Best advice ever (in Tracy’s world): start small

Image description: cork board with a crumpled blue post-it note in the lower left corner and a green note on top of a yellow note with a red pushpin in it. In block letters and underlined on the top note: START SMALL.
Image description: cork board with a crumpled blue post-it note in the lower left corner and a green note on top of a yellow note with a red pushpin in it. In block letters and underlined on the top note: START SMALL.

With all the book promo we’ve been doing, one of the most popular questions people ask Sam and me in interviews is “what advice do you have for someone who is just starting out on their fitness journey?” This is a great question because, as we hope is the case, a lot of people who haven’t got a routine going or perhaps who have never considered it until a milestone decade birthday (like 50!) started to loom on horizon, might feel the nudge and not know where to begin.

We have a couple of go-to pieces of advice that we have been giving. For reasons she has explained, Sam is not keen on saying “it’s never too late” anymore and she’s also given up on “if you don’t love it, don’t do it” as a piece of general advice (because: physio!).

I’m still keen on both of those. I fully agree that it might sometimes be too late for some things, but it’s rarely too late for all things. Yes, a day may come, but when that day comes for a person, it’s unlikely that they’ll be reaching for our book or any book remotely like it. And I agree with Sam that there may be some exercises that we need to do even if they’re not fun, and that not all aspects of all activity are always fun (like, intervals are great and all, but fun? I’m not so sure that’s the best description). But I still hold to the view that if you don’t love running, for example, try something else that you might like better.

Nevertheless, though I’ve said these things on TV and in our book and on the radio and on podcasts in and print media and on the blog, they’re not actually my favourite suggestions.

By far my favourite advice for anyone who wants to get started is: start small. We humans tend to like the BIG PLAN. One reason I used to hate running is that when I first tried it in my twenties, I started with five miles. That’s far for someone who has never run before.

When I resumed running over 25 years later, in my late forties, I started smaller than that. I ran to the corner, then walked. Then I ran another block. Then walked some more. Over time, I changed the ratio of running to walking, running for longer, walking for shorter. I may not be the fastest, but on the run-walk plan, I can go pretty far (like marathon far, or even more but I’ve never tested the more).  Lately, I’m trying something new, which is to run continuously with no walk breaks, for 10K.

But I didn’t start with that. And neither should you if you’ve never run. And if I fall off of my training, I go back to small efforts: 20 minutes. 3K. No time goals. That sort of thing. Because it doesn’t need to be a big overwhelming deal. The bigger goals (and bigger workouts) can come later.

That’s just one example. If you’re learning to downhill ski, start on the bunny hill. Eventually, if you keep at it, you will be able to manage the double black diamond hills if that’s a goal. If you’re learning to skate, you’re not going to do a triple lutz the first time you hit the ice. If you’ve never been to the gym before, an hour might seem daunting but ten minutes might seem totally do-able.

I’ve always been a big advocate of starting small and doing less than we think we should. Way back at the beginning of the blog, I posted about doing less and it’s been a theme I return to a lot. That original post is still one of my favourites because it’s gentle and humane, and we could all use a bit of that in our lives.

Later today I’m going to be on the Canadian TV show The Social (it’s on CTV at 1 p.m. and my segment is at 1:40 p.m. Eastern Time and I’m a little bit nervous because Sam isn’t going to be there with me).  And guess what, they’re probably going to ask me some variation on “what’s one piece of advice…?” And you know what I’m going to say (if I don’t get all flustered!)? Yep.

What is your favourite advice for friends who ask where to start?

charity · cycling

Sam and Sarah’s first metric century of the summer on the 1 day version of the Friends for Life Bike Rally: We made it to Port Hope!

It was actually a metric century (100 km) and change: 117 km in total. And we were so happy we did it. Neither of us had trained much this summer what with new job, moving, knee injury, sailboat racing, etc. Now I often say that after years of cycling I feel like I have 100 km in the bank. I feel like I could go out and ride 100 km on the first day of the spring cycling season. It wouldn’t be pretty and I might suffer the next day but I could do it. I’m not actually sure if that’s true but it’s how I feel.

The problem is that day 1 of the bike rally isn’t any old 100 km. It’s often extremely hot. There’s a lot of fuss and bother and stopping and starting getting out of Toronto. The rally always reminds me what a big city it is. The getting out of the city is followed by long sections on speed limited multi use pathways complete with dogs, children playing, roller bladers, long boarders. The view of the lake is gorgeous and it’s nice to be out of traffic but again there’s lots of slowing and speeding up, cheerfully calling out out “on your left” and telling people how many bikes are on the rally and what we’re raising money for. I’m very conscious of representing a group and a cause and I’m on my very best riding behavior. I love the last 20 km of countryrods and rolling hills. They’re exhausting but beautiful and each year I promise myself that I’ll go back and ride just that section fresh, not at the end of a long day on the bike.

There were lots of smiles that day in our small group of two. First, it wasn’t hot. There was a forecast high of 24 and low humidity. Perfect! Second, we paced ourselves and rested lots and really enjoyed the ride. I’m faster than Sarah uphills but even then I managed to slow down, spin, and not get too far ahead. How? See Sam’s bad knee cures Sam of a bad bike habit  She holds her own on the flats and downhill. Third, my knee was fine. I thought it would be but even so I worried about that much time on the bike. Fourth, Sarah was happy to discover that addressing an iron deficiency has helped her aerobic capacity and fitness.

We had a lovely evening at the camp with other 1 day riders and the 6 day riders who were camping in Port Hope and pushing on the next day. Truth be told, I was sad leaving and  I wished I was along for the full ride. But this year, this was the right choice. I was able to maintain my connection with this important cause and this wonderful community. It was my 5th year and my first time not doing the full thing. My social media newsfeed is full of past rallies. Don’t worry friends, I’ll be back!

Want to make me feel better about not doing the whole thing? You can still sponsor me, by the way!

PLEASE SPONSOR Samantha Brennan


The second thing Sam is going to stop saying…

A reminder: The first thing I am going to stop saying is “if you don’t love it, don’t do it.”

It’s mostly true but when it’s not, it feels coercive. Like not only do I have to do painful physio to make sure I can continue with basic everyday activities like getting out of chairs, I have to like it too? No. It’s work.

But now there’s another thing I’m going to stop saying: It’s never too late. That’s another one. False! I mean it sounds good. But it’s just not true.

Our bodies are aging and there are deadlines. I’ll never have another baby. It’s too late. I’ll never be a teenager in love. Too late. And more relevantly to the blog, I’ll never play soccer or run again. See On not having the bee’s knees and saying goodbye to soccer.

I remember when Susan brought her mother along on on of our canoe camping trips that this argument played a role. Susan’s mom had been saying for years that she wanted to do this and Susan said, come with us while you can. It’s now or maybe never. Some options run out. They don’t last forever.

Think about me and running.

Knee surgeons tell me, in a serious voice, to not even say the word “running.” I miss running, even though it’s not my main thing, and sometimes I miss it so much that I cry.

I think the reason that this slogan has appeal is that it corrects the common misperception that for some activities, you can’t do them if you’re too old. It all depends, not just on age, but on how your body is holding up. No knee issues? It’s okay to start running in your 70s but bad knees take some people out of the game in the 30s.

What’s true?

It’s never too late to start on a fitness routine. That’s true. But what that consists in changes with age, with injury, and with the inevitable ways in which our bodies change as we get older.

So while over on our Facebook page I share many stories about the remarkable accomplishments of centenarians (see this one on the remarkable Ida Keeling), it’s just not true that it’s never too late. For some of us, when it comes to running, it’s too late at 53. That’s me.

But on a cheerier note, here’s Ida Keeling:

body image · fat

The Weight of Expectation

“The Act With Love art collective collaborated with illustrator Jade Sarson (winner of Myriad Editions First Graphic Novel competition with For the Love of God, Marie!) to visualise the research of Oli Williams (Department of Health Sciences). Their comic tells the story of how stigma associated with bodyweight and size gets under the skin and is felt in the flesh. ”

I loved the section of the comic with the women in the pool. You get to see both their happiness at moving in the water and the anger of the lifeguards at their size.  Stay in the slow lane and they are lazy fatties, not moving enough. Move to the fast lane and they are splashing too much and taking up space. Fat people just can’t win.

Some of us here on the blog who either identify as fat or who are called that by others are going to write a join post soon about our best and worst exercising while fat stories. Here’s one of mine: Anti-cyclist abuse with a side order of body shaming.

I have extra copies of the comic. If you’d like one, drop me a line– and include your mailing address.


fitness · holiday fitness

Fitness processes in high summer– a happy jumble

At the beginning of this year I listed a bunch of activity and fitness plans.  I won’t bother linking to the page, as nothing really went as planned.  Life, menopause and fitness– all zigged and zagged in unexpected (to me) ways.  I know you all want to get back to the business of wringing as much as possible out of the remaining days of summer, so let’s get down to business.

What didn’t happen: the plan that my making specific physical activity goals would somehow of its own accord lead to enough training for me to complete them.

I planned some charity rides this summer (including the PWA Friends for Life ride that Sam and Sarah are doing as I type), but I just wasn’t ready for them. I’ve been cycling often since spring, but have found I’m traversing a much slower fitness curve this year. I’m talking really slow. At this point in the summer I can comfortably ride 30–35 miles (up to 60k), and can push it a bit further, but that’s it for right now.

What did happen: many opportunities opened up for varied activities with friends and family, and I rediscovered the joy and utility of daily yoga (for the nth time– someone needs to remind me that this is always a good thing for me).

I’ve been enjoying my new cycling pattern immensely.  My friend Pata and I do weekly Friday coffee rides– ride to coffee shop, sometimes picking up other friends on the way, and then out to the country for a nice ride. I bike commute for errands around town several times a week. I’ve also done lots of slower, shorter-distance riding with friends and family.  My niece Grace told me yesterday that renting beach bikes on our family vacation was the most fun thing she’s done this summer.  Big win!

This summer of fitness has been one of group and friendly activities that I don’t normally do, but love love love, if I can do them at a pace that feels non-life-threatening. Take hiking– I went on a few hikes in the Arizona desert in summer with my friends Don and Kay, and they were satisfying and fun (if rather sweaty).  Norah and I are going to do some new England hiking (hear that, Norah? :-)) this fall. At my pace. This I can sign onto gladly.

My trip to Arizona gave me another fitness present: yin yoga.  I found a cute storefront funky inexpensive yoga place that had yin yoga classes, and I happily sunk into them, stretching and relaxing and releasing. I’m planning to try out some yin yoga in Boston, but for now have found some nice youtube classes.

Finally, my level of fitness and drive has put me in the mood for home organization and projects. I’ve been moving furniture in and out, doing work on my porch, tending to plants, and starting some painting projects. All of this is making me feel good, opening up paths for more happy activity– physical, mental, creative, and domestic.

Which is my idea of a perfect summer– a happy jumble of fun.

How is your summer of activity going?  Any surprises?  I’d love to hear from you.

charity · cycling

Tomorrow we ride! #f4lbr

It’s year 5 for me and the Friends for Life Bike Rally which is the main fund raiser for the Toronto People With AIDS society. It’s a great cause, a wonderful generous loving community, and a fun ride.

This year Sarah and I are doing the one day ride, not the full six days to Montreal. It’s 110 km from Toronto to Port Hope. We’ll ride our bikes, go for a swim, have some dinner, catch up with friends, tear up a little that we’re not sticking around for the beautiful roads on the route, sigh with relief a little that we’re not riding into Montreal en masse on the bike path, and get taken back to Toronto by bus at the end of the evening. Yawn.

This morning we drove into the city and dropped off our bags that will meet us in Port Hope. Bathing suits, towels, flip flops, and non cycling clothes. Also, for me, a hat, because helmet hair. It was fun to meet up with the bike rally community, get all the hugs, and try on this year’s jersey. Photos tomorrow, I promise.

Given my big new job and moving and all the life events going on around here the one day ride will be enough of a challenge. Wish us luck. And it’s not too late to sponsor me.

fitness · meditation

Update: Meditative but not always meditating

After today, I have three days left in this phase of my meditation experiment.


A white person's hand, palm upward, rests on their leg, just above the knee. They are wearing grey pants with black polka dots. The background is a red mat resting on green carpet.
I was told once that when you meditate, you put your palm upward to receive information from the universe and you put it down if you are being introspective. I’m open to ideas in this photo.

It hasn’t gone like I had hoped but I am still pretty pleased with the results.


Over the past couple of weeks, things have gotten more and more hectic for me.  my freelance workload temporarily increased, the weather got super warm ( at least warm for here),  and it seemed like demands on my time increased overall.  My schedule went awry and I lost any sense of *when* to do things (a big problem for someone with a slippery grip on time in the first place).


So many things were flying at me that I struggled to prioritize (again, not one of my strengths) and I didn’t even choose a time to do an update here.


This is exactly the sort of thing that my plans were supposed to help me prepare for but I wasn’t ready for the scope of my sudden-onset-busy-ness.


Things worked out in their own way, just not how I had planned.


The Downside


While I did pretty well on my first couple of weeks, during the second half of the month, I only *sat* to meditate a handful of times. My idea of clearing this space and increasing my meditation time slowly didn’t work at all like I envisioned.


Lots of times, I got interrupted by one urgent matter or another. Or the alarms I set had to be postponed because there was too much going on at the time.


And sometimes I couldn’t make myself stop what I was doing, either because my brain refused  or because I had a deadline.


The Upside


I can confirm that it takes 2-3 minutes for me to stop squirming and settle into my meditation – this is valuable information.


I can confirm that when I am having trouble ‘settling’ on my own, I can do a guided meditation and it will help.


And here’s the really big thing.


Even though I have not yet made a regular routine of twice daily meditation, my INTENTION to do so has made me more aware of my patterns – both of thinking and of doing.


In these hectic weeks, I became increasingly aware of how my time was being used. I began to have some space, some additional space, between me and the action I was taking. I started to breathe slowly when I felt stressed and reminded myself that the stress was temporary. 

A rectangular index card rests on a wooden surface. The card has a drawing of one side of an analog clock face, which is outlined in green, and the words 'Take your time' are written on the left side of the card.
In addition to meditation, this month, I have also been doing the Index Card a Day challenge. This is from one day when my meditation and my art practice was on the same page.



So, even though I wasn’t sitting to meditate per se, I was in that kind of mental space.


It was almost as if the fact that I meant to meditate  was giving me the the breathing room that I hoped for.


I want to be able to have a bit more space in my head, I want to feel a little less reactive, and I want to be more thoughtful about things. I like it when I ask questions about why I’m doing things the way I’m doing.


So, I feel like I got one of the wellness benefits of meditating, or at least one that really helps me, without  going fully into a meditative practice.


In my earlier update, I talked about ‘doing the dishes meditation’ or ‘mowing the lawn meditation’ and I have found that I have had success with that again in these past two weeks. I am more conscious of what I’m doing when I’m doing it, I’m not self-conscious or anything,  but my reactions are not always automatic either.


Phase Two


The things I have gained feel great but  I still feel like I want to work toward steadier, specific meditation. I want to meditate a couple of times a day and work up to a longer times. I like how that type of meditation feels and I want that feeling more often.


So I’m going to keep working on it throughout August. I am going to work up to those two separate times in a day .


I’ll report back in a week or two and let you know how it’s going.