Are you in a slump? How’s that feeling for you?

Slump: that thing where you just can’t find the … enh <waving hand vaguely> stuff to embrace movement with gusto. Or at all.

I was in a slump a couple of weeks ago. For the first time since I started doing the “217 workouts in 2017,” I didn’t think about tracking movement. For days at a time. For 10 days, in fact. I did some things during that time, but they were so incidental that they felt kind of meaningless.

This is what I felt like — like someone had taken me out for a bike ride and I just wanted to take a nap.

I had no energy to move my body, no motivation to head out the door even when I knew it would make me feel better, and even when I did do some things — a yoga class, a short run, a walk — I felt no joy or grit or satisfaction in completing it. And I even did a thing I might have only done about 3 times in my 26 years as a runner: I got my running clothes on on a lovely evening, got a block out the door and just thought, “enh, whatever” and turned around and went home.

When I finally got my shit together to post about it on the 221 in 2021 group, several other people commented that they had also been struggling. I noticed that — like me — a lot of people weren’t actually NOT MOVING — it isn’t a full “I’m not even putting on the workout clothes” slump. But they are moving less, and feeling unmotivated to do so even when they know it will make them feel better. And even the movement they ARE doing isn’t as restorative as they want it to be. Tracy called it a slumpmentality. Which I define as: “I’m still moving because it’s a habit and a thing I do, but I’m not striving and it’s highly unmotivating and I’m doing the bare minimum.”

Well, it is the third wave of a pandemic. And the allure of spring isn’t quite the same thing when you’re back in full lockdown and your hospitals are crammed to the gills. And I — like a lot of people — am just bone tired. Weary of screens, weary of the sameness, weary with endlessly long work hours and weary with 14 months of deep anxiety hanging over me. (Not to mention the menopausal and feline sleep disruption).

So. What are the other bloggers’ perspectives?

As Martha put it, in simple terms: I am not sure where to start except to say I am very, very tired.

Sam is overloaded too: For me it’s been work exhaustion. I’m working 12 hour days and feeling exhausted. Sleep comes first and so I miss out on exercise. But still I feel better if I do do something so I’ve been aiming for shorter workouts, dog walks. Sometimes that helps. But I also get sad about missing the harder things. Even if I only miss a few days in a row here and there, they feel like slumps since normally working out is a thing I love.

Sam also added: I also feel like I got hit by a truck after being vaccinated! I never have a response to vaccines not even shingrix which everyone warned me about. I ache all over, headaches and sleepy. Also dealing with various work and family crises. Ugh.

Tracy says I was in such a slump that I didn’t even have the motivation to blog about it or find my way out of it through a post about “starting small.” In fact I think I didn’t want out of it quite yet. But I’ve made it through to the other side and the Apple Watch helped. More on that Friday.

Catherine shared her experience of anxiety during the pandemic. I’ve had a series of slumps over the pandemic, especially difficulty in leaving my house. A combination of imposed advisories, fewer incentives (no movies, theater, church, dining out, etc), increased workload and decreased work boundaries, plus massively increased anxiety, which I suffer from in the best of times, has meant that I haven’t walked or ridden nearly as much as I wanted or needed for my own well-being.I have wonderful and attentive friends who encourage me to come outside with them, and that’s helped. I also have friends who have done zoom yoga with me, which also helps. But pandemic-exacerbated insomnia has also taken a toll on my energy and drive. Blech.

Bettina is also trying to balance work, a tiny person and lockdown reality: For me it’s totally work and family-related, but I’m definitely in a slump. The long walks I manage to take on the weekends are nice, but I just can’t get a long, hard workout in – a bike ride, or even better a swim since pools are still closed – the way I used to.

Diane finds a lot of motivation in her group of friends: I have had slumpy days, but they don’t last long because I have a network of friends to check in with. It’s hard to go more than a couple of days before someone calls to ask about a walk or a swim. Scheduled, pre-paid classes help me a lot too. There are times I would do nothing without them.

Nicole’s habit of fitness is serving her well, as she wrote about yesterday: There are three things that I think always keep me going: 1. Knowing I will feel better at end of workout and not feeling ok if I don’t. 2. Fear of family health history catching up to me. 3. Being a creature of habit and having an engrained habit.

She added: I have a couple colleagues who work out regularly and who say they just can’t right now. I worry about them as I think it’s a sign of depression if they usually can and can’t bring themselves to now. I don’t think tips help people in that state. I think it’d be best to speak to a doctor in that case. [Editorial note: I agree. If you’re finding yourself completely unable to move, and this is new, talk to your doctor or your therapist].

For Sam, three smaller bites of movement and projecting forward into what her body will be able to do in the future. 1. I need to remind myself that small things count–yoga before bed counts, knee physio counts, dog walks count. Not everything needs to be a 1 hour strength workout or a massive effort on Zwift. 2. It also helps me to think about plans I’ve made for the summer and getting/staying in shape to do those things. 3. Finally company helps. Lifting with my son or talking walks with others. 

My cats know how to exercise in short bursts and then just chill.

So what helps?

For Catherine, it’s seeing some light at the end of a long dark year and going slowly. Now that the weather is warmer and brighter, life is getting better. Vaccination is a real boon—I’ll be traveling to see family and can hug my mom for the first time in over a year. De-slumping won’t happen overnight. I’m trying to be happy with myself for getting through this period as intact as I am, with structure and support and means and plans for biking and hiking and swimming and paddling. And then there’s this pickle-ball thing, which I may check out.

Child’s pose IS yoga.

For me, it’s letting myself rest — yes, a walk counts as movement, dammit, and so does cleaning up my deck. It’s trying to go to bed earlier. And it’s a little novelty. Livestreaming a new yoga teacher, walking on streets I’ve never been on before. I fell into a real slump about continuing to work my way through all the zwift routes when all of the remaining 11 were well over 90 minutes and the appeal of indoor cycling has waned as the weather has warmed up. So today, I signed up for a livestream spin class from my usual studio, and ran zwift in the background to get half a route done while taking my cues from Jill, an instructor I like. (It backfired, though! Something went wrong when I paused zwift for a few minutes to get more water and it skipped over part of the route and then after toiling away for almost 1:45 hours, I didn’t get the badge! ARGH!)

I’ve also fallen into capitalist solutions. Although I’d resisted the very idea until now, Tracy’s new apple watch gave me impulse-purchase itchy fingers. I’m tracking it in the mail. And I’m about to hit go on new workout shoes I don’t really need.

What about you? Are you in a slump? What is helping?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who has let herself rest in places as diverse as a barbeque joint in Texas and a yurt camp in Kyrgyzstan.


Wear a mask, get a vax, part 2

This is part two of the FIFI blogger group’s current dialogue about anti-vaxxers/anti-maskers in the fitness community. Part 1 was Cate’s rant, published this morning.

So this happened: Quebec city gym linked to more than 400 cases of COVID-19, with one death possibly coming out of that cluster.

This comes just as we as a blog community are exploring anti-mask and anti-vax stances within the fitness community. I captured my own perspective about it this morning; here I’m sharing the voices of some of the rest of the FIFI bloggers.

Diane set the tone by reminding us that collective and communal action is a natural instinct, not confined to humans:

I listened to an interesting piece this weekend on gorillas caring for orphaned babies. If an 800 lb silverback male can care lovingly for a toddler gorilla, surely humans can do the same to ensure survival of the community. Because most individual humans don’t survive without their community.

Christine added to this:

There’s a great anecdote about anthropologist Margaret Mead that really reflects my feelings on how to be part of a community.

When asked about the first signs of civilization, Mead didn’t reference leaps in technology, she said that the first sign of civilization was a well-healed femur (thigh bone) because it was an indication that someone took care of an injured member of their group and helped them survive until they could take care of themselves. She went on to say that we are at our best when we help others.

I’m determined to be part of that kind of civilization, that kind of community. I’m not here to prove my individuality, I’m part of a team of people trying to make sure we’re all okay.

Being part of that community, for us, is about actually soldiering on through our own discomfort to protect both ourselves and others. Martha said:

I’m claustrophobic and do not like masks (can’t even bear facials) but I wear mine regardless because the science is there to support mask wearing along with social distancing, handwashing/sanitizing, and short interactions. I am tired of anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers riding on the coattails of people like myself who assume the small risk vaccines may pose for small groups of the population but do it anyway to create herd immunity. It’s not a personal choice.

Christine added:

I understand that there are people with allergies or trauma that can’t wear masks or get vaccinated and I’m not trying to make them feel bad. I consider my mask and vaccination part of the overall plan to keep those people safe.

Nicole said the same thing: Short answer: I’ll wear a mask and I’ll get vaccinated because I think we are all in this together and I’m not willing to risk someone else’s life because something is slightly inconvenient for me.

That short answer for Nicole came from a longer, thoughtful analysis of the relationship between fitness, fitness communities, science and her recognition of her own role.

I believe in fitness. I believe it makes me significantly more mentally and physically healthy in important ways.

I also believe that I improve my overall well-being by being conscious of the food I eat.

I believe in the community I’ve been part of over the years, working out in small gyms. We may have different backgrounds, different sizes, different political beliefs. But, we generally see the best in each other through shared movement combined with sweat.

I really feel for the small business owners who have been most affected by the pandemic. Gyms have been especially hard hit. It hurts to see people I care about struggling and filled with anxiety about their passion and livelihoods.

But, seeing some of these people fall prey to the conspiracy theorists and “wellness truthers” is more upsetting. I can’t feel anything but anger when I see some people share memes about taking Zinc over vaccines, or suggesting that the pandemic has been made up, when I can also see 47 year old teachers dying from Covid-19. When health professionals are crying out of exhaustion and frustration at the reactionary tactics used by our government.

I believe in good science. I believe in supporting health professionals working their asses off to get us to the other side of the pandemic. I don’t support suggestions that fitness is a substitution for vaccines or that closing a business is as bad as losing your loved one to this virus.

An immunologist friend of mine emphasized this point even further today:

There’s a commercial machine linked to fitness that promulgates a slew of untrue beliefs about the immune system, how it works, and how best to help it along. As an immunologist, this specific kind of nonsense particularly irks me. Not long ago I read the medical literature on the topic of yoga and the immune system; I found only a handful of papers that had measured immunity in any meaningful way after people had devoted time to yoga, the outcomes were contradictory, and the measures employed easy to do but only tangentially linked to real immunity. So when a newly qualified yoga teacher boldly asserted that yoga “boosts the immune system”, and when I raised a question was told that “studies have shown”, I actually read the studies. Studies have not, in fact, shown.

Sam reminded us that this kind of faux science has a huge price on the most vulnerable people in our communities:

I’m getting super frustrated by a line of argument that I keep hearing during the pandemic, sometimes in the context of masks, sometimes in the context of vaccination, and sometimes in the context of opposition to closing gyms. It’s that fitness is more protective than any of the other measures–masks, vaccination, closures–and that fit healthy people shouldn’t pay the price that the old, the obese, and those with underlying health commissions are imposing on society.

First it’s just false! Lots of healthy fit people end up in hospital sometimes with long lasting post covid effects. Second, disability and age aren’t matters of personal responsibility. We’ll all age no matter how many push ups we can do. But third, it doesn’t matter. This is a matter of collective responsibility. Even if you’re not at risk, others are and you ought to care about that!

How are you navigating this tension in the fitness world?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is also very tired of lockdown, but is doing her part.


Where does anti-vax/anti-mask rhetoric fit into the fitness community?

(This is part one of a discussion about vaccines and masks and personal choice and the fitness community; part two, voices from all of the FIFI bloggers, will be published this afternoon).

I got my first covid vaccine jab last weekend. It came on top of a week — a month? a year? — of massive fatigue. That fatigue hasn’t gone away — as my colleague said, “rest, and give your body a chance to adjust to its fancy new medicine.”

I don’t know if my fatigue is vaccine-related, or seasonal allergies or just the culmination of the crush of the pandemic, increasingly burnt out clients, another full provincial lockdown just announced today. But what I do know is that my vaccine wasn’t “a personal choice” – and neither was it some moral failing because I haven’t worked out enough.

Catherine wrote a post last week that alluded to Marjorie Taylor Greene’s ridiculous assertion that crossfit will protect her from covid. There is persistent, rising buzz of moralistic discourse within the fitness and wellness community that if we “eat clean,” take supplements, work out and otherwise “keep our immune systems functioning,” we don’t need vaccines.

This perspective is everywhere, nudging its way to the surface. My chiropractor told my friend, who is also her client, that she’s not planning to get vaccinated “unless they require it for me to travel somewhere.” People I like regularly post comments about vaccines being “a personal choice.” This perspective — which I’ve heard in many places — piggybacks on the notion that masks are a “personal choice” — and which then falls into the incendiary rhetoric that anyone who follows a mask mandate is a “sheeple.” (Which people flew onto our facebook page to post after Catherine’s post last week).

The anti-mask/anti-vax discourse tends to fall into four interconnected categories:

  1. “I’m not scared, YOU are, I shouldn’t have to adjust my life based on your fear”
  2. “I take care of my body, if you don’t that’s not my problem”
  3. “You’re not the boss of me”
  4. “Science is just one of many belief systems, and I trust a different belief system more.”

There is a fifth zone, more in the vaccine hesitancy realm, that I have a lot more patience with: “I’m not opposed on principle to vaccines, but I am uncertain about this one because of the speed /I have X condition and I’m not sure if this will make it worse.” That is a different animal, from my point of view. But the more overt anti-vax, anti-mask perspectives engender some serious impatience in me.

It’s true, I’m not the boss of you. And science IS imperfect. And I don’t like being bossed around either. But all of this comes down to the notion that something that has a profound collective impact — herd immunity, protecting people from random illness and maybe death — is an individual choice.

I wonder how all of those nose-dick maskers reconcile the fact that the covid test is LITERALLY A SWAB UP YOUR NOSE

My mother always said “my right to swing my arm stops where your face begins.” And I think we are in a space where many people literally don’t understand where each other’s face begins. We are literally in a place where we cannot control the swing of a potential virus flying out of our mouths (and noses, all you nose-dick maskers). If you aren’t managing that virus flying out of your face, it’s going to hit me in the face. And much as I WISH I could sheer will-away or hug-away or cross-fit away or vitamin-D and zinc-away the impact that virus is going to have on me, I cannot. I work out every day, I’m a fit person, I eat well, I take vitamin D and probiotics, I’m the person who insists on taking the stairs whenever I can — but I also have asthma, and every year for the past decade, except for this past year of isolation and harm reduction, I’ve had at least one virus that made me so ill I couldn’t function, and then lingered in the form of a cough for weeks and weeks.

I don’t think I have to talk about how ableist the notion is that if you’re just “fit enough” (i.e., moral enough, work hard enough), you don’t have to “choose” a vaccine. It’s ableist, it’s privileged, and it’s profoundly selfish. When I have to interact with the property manager of my building who refuses to wear a mask at all in his office, I don’t see a brave, independent man, I see a selfish, badly informed person I don’t trust to make decisions about the safety of our community. When I hear my chiropractor say she would only get vaccinated for her convenience of travel, I see someone I can’t trust to understand science. And who isn’t interested in protecting me as her client.

Basically, this is nonsense.

A fitness coach I used to take classes from posted this image about “the collective is not owed safety or protection at the expense of the individual” on her IG feed. I suspect the people who ascribe to this kind of nonsense don’t think their way through it. Do they believe that the individual desire to drive on any part of the road supercedes the collective decision that roads go in agreed-upon directions? To drive 200 km an hour on the city streets, regardless of how many little collectives of children there are trying to cross? To not expect the collective health and knowledge system to scrape them up and put them back together when they crash? Do they believe that the collective norms about defecating in the street are just individual choices, and it’s a matter of free will whether or not to just poop on the sidewalk in front of their houses?

Understanding anti-masking and anti-vaxxing is complex. The Lancet published an excellent piece recently suggesting that there is a lot to learn from cults about creating dialogue with anti-vaxxers. They encourage us to approach what feels like irrational faith with understanding. When I do that, what I hear is fear. Anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers are afraid for their health, like everyone, and they’re afraid of the unknown. My perception is that if they frame masks or vaccines as a choice, they don’t have to acknowledge how little personal agency we truly have when faced with biology, with viruses. With death. And with our own mortality.

I’m old enough that my covid vaccine went into my arm just underneath the faint scar I still have from the smallpox jab I had when I was 3 or 4. I’m among the last cohort who had to get a smallpox vaccine. Because vaccination eradicated it, through individual recognition of collective responsibility and social accountability.

Where we are right now is a hard, fatiguing, tiring place. There are reasons why some people can’t wear masks, and why some people can’t get vaccines. This current round of vaccines is an evidence-based experiment that does carry some risk. I’m not denying that. But we are a community. A fitness community, a community of citizens, a community of fragile, vulnerable and brave humans. Wherever we can, we have to take on some risk for the benefit of the whole.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who had a lot to say on this topic. This is her vaccine selfie. Stayed tuned for more on this topic in many voices this afternoon.


Maintenance Phase: On Eating Disorders and Larger Bodies

CW: Discussion of larger bodies, the social construction of fatness and eating disorders.

One of my favourite podcasts over the past couple of years has been “You’re wrong about,” a space where the hosts re-examine big (mostly American) cultural moments involving personalities (think, Tonya Harding, OJ Simpson, Vanessa Williams) from an intersectional lens. That pod is a freewheeling, funny and well researched romp through the impact of capitalism, media dynamics, race and sexism, especially how they combine in our cultural construction of young women.

Several months ago, one of the hosts, Michael Hobbes, launched another project, called Maintenance Phase, with co-host Aubrey Gordon, focusing on the diet industry and the cultural construction of bodies. Catherine wrote about their episode on The Biggest Loser a couple of weeks ago. I find both hosts an incredible blend of well-informed, caring and irreverent. In my experience, it’s one of the best spaces examining the complex relationship between individual experience in our bodies and the way that overwhelming culture shapes that experience.

This week’s ep is one of the best yet. Michael and Aubrey interview Erin Nicole Harrop, a researcher (and person with lived experience) in the little-understood zone of eating disorders in people with larger bodies. People who look like they have a “normal BMI” who seek help for disordered eating are very very often misdiagnosed, and frequently either dismissed or even mocked. (“How could someone who looks like you be restricting food?”)

The episode called Eating Disorders, like all of them, is really thoughtful and gentle and left me feeling outraged. And if you’re wondering about your own relationship with food, there might be something helpful in there.

For more depth, here’s a link to Erin’s research: list of articles.

And if you haven’t listened to You’re Wrong About yet, you have a world of great listening ahead.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who revels in a good podcast.


Another pandemic shutdown for fitness studios and gyms: how do we help?

In Toronto, we’ve been in some version of near full lockdown since November. The rules keep changing by increments (a satirical article the other day was titled “Ontario reclassifies ‘grey zone’ to “IDK You Fucking Figure it Out” zone). But one thing is clear: gyms and fitness studios have been closed since October. We’ve all been adapting — zwift, running, virtual classes with our superhero team — but small businesses are really struggling. Outdoor fitness classes MAY start to be allowed this weekend but it’s still March in Canada. So the strain goes on.

I personally really believe in the incredible significance of local studios — my local spinning studio and my local Y are super inclusive. My spin studio and yoga studio have contributed to local projects and provided prizes for countless fundraisers in a way you’d never see from the likes of Peloton or other “big box” fitness options. And I’ve made actual real life friends — and a much bigger array of “hey great to see you!” neighbours — from my local fitness. I really worry about them.

Back in October, I wrote a post about how to help out our local fitness spots during the lockdown. I’ve been doing virtual classes with my local yoga studio and contributing to the virtual library with my spin studio since. I’m still worried. I’m reblogging the post because there are tons of good ideas. Show your local studio a little love in this final stretch (we hope!) of lockdown.


In my province of Ontario, like many places, we’re experiencing a spike of Covid cases, resulting in a movement back to modified “stage 2” rules about public spaces, including a 28 day closure of gyms and indoor fitness studios (along with indoor dining, theatres and bars).

This prompted a certain amount of understandable angst from gym owners, who despaired at the short notice (it was effective the next day), and who’ve been working extremely hard and creatively over the summer to try to generate revenue and create safe community experiences. There was a petition circulating for a while, asking the government to exempt gyms on the grounds that they are contributing to the mental and physical health and wellbeing of the province.

I’m not going to debate that point here, except to note that at the exact same moment the province temporarily closed gyms, a spinning studio in Hamilton which…

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“Crushing covid” on a virtual bike ride

Last weekend, our Fit Feminist team participated in a 24 hour relay in Zwift to raise funds for mental health programs at a community hospital in the end end of Toronto. You can still sponsor us here,


I saw the event last year on Zwift and thought it was a terrific idea for a great cause but I didn’t feel up to the organizational challenge of putting a team together. This year I feel bit more on top of virtual events and fundraising after a year of being a university dean during a pandemic. I’ve also done some rides with the Toronto Hustle on Zwift and feel a bit of a connection to the club. I asked a few other bloggers who Zwift–Cate, Sarah, and Jennifer–we added a crew of team members from Sarah’s Zwift racing team and away we went. The event was organized in 2 hour chunks, each one a separate “event” on Zwift. I did Stage 2 in the #crushcovid event, 8-10 pm. That’s my favourite time of day for riding. It was a fun ride, hundreds of people, on one of Zwift’s flattest courses. Sarah was riding right after me so I had to exit the event a few minutes early and swap bikes on the trainer.

That’s Cheddar on the left. He is watching me ride on the trainer and thinking he would rather I just went to bed!

May be an image of Samantha Brennan


I started off the relay for our team, and I’ll admit: there is no way that I would have been able to urge myself onto that bike for two hours at 6 pm on Friday after the week I’d had. Fifteen minutes before we started, I was still in my work clothes, lying on the couch cuddling the cats. But I had committed to the team, and to the donors I’d generated — and one of my clients works with the exact community the fundraiser was supporting. I know how slim the resources and how big the need is for mental health support in the east part of Toronto — so I got on the bike.

Although I’ve ridden more than 2000 km in zwift since October, I almost never ride with other people. And I was unsure what it would feel like. But at the start, I felt some real excitement. Within about 10 minutes, I found a group to ride with (a “blob” in zwift parlance), and I fell into a fast rhythm. It wasn’t a very chatty group, but we moved along with the grace of the simulated peloton, where you can draft and bob and weave without worrying about crashing into each other.

Because I’d been so lackadaisical about even starting the ride, I hadn’t Planned. I only had one bottle of water and I left my box of gingersnaps on the kitchen counter. I think I’d imagined taking a break or two, but I was enjoying my blob so much I didn’t want to stop and lose them.

As we rode, the organizers from the Michael Garron Foundation popped in to encourage all of the riders, especially those planning to break records for riding. When they told us that we’d raised more than $200,000 already, I had profound sense of gratitude, of appreciation for this global riding community, and for the generosity of everyone who’d reached into their e-pockets. I see the impact of mental health issues every day – this really matters.

With half an hour left to ride, the house dark around me because I’d forgotten to turn on the lights at 6 pm, I ordered a steak frites from my local pub. When I finally crawled off the bike, feet cramping from dehydration, after 83 km and handed the torch over to Sam, my dinner was waiting for me. I sent messages to my team and ate dinner, grateful for the chance to make a difference from the space of my own home.


The Crush COVID ride had many teams who chose to work in a relay format where someone from the team would be riding at every point during the 24 hours. When I saw that the FitFeminists had managed (thanks to my ZSUN Racing teammates from around the world who rode during the wee hours) to cover nearly all of the 2 hour slots, I was tempted to keep riding after midnight so that we’d hit (nearly) all of them.

While riding, I tuned in to the concurrent Zoom event, where riders and a cast of guests spoke with Brad Bradford, a Toronto city councillor who hosted the stream while simultaneously riding for 24 hours. He said that it helped the time to pass more quickly. It did!

One of the interviewees was the amazing Lucy Hempstead, who set a Guinness record for the women’s 24h longest simulated distance on a static bicycle during the event. She had an informal cluster of riders around her to provide (virtual) draft to optimize her effort, and I joined the bunch for a couple of 2 hour slots, Friday night and Saturday afternoon, to help sweep riders back up to the group. It’s definitely much easier to ride hours at a time when you’ve got a job to focus on. 

I also rode a chunk of the after-midnight hours by watching the America’s Cup sailboat races live from New Zealand. That reminded me much more of earlier years, spending hours on the magnetic resistance trainer watching TV series, which couldn’t be too riveting or I would get distracted from my training effort. I kept falling off the pack I was with during key moments in the race and then having to sprint back in a series of ever-increasing intervals. This was much more tiring and I didn’t make it through the full 2 hours of my second slot, but it was definitely fun.

I really enjoyed this event. It will be interesting to see how it will continue in the years to come post-pandemic.


My mental health has not been great in the pandemic, and Zwift has been a big part of how I have been coping. I have 2 young kids, and last Spring and Summer in particular, I had very limited capacity to leave my house without an entourage and a backpack full of mummy supplies. Riding on Zwift while the kids are safely occupied has helped me to feel like I was escaping into an alternate reality, and in the process to deal with pandemic induced insomnia and pandemic despair. And scrolling through Zwift Insider and Zwift ride lists at least *feels* healthier and more productive than the doom scrolling trap that I tend to fall into otherwise.

I also know that I am not alone in using Zwift – and physical exertion in general – in this way. Focusing on something I can do, something in my control, rather than the many many things that are out of control. So, when the opportunity arose to fundraise for mental health by throwing myself even further into the Zwift world, I was all in.

This particular fundraiser and this particular way of fundraising hit close to home for me. Fundraising for mental health, using my mental health coping mechanism, for a hospital foundation in my city. I live in Toronto, and I know this community well. I have to admit that I was more than a little disappointed that the group rides for the #CrushCovid rides were all on Tempus Fugit, the fastest but most boring Zwift route IMHO. But this was a fundraiser for a cause I care about, in a mode that I also care about, with a group (FIFI) that I care about, so this was a good combination for me.

The ride itself was fun, with a lot of camaraderie in the event. I tuned in to the zoom chat hosted by Brad Bradford, and watched some interesting interviews while I rode. Plenty of ride ons and cheers in game, as well. And, at one point, my kids came and stood next to me for about half an hour cheering with variations of “Go! Mummy, Go!” I can think of worse ways to spend a Saturday. In the end, I rode for 2.5 hours on Saturday – my leg plus an extra bit.

I also managed to keep my ride going through Lucy Hempstead’s world record smash, and to watch her keep going. It was neat to ride ‘with her’ in a sense, although my speeds and pace were not strong enough to keep up with her, let alone help lead her out or ease her ride. 

Wrap up

In the end the event both raised more than $400,000 and Lucy Hempstead broke a world record for distance on Zwift in 24 hours.

Toronto Hustle’s second Crush COVID event raises $400,000 over 24-hour ride: “At 6:00 p.m. on Mar. 12 Hempstead clipped in to ride for 24 hours straight on Zwift as part of her team’s Crush COVID 24-hour Zwift marathon fundraiser. The 20-year-old broke the current women’s distance record of 680 km before 3 p.m., riding 681 km.”

Lucy Hempstead celebrates passing the official marker for a new 24-Hour world record. Photo: Toronto Hustle

Time change malaise

It’s Wednesday morning. I’m sitting at my desk, watching faces on a screen, my fourth virtual meeting of the day and it’s only 11 am. I’m bored with this streaming service, the year-long zoom binge of work finally grinding me down.

I know I need to move my body — but I’m in trapped in inertia, my body feeling like an action figure whose semi-bendy legs have been permanently stuck in a crouch position. You could take me off this chair and I’d still be in chair shape. My first meeting was at 730, and I didn’t manage to get up for a workout at 6 am. Just here, on the chair, looking at the faces.

As a friend commented on facebook, the 2021 time change sure feels like a slap in the face.

This New Yorker cartoon that’s been circulating on FB is so so apt.

Throughout this year, I’ve been the queen of self-care — working out an average of 1.3 x day, sustaining daily yoga practice for weeks and months at a time, spinning higher than FakeEverest in Zwift, getting up for my beloved Virtual Superhero workouts most weekday mornings. But since the time change? I’m just plain cranky. And I have barely moved my body at all.

My mood this week.

Every year at this time, tons of ink is spilled about how this shift in circadian rhythms is harder on our bodies than we commonly assume when we think about “just an hour shift.” I am feeling this even more intensely this year. The sleep interruption, the shift in rhythm, the coincidence with the exact anniversary of the lockdown. The delay of March Break for schools from this week to April, meaning that the lighter week I usually count on isn’t happening. A windy cold whipping up the air again. Perpetual lockdown. It’s all tripped me up. I feel like an angry little hedgehog that just wants to hide under a log.

Monday, despite a morning workout, everything made me cross and I had to go remove myself from human contact and escape into a rewatch of the first season of Downton Abbey. Which made me stay up too late and repeat the cycle.

When I step back and inquire about what I’m really feeling, what this lack of energy points to, I think I see a glimpse of a kind of burnout on the horizon. I’m not there yet, but a year of mediating everything virtually, four months of being in the “grey zone” lockdown, navigating a world where my clients (in healthcare and education) are immersed in their own strain and anxiety, where an opened up future dances toward us and tantalizingly bobs away under vaccine delays and growth in “variants of concern” — all of this is closing down my resilience. And this crankiness? Is giving me important information.

This is where I really need to lean into my foundational commitment to moving my body, to self-care, to my self-identity as a person who understands how to look after myself, to wedge me out of this malaise. To eat something nice but nourishing, a little mindfully. To let myself sink into walking and stretching for a bit, letting my fluid definition of “workout” remind me that not all movement needs to involve sweating and hopping. To give myself space to re-discover, gently and when I’m ready, what it feels like to work my body hard.

Emmylou would like me to nap every afternoon

Because right now? Like everyone, I’ve been working my whole self really hard, for over a year now. It’s okay to slow down. It’s okay to just… .breathe. Cuddle the cat. Take a long bath. Go for a short, slow jog in the sun. Let the sun fall on my face. Look for a sunset. Breathe.

What about you? How is the time change affecting you? How are you hanging in?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is waiting for spring in Toronto.


Susan and Cate have very different experiences of a retro 80s/90s workout

Last Saturday, the magnificent Alex did a “fun” version of our usual Saturday virtual conditioning class, dressing in a spandex leotard and fanny pack and time-traveling us through Jane Fonda stretches, toe taps, grapevines, tae bo and a Richards Simmons inspired dance number. Alex wasn’t even born in the era of VCR workouts — but she fully committed to the moment, beginning with Don’t You Want Me and ending with Maniac. Cate loved it. Susan did not. Here, we’re going to have a dialogue about why.

Even though I did the Jane Fonda workout in high school with the aid of a book and a vinyl record, I never wore shiny spandex (Cate)

Cate: I have to confess, this was my idea. We were doing kickboxing or something a few weeks ago, and I was complaining about it as I always do, and said I wished we could do some 80s or 90s style aerobics. I even asked for some grapevine. And it struck young Alex’ imagination. And I’ll admit it — I really, really enjoyed it flinging my body around without weights or much attention to form. But you expressed trepidation about it even before we started. What was that about, do you think?

Susan: First of all, I forgive you for having this idea. How could you know what it would do to me? How could I know really? I did have an inkling though, as soon as you said the workout was 80’s themed, I believe I said, “We aren’t going to be doing aerobics are we?” You were kind and didn’t say, “Hell, yes!”, although I know understand you may have felt very much like saying that. There is nothing at all that I enjoy about flinging myself around in space without regard to form as a form of exercise. Dancing? Love it. Toe tapping, grape vining, bending and reaching quickly in sets of eight? Hard no. Something terrible happens inside me when I have to keep up to a beat for the purpose of exercise. I feel frozen, unbalanced and I want to run away. Form, precision and a mindful pace are my safe zones.

Alex in her 80s workout cosplay

Cate: That’s impressive self-awareness. I did have a deep moment of joy during the class when I realized I MISS the simple movement of toe tapping and turns — and I was trying to get underneath *why* I enjoyed it so much. It’s because it echoes the moment in 1995 when I moved from being a sedentary, unfit, unhappy smoker in 1995 to a person who could start to see herself in the fitness world. Going to my first aerobics class at the age of 30, at the athletic centre at U of T, was actually a profound act of empowerment for me. I was scared and anxious — so much imposter syndrome and fear that I’d be seen as a “fat girl” who couldn’t keep up. I’d had comments like that from total strangers while hiking.

But then I found my body could do these silly movements — and that no one really cared if I was off the beat. And I enjoyed sweating and moving my body for the first time, really, since high school gym. When I reflect on it, it was a much gentler transition into movement than going to a 2019 bootcamp class would have been. If I’d been dragged to a 2020 conditioning class in 1995, I’d have been completely intimidated and felt like a complete failure. But a little marching in place? That I could do. And it was empowering. I think that’s part of what I was channeling on Saturday — my inner courageous self who started a fitness path at 30. But you greeted a different version of your past self.

Susan: Totally different version! As a young person, I had terrible experiences of gym class and anything to do with organized sport. In retrospect, I realize that my body was actually in pain during those classes with my Arthritis just underneath the surface, but not bad enough for me to acknowledge. I internalized I was just bad at fitness, most especially group fitness. I was good at skiing and horseback riding, where I could be alone and figure things out in my own time. My introduction to more formal fitness was Pilates and that is the epitome of slow and precise. I found out that I already had a strong core from flinging babies and toddlers around for a few years and my Arthritis was under control. I excelled at it and, because it is also inherently rehabilitative, it made me feel so good. I started to add a little yoga here and there and at around 35, felt brave enough to try to run. At that time, I was also surrounded with people, including my partner at the time, who valued fitness more than my family or my husband had. That community kept drawing me in further and further but always things that I had total control over (running, biking, horses, pilates, starting to play with weights).

Cate: That all makes sense. It really underlines how deeply our past relationships with movement haunt us — and how so many of us get excluded from seeing ourselves as « people who can occupy fitness space « because our entry points are so disempowering. Or actively traumatizing.

Susan: I like this image of our past relationship to exercise “haunting” us. It is like a ghost in my body. You were joking with me in text mid work out “Face your fears! Work it through!” or something like that. I suppose it is possible but I don’t know if I want to or have to work that hard in a pandemic right now! I can choose to do other things as they please me and there’s so much that does please me. For instance, like my current growing love for a Yin Yoga, where there are 6 poses in an hour and I just breathe endlessly into all of them, marvelling at how my body shifts. I love that so much!!! I have a feeling some of the other bloggers on here would rather poke their eyes out with a fork than spend an hour of yoga like that. This all comes back to find something you like, don’t do something you hate unless there is a really really good reason (health, a performance goal that is important, your partner begging you to just try it once). Thanks for thinking this through with me :).

Susan and Cate snowshoeing a couple of weeks ago, no spandex in sight

Cate: I get it! I would nope out of any team sport in a nanosecond. I do not ever need to re-engage with the part of me that always disappoints my team because I can’t do anything that involves a projectile or a stick. But I secretly will admit that I could do that arm flailing Maniac routine every day. Even though Karyn broke her toe on her yoga mat doing it.

I’m going off to scroll youtube for the Jane Fonda workout now.


The one year COVID-versary: reflections on adapting

Did you know you were as adaptable as you’ve proven to be this year? I sure didn’t.

Georgia’s preferred morning snuggle zone

With the anniversary of the Toronto COVID lockdown looming, I started thinking back to a year ago. I found this post I wrote last March, about doing workouts with bags of books instead of weights, with this deeply anxious sense of Having to Make Do. Our posts for that springtime lockdown are just stuffed with fear, tension, sleeplessness, agitation, fatigue, worry about Doing the Right thing. Agonized discussions of whether it was really okay to go for a run or a walk outside. Baking and hoarding. People yelling at joggers, or insisting that virus could stay on your groceries or packages for days, turning a head of broccoli into a killer.

I was working out with our Virtual Superhero group the other day, as I do at least three or four times a week now, and I thought about how quickly an online workout community has become something I deeply value and am not going to give up in a hurry. These morning workouts with the remarkable Alex aren’t “making do” — they have evolved and grown to be a more reliable part of my life than gyms — much as I like them — ever were. Our virtual superhero community is real connection, meaningful movement, and it fits into my life — and motivation in a really organic way.

Morning scene in Cate’s house in the BeforeTimes: (alarm goes off, causing cat to jump off arm. Cate looks at phone, thinks about getting dressed and walking to dark loud spin studio or going to gym to lift heavy things, then rush home, shower, rush off to meeting. More than half the time, Cate rolls over, forfeiting not insignificant already-paid class fee, goes back to sleep).

Same scene, CovidTimes: (alarm goes off, causing slightly fatter cat to jump off shoulder. Cate looks at phone, surveys body and thinks I do NOT want to work out right now, reminds self all she has to do is get up, make coffee, pull on clothes, turn on computer and maybe stretch and then can leave if she wants. Grumbles and gets up anyway. Never leaves after stretching. And even if she DOES cancel, fee gets refunded).

This morning, during our workout (deadlifts and lower body plus E2MOM, if you’re wondering), I was using Emmylou’s bed as a glider for hamstring walkouts, chose from a full array of kettlebells for romanian deadlifts, and — as I watched Alex dance around on screen — the most creative, remarkable, encouraging, authentic coach ever — I thought “I don’t think I’ll ever go back to the gym.” And I meant it. I finished my 730 workout, grabbed another coffee and a bowl of muesli and was at my desk, answering email, 5 minutes later. It works.

To a large degree, the same is true of my workouts on my spin bike. I miss my spinning studio, I miss the music, I miss the community. But I’m not gonna lie — I ride four times as much as I would if I had to leave the house to do it. I ride for a quick half hour in the morning when that’s all I have time for, I get on the bike and into the imaginary world of zwift in the darkening evening for an hour or so as dinner cooks to shake off the day of zooms, I do long rides on the weekend. I sweat in my own home, in the slivers of time that work for me. It adds up. (Not to the TRON bike yet, but I’m getting there — I’m above the clouds 😉).

Yoga? As for so many, YWA is the thread that knits my days together, along with live streamed classes a couple of times a week from my local studio — but having my yoga mat laid out all the time means that I often slip in a 15 or 20 minute practice when I have half an hour between meetings. Like Tracy, I really miss incidental movement — but between deliberate walks, the occasional run, yoga, Alex and zwifting, I just logged my 121st workout for 2020.

So what am I noticing? The things that were workarounds a year ago? The things that reminded me of what I’m missing? They’ve actually given me a more organic, self-guided, reliable way to thread movement into my life. Movement I look forward to, movement I love. Somewhere quite early, I reframed my constellation of movement not as a poor substitute but a more seamless set of options depending on mood, available time, energy level.

My business partner commented the other day that I am “winning in the self-care department” — especially with my consistency of movement. I know some people miss the energy of other people, heavy weights, the structure of leaving the house to Do Something Physical. I get it. But for me? My little introverted, self-driven, self-guided self is happy with the array of virtual options that have grown around me.

Today was a glorious, warm, sunny day. I went for a walk at lunchtime. I reveled in it. Another thing I’ll miss if my Life-Out-Of-The-House resumes in full.

What about you? What have been the happy surprises of bringing so much movement into your own hands and home?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who never puts away the yoga mat anymore. No one is coming over anyway.


What is happening in this photo?

Any guesses about what’s happening here?

How about from this angle?

Discarded, soggy towels and cycling jerseys. And a sports bra. Two fancy dyson fans that don’t normally live there. Empty water bottles. A bandana. An advil bottle. An emergency thermos of coffee. Soggy tissues. Power cords. Mini speaker. Banana peels. Ginger cookies.

And of course, the bowflex C6 spin bike.

(You can overlook the other fitness equipment, the cosy socks, the cat bed and the catnip fish, all of which usually live in that corner).

Last week, I wrote about my new preoccupation: “badge hunting” on Zwift, the simulated cycling platform. On Saturday, I took up the challenge of doing the second longest route on Zwift, the “Uber Pretzel.”

The Uber Pretzel covers all of the “watopia” routes, for 128 km of riding and nearly 2400 metres of climbing. The most memorable feature of this route is that you start climbing the Alpe du Zwift — 12 km and more than 1000 m of ascent — at km 115.

Well, I did it. More than 5 hours on a spin bike, three changes of kit, two bananas and a full pack of molasses ginger cookies.

As you can see from the mess around me, it’s just as intense an experience as riding 130 km outside — except without the cunning little coffee or snack stops or — in an organized event — cheering bystanders. Just me, the cats, my living room, increasingly unpleasant contact between my butt and the imperfect bike seat — and my invisible friends in the app.

More than 4000 people showed up at the start line for this event, which means I had a LOT of company of people who thought “what the heck else should I do on a February Saturday during a pandemic?” Which was kind of low key thrill — I Have People! — but also caused some anxiety — “EEK an event!” And ultimately was too much for the platform, which crashed for me almost immediately.

At the start line, as I pedalled forward, my avatar seemed to vanish, then float, then pedal in a choppy, pixelated, wobbly way. I started to accumulate distance slowly, but my watts were reading at about half the actual output and I seemed to be alone on the overcrowded simulated roads. Then I saw a bunch of virtual crashes, and my helmet kept flying off. So I realized — this will not do. So after accumulating about 8 minutes and 2.5 km of pixelated riding, I bailed from the game, reset everything and went back in to ride the route solo.

Turned out, I had pals — the chat was full of people for whom the game had crashed. I made friends, and settled in. For a looooong ride, sometimes with others, sometimes on my own.

There aren’t that many people who would happily embrace a 130km + (counting my false start) ride at all, let alone on a spin bike, inside my house. One of my friends who actually has a trainer in her living room said “after 20 km I’m bored out of my skull.”

I don’t actually exactly know what appeals to me about this. I like a good Feat — to throw myself at something just inside the edge of doable and to tap into my grit. I like a good Story — “I did a 5 hour ride on Saturday on my spin bike!” generates a frisson of interest in the unrelenting march of zoom calls. I need to believe that I’ll be fit enough at some point In the Aftertimes to do the rides I long to do, to travel and see new parts of the world from my bike seat. And there is something in doing this with others — even the much smaller crew of those who got booted out of the platform so were behind the “official” group — that emulates a shared, real life event to a remarkable degree.

I had a hiccup with the companion app around the three hour mark, and couldn’t chat with anyone for about 15 minutes. And I felt… lonely. And that was the only point during which it even crossed my mind to stop. But I didn’t, and I found my people again. And I literally squealed with relief.

The fictionalized world of watopia has everything — hills, mountains, dessert, a volcano, lava fields, a lovely sequoia forest, an ocean. We rode all of it. And as we rode, we told jokes, we cheered each other one, we formed small blobs to ride together. We drafted, we encouraged each other, we reminded each other to eat and drink. We exchanged Ride Ons (thumbs ups), so I finally got the “100 Ride Ons in one ride” badge. And in that last, agonizing 12 km of the Alpe — a 64 minute climb for me — we floated through the same narrowing of focus, intensity of exertion, purity of presence that comes at the end of any endurance event.

Somewhere in the Alpe, Sam and Sarah showed up in the app, “viewing” me to cheer me on. It was as good as cowbell on the side of a course.

“I’m feeling all the feels right now,” said one rider. “I love you guys!” A cis-guy in his 30s, according to his profile. Shared appreciation for shared effort. Hive fives as people wound through the last switchbacks, encouragement to those who were struggling but determined. “You’re passing me, Cate,” said one guy I’d been riding with. “Go go go!”

All the feels indeed.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who knows she’s weird. She didn’t take any selfies of her actual physical being during this ride, it turns out.