Book Club · Book Reviews · fitness

Book Club Week 7: The Joy of Movement, Chapter 7

A few months ago we started a virtual book club.

You can read about the idea here.

You can buy the Joy of Movement here or from a local bookshop or your favourite online retailer.

What’s the plan? Christine, Catherine, and I are reading a chapter a week, for seven weeks and writing about it here. We did that for Nia Shank’s book The 100 Day Reclaim: Daily Readings to Make Health and Fitness as Empowering as it Should Be. And we liked it so much we’re doing it again. Read what our reviews looked like here.

What’s different this time? We’re inviting you to join us. Read along and put your contributions in the comments. It doesn’t need to be a lot. A few sentences, a few paragraphs, whatever you’re moved to write.

Want to catch up?

Read Week 1 here:

Read Week 2 here:

Read Week 3 here:

Read Week 4 here:

Read week 5 here:

Read week 6 here:


This was a hard chapter for me to get through but that’s my issue, not the author’s problem. I am not the right audience for the discussion at hand.

Chapter 7 was about the motivation, benefits, and mindset for doing endurance events.

I am not wired for endurance events. I am not even wired for considering endurance events.

This may be, in part, due to my ADHD issues with time perception (lots of things already feel endless to me – I don’t need to take on extra ones) but also, I have a visceral negative reaction to the descriptions of the pain and suffering that are part and parcel of these events. I cannot wrap my mind around someone undertaking them on purpose. Even the descriptions make me frustrated and angry.

Is this a logical reaction? No.

Does it make any sense at all? Nope.

Would I try to talk you out of doing an endurance event? Also, no – because that’s your business. However, if you tried to talk to me about an event like that, I would probably have to stop you so you could find someone more positive to talk to about it. I wouldn’t want my issues to put a damper on your excitement and accomplishments.

McGonigal says that that what separates ultramarathons from masochism is context and I am just going to have to take her word on that.

Anyway, all of that being said, there was useful information for me in this chapter.

I appreciated the observation from hiker and author Jennifer Pharr Davis that you don’t have to get rid of pain in order to move forward. This idea has bounced up for me in a variety of contexts in the past and while Pharr Davis is primarily talking about physical pain, it also applies to other types of pain as well. I find comfort in the idea that sometimes you can have challenging circumstances AND still keep putting one foot in front of the other (literally or metaphorically.)

I did feel some connection to adventure athlete Terri Schneider’s discussion of her exploits. She describes how pushing her body to its limits felt joyful and how she felt freed from expectations about how a woman ‘should’ behave. As a martial artist, that resonated with me. I do enjoy a tiring class or belt test and I have definitely felt like I was stepping outside some ‘shoulds’ by taking pride in my punches and kicks.

However, the biggest feeling of connection and resonance for me started when McGonigal was describing her own experiences with wall climbing. Her description of a metaphorical ‘reaching-out’ to others for support when she couldn’t quite muster up her own faith made sense to me. And I enjoyed the resulting discussion of interdependence and how being able to offer and receive help is an added benefit of certain types of exercise.

After gritting my teeth through most of the descriptions (again, this is my issue, not an issue with the writing nor an issue with the people described) I was happy to have found this section at the end that let me relax into familiar territory and ideas that resonated with me.


McGonigal explores the mystical world of the ultra-endurance athlete in Chapter 7. The stories chronicle pain, suffering, determination and hope. These are lofty sentiments, sincerely expressed and wholly appropriate to explain the process of achieving super-human feats.

But what about the rest of us? I, for one, don’t plan on running 100 miles, cycling across country in less than 2 weeks (check out the Race Across America if you’re interested), or hiking the entirety of the Appalachian Trail. What is there for me to take away from these stories?

We are many of us endurance athletes, but of a different sort. Committing to a practice of running, swimming, walking, cycling, lifting, playing, training day after day, year after year, is most definitely endurance activity. We deal with aging, injury, illness, natural disaster, job loss, divorce, and depression. Life events can send us into distraction, despair, cynicism, and loss of agency.

Don’t leave yet! Here’s the good part: endurance is all about acceptance and hope. Acceptance that where I am is not the end, but rather a point along a line (maybe an undulating one) that leads me through my relationship with my body. The hope is for completion of segments of that line—new personal bests, recovery after injury or illness, or finding a new normal amidst a backdrop of very non-normal circumstances.

Endurance athletes like those McGonigal talks with strike me as special creatures with niche talents and unusual psychological makeups. They are cool to watch and hear about. For most of us, though, being an endurance athlete looks like life: get up, eat breakfast, put your gear on, pump the tires, and set off. You don’t know what it’s going to look like or feel like. But it’s what you do. That’s endurance to me.


Again, I liked the stories best. If there’s a reason to read this book, that’s it. There isn’t enough detail here about the studies that are mentioned to satisfy a reader who cares about research. That said, I’m not interested in challenging McGonigal’s claims and the stories are inspirational on their own.

(An aside: If you want a great research book on the topic of sports endurance, read Alex Hutchinson’s Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance. I loved it and started reviewing it here and got distracted.)

A confession, while I am not an ultra-marathoner, endurance is in my sports repertoire. I’ve ridden my bike some pretty long distances. I liked that McGonigal’s discussion of ultra-races includes the community and connection aspects of such events. I’d never be tempted to ride my bike alone 660+ kms but I’ve done it lots now as part of the Friends for Life Bike Rally fundraising ride with hundreds of other cyclists. Recently I reviewed a book about a woman who rode around the world and for her, it was global community that sustained her.

But I know that’s not true for all endurance athletes and I wondered if some of the solo sorts might feel left out by this chapter. Cate has blogged here lots about her solo cycling adventures, also major endurance events, and while they’ve never tempted me, I know she’s not alone in craving that kind of radical independence.

Have you been reading along? What did you think? What bits of this chapter spoke to you?

fitness · mindfulness

Late-night self-care online shopping

There really ought to be a rule or regulation or something that prohibits or limits online shopping after say, 11pm. Maybe there’s a personal financial app that turns off our credit cards and Paypal during certain hours of the day. You know, like those apps that limit Facebook and other social media. They might work for you. I tried one of the Facebook cutoff apps for about a week, but my anti-authoritarian/inner teenager couldn’t abide the restrictions, so I canceled it. Still, a little tough love might be in order these days.

On the other hand, what is late-night life without some gratuitous internet merchandise browsing? I guess I could pick something to read from the big pile(s) of books in my bedroom (or dining room, or study). And I do.

But, oh, how tantalizing it is to just lie back and peruse specialized bakeware, comfy house slippers in twelve colors, or systems for creating magical gardens from seeds.

Full disclosure: I didn’t buy any of these (although I did buy a bunch of small herbs in pots today for my future back deck container garden). However, I have been yearning for something, I don’t know what, that will satisfy my imagined self-care needs while isolated at home.

About a week ago, around 1:15am, I gave up deep breathing in bed and trying to settle myself, and grabbed my phone (which is conveniently and imprudently beside my bed). Just 20 minutes later, I had ordered these:

Whew– thank goodness I was up late and didn’t miss out on the last copy of the Qigong beginning practice DVD.

I’ve tried the first DVD, and it’s fine. I can’t say as my stress levels have plummeted, but maybe I should try it one more time for good measure.

Speaking of piles of books, my desire for something to ease the malaise, the torpor, the disquietude that are my housemates these days has led me to order books that I don’t need. Here are a few recent purchases:

As you can see, my self-care-book buying efforts have yielded mixed results. Sharon Salzberg is a well-known Buddhist meditation teacher and author. I don’t really think that I’ll establish a meditation practice in 28 days, but it’s a very nice book with sensible instruction and perspective on mindfulness.

The Neil Fiore book, The Now Habit, was recommended by Publication Coach Daphne Gray Grant, who writes a blog and newsletter for writers that I love (which I heard abut from blog cofounder Tracy). I attended Grant’s webinar on tips for academic writers a couple of weeks ago, and she really likes this book. I am certain that when and if I open it, I’ll like it too.

The last book– Here for it, or how to save your life in America— hasn’t arrived yet (I ordered it at 12:30am last night), but I’m chomping at the bit to get at it. R. Eric Thomas is a political writer for Elle magazine, and he incorporates wickedly funny political satire while at the same time gushing over pop culture figures. Okay, I have to share a bit of one of his many columns on Auntie Maxine, Representative Maxine Waters from California, who he worships (as should we):

Representative Maxine Waters, the long-standing public servant who will not be intimidated, cannot be duplicated, and who should never be underestimated, was reelected to another term last night. Though she was denigrated by the often-agitated president, whose checks are always post-dated, her race culminated with her snatching up a decisive 75 percent of the votes. The constantly implicated head of state’d be wise to abdicate with haste as Waters, who is the ranking member of House Financial Services Committee, is poised to become its chair. Get ready to be investigated!

Maxine Waters: Reclaiming my time. Reclaiming my time.
Maxine Waters: Reclaiming my time. Reclaiming my time.

We would all do well to follow Auntie Maxine’s advice, myself especially. But instead of reclaiming my sleep time, I ordered yoga mats and props for my sister and her kids. They are in need of self-care, too, and I thought yoga might do the trick. Even if they don’t use the mats, or straps, or yoga blocks I sent, I figured they’d definitely use these flaxseed eye pillows:

Yoga eye pillows in various colors and patterns.
Yoga eye pillows in various colors and patterns.

Of course I can’t shop my way to more ease, better sleep, and less loneliness these days. No one can. The fact that I have enough financial resources to buy such things is a mark of my luck and privilege, for which I’m grateful.

Trying to buy or internet-browse our way out of sadness, boredom, fear, anxiety– we all do it. Sharing my silly online adventures (and these are true– I have the receipts to prove it!), looking for serenity in all the wrong places, is just my way of saying this:

If you find you’re up late on your computer, scouring the internet for the perfect pair of red capris (oh wait, that’s me again), or a French Impressionist-themed umbrella, know that you’re not alone. I’m probably up, too.

Hey readers: do you have any silly internet shopping or browsing to report? I told you about mine; I’d love to hear about yours.


We’re all (fake) epidemiologists now: risk assessment as a disorienting dilemma

Nicole’s post on Monday about balancing her desire to run with other people’s worry that runners are spreading risk really resonated with me. I’ve been thinking a lot about the different ways we assess and react to risk right now — and I’m particularly wondering how we are going to navigate those as the world opens up gradually. I’m thinking a lot about how we are being asked, as a society and as individuals, to navigate new uncertainty and unknowable risk with mental models and emotional responses that really yearn for certainty and safety.

As I wrote about last week, the only certainty at this point is that while there is a lot of science underway, we don’t have a vaccine yet; testing is still underutilized in most jurisdictions; we don’t really understand transmission; we don’t understand what kind of immunity can be developed against Covid19 but it seems like having it once doesn’t necessarily make everyone immune; and we don’t even really understand what approach to containment is most effective. At the same time, curves are flattening in most places and there are many arguments in favour of gradually resuming a more interconnected life.

Yesterday, the Ontario government shared a framework for reopening in waves, with time to assess any spike in cases before another wave is permitted. This morning, I woke up to an epidemiologist on our local CBC radio morning show arguing that we shouldn’t consider opening up anything before we shut down services even further first — he argued for a curfew and a redefinition of “essential” to “not include things like the cheesecake factory.” This perspective is a strong contrast to the French prime minister announcing a gradual end to the lockdown because of fear of economic collapse, saying “we’re going to have to learn to live with the virus.” (Similar to Quebec’s announcement that schools will reopen and that “natural immunity” will emerge). This was followed by a strong backlash about opening schools because we have no idea what the ultimate impact covid19 might have on children, or how much children might be silent carriers.

In the west, most of us (especially white westerners) have the privilege of not living with unmanageable health risks in our day to day lives. Unlike the large parts of the world who live with daily risk of diseases like dengue or malaria, which have no vaccines and no cures, we are used to navigating our days with a lot of agency — and an underlying (privileged) belief that we can protect ourselves and our loved ones from most dangers.

To do this, we actually draw on our own personal harm reduction and mitigation strategies all the time. We might choose to ride (risky) bikes, but we wear helmets and avoid busy streets. We drive (dangerous) cars, but follow speed limits, don’t drink and drive and wear seatbelts. We make choices about whether or not to get vaccinated for influenza based on whether we have asthma, are exposed to large groups of people or have vulnerable people in our lives. We make choices about how much risk to take about the possibility of sexually transmitted infections. We each have our own system of choosing “healthy” vs. “unhealthy” foods, how much we exercise, how much health screening we do. We practice harm reduction and risk assessment all day, every day.

With covid19, we don’t know how to assess risk or make informed choices — and it’s disorienting. And when we’re disoriented, we react, we freeze, we worry, and in some cases, we lash out at other, the way Nicole has experienced.

I think the fox on the left is yelling at the other one about social distancing

I know I’ve found myself feeling… impatient… toward people who don’t assess risk the same way I do. I veer between thinking some people are too cautious to thinking others are reckless, and it’s an easy step from that to dismissing the fear, anxiety and yearning underneath each other’s reactions. I haven’t yelled at anyone for their choices, but I’ve definitely snoozed some people on social media. And there may have been some furtive mutterings with like-minded people.

When I find myself in this kind of place, I haul out my social scientist training and try to analyse the different perspectives that people are coming from. I find recognizing that people are just doing their best to make meaning of an unprecedented, complex and distressing situation helps me relate to them with a lot more compassion.

So, social scientist hat on, I see a few different sets of perspectives — these could be called mental models, discourses, narratives, framings or “interpretive repertoires“, but basically they represent the different sets of ideas that people are using to make sense of and respond to what’s happening. None of these are “truths” — they are descriptions of the different lenses that people seem to be using for deciding what level of risk taking is “correct.”

Narrative #1 describes the dominant discourse up until the last few days: Covid Kills; we need to minimize or eliminate risk of this virus as much as possible, regardless of discomfort or other concerns. This is the simplest public health message, and the one that guides the strong reaction against sending kids back to school before there’s a vaccine or immunity is understood. If I apply this lens to the dilemma Nicole described about whether running is “okay” or not, you might hear something like “yes, I know that transmission from runners to bystanders is purely theoretical, but why take the risk?” (You might also hear, in a more fundamentalist interpretation, “runners are being selfish and dangerous”).

Narrative #2 is more surreptitious but shows up in a lot of different forms: This is all a bit overblown; we are having a massive overreaction to something that isn’t that different from the flu. This tends to show up among people who aren’t seeing any first hand evidence of illness or loss. This narrative might be accompanied by stats about the number of covid19 deaths compared to car crashes, skepticism about institutions and government, or full blown conspiracy theories — a friend asked me pointedly the other day “do you actually KNOW anyone who has died? it just seems weird no one I know KNOWS anyone…” Using this frame, the dilemma about whether or not to run might sound like “I know my running feels dangerous to you, but that’s your anxiety to manage.”

Narrative #3 describes the framework that’s starting to infuse more public discussion: Covid19 is a dangerous and unknown thing, but we need to have a balanced perspective; staying locked down poses more grave risks to mental health/development/vulnerable and marginalized people/long term health for people with existing conditions/ the economy. Today’s acknowledgement that some people have died of cancer because of delayed surgeries during the lockdown is a poignant illustration of this perspective. Nicole’s description of her decision to run on the weekend fits this as well — “I pick a quieter time, I’m careful to always leave a lot of space when I’m passing anyone, and it still makes me anxious but I know I need to do it.”

Narrative #4 is a bit more blunt-edged, with a hint of darwinism: We need to find a “new normal” that includes higher risk to some for greater good. This is the perspective behind any policy based on herd or natural immunity in a world without a vaccine, and tends to prioritize collective outcomes over individual experience, fear or vulnerability. It also incorporates ideas like “we have to get back to normal life or people will just stop complying with these draconian needs/will stop consenting to be governed.” The run/don’t run discussion from this interpretation might sound like “if there are no rules forbidding it, it’s fine, just maybe think twice about visiting your grandparents.”

Narrative #5 is a bit broader, and could co-exist with any of the others, but tends to have a longer-lens perspective: Covid19 is the universe telling us to pause and stop destroying the earth; this is an opportunity for us to completely rethink our norms and never return to the same way of living. The primary impulse here is a mindfulness about collective, long-term impact of any decisions we might be making right now. The run/don’t run dilemma here would probably point us toward a need for environments that are more conducive to healthy, human-powered movement all the time, not just during a pandemic.

Laying these discourses out, I am clear that I affiliate the most with the third and fifth — which is why I can be impatient with the others. But — if I pause and reflect, I also can see that each of them resonates for me at different times and in different ways — which gives me some compassion for people in each of those perspectives. And it also makes me realize that what we are seeing right now is a tussle over what kind of harm reduction makes the most sense — but where all of the tradeoffs seem inadequate. How do we resolve it, then?

Keeping my social scientist hat on for one more minute, I haul out Mezirow’s definition of a disorienting dilemma — an experience you can’t make sense of using your existing understanding, and where the only way to move forward is to make some change in your views of the world. (Usually considered to be a key factor in transformative learning). That rings true, here — we don’t know how to factor this much uncertainty and risk into our lives and still keep our lives moving.

My hunch is that we are going to have to accept more risk, more uncertainty — with, I hope, some compassion for the disorientation, fear, worry and love that each of us is experiencing.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is demonstrating disorientation in Toronto.

cycling · fitness · racing

Six Things I Love about Racing in Zwift

Mostly these days, for most of us, even those of us privileged to live in houses with decks and yards, with dogs, in cities and towns where there aren’t that many people getting sick and dying, there’s a sense of loss as we go about our lives. I know I’m pretty privileged in that I love my job even in this very strange working from home state. I’m still doing lots of meaningful work and I live with loved ones and we play word games and cook meals and bake desserts and watch movies. It’s not all bad.

But even for me, there is so much that I am missing. Mostly I miss my kids in a city a few hours away. I am not going to dwell on that. I am not going to talk about the list of cancelled events and trips and postponed plans.

Instead I am going to tell you about a new thing that I am doing that I am really enjoying, that might not have been possible in, as Cate calls them, the before times, and that I might keep doing after this is all over.

I’ve been riding my bike on a trainer in the virtual world of Zwift, casually, on and off, for a year or so. But mostly I’ve been riding with real world friends side by side, exploring Zwift’s virtual worlds.

When the pandemic became physically distancing and then that morphed into staying at home, I started riding in Zwift more seriously. I started riding in groups and even doing some races. Now I’ve even joined a team. And I love it.

What do I love?

  1. In the world of riding with friends we all have tendency to default to a comfortable speed. It’s easy to end up always riding in the same heart rate/exertion zone. It feels comfortable. Instead now that I am back doing time trials and crits, there is definitely a lot of time in that uncomfortable, very hard zone. When I do social rides where we’ve agreed to stay at the same pace, it’s easy. Going slow is important and it can be hard to do. On the social group rides I’m happily in the endurance zone. I do some training events that are in the middle. It’s deliberate and the variety in pacing is good for me.
Here’s me racing, solidly in zone 4 with bits of zone 5.
Here’s me cruising in a workout ride.
Crit racing where zone 5 is my friend.

2. Now everything I’ve said about different paces would be true in the real world. But there are also things that are fun about racing in Zwift. No crashes! You can accelerate downhill without fear of death. I hit some ridiculous max speeds that just aren’t on the table for me in real life. I like descending and I like descending fast but in Zwift there’s no fear which turns out to be a nice thing. There’s no worrying about cornering too aggressively on the crit courses or getting tangled up with other bikes. It’s true that some of the skills are missing too but it turns out, in my fifties, I really like the no crashing part. Who knew?

3. I’ve been enjoying some of the gamification of bike racing in Zwift. Again, that’s new to me. It starts with my avatar. I liked choosing her hair and her sunglasses and she wears different clothes for different events. Now I’ve been riding for awhile I have a choice about bikes and wheels. I also like the features in the game like the power-ups. These include feather that makes you lighter, a draft boost that increases the draft effect you are experiencing by 50% for 30 seconds, and my favourite a burrito makes you undraftable for 10 seconds.

PowerUps in Zwift: Advanced Usage Tips
Image from

4. I like the community. There are cyclists from all over the world and while in real life I struggle to find people my age, my size, my speed etc riding and racing bikes, not so on Zwift. I like the chatty women’s group rides, especially The Swarm, but also the community rides, like the Herd with their goofy in ride games and quizzes.

5. Maybe it’s because we’re all avatars, maybe because the chat is heavily moderated (I don’t know about this) but I haven’t encountered any sexist, homophobic, racist banter. Again, I wonder about how much avatar limits affect this, but there aren’t even very many comments about size other then the self-deprecating sort.

6. The schedule of group rides and races is kind of awesome. There are events everyday, all day, for all different abilities, across all of the time zones. I’m writing this on Monday evening and I’ve just finished a Monday night race series and tonight’s event (3 of 6) was an 8 km time trial in Bologna. It ended with a solid 2 km of climbing with the tough bits at 14% grade. Ouch. But on the weekend I had a chatty social ride with the Swarm. Friday night is crit night. And I might do a midweek team trial. Don’t get wrong. I miss riding my bike with groups of real people in the real world. But racing? I think I really life Zwift and will stick with it.


I Am a Devious Runner

It used to be so simple. I would plan when I would go for my run. I would wake up, knowing that running was going to be one of the first things I did that day. I might have a coffee first. But I wouldn’t let too much time go by, before heading out for my run, lest I get a little lazy and stall so much that I (gasp) miss my run all together. Despite being fully aware of the benefits I would reap from the run, the active meditation, the hit of fresh air and outdoorsyness, the undeniable endorphin rush, and bragging rights (even if only in my head) for the remainder of the day, some days, I would still stall a bit too much.

In the last couple of weeks, that stalling has been filled with different emotions. To the point that I hadn’t been out for a run for over 2 weeks.

Sunday was different. Despite having been sick over 2 weeks ago, and despite the anxiety I was feeling about the new rules about running, during Covid-19, I went for a run. I was devious, and it was a good run.

Part of the stress was created because of articles such as this one, which I will note doesn’t say one shouldn’t run. Just that runners should be at least 10 feet apart from other people, while running. While articles such as these, make running during Covid-19 times, sound stressful, the real stress came from reading some people’s commentary on community Facebook pages about runners now being inconsiderate assholes. The people that scream the loudest are typically self-professed non- runners. They don’t seem to hold the same contempt for people walking in packs. People walking in groups of 2 or more who are oblivious to the idea of moving over and yielding, while “hanging out on the sidewalk”. The venom doesn’t seem to be directed at cyclists who whiz by on urban streets, which are designed to make it impossible to be the desired distance from pedestrians trying to keep appropriate distance on the sidewalk. Nor do they think there is anything hypocritical about a person admitting to be completely oblivious, whether by themselves with earbuds in, or with a stroller, and at the same time, publicly shaming the jogger who is doing their best to stay far away from them, without their cooperation. And when I say venom, I mean some people were encouraging others to physically assault people who dared to run by them.

I am an inherent rule follower. I internalize emotions from all directions. The climate for runners described above, even with me making sure I was being a responsible runner, made me too anxious to run for a bit. I still manage virtual strength and conditioning classes and yoga from my favourite proprietors (mentioned in this blog post), but I have been deeply missing my runs.

Running was my path to greater self love in my early 30s. It has been a constant for almost two decades. It keeps me balanced and sane and helps me manage my ongoing underlying feelings of anxiety.

I had already planned to get out this past Sunday. But when my niece asked me on Friday if I had ever used Strava, I responded in an old aunt manner and said, no I usually just map it out and go. But when she described to me, how it works, I thought it sounded like extra incentive to get out and test Strava.

On Sunday morning, I woke up at 7:30 instead of the originally planned 6:30 (part of my strategy to avoid crowds). I had a coffee in bed with Gavin and the dogs while doing my usual skim through social media. Part of my brain was continuously reminding myself not to linger too long and to GTFO and run.

At 8:30, with the Strava app newly added to my phone, I headed out for my first run in awhile. The weather was in my favour, as it was slightly overcast and threatening to rain, presumably keeping too many walkers off the sidewalks. If the weather had been more similar to Saturday, sunny and 12, the sidewalks might have more resembled the crowded, non-social distanced, sidewalks on High Park, where we went for our first drive in over a month, to drop off goodies to some of Gavin’s colleagues. But I digress.

The sidewalks were nicely empty on my usual, near 6k route. There were a couple times where I saw someone ahead in the distance and planned to safely divert onto the curb, but that person would turn off before I had to do so. The couple times I saw people approaching from the other direction, I was able to safely move into the bike lane (running the opposite way so I could safely see any incoming cyclists).

My run started off with my chest slightly heavy. I am not sure if I have seasonal allergies, cabin fever syndrome (not sure that is a real thing in relation to heavy lungs) or I am still slightly recovering from whatever ailed me over two weeks ago. But as I continued, the heaviness went away. I found my usual stride. I was able to push whatever Covid-19-related anxiety away and enjoy the run. It was medicine for my soul.

My new Strava app showed I was a little slower than usual. Understandable for many reasons, and perhaps a little incentive for this typically non-competitive runner, to pick up the pace a little.

The stats shown on Strava from Nicole’s run on Sunday. 3.27 mi distance, Avg Pace – 11:44/mi, Moving Time – 38:21.

When the pandemic was in its early stages in Toronto, mid-March, and it was publicly understood that running was one of the few things we would be able to continue doing outside, I boldly thought I would start training for my own half marathon or more. Now, my goals are much more realistic. With new information, and new experiences, my current goal is to get out for a short/medium sized run, a couple times a week, while responsibly keeping my distance from others. I am just as psyched for this opportunity, in the current climate, as any marathon distance could provide.

Be safe. Keep your distance. And be kind to others and assume they are doing the best they can with new rules.

Nicole Plotkin is a law clerk, who enjoys good food, spending time with her husband and two dogs, and her regular workouts, including (now deviant) running.
fitness · weight stigma

Does COVID-19 care what you weigh?

CW: discussion of body weight and fat shaming in news and medical writing.

Even in the midst of a global pandemic, some folks manage to carve time out of their busy schedules for fat-shaming, patient-blaming and promoting all-purpose weight hysteria. On April 16, the NY Times wrote this story:

NYT headline: Obesity linked to severe Coronavirus disease, especially for younger patients.

Okay, but what are those “studies”, and what do they “show”?

Here’s the lede, which is rather unpromising:

The research is preliminary, and not peer reviewed, but it buttresses anecdotal reports from doctors who say they have been struck by how many seriously ill younger patients of theirs with obesity are otherwise healthy.

No one knows why obesity makes Covid-19 worse, but hypotheses abound.

It’s worth noting a few key points here: There are no studies. There are preliminary reports, based on gathering some information about some patients in some places. These reports sound similar to anecdotes from medical workers about particular patients who were 1) young; 2) severely ill with COVID-10; and 3) had BMIs>30.

I looked at the report the NYT was going on about. It’s here, and is accompanied by a serious disclaimer:

This article is a pre-print and has not been peer-reviewed [what does this mean?] It reports new medical research that has yet to be evaluated and so should not be used to guide clinical practice.
This article is a pre-print and has not been peer-reviewed [what does this mean?] It reports new medical research that has yet to be evaluated and so should not be used to guide clinical practice.

Good to know. But, just out of curiosity, what’s in there?

The upshot is this: the biggest relative risk (by a factor of 10) for being hospitalized for COVID-19 is age (75 and over for huge relative risk, 65-74 for smaller risk). Smaller relative risk factors were BMI>40 and heart failure. BUT: they didn’t control for race, socioeconomic status or quality of care (according to this article in Wired, and also according to me from looking at the original article).

We do know that it’s not always true that people with higher body weights automatically have higher risks of complications or death when they’re hospitalized for respiratory diseases. Here’s what one study on pneumonia found:

The cohort [of veterans who were pneumonia patients] comprised of 18,746 subjects. Three percent [had BMI <18.5], 30% [had BMI 18.5–25], 35% [had BMI 25–30], 26% [had BMI 30–40], and 4% [had BMI>40]. In the regression models, after adjusting for potential confounders, [BMI>40] was not associated with mortality (odds ratio 0.96, 95% confidence interval 0.72-1.28), but BMI 30-40 was associated with decreased mortality (0.86, 95% 0.74-0.99). Neither [BMI 30-40] nor [BMI>40] were associated with ICU admission, use of mechanical ventilation or vasopressor utilization. BMI <18.5 patients had increased 90-day mortality (1.40, 1.14-1.73).

The only group with increased mortality risk was the BMI<18.5 group. The other BMI groups either had a lowered risk or a non-increased risk.

Of course, this is only one study, but there are a lot of studies that fail to show a connection between higher body weights and risks of complications and death during hospitalization for some respiratory illness.

Other investigations are at ongoing and at various stages of revision and peer-review. This is important, as one thing we know for sure is that trying to tease out the influence of one feature of patients on particular health outcomes is very very hard. Small sample size, lack of representativeness, potential confounders and methodological flaws all get in the way of reliable results. Wired gives a good and detailed analysis of ways that some claims about the relationship between BMI and COVID-19-related health outcomes are unwarranted. And they offer a possible explanation:

The fact that researchers have been pointing to body size as a risk factor for weeks now, even in the absence of much evidence, is a clear example of how weight stigma gets enacted in science.

I don’t work in medicine, but I do know that there is a humongous evidence gap between what’s happening clinically in a particular hospital and its patients (each with their own complex medical and other histories), and what is true about everyone with higher BMIs in the US (not to mention other countries) with respect to risks related to COVID-19. Right now we can’t say much of anything. So maybe we shouldn’t. Which means the answer to my blog title question is, “we don’t have evidence right now to answer this question”. It doesn’t make for exciting news copy, but it’s the closest thing to the truth right now.


What happens next?

My sister reminded me of this quote from Winston Churchill yesterday: “this is not the beginning of the end; but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

That’s where I think we are in this pandemic. In most of Europe and North America, social distancing is doing its job, and we are starting to have conversations about what it will take to start moving about more freely. But — the pandemic isn’t “over.” We won’t have a vaccine for a while, we don’t fully understand how we develop immunity to the virus, and the possibility of a second wave of the virus is high. And, even with all of this, we need to start figuring out how to do some of the things again.

None of this is … delightful. The only thing we know for sure is that we aren’t going to return to our previous ease of full movement any time soon, and life is going to include a lot of uncertainty for a while.

I don’t think this is easy for anyone.

But something about knowing for certain that things are going to remain uncertain has been freeing for me this week. I had a bit of a shift, from hunkering down just to “get through this” to recognizing that not-normal is going to be normal for a while. And this means I need to reframe my relationship with time, my space and my body.

I wrote last week about my observation that there are four rough tendencies about movement at this time: Adapting, Redefining, Surviving and Discovering. I noted at the time that I was really veering between Redefining and Surviving — i.e., sustaining a daily workout program, but only because I know it’s critical for my mental health. I’m finding it hard and I’m not taking much joy in it. The other day I actually wandered off in the middle of my workout to make more coffee and fold clothes, tuning out the joyful presence of my coach Alex and our little community.

But then something clicked, this week. Maybe it was the hint of spring (I mean, the hint of spring after the freezing rain and snow we had earlier this week), and maybe it’s knowing the curve is flattening, and most of my clients have emerged out of crisis into tentative restarting. Somewhere in there, I clicked out of hanging-on mode into this-is-my-life. I realized I’ve just been sort of … occupying… my days, not living in them. So how do I engage with this life with a bit more vigour? Where can I find more joy in movement when full social distancing is still in force?

When I sit quietly and reflect on it, I realize I’ve been in this kind of stasis in a lot of parts of my life, not just movement. I’m on pause from what matters. So how do I re-engage some of what I most care about?

Like many people, I really miss incidental movement. I miss just … roaming around, doing what I feel like. I’m working out most mornings a week with my virtual workout team and the lovely Alex, whom I’ve written about a whole bunch. And I’m running or going for long walks a few times a week. So I am ticking off workouts on my total number for the year. But many many days, that’s IT. I work out fairly intensely for an hour in the morning, and then… mostly, I sit. And because of that combination — bulgarian split squats or what have you and then stillness — most days I’m stiff and sore.

Usually, I’m the queen of incidental movement, constantly preaching at people to “make your day harder” by choosing stairs over elevators, walking over transit, cycling over cars. (My ex once told me that the best thing about our divorce was that she didn’t feel pressured to walk everywhere anymore). But when you don’t go anywhere, you don’t walk places. I’m not getting those 2000 chunks of steps I usually get walking to the streetcar, the flights of stairs from walking up to my unit from the street. Because I never go anywhere.

For me, not moving spawns even more not moving. Earlier this week, I found myself avoiding going outside even to walk around the block because “it looked cold.” (It’s April — it’s not THAT cold). Then I flop on the couch and eat more things, because the things are there. And so am I. Always there. Not moving. Getting stiffer and more sore. Not really DOING anything.

For most of my life, organic movement has been a pretty profound value for me. With my coaching clients, a lot of our work right now is to figure out how to live their values even as circumstances are weird and uncertain. So how do I build more organic movement into my life, even as we’re still under strict social distancing, with bylaw officers hulking in all the parks?

For this week, I think I’ll try a two pronged approach: short errands and quick walks around the block. I went out Friday for a quick walk to pick up cat food from my vet. Ordered by email, with a secret knock and a furtive, masked, almost silent shoving of the food into my arms through a cracked door. But the sun was out, and the light is becoming more welcoming, and the breeze was soft on my face. Out and back in 20 minutes, and I felt so much more ready for my next phone call. And more like… myself.

And feeling more like “myself” — I’m more available to be more creative and forward thinking in other ways. I can tentatively take myself off “pause.” Not into fast forward — I don’t need to start training for a marathon or pushing the boundaries of the social distancing expectations — but I can reconnect with what I value. Starting with being in my body in a more mindful way.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is going to spend just a little less time lying around with her cats.

dogs · fitness · training · weight lifting

The missing puzzle piece of Sam’s pandemic home workout plan

You know that I left the gym early. I don’t remember when I last went but I posted about my decision to leave on March 9th. It’s been awhile since I’ve set foot inside the gym, the yoga studio, or the Bike Shed.

So I’ve been working out at home for awhile now. Mostly it’s all fit together pretty well.

Piece one of the puzzle is that I’ve been riding and racing my bike virtually. Hello Zwift! Piece two is that I’m back together with Yoga with Adriene, enjoying her Yoga for Uncertain Times series quite a lot. Piece three is everyday exercise walking Cheddar the dog.

Cheddar, napping post walk

But the fourth piece is not working out quite so well. It’s there but it’s a work in progress.

That’s at home strength training. I’ll confess we weren’t as well-prepared. We have a motley, somewhat random collection of tools. The one great thing is Sarah’s TRX which we mounted in the living room which is now combo home office for two and home gym for three. We also pandemic panic purchased a 25 lb kettlebell the day before the shops all closed. Sarah also has a lone 8 lb dumbbell from her injured shoulder physio days. And we own some resistance tubing with handles, one is not very much resistance and the other one a bit too much. You read about that purchase here.

My son is home from university and he’s regular gym goer. He usually lifts pretty serious weights most days of the week. I think at first he thought he’d wait it out but now he’s planning home workouts for us, scouring Instagram for ideas. I’m really glad he’s here.

It feels a bit like the cooking challenge where you’re given random oddball ingredients and asked to construct a meal. But he’s doing a great job.

How to make chest and triceps day out of this?

Sam’s random home gym bits and pieces

We’re making do but I miss the gym. How about you?

Once it warms up we’re going to hang the heavy punching bag in the backyard. Will report back!


Getting my skipping groove on

Image shows an orange skipping rope against a bright purple background. Photo by Stoica Ionela on Unsplash

The pandemic has meant I am unable to go to the gym nor the pool. It’s a downer as the former is challenging and the latter is meditative and calming.

As part of the process of adjusting to our new normal, I have been doing mostly stretches and floor exercises designed to keep strength in my back, my core and my legs. My trainer taught me one she calls eggshells and which I simply call fiendish. But it works and who am I to gainsay my trainer?

However, I miss the intensity the gym brings to my fitness plan. Our weather in spring is rarely friendly to walking, and only this week have we seen the sidewalks emerge from the over generous dumps of snow we got in January and  February.

In the first couple of weeks of the stay at home directive, I looked at what fitness equipment I have at home. Aside from my yoga mat, a wobble board, a few giant elastics (also fiendish) and the Death Star (truly evil), my searches revealed a skipping rope.

Now I haven’t skipped since I was in junior high, or maybe even earlier. It took me a couple of attempts to get back in the rhythm of the movement, but then the muscle memory, as old as it was, came back to me, along with a bunch of random snatches of skipping songs.

Before I went down the rabbit hole of searching out the complete verses of the aforementioned rhymes, I looked into skipping as a form of exercise. It’s pretty good in fact, with lots of benefits.

Aside from the cardio (even doing a low impact version can get your heart rate up), skipping works your whole body, including your core, your legs and your arms. It’s kinder to your knees and joints than running.

According to some trainers, skipping helps you with coordination and stamina, as well as focus.  It’s affordable (most skipping ropes are less than $10 and often you can find them quite cheaply at the dollar store). It’s convenient: you can do it inside or outside your house whenever you like.

Most importantly, it’s fun. Because it’s been awhile since I have done any major cardio work, my plan is to start off slowly, using the walk-a-minute-run-a-minute model our local running store uses in their learn to run program.

My driveway is clear, my sneakers are ready, here I go.

MarthaFitat55 usually engages in powerlifting, yoga and swimming but these days is open to anything that will keep her moving.