Monday, March 09, 2009

I Blame Winter

Thanks to everyone who shared their thoughts on physical fitness (or lack of it) in response to my posts So What's Your Excuse? and It's the Fitness Stupid. I suppose I had rashly and arrogantly assumed that all of my readers share my own conflict between the flesh and the spirit, wanting to be fitter but struggling with the motivation. I had expected everyone who responded would have as pathetic an excuse as myself. But it turns out there are (at least) three radically different attitudes to fitness among my readership...

  • Some don't worry about fitness and laugh at those who do. "Tillerman! My diagnosis is that you're either masochist or suicidal, or both."

  • Some people told humbling stories about their former super-fitness and/or about how major accidental injuries had changed their lives.

  • And some struggle with the motivation to stay fit (as I do) and have even more creative excuses such as "my jump-rope is kinked" or "the boat ate my bicycle".

All in all though, I think I like best the excuse from Carol Anne that I quoted in my original post. If you read it in context you will see that what she says actually makes sense, but there is something that appealed to my own sense for the humorous power of the ridiculous in her comment that she couldn't exercise because "the burglars stole the television and the remote for the VCR."

Anyway enough about you. Back to the real subject of this blog. Me.

I blame winter.

I blame the fact that when god created the universe she saw fit to tilt the earth's axis of rotation relative to its orbital plane at an angle of 23.44° thereby causing the phenomenon known as seasons and, in particular, the cold gray depressing monotony known as The Northern Hemisphere Winter.

Everything is fine with me in the warmer months of the year. I sail a lot. I run a lot. I do all sorts of other healthy outdoor activities such as mowing the lawn, digging the garden, maybe occasionally a spot of cycling and swimming and, best of all, purposefully moving hunks of meat and other delicacies around on my barbecue grill. Life is good. Every week I feel fitter. I achieve a healthy weight. I wear Spandex and Lycra sailing gear and don't look totally ludicrous.

Then around October or November each year it all starts to go downhill. The days are colder so I sail less. It rains more so I run on fewer days. I don't even think about cycling or swimming. I eat more. I drink more. I take Tillerwoman out to lunch at waterside restaurants and consume vast quantities of fish and chips, and bangers and mash, and strong German and Irish beers. I gain a few pounds. Every month I feel less fit.

By December and January I am in near total hibernation. I rarely go outside except to drive to the liquor store and back. I eat vast quantities of turkey and Christmas pudding. I awaken my dormant tastes for whiskey and rum and various mixed drinks. I work out with my blender. I take up time-wasting sedentary pastimes such as playing Sailx, or trying to figure out what the hell is the point of Facebook. (Never did find out). I gain a few more pounds. I become even less fit.

February is a total write-off.

Then in March I realize that it will soon be the sailing season again and I start a desperate attempt to regain my former fitness.
I weigh myself several times a week and realize that I am much too heavy to be fast in a Laser and, even worse, that I'm actually several pounds heavier than I was this time last year. I buy a new pair of running shoes and, after staring at them a few weeks, actually put them on and head down the road a few hundred yards before collapsing into a pool of sweat.

And then the seasons of Tillerman repeat themselves. Except that every year I slip back a click or two on the ratchet block of life. My weight falls in the summer but never quite back to where it was the previous year. My running times improve during the warmer months but never quite back to my former personal bests. Every season my sailing skills progress from awful in April to so-so in September, but I never manage to raise them to a totally new level.

Yes, I blame that
23.44° of axial tilt. It has a lot to answer for.

But this year will be different. I have the solution. Watch this space...


Anonymous said...

I too suffer from the depression brought on by earlier dark and the catastrophe that is daylight spending time.

I often get into a winter workout groove in the gym, etc. but it is totally different from my outside routine during the summer (which I prefer - rather be doing an activity and working out is the side effect, than working out as the activity and mind-numbing boredom the side-effect).

It takes me so long to switch back and forth that October/November and January/February are total write-offs for me too.

My solution was going to be to move closer to the equator - I can't take this cold and dark crap anymore. For sanity's sake...
Look forward to hearing your solution!

Andrew said...

Good point Noble [and Mr.T]. How come so many of us live so far up the world, where we are uncomfortable for half the year. [me included]

Smilicus said...

You might have your awful winter, but we in South Afrcia's Soouthern tip can also blame the 23.44°. IN winter my fitness usually improves. I gym 5 to 6 days again. In Summer it is just to freaking hot in Africa. We suffer from temps in the high 30's and low 40's. And living at the ocean we have very high humidity. And it heat like that it is very difficult to motivate yourself to go to gym, because you are already sweating like a pig

So I am with Tillerman, blame the axis

Pat said...

The Axis of Evil? But without it, wouldn't the climate be so boring and predictable? And without much in the way of weather, how could millions of human beings ever initiate a conversation with strangers?

Glad I live under the 30th parallel.

Carol Anne said...

OK, I'm not sure where Pat says he's living, since I'm definitely not anywhere below the 30th ... Five O'Clock Somewhere is just below 37, and Albuquerque is just above 35. Perhaps he has decided to move to Mexico and hasn't told me yet.

But I did notice, the year that I lived in England, that there seemed to be a definite feeling of depression around February, as the winter-long deficit of sunshine took its toll. People that had the money to do so tended to take vacations to places like Egypt.

bonnie said...

I've had a really hard time with winter this year. Work ate my summer evening boating last year & when you've already lost your post-work workout groove when the days were long, it just gets harder & harder to get back into it when they are shorter & colder.

In the dog-ate-my-sweatpants vein - My company also used to have a nice gym in the basement, which I frequented in the winter time - they shut that down & replaced it with a Wellness Center. After a huge outcry, they did take the space that the gym used to use for classes, put some machines in there & called it a gym, but it's just not the same.

I really hope to get myself back into the 3-days-or-more-a-week-activity habit over the summer. there's a VERY clear inverse relationship between how much exercise I'm getting & how much of a grip the glums can get on me (and there was a point in my life when I had to go into counseling for depression - that was post 9/11 so there was an unusual amount of genuinely traumatic stuff I was dealing with at the time - but I don't take the grip of the glums lightly since then).

I've basically kicking myself out the door every weekend this winter even though it's been so cold I just wanted to hibernate because I know I have to at LEAST keep up those weekend activities - those enable me to actually tolerate the stresses of NYC life. Always have a great time once I'm out but there's such an inclination to stay home!

Think this is about as far north as I could ever live, thanks to that tilt!

I found it pretty interesting to read that in that "Happiest States" survey that just came out that overall, Hawaii is very happy, despite the work environment issues (worst in the country). Could the fact that the islands are the southernmost point in the country have anything to do with the fact that they're so happy despite those work problems?

BTW the work thing is probably the biggest reason I've never moved back there for all that O'ahu is the one place in all the world that really feels like home. But god, it would be so much easier to get into a year-round fitness routine...

Orang Puti said...

Living 5 degrees north of the Equator certainly has it's advantages - no chance of the winter blues here as it doesn't happen. But it gets hot (33 - 35C) and often very humid - most days, not just in the morning. You get used to it. I'm not sure that I could say the same about a northern hemisphere winter.

Am I complaining?

No, and Mrs OP, as an asthmatic, does far better here than at the bottom end of the world, where she used to live, in NZ.

Exercise isn't an issue so long as you are aware of dehydration. And there is something very pleasant about running through the jungle later in the afternoon, it's generally cooler (by a couple of degrees) and I never get home worrying that my exposed bits are going to fall off because they are frozen solid.

And, of course the best part is the sailing. I never have to wear more than a sunsuit, shorts and a cap (and a life jacket of course). It's almost like sailing in a warm bath, and with a good NE trade or seabreeze it's a lot of fun - all year around!

kristjan said...


Man up! Iceland is 65 degrees N latitude. Dark, cold, windy. Liquor is hellishly expensive, economy in shambles and the krona worth nothing.

Buy a SAD light and a rowing skiff. Row every morning, come home, have a snack, take a nap. Then sit under your SAD light for a time and have a cocktail or two. Works out fine.

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