fitness

My new best friend: in praise of my Bowflex C6 spinning bike

How do you like your new bike?

I love this bike. I love this bike so much I want to take it upstairs and show it a good time.”

I wrote a post a few weeks ago about how, on Labour Day, I spontaneously bought myself a spinning bike, suddenly realizing how much I was going to want easy access to hard movement as the days get colder here in Toronto.

I have never been so grateful for a purchase in my life. The first time I started towelling dripping sweat off myself in my own living room, watching it pool on my wooden floor, I realized that the kind of intensity I get from working out hard, inside, on a piece of good equipment, is a unique, important experience in my portfolio of movement.

The bike is a Bowflex C6, which is about the same footprint as a peloton (i.e, unobtrusive), but about half the price (I paid $1399 Canadian, plus tax and a $125 fee + tip for a guy to assemble it for me). The major difference from a peloton is it doesn’t come with any kind of monitor — you connect to an ipad, phone, computer screen or TV with something like appletv. The bluetooth is seamless, and you can connect it to any streaming service that uses bluetooth (or do a virtual class without connecting; there’s plenty of data on the console). And it has an “ERG” mode, which means that with a virtual program like Zwift that enables it, the program will adjust the intensity of the bike automatically.

I love spinning, and I love my local spinning studio. I’ve been very grateful for the outdoor alley spinning Torq has offered through the summer, and I’m glad they’re able to offer a subscription to virtual spinning. I’ll buy the sub and do classes. And — as much as I love Torq — there is something about the relationship I’m carving out between this bike and a self-guided training program in Zwift that is satisfying a deeply personal need to work hard, in my own rhythm, at my own pace, in my own time. It’s something I forgot I needed.

It’s hard to explain why riding a bike inside, alone, in a virtual world, feels so meaningful. Right now, my life is over-scheduled, all mediated through screens and complex needs of a constellation of people. Weeks with literally 17 zoom meetings, several of them 3+ hours, where I’m facilitating all of the groups. It’s draining in a whole new way. And prep and follow up for all of them.

When I’m not in the zoom, you would think I would want to be outside, be with real life (distanced) people. And I do, and I’m walking, running, riding my bike for errands, hoping to spin outside at least one more time before the snow flies. But there is something elemental about working so hard, so focused, so simply, that is giving me access to a deep flow state that I sorely missed in my life. It reminds me of how I used to feel doing long, solo runs during marathon training: wiped out, on the edge, tested in the best ways, restored.

Sam has written a ton about her love for racing and team riding in Zwift. I’m using Zwift too, but every time Sam posts a photo of her workouts, I laugh. She’s embedded in a pack. I’m alone. Just like my favourite way to ride in real life.

One of Sam’s riding shots on the left, one of mine on the right. (Slide the slider to compare).

In fact, I’m so alone in my zwifting that on any ride more than half an hour, I’m often wearing the segment jersey, because I’m the fastest woman on the course. Often I’m the *only* woman on the course. But I’ll take the jersey anyway, because I’m working hard.

Fundamentally, Zwift is a simulation, a game and a social platform. I haven’t fully figured it out yet — it’s a massive, popular app, and there are a lot of gear-heady people, and a lot of teams, and many events. But I did figure out right away that the main way I’m going to use it is on my own. I’m so overscheduled that having one more mental timing in my day, one more planned event, is too many. I can’t add “time trials at 4 pm” to my day without something giving. Sam and Sarah have encouraged me to join some of their team events, and other friends have said “lets ride together!” I love that this is possible — and right now, this meditative time, hopping on the bike when the time presents itself for me, safe from traffic, safe from wind, with no timing, pushing myself to the threshold — doing it on my own is deeply restorative.

When I first signed up for Zwift and was figuring out the bike, I realized I needed some sort of vaguely structured program, but one that was completely flexible to my schedule. I came across an 8 week gran fondo training program, and impulsively signed up. (A gran fondo in real life is an organized “big” bike ride, usually a longish distance, but not a race). Right now, I’m in week three of an eight week gran fondo training program and… it’s intense. It’s three 50 – 60 minute rides per week plus a long ride — 56 km and almost two hours last weekend. With spikes for intense threshold intervals.

This was the output from my ride on Sunday afternoon. The red spike at the end was… a challenge.

One of the slightly weird things about the virtual world of Zwift is that even when you’re riding “alone,” you’re in a world with a bunch of other people, from all over the world. Zwift manages the number of worlds available at any given time to create a sense of community — for the most part, anyone riding at that time is riding in one of three worlds. So I’ll be riding along by myself, and suddenly ride through (or be passed by) a peloton of riders. I like the way the avatars apparate (is that a word?) through and past each other, and I also like the Zwift habit of giving and receiving thumbs ups to fellow riders (called “ride on”). I also rode a guy from… somewhere … part of the way through that ride, and my “drafting” him pushed me above my intended threshold for that segment. (I got a little badge for the drafting, and we all know how much I like little badges).

It seems bonkers to enjoy riding for two hours inside my house through a simulated landscape. (I think I was “in” Innsbruck that day). But there’s something incredibly freeing about working this hard with no other inputs — just my body moving, simple intervals — steady, hard, harder, recovery — the sweat dripping onto the floor, and the playlist my niece made for me called “Feel like you can do anything.” I love spinning classes — but the simplicity of this elemental kind of workout is soothing to my world-jangled self like nothing else.

When I finished, I was spent, in the best possible way. I didn’t have to navigate through traffic, or a flat, or getting my bike home, or juggling equipment. The two hours were really two hours, not half an hour getting ready, half an hour driving to the start, 20 minutes stopped at lights, etc. etc. My feet and body didn’t hurt the way they would if I’d run even half that time. Bananas and walnuts were right within reach. My dinner was ready to go on the stove. And I felt “in” my body in a way I rarely achieve.

So yeah, I like the bike. And I know I’m going to be even more grateful for it as the dark and cold descends.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives, zooms and spins in Toronto.

fitness

What’s your drishti right now?

Anyone who practices yoga knows the feeling. You’re in a balancing posture — even something as simple as standing on one foot on your way to tree pose. You start to wobble, and the instructor tells you to focus on one spot on the floor. You focus on something — the instructor’s foot, a water bottle, something just outside the window, even a weird speck on the floor — and miraculously, you find your body stilling, balance suddenly possible.

(Photo credit — Wesley Tingey, Unsplash)

This practice of focusing on one spot in yoga is called drishti. As with everything yogic, there are multi-layered philosophical and spiritual implications to this concept — but the most important aspect for me is the notion that when you focus your gaze, the energy and alignment of your body follows. As the writer in that link puts it, “a steady, intentional gaze provokes the same steadiness in the body.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about drishti in a broader sense over the past few weeks. Most of my work is about helping people define an overarching sense of purpose for their work, for their lives, and to help them use that purpose to stay steady when there’s a lot of noise, to make decisions when they have to pare things down.

I had a really cranky week last week, for no obvious reason except that I’m super busy with work, which is more fatiguing in zoom than when there’s more incidental movement. And <waving hands and gesturing vaguely at the world>. But I found myself externalizing that crankiness in not-so-generative ways, culminating in a weird argument with my building manager about his habit of wearing his mask under his nose (we have a bylaw about masks in public spaces in our condo building). And then engaging others on my building’s facebook page about this. Which went about as well as you’d expect.

This? Not my best moment. Not my best self. Of course I’m “correct” about the fact that he’s not complying — but was that really the hill to die on? Was it really something I needed to throw my energy into?

Last week, I lost track of the things that are most important to me right now, the things that are my metaphorical drishti: build community; be present to my clients; get my work done with minimal fuss; keep moving my body; be present to my friends and loved ones; do some things that give me a sense of play. And when I lost track of them, I started to flail.

One of my clients made a comment yesterday that “it feels like it’s been a long pandemic.” The phrasing made me laugh — like “pandemic” is now a unit of time, an era. But I feel her comments on a spiritual level. March was a long time ago, and the days are getting darker and colder, where I live. Usually, travel plans for the winter keep me going through the Fall — and clearly, that’s not going to happen. It’s easy to lose my balance. But awareness — that’s the key.

The weight of all of this lifts a little when I see it, when I consider the greater intentions of drishti: Through drishti you can cultivate a deeper level of concentration, improve your alignment, and tune into the inner sensations of the body in every pose, so that you’re practicing the way the ancient sages intended—with full awareness.

I don’t know about the intentions of ancient sages, but I do know the value of full awareness, of concentrating on what I’m trying to do here. On the focus that will keep me in balance over the next few months: presence to what matters, and letting go of what doesn’t. Community, work, play and movement.

That feels better already.

What about you? What’s your drishti? How can this concept help you stay in balance?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and tries to stand on one foot in Toronto. Here she’s practicing tree in her standard zoom work outfit — photobombed by Emmylou.

fitness

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

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 had followed all of the protocols was found to be the source of a superspreader event, sparking a Covid19 outbreak that has affected 61 people so far.

Outdoor spinning at Torq Ride

There’s a lot more to be explored about harm reduction and balancing risks/benefits, but that’s for another post. I think this comment from one of the people I talked to captures a really balanced point of view: “I’m not happy about the shutdown, but honestly I think we are all better when we stick to our areas of expertise. If those with the greatest professional insight and authority are saying we need to close our businesses, then we defer to the experts. I don’t think it’s fair to blame the politicians for siding with the informed opinions of those that understand what is truly in our collective best interest.

At the bottom line, most people I know were not working out indoors anyway. Some have shifted into more global virtual options, like Zwift or Yoga with Adriene. Others have continued to support independent fitness in new ways, like Alex’ completely virtual “superhero” classes that Kim, Susan, Tracy and I do, the virtual version of classes offered by local studios, outdoor workouts or yoga in parks or, my favourite, Torq Ride‘s spinning in the alley.

After the shutdown was announced, I noticed some really creative, quick pivots to fully virtual or outside among the different independent studios I’m connected with, and they all had some variation of the theme that Chi Junky posed on IG — now, it’s life or death: “Support small biz today, so we can be here for you tomorrow.

Why do the local small businesses matter? Well, that’s another post too, but I’ll just say that every fitness leap forward I’ve ever made, I’ve made because of a hands on coach who saw what I could do and encouraged me to reach further. Ashtanga yoga, pilates, headstands, handstands, wall walks, deadlifting 200lbs, running marathons, training to ride in the mountains of Bhutan, settling my agitated body — every one of these moments was because someone personally showed me how to do it, in my personal body, and helped me arrange my own body to safely, confidently go further.

Local studios are the places where we light candles when things go wrong in our communities, gather food for foodbanks, provide access to fitness classes to people without resources, and do the hard work of creating inclusive, anti-racist, queer positive spaces. They’re the places we go to lie down in yin, by candlelight, when the winter gets to be too dark and we want to be in silent community. Local studios make us who we are.

I started compiling a list of ways to help, surveyed some of the members of my 220 workouts in 2020 group, and asked the owner of Torq for some additional thoughts. Here’s the consensus.

Nicole working out with her small group in the park
  1. Buy class packs or pay your monthly fee, if you can. I’m still paying my monthly fee for the small gym across the street, even though I haven’t stepped foot inside since March — since I value the convenience and their support of the community over time. I’ve also purchased class packs for yoga and spinning classes I may or may not be able to use. For me, it’s paying it forward and acknowledging the incredible community support they’ve created over the years.
  2. Do virtual classes or outside workouts with your local studios. Spend your money on local spinning classes instead of peloton, go spin in the alley with Torq, do Chi Junky’s 28 day virtual challenge, go work out in the park with Nicole and the coaches from Move. Or your local equivalent. It’s community supportive, AND it preserves the focused attention that we value so much with local studios. And in keeping with this…
  3. “Think twice about free offers.” That’s great advice from my spin studio. Julie notes that when big brands like peleton offer a free month of virtual or what have you, it crushes smaller brands and eliminates healthy competition. As she says “Free might sound good but it also might mean that your favourite local places might not be here when this is all over.”
  4. Buy swag. I still have to go pick up Kim’s “Zen AF” masks and my “yoga beasts of the east” tshirt from Chi Junky. And I have a Torq hoodie on order. Shop local and wear your swag proudly on the endless zoom calls.

5. Boost their online presence with a review. As Julie notes, google reviews raise the chances that people will find your site when they search for local fitness. And people trust what real people have to say about their experiences. A short statement is even better than a 5 star rating. Google your favourite studio and just click on “google reviews,” leave a review. Say nice things. They’ll see it and appreciate you.

6. Just say nice things, generally. Send them a note. I’m blown away by how quickly my local studios pivoted last week and immediately started offering virtual and outdoor options, despite any frustration they might have felt. Tell them how much you appreciate them.

7. Ask your favourite local studio to run a private session. You can do this alone, or with a partner or group you’re bubbled with. Torq has been offering privates, and it’s a great way to do something a little different with your bubble people. You get all the goodness of personal attention, and your studio gets a good chunk of money for a one hour session. Win win.

8. Look at your benefits plan, if you have one, to see if there’s some cash you can spend. Does your benefits plan include un-used fitness spending? Spend it now at your local gym and have them pause the access.

9. Be part of the online community. Participate in your studio’s social media — support them, cheer them on, appreciate them and share pics of you doing their things. You are the community.

I’ll leave you with a few words from the Chi Junky social media:

With so many options in the online world — and truth be told lots of good free options — know that the small studios that make our neighbourhoods, that have spent years building very special communities and spaces to support your well being, will NOT survive the next 28 days without you supporting the virtual classes. When it comes to making a choice of the classes to take, I ask you to think about what and who you choose to support right now and think about the people who own the businesses. Think about their values and the communities they support. Of all the choices out there remember the people behind the studios.

What are you doing to support your small studios?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives, runs, yogas and spins in Toronto. Thank to Julie from Torq Ride for so many great thoughts for this post.

fitness

What does your closet look like right now?

This has been a heck of a week in the big world. My cats keep giving me that “I’d like to talk to the manager” look when I open the door in the morning and they see that it’s dark and cold or pouring rain. And I feel that too — but about Everything.

I have a lot of Big Feelings right now (waves vaguely at the whole world) and I started to write about that for this post. But then, in the spirit of alternatives to doomscrolling that Nicole wrote about earlier this week, I deleted it and I’m just going to talk about… yoga pants.

Sam posted on FB the other day that she had done the seasonal “swapout” of her clothes, and that this year, she’s putting most of her gym clothes and party clothes away for the winter, not expecting to use them.

I don’t swap out my clothes — and neither does Susan, who said, It’s so interesting, you people who swap out clothes. My clothes are just all there staring at me all year forever in greater or lesser degrees of organization.

But clothing swap aside, I was really curious about why Sam saw gym clothes as a thing to put away — since I *live* in gym clothes right now. She clarified that she wears a lot of bike shorts but mostly wears tops she can throw a jacket over for zoom, and needs long pants for forays inside and outside of the house.

That’s not me — I wear a particular kind of lululemon yoga capri about 80% of the time right now. I favour the kind that make you feel naked, which assists in my gradual decline into a feral life of no underwear, no makeup and increasingly random hair colours. As winter gets nearer, I’ll keep a pair of sweatpants nearby to throw on over my capris if I have to go out for gummy bears or fresh air.

This photo of my pile of laundry pretty much captures my life right now. That’s almost all workout clothes, all of which require Special Handling. (Delicate wash, hang dry). And even though I own roughly a dozen pairs of my favoured Fast and Free pants and Long Line Energy bras, I need to do a load of these more than once a week.

Turns out, when most of your life is in the house, lulu capris work for running, spinning (outside and in my house with my new bowflex), cycling, yoga-ing, alexing and zooming. And cleaning the house, and shopping, and lying around wondering if it’s time to start a jigsaw puzzle yet. I often wear two or three different capris a day, depending on how I’ve timed my workouts and outside time and zooms.

Blue fluevogs in the church for my uncle’s funeral; those are my sister’s boots. She was in my bubble ;-).

I do have several closets full of non-workout clothes. Work clothes, fancy clothes, happy scarves, coats, jeans. A long row of beautiful fluevogs, that I now think of as “hard shoes.” The foot equivalent of pants with a belt. Looking at them now, I’m reminded of something my sister said after returning back to Ottawa after traveling in Africa and Asia for 9 months: “Why the hell does a person need so many COATS?”

That’s how I feel right now. Why do I have so many clothes? Shoes? COATS? In October 2020, most of my clothes are merely notional, and their careful piles have been gradually softened and squished by Emmylou’s habit of burrowing into them as a daytime nest.

I went to a family funeral last week, and I wore a pair of my beloved fluevogs. It felt… weird. I’m not sure I could go back to doing that on a regular basis. It seems… unnecessary now. And not so comfortable. And I sure do need some comfort.

I’m not going out and buying special pandemic-work-at-home clothes, or pre-raphaelite nap dresses, like some sort of tubercular victorian ghost. But I am buying a lot of masks (my current joy is these soft hemp ones from United by Blue). My main criteria right now seems to be “is this soft? will this constrict me in any way?” If the answer is yes, I won’t buy it. I need everything I put on my body to foster ease and a sense of comfort.

I ordered more capris while I was writing this, all oohing and ahing over a new camo pattern — only infinitesimally different from my other two camo patterns. And I had to stop myself from ordering more masks.

What about you? What will you be leaving in your “winter closet,” literal or metaphorical? How has your relationship to what you wear changed?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is in Toronto preparing for a winter with an increasingly well-stocked home gym. Her new weekly day for the blog is Thursday.

fitness

Talk about your period!

Looking for a colour to paint your bedroom or brand your website? Consider “period red,” a new colour designed by Pantone (the international standard for colour matching), intended to give us new resources to talk openly about menstruation.

(I like the little diva cup in this diagram)

The new shade is described as “an active and adventurous red hue” that it hoped would “embolden people who menstruate to feel proud of who they are”. Note the inclusive language pantone uses, acknowledging that there are people of all genders who menstruate.

The campaign is also aimed at raising support and awareness for global initiatives to reduce the stigma associated with menstruation, especially in countries where girls and young women can’t go to school because they can’t afford or access pads. School is a fundamental part of empowerment and escape from poverty for vulnerable young women.

I shared a post about two months ago about a similar initiative in Uganda, started by a young woman who has just graduated from a project I’ve co-led for the past 15 years. Read about in in Britah’s words.

Since that post, Britah has led several workshops with groups of girls, teaching them how to make reusable pads, and teaching them how to teach others the skill. As part of the workshops, she engages the girls in developing goals, confidence and ideas about their futures.

Britah’s amazing, and she’s inspiring girls across Uganda. Right now, this is a fully volunteer project, but each workshop costs about $75 for transport, food and supplies. To support Britah’s project, you can make a  donation via this link — there is a dropdown link that specifies Kusiima Girls Foundation. Every cent will go to her, and Canadians will get a tax receipt.

And in the spirit of this adventurous bold colour and destigmatizing menstruation, tell a story about your period in the comments.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and still — still! — menstruates in Toronto.

fitness

What are you doing for your soul?

This meme popped up for me a few times last week, and it made me literally laugh the first time I saw it.

I mean, it made me laugh in that kind of slightly nervous, rueful, what-an-absurd-world-we-live in kind of way.

Where I live, the signs are certainly starting to point to the high possibility of another lockdown of some kind: cases rising, it’s getting dark, and in a few weeks, it will be too cold to eat outside. And this when the western part of the US is still on fire, structural inequities are starker than ever, US authorities are removing women’s uteruses without consent, and democracy itself in the US is in peril.

Sigh. I wanted this post to be more lighthearted, maybe all jigsaw puzzles and homemade biscuits, but the death of RBG this weekend is making it even harder to see much light ahead. So as the days get shorter, I look for some light, to sustain joy, connection, trust in humanity. And I know I’m not alone.

Here are some of the things giving me some lift — and I want to know what you’re doing to keep your soul filled right now.

  • Go for a walk in nature: Susan, Kim, the old lady dogs Shelby and Emma-the-dog and I went for a delightful wooded hike on Sunday afternoon. Another friend texted me that were also seeking the woods because they needed fresh air to process the sadness about RBG. The dogs were happy. And dirty.
  • Do something completely non-professional with your hair. Kim commented that Susan and I “looked like teenagers” from behind. I think she was talking about our hair, pulled up, both with purple stripes in different ways. Mine was in little lopsided pigtails. Clearly, any fucks I have ever given on maintaining certain “standards of appearance” have left the building.
  • Watch Schitt’s Creek from the beginning. And if you’ve seen it, watch it again. Bask in a world where homophobia doesn’t exist and people love each other for who they are, no matter how bonkers. Find it for free on CBC gem. And while you’re there, find some other hidden Canadian joys.
  • Eat outside with someone you miss. Observe distancing protocols, wear a mask when you are not actually eating, but take advantage of the last days of patio season. Remind a friend you love them.
  • Go for a walk with someone you miss. Ditto the smart protocols and taking advantage of the opportunity to be outside. Bonus points if they have a cute little dog.
  • Go to outside spinning or yoga in the park. Support your local independent fitness studio and — if you are lucky enough to be in a place with decent air quality — notice it and appreciate it.
  • Go look at some kittens. Tracy has the sweetest babies. Just poke around. Or look at grown cats who’ve taken over your new couch. Smell them if you can. They smell like a bag of oats. (Except for Georgia, the little one, who smells like rancid wax after a Candle Incident the other day).

Let her memory be a revolution.” If you’re in the US, donate to someone from Gretchen’s list. If you’re not legally able to donate to an American political candidate, support organizations helping the victims of the fires or reproductive rights or the ACLU. Or just be supportive to your US friends.

In other words: be playful; move your body; make connections; breathe deeply. And act.

What are you doing to get through this time?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is glad she went to outdoor spinning last night.

fitness

generative aging

Disorientation

I am reading an upsetting story about a collision that left a local cyclist paralysed earlier this month:

Toronto businessman John Ruffolo has been paralyzed below the waist after being hit by a transport truck last Wednesday while cycling. Ruffolo, 54, is one of Canada’s most well-known investors in the technology start-up scene, having backed several successful emerging companies such as Hootsuite and Shopify Inc.

My first thought is, oh no, that’s an awful story. And my second is, “oh, it was an older guy riding a bike.”

That “older guy” is a year younger than I am.

Severe disorientation.

In my mind, 54 is “an older guy.” It’s a category. But in my body, I am just me, somehow floating out and beyond categories.

“I look tired”

I get up for a 730 am outdoor spinning class. I look at myself in the mirror as I’m getting ready and think “I look TIRED.”

Correction, I think. I look OLD.

I remember that when I was about 42, I dated someone who was 11 years older than I was. I remember thinking at the time that he looked much older when he was tired. Oooooh, I remember thinking. That’s what aging is. Your face muscles get softer when you’re tired.

**

Birthday parties

I host a socially distanced birthday dinner on my terrace for my friend Elena, who turned 40 at the beginning of September. My mother says “you have friends who are turning 40?” I realize that four of my closest friends turned 40 this year. One of them mentions that she forgets we are 15 years apart until I remind her. The partner of another once famously remarked that he had a lot more fun with me than he expected with someone “so much older.”

***

Yes, I’m still menstruating.

Just in case you were wondering.

**

Rules

Ten years ago, I was talking to a fellow alum from my PhD program about why she’d shifted into teaching instead of consulting. “Female consultants in their 50s aren’t taken seriously anymore,” she said, seriously. “I thought teaching was a much better way to end my career.

I think about her, frequently, in my work as a 50-something female consultant. What was that?

Inevitable decline

As I write this, I get the terrible, sad and frightening news of the death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who resisted decline until her last days. But sheer will and purpose are not enough to counter age and the inevitable winding down of the body. That seems more… poignant, right this moment.

My body, 2020

In 2020, I notice that I get super tired more easily. I look distinctly soft around the edges, more worn, in the mirror in the morning. Since my trip to Salt Spring in August, my multi-tasker seems to be sputtering — I can’t hold or juggle nearly as much at once as I have typically done. Bits of my body are behaving weirdly — nerve pain in my foot, a sensation of grinding in my hip on my bike, shoulder pain from sleeping oddly. Friends my age have what I always thought of as Old People illnesses. My sister comments that my razor-sharp memory is softer than it used to be.

Is it 2020 and all its strains, or is it some complex series of subtle changes in my body reminding me that regardless of some markers of fitness — how frequently I work out, how much I could lift back in February when we lifted heavy things, how good it feels to spin — that slowly, all of my cells are just less… juicy.

For a long time, I’ve been really clear that I don’t see aging as inherently about deficits — that I’m not likely to be the kind of person who says “I might have done [insert any adventurous thing] when I was younger, but I wouldn’t now.” I resisted what felt like “giving up,” the notion that I could just turn over my body — and life — to some passive process of letting go of options, letting go of strength, like floating on a warm lazy river. Resisting the idea that some doors would close, that I had to inherently become more cautious, less adventurous, less ambitious in my wanderings.

And yet. I do have less stamina. I can’t run as fast as I used to. I am softer around the middle, and my skin has less resilience. I don’t often feel fully rested. I don’t feel compelled to try to keep up with other people who ride faster. I don’t get mad that they go faster — but I just need to go my pace. My body is — subtly, slowly — starting to wind down. Being active can stave off some of the effects of aging but we are still going to age.

**

What even is age?

At this moment in western history, age — like gender — is a more fluid concept than ever before. When I was a kid, 55 was old, clearly defined as a space where the choices made earlier in life were supposed to be paying off in the ability to retire, to bask in the devotion of grandchildren, to step back from defining and shaping the world and to float into the old age that was just around the corner.

That… is not true now. But we aren’t sure how to define what it is. I’m not old, but I am old-er. The younger people in my life protest if I say I’m old — and I know they are saying I’m fit, I’m adventurous, I’m playful. But it’s not all mind over matter. When my accountant points out I need to be planning a retirement within 5-10 years, he is correct. My body regularly clears its throat and reminds me that I’m not 50, let alone 30 or 40. But how do I bring together this sense that I’m just … me, active and energetic and fit and restless and adventurous, and I’m still on an inevitable, irresistible trajectory toward winding down?

I was working with one of my coaching clients the other day who is roughly my age. We talked about how his sense of “ambition” has evened out, how he is more mellow, more interested in teaching others than in driving for new research. I hear the same thing from that ex I had from my early 40s, who was always a super driven scientist, who scorned teaching. Now he’s talking about how much joy he gets from “teaching the kids how to do it.”

In both of these, I recognize what the human development theorist Erik Erikson talked about as the 7th phase of life, which he pegged at 40 – 65. In this phase, he believed, people can stagnate, or they can choose a path of generativity. Generativity in his definition means “giving back” — creativity, engaging with the next generation, teaching, sharing wisdom, trying to create a better space for who comes next. Like RBG.

I like this. I like thinking of myself as “generative” rather than “aging.” I like that when my body tells me to slow down, it can be a reminder to make choices about which work I choose to do, who I choose to engage with. Less energetic time can be a frustration — or it can be a container in which to be more choiceful. To let go of work, relationships, activities that fill extra space. Streamlining.

RBG certainly spent every year of her life being choiceful. Incredible focus, sustaining her body, fiercely improving the world. She was the epitome of generative. An icon to hold in front of me as I notice the reminders in my own body that there will, inevitably, be an end. As I make peace with the truth of this fit, strong, tired, aging, miraculous body of mine.

Cate Creede lives in Toronto, where tonight she is mourning the loss of Justice Ginsberg.

fitness

Keeping our favourite small fitness studios alive

In the Before Times, I traveled a lot. And one of my favourite things to do if I spent more than a couple of days in another city was to go to a local yoga studio. I’d buy a pass for a week or two, and then get a real sense of being in the local community by experiencing what slow flow or hatha felt like in another place.

I’m still on the regular mailing list for yoga studios in Vancouver, Portland and Melbourne, and every time I get a little update or announcement about some community event, I get a little flicker of a reminder of what it was like to be in downward dog in another place, feeling like I belonged. (Even if my shape was imperfect, like the one in this photo). Many many times, random yoga studios = automatic community, to me. (Not always — I went to a class with my cousin in Edmonton once that left us both bemused — and she’s a yoga teacher. But we bonded over its weirdness, so it was still fantastic).

Me in a gorgeous studio in Melbourne in December, 2018

Six full months into pandemic lockdown, many of those spaces all over the world are closing for good or struggling immensely.

This week, I got one of the regular updates from my favourite studio here in Toronto, a couple of blocks away. We are really struggling, said the owner. We thought more people would come back in phase 3 but they haven’t. If we can’t generate more revenue, we will have to close. For now, I’ll teach a lot of the classes myself and see if we can find our way back.

This studio — Chi Junky — is a beautiful space, with fantastic teachers. They’ve pivoted to virtual classes and yoga in the park, but people have got in the habit of staying home.

My spinning studio Torq Ride — also amazing — is doing a little bit better, because it’s been able to move classes outside into an alley. But those classes are 25% the size of normal classes. And both Torq and Chi Junky just completed big renos just before the lockdown.

Many people — like me — might be willing to do socially distanced classes inside if it were only their health at possible risk, but we’re all in a web of responsibility, owe protection to the people we love, and the people they love and come into contact with. So most of the people I know are being cautious — and we should — but the small places that mean so much, that are a labour of love, are at huge risk.

So here is my request to the FIFI community: today, if you can, buy a class pass for some virtual classes from one of the small, independent studios that have contributed so much to their communities. Anywhere in the world. Go nuts — find a random class in some city you’ve always wanted to visit, even! Take a class in London UK, or Melbourne, Singapore or Capetown. Wander freely.

Or, buy some swag. (Chi Junky has “Zen AF” masks). Pay your monthly fee to your independent gym, even if you’re not going back for a while. (As I’m doing for the gym across the street). Send them a note telling them how much you value them. They need to hear it.

As I told the manager of Torq the other day, I’m totally there for their virtual classes when they start up again — I’d much rather give them my money than Peloton. And for now, I’m doing all my virtual yoga from Chi Junky (classes are about $9), instead of my beloved Yoga with Adriene (where I also pay for a monthly subscription).

Here are a few of my faves you could buy virtual classes in right now — I know you have some of your own as well. Let me know in the comments what you’re doing to support independent fitness while staying safe.

Chi Junky yoga (slow flow, yin, sweat flow, restorative)

Alex’ superhero strength and conditioning classes so many of us do

Nicole Starker Campbell yoga (my cousin — she’s a great teacher!)

Spirit Loft yoga and movement classes (if you want your weight in animal flow :-))

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives in Toronto and is very happy that it’s still warm enough to spin outside.

fitness

Planning for a fit-distanced winter

Susan and I were at her cottage on the weekend, and Saturday and Sunday were those perfect last-of-summer days: breakfast on the deck, dog walks in the forest, a beautiful crisp rolly bike ride. (BTW, all those hills on my tiny bike on Salt Spring? Built me some muscles all right).

But then Monday morning, Labour Day? September 7? It was still dark when we woke up, and it was dreary and rainy. We did Alex’ virtual superhero workout (I used a log as a kettlebell for single leg deadlifts and as a thing to hop over), and then went for a soaking wet, chilly dog walk in the now-muddy woods.

When I got back to the cottage, I hit PURCHASE on something I’ve been hemming and hawing over for months: a bowflex spin bike.

Tuesday evening, when my outdoor spinning class was moved inside because of rain, and my yoga in the park was canceled, I knew I’d made the right choice.

Throughout the summer, I’ve been loving outdoor spinning, and I just discovered the wonky brilliance of yoga in the park with my favourite studio, Chi Junky. (Go buy a fun mask, a tshirt or some of their virtual classes — they are awesome and they are really struggling to stay afloat). I’m running, and riding my bike, and just being happy to be outside moving around.

But. Winter is Coming. And I feel like we are all holding our collective breath about what is going to be okay about gathering inside, where, and in what communities. I won’t rehash all of those conversations here — all I know is that I have too many vulnerable people in my life for it to be a responsible choice to go breathe heavily in an enclosed space right now. So I’m outside, or in my house. And outside is rapidly becoming Not So Appealing.

Last spring, I was okay with my basic at home set up — a few random weights, a skipping rope, Alex and YWA on the zoom, a selection of yoga and workout mats. Over time, I’ve added to my stash, and last week, I finally cleared out the antique trunk I use as a coffee table to put some of the gear out of view. (The story of clearing out that trunk could be a book — it was stuffed with letters and other paper from the 80s and 90s, from a time when the highly verbal people in my world sent handwritten letters in the mail constantly. So much overwritten romantic devotion and division, friendship, working out of what it means to be an adult. A program from the 1991 Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, a 1994 price list for Wild Women Expeditions. Some truly puzzling letters of the “who the hell is Cheryl?” variety. A few treasures, like letters from my dead grandparents and father. Stats and medals from my long-dead marathon career. Most of it now trashed or recycled, a tiny few things tucked away).

Now I have a basket of weights (two heavier kettlebells on order), and a good set up for strength and stretching and agility. But the shorter light and long workdays mean any fast, hard movement will be in the dark chill. And I’m… not good with that. I have this thing that when it’s dark, I want to corkscrew myself into a tiny home-hugging ball, audio books and jigsaws. (Remember April, all that homecooking and puzzle doing?)

So I’ve been thinking about getting some kind of spinning bike for months. Sam is an aficionado of using her real bike on a trainer, and we all know she’s a Zwift devotee. But I’m cautious about that. To start with, I’m not a racer — I love spinning, but competing with other people leaves me cold. And while many people feel perfectly fine about sticking their bikes on a trainer, it makes me feel anxious. My road bike is 13 years old, and I love it more than any other non-living being I’ve ever had a relationship with. Specialized — its maker — is wishy washy on whether trainers are a good idea. It fits me perfectly and is, as one mechanic once marveled, “in that sweet spot of early carbon frames with super simple mechanisms.” I like it that way, and I don’t want to do anything that might disrupt its perfection.

So once I ruled out the trainer, I was left with a decision about spinning type bikes. I missed the chance to buy one relatively cheaply when my studio sold off a bunch from a second location, but their bikes — while robust and wonderful — have a pretty big footprint anyway. And I don’t have a lot of space. But as I said to someone else, I have even less space for a mental health collapse — if we are going to have another mostly distanced winter, I need to sweat. Or I can’t balance everything else in my life.

I briefly paused on the idea of a Peloton, but quickly wafted past it. Just before the lockdown, I stayed in a random hotel for a political leadership convention that happened to have a peloton bike. I tried it, and it left me a little cold — the classes were … okay, but I found the bike a bit flimsy, and had a really hard time getting it the video working with my headphones. It was fussy and annoying, and certainly didn’t make me want to start worshipping at the church of Peloton.

But I did like the footprint. So I did some research, and asked some people some questions, and had this Bowflex C6 in my cart for nearly a week. Until I woke up on a dreary, rainy, chilly Labour Day Monday and thought, s**t just got real. I need this.

So I ordered it. It connects to my ipad or phone, and I can do zwift, virtual classes from my studio, peloton classes if I give into that or just plain ride. It was half the price of a peloton, and a nice person will come and assemble it for me for an extra fee. I’m supposed to get it in early October.

I’m hoping I will find myself wondering: “why the heck did I buy this thing?! I keep tripping on it as I run out the door to the gym or to spinning class!”

But just in case I don’t, it will be taking up space in my office, ready for me to hop on. How are you hedging your bets for winter fitness?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is looking out the window in Toronto and sighing.

fitness

The completist takes a holiday

It’s the end of my last day on Salt Spring Island, as I write this. I’m sad to leave — it’s been such a tonic to let myself be enfolded by unstructured time, a slower pace, the space to just fall into staring at the ocean. To eat a super healthy vegan wrap for lunch and fish and chips for dinner.

I’m a well known “completist.” I’m that person who rides around the block to hit a certain mileage on my bike (or literally leaves everyone else already eating chips and drinking cold beverages while I add another 14 km for an even 100). I like to add things up, like the 220 in 2020 group (I’m at 283; pandemics require deliberate movement). But even more, I like little rituals to mark meaningful transitions.

I was texting with a friend this morning lamenting that I have to go home this weekend, that my idyllic time is done. I couldn’t settle in the One Thing to do today that would make it special. As though the past three weeks haven’t been special! I’ve done some great writing, I’ve paddleboarded, I’ve eaten good food while people sing at my favourite little cafe, I’ve hiked, I’ve ridden my little bike up and down a million hills, I’ve run those same hills, I’ve had an astonishing conversation with a super unhappy 79 year old on her birthday that reminded me to enjoy my damn life, I’ve seen my cousin, I’ve eaten crab right out of the ocean and apples right off the tree, I’ve Yoga’ed and read novels and listened to audiobooks on my darling little terrace. All the things are so good — what to do to somehow make today even MORE memorable?? Quick, said my friend, what’s your favourite thing you’ve done — do that.

Hiking, I said. Hiking.

Last week, I rode my little bike up and down some hills to climb up the portentous Mt Maxwell, the highest point on the island. I had noted some nice little twisty trails around the base of the mountain, out to the edge of the sea. They seemed appealing.

I got on the little bike — again — and went to a coffee shop to pick up a wrap for lunch. I rode up some hills — again — for about 12 km. I found the trailhead at the edge of a field that probably has sheep in it sometimes.

I puzzled over the map and set off toward the delightfully named Daffodil Point.

It was an easy flattish trail — first fields in a valley between two tall looming hills, then an easy path through the woods. Small boats in the bay glimpsed through the trees, off leash dogs despite the frequent signs banning it, because of rare and fragile plants. People walking across the fields in long skirts looking like an album cover. Occasional beautifully carved signs with an image from nature with the Quw’utsun word on top and the English translation below.

Apparently these are brand new — just dedicated last week. The anglo name of the park — Burgoyne Bay — is now accompanied by the traditional name of the area — Xwaaqw’um village. These words and images are a powerful way to remind us that Canadians still share this land with Indigenous peoples, that this basin has fed people for 4000 years. I was glad to receive this gift.

I wandered for a while, enjoyed the wide and well trod trail, so different from the steep hills I’ve been climbing up, the wooded paths full of rocks and roots. I found the perfect lunch spot to eat my vegan wrap, interrupted only by the sight of two passing kayakers and a relaxed seal who came close.

After lunch was the point where I could have — should have? thought about heading back. And I realized I’m not so great at being Loose and Unstructured if I don’t know how I’m done being loose and unstructured, lol. I’m great at suuure I can be chill about a slower pace — as long as I have a destination. And on this hike with the seal and the sea and the wrap? I didn’t have a destination.

I hadn’t quite processed that yet, and feeling sluggish and full of beetroot hummus, I headed back along the inside part of the looping trail, instantly a much harder, uphill inland hike. I kept toggling between awe at the old growth trees and looking at the All Trails app to try to match up the not-obvious little paths I was seeing and the trails. I had some sort of inner Completist urging me to Do the Full Loop, do All the Little Trails. This inner voice had me back track twice, trying to match the blue GPS locator on my phone with the giant boulders, the overgrowth around me. Get a tiny bit miffed when I couldn’t find the trail that took me… nowhere, but on a loop into the woods.

I finished the Daffodil Point loop and found myself at the same point I’d started my arduous hike up Mt Maxwell. “You have to do more,” said the inner voice. Ignoring the obvious fact that I’d actually had the perfect hike — I’d walked for almost two hours! I‘d communed with a seal! I’d seen huge boulders and the glorious sea! — and I was actually sleepy after the lunch, tired from a march up the Assault Trail of Mt Erskine the day before. And I still had Leas hill to ride home.

Look at all those trails! Look at the contour lines!

But I hadn’t done all the trails!

And this is where my Inner Completist and my Sane Self had an actual tussle. Like, the kind of tussle that would make someone watching me from above say “what the heck is she doing?”

If you look at that map, my bike was at the point on the road where the park first starts. I’d hiked the middle part of this map, and all the parts on the top right. I was at the little nook in the bay, and instead of heading back to my bike, I thought I would do a little out to the west. And as I reached the logical looping point, I convinced myself that I could do that whoooole bit up in the top left part of the map.

Now, it was 3 pm, and I’d been hiking since 12:30, and I was feeling very satisfied and super happy and calm and centred and all those things. But for some reason, my inner completist was agitated that there were Unhiked Trails on this map..

Why not just do this big ol’ loop, Completist reasoned, it’s not that far. Look at the contour lines, my Sane voice said — there’s a lot of up and down. That’s not “3 km on the ground.” Oh, it’s nothing, said The Completist. Look how pretty? Just do the little loop! You still have to ride home! That’s a big hill you whizzed down! Loop! Stop! Loop! Go back!

Reader, the Completist won, and I headed off up the big loop. The trail was dark and overgrown, rarely walked on. I was heading straight away from the beautiful harbour in the sun, away from my bike. Just … into the woods. And straight up.

For no. reason.

I had a feeling of trepidation, a persistent voice telling me I was being silly. But I kept going. About 7 minutes into the trail, after a lot of arduous up, I looked at the trail app. The blue ball had barely moved. “This will be at least an hour,” Sane voice said. “But…. the loop!” And I headed back downhill, to circle around the tiny loop down at the bottom.

See, doesn’t that feel nice, said Sane voice? The perfect hike! Just do this extra wee loop and then back to the bike, scoot — it’s still a good 30 mins away.

And then I got to the point where the wee loop connected with the big loop, from the other side? AND I STARTED TO HEAD OFF TOWARD IT AGAIN.

It’s like my inner self is controlled by my little cat, the one Not Known for her Wisdom, as a friend put it.

Oh for pete’s sake, I said out loud. (I literally said that). YOU DO NOT NEED TO GO FURTHER INTO THE WOODS FOR NO REASON.

And reader? I listened. I completed the wee loop. I trundled back down the trail. I paused for a bit of a rest by the indigenous carvings. I read a little bit about the Coast Salish people whose land this is. I listened harder to my body and realized, yup, I am kind of tired, and my thigh itches and chafes where I was stung by a wasp the other night, and I am ready to be done. And I don’t need to do All the Loops. And that is definitely something I need to remember when I return to my non-magical life.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who will be back in Ontario in a few days, and who’s hoping to bring some of her west coast sanity with her.