At Christmas, Ken showed up at my place with a truly horrendous beard. Naturally, I thought it was awesome, and figured I should grow an even worse one.

4 weeks later, I sent Ken a text message to find out the state of his beard, and discovered that he didn’t enjoy looking like a lunatic who’d wondered off from the nearby hospital, so he’d buckled and trimmed it. This however confirmed to me, that with some willpower, I stood chance at beating him. When I let him know my plan, he scoffed – called me a ‘copy-cat’, among other things and demanded an immediate photo. So, fueled by his displeasure, obviously I forged on. At first I was just going to take the photo right away, but being aware of the photo of him sporting his ridiculous beard and that even more ridiculous fur hat, which he posted on Facebook, I knew I needed to ponder my photo carefully – it needed to be epic.

As I thought about the photo I wanted, for some reason I decided that I absolutely must be smoking a cigarette. Why? I’m not sure exactly. So… after paying a small fortune for a pack from a local convenience store, I was banished to the garage by my family to take my photo. It was in there that I stood alone and lit the cigarette with the only thing I could find – a BBQ lighter, trying my best not to inhale, or hack, and splutter! But as difficult as this was, I managed to snap off a few quick shots before I had to snub that butt out!!!! WOW! For the life of me, I can’t figure out why anyone would choose to smoke… Personally, I’ve never been a smoker, despite growing up with a family who smoked, and lots of friends who smoked as well – but it really did shock me just how within no time, my eyes burned, I felt light-headed, dizzy and almost shaky! I came out of that garage in a cloud of smoke, coughing like a rioter running from a barrage of teargas grenades…

All of this got me thinking about how far away I am now from a habit like smoking, and really, in many ways I have cycling to thank. Sure, I was reasonably healthy before I started to ride, but if I’m honest, I wasn’t anywhere near as health-conscious as I am today. I wish I could say this was because of my own incredible, innate willpower, but more so, it comes down to the people I hang out with now. It’s just not cool to be unhealthy. When your friends are all bike racers, runners and cross-country skiers, always working to get fitter, faster, and yes, healthier, if you want to keep up at all, you’d better take care. I’ll never forget, going to a dinner party with some of my ‘new’ cycling friends. This was several years ago now. It was a going-away party and although it was a weekend and many people at the table had a beer or a glass of wine with dinner, that was it – everyone shifted to water after that. I remember finding this somewhat remarkable. But, each of them had good reason not to get totally corked, and to stay hydrated – they had their training and their health to think about.

Now I don’t think twice about going to birthday parties or Christmas parties where everyone enjoys one or two specially chosen craft beers, and devours the veggie platter and homemade hummus first, while leaving the giant bowl of chips largely untouched. And, no surprise, no one is ever going outside for a quick smoke.

Mmmm... Donut with green sprinkles. My fav!

Mmmm… Donut with green sprinkles. My fav!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not describing a monastic lifestyle, devoid of any indulgence – far from it. I ate that donut while writing this afterall… There is, however,  little question in my mind, despite the regimental hardships of mid-week interval sessions, remaining ‘mindful’ of your diet, the need to try and get a full night’s sleep on a regular basis, and all of that, I’m better off for falling in with this group. Where maybe some people would find it lame, beyond lame, to wave off the next round of pints, and chose to drink water at a party, or give up watching your favourite shows to go to bed at 9pm to ensure you’re fully rested for the day ahead, I know that at my age, now 38, it’s far too easy to fall prey to the weight of life, bills, work, kids, etc… It’s too easy to let the pounds just creep on, and allow the diet to shift from conscious healthy home cooking, to convenient take-out and frozen packaged dinners. I’m probably in some of the best shape of my life at the moment, and looking forward to somehow keeping it that way. If I could lend any advice to someone looking for a way to make a positive lifestyle shift and to better their health, I’d recommend making sure at least one of your circles of friends is into active lifestyle pursuits, be that cycling, swimming, running, team sports, whatever. You’ll find the motivation you receive from those around you, to change any bad habits, will certainly be helpful. If your goal is to get more active and improve your health, then surrounding yourself with only ‘un-active’ people, would be about as helpful as surrounding yourself with, say,  donuts.

As for the beard, I still haven’t shaved it, and I’m thinking about at least letting the ‘Hinden-beard’ go another week or so. I’ll for sure need to shave it before the spring road season – can’t see it helping with aerodynamics at all…

Here is a good article  that offers a pretty holistic approach on taking ownership of your health and overcoming the challenge of age.