every moment of every day, your brain and body are physically reacting and changing in response to the thoughts that run through your mind—your mindsets add “flavor” to your thoughts, making your brain and body work for you or against you. And because you control your mindsets—they are not some preprogrammed function—it’s you that is actually making your brain and body work for you.”

“Understanding how mindsets form and how they change your thinking is a practical and helpful way to understand the power of your mind to change your brain. Mindsets help you see the power of your perceptions while optimizing your thought life by generating the correct perceptions, revealing your inner strength and resilience. The correct mindsets are integral to succeeding in school, work, and life. Your brain responds to your life choices—which are influenced by your mindsets.”

“Just thinking about something can cause your brain to change through the waves of energy that are generated, on a structural level through genetic expression and on a chemical level through the release of neurotransmitters. The power of the mind to change the brain is incredibly exciting and hopeful! Our thoughts can improve our peace, health, vision, fitness, strength, and much more. The ability to think, feel, and choose and build thoughts into mindsets is one of the most powerful things in the universe, because this power is the source of all human creativity and imagination.”

“Your thinking, feeling, and choosing impacts your genetic expression. You switch genes on and off with every thought you have, and every thought you have is a response to the way you see and perceive your life experiences. Research actually shows that only about 5 percent of genetic mutations directly cause health issues. Roughly 95 percent of genes are influenced by life factors and lifestyle choices. Your genetic activity is largely determined by your thoughts, attitudes, and perceptions, which collectively form your mindset.”

“We are wired to think positively with optimism. Your body and brain are finely attuned to your uniqueness and the positivity of your mind. You are essentially wired for love, right down to the genetic level; the more you improve your mental self-care habits, the more your brain and body will respond in positive ways.”

“Our mindsets set the tone for how we approach the events and circumstances of life, which are often out of our control. We are designed to react in a love mindset, which doesn’t always mean things are going to be easy but does mean we can shift into success mode and manage a situation more effectively.”

In the book she defines the following 15 mindsets:

  1. The Thinker Mindset
  2. The Controlled Thinking Mindset
  3. The Words Mindset
  4. The Controlled Emotions Mindset
  5. The Forgiveness Mindset
  6. The Happiness Mindset
  7. The Time Mindset
  8. The Possible Mindset
  9. The Gratitude Mindset
  10. The Community Mindset
  11. The Support Mindset
  12. The Healthy Stress Mindset
  13. The Expectancy Mindset
  14. The Willpower Mindset
  15. The Spiritual Mindset

I usually read 24 books a year, and this one tops my list this year!

A Healthy Society

A Healthy Society

“Liberty and justice for all”

The concept of Healthy Living comes from a teaching that I put together in 1983.  The original teaching had six points:

  1. Spiritual Health
  2. Mental/Emotional Health
  3. Physical Health
  4. Relational Health
  5. Financial Health
  6. A Healthy Society

I changed Financial Health to Fulfilling Our Purpose during my time in graduate school in the mid-90s based on what I learned about personality assessments which help us identify our individual uniqueness. I look at finances as an enabler to fulfill our purpose, and not the end purpose in itself.

When I started this group, I dropped the sixth item because I wanted to focus on the individual aspects of health rather than societal aspects.  However, I want to address the broader picture from time to time.

Some men and woman have died on foreign battlefields to help preserve our liberty and justice.  Others such as Martin Luther King died in our homeland to help implement liberty and justice for all people.

Here is an excerpt from his historic speech delivered 55 years ago today on August 28, 1963:


I have a dream that one day down in Alabama — with its vicious racists, with its Governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification — one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.


I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low. The rough places will be plain and the crooked places will be made straight, “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.  With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brother-hood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.  And this will be the day. This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning, “My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my father died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.” And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire; let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York; let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania; let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado; let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California. But not only that. Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia; let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee; let freedom ring from every hill and mole hill of Mississippi. “From every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

And when this happens, and when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: “Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.””

Life is a Fartlek

Life is a Fartlek

Steve Prefontaine was an iconic road racer in the 1970’s. His death in a May 1975 car crash is one of the great tragedies in the history of American sports, and the bravura performance that was his life created an inspirational cottage industry that’s going strong four decades later. Every mildly serious American runner has, at some point, encountered it. “Without Limits” is a great movie depicting his life and tenacity as a runner.  Two of his most iconic quotes are:

“The only good pace is a suicide pace, and today looks like a good day to die.”

“A lot of people run a race to see who is fastest. I run to see who has the most guts, who can punish himself into exhausting pace, and then at the end, punish himself even more.”

To Pre, as he was affectionately known, life was a sprint.  It had to be.

The saying “Life is a marathon not a sprint” is only partially true.  Life generally plays out in long slow strides.  However, there are sprints in life like meeting a boss’ deadline and generally staying on top of family activities, especially if you have young children.  But I agree that life is mostly a marathon with sprints interjected here and there along the course.  That’s why I think a better metaphor for life is a “fartlek”.  Unless you are a competitive runner, you might not be familiar with this awful sounding word, so here is the Wikipedia definition:

Fartlek, which means “speed play” in Swedish, is a training method that blends continuous training with interval training. Fartlek runs are a very simple form of a long-distance run. Fartlek training “is simply defined as periods of fast running intermixed with periods of slower running.

The other thing you need to know about a fartlek is that it is meant to be fun as in its definition (speed PLAY).  It is meant to break up the monotony of a L-O-N-G run by interjecting periodic bursts of accelerated energy.  It is kind of like life, isn’t it?

There are fast trackers such as Pre who zoomed through life both on and off the race course.  Tragically, Prefontaine didn’t live to see his 25th birthday.  Neither did actor James Dean, also a fast tracker who is remembered as a cultural icon of teenage disillusionment and social estrangement who also tragically died in a car accident in September 1955.  None of us knows when we will breathe our last breath, and sometimes we live like we are running against time.

For much of my 20’s, 30’s and 40’s I was living a race against time to grow up and move on with life. And I did.  Especially in the area of raising my children. I got married at 21, had two daughters by the time I was 24, and before I knew it life ran by me and I was an empty nester at 43.  I was there, but I often blew by the simple everyday experiences of life, and I was too uptight about insignificant things.

At 66, I have slowed way down especially in regards to my family.  I cherish each and every moment I have with my now five-year-old granddaughter, and for whatever growing up experiences I blew by the first time around, I am learning to slow down and savor each moment I have with her.  Like helping her learn to ride her new Butterfly bike.

Sometimes I wish that life wasn’t so busy and complex, but the only place to totally avoid busyness and complexity is the grave, and that’s not where I want to be.

The following is a great article from Experience Life titled “What’s the Rush”. Its main thesis is, “Even when there’s a lot to do, it’s still possible to stop racing through life.”


And the song “Slow Down” by Nichole Nordeman says it all.


Enjoy the fartlek!