Week Thirteen and Fourteen – Time for Play: A Color Run and a Monument Bike Ride

Readers, I realize that you have been eagerly awaiting tales of my (mis)adventures, so I apologize for the two-week  delay!

I spent Easter weekend (Week Thirteen) with my family in Nashville. That Saturday morning, my sister joined me in my first “off-List” New Thing – participating in the 2013 Nashville Color Run (my first 5K!). Proceeds from every Color Run go towards local charities in each host city. The Nashville event benefited Amputee Blade Runners  – an organization that helps to provide free running prosthetics for amputees. As my sister and I approached the exuberant crowd gathered at the starting line, it was easy to see why the Color Run is promoted as “the Happiest 5K on Earth.” Kids and adults alike danced among the throng while sporting tie-dyed tutus, angel wings and other costumes.

During the race, each member of our group eagerly darted and twirled through the “color stations.” I reveled in the simple, silly joy of it all – “Pink! I NEED MORE PINK!” We arrived at the finish line 31 minutes later, bedecked in a rainbow of cornstarch powder. As we hugged close for the camera, my sister vowed that Caroline would join us next year. I smiled at the thought of a tutu-clad Caroline – who loves anything and everything purple – dancing in a cloud of violet.

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Upon my return to DC, I was welcomed by a mountain of work. Each day I promised myself that I would write my Week Thirteen blog post. However, after a dozen hours spent on my office computer, wrestling with words on my laptop lost its appeal. Thankfully, my weekend afforded me some much-needed down time. On Saturday, some friends and I enthusiastically played (and lost) a game of touch football. The following morning, I joined another friend for Week Fourteen’s New Thing – a monument bike ride.

At the start of our journey, I became acutely aware of the fact that I haven’t ridden a bicycle since I was about 12 years old. Even then, I was the always sole rider on an empty tree-lined street. Riding a bike in a city like DC is an entirely different animal. I white-knuckled the handlebars and prayed that my next blog headline wouldn’t read “New Thing #53 – Mow Down a Toddler.”* As we eased onto Mount Vernon Trail, however, I began to relax and enjoy the sensation of flying downhill with the wind in my face. I thrilled and laughed as each rut in the ground jolted my body off the seat. My friend and I biked a total of 8 miles, stopping periodically to take in views of the Washington monument, the Lincoln memorial, and the Tidal Basin (framed by budding cherry blossoms). Before continuing on to join others at brunch, we walked around Teddy Roosevelt Island and read aloud from stone slabs engraved with the former president’s poignant words.

* Incidentally, this wouldn’t actually be a New Thing. Feel free to ask me about the time I broke my finger after careening out-of-control down a ski slope in Tennessee. 

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Both of these fun, novel experiences made me reflect on the need for PLAY in our lives. No one questions 2-year-old Caroline’s play. For a toddler, playtime is viewed as a necessary tool to learn about the world, to problem-solve and to build relationships. Sadly, conventional wisdom ignores the key role of play in being a healthy, thriving adult. Play is often seen as a luxury, an indulgence. However, play has many benefits that continue into adulthood. According to Dr. Stuart Brown – the founder of the National Institute For Play (NIFP) – making time for play as an adult reduces stress, promotes better sleep, and boost our immune system. Play also allows us:

  • To be more productive in our working lives;
  • To explore our interests and master new skills;
  • To foster deeper emotional connections; and
  • To be more creative and enhance cognitive processing.

You may ask, what constitutes “play”? NIFP defines play as a purposeless activity that is fun and which allows you to be fully “in the moment.” The concept of play is central to the 52 Things mission – after all, the “goal” of each New Thing is simply the experience itself. And most* items on The List are undoubtedly fun.

* Admittedly, the idea of a week-long a raw food diet (New Thing # 45) seems less-than-enjoyable. In fact, the mere thought of it makes me want to eat some bacon. 

According to Dr. Brown, there are several distinct “patterns of play” that adults and children alike should incorporate into their daily lives, including:

  • Attunement Play. This aspect of play is characterized by emotional connection and shared experience. Attunement occurs when I play “peak-a-boo” with baby Andrew or cheer on a friend during an intramural softball game on the Mall. Marriage counselors often encourage couples to engage in fun, novel activities because shared experiences strengthen relationships and promote intimacy.
  • Body Play/Movement. Body play occurs when you are testing your physical limits through sports, fitness, etc. Dr. Brown defines body play as “a spontaneous desire to get ourselves out of gravity.” This quote seemed particularly fitting in light of my recent exploits into the world of Crossfit. If you aren’t aware, Crossfit focuses on “constantly varied, high intensity, functional movements.” A central idea behind the program is that moving in functional ways – ways our body was meant to – is both effective from a fitness standpoint and fun. In fact, I had my own “defying gravity” moment during Week Fourteen. While participating in a 7:00am WOD (“workout of the day”), our class was instructed to perform a series of handstands. I complied until my arms ached with protest – not because of any nebulous fitness goal, but simply because it was FUN to test my body while turning the world on its axis.
  • Object Play. Unsurprisingly, object play is a fun activity that is centered on an object. Playing Frisbee with a dog or operating a handheld video game would qualify. As a further example, one of my good friends will spend hours beading intricate jewelry. According to NIFP, object play increases cognitive function and enhances our ability to solve complex problems.
  • Social Play. Engaging in social play with others develops our sense of trust, empathy and social awareness. In a similar vein, Narrative Play involves the art of storytelling. When we engage in storytelling, we often reap all of the benefits of social play while simultaneously encouraging creativity and innovation. Narrative play also helps us understand ourselves and process the events in our lives. The 52 New Things blog is a testament to the benefits of storytelling – sometimes writing about my new experiences is a struggle, however, I always end with a better understanding of what I learned.
  • Imaginative Play. Imaginative play comes more naturally to small children, who aren’t hampered by knowledge of how the “real” world operates. When Caroline plays “doctor” and heals a beloved baby doll, she is developing her social, emotional, and language skills and building self-confidence. Although “pretend play” may look different at 30, it is nonetheless important because it provides stress release and helps us to shape our goals. This type of play can be as simple as taking a walk and letting your imagination run wild – dreaming up your perfect life 5, 10, and 20 years from now. I’ll admit, I do this pretty much every time I walk the dog or enjoy a cup of coffee.

In sum, my challenge to all of you is this – do something that “conventional wisdom” tells you that you are to old to do. Think about an activity that you enjoyed as a child and shape it to fit your adult life. Alternatively, follow the lead of a child that you know or your petForget about being productive or having a “goal” and make pretend, test your physical limits, goof around, be in the moment and have fun!

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2 Comments

  1. Laura Manning

    I would love to know more about your bike tour. Joel keeps promising to take me to DC for the cherry blossoms. This sounds like a perfect activity for this trip. Is there a place to rent bikes for the excursion? Bike riding has become an integral part of my exercise routine as I attempt to control the effects of aging. Hopefully we’ll make this trip while I can still push the pedals.

    • Sorry for the delayed response! There are two main companies around town I know of to rent a bike – Bike and Roll and DC Bike Share. Bike and Roll’s bikes are probably a bit less clunky, but DC Bike Share is nice because there are stations EVERYWHERE where you can drop your bike off – no need to return it to where you rented it, as with Bike and Roll. If you come visit DC, I’d check with the local bike shops … many of them offer free bike tours. This weekend, my boyfriend and I went on a tour to a local brewery! Others offer a night-time monument ride, I believe. Hope this helps!!!

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