How many fitness lives do we get?

I ran the Boston Marathon 18 years ago.  Last Monday, as news of the freezing wet head-wind-y icestorm marathon filtered in, the only reaction I had was “there is nothing on this earth that could have got me to the start line on a morning like that.” And then a moment of honesty — “I’m not sure there’s anything on earth that could get me to the start line of a marathon on any morning.”

But look at this 35 year old person in the middle of this photo — that was mile 18, and I had a damaged knee, and I look so CHEERFUL.


When I read back over the blog I wrote about running that marathon, I can’t find myself in it.  All I remember clearly is that when we finally crossed the finish line and someone handed me a banana, I had to move my jaw with my fingers to get my mouth to chew.  I requalified for Boston in that race — but that was the last time I ran further than 21 km.  After that, I wasn’t a marathoner anymore.

'I take lots of antioxidants.  That's why I'm still on the first of my nine lives.'
Cartoon of two cats, one saying “I take lots of antioxidants.  That’s why I’m still on the first of my nine lives.”

With the publication of Tracy and Sam’s book (yay!!!), there has been a lot of attention to the original premise of this blog:  their goal of being fitter than ever before at mid-life.  Obviously, this is a goal I am 100% behind.  At the same time, when I look at that photo of 35 year old me, it’s pretty clear that I was at my “fittest” in my mid-30s, not at mid-life.  So how many fitness “lives” do we get?  And how do we keep developing new, meaningful goals if they aren’t about being your fittest, or your fastest, or your strongest?

I’ve written several times in this blog about grappling with the physical changes of being middle aged.  In the past three years, despite working out at least four times a week, I’ve gained nearly 10 lbs and a couple of clothing sizes, and my standard running speed has slowed down to a pace that would have been laughable to that 35 year old.  Just before I ran that Boston marathon, I ran a half marathon in one hour and 35 minutes — that’s 4.5 minute kilometres, for more than 21 kilometers — that is a whole, completely different person than the one who struggles to run 5 km at 5.75 minute kilometre pace now.  So how do I make sense of being a person who could run like that in my 30s, and now I’m a plodder?  How do I feel good about my fitness when I have this shining example of my own past self as a comparison?

Fitness is a complex thing:  it’s physical conditioning and discipline and strength and all of those things — but it’s also all of the stories of who we are balled into one place. I have completely different narratives of who I have been in my body different times.  And understanding them helps me figure out how to orient myself to fitness in my aging self.

#1:  Dreamy bookworm. My first narrative — to my early 20s or so — was brainy kid, the adolescent who obnoxiously curled myself around copies of Sartre when I was forced to go to a pep rally for my high school football team.  I rode my bike and went for walks to moodily be alone, to explore the world — not because it had anything to do with “fitness.”  (When I was 10, I literally tried to ride my bike and read at the same time).  Sports were a thing other types of people did.  I looked “trim” but I couldn’t imagine sweating on purpose.  I rolled my own cigarettes and smoked ostentatiously while drinking pints of guinness and talking about poetry.

#2: Sedentary corporate serf:  Then I graduated, got a job, and spent my 20s drowning in a high pressure communications agency.  My moody distaste for exercise combined with working all the time led to a 35 lb weight gain and a lot of grumpiness.  I would buy a pack of cigarettes on my way to work in the morning and smoke all day at my desk.  I was miserable, and I could see the horizon — I had two colleagues who smoked and lived on coffee and whisky, and they turned 40 and suddenly looked old.  In a burst of clarity, I declared that I was not going to turn 30 as a smoker.

#3:  Exploratory mover:  Two months before I turned 30, I quit my job and started my own business, and set about the project of trying to get healthy in every aspect of my life. I went to the gym because that was what non-smokers did, and discovered that moving felt good, that I could inhabit my body in a way I never had imagined.  Forty pounds melted off, and I felt buoyant and strong for the first time in my life.  I did all the fitness things — aquafit, aerobics, pilates — but settled in and realized I could run with a lot of joy.

#4:  Focused runner:  This is the me in the photo.  A runner.  Not just a person who runs sometimes, but A Runner!  I actively trained, and cross-trained, and hung out with runners, and felt like a two hour run was the best possible way I could spend my time. I was the kind of person who got up at 5 am to make sure I got a run in before a long meeting, ran 10k at the end of a long day without thinking twice. I got whip fast without drama, and felt a kind of power and control in my body that I never had imagined.  I didn’t race a lot, but when I did I consistently placed in the top 10%.  I ran a 5 k in 20 minutes and 30 seconds.  I was a person that my pose-y intellectual 16 year old self would have mocked, that my chunky, smokey 26 year old self would have found flabbergasting.

#5: Injured ju jube eater:   But then — I didn’t pay enough attention to my whole self, and I injured the cartilage in my knee training for Boston but ran it anyway, and when I tried to train for the race that was supposed to follow it, I couldn’t.  My fifth fitness life was grumpy, weepy withdrawal from my runner self, trying to find a new way to put the mental health balance into my life that long runs had given me, new ways to divert myself.  (This is when I discovered message boards and online communities). Somewhere in there I started my phd (a good thing), and got divorced (all that grumpiness and wallowing didn’t do an already shaky relationship any good).  Through all of these changes, I tried to keep running a little bit, and always assumed I was just in temporary recovery from injury, that I would be a marathoner again.

#6:  Utilitarian jogger:  I never ran another marathon.  But despite my chronically injured knee, Lives 3 and 4 prevented me from completely rejecting Fit Cate during #5.  I didn’t start smoking again (though I flirted with it, briefly), and recognized that I needed fitness to stay emotionally balanced.  In this phase, exercise was utilitarian. I ran short distances two or three times a week, but I wasn’t “a runner.”  I finished my PhD and started to travel more, and realized that the steady stream of activity had set me up to sustain strength through my 40s.  Then I had two partners in succession who were very outdoorsy, and I became an explorer again.

kili final ascent20#7: Action Figure:  My utility fitness set me up to suddenly find a huge array of new feats of strength —  like hike up Scottish mountains and climb Kilimanjaro and trek gorillas in the Ugandan rainforest.  Somewhere in there I had a lightbulb moment that I wanted a road bike (I don’t even know why, and it took me a year to put cleats on it), and then I became a cyclist. The outdoorsy partners melted away but my vagabond self took deep root, and I was exploring Myanmar by myself, riding bikes across Germany, Vietnam, Laos, Sri Lanka, Latvia, Estonia, hiking through northern woods solo. Running in every country I could, just to feel the place.  The strength of decades of fitness and the emotional resilience of age fused and I felt capable of anything.  I wasn’t my fastest or even my fittest, but I felt completely competent and confident in my body.

#8: Aging Adventurer?  And then there is now.   And I don’t know how to define it. I still feel like Cate #7, and the yearning to keep exploring the world, to ride my bike alone across new countries, to find new treks — this is my most powerful drive.  But my body is suddenly uncooperative.  I’m working out more than I ever have — I’m on #95 for 2018, and I do ridiculous things like a two hour spinning class — but I’m slower, sluggish and tired, all the time.

I have written a few times about how fitness in my 50s is as much about preserving mobility as I age as anything else — but my desire to move my body with intensity, hike hard up St. Lucia’s Gros Piton, ride my bike across Bhutan — these haven’t waned.  So I have the same confidence I had through life #8 — but there is an undertone of worry.  Sam’s experience with her knee is a cautionary tale — am I one mis-step away from reawakening the dragon of angry cartilage in my knee?  Am I going to push my aging heart so hard in one of those intense spinning classes that it explodes?  Will I push my arthritic toe just one poke too far in yoga and limp for a month?

Monday’s icy Boston marathon was a big question mark for me, a reminder that my own Boston experience was largely about not listening to my body, which led to a complete halt in moving my body the way I wanted to.  I wrote a little while ago about the need to listen to your body when it whispers.  I look at the thumb I sprained in my weirdo movement class on Monday and realize my body isn’t even whispering — it’s shouting. Slow down, pay attention.  I can still be an adventurer, I can run, I can ride — but with a little more caution, a little more care, a lot more yoga, a little less spontaneity, a lot more sleep.  That’s what fit in my mid-50s means.  Paying attention.  Maybe my next fitness life is more about presence and observance than it is about thrust.



Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and works in Toronto, when she isn’t scampering across the world.

addiction · advertising · alcohol · fitness · Martha's Musings

What’s wine got to do with it?

by MarthaFitat55

As someone who has been exploring different ways to be fit, healthy, and happy,  the question of alcohol comes up often.

Usually the question from the fitness point of view focuses on the calories in alcohol or avoiding overindulgence vis a vis athletic performance.  When it comes to health, the issue is more about consuming too much alcohol.

Two articles of late have been making the rounds on my news feeds. The first one surveys the literature on alcohol and its link to cancer. Mother Jones writer Stephanie Mencimer began looking at this link after her own diagnosis of breast cancer even though she didn’t fit the profile as someone at risk for cancer.

The article is extensive and covers a lot of ground,  but what leapt out at me was data on women’s drinking generally. As a rule, Mencimer reported, women don’t drink a lot. But that is changing, and rapidly, because of concerted marketing campaigns pitching drinking to women: “Ads and products now push alcohol as a salve for the highly stressed American woman. There are wines called Mother’s Little Helper, Happy Bitch, Mad Housewife, and Relax. Her Spirit vodka comes with swag emblazoned with girl-power slogans like “Drink responsibly. Dream recklessly.”

But it isn’t just ads selling specific types of alcohol. There’s a whole bunch of memes and cartoons online and on clothing doing this. Consider this popular image and concept. The image shows two women running. One woman tells the other her fitness tracker calculates how many glasses of wine they have earned  through exercising.


The image equates exercise as a means to earn food or drink rewards. Run five miles you get a glass of wine; run ten miles and you get two.

That’s not how exercise works, and yet the message is seen as lighthearted and true. It doesn’t work if you think of two men running and saying it calculates how many beer you can have.

Then there’s this one:


With this meme, readers who are watching their weight are advised to sublimate food cravings by drinking wine. It goes further to suggest that thirst can only be quenched by alcohol.

I find this one really bothersome because the idea of moderation is dismissed out of hand. Forget having a glass of wine, drink the whole bottle. As for seeing how you feel, I doubt anyone who has drunk a whole bottle by themselves has the capacity to engage in any deep thinking.

Then there’s the marketing push from stories like this one on farm fresh vodka (made with kale!) and the latest marathon fad which includes 23 stops for wine.

I think though the worst idea for drinking came from a fitness apparel line:


We’ve come along way since Mick Jagger sang about Mother’s Little Helper (Where’s the sarcasm emojii when you need it?). There’s so much wrong with this I’m not sure where to start.

Perhaps it’s the idea that a strong woman needs help with parenting a strong girl. While parenting help is often undersold, are girl children that problematic that even a strong woman can’t cope? Or is it that the only way to cope is to indulge in strong drink (usually meaning hard liquor)?

I prefer my strength to come from lifting weights and from focusing on the ways I can cultivate resilience rather than on relying on drink to give me strength to face the challenges I have.

These memes are often shared because people find them funny but in fact, they normalize excessive drinking. Let’s take a look at what that is.

The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines heavy drinking as more than four drinks on any day or 14 per week for men and more than three drinks on any day or seven per week for women.

Health Canada defines low risk drinking as “no more than two drinks a day, 10 per week for women, and three drinks a day, 15 per week for men, with an extra drink allowed on special occasions.”

But limits aren’t that simple. The second article I read this week focused on the life-shortening effects of alcohol. The article reported on new research which found “people who drank the equivalent of about five to 10 drinks a week could shorten their lives by up to six months.” 

It gets worse: “The study of 600,000 drinkers estimated that having 10 to 15 alcoholic drinks every week could shorten a person’s life by between one and two years. And they warned that people who drink more than 18 drinks a week could lose four to five years of their lives.”

Contrary to those memes, the research supports a new limit for light drinking or for encouraging abstinence from alcohol completely if one wants to pursue a healthier and happier life.

— Martha Muzychka is a writer getting her fit on in St. Johns.


fitness · racing · running · training

Would you run a 10K with no prep?

Image description: (MEC 10K in October 2017) Tracy standing in the right foreground in running shorts, tank, and shoes with a race bib 2065. Canopy with MEC sign hanging from it in the left background, and a race podium (1-2-3), and a finish line inflatable arch, and a few people in the background. Green grass, fall leaves, trees.
Image description: (MEC 10K in October 2017) Tracy standing in the right foreground in running shorts, tank, and shoes with a race bib 2065. Canopy with MEC sign hanging from it in the left background, and a race podium (1-2-3), and a finish line inflatable arch, and a few people in the background. Green grass, fall leaves, trees.

As I’ve mentioned a few times this winter, my training has gone sideways. I’ve stuck with personal training but running? Extremely sporadic training schedule. So my commitment to do the MEC series at the 10K distance seems awfully ambitious considering the first event of my line-up is…wait for it….Saturday!

We’ve also had shit weather and basically there was no way I was going out in the ice storm on the weekend. All I did was 25 minutes on the treadmill. Then this week with weather and media and all manner of this and that, it doesn’t look like I’ll get more than a short one in before Saturday. Then Saturday: 10K.

Obviously the question has arisen in my mind: really? Must I?

Answer: yes really. But must I? No. I get to choose. But I’m going to choose the follow through. Why? Because you can only get momentum going by doing the thing. The more I pass up opportunities to get back into the game the harder it is.

So I’m doing it. My race strategy is: enjoy. I’ve got my feminist playlist. Environment Canada is forecasting double digit highs. And the race doesn’t even start until 9:35. My objective here is to establish a baseline to beat next time.

The upside of going in cold on Saturday is there is nowhere to go but up in May. And then I have the entire summer to train for early September and late October (between which I’m throwing in the Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon as a “welcome back Anita” event).

To answer the question posed in my title: yes. I would and I will.

What would you do?

accessibility · clothing · fashion

Leggings are for life, says Sam (#leggingscanbepants, #leggingsforlife, #feministfashion)

Image result for leggings pants fighting humour

Readers know that I’m not a big fan of pants.

My main complaint is sizing. If they fit my thighs and calves, they’re enormous at the waist. See Finding clothes to fit athletic women’s bodies.

But also if I gain or lose even as little as 5 lbs, they don’t fit. So I end up with a range of sizes to cover a very small range of difference in weight.

And don’t get me going on the leg length thing. I usually have to hem pants which adds $10 or so to their price. Men’s pants seem to come in a variety of lengths but women, I guess, are all the same height.

Also don’t get my going on jeans, especially skinny jeans, which they all are on me. Aside from my yoga jeans, I might be done with jeans.

Last year I went on a leggings binge, trying lots of different kinds to find the perfect pair of plain black leggings for everyday use. I tried the full gamut from Lululemon (on sale!) to Hue to Joe Fresh. The price range was $90 (Lululemon, on sale) to $20 (Joe Fresh). The Lululemon are fine for yoga but too athletic for everyday. I’m not a big fan, especially given the price. The Joe Fresh were fine for PJs and hanging about the house but not really for work.

In the middle were the Hue leggings which I had great hopes for since I like their tights. But it wasn’t to be. They share the pants problem. The large isn’t stretchy enough for my legs. The XL falls down pretty much right away.

When friends who play roller derby recommended a Canadian brand I was intrigued. They’re also middle of the road price wise. And made in Canada.

ZENITH Leggings

Nice. I’m trying not buy stuff made in countries with sketchy labour laws. See this post for my call for ethical fashion. I struggle with sports clothes in particular.

Even without the “made in Canada” bonus point, they were my favourite. I’m setting out now to order more. They are high waisted, they stay up, and they work for either the gym or the office.

(For working out in my favorite leggings are by SuperfitHero, available in a very wide range of sizes.)

Why I am blogging about leggings now? My knee brace, above. That’s my snazzy custom fit, zero pain knee brace. But it’s causing a bit of a fashion crisis. It needs to be tight against my legs. I can either wear skirts and tights or leggings. No pants. Well, I could wear really wide leg pants and wear it under I guess. That’s what men do. But that’s not my thing.

Dresses and skirts need to fall either above the brace (very short) or below (very long). With short skirts I’m happiest in leggings so that’s what I am doing these days

So now I’m one of those people wearing leggings for all of the things.

Until summer (if it ever comes) and then I’m back to bike shorts under skirts.

fit at mid-life · fitness

Soaking up our 15 minutes

Image description: Sam on left in a polka dot dress and Tracy on right in a dress with a zipper down the front, looking at each other, walking, talking, smiling, indoors against a white background.
Image description: Sam on left in a polka dot dress and Tracy on right in a dress with a zipper down the front, looking at each other, walking, talking, smiling, indoors against a white background.

Sam and I are having a good week (and it’s only Tuesday!). Fit at Mid-Life: A Feminist Fitness Journey, published by Greystone Books, had its official Canadian release on the weekend, official US release today, official UK release on Thursday.

We had some great press yesterday, with two of Canada’s major newspapers running feature articles about us, the book, and our message of feminist fitness. See “Feminist philosophers’ book exercise in empowerment” (Megan Ogilvie, Toronto Star) and “How two philosophers got fit, the feminist way” (Adriana Barton, The Globe and Mail). That brought a flurry of emails, tweets, timeline posts, and face-to-face congratulations that just kept coming all day long.

At one point I said to Sam, “Definitely enjoying our 15 minutes this week, Sam. Hope you are too.” And yes, I’m enjoying it, trying to soak it in because it’s unexpected and wonderful.

I have a niggling little voice in the back of my head that whispers stuff to me about how people are probably already sick of us and our book (even though it just came out Saturday!). Are we shameless and insufferable self-promoters? It’s amazing how quickly I can go from “wow this is great!” to “whoa, enough!” I hate to make this about gender, but I think there is an element of feminine socialization to how challenging I’m finding it just to rest in the excitement of this moment and savour the sense of accomplishment.

When Sam and I started the blog almost six years ago to document our Fittest by 50 challenge (that you can read more about in the book), we didn’t think we would blog past 50. We didn’t think anyone would read the blog. And we certainly didn’t envision that our personal challenge (our “midlife fitness pact,” as The Globe and Mail called it) would attract a community of feminist fitness enthusiasts and result in a successful blog with regular readers, guest contributors, a dedicated and incredible core group of regular contributors, and a book, Goodreads reviews, media attention.

I have said a few times when talking to the media about the book that it didn’t even seem like work to write. We spent an hour here and two hours there meeting in the underused faculty lounge on campus with our laptops, working on the same google doc at the same time, chuckling at the bits that we found most amusing, and asking each other to read over sections we weren’t sure of. Of course it didn’t write itself. But, much like the blog more generally, it’s a kind of writing that feels good to do, is fun even.

So it feels like a big gift (to me, anyway) that something that was so much fun could actually have yielded a thing that people seem to want to read. And I’m super chuffed about it and consider myself incredibly fortunate to be riding this particular wave at this time of my life.

We have more media coming up in the next little while, including an afternoon of interviews at CBC radio across the country on Wednesday, April 18 and an appearance on Global TV’s morning show on April 27th.

Our big friends and family events, that is, launch parties that are open to the public, are on April 28th from 2-3 p.m. at the Landon Library in Wortley Village, London, Ontario and on May 3, 7 p.m. at the Bookshelf in Guelph, Ontario. We’ll talk about how the book came to be, read a few pages, answer questions if there are any, and eat cupcakes (enough for everyone). At both events you’ll be able to buy a book if you haven’t already, and we will be pleased to sign copies if you like, whether you bought yours at the event or elsewhere.

We’ve also mentioned before that we like events and if you have something you’d like us to be a part of, please ask. We can’t promise anything but we will definitely take invitations seriously and see what we can do.

With gratitude,


climbing · fitness

Urban crags (Guest post)

There’s a particular kind of climbing spot that climbers call an “urban crag.” Close to a big city, convenient—but dirty and subject to hazards, trash, and irresponsible teenagers who think it might be fun to mess with an anchor you’ve set for top-roping.

Geneva’s urban crag–or mountain o’ crags to describe it more accurately–is pretty spectacular. Le Salève rises to 1300m above Geneva (the shores of the Lake are around 400m). 110 bolted single-pitch routes on limestone in the area called Le Canapé alone, and hundreds more multi-pitch routes in the other sectors.

The wider band beneath the two narrow bands is Le Canapé, our destination, as seen from the last bus stop before the French-Swiss border.

Bjorn and I tried fit an after-work climb earlier in the week–but we still have to get back for the dinner the Brocher Foundation generously supplies for researchers. By public transit, it wasn’t feasible. After a long ascent and a wrong turn or two, we got to the crag with 15 minutes before we would have to turn around to make our way back to Hermance. We put on our helmets (warnings about falling scree in the topo) and fake-climbed by traversing a bit without ropes. And we worked very hard to ward off the climbers’ rock enchantment that makes all other considerations fade into the backdrop.

We had it all worked out for a weekend climb at the same place, planning to come down from the cable car instead of walking up. What we didn’t plan for was that 300 runners would be running the opposite direction—repeatedly— on our approach path. It was the Saturday of the Ultra Montée du Salève, a race in which people try to run up the mountain (elevation gain 600-odd metres) as many times as they can in 6 hours, taking the cable car down each time. Something doesn’t seem right about this activity–but since we were on our way to spend all afternoon climbing up 15 or so metres and then rappelling down, who are we to judge? But we had to step aside and get out of their way as much as possible and this slowed our approach considerably!

We had plenty of time once we got to the crag–a good 7 hours–and the entire sector to ourselves. I climbed something my grade conversion chart tells me would be the equivalent of a North American 5.9–the easiest route at this crag, the topo says, and named for a kids’ fairy tale, like everything I’m able to climb!—and got stuck at the crux of the many climbs that would count as 5.10a in North America. I’ll hold onto this bit of evidence, translation issues and all, that I can climb a 5.9 route outdoors (not just in the gym) and see if I can translate it to the much sharper Nova Scotia granite when I get home! I’d be very happy with that semi-aritrary achievement number. Bjorn snapped this photo of me belaying.



Stairs are evil, for Sam anyway

So I’ve gone from being a “always take the stairs” person even with heavy backpack and shoulder bag in airports to being a person who thinks stairs are evil.

On the road again

A post shared by Samantha Brennan (@samjanebrennan) on

Past me used to like to run up stairs in the airports, whizzing by the people on the escalators. No more. Hello knee injury. I even bought my first carry on wheelie suitcase.

With my knee brace I’m happy walking right now but stairs are another matter, especially downstairs. Why?

See Gretchen Reynolds’ Ask Well: Stairs and Knee Pain.

“Most people with knee arthritis — meaning some degeneration of the cushioning cartilage in the joint — experience pain when they go down stairs, even if their arthritis is otherwise mild, said Dr. Kevin J. Bozic, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of California, San Francisco. More so than climbing stairs, descending them places great force on the knee and, in particular, the patello-femoral joint, the portion of the knee beneath the kneecap, he said.”

Like the no more running ever thing, see Sam struggles not to run, ever it’s the change in my self image that’s hard. I don’t know how long it will take for that to catch up with my condition.

I have to remind myself that I have had bouts of “evil stairs” before. Last time I could ride my bikes 100s of kms but then had to take the elevator at work after! It was then that I started to get annoyed by the “get more movement in your day–take the stairs” messages. I’ve had plenty of movement in my day thank you very much!

It helps knowing I’m not alone. Google image search for “evil stairs” and you gets lots of choice.

Hello. I wanna play a game. #stairs #staircase #lookup #lookingup #saw #thesaw #horror #doll #creepy #scary #dark #morbid #darkart #evil #evilness #igdungeon #bw #bnw #blackandwhite #rsa_bnw #rsa_decay #igerspoland #igerspoznan #mobilephototrip_poznan #mo