Monday, November 8, 2010

Niche Construction

Helloooo, anybody out there? I know I’ve been away for a bit, but, truth be told, I’m pretty boring when I’m not training. I had a cold that got better and then got worse. I watched my husband continue to install solar power at our not so new sleeping cabin up north. I ate too much and then not enough as the lack of training corresponded to a lack of appetite. Also, see cold above.

And I got grumpy. Not training meant that I also haven’t been sleeping very well which left me tired not feeling like training, which left me not sleeping very well etc. This cycle was ended yesterday as my husband told me to get my butt to the pool for a swim. So, I did. 1000 metres, nothing extraordinary but I did feel better, and today, I did a short run ladder on the treadmill at lunch. That killed me. Damn I miss last year’s Iron fitness.

So all this has me thinking about something that I’ve been reading about lately – niche construction.
It’s out of a book,Adam's Language, on language development which I’d really recommend if you’re into evolution and history.

The compelling argument of altering your environment at the same time as your environment alters you is a perfect analogy of understand what happened when we decided to change our life and our destiny with the purchase of ridiculously overpriced, skinny little shiny road bikes.

Inevitably when someone starts to get active they seem to start with the “reward” stage. You remember that stage – if we walk to X we can get Y, Y being a big ice cream cone, a moccachino, an entire rash of bacon – that sort of thing. We have all done it. We did it. 20 km runs got cake. 20 km runs get nada now unless they are matched with 90 km bike rides.

I don’t think that this stage is all bad because it’s the beginning of niche construction. Let’s say that normally you’d still have the rash of bacon but now, instead of driving to the restaurant you decide to walk or bike. Wham – big environment change. Alex and I used to ride to a restaurant (about 1.5 hours) and eat fish and chips. Now, before the bikes we still ate fish and chips but after the bikes we rode there. We changed our environment and in turn the environment started to change us. We looked around at the other people at the restaurant and realized, bike or no bike, we just didn’t want to live like them, or, most importantly, look like them. They were unhealthy. The fish and chips started to taste worse and worse. We grew conscious of how our stomachs felt riding home. We stopped going there. We had changed part of our environment, adding exercise, and the rest of the environment, greasy food, no long fit.

So, we started racing. And continued racing. That changed our social environment as we started to find ourselves with less and less in common with many of our friends. That was sad but inevitable. We still have friends who don’t race, they look upon our lifestyle with tolerance and compassion and don’t always call us crazies, but, it’s pretty nice to meet up with people that you don’t have to explain yourself to. People who just get it. That’s another bit of niche construction. Our social life changed from staying out late at bars to getting up early and going to races.

As an aside, I still get the feeling at races that there was this whole parallel world populated with crazies in Lycra and we had NO IDEA it was all going on. Still. And I’m wearing Lycra.

So, we started eating better because we knew what it was like to feel good physically, we started meeting and spending time with other crazies in Lycra and we created a new environment for ourselves. It acts on us, we act on it. I remember worrying about taking some time this year, after Ironman, to just chill out, get flabby, and have a life. I realize now that I really didn’t need to worry about that. I’m so pumped to get training for my 50 miler, I still have no desire to eat junk food (I retain the right, however, to define “junk food”), and having taken a few weeks off I can feel what I’m missing. And, I hope, that part of the environment that I’m affecting (and that definitely affects me) is the social environment where I meet people who are thinking they’d like to join the crazies. We always need new crazies, Lycra is not an endangered species, and there is still lots of room on the roads and the trails.