More research just in confirms what I suggested then. There aren’t any true non-responders. Instead, there are just people who have to work an awful lot harder to see improvements in fitness.
See The Myth of Exercise “Non-Responders.” It’s subtitled, “New research suggests that everyone gets fitter with training… if they do enough.” It reports on a new study which shows that non-response is a function of exercise dose. Subjects were divided into groups that exercised different amounts each week and while some people who exercised one or three days a week didn’t get any fitter, there were no non-responders in the 5 day a week group.
Think about this when you’ve signed up for a running clinic, for example, and you see that some people see improvements in running fitness working out just one or two days a week. Other people might do the recommended three days a week and still not get any fitter. It may be that for those people three days isn’t enough. Some people may need to train 5 times a week or more to see improvements. We’re not all alike although you’d never know that from standardized training plans.
Link to actual study: Refuting the myth of non-response to exercise training: ‘non-responders’ do respond to higher dose of training. The Journal of Physiology, January 30, 2017
(Abstract: One in five adults following physical activity guidelines are reported not demonstrating any improvement in cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF). Herein, we sought to establish whether CRF non-response to exercise training is dose-dependent, using a between- and within-subject study design. Seventy-eight healthy adults were divided into 5 groups (‘1’, ‘2’, ‘3’, ‘4’ and ‘5’) respectively comprising 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 × 60 min exercise sessions per week but otherwise following an identical 6-week endurance training (ET) program. Non-response was defined as any change in CRF, determined by maximal incremental exercise power output (Wmax), within the typical error of measurement (±3.96%). Participants classified as non-responders after the ET intervention completed a successive 6-week ET period including 2 additional exercise sessions per week. Maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max), haematology and muscle biopsies were assessed prior to and after each ET period. After the first ET period, Wmax increased (P < 0.05) in groups ‘2’, ‘3’, ‘4’ and ‘5’, but not ‘1’ . In groups ‘1’, ‘2’, ‘3’, ‘4’ and ‘5’, 69%, 40%, 29%, 0% and 0% of individuals, respectively, were non-responders. After the second ET period, non-response was eliminated in all individuals. The change in VO2max with exercise training independently determined Wmaxresponse (partial correlation coefficient (rpartial≥0.74, P < 0.001). In turn, total hemoglobin mass was the strongest independent determinant of VO2max (rpartial = 0.49, P < 0.001). In conclusion, individual CRF non-response to exercise training is abolished by increasing the dose of exercise and primarily a function of haematological adaptations in oxygen-carrying capacity.)
I’m looking forward to an early beach appreciation event here in Toronto. You can read about it here.
The third annual Winter Stations design competition winners have been unveiled. They’ll take over the city’s east end beaches starting on Family Day, Feb. 20.
The winning designs include a take on Japanese hot springs, modern lighthouses and suspended trees.
‘The Beacon’ was designed by Joao Araujo Sousa and Joanna Correia Silva from Porto, Portugal. (Winter Stations Design Competition)
“Visitors will be able to touch and feel their way along the beach, experiencing luminous shelter from the wind, warming waters for their feet, and designs that celebrate the Canadian nation of immigrants,” said Lisa Rochon, Winter Stations Design Jury Chair, in a press release.
But mostly I’m really looking forward to getting back on my bike!
Last week my friend Rachel started dropping hints about a new and exciting venture she was cooking up. Finally, the announcement about her new cycling team, Foxy Moxy Racing, came on social media.
I have followed the development of Rachel’s incredible career as an elite competitive cyclist for some time now. She trains hard and, as any cyclist must, has an amazing capacity for suffering! And she wins. But she has also had to endure challenges to her right to compete and an astonishing lack of support from her former team. Now Rachel is Foxy Moxy’s captain.
We are big on inclusivity in fitness and sport on this blog. And Foxy Moxy Racing, with its commitment to “radically promoting trans and gender non-conforming inclusion in sport, through positive and unapologetic visibility in competitive cycling” is a revolutionary team that deserves attention and support.
You can also help the team out with financial support if you so choose by going to their paypal account.
Rachel has promised to write a blog post later in the season updating us on the team and their adventures!
They are looking to sign new members:
We welcome anyone and everyone who wishes to race under the banner of gender inclusivity, regardless of their own gender identity or expression. We value the wide range of identities, bodies, and ways of being, and we promote the full inclusion of all who wish to compete. We also seek to educate the public on the value of inclusive sport, and to continue dialogue on fair and transparent policies.
Good luck to Rachel and her new team. Not only are they creating a new opportunity for trans and gender non-conforming cyclists, but they’re also committing to advocacy and education.
Recently I said goodbye to an old friend who’s been a wonderful source of fitness inspiration. She was one of the most alive people I’ve ever known. Marion Corless died recently but not before finishing her guest blog post I’d been nagging her to do for a couple of years. Rumour has it she also completed some crafting and quilting projects in the hospital. She might have been 95 but she didn’t ever really slow down.
You can read her post, Fitness for Women (Old School!) here.
Marion and I traveled together in New Zealand, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, and around Ontario as well. Her son Rob always joked, “The only trouble in traveling with Mother was keeping up.”
She’s the only person her age I’d ever met who wanted to do as much as she did when traveling. Her children joked about her pace. See above. But really it was no joke. On our west coast trip we collapsed into the hot tub at the hotel one night after a big day of hiking and sightseeing. Rob stood outside the hot tub to help her in, and I sat inside holding her arm. “Not sure why you’re making all this fuss,” she complained, as she hopped right in. No help needed.
In her blog post you can read about all the physical activities she loved but what I loved best about her was her sense of adventure.
Kayaking in the ocean in New Zealand? Sure! (I heard from her that some of her children were worried about her. She laughed and said, “What’s the worse that could happen? I could die. I’m in my 90’s you know?” I knew!) But what I loved was the idea of getting more adventurous with age. So many people seem to get more fearful. Afraid of falling, afraid of dying. But not Marion.
I also loved that she didn’t let limitations get in the way of adventure. My daughter Mallory and I were doing a triathlon/duathlon once while Marion was in town. Read about our races here. Marion wanted to come visit and watch. But the event was in a fully naturalized provincial park. In the battle between letting things go wild and providing access for people with walkers, this park had gone for the former.
But no worries as they provided these amazing three wheeled wheelchairs with big tires suitable for off-roading and for the beach. I wasn’t sure how Marion would take to that. She’s pretty independent and called her cane “nuisance.” But she hopped in and had a blast as her son Rob pushed her up and down the dunes. She didn’t just demonstrate staying active into your 90s as a physical thing though it was that. She also demonstrated how much of it is about attitude, about feeling alive, and having fun.
I’d say “rest in peace, Marion” but “rest” never really was your style.
Here are some photos from our 2013 trip to the west coast of Vancouver Island which began in typical Marion Corless fashion with a message, “I hear you’re coming to Vancouver Island for a conference. Have you ever been to the west coast? It’s beautiful. You drive, don’t you? Good.” She’d already booked the hotels it turned out. There was no saying no to Marion’s travel plans.
I’ve often said I don’t care about calories. I don’t count them. Instead I focus on healthy eating, getting enough fruits and vegetables, eating enough protein. I also focus on making ethical choices and eating food that I love. So though I do love tracking food–back at it again today, in fact with my FitBit–it’s not calories that are my usual focus.
But Friday I realized that was wrong. I’m not immune to reacting to calorie counts. I was in line at the university cafeteria for lunch and was struck by the numbers next to the prices. Unable to find anything not in the 600 to 900 calorie range, I shook my head and walked away. It was a long day and I was too busy to leave campus. Instead I snacked on some office snacks and then rifled through my gym bag looking for a leftover cliff bar or something. No luck but I did find a couple of gel blocks. I didn’t pass out from hunger. Phew!
I wondered about the effect. Maybe I’ll get used to it? Maybe I’ll never eat pizza or subs again? Monday, I’m packing lunch.
“There’s a new item on the menu at Ontario restaurants in 2017: calorie counts. As of Jan. 1, restaurants and food service providers with more than 20 locations in the province are required to list the calorie content of food items on their menus. Fancy a regular popcorn with butter topping and a medium Sprite with your Star Wars Rogue One ticket? That’s 1,100 calories, a shade more than a Big Mac, medium fries and a medium Coke at McDonald’s (1090 calories.)”
“The calorie counts can hit home for consumers, said David Hammond, a professor in the school of public health at the University of Waterloo, in Waterloo, Ont.”On the topic of informing people, it’s very effective and most consumers, about 90 per cent, are interested,” Hammond said. “But it’s really about a third of us that actually use that information to change what we order.””
But is there a downside? When I shared the story on our Facebook page lots of our regular commentators confessed to a dislike of calorie counts. Some people with a history of eating disorders find them triggering.
Here’s some of the responses:
“I really dislike being forced to look at calories. I made a conscious choice to stop counting them. I consciously try to disregard that information when I order, but it does make me feel guilty sometimes.”
“I’ve worked really hard to get over counting calories. I used to allow myself so many calories per hour. Now when I see them, it’s a real set back.”
“Calorie counting is for eating disorders.”
Others were more neutral in their evaluation.
“Makes no difference to me. I know Big Macs have a high calorie count, but if I want one, that number doesn’t deter me. I’m not going to McDonald’s for healthy choices.”
How about you? What do you think about calorie counts on food labels? Does it affect your food choices?Do you think it’s on balance good or does the danger outweigh the good?
Update: I did eat pizza this weekend, just not Friday lunch. Instead Sarah and I grabbed pizza at Magic Oven on our way home Friday night. Turns out that my memory for calorie counts and the impression they have on me is short. Also, good pizza is different. It’s a treat, not a thing you grab at the cafeteria to make it through the day.
Amid all that’s happening in American politics, I can’t write a regular fitness blog post right now. I just can’t.
So here’s this.
Last weekend, Cate and I both listed our steps in the various women’s marches that were happening in the 217 in 2017 Facebook group. We joked about it but that felt right. It was movement that counted, that mattered. See 217 in 2017: What counts?
Those marches felt good and the mood was really positive. Now I’m just sad and scared. Another of our regular bloggers asked on Facebook if there was a special category on her FitBit for protest marches.
Today there’s a protest outside the US Embassy in Toronto. You can read more about it here.
“Donald Trump is passing the most racist Executive Orders the world has seen in decades.
Refugees, many of them children, are trapped in airports and being turned back to a dangerous home.. because of their religion, their language, their skin colour.
For all those who believe in a compassionate world, the time to act is now.
This event is open to anyone. We are acting as allies, and not speaking on behalf of anyone, nor claiming to be a voice for this issue.
NOTE: This will be a peaceful non-disruptive gathering. We may do a very short-term symbolic “shut-down” of the building, to remind governments – all governments – that the public will not tolerate racist policies and will stand up. We are in touch with immigration advocates to ensure that we don’t disrupt any activities in the consulate that would harm those seeking assistance with visas and travel. LOCATION: University Avenue, just north of Queen, Nearest subway: Osgoode station.”
Last weekend my friend Norah and I took off from our busy lives to spend a weekend at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in western Massachusetts. We are lucky and grateful for the privilege of the resources (time, control, money) to be able to take such a nice vacation.
Kripalu has limited internet access and strict rules against cell phone use in most of the building. The idea is to create an atmosphere in which people can take a break from their regular lives and from the regular stream of information and demands coming in over the airwaves (to use an old twentieth-century expression).
We both took full advantage of the break, enjoying lots of yoga, cooking, eating supremely yummy and healthy-to-us food, meditating, strolling in the woods, resting and reading.
Yeah. We should all run–not walk– to such places.
But here’s the thing: all of the lovely activities that Norah and I did– the woodsy strolling, yoga, cooking, reading, meditating, chilling and hanging out– can all be done at a much lower price AT HOME. So why don’t our non-vacationing non-getaway lives look more like this?
Here’s one reason:
We all work. We work too hard. We work too long. We work at home. We work on vacation. We work at all hours of the day and night.
Contrast last weekend with this week: Norah went to Florida Monday morning for big work meetings for a few days. She was steeling herself for having to do regular job tasks on top of these extra meetings. Let me clarify here: her job required traveling and going to a bunch of all-day and into-the-evening meetings. But there was also the expectation, nay, requirement, that she complete tasks that she would be doing normally at her job while not traveling.
And get this: the schedule for the work meetings included breakfast at 5:30am–7am, whereupon employees would be shuttled to the convention center for the big meetings.
Some of you who read the blog (and everyone who’s ever met me) know very well that I’m not a morning person. But seriously? Starting the work day at 5:30am? I can see getting up early if the goal is to commune with nature that looks like this:
But I suspect Norah’s day began looking much more like this:
But wait– we forgot about the work tasks that Norah had to be BEFORE her day began.
No, it probably didn’t look or feel like this. The image was too pretty, however, not to share. Likely it felt more like this:
What does my rant about working too much have to do with fitness? With feminism?
When work life takes over every waking (and many of the sleeping) minutes, we are unable to cope, to take care of ourselves, to take care of others, to move in ways we love, to sit still alone or with others, to cook and eat food that nourishes and delights us, to think about how to make the world better and then do something about it.
This year I’m paying more attention to when and how and how often I work. I’ve planned to go to some conferences, but fewer than last year. I’m planning fun activity trips with friends and family and fun activities at home. Sam and Tracy have blogged about their approaches to scheduling activity during their week. I had, over the past couple of years, lost my rhythm, and am paying some attention to getting it back. Or rather, finding a new rhythm. I can say now it will not involve getting up at 5:30am (except for special outdoorsy activity occasions), but I am looking for something that can stand as a bulwark against the constant encroachment of work. I know, something like this might seem like overkill:
But some structural help, to keep me from letting work seep into all the cracks, is needed.
I don’t have concrete plans yet. But my weekend away helped me wake up to the need to make some concrete plans. So for now, I’m at this stage:
Readers, what sorts of ways do you cordon off time and space for life outside work? I’d love to hear some of your plans and structures.
Marion Leslie Corless (nee Armitage) was born November 26th 1921 in Toronto. She graduated from the University of Toronto in 1943 with a degree in Occupational Therapy. Her travel adventures in the last few years include Australia, New Zealand, and the Maritimes. She lived (on her own) on Williams Lake BC since her husband John, of 66 years, died in 2011.
Marion died this December 31, 2016. You can read her obituary here.
Samantha asked me to describe my early physical education, as well as my later means of keeping fit. My son Robert was to interview me and write up the details for this blog. He did so over three evenings on my trip to Ontario this past August, and this is the result. It seems to be three parts reminiscence and one part fitness, but anyway here it is.
From grade school (in Toronto) I remember running races, sack races, high jumps, generally what they do on “Sports Day.” There was some gymnastics, which looked quite different to the gymnastics of today. I joined the Toronto skating club, when I was around 10 or 11 years old, and took bronze lessons and silver lessons. My skates were not sharp enough, and I fell once and hit my head. It still bothers me. I must have cracked my skull.
I took part in 3 or 4 skate carnivals. Sonja Henie came once and we were all on the ice together. My cohort were all ‘snowflakes.’
I had a tricycle. I wasn’t allowed a bicycle. (Too dangerous!) I wasn’t allowed up the hill. I went up the hill.
I also played badminton, I remember.
In the summers we used to go away to the lake (Balsam Lake mostly, also Shadow Lake). My father would drive; mother, my younger brother Jock (born Douglas John August 26 1926), and my friend Elizabeth all came.
Dad, Elizabeth, and I used to canoe, and swim, and row. My dad took us out and dumped us in the middle of the lake, and watched “now find your way back!” (the first time) that we could make it back. After that we could go anywhere, by ourselves. I don’t ever remember learning to swim; I remember swimming in the ocean (Dad learned to drive, after he bought a car, on his way to the Maritimes; his father, my grandfather, was William Rowan Armitage, Anglican Archdeacon of Halifax. We vacationed in Peggy’s Cove.
We moved to Vancouver [Dad was dean of Christchurch Cathedral] in 1936. We lived at Alexandra and Balfour, near 24th Street in Shaughnessy. I would (mostly) walk to Crofton House (my school) down by Stanley Park. I must have got over The Burrard St Bridge somehow. At Crofton, I did badminton and running and gymnastics. I said it was different to today’s. We jumped over [pommel] horses, and did rings. I swam, though there were no indoor pools. Again I swam in the ocean, I remember. I walked around Stanley Park with my Dad, who was a great walker. Once a week we’d walk down to the passenger liners embarking, walk on board and enjoy the festivities of departure, then walk off waving at everybody. It was great fun.
On weekends in winter, I would take the streetcar to the harbour, then the ferry across, then the streetcar as far as it would go. Then I walked up Grouse Mountain (there was a trail to the top) and skied all day; then did the reverse on the way home. I was never able to finish my dinner before I fell asleep. I played basketball.
While we lived in Vancouver, we spent a month each summer – July usually- in a place called Red Roofs. This was 14 miles north of Sechelt. Dad always took us. We walked in to Sechelt for fun, but we took the boat -The Lady Cecilia – home. The Cecilia would call in at all the ports between, because there were no roads! It was a steamship, not a ferry. My friends Tanny and Mike and I used to walk in to town three times a week. Once we found a big turtle! I remember the turtle bashing its own head into a log.
I had a Kodak Brownie, which I got for my 10th or 11th birthday. That’s what I took that big picture with, of Mount Shuksan (near Mount Baker), probably in 1936. It was a beautiful, beautiful summer, and we took trips everywhere because we always thought it would rain tomorrow. It was a fall trip on which I took the picture of Mount Shuksan. We had the black and white picture enlarged and colourized in Vancouver. If you’d done the actual fall colours, no-one would have believed it!
I went back to Ontario, to Branksome Hall, for Grade 13. I continued basketball; there was no more skating per se, but I played ice hockey! The girl’s team had sticks, skates, and a puck. That was the saddest hockey team you’ve ever seen! I kept skiing, this was before real skiing, which the Norwegians taught Canadians when they came over.
In the summer of 1940 we went to P.E.I.. The beaches there are gorgeous- Cavendish and Rustico. That’s where I learned to drive. They were training pilots there, and they flew over the beaches, pretty low. My brother Jock drew a cartoon: Marion waving, and everyone else (even the dog) flat on the beach as the planes soared just overhead.
I walked every day to university. I interned at the Children’s Hospital on College Street. I didn’t like the lunch so I would walk home and back ( about 12 blocks each way).
I also worked at the workman’s compensation clinic while interning. I stayed there, after interning, because there were no jobs. I saw the signs saying “Enlist in the Army” and thought, “What a good idea!” I did it before lunch. This was December 1943. Mother asked me at dinner, “What did you do today, dear?” “I enlisted in the Army” “Oh, dear!”
I was sent back to BC -to Nanaimo- for basic training, gas training and all that, but otherwise didn’t do much. After that we went to Harrison Hot Springs, where they’d taken over the big hotel for rehab. The ten patients swam in the pool, and played golf when it wasn’t raining, (i.e., not often) After D-Day, 4-6 days, I was posted overseas as part of hospital #24. I had 3 weeks embarkation leave to Toronto. After that I went by train to Debert, NS. I got my shots, and paraded up and down in the rain. It rained like it’s raining tonight, the whole time we were there. The vaccinations were really good to have; I never got sick overseas. I got on the boat – the whole hospital got on the boat- at pier 21. When I got to England I bought a bicycle. That was the first time I’d ever ridden a bicycle [aged 22]. I never learned how to fix flat tires. I always enlisted “some other help”. Then I met your Dad.
The whole hospital was there, cleaning staff, administrators, nurses, driver, all the doctors, occupational therapists, physios, dietitians, cooking staff. The ship was The Nieuw Amsterdam, which had been made over for us. I shared a cabin about as big as the kitchen: there were twelve of us. There was no exercise aboard ship!
There were two [male] officers in the lounge at the end sitting for breakfast at the table for four. They were there first, but they saved seats for us, and then we saved seats for them; we played bridge till lunchtime. we did that for six days. That’s where I learned to play bridge. They said they’d teach us.
There were Army bunks in the cabin, with three tiers. I was in the middle. It was quite a struggle with twelve women and one bathroom.
It was really quite a pleasant trip. One minute you’re looking at the Ocean, one minute at the sky.
There were good meals, including the last of the real coffee until we got home. After that it was chicory or something. You’d think you had real real coffee, then you’d get it up to your nose, the goodness! No.
We landed at Grenoch in Scotland. I was amazed how beautiful it was. They took us on trucks down to the train at Scotch Corners which was at the intersection of several highways. We were taken to a hotel. There was nothing in that hotel but tables and chairs downstairs. We slept in sleeping bags.
The first night I had some chocolate (as usual) I left it out as I slept, which was a mistake because a mouse got it (at least I think it was a mouse). I never left chocolate out again.
We spent three weeks there, waiting for the hospital that was in our building to move to France so we could move in. We met many people. One young man I felt badly for- he was so worried- “I’m so afraid that’ll I’ll be afraid!” I never saw him again.
We went all over Yorkshire. We took the bus and then we walked everywhere.
Then we got on the train to go down to London. Luckily I got a place at a table (one foot square) for four people. The tracks got bombed on for four or five days and we were stuck till the tracks got fixed. I had a blow-up pillow and slept with my head on the table. We lived on k-rations, which was an american package of cheese, crackers, and bologna. They did have enough water for us on the train. After two days of actual travel we got down to London.
After a long time the train pulled in to Victoria Station. It was really all glass; the panels looked like they were about 10′ x 10′. We arrived just after the Germans had bombed, and the glass was falling all over us- our luggage, our uniforms- we were walking on it. All this glass, and we weren’t hurt. We thought of all the people bombed.
Anyway we were met with trucks and taken to the next station (I forget the name, I’ll know it the minute I’ll see it) on the London-Brighton line. We got off at Horleigh, and were met by Army trucks. We got in the back and were driven to a place called Smallfield, where the hospital was. I’ve written this up; it was a Red Cross hospital built during the war. There were forty wards each in seperate buildings, each with forty beds. this was July. The ambulances were lined up, and we were told that we might have to give up our quarters, but they found room. Your Dad came in on one of those ambulances (I met him in August).
There were only two physios. Your Dad never got enough. He never could straighten his leg.
I was on my feet all day. I never got a chance to sit down except at lunch. After a year or so lunch got so boring that I never ate. It was either the brussels sprouts or the mutton! I lost a lot of weight. The Americans got a lot more food, and the British Army got a lot less. We were right in the middle.
In England your dad and I tried roller skates, I also tried hockey skates, which I found very difficult. We played golf in the summer 1945 on the Isle of Wight. We rowed- I remember dangling my fingers in the water as we went through the arch.
After the war we moved to Prince George. There wasn’t much happening there, and there was very little I could do in the way of fitness. David was born June 1946, and your Dad was helping to build the golf course about then, for which we got a lifetime membership. I played basketball before Duncan was born in February 1948. We had a curling rink, with real ice- frozen by power from an old aircraft engine. Once we were playing on ice covered by two inches of water. That was exercise.
There was “turkey” shoots: target shooting with a 22 caliber gun, with a turkey as prize. This was indoors in the Civic Centre basement. Gord Wood and Dick Corless (John’s older brother) showed me how to shoot. Entry cost 25 cents. This was a time when there wasn’t a lot of money. After the shooting stopped the call came: “Who’s closest to the centre?” Marion Corless! I had beaten my teachers. John was pretty happy I’d beaten his brother! So I won two turkeys, and after that they wouldn’t let me shoot anymore!
We had a Ford Model A. Your brother David was in the seat beside me, and Duncan in a cardboard box on the seat behind us, and we started the Ford using it’s crank (or we could start it ‘the other way’)
There were dances in the CCF* Hall. There was not much canoeing, though there was some down by the Nechako River.
There were Spanish dancing classes; there was really no sport outside the high school system.
At the cabin at Summit lake we would swim, row, and canoe. The canoe was bigger than the smaller river boat of Dick’s. I had to chop wood, and then I had to chop kindling. John chopped wood a lot, but not as much as me. I had said “how about I chop the wood and kindling and you get up with the kids at night?” (He thought he won that one.) John brought me a big long-stemmed roses box, and I was so happy he’d remembered our anniversary. I opened it, and inside was a Hudson’s Bay axe!
Wash day was quite interesting in the winter. Those days were quite cold. I remember it was -60°F for five days in a row, and then it warmed up to -50°F. After hanging on the line, the diapers were frozen. We’d put them up on the rack above the wood stove (bend them over the rack) and they’d dry up there. Same with John’s jeans.
I joined an exercise group around 1957. In that group, eight of us got pregnant, we laughed. People ask what the exercises were – just stretching and running and leg lifts and abdominal work down on the floor. I can’t remember anything else.
I started cross-country skiing in the 1970’s; John was clearing ski trails for the Sons of Norway about then.
In the 1980’s, we sailed. John would pack dinner – bread, meat, butter, wine, and cheese and he picked me up after work. We went to our boat (a 22 foot Siren) on Cluculz Lake, set the tiller and stayed out until the moon came up. It was just so perfect. We went to the British Virgin Isles and sailed there. I tried sailboarding – I didn’t want to fall off because of the sharks, so they had to come get me! I wouldn’t try tacking.
Mother took up Yang style Tai Chi in the 1990’s after they moved to Williams Lake. Her teacher was Denise Deschene. I never got to this part of her fitness journey; but she was in her 70’s when she started, and kept it up till the end.
My last post was about my online dating travails; it tells the story of me learning to cope with the badness of online dating, while finding the goodness in online dating (including the freedom to be many versions of my sexual self – exciting and healthy, though also quite daunting at times).
This post is going to be about something related but very different: finding the time and the space to make new female friends in middle age.
Now, before we go any further, I want to be clear: for me, this issue is intimately related (just like the online dating issue) to my health and wellness, as well as to my fitness. When I think about how I might be fit for purpose in this world – able to carry on in my job, to carry on caring for my parents and my dog, to carry on managing the expectations placed on me by all the stakeholders in my world, and ALSO, FIRST, to carry on taking good care of ME – I think about a lot more than riding my bike or rowing or yoga. All those things matter. But so much more matters, too.
This past weekend was the Women’s March all over the world, and especially in Washington. My colleague (and sometime-contributor here) Alison went to Washington; she filled me in and I was filled with envy. Catherine blogged on the weekend about not going; like her, I made an alternative choice. It wasn’t without conflict, but it was absolutely for me about self-care. I realised I couldn’t march, because I wasn’t in a place to give that much at that moment. So instead I made a joyously selfish and entirely feminist choice: to take care of myself, by reaching out to another, wonderful woman in my life.
I was incredibly moved by Susan’s last post here on the blog, about her daughter and their recent experience shopping for clothes. I decided, after reading it, to send Susan an email thanking her for it and describing how I’d connected to it. Susan and I have been riding a few times before, thanks to Sam, but we’ve not hung out. A few times I have wished we could: Susan’s canoe trips sound TDF, and her dog Shelby is a sweetheart. So this time I was bold: I told Susan what her post had meant to me, and I asked if we could maybe hang out some time.
Susan wrote the kindest email back. In it, she said (and I’m going to take a chance here and say she would not mind me quoting this to you!):
This is just the loveliest thing. I mean, how often do middle age women get emails from other women saying “I want to be your friend?” Possibly never until right now.
And you know, she’s right. We hit a certain age (for me it was my early 20s) and realise that we’re growing apart from the community of young women we’ve (if we are lucky – and I know not all of us are) become attached to and reliant on. Some of us get long-term boyfriends or girlfriends, and our dynamics shift. Then we go to college or uni, sometimes far from one another. Babies come. Or careers blossom. We move around, away. We connect online a bit, see each other sometimes. In the process, of course, we make other friends, but if we are in long-term relationships or have families at home to care for, it becomes harder and less of a priority to connect with those close friends from our past, or even those new friends around the corner. Nuclear family-think sets in – another word for (hetero)normativity.
When I left Canada for a new job in England in 2012, I left a clutch of wonderful female friends behind. I missed them like hell! And when I came back, in late 2014, I left an equally fabulous posse of wonderful women once more. I ache with the loss of them in my daily life. We connect on Skype, but it’s not the same. Even with my best girls just up the highway in Toronto now, it’s hard to stay connected. There are loads of demands on our time, many children now among us, and a two hour drive is a two hour drive…
Last Sunday, I made that drive – to meet up with Susan and walk our dogs along the glorious trails near her house on the Niagara escarpment. We shared a bit about our pasts – partners, experiences, losses – that we didn’t know about one another before. We talked about work and kids. We talked about mental health struggles. We talked about the fog, the sumac, the gorgeous spaces all around us. We shared the pleasures of ambulatory, sensory therapy. We kept on top of the dogs! We got home and Susan gave me a cup of green tea in the most hilarious mug I have ever seen. Then Shelby did some genuinely wicked canine tricks for me.
We agreed we needed to do it again.
I’ve realised recently that I’ve been in the process, for 18 months or so now, of remaking my life. Returning from abroad to an old job and a much-loved house but a very new living and working situation has been at turns familiar and shattering. I’ve not got my bearings yet. I’m still figuring stuff out: who I want to be in the second half of my life; who I’d like to have around me as I grow old; what I want to give my body now, and what I want it to give me in return; who I’d like to have sex with, and who I’d like to spend my nights with; where I want to live – REALLY live. At a distance from some of the people and places that have deeply mattered to me thus far in my life, I’ve at times felt helpless and bereft in the face of these questions.
But I don’t need to be. Because there are so many amazing, strong, compassionate, loving – and did I mention STRONG? – women around me. Like Susan.
At my first triathlon last summer, my partner took a picture of me in the water and the image speaks many words. I’m standing apart from the other women, who look relaxed chatting with each other as they await the start gun; I’m holding my hands awkwardly out of the lake as though afraid to let them dangle below the surface, despite the fact that the water was warm. I used this image my first day of class in the fall to reassure first-year students that however uncomfortable they were feeling as they began university, they would be okay. I pointed out the lifeboats by the buoys and told them that once I had begun my swim, everything was not only fine, but terrific. The lesson I drew from that day was that sometimes you have to just get in the water—and I returned to this idea with my class in the weeks that followed, showing images of PTSD survivors swimming in a tank with sharks, of a child looking down at the water from a five-metre diving board.
In the months since last September, this idea of discomfort and what we do with it has kept resurfacing in my daily life. I have been training for a half marathon that I will soon race (barring a snowstorm or last-minute injury), and that, of course, has its own challenges. But it’s not just about putting up with sore legs. It’s about the mental discomfort of boredom, of fear that cold weather will somehow get me by way of ice or frostbite, of putting up with the headache brought on by lack of caffeine before a run. That is to say, it’s about discomfort that is both physical and psychological and the way those two interact with each other.
At an after-school running and reading program for which I volunteer, Start2Finish, young children, grades 1-6, train over the course of the year for a 5 km race; each week we run and play games, have snack, and then read. One of the club rules is that children cannot take a bathroom break until after our running session. They can go before we start, but after that they must wait for fifty minutes or so. I’m reminded of one of my running buddies, who told me of the marathon she ran after a too-large cup of tea and how she decided to forgo a pit stop. I was simply amazed by that story when I first heard it, but now I think it contains some useful lessons, the same ones we’re trying to teach the kids we coach at the club.
Resilience involves not just tolerating discomfort, I believe, but embracing it. For women, in particular, a way of leaning into an embodiment that makes us uncomfortable may strengthen us in ways that extend beyond the physical. A recent New York Times obituary of Clare Hollingsworth, the British journalist first to report Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939, notes that the journalist routinely slept on the floor into her nineties, “just to keep from going soft” (NYT, 10/1/2017). As a woman journalist in the years before second-wave feminism, Hollingworth would have had to sustain mental fortitude in the face of sexism and intimidation, both at home and abroad. On a much smaller scale, how often do women avoid challenging men who have made casually offensive remarks because their stomachs tighten at the thought? Maybe having our stomachs tighten, and learning to live with that feeling, is a good idea.
On Jan. 21st, I attended the Women’s March on Washington, along with about half a million others. The crowds were stiflingly close, and the day was long: a recipe for back pain and other challenges. But to focus on discomfort would have been to miss the enormous joy and happiness circulating among those gathered, peacefully and with purpose, to challenge a president whose sense of bodily entitlement has allowed him to sexually assault women and to degrade them with his comments. Talking about the politics of discomfort with my colleagues after coming home, we concluded that the difference between good and bad discomfort is the difference between those forms that empower, and those that deplete, our sense of agency. Discomfort itself is not the problem.
“When they go low, we go high,” Michelle Obama tells us. Going high, I believe, means gathering strength, in our bodies and minds, to face the physical and psychological threats posed by men like Donald Trump. I’m thinking a few nights on the floor might be in my future. After I finish that half marathon, perhaps.
Alison Conway is an English professor at Western University. Her favorite workout is running the roads and trails of London, ON.