217 Workouts in 2017: #101

Sam and I (along with our friend Joh and a bunch of random facebook people) are doing a challenge of doing 217 workouts in 2017.  Sam did it last year (216 in 2016), and wrote earlier this year about her experience and trying to figure out “what counts” as a workout. Sam took a very philosophical tack on the question back in January, connecting the question to the Trolley Problem (which reared its head this week, weirdly enough, in my binge watch of this season’s Orange is the New Black.  Philosophy is everywhere!).  My definition is less theoretical, but last Friday I logged my 100th workout, and was reflecting on how clear “what counts” has become for me.

The terms of the group itself are fairly ambiguous:

“WHAT: The idea is simple. In 2017 there are 365 days. We are going to challenge ourselves to work out 217 times in those 365 days…. 

HOW: (1)Workouts are defined as any form of deliberate exercise/movement. Some examples are, lifting weights, doing gymnastics, a CrossFit WOD, a hike in the great outdoors, practising a martial art or yoga. Taking a dance class or playing rec softball with the folks from work also count. Do what inspires you to move your body.


The image is Cate, a middle aged white woman in a bike helmet, on a break in the middle of a 60 km bike ride last Sunday in Ottawa, looking out over the Rideau River.  She needs more sunblock on that chest.

The group is also simple — we log our workouts in a short sentence, occasionally with a photo.  Sometimes people like each other’s posts.  That’s it.

The simple counting is strangely motivating for me.  The only time I’ve kept track of my workouts before was years ago when I was training for marathons, and that was more of an “am I following my program?” assessment.  This is just… stacking up a list.  And even in this world of strava, fitbits and garmins, I find a simple #97 hot 5K run in middle of day sort of seals a sense of accomplishment for me.  And if I haven’t logged anything for a couple of days, I have a nagging sensation that I need to move my body.  I know in my gut that I NEED to work out for my soul and body to function well, but other winters I have fudged that knowledge many times, letting 3 or 4 days drift between runs or trips to the gym.  This challenge has built in accountability for me — if I have to scroll down too far to find my previous post, it’s been too long. That’s my rule.

I think what I like most about this is that there is a loose external structure — a FB group, a number goal, other people doing it too — but everything else is personal.  You get to decide what counts for you as a workout.  That’s it.  Some people count every 2 or 3 km dogwalk, some people only count if they sweat.  There are no objective “rules.”

Sam and I have a similar approach to “what counts” — we count intentional episodes of working out but generally don’t count everyday movement.  That means we don’t count meeting our basic step count targets or short cycling commutes.  For us, that’s not working out, that’s just living our lives.  We count the things we wouldn’t be doing anyway.

Most counting is straightforward:  one episode of activity counts as one workout.  An episode could be a 3 km run or an 18 km run. One workout.  Going to the gym is one episode, even if I ran on the treadmill and did weights.  But — if I ran in the morning and then went to the gym in the afternoon, I’d count that as two workouts — because it was two different episodes of engaging in activity.

IMG_4564 (1)

Image of a bike on a rainy city street: this is an example of an episode of cycle commuting I counted as a workout, because I was soaking wet and freezing the entire ride home, yet I didn’t hop on the streetcar or into a cab.

This does create some grey areas.  Most of my cycling commutes total about 10 km a day, on pretty flat roads, in the city.  I don’t count that as a workout (though I do count it toward my yearly mileage in the saddle).  Other people might.  This is a very “you do you” situation.  However, I HAVE counted that 10 km cycling commute if it was really rainy or windy, because then it becomes an out-of-the-ordinary episode of mobility — although I usually count this as half a workout.  I might count two days of commuter cycling as a workout if I also threw in a few extra stairclimbs, or some pushups.  I don’t usually count hitting 10,000 steps in a day unless I exceed the 10K and it’s combined with a cycling commute.  And I’ve counted 12 or 13000 steps if it also involved moving boxes or lots of stairs, and certainly 15,000+ steps if I marched around a city for hours. I counted an hour of dancing at a wedding one night after I’d already gone on a long bike ride.  Other people have different frames of reference — again, you do you — I’m not going to weigh in on whether I think something constituted a workout for someone else.

In management theory, there is a concept called “felt fair pay,” which suggests that employees have an “innate” sense of appropriate compensation for their work, and the closer you get to that amount, the better motivation.  The theorist behind this  had a lot of crackpot ideas, but in my experience, when we’re engaged deeply in any initiative — whether it’s work or working out — we develop a “gut” sense of what feels fair.  I’ve determined that for me, working out is mostly defined in terms everyone would recognize as a workout — a yoga class, a run, a long bike ride — but there is also this gut sense of “it’s a workout if I added something somewhat strenuous to my day, especially if adding it felt like some kind of effort.”

I like this little challenge, and the completist in me is determined to hit the 217 target.  It’s simple, it’s flexible and I like the data:  I’ve worked out 101 times so far this year. In the movement department, I’m taking care of myself.  Gold star for me.


On NOT doing the race

Susan posted yesterday about her first half marathon.   Despite health challenges and some loneliness in her training (which she wrote about last week) — spoiler alert —  she did great and looked radiant in her pics at the end.

Like Susan, I signed up for a race on impulse last winter — my first duathlon.  Also scheduled for last Sunday.  But unlike Susan, I didn’t do mine.  And I’m okay with that.

I’m not much of a racer or an organized event athlete.  When I first started running more than two decades ago, I did a lot of races, and lived in the world of PRs and complex training and this-half-marathon-as-prep-for-that-marathon.  I was reasonably fast and I liked getting faster and having milestones in the calendar to gear up for.  I felt great finding where I placed in the overall field, setting targets.

But then I injured myself, and did a big marathon anyway (it’s BOSTON!  I’m signed up! I have to do it!), and pretty much hooped myself from serious running ever again.  (Boring knee stuff, still waiting for the magical cartilage-fixing goop I keep imagining is just around the corner).

I took up road biking when I couldn’t run much anymore, and for more than 10 years, have been alternating between running two or three times a week, spinning and lots of long rides.  Half-arsed weights and occasional yoga classes.  I do events — last year’s Friends for Life Bike Rally, and the Triadventure that supports the project in Uganda I volunteer for.  But these aren’t races and timing isn’t a thing.

I’ve only “raced” twice in the past 10 years — a 10K about 4 years ago, and a very wet half marathon 3 years ago, both on Toronto island.  I ran those more for the fun of running on the island and having something to shape my workouts around, without any intentions around time.

And — even though I had no expectations around time, and although I know I’m 52 and could never compete with my 35 year self’s PRs, even a “well run race” feels… flat. It was an accomplishment to do a strong half-marathon, but I’ll never come near my best time again.  No matter how much I rationalize it, races that echo my younger self feel like a letdown.

So I just don’t really do them.  I set distance targets on my bike (150 km for Canada 150, anyone?) and learn how to fix my bike, and make myself run even when this spring’s everloving wind just won’t. calm. down.  I engage in generative challenges like the 217 workouts in 2017 facebook group (I’m at number 94).  But generally, I don’t race.

Some of the people around me have become racier as we’ve gotten older.  One of my former marathon training partners was recently national duathlon champion in his age group, and one of my best friends took up ski racing at 50.  Most of the contributors to this blog write a lot about their races, and what racing means to them. Races can provide shape to your training, motivate you, and give you a sense of community and momentum.

But… they just don’t, for me, much, anymore. And that’s okay.

The other day Sam wrote about how she doesn’t really like riding alone, and I commented that in many ways, I prefer it.  I love a ride with a good group or good company, and like feeling pushed to go faster and further.  I like riding and chatting and catching up.  But I also ride to stretch my inner self as much as my outer, and that’s easier when it’s quiet and just me and my bike and the road.  Riding alone has more flexibility — I don’t have to haul myself across the city to meet people for an early start, or deal with the inevitable execrable traffic when the ride is done and the cars are out and it takes three times as long to get home.  And my life is over-scheduled and over-structured, and just hopping on my bike when I feel like it is sometimes the most generative thing I can do.

So why did I even sign up for a duathlon?

For all the reasons above — to keep me moving through the winter, to give my training some impetus and shape, and to make me engage with myself as an athlete a little differently.  And it did those things.  I’ve done 25 spin classes since January, and got out in my running shoes at least twice a week, even if only for 3 km.  That’s way better than any winter workout results for the past 10 years for me.  I rode with Sam and Sarah a couple of weeks ago and was surprised to find that the hills were a piece of cake because of the spinning.  I feel fitter going into the summer than I have in years.  And I was looking forward to fusing the running and riding, just to see what was possible.


photo depicts Georgia, the cutest kitten in the world

But then, the same day Sam and Sarah and I rode 82 km, I also went to a wedding and danced too hard in bare feet. My metatarsals and knees ached all week.  Then I impulsively adopted a teeny tiny kitten that needed hand feeding.

Then on Friday night before the race I realized that the Ride for Heart was closing all possible avenues for me to get to the race in Milton, an hour away at the best of times.  I made the call not to do the race, and instead, went for a spontaneous, relaxed 32 km ride on Saturday with a friend.

We stood at the end of Leslie Spit looking at the water and the boats quietly for a few minutes in the middle of our two loops.  “I needed this,” my friend said.  “Me too.”

Sunday morning, I woke up to menstrual cramps and cold pouring rain, and felt Very Wise for my decision. I fed the cats and thought I’d lie down a bit more . I slept until 11 pm.  My body knew what I needed.

Sometimes what you need is a race.  Sometimes you don’t.  You just need to listen.




Embracing the role of Auntie

cate and smithAs this posts, I will be in the air, on my 10th trip to Uganda since 2008.  A decade ago, I accidentally ended up one of the volunteer directors of a learning and development program called Nikibasika, for kids and youth with no family support.  Now, I’m part of a tiny group that raises all the funds and supports this group of kids as they transition through post-secondary school and into adulthood and community leadership.  This picture is of me, with Smith, one of my favourite people in the world.  He’s studying to be a public health officer and he’s curious, kind, warm, caring and so smart and committed to changing his world.  I love him.

Nikibasika is a long and involved story of its own — a book, really — but what I want to focus on here is the identity that’s emerged for me doing this work over the past 10 years — Auntie.

I never really had much of an identity related to the fact that I don’t have kids.  I never really yearned to be a mom, but I didn’t deliberately “choose” not to be one either.  I’ve noticed the emergence over the past couple of decades of women who actively identify as “childfree,” a “movement” of women redefining femaleness without the expectation of kids. That’s all great and interesting — but I can’t relate to it.  I assumed I would have some kids, I happened to be with someone who didn’t want kids during prime kid-having years, that was okay.  It didn’t have a big impact on my sense of self.

Then Nikibasika found me, in a culture where women who are mom-age in any nurturing role are called Auntie.  Around the same time, my sister had her first daughter. So as I entered my 40s, the role of Auntie found me.  At first, it was just an affectionate title.  But as I’ve gone through my 40s and into my 50s, it’s actually become a central element of my sense of who I am.

It’s pretty well understood that being an Auntie can be a special role, the one who gets to do fun things with the kids, “hand them back when they’re crying,” be the safe space for the conversations adolescents can’t have with their parents.  Community and family advocate Mia Birdsong has said that aunties “expand children’s internal and external boundaries,” and I like to hope that that’s what I do with the people I’m auntie to — at least some of the time.

I took my 12 year niece to London for a few days over Easter, and the time inhabiting each other’s space had a unique intimacy to it. She sent me a handwritten thank you letter that said “London is awesome and I’m so glad I got to share my first time going with you.”  I’m grateful for what I got from her in those five days too.

I have an Auntie role with some of my friends’ kids too, especially my friend Jessica’s. I was there at the beginning of her precipitous and early labour, I drove her and her partner back and forth to the NICU while the twins baked into humanness, I drove their tiny selves home from the hospital for the first time. In February, I got to spend a few days with Ivan and Felix (and their parents) in Barbados, introducing them to the sea.

Why am I writing about this in a fitness blog?  Like many of the regulars on this blog, I have written a few times about how community and family are an important part of self-care, and important part of balanced health. The extension of that for me, particularly as I’ve gotten older, is a really explicit need to live with a sense of meaning.

A few years ago, I was in a hotel room in Rwanda reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Committed, and serendipitously came across her musing on the need for aunties: “It’s as though, as a species, we need an abundance of responsible, compassionate, childless women to support the wider community in various ways.”   Right that moment, I understood that even though I hadn’t set out to “be Auntie” to the kids of Nikibasika, it isn’t just “a thing I do,” but one of the ways I get to live into the person I most aspire to be.

For me, Auntie is one of the ways that I’m living this stage of my life in a generative way, to use Erik Erikson’s phrasing for the 7th psychosocial stage of development. Erikson’s theory was that mid-life can either be a time of stagnation and self-absorption, or  it can be a time of “generativity” — i.e., working to creating a better world.  “Auntie” captures that perfectly.

I didn’t set out to make a 15 year commitment to a group of kids and young adults in a country I had no ties in.  Running an NGO in another country as volunteer isn’t for the faint of heart, and the fundraising and operations can get extremely wearying. But like everything that makes me more of who I am — whether it’s riding my bike really far, my work that challenges me, or improvising my way through this project, the day to day discomfort, pain and difficult moments fade into the background. What rises up is the purpose — the moments of profound connection, seeing the young adults who had no family support graduate from university, start businesses, get married, start volunteer projects in their own communities.

Over the next 10 days, I’ll be continuing to improv my way through this project.  I’ll be hot, and a little sick, and jet-lagged — and I’ll be fully in my grateful Auntie glory.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives in Toronto where she works as an educator and strategic change consultant in academic healthcare and other socially accountable spaces. She blogs here on the second Friday of every month. If you have a few dollars to support Nikibasika, you’ll get a tax receipt in Canada, and knowledge that it’s going straight to an amazing group of young adults:  donation link

Cardio-vélo à deux voix/ Spinning in two voices

Everyone who reads this blog knows that I am a bit spinning-crazed.  My friend Joh and I did the Bike Rally together last year, and now we go on workout dates. Last week, I dragged her to a fancy spinning studio for the first time.  I wanted to know how she felt about it, so we had an email conversation.  Joh is from Quebec and makes me step up and use my French, so here is our conversation, in two voices, hers in French and mine in English — Cate


Hi Joh — so I took you spinning in a real “spinning studio” for the first time last night.  I looked at you red-faced and damp at the end of class and thought, “I need to hear how this was for her.”  What did you think?

Pour moi, les dix premiers kilomètres sont toujours très ardus, que ce soit sur la route ou en cardiovélo. Ce fut le cas hier soir, lorsque j’ai cru devoir abandonner au début… jusqu’à ce que je réalise que j’approchais le fameux 10 km où je prends mon second souffle.

That’s interesting that you had the same experience with spinning as you do on the road.  What happened when you got your “second wind”?

C’est alors que j’ai réellement commencé à avoir du plaisir, à entrer dans le jeu, à apprécier la pénombre et la musique, à pousser et tirer sur les pédales au rythme de celle-ci sans réfléchir à autre chose que d’écouter les instructions et de porter mon attention sur les deux chiffres au cadran (de tour/minute et de watts). Ceci a duré pour les prochaines 20 prochaines minutes, jusqu’à ce que l’instructeur, Brian, nous demande (ou plutôt, nous intime l’ordre) de nous lever.

I’m glad you found the fun of it — you know I love the fact that it feels like a game or a party.  There IS pleasure in pushing yourself this hard with the music flowing through you.  How did you feel about the way Brian structures the class?  He can be a bit … bossy, lol. 

C’est alors que l’instructeur, Brian, nous a demandé (ou plutôt, nous a ordonné) de nous lever. J’ai obéi pour la première ronde, mais au moment de répéter l’exercice, la rebelle en moi s’est exprimée : il est malade, pas question! Je déteste me lever sur les pédales et en plus, j’ai terriblement peur à mes genoux. Et je me dis que ce n’est pas quelque chose que je fais sur la route, donc à quoi bon m’y exercer en cardiovélo!

I actually think that’s really important — you have to listen to your own body and do what feels right.  I think that’s something I wish everyone understood about spinning or any kind of class — there is this combination between the group pressure of everyone pushing you, which I really find motivating — and you also that you just do what feels right.  If you feel like standing doesn’t work for you or hurts your knees, don’t stand!  How did that work for you?

À la place, chaque fois que la classe se levait, j’augmentais mes rotations et je gardais la cadence à plus de 100 tours/minute, comme un sprint. Tout en espérant qu’il ne m’interpellerait pas devant les autres… et puis, si ç’avait été le cas, j’aurais prétendu ne pas avoir bien compris les instructions… en souhaitant que mon accent français serait assez convaincuant! Mais non, il m’a laissé tranquille et les intervalles se sont poursuivis, ainsi que le fil de mes pensées : assis-debout-sprint-augmente la tension-diminue la tension et on recommence… combien de temps reste-t-il? Est-ce une classe de 45 minutes ou de 50 minutes? Est-ce que je vais me rendre jusqu’au bout? Ah, quelqu’un vient de partir… mais non, pas moi. Je vais terminer ceci, à tout prix! J’aurais besoin d’une autre serviette, la mienne est toute trempée déjà.

LOL — you have captured exactly the same inner dialogue I have during every class.  In many classes, I’m arguing with myself about whether I could actually just get up and leave or not. But you stayed!  

Eh oui, je suis restée, tout en me disant qu’il faut être masochiste sur les bords, et que l’instructeur doit être un peu sadique. Mais, en même temps, que c’est relaxant de ne pas penser à autre chose que ces deux chiffres, répéter les coups de pédale, suivre le rythme de la musique, regarder le tableau de bord et me comparer aux autres participants.

I think you just hit that exact moment of presence that really makes spinning work for me — the numbers seem abstract, but they give you something to fix on and stay focused.  Like an object of meditation. And everything just gets very…. now.  

I know you’re strong, but I was impressed at how you stayed in it.  I tried not to look at you too much but I did look at your numbers on the screen up above the class.  You were very … persistent, lol.  How did you feel at the end?

Vers la fin, j’ai été surprise de l’annonce du dernier sprint. Déjà? Yé! J’ai réussi! Je vais monter ça à 125 tours/minute pour terminer en puissance! Et voilà, c’est fini!! Je suis trempée de bord en bord, essoufflée, rouge, mais souriante et heureuse.

Thanks for playing with me ;-).  Will you come again?

Absolument! J’ai assez aimé l’expérience pour la répéter! Quand est-ce qu’on y retourne? 🙂

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives in Toronto where she works as an educator and strategic change consultant in academic healthcare and other socially accountable spaces. She blogs here on the second Friday of every month.

Joh est traductrice (de l’anglais au français) et correctrice, originaire de Montréal et installée à Toronto depuis 2014, où elle a découvert un nouveau réseau d’amateurs de plein air et de sport. Elle pratique le vélo, la randonnée pédestre et le pilates aussi souvent que possible.

Keeping your bike healthy

I learned how to ride a bike when I was 7, when my dad and Howie Stolz, beers and Rothmans in hand, took me and the Stolz kids to the top of a hill in a German campground, balanced us on our bikes and let us fly downhill.  By the end of the weekend, knees embedded with gravel, we knew how to ride bikes.

My bike has been freedom, openness and adventure ever since. But despite riding for 45 years — 3500 km last year —  I’ve never been able to keep it healthy and running myself. But I’m planning a solo, unsupported trip this summer in the Baltics, and I finally had to come face to face with learning basic bike repair.  My 4.5 decade strategy of having reliable bikes, befriending people with skills, hoping for the best and knowing that I can always call someone to come and get me if things fall apart won’t work when I’m alone in Latvia and Estonia.  So.  I spent last Sunday in a one-on-one bike clinic with an amazing mechanic I met on the Bike Rally last year.


Alex is an excellent mechanic, a born teacher and just an all round lovely human.  We spent 6.5 intense hours together, and I felt like my bike was slowly peeled apart and revealed for me.  I was literally and emotionally given the tools to move into an empowered, more intimate relationship with it.

I’m not remotely mechanically inclined. I’m also a total klutz. I once punched myself in the mouth and made it bleed trying to put a tire back on after changing a flat. (I also recently dropped a cup of coffee in my work bag and destroyed all of my electronics, but that’s another story).  So I’ve always engaged in bike maintenance with some indifference, a little fear, and a high sense of incompetence.  I oil my chain and keep the tires pumped, can put a chain back on on a ride, and once adjusted my gear cables. But as much as possible, I outsource my bike care.

Until now. Last weekend, I learned and did a 7 point A-B-C-D safety check (an intense 2 hours), adjusted my brakes, learned how to adjust my gears using three different points on the bike, created and fixed a flat, fixed a broken chain, replaced a spoke and trued a wheel by carefully adjusting spokes.  I completely changed a brake cable, adjusted the headset, and learned how to tape my handlebars.

IMG_3771Several times, I felt like the bike was inside out. We pulled the handlebars and stem RIGHT OFF the fork, and I felt actual anxiety when the handlebars and cables dangled down over the front.  But I also *felt* my bike in completely new ways.  By running my fingers down every cable and housing and threading them back into their slots, I felt like I was finding my bike’s veins. By pulling on the cables and derailleur gently and watching the gears shift, feeling the exact moment where the tension wasn’t perfect, I felt a new flow, the real connection between clicking the gear shifts and the bike’s response.  Gently tightening and loosening to find one spoke after another until the wheel spun evenly was meditative, truth in my fingertips.

A bike is physics, and craft, and engineering, and magic. The spokes act in tension and compression to distribute the weight of the bike and the person as it moves forward without allowing the wheel to squish — but there is, apparently, still a debate about exactly how this works.  Looking at the bearings on the inside of the wheel axle, I understood in my hips how balance happens when you’re pedaling. By feeling the layers of how the chain links slip effortlessly together, how to tighten them, I had a little physical sensation of movement.

IMG_3761There was a lot of laughing, and I had a lot of “ahas.” What felt scary and foreign became intimate.  Alex taught me mountain biker tricks about how to get “back to camp” even when your bike has been, basically, run over by a car, by twisting spokes together and whacking the wheel back into something approximating round. She broke me of my lifelong habit of trying to adjust both sides of the quick release wheel at once when putting it back on, explaining that the little acorn nut is the only one that really moves, and you don’t have to worry about the balance. (This will change my life — I take my wheel off a LOT). She also explained that it’s my habit of changing trying to shift the gears too hard on hills that makes my chain fall off so often — that I should just look ahead and start out in a gear closer to something I can sustain.  Changed. My. Life.

By the end of the day, I felt a tiny bit of shame that I had waited so long to try to understand my bike like this.  It feels like I’ve taken my bikes for granted my whole life, deriving huge pleasure and trust in them without bothering to really get to know them. Feeling a bike from the inside out, gaining intimacy and familiarity with parts I’ve literally never looked at — it makes me feel like I’m honouring what my bikes have given me. Bikes are miracles and deserve care.  And knowing how to listen differently, know what that noise means, how to respond to things that could go wrong out in the world, how to care for the parts —  makes me feel more intrepid, like anything is possible.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives in Toronto where she works as an educator and strategic change consultant in academic healthcare and other socially accountable spaces. She blogs here on the second Friday of every month.  If you’re interested in deepening your own relationship with your bike, leave a comment and she will hook you up with Alex, who does freelance coaching and repair instruction and riding skills workshops — and is awesome.  (Alex is also reachable on twitter at @legslegum).




What makes a good spinning class?

(This post has a soundtrack.  Click here or go to mixcloud.com and search George Chaker. Click any of the spinning mixes and play it while you read).


Spinning that feels like a dance party.  That’s George, at Torq ride.  I’ve been spinning, off and on, for about 18 years, and I recently discovered George.  He’s a DJ and a fitness guy and probably my favourite spinning instructor I’ve ever had.  He has just the right blend of presence, push and trust in the class.  George starts out moving fast and it just gets faster. No pauses, very little recovery of any kind.  But I do it and leave the class feeling incredible. Here’s what happens in my head when I’m in one of George’s classes:

I like the dark… that music is fantastic … RPMs not at 85, go harder, find the beat of the music, push harder, those watts are climbing…135… 149… 187… 201… reach harder… 210 … 201… 202… this is crazy but my body is keeping up… are my knees okay?   The guy next to me is keeping time by beating his hand on his handlebars… he’s so into it… up out of the saddle — form… 3 position, core, form… music …pedal harder… 35 km/hr… 241 watts… 30 second push… 335 watts… tension off, keep pedalling, stay at 85…That guy next to me is moaning… how is it george pushes us like this.  this was a terrible class to forget to grab a towel — my hands are slipping off the bars… use your shirt… everything is slidey… everything feels strong and breathless.. 5 more minutes… one more push… 334… oof… that guy is moaning again…push push push omg that felt so good 


This photo depicts a row of barely visible people on spinning bikes in a dimly lit room.

50 minutes pass and I’m working in the hardest zone possible for the whole time.  I hop off the bike, stretch, dripping sweat.  I wash my hands, leave the studio and check my phone, clicking my email to get my performance numbers.

Screen Shot 2017-03-25 at 3.44.00 PM.png

That’s a good spinning class, 50 minutes that feel like a dance party, where you actually sing out loud with the ironic dance mix of You are my Sunshine at the end of the class.

I had a class this week that was the opposite.  I won’t name the teacher, but the music was mediocre and played too loudly, and she kept shouting instructions over the music that I could never actually make out. Here’s what I was thinking in her class:

I hate it when the teacher frames the class as “you’re going to hate me” — I want to be on a team with the teacher, not set up to hate my own sense of movement. Why is she pressuring us to hit these watts right out of the gate — this is actually hurting my knees.  She’s a much bigger person than I am — does she think someone my size can actually do that?  That music is so loud it hurts my ears.  What the hell is she shouting now? How long is this push supposed to be?  Or is this a sprint?  Where is the torq stick supposed to be?  How much longer in this stupid class?  Shit we’re only 15% done.  I’ll just click the stage button so I can’t actually see how much time has elapsed… that music is so loud it’s actually damaging my hearing… fuck, what would happen if I just stopped right now… how much longer… can I still count this as a workout if I stop after 30 minutes… were we supposed to end that segment with the end of that song?  She’s not really keeping track. Oof my knees hurt, why is my foot all twitchy?  Fuck 5 more minutes, I can hang on.

Here’s the thing:   on the numbers, I actually hit similar levels in her class as George’s. But the experience of being in George’s class leaves me euphoric, completely present to the ecstasy of driving music and moving my body in unison with 25 other sweating, pushing people in the dark.  We’re together, and strong.  I believe I can do anything and I push for it. It doesn’t feel like an “exercise class” — it feels like deeply grappling with my strength and a deep pleasure and what’s possible.


This photo is a sandwich board with the message PUSH: Persist Until Something Happens

And so, I go back. And I get stronger.

Spinning doesn’t need to be a spiritual experience.  I have some deep skepticism about things like Soul Cycle,  which claims to “change lives,” not just bodies.  Torq is inspiration-lite, the sandwich board outside the only real “messaging.”

But every instructor has a philosophy that seeps through. The ones that don’t work for me?  Now you can go to brunch and have a mimosa with a clear conscience… This will make up for going out for St. Patrick’s day… You’re going to hate me…

The ones that work?  Like George, they’re about strength and being in your body.  Use this class to get out the stuff that’s bugging you.  Find your own road and dig just a little deeper.  We’re all doing this together — you can push each other just a little harder.  

Some instructors let you dig deeper than others.  And in a week where I’m in my head way too much, where I am in charge of too many things, putting myself on a bike and letting George create the soundscape and rhythm for my life for an hour takes me somewhere important.

cate new hairFieldpoppy is Cate Creede, a regular contributor to the blog. (Look for her the second Friday of every month).  She lives in Toronto, where she is a strategic change consultant and educator working mostly in healthcare spaces.  She also blogs at fieldpoppy.wordpress.com.


Running in Barbados

I’m running. My shoulders are hot with the sun, and the road is busy and the pavement is uneven and I don’t know where I’m going.

I’m running slowly, quite gently.  My toes are blistered for some inexplicable reason. My feet probably swelled on the flight, and I haven’t had enough water, and we walked to a fish fry last night through the hot dark night in the wrong shoes. Jessica wanted to show me a house for sale on the water, and I just couldn’t bear to walk another 200 metres.

I’m running in Barbados, the miracle of a 5 hour cramped flight on a rickety plane from Toronto, being decanted here on the swirl of turquoise sea. Jessica has been doing workshops here with local women, and her partner is here with their tiny twins, and I’ve joined them for a few days. A few bonus vacation days sliced right out of the middle of an incredibly busy time.


I’m running after a 12 hour sleep, because my body and mind have been tuckered out from an intense work season, and I need to find my soul. My body is slow, and my feet hurt, and I’m hot, and I needed to use my inhaler this morning. Getting up and out of the air bnb place — not fancy (“it’s like we’re rich students,” says J), but right on the white sand aqua sea beach — was an effort. It would be easy to sit in the sand and let the lassitude take over.

I’m running because it’s one of the ways I explore a new place, and it makes me feel grateful in every cell. Grateful for my body that works, even if it’s more of an effort than ever before and I woke with a sore knee.  Plus the blisters. Grateful for a life where I have enough privilege, time, resources, support to take a few days off without much fanfare. (Trying to ignore the emails that are reminding me of what’s not done). Grateful for a life where I get to put my self into so many new corners of the world, find them.

I’m running because it’s the only way I would see these streets with just the tiniest hint of how someone who lives here might. Narrow sidewalks, having to veer constantly into the traffic when someone has pushed the boundaries of their property right to the edge of the road. The heat of midday, where a man is sleeping in a bus shelter, his fancy running shoes on the ground beside him.

I’m running never more than 100m from the ocean on this road, but I only see it in tiny glimpses, the wall of hotels and big houses sealing off the view. Down one idyllic lane, I see the ocean gesturing…. and a man is efficiently peeing against a wall. I notice the proliferation of Canadian banks, and global fast food places, and the number of places that have the same style signage as the place we’re staying. One local sign maker, I guess.

I’m running, looking for the boardwalk I was told was down here, and I see it behind a KFC. I’ve been running five km already, and I was planning on 7 — and I finally find true paradise, wide big waves, finally out of the traffic, my water bottle empty, my body aching with the heat. At the end of the boardwalk, I know I’m courting sunstroke, so I walk up a few steps to the pool deck of a fancy hotel and ask a server if I can please have some water. She brings an iced pitcher.  I express my gratitude, conscious of the privilege of looking like a white tourist, knowing that the guy selling bracelets on the beach can’t truck up here, wild-eyed and sweaty, and be greeted with ice water and encouragement.

I’m running, the last kilometre or so, counting up the places I’ve been lucky enough to run. All over Canada and the US, in the desert and in cool ominous mountains. Iceland, Norway, Prague, Rome, the Philippines, Uganda. Cornered by wild dogs in the ancient plains of Bagan in Myanmar. The incredible panorama of the ocean in Capetown where I had to beg a stranger for sunblock, the long dirt road in the Pantanal in Brazil where caimans — a kind of alligator — crowded close to the edge of the road, looking at me. The uneven streets of Kigali, Rwanda, where I tripped and hurt my knee. Getting lost my first day in Auckland, befuddled with jet lag. Laos, Vietnam, Germany. All of the places, windy and hot and frozen and drizzly, all new, trotted through on foot, absorbed and felt and explored. Every one of those runs suffused with recognition of how lucky I am to have the life I do.

IMG_3253]I’m running, not fast, and there is a lot of aching. I’m 52, and I’ve slowed down. I ate way too much last night at the fish fry and my blood was thick with the sweetness of a couple of rum and cokes. But when I stop, and get on the bus filled with locals to head back, apologizing for my sweatiness, bare shoulders, I feel I found something I can’t find bobbing in that glorious ocean, sitting on the beach.

Back at the place we are staying, I play with Ivan, one of the twins. He rolled completely over by himself for the first time this morning. He’s frustrated, wanting more from his body than his body is delivering right now.  We eat beans and rice and salted fish, and dip in the ocean.  Later there will be ice cream.