fitness

When do you speak up?

I went to a class on Sunday at my yoga studio that distressed me.

The studio usually teaches a diversity of yoga styles, with an emphasis on “listen to your own body,” safety and many modifications. There’s usually music, and sometimes a sweaty flow, and a lot of options for slower or more reflective practice. It’s not a spirituality-forward space, but it’s definitely a spirit-forward space: it’s supposed to be a place to reconnect to your own sense of self, to re-energize.

Well, this class on Sunday was jarring. The studio owner had reached out to an experienced ashtanga teacher to see if it might a fit for what the community wanted. Since I began my yoga journey in the mid-90s with ashtanga, I was excited about it.

Ashtanga is generally a more intense, flowy yoga practice, with a set sequences of postures with vinyasas (flows) between them. If you have ever been to a class where you started with about 5 sun salutations, then progressed through 5 repetitions of standing poses, then moved on to seated poses, all with flows of chataranga/up-dog/downward dog between poses, it was probably influenced by ashtanga.

Because of all the vinyasas, ashtanga is, by nature, one of the more athletic branches of yoga. But even back in the 90s, when there was a lot more emphasis on following the teacher and less focus on “do what your body can do” (yo, conditions that created Bikram!), all of my teachers (thanks Pat Harada Linfoot!) encouraged us to slow down, to focus on alignment, to push ourselves to the edge of comfort but never to the edge of safety. Ashtanga was a safe place to build strength and trust in my own body.

Well, not this guy on Sunday. The class was supposed to be an exploration of the primary ashtanga series. The teacher came in, didn’t introduce himself or assess who was in the room or ask about injuries or yoga experience, then spent about 5 minutes talking about ashtanga breathing. Then he dived straight into five super fast sun salutations, calling out the timing in a sing-songy mix of English and what I can only assume was fake sanskrit.

Now, I can sort of keep up with this — if I want to. But there was a guy on the mat next to me I’d noticed when I came in. A big guy, with a big belly. Like many yoga studios in Toronto, mine is heavily populated with 30-40-something white thinnish women. I made up a story about what it took for this guy to come into this studio, assuming he knew he wasn’t the typical body. I was rooting for him.

Within about three minutes of the fast-paced sun salutations, my neighbour was lying facedown on his mat. He went into child’s pose for a minute, then tried once more to do a flow, then gathered up his things and left. Not a word from the “teacher” about adapting to your own pace or body.

I burned with fury.

No one should ever leave a yoga class feeling inadequate. Or — I made up — shamed. I wondered how likely that guy would be to ever come to another class, when his experience was erased, invisible, his body found wordlessly inadequate.

I wanted to leave myself, but I was also curious. (Also, i had brought so much stuff with me into the studio that gathering it all up would have made an unnecessary ruckus).

The class didn’t get better. When the “teacher” had us doing shoulder stands in lotus (no effing way, dude, and I’ve been doing yoga since 1996), and tried to get us into headstand without any builds, I realized something. Twenty years ago, I would have felt inadequate, shamed, incapable. Now I was just mad. This teacher was unsafe. I felt unsafe. I can make my own choices, but I don’t like being in a space that’s inherently unsafe. It pisses me off.

When I left the class, I reflected for a while, then I opened my computer and wrote to the studio owner. Pretty much everything I’ve said here — I love ashtanga, would love it if the studio did more, this guy was unsafe and — frankly — a little creepy. I worried I was overstepping. I worried that other people in the class might have just been happy to be sweaty and not paying attention to the things I was noticing. I worried that if the studio owner reacted badly I’d have to find another yoga studio, and I didn’t want that.

And you know what? The studio owner was BRILLIANT. She thanked me, she apologized, she commiserated, she explained her thinking and told me the actions she would take to monitor the two additional classes she’d committed to with this guy.

I felt safe again. Grateful that I feel so much clarity about what is good for our bodies and our souls. And grateful that I feel confident to use my voice.

When have you spoken up about something that upset you in a fitness space?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who seems to be doing nothing but yoga and walking these days, and that is a-ok.

fitness

Beginner’s mind with fitness

Emmylou expressing her feelings about my summer.

For the past few years, I’ve regularly logged my steady little workouts every day in our “222 in 2022” groups, mostly doubling the 216 – 217 – 221 – 222 goal. A habit by now, you’d think. But this summer, here is what some of my posts looked like:

I seem to be not tracking anything, because I’m too exhausted by all the post-funeral estate stuff to actually keep to a real movement schedule. But there have been bike rides, a run or two, walks and a shit ton of moving boxes and furniture. So I’m giving myself one workout a day minus one day since I last posted, so 238.

then…

I had COVID and I’m in Croatia and it’s 37C but I’ve walked v far every day and done two YWAs so let’s call it 245- 251, conservatively. Today I was doing a YWA on my terrace and it was so hot my iPad overheated and I had to put it in the fridge!

255, 256, 257: riding a bike on the island of Solta, which made me realize I am still too sick for the bike trip that is supposed to start Tuesday so instead, in a move wiser than most in my life, I am going home 11 days early. And then walking all over Split and Zagreb.

and more recently:

This is apparently the summer where I just completely lose track of what I am doing re movement because it has been derailed so many times. I last recorded #257 on Aug 12 when I realized I needed to come home from Croatia because Covid still had a grip on me. Most of the past two weeks has been recovery and gentle movement, but let me give it a shot:

1 hike in the woods with gf and dog// 2 x SUP // 1 aborted half hour bike ride when I realized 4 km into the ride I’d forgotten my helmet (#covidbrain) // 4 x YWA // 1 x good bike ride to/ around Toronto island // 1 x half hour in zwift // 3 – 4 #slwfmsmph // So that adds up to… 13? So let’s call it 270. Sigh. I am feeling better but still not what you’d call energetic!

Obviously, there’s a story in there.

The short version: On June 29, my mother had a fall and was admitted to hospital. Many things went wrong quickly, and after a week of intense, 24 hour accompaniment through a lot of pain, she died. There was a funeral, and community, and the blear and numbness and weight of estate administration, which I wrote about here.

August was a planned trip to the Balkans that was supposed to include an 8 day bike trip. The day I left, I had a sore throat. My RAT test in my peaceful little hotel room in Zagreb was positive. It was screamingly hot. I tried to continue on with some of my plans, masked and outside and sleeping a lot, since it was my second time with COVID and I thought I could ride it out. But a week later, I found myself on my little test cycling ride grinding up a hill in unrelenting sun, dulled in every possible way. I found a coffee shop, made some expensive phone calls and started to make my way home.

Three weeks later, I’m more or less recovered from the COVID. Mostly. There is still fatigue that makes me feel like there is something awry with my mitochondria. The grief is also tiring. especially since it involves an awful lot of physical and emotional labour in cleaning out my mother’s house, a lot of emotional labour and time time time in navigating the needs of the estate.

I have good people — my sister, my girlfriend, my colleagues, my large and super present community of amazing friends. I have privilege and capacity and resources. This is not a contentious or conflicted time. But it’s still unrelentingly hard.

So what is happening in my body? What is happening to my capacity to find equanimity and ease through movement, the practices I’ve cultivated for decades for just this kind of moment?

Well, it turns out, deep, cellular fatigue is not a friend to movement.

When my mother was first in hospital, movement was helpful — head-clearing walks, the odd overheated run, a few sun salutations for oxygen in my brain and flexibility in my tight, bundled limbs. But as the fatigue set in, it got harder and harder to move. And as we all know, the harder it is to move, the easier it is to avoid it. And then, Covid. And unmindful eating. And bad sleep. And too much driving and desks and stiffness.

Where even IS my body, I wonder?

To answer that question — my first step is always yoga. When I was in Croatia, I started a simple Yoga with Adriene series called Begin. Once more, Adriene was there for me. About 15 minutes of a simple flow every day, with a 5 minute meditation at the end. More or less the same flow every time, with slight variations. Presence, simplicity, no decisions. Beginner’s mind, she reminds us. Experience what’s there now, not what was once there, or what could be there in the future.

This morning, I started a three day training program for an advanced coaching certification. Three long days in zoom, more emotional intensity. Maybe not the perfect time for it, but it was booked months ago.

This morning, before the session started, I fired up my trusty Find What Feels Good app and found Adriene ready to help me find my body for the day. I paid attention. Hamstrings and calves, so tight. Shoulders, hunched. Upper spine, clenched. Muscles sore from lifting and moving everything my mother ever owned. The ache as I lengthened, as I twisted, as I rolled up — my body, returning to me. Reminding me that as I have withstood two deeply challenging months, my body is here, waiting. Ready to support me, ready to become more supple, ready to hold me up.

Ready to breathe.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is grateful to be surrounded by community of people and cats. Here they are in a moment of optimism in Split, Croatia.

fitness

Ask Fieldpoppy: It’s JUNE!

(Ask Fieldpoppy is a monthly column written by Cate; for last month, go here. Questions for future columns are welcome via the facebook page or in the comments).

Person lying face down with their hair hanging over their face, dangling over a table. Photo by Pim Chu on Unsplash

Dear Fieldpoppy: I’m trying to find the sweet spot between “being kind to myself” and feeling motivated to stay consistent in my routine and push a little in my workouts. Like for example if I follow my coach’s encouragement to take it easy if I want, I end up taking it easy more than I end up pushing hard. Overall I’m not sure that’s “better.” Any thoughts on the best balance?How often is it okay to just lie down?

Dear Fieldpoppy: What do you think about the “placebo effect” as it relates to exercise? For example, there have always been differing viewpoints on everything from stretching to running shoes and how the placebo effect shapes our views on options. I am a fan of the placebo effect personally. If I stretch and I feel better and it makes me run better, whether it is doing anything from a physiological perspective or not, seems irrelevant to me, and the stretching has value. Curious what your thoughts are on this topic?What is real?

Dear Sweetlings,

Thank you for these excellent questions — which are actually about the same thing: how do I find the frame of mind that works best for me to move my body and nurture my soul? Is there a “right” way?

The thing is, there’s no one objective truth about movement (just look at how many times the New York Times can write a slightly different version of the Best! 7! Minute! Workout!). Everything is narrative in one way or another. The coach in the first letter is giving advice — “take it easy!” — that is its own narrative counterpoint to dominant fitness narratives like “get out of your comfort zone” or (more offensively) “you don’t get a good ass by sitting on it.” Advice about stretching, training, physiology, etc. are all just narratives — some have some connection to actual research, but most of that research comes from the realm of performance sport, where people are trying to shave 3 seconds off a 5000 metre race. Transplanted into recreational fitness, it’s just another narrative about Doing It Right — possibly informative, possibly useful, possibly irrelevant, definitely not prescriptive.

So how to find the sweet spot? What is it YOU need, outside someone else’s definition of a Good Workout or To Stretch or Not to Stretch? I think there is a lot to learn from yet another narrative — the one related to intuitive eating, which Tracy has written about frequently for the blog. This post outlines 10 principles of intuitive eating I think apply really well to making choices about our own personal fitness, especially “feel your fullness” and “exercise: feel the difference.”

Just as it’s important to find a space for eating that frees us up from the food police (don’t even ask me about the server who recently commented on the fact that I’d eaten my whole dinner with “wow, you must have missed breakfast”), it’s great to find a fitness space that frees us up from fitness dictators. And, it means you have to find your own meaning in it. What kind of movement makes you feel “full” — as in, satisfied, endorphin-y, tired enough to sleep well, like you’re as strong and flexible as you want to be for the life you have right now? When you decide to lie down or take it easy, what are you basing that on — what someone else says, or a scan that tells you your body is actually tired or sore or tender? Start tuning into linking your workouts to what your body needs to build your own practice of “intuitive movement.”

So how does the concept of whether stretching or fancy zoomy shoes are a “placebo” fit into this? I don’t think it’s the best metaphor. There’s no “true facts” vs “fake facts that make me feel better.” If the shoes make you feel like a rockstar, and that’s what you need to get out there and run, and running is what makes your body and soul happy? Buy ’em! If you’re going to buy them and constantly argue with them in your head (like I did with a not-quite-right pair of trail runners I just bought because they Seemed Good)? Let them go. They aren’t going to help.

Dear Fieldpoppy: What do I do about working out in the heat, especially when you don’t have AC at home and getting sweaty means staying sweaty? It feels like a trivial complaint about our changing climate but it’s starting to really bother me. I don’t have AC at home or in my car and I have marginal AC, for environmental reasons, at work. It feels like there is no good time to work out. — Hot and bothered

Dear Hot and Bothered,

I hear you. I am in a bit of a loop right now where I have to work out because it’s the only place I can process the anxiety of The World We Live In — and yet, when I’m running outside, I keep thinking about that old Star Trek: Next Gen episode where Picard plays a haunting tune on a pipe and lives a whole life on a dying planet where everyone has to shroud themselves from the sun.

It worked out for Picard (it was some kind of simulation or time jump) but for us, it’s right here. So how do we cope?

Intuitive movement serves you too. First, there are all the obvious things — sun protection clothing (sunshirts and sleeves can actually cool you, they don’t just protect from the sun), good sunglasses, lots of sunblock, electrolytes, way more water than you might imagine, frequently. Icy when you start out if you can manage it. Cooling showers or cold cloths on the back of your neck as soon as you can manage it.

But beyond trying to cool your passage through the overheated world, it doesn’t make sense to just try to transplant our cooler workouts to the humid blasting furnace that can be the Ontario summer. Scan for what your body actually wants and needs, and adjust accordingly. Slow your pace, shorten your workout, change up your frequency or timing — don’t get too caught up in “shoulds.” Heat intensifies the impact of our workouts, and 5km on a sunny 30C day isn’t even the same as 5km on a cloudy 27C day. I went for a short run yesterday at the height of the heat, and realized when I stopped to drink that I was seeing spots. I slowed down and stopped and drank more. This is definitely “don’t be a hero” time — unless you like vomiting or fainting or having a massive sun-stroke headache.

Keep moving, adjust your energy levels, keep yourself protected — and keep training. We’ll need our strength, fortitude and agility for whatever world challenge we’re facing next.

Dear Fieldpoppy: I used to ride my bike everywhere when I was younger. Now that I am older I find bike riding uncomfortable. I can’t seem to find a comfortable seat. How do you go about test-driving bike seats seeing how everyone has different shapes, different amounts of muscle and fat for padding etc? — I have plenty of padding of my own

Dear Padding,

Yay you, cycling — and you’ve hit on one of the most common questions around cycling. Getting a bike that’s comfortable and easy to ride is probably the most important factor in whether you’ll use it — which includes the right seat, but also overall fit. So if you can, bring your full self to an actual bike shop that offers fit assessment and get them to help you make sure you have the right frame for your height and that your seat is at the right height and in the right forward position and angle for your body.

As for types of saddle, here is an excellent, thorough resource about how to pick a saddle. Here is another one aimed at bigger riders (TW for language about weight). The one thing I will say is that sometimes we assume that the wider, more padded the seat, the more comfortable — and that isn’t necessarily true. I personally find a well-designed narrower seat far more comfortable, because I distribute the weight more evenly between my butt, legs, feet and arms, and I find a wider seat can make chafing worse. (On my holiday two weeks ago, I went for an 85 km ride on a rented hard tail mountain bike with a pretty basic seat and without padded shorts — and my butt was fine).

So — find a bike shop you trust; get a basic fitting done; sit on a few seats. The right bike seat is the one you’ll ride. And get a good, fun bell!

Cate in the middle of the 85 km ride two weeks ago, on the western edge of the continent

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede (she/they), who lives and works on the land we currently call Toronto, the traditional territory of many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples, and is covered by Treaty 13, signed with the Mississaugas of the Credit. Cate is a coach, consultant and general thinker about relationships, meaning making and bodies.

fitness

Ask Fieldpoppy: Bonus cycle tour question

(Ask Fieldpoppy is a monthly advice column written by Cate; recently, they answered questions from someone who’s about to embark on their first two day cycling trip (here and here). The letter writer sent up an urgent flare a week before her ride so you get a bonus edition. Feel free to send your own questions for Fieldpoppy to ruminate on).

Dear Fieldpoppy—My first two-day cycle trip is now only one week away!

I’ve started a great list, thanks to your previous response, and invested in a camelbak. I’d never even thought about diaper cream…

A white woman in white shorts on a bike in the mountains. I do not recommend white shorts if you have your period. Photo by Mizzi Westphal on Unsplash

I’ve got two more questions. First, an outside question: what is your advice for cycling on an all-day tour if the weather starts to suck?

Second, an inside question: what do you get your mind to do to help you get through pain, stiffness, or wanting to give up? My partner assures me he’ll be ready to pick me up—but I don’t want to disappoint him!

Oh, and any advice for cycling during one’s period might be helpful.

– Inside and Outside

Dear Inside and Outside,

I’m so excited for you! SQUEEEE!

Okay, first I’ll tackle the practical: your period. Whatever you normally do to manage cramps etc, make sure you do that — ibuprofen and aleve cover a multitude of needs, and will help with any soreness from the ride as well. But try to stick with something you are already used to — this isn’t the time to experiment.

If possible, stick with internal blood-catching — diva cup, tampons, whatever you’re used to — rather than pads, because there will be a fair bit of contact between your bits and the seat and pads of any kind are more likely to chafe. If you have period underwear, you might want to include those as backup, but I’m really wary of any additional layers between my flesh and the bike shorts — that way lies wedgies and trapped sweat and chafing. (You might be getting the message that I’m prone to chafing).

If you’re worried about changing tampons out on the road, make yourself a little period kit — hand wipes, TP or kleenex and a wee ziploc. Don’t litter the tampon (dangerous for animals as well as just plain gross) but wrap it up and put it in the ziploc for disposal later. And be glad you aren’t camping on the kind of island where you have to carry out your poo.

(Oh! This reminds me of a story! In 2009 I was climbing kilimanjaro with an intrepid aussie woman who had done some bonkers 6 week trek in the arctic dragging a sled behind her. She was the only woman on the trip, so was packing out her tampons by tucking them into a ziploc in a hidden pocket in her sleeping bag. When she got back to a town, someone stole her very expensive high tech sleeping bag — before she’d had a chance to retrieve the festering tampon stash. She took a lot of joy in imagining the dude (she just assumed it was a dude) reaching his hand in, expecting hidden treasure, and…)

But I digress. So that’s period stuff. It’s kind of annoying but highly manageable. And you got this!

The other questions are more existential. First, I’m glad you have such a supportive partner — and try to gently let go of the idea of not disappointing someone else. It gets complicated out on the road to know what’s going on with yourself if you are trying to navigate other people’s emotions. Take a minute this week and dig deep in yourself — what are you doing this for? What part of you do you want to nourish by doing something big and new and maybe hard? What badass part of you do you want to bring on this ride? Find that part, and that’s the thing you engage with in your head. It’s easier to find your own grit and purpose when it’s not bound up with worrying about other people, even if they are lovely.

Rain and wind and Weather are part of bike touring — they are part of the elemental experience of just Being Out There with you and your bike. When Susan, Sam, Sarah and I were cycling in Newfoundland in July in 2019, we had nothing BUT Weather. Hills, wind for days, and on the Day of Hypothermia, 3 degrees and icy rain for hours. I’m not gonna lie — it’s not easy. The trick is to give over to it — not to fight it, or wish it were different, but just be with what it is. Like, dear god, this is some serious wind, wow, look at me riding into this wind like some kind of fucking superhero. Give a little read to the post I wrote about that trip called Grit, and another reflection on grit when I was planning a trip to Bulgaria last year. You’ve got grit — and this trip is a chance to locate it in a new way. You can’t change the weather — so how can you be with it in a way that is raw and honest and strong? About YOU? That’s what you connect with in those moments.

That doesn’t mean pushing yourself through in a punishing way! I like to set myself permission to stop at regular intervals in hard weather — usually every 4 or 5 km — and just take a moment and reassess my humanity. Have some water. Eat a cheese sandwich. Cry in the ditch. Stop in somewhere for a cup of hot tea. (In Newfoundland, it was a teeeny tiny airport that had a hot drink vending machine). Remind myself of my strength. And — if it really is too much — there is always someone to help.

When I was riding in Bulgaria last summer, my camelbak wasn’t working, most shops weren’t open and it was 42 C. I hit a point on a hill about 65 km into a much too long, overheated, hard and loaded day where I honestly worried I would die right there. So I put “is there any way you can give me a ride please?” into my translation app and flagged down a farmer. (Like an avatar of a farmer, wearing actual overalls). He shook his head and pointed to the back of his vehicle — very full — and pointed down the road — “1 kilometre — drink.” He mimed drinking. I rode on, heartened, and arrived in a completely deserted square. Just as was looking around wondering what the hell, a woman pulled up in a car and opened the door of a shop and gestured me in. I got some potato chips (salt), a cold coca cola, a frozen treat and a huge bottle of water. She asked “toilet?”. When I said no, she gestured to the table under the shade and said “sit.” Then drove away. The farmer had called her to come and open the shop. People want to help. Just ask them.

In Newfoundland, after the day of hypothermia, Susan and I needed a break. So we asked around and found Steve, who had a truck, whose dad Bill was willing to drive us to the next night’s stop. Bill told us all about the people who’d died mysteriously and sadly and showed us historical sites and had a great time. We got a break. People want to help. Just ask them ;-).

You are ready for this trip. You got this. Find your own version of grit and revel in it. You are a badass! And be sure to let us know how it goes!

Fieldpoppy, somewhere in the Baltics

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede (she/they), who wrote this post from the shared unceded traditional territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam Indian Band), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish Nation), and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh Nation). Cate is a coach, consultant and general thinker about relationships, meaning making and bodies. They are itching to get on their bike in a foreign land.

fitness

It’s Ask Fieldpoppy! Cycle tour edition

(Ask Fieldpoppy is a monthly column written by Cate; for last month’s post, go here. I would love your questions for next month! Put ’em in the comments or in messenger through the FB page. This month, I’m focused on cycle touring).

Dear Fieldpoppy,

Photo by Greys Capuyan on Unsplash

Last month, I asked you about my first cycling trip. Thank you for your advice! I have found out that my 2-day cycling trip is on a multi-use trail that will be only moderately hilly and windy. I am with 3 other folks, self-supported, and riding with panniers.

I have been on a spin bike for a few days now—this was a great suggestion. However, I am having a difficult time envisioning joy because I have more so questions about water consumption, clothing, speed, technique, etc.

How much should I carry? Focus on minimizing weight or size? How much should I drink? A lot to hydrate, but then what if I have to pee all the time? How important is having cycling shirt/shoes, etc? How fast should I plan to go if I am biking all day? What gear? What basic riding techniques do you suggest for a novice biker to be get faster (or at least avoid injury)?also…my butt hurts!

— What am I getting myself into?

Dear Butt Hurts,

Yay you, with your spinning and planning! You are well on your way to joy! And, you’re asking about one of my secret joys: deciding what to bring on a bike trip, and all the list-making!

The list is an art. For me, there is a profound, minimalist satisfaction in knowing that I have divested myself of all but the most essential elements of life, that I’m propelling myself through the world with the perfect balance of necessity and comfort, no more, no less.

Theoretically.

Actually achieving that balance is much harder, especially if self-supported means camping. Camping takes minimalist joy to an even starker degree: you are carrying all you need for life, including your HOUSE. How much more of a badass could you be?

But you didn’t ask about camping, so I’ll stick to what you most need to know.

First, yes, wear cycling gear. You don’t wear wicking shirts, padded shorts, a good bra and gloves because you want to look like a cyclist, you wear them because if you don’t, you hurt your body. Cycling gear is designed to minimize chafing, keep your temp regulated, protect you from sunburn and wind, help your butt not hurt and protect your hands and wrists, either on the bike or if you happen to fall. If you don’t have a cycling jersey, wear a good, technical workout shirt, preferably not a tank. And If it’s really sunny, I recommend sun protection sleeves for your arms. (Well worth the investment, said the person with a history of sun-related skin issues).

Shoes are trickier. Everything works better with a good pair of spd pedals and cleats – your feet and hips stay in good position in relation to the bike, and you get the pull on a pedal as well as a push, which is super helpful on hills. It’s much more efficient and therefore, less fatiguing. And, if clipping into your pedals is new for you, it can be intimidating and scary. There is always at least one pedal-induced fall — it’s a rite of passage. Have someone show you how to adjust the tension on your pedals so you feel like it’s easy to unclip. Once you have that down, you’ll wonder how you ever rode without clipping in. And you’ll feel baddass.

The other piece of kit I highly recommend is some kind of water hydration system, like a camelbak. Again, this can be a bit intimidating, but having a couple of litres of water on your back, easily accessible with a little hose in your mouth, is my biggest recommendation for all day cycling in the summer. It’s way too easy to avoid drinking if you have to squirm around to grab a bottle from your frame and stick it back in while still moving. I keep a bottle with water and electrolytes on my frame and dip in every now and again, but keep my camelbak steadily flowing. It’s the most important part of staying well on a bike — by the time you feel thirsty, it’s too late. Drink small sips frequently for the best relationship with your guts as well as your overall wellbeing. If you don’t have to pee occasionally, you’re not drinking enough — and peeing by the side of the road is SOP for cyclists. Just don’t litter your TP, and don’t do it someplace where you could get ticketed for public urination.

As for what to carry? As little as possible. Jacket, the lightest clothes possible to wear off the bike (I like soft light loose pants to air out the bits, a lightweight t-shirt and a thin hoodie), socks, shorts, bra and jersey for the second day, absolute minimalist toiletries, diaper cream for chafing, ibuprofen, snacks, sunscreen (never on your forehead), a bandana to wipe your eyes, spare tube, tiny pump, tire levers, a cycling multi-tool. A way to charge your phone. Maybe hand wipes. Kleenex. I.D. Money. Honestly, that is all you really need.

And how fast to go? Well, that’s between you, your bike, the road and your god, but I suspect the question is coming from spin classes where you are pushed to go hard. On a loaded bike, you’re not going to go hard. The bike and your body will tell you what a comfortable rhythm is — and even with a minimally loaded bike, you’re going to go waaaaay more slowly than without. I average about 25 km/ hour on a typical ride with my road bike — and when I’m touring, it’s usually a lot closer to 15 or 16 km an hour, on a good day. Or less, on hills. Just find a rhythm that makes you feel like you could go all day, keep pedalling steadily, and occasionally confer with your friends. It’s more important to keep a steady rhythm than to try to hit a particular speed. Listen to your legs and your body.

And that’s the advice about how to get faster and stronger, really. Put in time on the bike, and learn to pay attention to your body. What’s standard discomfort, and what’s pain that needs attention? Keep going to spin classes, and when you have a choice between high cadence and harder tension, choose the harder tension — that’s what it will feel like on a loaded bike. Add in some basic yoga and stretching — lots of hip openers and figure fours. Practice riding with loaded panniers. And enjoy the feeling of badassery and freedom.

Dear Fieldpoppy,

I’m a seasoned cyclist, but I’m taking off on my first solo cycle tour. I have lots of questions about logistics, camping gear, etc, but those are easy. My real question is — won’t I feel lonely? How do you avoid feeling lonely on your bike?

Signed, I think I know what I’m getting myself into?

Dear Seasoned,

When people talk about loneliness, I hear a slightly different question underneath it: “What if I don’t like being by myself for so long?”

Solo cycle touring is definitely an encounter with the wide-open empty space of the existential void. It’s just you, the spokes, the road, and every damn thought and feeling you’ve ever had. It can be very busy inside your head, and not always comfortable.

One of my cycling inspirations is Anne Mustoe, who took up cycling at 54 and rode around the world by herself twice. She wrote in her first book that as soon as she got a little comfortable with the actual riding, she found herself replaying every relationship, every argument, every regret or unspoken desire. She had a whole uninvited crowd there in her head while she was alone on the bike.

I’ve had the same experience. Like meditating, like the yoga mat, wherever you go, there you are. The steady rhythm, the empty space? They can breed a lot of internal churn.

When I really own it, I realize that this discomfort is an invitation to just be with what comes up, like meditation. Oh look, there’s some weird anger. Huh. Now it’s gone. Oh look, there’s sadness about that unresolved thing. Gone. Oh look, I miss that friend I haven’t seen in ages. Maybe I should text them later. Repeat. Repeat. Be in it, and it dissipates.

There will be times where you feel sad, or inadequate, or desperately in need of encouragement to get up that hill. And tempting to want another person to distract, support, process with, soothe you when you fall and scrape yourself. And, being with it, getting through it? On your own? It’s a profound gift where you get to remind yourself you have everything you need, to trust yourself, to reset. Which — I have to believe, somehow, maybe — means you’re more grounded when you reconnect with others again.

And, if it’s all just Too Much? If the wind is bewitching you into believing you’re trapped in the dust bowl of the 1930s? Or you’re fighting the wind and hills so hard you can’t believe you will ever not be riding? Podcasts or soothing biographies. I got through the hills and wind and hypothermia chill rain of northern Newfoundland with Michelle Obama’s memoir in my ears. I don’t remember a thing about her life now, but she sure was my friend on that trip.

You got this. And your bad-assery will be even more badass when you’re done.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede (she/they), who wrote this post from shared unceded territory of the Squamish Nation and Lil’wat Nation. Cate is a coach, consultant and general thinker about relationships, meaning making and bodies. They have done solo bike trips in Australia, Vietnam, Bulgaria, Germany, Canada and the Baltics, and have ridden with groups in many South and Southeast Asian countries. They have their eyes on riding in Japan if it ever opens up to tourists.

fitness

Ask Fieldpoppy: Wordle has ruined my workout routine!

(Ask Fieldpoppy is a monthly column written by Cate; for last month, go here. Questions for future columns are welcome via the facebook page or in the comments).

Dear Fieldpoppy,

I’m usually a “work out every day” type of person, and for most of the pandemic, I’ve been so great at getting up and working out first thing in the morning. But since the advent of Wordle, I’m a lay-abed blob. I wake up and instead of making my way to my mat and doing yoga or grabbing a set of kettlebells, I cosy in with my cats and all the -ordle games and then chit chat away on social media about… words. The new routine is comforting and a gentler way to wake up — but I am not as awake and focused when I start work, and I can feel my fitness slipping away. How do I break this cycle?

— Layabed

Dear Layabed,

Well, first, I would ask, Why do you need to break the cycle? What are you getting out of this ritual? Is it something you need right now? Are there other places you can build a new, different habit of working out?

In my work in healthcare and higher education, the dominant thing I see right now is that people are… tired. Tired and short-fused and overwhelmed. The world is uncertain, and the news is upsetting, and we need to find comforting rituals where we can. Back in January, I saw a tweet that said “wordle is the sourdough starter of omicron,” and that made sense to me — we need distractions that make us feel less alone. Two years ago, trying a new, self-nourishing skill and showing it off on social media? That fit the need for us to feel like we were doing something meaningful while we were locked down. But now? We’re tired. The wordle and social media-m ritual requires attention of mind, not burpees or baking chemistry. A gentler engagement in communal connection .

It does sound like you’re feeling a little inertia because of this that doesn’t help with work focus — so maybe try to add a mini post-wordle walk or a little stretching to the morning ritual. Get outside and breathe a little. And find another place in your day to move your body a bit more. But be kind to yourself about the things that are giving you comfort right now. And keep that wordle streak going!

Dear Fieldpoppy,

Why do I have energy to work out but for nothing else? I always feel well enough in the morning to work out. Long run. No problem. Strength and HIIT. No problem. Spinning. No problem. But after that, all my ailments come back and I have little energy for other things the rest of the day. How can I get that joie de vivre for other areas of my life?

– Is it just interest?

Dear Interested,

Your tag makes me wonder a lot about what is going on in the rest of your day — what is happening at work, at home, in your other commitments and relationships that is weighing you down? In some ways, you and the first letter writer are having very similar experiences — it sounds like your morning workout is a ritual that keeps you grounded, lets you start your day by engaging with something that makes you feel strong, joyful, and — maybe — in charge and autonomous.

Try this mini-reflection. When you come near the end of your workout tomorrow, pause for a moment, scan your body and soul, and think about what adjectives describe the person you are when you’re working out. Strong? In control? Challenged? Tuned in to the present? Powerful? Connected to other people? Then think about how often you get to be that person in the rest of your life.

If the answer is “less often,” think a little bit about how you can add just a bit of those things to another activity. Is work hard because you aren’t connected to your colleagues? Try to find a moment of connection. Is housework blah because it’s endless and dull? Design it like an HIIT and do it to your favourite playlist. Are you lacking that sense of being “in charge” of your life? See where you can add a bit more autonomy. Etc.

Starting your day with your best sense of joie de vivre is amazing — because it shows how much you are tuned into what you need. Just tune in a little bit more to the other parts of your life for how you can make them what you need.

Image of white woman on an e-bike with her arms in the air (photo by Himiway Bikes from Unsplash)

Dear FieldPoppy: I’ve never cycled for more than a few recreational kilometres at a time, yet I find myself signed up for a (gulp) two-day, 130km cycling road trip later this spring. I’m always up for an adventure with my friends (who cycle way more than I do), and I just bought my bike last year so want to get some use out of it. But I’m worried I won’t be able to do it. Would you give me some advice on how to prepare so I don’t quit before I try?

What am I getting myself into?

Dear Adventurer,

Ooooh, I’m so excited for you! Avid readers of the blog will know that I am the monarch of bike trips, and that I am never happier than I am on a bike in a new landscape. This sounds delightful, and I could go on and on about it! But I’ll try to keep it my advice to three things.

First, find out what you’re actually in for. Is this a supported ride (as in, you are just riding your bike while someone else carries your things, and there is a van to go to if you can’t go on), or are you self-supported (carrying all your things with no easy bail-out option)? Are you on rural roads (paved or soft), or bike paths? Is it hilly? Somewhere windy? When you say spring, what will the weather be? Sometimes knowing too much can be daunting, but I like to have a rough idea of I need to prepare for, both physically and mentally. If you’re going to be riding with panniers on rural roads, for example, you should do a little training in that same situation so you feel more confident.

Second, condition yourself for riding. This distance over two days isn’t overwhelming, but for someone who doesn’t ride a lot, it’s two full days of riding. So get your butt onto a bike seat. You didn’t say whether you’ve been spinning or what kind of working out you’re doing, but as soon as you can, get on a spin bike a few times a week. Spinning is a lot more intense than most touring riding, but it will build the actual muscles that you’ll need, and make you feel confident that your body is familiar with the whole concept of making a vehicle move by twirling your legs around. And it will tell you which parts of your body will need stretching, ointment, etc.

Finally, envision joy! Riding from point to point is an amazing, elemental opportunity to be with your body at its best, be in sensory relationship with the immediate world around you, and feel the unbelievable accomplishment of pulling into your sleeping place for the night on your own power. There’s nothing better!

Also, pack some saddle cream. Just, you know, because.

Dear FieldPoppy: Is it okay to despise an exercise? I abhor Bulgarian Split Squats even though I know they are super for my hip flexors. I’ve learned to like other exercises but this one gives me a cramp, literally and figuratively.

Signed CrankyHips

Dear Cranky:

Things it’s not okay to despise: clean water; clean air; whole groups of people based on superficial traits; your own body; cake.

Things it’s okay to despise: ANYTHING IN THE WORLD OF EXERCISE THAT MAKES YOU GRUMPY. Also, capers.

Life is too short to dance with anything that gives you a cramp. I free you from even remembering this is a thing. Bulgarian Split Squats? What? Never heard of it. Pfft. Strengthen and stretch those hip flexors some other way. Or not. But don’t spend your workout hating what you’re doing.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede (she/they), who lives and works on the land now known as Toronto, which is the traditional territory of many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples, and is covered by Treaty 13, signed with the Mississaugas of the Credit. Cate is a coach, consultant and general thinker about relationships, meaning making and bodies.

fitness

Ask Fieldpoppy: March edition (part 2)

(I initiated this “Dear Fieldpoppy” advice column a few months ago; today’s questions were so rich I did it in two parts; read part one here)

Dear Fieldpoppy: When I do any exercise at all, I sweat. Like everywhere. From my head, my knees… everywhere. As in my underwear are also soaking wet. I can deal with sweat stains under my arms, but not on my pants. Delicacy prevents me from being more explicit, but you get the idea. Any tips for managing this?

Signed, not the good kind of wet

Dear Wet,

About 20 (30! I typed 20 and then did the math! yikes I’m old) years ago, I lived in old victorian house that had great light but got really hot in the summer. One time, an IT guy came to help me with a computer problem, and he was literally dripping sweat onto my Mac Classic. I offered him a glass of water, and he declined, saying “I’m already sweating so much, I don’t want to add more liquid to my body.”

glass of water on a window ledge

At the time, not being the know-it-all Fieldpoppy I am today, I didn’t say anything. But now I would say, “DUDE, water COOLS you. You’ll sweat LESS.”

But there are really two questions here: how do I sweat less? and what do I do with all this sweat I make doing this badass workout?

To regulate the sweating, start with hydration. Cool or iced water if that is a thing you like. Before, during and after. Lots of small sips.

Of course, your own personal body, your hormones, your metabolism — all of these things are huge factors in how much you sweat. Some of us light skinned folks get red in the face no matter what, and some of us in the vague zone of menopause have more complicated thermoregulation. I’m fully into menopause now, and I take hormones that have been super helpful generally — but even so, I still get sweaty, volcanic hot flashes occasionally, usually associated with hot soup, hot baths or warm yoga studios. I try to avoid all of those, and make promiscuous use of fans, both at my desk and while working out. I use a fan with my spin bike, and if I’m working out in a gym or yoga studio, I tend to pick the cooler ones. And of course, wicking clothes, layers, hats to protect from the sun.

Model wearing leakproof high rise briefs from Knix

But if the sweating is just a thing you are going to experience, and you want to minimize the impact, be super intentional about your clothes. I personally like the really light, thin leggings that have a slippery nude feel, like some of the lulu ones, preferably with a colourful pattern where sweat pools are not super vivid. I don’t typically wear underwear with my tights — way cooler — but if it’s important to you, try the leakproof underwear designed for periods (I like Knix, who even make leakproof thongs now, if that’s a thing you groove on) — they are terrific at absorbing all the fluids our bodies produce in all the things we love to do. Finally, I recently got a little sweat towel in a work swag bag (like this), and it works great to help sop things up. Sweat away! Be strong! Be human!

Oh — and wipe your equipment 😉

Dear Fieldpoppy,

A wonderful dad I know just asked what advice we would offer for him to share with his almost four-year-old daughter for International Women’s Day. What would your advice be?

Signed, Auntie

Dear Auntie,

Tell him to go to an indie bookstore (like my fave local Queen books) or a community library with his daughter, ask the lovely people who work there for advice, and then sit down in a pile of the amazing array of books for littles that have come out in the past five years. There is a flourishing abundance of books that give little ones all sorts of narratives about diversity, using your voice, imagination, caring for the world and each other, and what’s possible for all genders in a changing world. Two of my favourites I’ve recently gifted my five year old nephew with are You Might be Special and Julian is a Mermaid. Dwelling in many voices and different stories is the best way to start developing a narrative about what her place in the world could be.

Dear Fieldpoppy,

I moved to a rural place far away from my family to be with my boyfriend, who is a great human and we are really happy when he’s here. But he’s away for work for an extended period of time, and I am having a hard time getting into a meaningful routine by myself. E.g., we used to work out together every morning — without him here, I just stay in bed with coffee and play all the wordle games. (He’s also really bad at texting, but that’s not something I can do anything about). How do I get in more of a groove when I’m here alone? Signed, I wouldn’t live here on purpose

Dear Wordler,

That sounds really tough, especially at the end of two years of weird isolation. You’re not alone in this sense of aimless loneliness, I think! It sounds like your life in this space feels sort of temporary and floaty, so it’s not surprising that your routine has shifted without the framework of the other human in your space.

So first — as I recommended this morning — have a glass of water. And then survey what you really need and want. If it’s just some sort of shape, timers and making dates with people to work out via zoom or whatever can help. But I wonder if, now that we’re emerging from lockdown and spring is somewhere out there, the best thing to do might be to reach into the community. You might be able to find yourself a local group of people doing something active that you could enjoy just for the shape and novelty it gives your week — even if they are not really Your People. About 15 years ago, I was dating someone who lived in a whole other country, and I spent time there for weeks at a time while I was working on my PhD. I joined up with a women’s recreational running group (they called themselves the Slug Goddesses) and suddenly, I felt like I belonged in the community. They didn’t become my best friends, and I actually only ran with them about 10 times — but they eased the sense that I was just floating along. I’m still pals with them on the socials, and one of them ran for State Senator recently!

It doesn’t have to be fitness related — join a trivia league, or volunteer somewhere. A little corner of this place — even if it’s temporary — can help anchor you.

Also, get a cat.

White woman in cowboy hat, black tshirt and jeans on a wooded path — not sure when the last time she went to the bathroom was and how that went for her

Dear Fieldpoppy,

I’m so used to leggings 24/7 I’m forgetting to unfasten my slacks & jeans when going to the bathroom. 👖

What can I do?

Signed, Button Buster.

Dear Buttons,

I’m glad to see you’re staying hydrated! But the leakproof underwear I linked in the first answer might come in handy for you too.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede (she/they), who lives and works on the land now known as Toronto, which is the traditional territory of many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples, and is covered by Treaty 13, signed with the Mississaugas of the Credit. Cate is a coach, consultant and general thinker about relationships and meaning making. You can read earlier versions of the Ask Fieldpoppy column here, here and here.

fitness

Ask Fieldpoppy for March (Part 1)

(I initiated this “Dear Fieldpoppy” advice column a few months ago; today’s questions were so rich it ended up in two parts — part two will come this afternoon).

Dear Fieldpoppy,

Image of a white woman with dark hair hiding under the covers, from Alexandra Gorn on unsplash

As we re-enter the space previously known as The World, I am feeling utterly overwhelmed. I have so much work to do. I still have lots of care needs to attend to. It feels unbearable and I cry a lot of the time. Which makes me dehydrated. Which makes it worse. What suggestions do you have for balancing the impossible as we “return to normal not normal”?

Signed, dehydrated

Dear Fieldpoppy: I’ve lost my mojo and cannot for the life of me find it. I don’t even mind if I get back half of what I used to have, but even that seems out of reach. Suggestions?

Signed, what is mojo anyway?

First thing, for both of you: a big glass of water. I’ll join you. Let’s make a mindful ritual out of it.

pitcher of water with lemons in it, from @juliazolotovaph on unsplash

Run the tap so it’s nice and cold, get your favourite big glass or water bottle. I like a giant blue hand blown glass that looks like a chalice. Get some ice if that’s your jam (it’s not mine). Put something you like into the water, like a skoosh of cranberry juice, or an orange slice and a blueberry.

Sit down, and be with the water, like the mindfulness exercise where you contemplate a raisin for an hour. Put your finger in the glass and feel its wetness. Think about where it came from, and the miracle that is clean water coming out of your tap. Feel the glass, real in your hand. Lift the glass, intentionally, and slowly wet your lips and drink, slowly. Feel it going down your throat.

Now, put your feet on the ground, intentionally. Like mountain pose, but sitting down. Feel the floor under your toes. What are the sensations? Sit a little bit more upright, feeling yourself in your body with dignity, with grace.

What a goddamned amazing body it is. Today is the official two year anniversary of a global fucking pandemic. There is a goddamned war in Europe. People and spaces you relied on have turned out to think very differently than you. This body has kept you alive through the most uncertain, frightening, disorienting, exhausting time we never imagined we’d deal with in our lives. You are here. You have water in your hand and solid floor under your feet. You are a miracle.

Now, breathe. Breathe in some love for that body and soul of yours. Breathe out love for the world. Breathe in — one, two, three, four. Slowly. Breathe out — one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Do it again, and again. Pay attention to what is there — gratitude, love, resentment, sadness, worry, joy, loneliness, fatigue — these are all the miracles of being a human. A human who has held it together through stress you never expected to have to hold. What a goddamn miracle.

As the world “opens up again”, there is no “again.” It’s all new. We aren’t who we were two years ago, the world isn’t what it was two years ago, our bodies aren’t what they were two years ago. We see ourselves and the people around us differently. We’re older. We’ve been folded in on ourselves, literally and figuratively.

A white woman in child’s pose on a blue mat with images of constellations from unsplash @Luna_ActiveFitness

Now — emotionally — and literally — put yourself in child’s pose. Start there. Listen to what your body is telling you. Accept it. Be with it. Root up slowly, curiously, quietly, to find what is actually available to you in this new world. Listen to what your body is whispering at you. What is there, now? What do you need, now? Use your beginner’s mind — you won’t ever get the same mojo “back,” you won’t be able to balance the “same” things you balanced in the Before Times — but there is a new strength, energy, mojo, balance available. New care, new connections, new kinds of love. Listen for it. Let it be enough. Savour it. And see what grows in those new, smaller, tentative spaces.

I breathe in love with you.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede (she/they), who lives and works on the land now known as Toronto, which is the traditional territory of many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples, and is covered by Treaty 13, singed with the Mississaugas of the Credit. Cate is a coach, consultant and general thinker about relationships and meaning making. You can read earlier versions of the Ask Fieldpoppy column here, here and here.

fitness

Thinking of riding in the Baltics

Four years ago, I rode my bike across Latvia and Estonia by myself; a year later, I rode across Lithuania. As I watch what’s unfolding in Ukraine and the spillover into neighbouring countries, I keep thinking of those long quiet days on flat country roads, of discovering towns when I was fully ready to rest, sometimes finding sublime summer retreats, sometimes utilitarian places only memorable because I found myself there to sleep. Here is my post for the second last night of my bike trip in Estonia in 2018, where I stayed in a town with a military base, and where menacing fighter jets soared over me more than once as I neared the town.

Estonia has been occupied for all but about 50 of the past 500 years. When those planes soared over me, I couldn’t tell if they were NATO planes or Russian planes flexing in the airspace. I felt the weight of it, knowing that I would be leaving in a few days. That weight is with me now.