Pole vaulting at age 15

Issy gold medal
Issy is in the middle with her gold medal

My cousin’s daughter won a big pole vaulting title this summer, and I thought it would be fun to interview her about what it’s like to be a 15 year old pole vaulter.  She turns out to be super-wise, so I’ve just captured a slightly edited version of our conversation to let her words speak for themselves.  My questions are in bold.

Basically the blog is about women’s relationships with sports.  Like starting when they’re young, and how as they get older, that changes.  And so you are one of the people I know who’s the most successful at sports.  It’s true!

Wow!  Thank you!

So I thought, I wonder what Issy would say – as a 15 year old – because I don’t look at you and think, pole vaulter!  You’re just my cousin. So tell me about how you started pole vaulting.

I don’t know when I started.  Maybe the start of grade 8, and I’m in grade 10 now.

So how did you even – did you see people doing this, like on the Olympics, and think, I want to do that, or?

I started out doing track and field with horizontal jumps, like triple jump and long jump.  And then… before that I was a gymnast.  I started training with U of T for the horizontal jumps.  And then they were like, oh my gosh, you were a gymnast – come try pole-vaulting!   I think I was actually one of the younger people they’ve ever taken to try it.

Right.  But you were jumpy – you were good at jumping – because of the gymnastics?

Most of the people I train with are gymnasts.

So the first time you ever did it, what did you feel?  Do you remember?

Well it kind of started out like – I can’t really remember the first time that I actually got height – because when you start out, you kind of go forward, and you slowly start inching your way a little bit higher – so I can’t really remember the time that I just started pole – because there’s so much more.  You just kind of build up.

So what was your first meet?  Like when did you decide, I could compete in this?

I think I started in the winter of one year, so it might have been the entire next winter that I had my first meet.

Issy jump London Games 2018Had you already done, like, horizontal jump meets?

Yes, yeah, the winter that I started pole vault, I was competing horizontal jumps with the same club, but because I’d just started pole vault they weren’t about to put me into a meet.

So tell me then – let’s fast forward – so you did all these things and you could kind of feel like, I’m actually kind of good at this.  When did you first feel like, I could do this!

Oh… I don’t know!  I think I was… I kind of like this!  I like the people that I train with!  And I was like, this is fun!  I don’t know—it’s fun!

What makes it fun – versus some other thing you might have done.  Like is it more fun than gymnastics was?

No – probably not.  Similar!  Both of them – part of it is the people that I do it with, the people that I train with.   I have a lot of fun with them.  So that’s fun… And .. it’s like it’s just fun, flopping onto a mat!

Once you get over – you’re just like, Oh yes, I MADE it!


How high have you gone – tell me your latest thing.  You won the women’s under 16 national.  Amazing!

It was the national meet that the Royal Canadian Legion runs.

Who were you competing with?

Well pole vault’s not that common in my age group, right?  So I was only competing with like 6 other people.

Still – that’s the best six in Canada!

Yeah…. Two others of which I train with (laughing).

How high did you get?

So at that meet, I think I jumped 3 metres and 10 cm.

Okay, and how tall are you?

5.2 maybe?

You’re like my height, right?  And you’ve jumped 3 metres and 10 centimetres – that’s a LOT.  How did you do that?

Well the pole helped me!

Pole vault summer games londonWhat did you feel when you landed?

Okay… well it was a bit of a story because… pole vault works so that if you knock it down you still get two more attempts on each height.  So you want to make it over on your first time because it counts against you if you don’t.

You get more points if you get it on the first jump?

Yeah.  But I was the first in line though.  And I just made it over… I can’t remember… it was at 3 metres, I made it over and two other girls made it over.  Then at 3.10, I was up first, I think I made it over on my first one.  And the other two girls still had three more.  And none of them made it over.  So there wasn’t really a jump where I officially won it?  Where if I’d made the jump I would have won?  I made the jump and then nobody else made the jump, so I won.

You had to wait.


That’s not the same thing, right?  It’s not like you made the goal in overtime –

No, not really!

Then you looked at the board and it said your name?

There’s no board.

So how did you know you won – some guy with a marker?

You kind of pay attention – you only stop if you’ve knocked over three in a row.  So once I had one, I still had to keep jumping.  So once I was the only one jumping, I was like, Oh, I won!

But also because pole vault’s not that popular – at the same time, my other friends who are in the older age group – I was still jumping with them.

Did they jump as high as you?

Oh, they jumped higher!  Not the ones in my age group, but the other ones, in the older age group.

So how high were they jumping?

That was actually really exciting because one of my friends, she got the new Canadian record for under 18 girls.

That’s amazing.

Yeah, 3 m and 92 cm.

Holy crap!


So that’s 80 cm more than you?  That’s a lot!  That’s like almost a whole metre.


So what do you have to do to maybe gradually work your way up to that?

It would help if I was taller.  But I can’t really control that.  (Laughing).  Kind of just technique, then.

So how do you learn that?  Tell me what it’s like to train when you’re doing something like this.

Well our training consists of – in the fall we do a lot of base training – like building strength, and just conditioning.  A lot of running stairs and everything like that.  And then once we move inside, we do a lot of just jumping.  Just jump after jump after jump.  Just slowly fixing little corrections.

And so the coach says, well try this?  Or do you know what’s wrong?

Sometimes you can know what’s wrong, but sometimes the coach is like, this is what you’re doing wrong, and you just kind of think about that the entire day while you’re jumping, and you are like, Oh, I didn’t do that this time. Or, oh I did that this time.

So how do you deal with – sometimes when people’s coaches tell them things like that it makes them mad?  Like, does it ever make you mad, or do you just see it as this is helpful?

I don’t think it makes me mad because they aren’t constantly being like, oh you did this and this and this and this and this wrong.  It’s just more like, maybe do this instead.

And they don’t – they won’t overcorrect me.  They won’t give me too many things to think about at once.

So that’s helpful.


Do you apply the same thing in other parts of your life, do you think?  Like are you good at learning in other parts of your life, too?

I don’t know… … it’s probably taught me that I work hard.  I don’t think it’s like, not like, I work hard at pole vault, I have to work hard at English.

It makes me wonder if you know how to work hard automatically now?

Yeah!  I would say so.  Maybe not so much pole vault, but when I was younger with gymnastics – it was a lot of, I was quite a competitive gymnast when I was really young, I was like an overly hard worker, so it was like, work hard, work hard, work hard, that was all I knew – so of course I did that in school.

That’s one of the things about young women in sports that we always wonder about right – like what are you learning about, like, resilience, if you don’t win?  How do you manage that?  Do you throw the pole and run away, or do you just go, okay, that’s just today, and maybe tomorrow… then can you apply that to another part of your life, if things don’t always go your way, can you learn to say, okay, next time it will be okay, or I’ll work harder, or….

Yeah, I think – again, I have a bunch of friends I also pole vault with, of course if one of us don’t win, we’re still all going to be friends, and we’re all going to work hard, and train, and hopefully we’ll do better next time – and usually if I get beat, I get beat by one of my teammates – so I’m happy for them too, right?

That’s amazing – what you’re learning – like how to be happy for your friends, no matter what you’re doing, and how to keep working, even when you’re not super-successful – and you may not know this, but that’s not something everybody learns.  It’s actually a really important thing!

That’s good!

So what’s next?  Are you going to keep competing?

Probably for the rest of high school.

Do you see like the Olympics, or…?


You’re clear!  This is more for fun.

Yeah, it’s more like a fun, extra-curricular thing – I feel like I would rather do other things with my life than pole vault my whole life.

Like it’s a fun little side thing to do instead of having to worry about school, I don’t think I’d want to keep going forever.

On this blog none of us are professional at sports, but our life is all about how to have balance, how to have fun activity.

That’s why I keep pole vault!

I’m just very impressed with your ability to keep going and trying things.  When I was your age I was very intimidated by competition and things.

I think I get it from my dad’s side of the family!

So you’ll keep in touch with us and I’ll catch up a year later and see what you’ve done?

IMG_20171022_135904994Like a sequel!

Thank you Issy!


Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who writes regularly for this blog twice a month and occasionally when the spirit moves her.  Issy lives in Toronto and trains with the University of Toronto track club.  Click this link for a video of Issy jumping.



What are we making together?

One of my roles in this Fit Feminist community is to be the backup, backup administrator for the FIFI facebook page.  That page is mostly Sam, with Tracy as her second — and a few months ago, they added me so someone else could wade in occasionally.

One of the things that shocked me when I started paying more attention to that page is how quickly the comments can escalate from 0 to vitriol in about 5 seconds.  That happened yesterday, and Sam wrote about it here.  (Usually we don’t even notice until someone messages us, sometimes to alert us and sometimes to yell at us for not dropping everything else in our lives and jumping in sooner).

You can tell from Sam’s post that it’s … hurtful and deeply disappointing to have this experience.  Sam posted something she thought was sort of funny, probably without a ton of thought because, you know, she has a GIANT FREAKING JOB, and posts on this blog at least four times a week, and has a large family with diverse needs, and just moved, and is trying to maintain some fitness while tending to a major injury that has been very difficult emotionally.  And she had reasons for thinking what she posted was funny.  And the thing is, anyone who reads this blog — or posts on the FB page — knows this. But the second she (or any of us) posts something that other people get upset about, she ceases to be the Sam who has put so much of her life energy into creating a space for this very important conversation and community, and becomes this faceless object of fury.  When people react to something on this page or the blog, boom, they forget that there are other people behind every act on that page, and they zoom to fury, to name-calling into a faceless, dehumanized void.  I have noticed that people even stop using our names, even when our names are obvious — they talk about “the writer” and “the poster,” not “Sam” or “Tracy” or “Catherine” or “Cate.”  We stop existing as people.

downloadThe point of this isn’t to defend Sam, per se — although I would actually argue that she didn’t make “a mistake” yesterday — she just did a thing that some people disagreed with.  That’s not a mistake, that’s a point in time, a perspective that other people took a different way.  That shouldn’t have degenerated into absolute fury.

No.  The point of this is to argue that when we slide into instant vitriol with people we already believe widely share our worldview — we’re on a feminist fitness facebook page, for crying out loud! — I literally despair of our ability to bridge any of the intractable divides in the world.  How we talk to each other matters, even if it’s just on a silly facebook page.  What we do to each other in conversation has consequences.  It has consequences for how we see ourselves, and how we see each other.

In my little corner of the communication theory world, we recognize that what we say matters, but so does how we say it.  And by that I don’t mean tone and all of that, although that is part of it. What I mean is that we need to look at two big dynamics.  First, how we are positioning ourselves in a conversation?  How are we positioning the other person?  And what is the consequence of that?  And second, what are we making here?

What that means in practice is that when I’m tootling along through life, dum de dum,  reading a facebook page, and I come across something that triggers something for me, I have a lot of choices.  I can pause and decide whether or not to engage — and if I decide to engage, I can decide whether to just immediately whack the person, or I can inquire about what they are saying and look for common ground. If I whack the person, I am positioning them as either Bad, Stupid or both.  Definitely I am positioning them as a person So Different From Me we cannot even SPEAK.  And I’m positioning myself as a Righteous Bully.  (And who do we know in this world right now we think of as a righteous bully?  Is that who we want to emulate?)

The second question to explore is  “what are we making here?” By this I mean, what is the relational consequence of this interaction?  For example — an adult reading a child a bedtime story isn’t delivering information about green eggs and ham, but is making love, connection, comfort.   In our facebook interactions what are we making?  Community?  Uncrossable boundaries?  Winners and losers?  Are we making invitations to respond, or are we making hurt creatures who are going to slink off to their own corners and reload?

An excerpt from the Leonard Cohen song Hallelujah that exemplifies the dynamic of trying to avoid hurt by shooting first

Why does this matter?  It matters because we are actually engaged in a global pattern right now that cannot end anywhere good.  And what we are doing on our facebook page is exactly the same pattern of interaction we are doing globally.

Bear with me for just one more burst of theory.  There is a dynamic in social psychology of “othering” — meaning that when we talk to and about another group as though they are fundamentally different to us, we position them as “other,” and when we other people, we move through a pattern of seeing them first as inferior (stupid, not worth talking to), then less human (dirty, untrustworthy, criminal), then ultimately, inhuman.  Once we move into the sequence of othering, we latch onto our own same-group identities and can no longer see the other group’s perspective. We stop seeing them as someone we can affiliate with in any way.

We see this dynamic written in giant skywriting letters every single hour of our politics right now.  We can label the divisions we have in the world right now in any number of ways — left/right, liberal/conservative, homogeneity/pluralism, self-interest/communitarianism, protectionist/global, traditionalist/progressive — the labels don’t matter.  But we immediately know which of these we affiliate with.

With this increasingly entrenched affiliation, you cannot have a conversation based on logic or argument.  Both of you have an allegiance to your group that means anything you say is heard only as the “other side,” impenetrable to your perspective.  (And I will fully admit I fight the tendency to “other” the right every minute of every day.  It is HARD).

From the perspective of social psychology, when we hit a place in society where one group says “I won’t bake a cake for your group,” and the other says “your group can’t eat at the same restaurant as mine,” you are in the exact same societal dynamic that leads at the extreme end to genocide.  It is the same pattern.

So what does it have to do with the fights on our facebook page?  Surely that’s just “the way of the internet?”  Aren’t we feminists “the good side” in this global tension we are currently in? Aren’t we just giving each other useful criticism?  I’m clearly ridiculous arguing that there is a link between someone shouting at Sam for posting a meme about cycling that made them angry and genocide, no?

No.  We are perpetuating the same dynamic.  If the only way we can disagree with people with whom we MOSTLY agree is to position them as offensive idiots, we have zero capacity to start a more generative kind of interaction across bigger divides.

This post is starting to become far too long, so I’ll wrap it up.  But I am just going to make a pitch for what is called “dialogic communication.”  This means communication based in inquiry, and the assumption that the other person has a valid reason for their point of view.  (Ironically, after I wrote this post last night, CBC’s The Current had a piece on exactly this thing).   Understanding that the other person is coming from a place that is logical to them might enable us to soften toward them.  And therefore, soften the divide.

What does this look like?  Well, on our page, be aware that you are on a feminist page, but we all know that this not a kind of fundamentalist feminism.  There are many variations that can be held under big tent feminism.  (Don’t even get me STARTED on skincare.  Or sugar).  So if you are in that context, and you think “this doesn’t feel feminist to me,” why not get curious instead of police-y?  Think maybe, huh, I wonder why Sam thought this was a fit on this page?  how does her version of feminist differ from mine?  ASK her — This triggers something for me, why did you think this had a feminist lens?  Ask yourself — how can someone I otherwise agree with have this perspective?  What am I missing about why they might have posted this?  And even if you do understand and disagree, think about what this says about the wonders of multiplicity and how two people can differ and still respect each other and have more in common than they don’t.

(Sidenote:  There’s a group in Boston that had its origins in great work in dialogue communication with two groups on the other side of reproductive rights at the height of clinic bombings, getting the groups together not to agree but to see a bit more about the grey in each other’s perspective — and to see each other as more human.  Go read about them for more on dialogic practices).

The most important thing my beloved mentor Barnett Pearce taught me was the concept that dialogic communication is the ability to live in the tension between holding your ground and being profoundly open to the other.

It is not easy.  I know that.  And yes, I know all of the indignant arguments that boil down to “why should I listen to them, they’re not going to listen to me.” And the fear — the great great fear — that makes us hammer harder at our points because we are so anxious and worried that our voices can be suppressed, or because we cannot stand watching pain and injustice unfold. And yes, women and non gender conforming people are very angry at this point in history, and that is not a bad thing if it makes us disrupt the shitty historical patterns that inexplicably continue into this moment.  But if we turn anger on each other, you can observe right there and then how we stop listening to each other.  And we just slink off into hurt and righteous indignation instead of banding together. That’s not taking us anywhere.

I was thinking about the absurdity of this:  I was trying to moderate an out of control comment section on the facebook page a few months ago — trying to leave some dialogue without deleting the whole incendiary post — and I asked people to just be a little kinder to each other.  Someone called me a fascist.  Because I was asking people to be kind.

That’s just fucked up.  We need to be kinder, and we need to weave together across our grey areas if we are going to counter this very very dangerous othering.  And there’s no better place to do this than on a page about using our strength wisely.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who has a PhD in social construction communications, and has had this pent up post in her for a while.  And she invites people to agree or disagree thoughtfully and kindly.  


Be safe! Savour your life!

I wrote a post last week about learning to “dance the songs of the land I am in” — i.e., move my body in the ways that my body is capable of moving — after struggling with a (thankfully short!) bout with vertigo.

After it posted, I got a message from a friend who lives in Wales.  I met her on a wildlife photography trip in the Norwegian Arctic about 7 years ago, and then, I admired the way she threw herself into her photography.  Then I became even more awed as she took up triathlon, then IRONMAN, in her late 50s.  (She’s 62 now). Just from, you know, bog-standard fitness most of her life.  She often sends me little notes after reading something I’ve posted, but this one shocked me:

12068745_962965670450865_5473526710442029226_oEnjoyed reading your last blog. I empathise. We are always told that running is good for us, sadly not my case. 5 weeks ago I was hit by a car whilst out running. Fractured rib, 2 litres of blood drained from my lungs and some broken bones in my left foot. 2 weeks in intensive care, however….. I was lucky, I am still me, I didn’t go through the windscreen, I hopefully will race again one day. Just a little message to never take life for granted because we never know how long we will be allowed to live it.

 I was running on a road I have used for the last 10 years and was hit at 30 mph by a Range Rover. Left my socks and shoes 20 feet from my body! Luckily I don’t remember anything until I woke up in ambulance 40 mins later. And also luckily a doctor was one of the first on the scene. The driver was apparently saying that he didn’t see me! In broad daylight in turquoise!

I asked if the driver was texting or drunk.

Don’t know. Little old man with bad eyesight seems to be the current thoughts. Police are deciding whether to bring charges!

Sadly it meant that couldn’t race Ironman Wales this year with my son, my coach and 2 friends. Never to be repeated opportunities. However as I said earlier I am grateful to still be me and still be alive.  Can only look to the future and see what happens.

Later she added:

I have done some thinking and hold a gratitude in my soul for surviving the accident but also a deep sorrow for what I have lost.

I got this text from my friend in the same week that Sam is working hard at learning to swim to find something she can do that is okay for her injured knee, and when fellow blogger Catherine is hobbling around on crutches after falling down the stairs and badly spraining her ankle.  And when many other people in my close world are dealing with cancer, autoimmune illnesses, constraining mental health issues, joints giving out.

We are such strong people, us fit feminists — we’re standing on our hands, and running the mudmoiselle, and learning to swim as adults, and taking out our piercings for mammograms, and analysing the impact of racism and sexism in tennis.  But we are also fragile creatures, and our bodies are — even when muscled and densely-boned —  fallible, soft containers for our indelible souls.  My vertigo reminded me of that — gravity is real, y’all — and the note from my friend hit it home.  Her SOCKS AND SHOES WERE BLOWN OFF HER FEET WHILE SHE WAS RUNNING IN BROAD DAYLIGHT.



It’s getting darker out there here in the northern hemisphere, and Sam wrote some great things last week about keeping up our momentum as the temptation to snuggle in the house kicks in.  I want to add a big message about being safe.

nighttime-safety-1513868402I don’t have Big Tips other than the obvious — add lights, then add more lights, to your body and your bike; add reflective gear; tell someone where you’re going; make sure you can hear traffic;  if you’re running on the road, make sure you can see oncoming cars and pay attention to where they are; if you’re riding, take the lane.  If you’re driving, put down the phone, relax and pay attention, especially when there are bikes and runners on the road.

As a favour to me, do one thing right now that will make your workouts and movement safer — mine is to make sure my bike lights are charged and to tuck them into my pannier so I can’t “forget” them when I have to ride home in the dusk next week.

But mostly I want to say dumb things like — don’t fall down on the ice and don’t fall down the stairs.  Don’t fall!  Keep safe, lovely fit feminists!

People get hurt, our bodies give way to wear, accidents happen.  We can’t control it — but remembering it is a good reminder — as my friend said — to savour what is true, to use your body in the way your body lets you use it.  To love the people around you with your full heart.

(Her shoes and SOCKS!)



This hackneyed but important reminder to savour your life and the body and fitness you have right now was brought to you by Cate Creede, who lives and works and enjoys the full bodied presence of her cats in Toronto.  This is Emmylou.




Movement in four times


A month ago, I tried to haul myself out of bed and the room spun.  Violent, sudden, a ship hit by a giant wave.

My business partner has vertigo and I recognized it immediately.  I laid still, searching on my phone for what to do, tried the epley manoeuvre, made it to the bathroom and fought nausea while brushing my teeth.  Because Danny has this, I knew that this is something that can be treated by a physiotherapist, and I called the specialist clinic and — magically — there was a cancellation.  I took motion sickness meds and made it to the clinic, had my head and body moved around at different angles while wearing a virtual-reality-like set of goggles that measured my eye movements, felt like I was falling, felt better.

I left with two diagnoses:  benign paroxysysmal positional vertigo (the sudden, overwhelming world spinning) and unilateral vestibular hypofunction (more chronic, the signs of which I’d been noticing for a couple of years now).  I also left with some eye exercises, a greater appreciation for physiotherapy and with an unfamiliar sense of fragility.  Every time I moved my head for a couple of days, I felt a whirl, felt something in my brain, felt like I had to move very carefully.

I’m not used to that, feeling my brain and my body from the inside out.  Like I can feel the shell of my brain outlined inside my skull, feel gravity outlining a force around my body.


For the next few days, I walked through my workdays as if I was underwater.  “My multi-tasker is broken!” I lamented.  I had literal vertigo, but was conscious of the metaphorical vertigo – life moving fast, in fragments.  So much work, so many screens, so much input, pace of life.

Four days later, I took my fragile, gravity-heavy self on a plane for a two part trip:  Uganda for a wedding and the Kyrgyzstan to visit friends who are living there temporarily and to attend the world nomad games.  (More about the games next week).  I’ve written before about how much I love to run when I’m traveling, and I’m in the middle of my “218 workouts in 2018” challenge.  But when the world moves around you every time you nod your head (and apparently I nod my head a lot — I’m so agreeable!), you have to adjust.  I’m not the best adjuster.   I had to rethink what I take for granted, how I orient myself to moving my body in new spaces.

Moment 1:  Running in rural Uganda

IMG_2512I run a learning and development project for youth in Uganda, and our social worker was getting married.  The first few days were a lot of driving, a lot of celebration, a lot of meetings, a lot of dancing.  Dancing felt safer than I expected.

Then, the morning I was leaving, I had a spare hour — and I was able to go out for a run.  I was in Kasese in the western part of Uganda, nestled in the base of the soft, unsung Rwenzori mountains.

I started out from town down the road to Kilembe, one of my favourite runs in the world.  It’s gently uphill for the first couple of kilometres, few cars, just people walking and riding on small motorcycles about their business.  I ran through loud singing from the large church as I left town, and then suddenly, I had company.  Three kids.

Zavier, Juliet, Kenneth.  Sometimes kids run with me when I’m traveling, but usually only for a minute or two.  These three stayed with me for 15 minutes until I paused for water, then rejoined me on my route back.  I pulled the headphones out of my phone and played music with a strong drumbeat to accompany us.  Another two older girls, in dresses and “slippers” (flip flops) joined in for a kilometre or so.  They all split off, suddenly, with a quick “bye.”  I jogged back to my hotel, physically grounded for the first time in weeks, ready for a nine hour drive.

Moment 2:  Dancing in Kyrgyzstan

One of our first nights in Kyrgyzstan, we were having dinner in an Uzbek restaurant that had a tiny dance floor.  A song came on that — rarely, bizarrely — prompted me to jump up and dance.  A guy was doing very specific moves, which I imitated.  Unbelievably exhilarating.

Several days later, we were walking around the cultural village at one of the sites of the World Nomad Games.  “My” song came on.  I had my friend’s two year old on my back but I started jiggling around anyway.  Felix loved it and kept cackling his toddler laugh.  I did some of the moves I’d learned and suddenly I was surrounded by a group of Kyrgyz kids and young people — videotaping me on their phones.  I laughed and danced harder.  I think I’m on kyrgyz youtube now.

A bit later, the same day, the same song.  I started to move my arms and an older woman laughed and started nodding.  Within seconds I was surrounded by a bunch of women dancing with me, all of them laughing and applauding.  When it ended, they hugged me.

IMG_0317 2

I later found the song and discovered that the lyrics translate as “dance the song of the land you are in.”  I can’t imagine a better mantra.

Moment 3:  Walking the seawall in Vancouver

I flew home 24 hours to Toronto, then three days later flew to Vancouver for work.  The edges of my vertigo are still with me, a dizzying shadow following me when I stand up quickly, really feel my butt in my chair, move my head quickly.  I’m doing my gaze training exercises, but I can barely locate my body in time and space, sleep all over the map.

After I did the prep I needed to do for my work, I went out to the seawall in Stanley Park for a walk.  I knew I didn’t have a long run in me, but I wanted to feel the full span of the city where it juts into the sea.  I knew it would take about two hours, and I started out with podcasts in my ears, listening for “something inspiring.”





About two kilometres in, I pull my earbuds out.  I let the soundscape wrap around me.  Quick lapping of the waves.  A soft burr of seaplanes.  The squeaking of a bike coming in the other direction.  The whish of bike tires.  Different languages rising and ebbing as I pass people.



The harder I listen, the more dimensions I hear.  My own feet.  Snippets of conversation.  Boats in the distance.  I look more deeply into the beach.  Big herring gulls, a crouch of grey heron, the caw of crows.  I remember birding with my ex and learning to notice the small, invisible birds.  I look closely at a gull and realize it’s trying to swallow a purple seastar whole.  “What on earth are you going to do with that?”

I walk the 11 kilometres around, jog two more so I can meet my friend for coffee on time.  My body shifts as I run, working hard, working well, but no longer listening.  Brushing past the world.

I pay attention to that.  When I need to slow down and listen, when I should dance, when I should run and move fast past the world.  When I should pull out the earbuds and just breathe.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives in Toronto when she’s not roaming the world.  She blogs here the second Friday and third Saturday of every month.





I’m 53 and a half and I’m still menstruating: is this a good thing?

On August 8th, I officially turned 53 and a HALF.  And yes, I revert to child-like ways of describing my age, because it’s how I think about it when I realize I’m still menstruating.  I’m the oldest person I personally know still having regular periods.  Gold star?

I started menstruating (“menarche,” to be technical) in October when I was 12, so soon, I will have been having periods for 41 years.  I’m old enough that the first period products I used were PADS WITH BELTS.

(For more history of menstruation stuff, there is the Museum of Menstruation; the design of the site is appalling — late 1990s-live-journal-era —  but if you poke around, there are some really fascinating bits of info — but I digress).

057fcc456fff07d41a7142e35997a8d4I had one time last year where my cycle was 42 days, but other than that, I’ve been creepily regular since 1977.  And since I’ve had no interruptions for pregnancy, breastfeeding, hormonal suppression or illness, that means that soon I will have my 533rd or so period.  (A gyne friend reminds me that with a 28 day cycle, we have an average of 13 periods per year). That is a LOT of bleeding and cramps and tampons and hormone swings and whatnot.

I decided a few years ago that I wasn’t going to take advantage of any new menstrual opportunities — I’m a tampon person, not a diva cup or period panties person — those seem like investments in a future for someone much younger.  And I’m not going to get an IUD with hormones that gradually suppress periods — I want to know when I actually stop.  I’m in this strange limbo where I menstruate but feel like the young ‘uns have a whole period culture that I’m never going to be part of.

But generally, I’m kind of neutral on my endless menstruating.  The science suggests that overall, it’s not a bad thing to have a late menopause (the medical definition of “menopause” is used when you have officially stopped having periods for a full year, and “late” is defined variably as after 52 – 55).  There IS an increased risk of reproductive cancers because of the extra estrogen — breast, ovarian and endometrial (and I had to have an endometrial biopsy a month ago because I had spotting and “my age makes me automatically suspicious”).  But on balance, later age at menopause is associated with better health, longer life and less cardiovascular disease.  That “better health” includes lower risk for heart disease and stroke, stronger bones, and a 13% higher chance of living to be 90.  I’ll take that.

But.  This “still bleeding after all these years” thing raise new questions when I think about my whole fit-at-midlife thing.  Like most other people-who-menstruate, I think I’ve learned to sort of pretend that my cycle is something that doesn’t “really” affect what I do in fitness-land.  When I used to run a lot, I did read once that we are at our most hormonally vibrant or some such the week after our periods, and that it might be a good time to schedule a race, but I can only vaguely recall why that might be, and I certainly never took that into consideration in making plans.  (Hello, Boston marathon people?  Could you please change the date?  I’ll have my period that week).

I’ve certainly always operated on the principle that your period isn’t supposed to slow you down.  My late 70s/early 80s adolescence was full of those girls-in-white-pants-dancing-around ads for tampons and pads, and even before that, there was cultural pressure not to let the world define us as weaker because of our uteruses.   When I was pubescent, there were a lot of these already-old brochures around the house, because my mother had taught phys ed and health in the 60s.  I pored over these booklets, produced by sanitary napkin companies.  They all assured me it was okay to dance or do sports — not too “strenuous”, but all the normal things.

There might be weepiness or smelliness, but these could be easily dealt with with enough sleep, the right attitude and the right products.

(That girl weeping at her dressing table has haunted me my whole life.  Maybe I AM being a drama queen!  I never did learn how to Smile, sister, smile!  Maybe when I learn that, I’ll stop menstruating?)

So it was official, periods weren’t going to slow me down — and mostly, they didn’t, despite some pretty hellish PMS for parts of my life.  (I might have been fighting with my spouse, but I was running! I do remember my ex saying to me once, when I came back from a sticky summer evening run all hormonally cranky — “don’t just stand there with bugs on your neck yelling at me!”)

But over the past several years, I feel like I could use some of these little brochures telling me what to expect in perimenopause, the period of time between which your hormones start to change and when you stop menstruating.  I’ve had night sweats and disrupted sleep for at least seven years, which are well known experiences of perimenopause.  Screenshot 2018-08-01 17.54.03But I’ve also noticed that I have almost overwhelming fatigue a few days before my period, sometimes just for a day, sometimes for several.  Like so much fatigue that I think I’m getting the flu and I take to my bed for a few hours.  (See, I am a weeping drama queen!)

This fatigue is a factor in my overall wellbeing, but it’s not something that is widely acknowledged or addressed. My family physician has never once asked me about my whole peri-meno experience, simply ticking off whether or not I’m still having periods.  And sometimes, other women can be reluctant to talk about feeling less … strong or fit or energetic or something — because of our periods.  I had a (female) ex who got irritated when I mentioned it, like it was a sign of wimpy weakness.  And I’ve had moms of teens say that they want to encourage their daughters to stay active and not be tagged with misogynist assumptions about weakness, so they don’t even really want to acknowledge that you might just want to lie on the couch. I get that — and, my own personal experience is that I get super tired and don’t WANT to do anything in the days before my period anymore. 

So… mostly, I don’t.  I think I’m like a Menstruator Emeritus now — with more than 530 periods under my belt, I think I’ve earned the right to do periods the way I want to.  And that means taking to my bed for a big nap if I feel like it, and not obfuscating why.  It means talking about the realities of night sweats and sleep disruption and slower metabolism.  And if I want to go for a 100km bike ride, I can do that too.  The only thing I won’t do is learn how to change a menstrual cup in a public washroom.


Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and works in Toronto and blogs here twice a month regularly and other times when she has something to say.  Here she is on her 53rd birthday.


What I learned working out every day in July

IMG_1918On Tuesday night last week, I found myself skipping rope and doing side planks in a random pop-up “boot camp” type class taught by my spinning teacher.  That was my final entry in my “work out every day in July” streak.

I don’t know exactly *why* I decided I wanted to work out every day in July — I think it actually happened because I roused myself from a stupor at 8 pm after a travel day on July 1 and went for a short run, and felt energized and happy.  And thought, what would happen if I tried to get out and do some kind of intentional movement every day in July, even when I didn’t feel like it?

I wrote a little bit about what I was discovering about the emotional benefits of moving every day about a month ago.  I definitely felt more clarity and much greater awareness of the relationship between exercise and mood.  (Spoiler:  it’s important).  But I also learned a bunch of things about my own habits and that elusive thing called motivation. In no particular order…

  1. Everything that looks like intentional movement beyond your day to day “counts.”  I’ve made this assertion before in our posts about “218 in 2018” — but my 32 workouts in July (I did two in one day, once) ranged from overt “workouts” (the boot camp class or runs) to long bike rides (alone and with friends) to yoga classes and videos to paddling a canoe and camping to deliberately riding my bike all over the city for errands to deliberately walking to errands/dinner.  And every one of these activities made me feel calmer, happier and accomplished.


2.  Be playful — think less about “training” and more about “movement.”  When I started this little streak, I was clear that I wasn’t trying to build strength or improve times or get ready for an event — that I just wanted to move every day.  Sam and I have had a lot of discussion about the need for rest days when you have training goals — and I agree.  But that’s not what this was.

One of the things about just needing “to move” every day is I got less rigid about what I did to move — and discovered a kind of playfulness I don’t bring to my movement very often.  I played with a kind of underwater skateboard in someone’s pool, went for a long  paddle on our non-travel day on a canoe trip (and ran into a lady moose bathing!), and, in the last week of the streak, did a handstand for the first time in yoga practice.


I was ridiculously proud of myself.

So by the time I got to skipping rope in the pop-up class on July 31, I was just 8 years old again.  Hopscotch, anyone?

3.  The voices in my head that say “just skip today’s workout” are persuasive and diverse, but are worth overcoming. I have been running for 23 years, and I cannot count the number of times I have actually gone so far as to put on running clothes and then flopped back onto the couch or into an online rabbit hole and never made it out.  This happens a lot to me.  But with this streak, that wasn’t an option — I was going to work out, I just had to figure out how.

There are a LOT of factors that make it easy to skip days, and I saw them all in this month.  Work stuff that piled up against a need to get to a friend’s for dinner (with the burgers!), with a thunderstorm in the mix (I squished in a 4km run that ended in the rain, and was 15 minutes late for dinner).  Very hot  busy day and no time for a run plus a shower (I walked 5 km to meet a friend for dinner and a movie instead, and accepted that I was going to arrive damp.  They ordered me a drink while they were waiting).  Spinning studio closed because of issues with construction upstairs — hence the pop up bootcamp class.  A Sunday that was overloaded and included an early meeting an hour away, brunch with a friend even further away, sausages in the brunch that did NOT lend themselves to running, a flat tire on my bike, and severe ennui with running in my neighbourhood  — I ended up willing myself into my running clothes at 7 pm, texting a pic to my cousin for accountability, taking a bike share bike down to the beach, and having my fastest, strongest and happiest run of the year).


 4.  Plans should be loose.  In this framework, weirdly, I found it better to NOT have a plan for what I was going to do on any given day.  Because it is July, I have a less rigid work schedule — so I tried to listen to what I needed, and look at what was actually happening in the world.  A couple of times I planned long bike rides but woke up and took stock and realized my body needed yoga instead.  Another time I spontaneously drove out of the city for a 60km ride at 3 pm on a Sunday.  Honouring what I felt like doing felt like a huge gift to myself, and gave me that same kind of airy, restorative rhythm that traveling alone does.  I know this is a huge privilege — and it’s summer, light, and less busy.  But listening to what I actually needed let me work my body hard over a month without hurting it.

Which leads me to ….

IMG_18185.  Rest matters.  Even though I was working my body every day, I did it in a way that gave different parts of me opportunities to rest.  A lot of the workouts were yoga, which, while strength-building, also kept me aligned and supple and grounded for the runs and rides.  When I walked, I listened to non-political podcasts.  I tried to get as much sleep as possible.  And whenever I could, I took to a hammock.  I’m lucky enough to have one on my deck, and Susan is brilliant enough to bring one camping.  Hammocks are the best.

6.  Every time you move, you are building overall health, for now and as you age.

One of the things I was working on throughout the spring was a giant project about the role of mitochondrial health in our health overall.  There is huge emerging evidence that exercise prevents cellular aging by boosting mitochondria. This speaks directly to all of the reasons I want to stay fit — to age well, with good mobility, with strength, and with emotional balance.  I have written about this endlessly, but I felt it this month.  Even though I wasn’t doing anything deliberate to “get stronger” or “faster,” that run on July 29 was my most comfortable and fastest in at least two years, and I got into a handstand for the first time since I was 10. I felt the tightness in my thighs and hamstrings loosen up.  And I slept better.

I DID take a day off active exercise on August 1, mopping up a bunch of undone work and housework before taking off on a short holiday.  But I still did a few sun salutations and stretches.  My body asked for it.  And my streak taught me to listen.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and works in Toronto and blogs here twice a month.


Moving through the world alone

IMG_1747I wrote last week about trying to move my body intentionally every day in July as a way of “breathing in unison with the world.”  After a pretty stressful couple of weeks, I needed a really restorative weekend — a kind of shivasana from work and the news and a family loss.  Saturday I didn’t leave my house — I cleaned and did yoga and read and lay in my hammock — and then Sunday, after making a quick breakfast for a friend, I left the city and went for a 60km solo bike ride.

It was hot and it was perfect.  The route meant I only had to stop two or three times, very briefly, and I just rode and felt the road, bumpy and smooth, felt my hands hold me safe. I got home and though my body was hard-worked and I had to sit at my desk and do some work-work, I felt perfectly happy, perfectly restored.

While I was riding alone, I was thinking about a conversation we’ve been having among the blog writers about traveling alone.  When I was on my way back from Bhutan in May, Catherine commented about how comfortable I seemed traveling alone, and asked how I’d learned to be that comfortable.  I get this kind of question a lot — when I ran into someone at a Hannukah party last year I had only “seen” that year via social media, she gave me a huge hug and immediately asked how I was brave enough to travel alone.

I’ve written a few times about my evolution from being a person who was anxious about everything to being a person who has traveled alone in many many countries where I don’t have the language or even the most basic understanding of How it All Works.  For me, it really parallels why I needed to ride by myself last Sunday — I need the restoration of moving my body completely at my own rhythms, through space and time and whatever is swirling in my soul.  When I am with others, no matter how much I love them or enjoy being with them, I’m orienting myself to what they need, adjusting my rhythms to theirs.  There is something profoundly selfish and beautiful and grand and life-giving about orienting myself to just what I need.

I do have worries when I travel or ride alone — I’m not experienced at bike repair, so when I rode my bike alone across Latvia and Estonia last year, I said a little Tire-God prayer every day when I reached my resting place and I hadn’t had to deal with a flat or broken spoke.  And sometimes, when I travel alone, I go to places that I wouldn’t go if I was considering the safety of a companion — the most obvious example being a trip I made to the Democratic Republic of Congo two years ago.  (That’s a whole post in itself, but I had been traveling to places adjacent to the border for ten years, it was a pocket of momentary calm, and I wanted to see the contrast with Rwanda and Uganda, which I know fairly well.  But when I found myself in a tent at least 50 m from anyone else in the forest, rehearsing how to say “can I please put my clothes on before you kidnap me” in french before I went to sleep, I did wonder at my decision-making. And had to take a sleeping pill to get through the night.  And in fact, that park was closed to tourists in May this year after 12 rangers were killed and two British tourists were kidnapped by rebels).

When I ask other people why they like to travel alone, I see my own experiences reflected back. One friend said “What I like most about travelling alone is that I have only myself to rely on. As part of a couple for the past 30 years, you sometimes forget the “you” that existed before the “them”. You forget how naturally resilient you are, how curious and how open to adventure. Travelling alone gives me an opportunity to reconnect with those parts of myself I have not seen in awhile and to recognize my own abilities. Travelling alone brings me back in touch with my mind and my body – but most importantly, it gives me glimpses of my soul.”

Another friend — also married — echoed her. I like the quality of time when traveling alone. It seems to pass more slowly/fully (in a good, not boring way) and I tend to reflect more in real time when traveling along.”

When I ask other people why they are reluctant to travel alone (or why they think I’m “brave,”), some of the responses are what I expect — “I’m afraid of trying to navigate in another language and not being able to figure it out” or  “I like having a shared experience to continue to discuss and reflect on again and again after an adventure” or “I don’t know what to do with myself at night, when I don’t really feel safe going out alone in strange places” — but others really touch at the most tender parts of ourselves — like fear of assault or a fear of being judged as “less than” for being seen to be alone in the world, encountering one’s own deepest shame or sadness at being single.

Those tender parts of me do get evoked too, but for me it’s a kind of anxiety-driven crankiness that can show up in incredible impatience in the transitional points of travel — finishing the Estonia trip and tripping over a very unhelpful young hotel worker who made it very difficult to store my bike, dealing with a pugnacious woman in the security queue in the airport in New Delhi who kept pushing my backpack from behind and loudly denounced me as “holding up the line by reading.”  (I was reading and moving, trying to be patient with the long queue).  I am not at my best in these encounters, and sometimes I think I like to travel alone so the people I care about don’t witness this part of me.  (Ask my exes about this sometime ;-)).

But that’s just a fraction of my experience — and probably a fractal of my real life as well.  When I travel alone, I am reminded that I am comfortable being seen to be single in the world. There are many many reasons to value being partnered and to have companions weaving through the years with you — but that isn’t how my life has unfolded, and some of the comments I get from other women I encounter while traveling who really envy my freedom remind me that I have something precious too.  I get to be an Auntie in a global sense, and I get to carve out my own adventures on this unpredictable gorgeous planet.

When I was in Luang Prabang in Laos last year, in my five (delightful!) days alone between organized bike trips, I wandered into a small monastery and came across this post-it note on an old painted door.

Image of old yellow and red painted door with two post it notes, one in Lao and one in English: “if you want to [be] strong learn to be alone please”
Traveling alone, riding alone — this is the way I’ve learned to be alone.  And at this middle aged point in my life, this is how I keep discovering my strength.

What about you?  Do you travel alone?  What version of yourself do you live into?


Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is based in Toronto but planning a trip to Uganda and Kyrgystan next month.