219 in 2019 · 220 in 2020 · fitness · habits · motivation

On Becoming “Someone Who Does This Shit” (Guest Post)

Last week I read the book Healthy as F*ck by Oonagh Duncan, which focuses in large part on how to create and sustain habits that work for you to support your health. Near the end of the book, she talks about identity and the strong need that people have to stay consistent with our own definitions of ourselves. The context here is how reinforcing our healthy habit loops helps strengthen our identity of being “Someone Who Does This Shit” – whatever that shit may be.

It occurred to me after reading this that being a person who exercises regularly has become a solid piece of my sense of self, and I can tell you most emphatically that in the past it was not. As recently as 2 ½ years ago I struggled to get myself to be physically active – it was something I sometimes did (and had a hard time with), and it was not part of my self-concept. And now here I am, someone who strongly identifies as a person who moves.

This transformation has happened for me gradually since July 2018 when I read Sam and Tracy’s book Fit at Mid-Life: A Feminist Fitness Journey, and decided that I was ready to make some real changes. My first step was taking up running that summer, then I took part in a Fit is a Feminist Issue challenge in the fall, and in the new year I started a 219 workouts in 2019 Facebook group, which rolled over into a 220 in 2020 group. In 2020 I also started working out regularly in group sessions with an awesome trainer (Ali MacKellar) whose approach reflects my values and who creates community around this work. Building my fitness habits with the support of other fit feminists has been instrumental in making this change possible for me.

So after finishing the book and realizing that movement has really become part of who I am, I sat down and did some math based on the tracking from the 2019 and 2020 groups.

First let me tell you that I move my body in lots of ways – running, cycling, and sweaty HIIT sessions, as well as walking, yoga, and bellydance. My loose criteria for what counts as a workout for the purpose of tracking is basically any form of intentional movement of 25 minutes or longer. Why 25 minutes? For the simple and not-at-all scientific reason that 25 minutes is the length of many of the Yoga with Adriene sessions I do. So it keeps things easy for me.

View of trees in foreground and Toronto cityscape in background, from an evening run in November

In 2019 I hit 219 workouts right at the end of December, which means I worked out an average of just over 4 times every week that year. Wowee, I thought, good job Cheryl!

So far in 2020 I’ve done 270 workouts as of November 15, which is an average of 6 workouts a week. Umm, I’m sorry, what?? I work out 6 times a week?? On a regular consistent basis?? Me?? I had to double check the math, as this seemed like this couldn’t be possible. And yet it is. As you can tell, this was actually a shocking realization for me.

Doing some form of intentional movement most days every week has become a regular part of my life, even more so during a global pandemic where there’s less incidental movement happening for me. Every week I make a plan for what workouts or activities I’m going to do and when, as part of the list of things that I just automatically do. Planning for physical activity, and following through on those plans, have become habits. 

Seeing these numbers drove home the realization that who I am has changed. For the first time in my adult life I am “Someone Who Does This Shit” when it comes to moving my body, and I feel really good about that.

I imagine that this has already been reinforcing my habit loop, as I have become a person who works out 6 times a week without being aware of it.  I wonder if the more conscious realization of it will reinforce it even more? 

I’m curious about other folks’ experiences around this? Is movement/exercise something you *do*? Or does it feel more like its part of who you *are*? And either way, how have you created habits that work for you?


Canoe Tripping During COVID-19 (Guest post)

Earlier today Susan blogged about her experience on our canoe trip this summer, and although we had originally planned a co-authored blog post it seems that we both have enough to say to warrant separate posts.

I have had three different international trips cancelled this year due to COVID-19, the most recent being the horseback riding trip in Iceland that Susan and I had been looking forward to for close to two years. We held out hope for a very long time, but finally called it about a month and a half before we were supposed to depart. SAD FACE. I had been taking Icelandic riding lessons and getting all into my groove for a new type of adventure, but it was not to be, at least this year. I decided to keep the time booked off, which ended up working out very well indeed.

Susan and I both got the email about the Killarney canoe trip, and she texted me before I had a chance to reach out to her – we were of the same mind that this would be good to do together. A vacation! Time outdoors! We even planned to sleep in the same tent and hug each other, like in the before times.  When it came time to actually sign up, the spaces were getting snapped up like hand sanitizer in March (too soon?), and I had unknowingly gone for a lunch break right when registration opened. I returned from lunch to Susan’s frantic texts and signed up right away. Phew indeed!

When I told my partner about the trip, he asked how far a drive it was to Killarney, and I realized that I had absolutely no idea where Killarney even was. I hadn’t thought to check because it didn’t actually matter to me, I just wanted to get away and spend some time having outdoor adventures with my dear friend Susan.

As Susan mentioned in her post, we took a short camping trip together last summer to see how we travelled together, and found that we were highly compatible. (Hooray!) So after getting our negative COVID test results, I had no qualms about leaving my Toronto bubble of two to spend a week with her, starting out at her cottage before heading off to Killarney. I was excited to hug someone other than my partner for the first time since mid-March. Sharing hugs and physical closeness with friends is something I had definitely been missing. When I arrived at her cottage, the embrace we shared was a truly wonderful thing. Over the week together we hugged and snuggled and shared casual touch in ways that would have been perfectly normal before, but now held an intimacy that felt heightened and incredibly special. It reminded me of how much my body enjoys and appreciates affectionate touch, which is one of the many things that the pandemic has wrenched away from me.

I am not nearly as experienced in canoe camping as Susan, and our trip last year was the first time in over a decade that I’d done this sort of camping. Susan did all the organizing, preparing, shopping, navigating etc. when we went together, so it was easy for me to leave all that with our guide. At the start of the trip, when asked what she wanted from the experience, one of the other women said that she wanted to make no decisions and have no responsibilities for five days. This very much reflected my desires as well. I wanted to be a body engaging with the immediate physical environment, under the care of an experienced guide, and to give my mind the space to slow down, wander, and rest.

My body was definitely at the forefront of this trip for me, in ways both expected and unexpected. Day 1 and 5 were the most physically demanding, with 3 portages, one of which was over a kilometre long. That first day, on my second trip carrying an extremely heavy pack across the long portage in an oppressive heat, I felt perilously close to my physical limits. I literally dripped with sweat and could only get through by focusing on the present moment and then slowing taking the next step. I was as in my body and in the moment as I think it’s possible to be. I found it almost trance-like, in that it was a very different way of experiencing life than my normal day to day. Finishing that portage was an accomplishment for the ages. The other portaging and canoeing we did were demanding at times, but nothing approached the intensity of that day 1 portage. I’m guessing I might have the CAST IRON FRYING PAN to blame/thank for that!

The unexpected things that came up for my body included getting a urinary tract infection at the end of Day 1, which was extremely disconcerting. I hadn’t had one in years and I feared that I might not be able to manage the rest of the trip if it went untreated. Miraculously one of the other campers had a spare 3 day course of appropriate antibiotics (!!!!)  which saved the day/trip for me. But wait, there’s more! The next night I got my period 4 days early. Sigh. I had come prepared for it to be 1-2 days early, but didn’t have nearly enough menstrual supplies for 4 days given my heavy peri-menopausal flow. Again I was rescued by other campers, who provided me with enough tampons to last until the end of the trip. These experiences brought to the forefront the importance and centrality of my body as a foundation for my daily experiences. They also highlighted the ways that community care can help mitigate and manage the challenges of life, such as unpredictable bodies.

When I wasn’t canoeing, portaging, setting up or taking down, I spent a lot of time in rest. I enjoyed Susan’s hammock when it was available, I snoozed in our tent, and I cooled off in the water. I was silent even more than Susan was, and that was just fine with her too. I needed some time on my own, to disconnect from the world and from work and from the many other responsibilities of life. Sometimes I actually found that I didn’t know what to do with myself, which created some anxiety as I am usually a Busy Person but I kept on with the resting and it did me good. I was able to hit my reset button at long last, and I came home feeling calmer and more grounded than I had in months.

(photo of Killarney Provincial Park, taken from our campsite on Leech Lake – rocky foreground with a few flowers and grasses growing from crevices, calm lake in the middle ground, and coniferous trees in the background


Cheryl Joins the Circus

For more than a year now I’ve been intending to take a circus class, so when my friend Steph (who attends circus classes regularly) told me that there was going to be an Intro to Aerial Class offered at Cirque-ability in March, I decided that it was time to take the leap.

I was nervous and excited, and feeling glad that the other folks there would be beginners too, rather than starting in a multi-level class where I thought I might feel inadequate or intimidated by other people’s skills. I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Exercises to help us get in shape for aerial? Trying a few things out on the apparatuses? Surely we wouldn’t be going upside down on the first night of an intro class, right? (wrong)

A photo of Cheryl hanging upside down in aerial silks in a circus studio.

Including me, there were 5 people in the class. I’d guess that two were in their 20s, two in their 30s, and then me at 46. The teacher was very supportive and encouraging right from the start, while also still challenging us to try things that we weren’t sure we could do.

We began with a warm up of stretching and then 25 jumping jacks. I’m not very flexible but am used to that from yoga, so I did the stretches in ways that worked for me. Jumping jacks are not ideal for my bladder, but I managed.

We started with silks – putting the two strands on like a backpack and then lifting our legs to let our upper bodies hold us up. I could really feel where the silks were pressing into my rather soft and squishy torso, but it wasn’t painful – just kind of uncomfortable and new. The next thing was to flip upside down in the silks. What? I wasn’t expecting this! I watched the teacher do it, and a few of the other students, and I decided to try it. It went better than I expected – I didn’t freak out or throw up. It was actually pretty cool and I did it a few more times.

Next up was the trapeze. This one was tough for me. The instructor showed us how to mount, get up to standing, and then dismount. She made it look easy and the first two students seemed to have no problem. Then it was my turn. Oof! My arms, abs and upper body as a whole were not quite up for this. The teacher helped me through all the steps, making things easier for me or helping lift me through some stages. It felt hard and uncomfortable. I made it to standing, but by then I felt anxious and just really wanted to be done. I made it most of the way down but then got my legs separated in some kind of disarray near the end and said to the teacher “This isn’t feeling ok, this is hurting me” and she told me to just let go and fall, which I did. The trapeze was close to the floor so I just fell a few inches and got both my legs on the ground.

The final apparatus we tried was hoop. This was fun and what we did felt pretty easy for me – we sat in the hoop, then brought our legs up inside and stretched our arms down to do “Man in the Moon” (or “Person in the Moon” as we called it).

The class ended with a chance for everyone to try one of the apparatuses a final time. I went back to the silks and hung upside down again, as it turns out that was what I liked best. Then we stretched and the class was over.

I enjoyed the class and appreciated how supportive the instructor and the other students were. When we were doing trapeze one by one, we all clapped and called out encouraging things to each other. So even though I felt pretty awkward on the trapeze I felt good about the overall experience of the class. My body got a good workout and I was feeling it for a few days afterwards. I plan to go back and do some more with silks soon, to see what it’s like.

In this, and in most of the other fitness activities I’ve been trying in the last 8 months, I’m working on getting past worrying about not being good at whatever it is I’m trying. At my current level of fitness, I’m not likely to try something new and instantly be good at it. It’s just not realistic. So I need to be ok with being not very good at something, and then perhaps getting to mediocre, and with some things I may eventually become “good” at them. But it’s ok if I don’t, as long as I’m having fun or otherwise meeting my fitness goals. So here’s to being not very good at things and doing them anyway!About me: Feminist, bisexual, LGBTQ health researcher, book lover, drummer, introvert.


Cheryl’s First 5K (Guest Post)

Race pic

(Photo: A medal that says “Toronto Women’s 8K/5K 2018” above a yellow race bib that says “2203 Cheryl”)

In September I decided that I wanted to participate in an organized race in the fall as the culmination of my couch to 5K program. A google search turned up the Toronto Women’s Run series and I signed up for their 5K on Saturday October 13th as my first official race.

I found it highly motivating to have this race to look forward to and it kept me focused on reaching my goal of being able to run 5K by a specific date. The week before the race I completed my first 30 minute run – according to the couch to 5K app this equals 5K, but the reality is that I’m slower than what the app expects so it was a bit less than 5K. Nonetheless I felt ready!

A friend was registered to run the 8K race that day and we had planned to drive there together, but unfortunately she got sick and couldn’t make it. So it was just me heading up to Wilket Creek Park early on Saturday morning, which I actually felt fine about as I’ve been getting much more comfortable with solo activities in the last couple of years.

I had a good tip on parking from when I picked up my race kit the night before, so after parking I walked 15 minutes to the race site and oriented myself to the key points – port-a-potties, bag check, and starting line. Everything was well-organized and easy to navigate, and the vibe was warm and friendly.

The race was intended primarily for women, which was part of the appeal for me.  As a Toronto Women’s Run event, men could participate but were asked not to cross the finish line first and weren’t eligible for awards. There was no mention of how non-binary people might participate, which is something that I’ll be giving the race organizers feedback on.

I was in wave 2 of the 5K, which was the last wave of the morning. After cheering on the 8K runners and the 1st wave of the 5K, I got myself into the middle of the pack in the starting area. Right on time at 9:18am, wave 2 was off.

The start of the race was exciting, with so many people moving forward together in a big burst of energy. Gradually we spread out over the course according to our speed, and although many runners passed me, I also passed some people – much to my surprise.

The course through the park was lovely, and it was good weather for running – sunny, very little wind, and around 8 degrees Celsius. I kept a slow and steady pace so I could run the whole way without having to stop to walk. The time went by quickly as I passed the kilometre markers and the course marshals and supporters cheering us on. In the last 100 metres I pushed myself to sprint to the finish line, and ended with a chip time of 36:42, placing 29th out of 46 runners in the 45-49 age category. Not bad for a first timer!

Some of my favourite moments during the race were:

  • The times I was passed by older women – I admired them and I also felt like this could be my future if I keep training
  • Reaching the halfway point and feeling confident that I could keep running the whole way
  • Getting high fives after crossing the finish line – I appreciated this support from others as someone who was there on my own

The thing I liked least about the event was that the announcer kept referring to us as “ladies” and “gals”, which I found patronizing and irritating.

Other than that, I loved it. I felt strong, confident, and proud at having achieved my 5K goal. I will definitely be running more 5Ks in the future.

What was your first 5K like? Or your first time reaching another fitness goal?


Couch to 5K – an update (Guest Post)

A photo of Cheryl, a white woman with a lime green scarf and a dark sweater and cute, short spiky hair.

Thanks for all the encouragement on my couch to 5K journey! I’ve been keeping at it these last few weeks, although sometimes the intense heat in Toronto has been challenging. There were a few days when I decided it was too hot to run, and other days when I managed to get a run in while there was cloud cover or when it cooled down right before or after a rain shower.

Today I wanted to share some more thoughts I’ve had on running since I last blogged, specifically on the question of when to run. This is another thing that I’ve found a bit more difficult than expected. Technically, going for a run outdoors is something I can do any time. But in reality it’s a bit more complicated than that. Runs have to fit around my other obligations and basic life necessities – like working, eating and sleeping. Running too soon after a meal has proven to not work well for me, so after eating I need to wait for an hour or more if I want to be comfortable. I also prefer to run when it’s light out, for my own feeling of safety, and I try to avoid the hottest parts of Toronto summer days.  That’s a lot to consider and plan around!

I know that early morning runs are a great option for some folks, and I’m all for that if that works for you. But getting up early to run before work is something that I just can’t make myself do, so that’s off the table for me. (Morning can be hard already, as that’s a time of day when I regularly experience a lot of anxiety and/or morning depression). I know it would be a series of failed attempts, and that wouldn’t do anything to help me feel good or achieve my goals.

Given all that, here’s what I’ve found works best so far – running in the late afternoon, after work and before dinner. To help with this, on run days I try to leave work a bit earlier than usual, which has also been great for my work/life balance. Weekends are a bit easier, although it depends on how many other activities I’ve packed into the days, as I tend to try to fit a lot in. I aim to do one run each weekend and two during the week, and I usually manage to do at least two out of three, and sometimes all three. So my 8 week program may take more like 10-12 weeks, and I’m ok with that.

At this point I’ve completed week 5, day 2 of the training program, and the next day will be a 20 minute run with no walk breaks. The longest run without a break so far in the program has been 8 minutes, so I’m nervous and excited to see how running 20 minutes non-stop feels. And I’m also open to giving myself a walk break if I need one, because here’s an important thing I realized: I want this program to fit me, rather than trying to make myself fit the program. I’ll let you know how it goes!

About me: Feminist, bisexual, LGBTQ health researcher, book lover, drummer, introvert.

Guest Post · running

Starting my feminist fitness journey: Early days of couch to 5K (Guest post)

A photo of Cheryl, a white woman with a lime green scarf and a dark sweater and short spiky hair.

Hello fellow feminist fitness folks, this is my first guest post and I’m feeling a bit nervous about it but also excited to share my thoughts and experiences in this space as I embark on my own feminist fitness journey.

I stopped going to the gym gradually over the last year (not that I was going very much at all) for a combination of reasons – boredom on the treadmill when the TV system in the gym was changed to one that I could rarely make work, anxiety about sharing the space and machines with other people, and the fact the my running shoes had developed a hole in the lining that hurt my foot. But perhaps the biggest reason was that I found myself feeling a lot of self-imposed guilt and shame when I didn’t go, which was pretty much all the time, and this was making me miserable. So I decided to let the gym go. This was a relief and definitely good for my mental health, but I found myself wondering “now what?”

I was not and am not in great physical shape, and after quitting the gym I was struggling with how to change this without getting into a repeat of the obligation/guilt/shame cycle. I also thought a lot about the “why” behind my interest in getting fit. How much was coming from a desire to change my body to be thinner and more conventionally attractive? Could it ever be possible for me to want to get fit without some of this internalized stuff coming up? After reading Sam and Tracy’s excellent book this summer I had more tools to approach fitness in a new way and since then I’ve been trying to focus on reasons for getting fit that feel good to me as a feminist (more on this in a future post).

Here’s how I got started: I posted on Facebook about reading Fit at Mid-Life, and my friend Tanya messaged to ask if I ever went running. I told her that I’d run occasionally in the past, but had worked up a lot of internal barriers to it over the years (Anxiety! I will be slow and awkward and people will look at me! Where will I put my keys and water?!). She’d recently started running again using a couch to 5k program and invited me to join her for after work runs. So I decided to give it a try.

Here’s a brief story of my first few weeks, as it involved a lot more than I thought it would “ie. just go outside and start running.”

The first thing I knew I needed to do was buy new running shoes. I’d been feeling annoyed about doing this because it seemed like they wore out much sooner than they should have, given my relative inactivity, and I’d been putting it off because I resented having to spent the money.  But running with shoes that hurt wasn’t going to work, so I went out and got new shoes.

For my first run I had the new shoes, but no place to carry my phone to use the training app as my running clothes don’t have appropriate pockets for this. So I just estimated the times for alternating the 60 seconds of jogging and 90 seconds of walking that the app instructed.

I definitely started from the couch on this one –I was surprisingly sore the next day. I felt proud of having worked hard enough to feel it, but I also noticed some negative self-talk about how out of shape I must be to feel so sore.

Next I had to solve the problem of how to carry my phone while running. I did some research and bought a money belt/fanny pack sort of thing which has been working well for me so far.

I’ve been running at a local park and in the university area near my home, and also with Tanya at a running track in the east end of Toronto. I think that having some variety is helpful for me in terms of not getting bored.

After a couple more runs I noticed that my breasts were hurting because my old sports bra was not providing enough support.  Shopping for any kind of bra can make me feel like my body is not normal, because I have a really hard time finding bras that have long enough straps over the shoulders. Two stores and about eight types of sports bras later I found one that fit and it’s made running a lot more comfortable.

In the in the first 2 weeks I completed 5 of the 6 sessions from the training program, did a lot of troubleshooting, and spent over $300. I’ve been reflecting on the things that have I have access to that make running easier – money to buy gear, safe outdoor areas to run, and a washer/dryer in my apartment for washing stinky clothes.

I took a break for a week for a family visit in August, and then started up again right after that. It’s feeling good, and on my most recent run in particular I had all the gear I needed, had figured out how to use the music player successfully in the training app, and so was finally able to just get out there and run. At this stage it’s still actually alternating between walking and running, but by the end of week 8 I’m hoping that I’ll be able to run 5K. Stay tuned for more on my progress towards this goal over the next 6 weeks!


About me: Feminist, bisexual, LGBTQ health researcher, book lover, drummer, introvert.