fitness

On Gender, Stairs and Finding the Progress Where I Can

Well, after a summer whizzing across the continent, I have settled back into home. I came home to a new job that was waiting for me and for the last three weeks, I have been the Program Assistant in the Department of French Studies at Western University. This has me speaking French daily, after not having spoken it for more than 20 years, and also has me tied to a rigid work schedule. Add to that my youngest son starting highschool and my husband being away for a week at a conference, and it’s been an intense time. When it comes to my relationship with fitness, I have some mixed feelings. I have a gripe and a satisfying observation.

The Gripe: Of course, all this new-ness and intensity has left me precious little time for exercise. I’m innately intimidated by exercise at the best of times, but what is it that makes it so easy for women to put our needs last? Ok. So I have a degree in Gender Studies – honestly I have a good idea of gender dynamics, especially in families. I just wish that understanding could help me influence my own actions a little more. Truthfully, I have had to focus on settling into my new routine. I have the aquafit schedule on my desk now. The time to swim is coming. But for now, it’s aggravating me.

The Positive: So despite this complaint, I DO have something positive to say about my fitness. It’s not exactly an exercise routine, but I can tell that going up the 110 stairs (I counted!) from the parking lot to my office every morning is helping my fitness levels. When I started on Sept. 1st, I went up the stairs slowly and pretty huff-y and puff-y. The past week, I’ve noticed that I just walk up them now, one foot after the other. It might sound small, but to me it’s actually BIG. Something I’ve never experienced before. Cheers to me!

A few months back, Sam posted a link to a long-ago post she wrote, explaining that if you hate exercise, you might simply be really out of shape. The upshot of that was you just need to do small things. Well my friends, I used to hate exercise, and I think this is a bit part of my story. So I really need to celebrate these small victories.

image of a woman wearing a grey knitted hat and drinking from a purple mug. Both the hat and mug say "Western Arts & Humanities"
Here is me drinking from my new Arts and Humanities mug, modeling my welcome touque!

I’m also, on principle, trying to notice my blessings even (especially) when I feel intimidated, disappointed or otherwise down. Schlepping up these stairs every morning, I have often thought of Sam and her recent knee surgery. I have also thought of myself, prior to my own hip surgeries (2021, 2019), and how the stairs would have been so painful. So, the stairs may be long in the AM, they may be no fun, but dang, I’m sure glad I can walk them.

What are your thoughts on this? Have you climbed your own staircase? Struggled with family and your own exercise needs? Where did it lead you? In this time of transition in my life, I’m looking for inspiration and I guess advice.

Thanks for reading!

Amanda Lynn

fitness

Phew I did it (mostly!)

Hello from Beautiful British Columbia. I am on an epic family road trip, having driven with my teen sons and husband from Southwestern Ontario to BC’s Sunshine Coast where I grew up. We had two very long driving days to get the Prairies and then we spent a few days in the Alberta Rocky Mountains, near where my husband grew up. On our first day, we went to Ptarmigan Cirque, a bowl-shaped end of a valley carved by a glacier.

Image of woman staring at camera, standing in front of green field of brush and trees, with mountains in the background.
At the start – that’s Ptarmigan Cirque behind me

The walk is relatively short at 4.5km and I had been there once before a few decades ago. I didn’t love doing it, but I had done it. I was excited to try it again, with newly repaired hips (2019 and 2021) and a newfound love of hiking. I was also excited because the access point is from the aptly named Highwood Pass, Canada’s highest paved road, at 2,206 metres. I expected I could make the hike and have an alpine experience with my kids, a first for me.

The first kilometre was flat and I was excited. We set off in high spirits and I took this photo of myself at the bottom, thinking of this blog and how I’d like to post that I hiked to the back of the cirque here.

The trail ascends a total of 258 metres (700 feet). As the ascent came, I slowed down and we eventually let the teens power up the hill, while my husband Martin kindly stayed with me. I took some breaks but pushed forward, as I didn’t want to miss out. About halfway up I got significantly out of breath and suddenly remembered my asthma doctor encouraged me to try using a ventolin puffer to see if it helps. Martin, loving a mountain challenge, agreed to run the 2km back to the van (and then back up) with the puffer. I thought I’d continue to mosey up the hill and would catch my breath. That’s what I did for a few dozens of metres, but I was having to stop frequently. The trail is fairly steep and there was not much space for stopping, especially with other hikers going by. It was also hot, about 26 Celsius, which is fairly rare in the mountains.

At a certain point I stopped for a rest and realized I was a bit dizzy, not a great thing when I was on my own on a steep path. It passed, I kept going and it came back. I realized I was not being terribly wise and found a semi-stable place to sit. After about 5 minutes it passed again so I went up the trail a bit. It came back and I found a proper resting spot and stayed put until Martin was back.

Martin gave my my puffer (it didn’t help!) and insisted we wait a little longer than I wanted. We went up a little more, I got dizzy enough that I sat down on the ground and put up my knees. We waited probably 10 minutes that time and a teenager appeared to check on us. We realized we nearly at the end of the rise and I steeled myself for the final ascent, which was fine.

Once at the top, the trail goes around the back of cirque. There is a small lake, a trickling waterfall and snow, even in August. I was looking forward to that part, but realized I needed to stay put so I could make the walk down. We had lunch together at the start of the alpine meadow, and the teens went off on a 30 minute adventure around the cirque.

Photo of an alpine meadow at the treeline. In the foreground are small evergreens and some flowers. In the background is a tall circular mountain ridge with loose stones in front of the ridge. THE sky is bright blue.
At the top of Ptarmigan Cirque; this is the view I missed, but my son Jacob captured it for me

From that point, the hike was not difficult for me. We waited, met up with the teens and walked down the trail without incident. The teens eventually got impatient and motored ahead. Martin suggested that he bring the car around to the bottom of the trail, sparing me the 1km bottom walk. I didn’t love that, but thought it was wise. That meant that I walked the last 200 metres down the trail on my own (while he did more trail running!) and I waited at the roadside.

Selfie photo of a woman looking at the camera, standing on the edge of a narrow highway with mountains in the background. On the right is a sign that reds "Highwood Pass, 2206 metres, 7329 feet."
Reflecting on what I accomplished, and what I wish I had accomplished

My takeaway from this experience was quite mixed. I guess I just vastly overestimated my aerobic capacity. We were just arriving in the mountains that day, and certainly I was not habituated to any elevation (living at about 250m above sea level). I also hoped that, having been intentionally exercising, I would be able to push myself a little on the trail. That was clearly not the case. I remained slightly dizzy going down, although I was no longer out of breath.

I had a very encouraging family with me, who tried to remind me that all the folks motoring by saying “it’s worth it!” “You can do it!” “It’s not so bad!” were really just being kind and not judging me. And they also reminded me that many people in my position / physical condition would not attempt this hike. Nevertheless, I was pretty disappointed. I thought I could manage it and I couldn’t, at least not in the way I wanted.

It seems clear I need to do some hill walking. That’s ok I guess (although I grew up abhorring them!). I can’t really get started on that now, since we are still on our road trip. Yesterday I swam for a solid 30 minutes in the ocean though (SO fun!) and my fitness tracker registered a solid workout. We return home at the end of August and I start a new job (I got one!) which is very regular in terms of hours, and significantly office-based. I have plans to build an exercise schedule.

Image of a woman and man floating in blue water with the sun shining on them
Bobbing in the Georgia Straight with my husband Martin

I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences. Have you dealt with something like I’m describing? How have you dealt with it? I find myself living the experiences that inspired the creation of this blog: I’m middle-aged, not necessarily meeting social norms for “fitness” (not skinny!) and wanting to be active. I’m SO glad I have you, readers and community members, to share this experience with. I need it.

Amanda Lynn

fitness

Summer is for FUN, right?

Happy July! I hope you’re enjoying your summer as much as I am, or at least as much as I’m trying to.  

I have pretty much let go of trying to get to my aquafit classes for summertime. I am sorry about that, since that’s ultimately the best way for me to get a “good” workout right now. I guess by good I mean my heartrate in the cardio zone on my Fitbit and getting me really out of breath. That’s the feeling that I’ve avoided since I was in Grade 1 and first got assigned a “morning run” (I wrote about that here). I’m afraid of that intense feeling, honestly, but I have also been able to enjoy it for the first time this year, as I wrote about back in spring.

Selfie of a woman on a beach, with water in background. She is wearing sunglasses and a pink and blue striped swim top and black swim bottom.
Soaking up some sun on Lake Huron

So… I’m not getting to my “gym,” to get that intense feeling, because I’ve been busy! I’ve spent two of the past five weeks camping at my beloved Pinery Provincial Park. In that same five weeks, I’ve also played two concerts and a festival with my band – more than seven performances.

All of that, plus dog walking and gardening, has kept me pretty active and I’m trying to applaud my activity, while remembering my longer term goals are just that – long term – so they are not defined by a two month period. Also, I’m still only eight months out from arthroscopic hip surgery, my second in two years.

In late September 2021 I had a “rim trim” and labral repair on my left hip. Apparently I have “deep” hip sockets; in photographs my labrum looked like a feather, completely shredded to nothingness. I had the same surgery in 2019 on my right side, and that surgery gave me relief from a debilitating level of pain. My left side was already less of a problem, but the surgeon felt that since my right side had improved, the left was also likely to benefit.

The repair involves cutting away all the damaged cartilage and then cutting a ‘notch’ in my hip socket to allow my femur to swing more freely…Sounds intense right? It is, but honestly my life is SO much improved! And it just keeps getting better. That is, I just keep feeling better. I hiked 16km one day in June, and I was basically just fine. I’m finding, in fact that I’m much more comfortable after hiking and camping than after a week at my desk teaching online.

An image of a wooden stairway in a park, about 2 flights down, shown from the top and surrounded by green plants.
On the Pinery’s Cedars Trail. It once struck fear in me, but no longer!

All of that is to say that I’m a little disappointed that I haven’t continued with my intensive cardio, but I am sure thrilled I can enjoy and be really active in other ways. I had to take this photo of the staircase on the hike I took in June. I ROCKED IT in a way that I could never have before my hip repairs!

I also really enjoyed being to give five performances in three days at the Home County Festival without having to pop Tylenol-3s and Advil as I have in the past… Most of all though, I’m working on that mental shift – seeing my behaviours, my activity and my body as my own. I’m about to embark on a cross-continental driving trip to Alberta and British Columbia to hike and see my family. I don’t know how far up those BIG mountains I can get, but I sure look forward to telling you about it!

For now, here is a photo of me with my husband, having a great time at the Home County Music and Art Festival. I hope you enjoy the rest of your summer.

Photo of man in white shirt, jeans and ball cap holding cello and woman in a short blue dress and cowboy boots holding a banjo. Both are leaning forward and singing into a single microphone.
Singing is one of the great joys in life for me, here with Martin Horak. Thanks to Suzanne Onn for the photo.
fitness

Wow, that was a fun month!

Well, here I am back for my monthly update. This month I also didn’t make it to the aquafit classes that had me so motivated to write for this blog, back in February. I have continued to have many extraordinary things on my plate. In addition to looking for permanent work, I have reengaged with academics in a way I didn’t see coming and I have found deeply satisfying. I am also an avid vegetable gardener, and spring is a season of much work.

So this month, as I realized I wasn’t chiseling out the 3 hours to get to the pool, I made some different choices. I was already active in the garden, so I started paying closer attention to my Fitbit and aimed to get my heart rate up and keep it there. Guess what? It worked! I was able to sustain a cardio heart rate while digging and raking. I also made an effort to walk my dog at a pace I would ordinarily have avoided.

photo of woman in front of a fence. She is wearing a ball cap and looking directly at the camera. Behind her is a circular decorative plaque with flowers and a watering can on it.
This is me in my happy place – the garden!

A few weeks ago, I read something about how when people are very inactive, the key is to get active in tiny steps. I felt quite reflected in that post. For most of my life, movement – especially brisk physical effort – was not my friend. When I could avoid it, I did. This year I can feel that shifting, and I’m finding some joy in the grind and the sweat. Hey – I’m 51! It turns out it’s not too late.

SO, I’m not sure when I’m going to get back to the pool. I *think* I am going to have time this summer, and it really is fun to do aquafit in an outdoor pool. But I know that my garden is full of vegetables needing tending. And I know that I am leaving (tomorrow!) for a solo camping adventure at Pinery Provincial Park.

This is my dog Finn. Walking him as made a real difference in my life and my relationship with activity. He made himself this bed to lie in while I garden!

I’m trying to hold to the belief that my body is mine, to use and enjoy and sweat in as I please. To remember that hey, it’s kind of fun to work hard sometimes. And to remember that small activity is activity, and for me that’s really something. I was fascinated to read that Diane also gardens and sees the fitness value of it. I was also really, really pleased to notice that this past month, as I got more active, my hips hurt less. Honestly, I’m kind of excited now about this little journey I’m on. Thanks for tuning into it.

family · fitness · habits · motivation

I had a plan – where did it go?

Well this is not the post I expected to write this month! A few months back I wrote Sam that I had been exploring and really enjoying exercise and would like to regularly blog about aquafit. At that time, I’d been going to the pool two to three times per week for a few months. It was a habit and it felt good. I also had started really enjoying the feeling of getting a good cardio workout. That itself felt like a minor miracle.  

I wrote my introductory post and looked forward to seeing what was coming on my journey of digging into exercise. It turns out what was awaiting me the last month was a lot of frustration and not getting to exercise! This is not new – many people struggle to get to their gym or their exercise. Women especially are conditioned to put our needs after others. In my case, historically it’s been really easy to distract me from exercise because honestly, I didn’t like it and I didn’t want to do it.

This is different though. I want to get there. Apparently though, wanting isn’t always enough. I’ve only been to the pool a couple of times since mid-April. And it shows. It shows in my mindset, which is more easily frustrated. It shows in my aching hips that don’t want to sit for hours while I teach and grade. It shows in my own disappointment too.

Now I have good reasons for not getting to the gym. I’m on a job search that is going s.l.o.w.l.y. (I teach college on contract and I want a permanent, student-facing job!). My husband is on sabbatical in Italy for the month of May. He’s working hard too and I’m happy to support him, but oh boy, I didn’t anticipate how many things would go sideways at home with our kids while he was away, or how much of our lives relate to getting our kids to places. I am struggling between my kids’ needs and my own, and my own have been losing out.

Selfie of a woman with greying hair and brown sunglasses in front of a blooming pink magnolia tree. She has bright sunlight on her face and is wearing a navy coloured tshirt reading "halfway between"
On my dog walk, I had to stop in front of this beautifully blooming magnolia tree

In truth, all reasons for not exercising are “good” reasons. Our reasons can be legitimate even when they are frustrating or disappointing. Canadian society seems to have a fixation with connecting fitness with guilt and judgement (as anyone who knows this blog knows). The last thing I want to do in writing today is to contribute a sense of judgment of people’s choices. What I do want to acknowledge (mainly mainly to myself) is that for the first time I really miss exercising. That makes this post another in my posts celebrating my journey toward enjoying and, I would say, reclaiming my body as my own for my own use. THAT feels pretty good to say.

So since I’m missing activity, and my growing strength and confidence as (dare I say it?) an athlete, it seems that my next challenge is to actually get back in the pool, and doing some late spring hiking. I can see I need to re-establish my routines and make space for myself in my life. I’m working on that now. So far the best I can do is get out each day to walk my dog. It’s a start – I’ll let you know in a month how it went!

fitness

Wait, I like exercising??

Hello! If you are a really regular reader of this blog, you’ll remember that I’ve written here before. I wrote about my love of swimming, a very meaningful return canoe trip to Killarney Provincial Park, and about how I didn’t like walking, but I thought maybe it was feminist.

Well, I think it’s time I update you. I know it’s time I check-in with myself about how I’m doing with this whole exercise thing because well, how I’m doing has changed, a lot actually. About 2 1/2 years ago I had right hip surgery to repair damage that dated about 9 years back (to when I was pregnant with my 2nd son). After that surgery I started exploring walking on London’s beautiful trails. For the first time, really ever, I was able to enjoy the experience of walking. I learned that I needed a walking pole to help with balance on slippery surfaces, and I got some yak-trax for my shoes. I even enjoyed walking on ice! This was progress.

I also started pushing myself, in tiny ways, to try new things. It’s weird how for me, as middle age and motherhood has settled in, I’ve become timid. Now I’ve never been a boldly active person, but my “mom” role seemed to cement that I was the one that got left behind on adventures sometimes. Since I don’t downhill ski, that does still happen but I’m trying to get a little daring.

Here’s a picture of me jumping off a (smallish but huge to me) drop into Charleston Lake in eastern Ontario. I was so terrified, once I was in the water my husband asked me if it was fun and I screamed “NO!” So I decided to do it again so I could actually notice how it felt and it WAS fun.

Boy and woman jumping forward off a grey rock into a lake. Both are suspended in the air, the woman's arms are spread wide.
Taking the leap at Charleston Lake!

I think the thing I’m most proud of is that I bravely took a sled ride down the steep hill near our house. I did that in 2021, on a day when there was loads of snow so the sled was slowed down a bit. It was definitely scary but I was so glad I did it! You can see me in my snow-covered glory on my Instagram page.

So I guess what I’m saying is that as my pain decreased post-surgery, I started taking a few small risks. And I’m found that I really can enjoy some exercise. I know that for many of you sporty blog readers that might seem an odd thing to say, but exercise has never before felt like a pleasant, or if I’m being honest, a safe experience for me.

Well that has changed now, and I actually enjoy some sports! So I wrote Sam and asked if I could contribute some writing exploring my experience. I’m doing aquafit regularly now and that is a whole other story that I look forward to telling you about it. I think I’m going to be sharing my story about once a month with you. Tell me about your experiences with finding your way in exercise – I’d love to hear them!

Amanda Lynn

Amanda Lynn Stubley is a folklorist who teaches writing and communications at Fanshawe College in London, Ontario. In addition to teaching, she is a musician performing with The Heartaches Stringband.