Two Pride things to do from wherever you are this week

Many many moons ago, I ran in the very first Pride and Remembrance run, back when Pride was shifting away from the Parade into a weekend long event. It actually turned out to be my fastest 5K ever (I came in 4th, thanks to mis-timing my energy and being passed by two people in the last 400 m). (And because of when it was, I probably ended up staying up until 4 am that night — ah, youth).

It’s a venerable institution now — Kathleen Wynne ran it when she was premier — but this year, the official event has been canceled because of the pandemic. But Frontrunners, a long-time queer running group, has issued a challenge to raise money for Supporting Our Youth in a virtual version of the event.

Here is the facebook link:

Here is the link to donate to Soy:

IG and FB tags are both @frontrunnerstoronto

I am going to do it next Saturday. I can assure you that I will not be matching my best time, nor will I be wearing the fairy costume that won me best outfit one year — but I’ll be out there. Join me?

And when you’re done running, do a virtual drop by of my the installation my friends Ray and Stewart are making in their backyard, also free:

Find more details here at this Eventbrite link.

What are you going to do for Pride?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who wishes she lived in a twilight fairy garden.


What are you yearning for?

I was riding my bike the other day, on Leslie Spit, and I was truly happy. The weather was perfect, the midges that fill my mouth were being blown away by the wind, I was only two kilometres from my house but I felt like I was out of the city. I was on my current favourite bike — the intrepid bombtrack — and I felt that sense of complete freedom and joy that only a perfect bike can bring.

I’ve spent a lot of time on the Spit during the lockdown, walking and running and riding, and I’m very grateful for it. I’ve also been in the don valley trails at least twice a week. Actual nature in the middle of the city. Freedom to move. Trees.


As most of the world peeks out from under the lockdown (not us — in Toronto we’re still in phase 1), I am filled with a desire that I can’t fully express. It’s a feeling that never had to have a name before. It’s like missing a person, yearning for someone I long for who doesn’t quite love me back, the person who makes me more of myself. But it’s not a person, it’s a way of being.

The only way I have to express it is through a kind of metonymy: I’m yearning to move my body, on a bike, by myself, in a place I don’t know. I want to actually do those things. And I yearn for the me that comes with the freedom to do those things.

Over the past few years, I’ve been privileged to do cycling trips in a bunch of countries: with organized groups in Laos, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Cambodia and Thailand; with a solo guide in Vietnam; with two friends and a tent in Germany; with a van and friends and a lot of chilly wind in Newfoundland; and — most preciously — by myself, carrying all my stuff, in Australia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. I’ve also grabbed bikes for a day or two for solo explorations in Beijing, Singapore and Myanmar.

I’ve written about these trips a lot, and I went back to browse a few of those posts to try to understand exactly what it is I’m missing. And I found it in this post — it’s what I called “mindful surrender.” The absolute presence of a being on a bike in a place I’ve never been before, having to take what comes, discover what is there, navigate unexpected issues.

When I list those issues, they don’t sound very relaxing: unexpected forks in a road not captured on the map; shooting out of a park onto a highway entrance; the sense of never knowing for sure if you are going in the right direction; an unexpected corrugated, almost unridable dirt road that shakes all of the screws off your frame; unexpected stairs to a train you have to persuade urchins to help you navigate with all your stuff; dropping the bike with all its stuff onto you trying to go up a train ramp and having to be rescued by oblivious teenagers; running out of water on a hot day; ending up on the wrong side of a river with a boat schedule to meet; hotel clerks who find bikes distasteful; wind wind wind so much wind.

But after three months of adapting everything in my life to an online, distanced, anxiety-inflected world, I am yearning for the muscle and soul flex of setting out alone from a non-descript hotel, finding my way through a foreign land, the unexpected encounters of a beach, a popsicle, a holocaust memorial, a bird sanctuary, a new kind of baltic scone. I long to find myself alone at the end of the day riding through a wind farm to a tiny hotel at the end of the sea, and to have a woman ask “meat?” then serve me a mess of fried pork and onions and vegetables and a weird little liqueur I end up pouring out into the long seagrass. I long for pink soup and the unexpected find of a perfect meal in a small town. I long for the imagination of wondering what it would be to live in a town with pigeon cotes in the backyards and the worn down history of occupation.

It’s not as easy as saying “I miss traveling”. I do miss “traveling,” my personal rituals of tomato juice and haribo and fig bars on airplanes, the incredible privilege of being able to transport my nieces to new landscapes.

But it’s not that — it’s about missing the sense of openness to make choices that aren’t really very consequential, the elemental sense of finding myself alone on a literal road with literally no idea what lies ahead, seeing the unexpected pieces of lives you only see from a bike or your feet, like a woman selling a piece of a pig by the side of the road, just a table and a piece of flesh and an old scale and a knife. The transcendent joy of finding the strength in my body to make my way, alone, up 35 km of mountain road to a hidden monastery tucked in the himalayas. The radical acceptance that comes when you don’t know what terrain is really behind the lines on the map, you can’t ask for anything but the simplest needs because you realize, over and over, that English is not as ubiquitous as you think.

What I most miss is being able to *practice* radical acceptance in a non-consequential way, being able to experience not having control but trusting that it will all work out, knowing that at the end of the day, there will be a bed, some kind of meal, a sense of accomplishment.

In January, I wrote a post about taking a breather from travel for a while, especially organized bike trips. I wrote about how maybe I had done enough building of that muscle of strength and flexibility and needed to turn that energy elsewhere for a while. Now that being “grounded” has been imposed on us, that dealing with the unexpected — which for me isn’t that difficult, just wearying — I realize how much I yearn for the incredible privilege of being able to play at being accepting.

Nice one, universe.

What are you yearning for, right now?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is still hoping to be able to travel to the west coast of Canada at some point this summer.


The wisdom of Lizzo, on bodies

(CW — talk about body image and a brief mention of the fit of clothing)

It’s Friday morning, and it’s been a week. Trapped in the zoom for a million meetings, knee somehow bruised and misbehaving, missing a lot of my virtual workouts for various scheduling related reasons. Some nice new baby news among my immediate people, a whiff of hope in the bigger world. The sun is shining, and I am fine, but drowning in work and not super grounded in my body

So I am turning to Lizzo for inspiration this morning. If you haven’t seen this tiktok, watch it:

“I’m not working out to have your ideal body type. I’m working out to have MY ideal body type. And you know what type that is? None of your BLEEP business. Because I am beautiful. I am strong. I do my job. And I stay on my job. So next time you want to come to somebody and judge them whether they drink kale smoothies or eat McDonalds. Or work out. Or NOT work out. How about you look at your own BLEEP self. And worry about your own goddamned body. Because health is not just determined on what you look like on the outside. Health is what you look like on the inside. And a lot of y’all need to do a BLEEP cleanse for your insides.”

You know, no matter what happens in the world, Lizzo is there to ground the CRAP out of me.

So …. what’s my inspiration for my own health in the next few weeks?

  • Stay active every day, even when I’m super busy. It grounds me and creates a buffer of resilience to Just Deal. And lo and behold, when I run, walk or ride, I remember that there is indeed a big beautiful world out there.
  • Meditate for just 5 minutes a day. See: resilience.
  • Be kind to myself about the impact of the Indoor Cat time on the fit of my summer pants. I have summer dresses!
  • Remember that my body holds the self that wants to live with purpose, and when I honour that in myself, I stay connected to that sense of purpose.

What’s inspiring you to be who you want to be today?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is going to try to take a moment to breathe this weekend.


Grinding my teeth, grounding myself

I went to the dentist on Tuesday.

Like the actual dental office, with a person putting her hands in my mouth and being close to my face.

It was … blissful. A stranger touching me and taking care of me, taking care of a part of my body that feels the stress of the last few months in a steady grinding and clenching of my teeth, an ache in my jaw.

In the general scheme of the dozens of dental visits over my life, it was uneventful. My hygienist cleaned my teeth, we talked about her spending most of the lockdown with her mom in Newfoundland, I was praised for my brushing and flossing (where else are we praised for basic personal hygiene?), I declined xrays. I paid and left.

But of course, it was extraordinary. It was the first post-lockdown non-emergency day for my dentist.

I happened to have a regular bi-annual appointment on the first day they reopened, and they called last week to ask if I was comfortable coming in. They asked about my health, I asked about protocols, and then I got actually excited.

The protocols were… thorough. The usual masks etc., but also physical screening for temp and oxygen before I entered, and sealed off treatment rooms fully disinfected between patients. A peroxide solution rinse before the hygienist touched me, and no use of any tools that might aerosolize.

The list of protocols sounds kind of daunting and bonkers. Walking through the plastic-heavy zone of doors felt dystopic. But once I was in the chair? We were two people, talking about the heaviness of the week, settling into our roles as health provider and client.

And… I relaxed in a way I hadn’t since March. I settled into being taken care of, the unexpected affirmation of having someone take care of a part of my body.

Chilled out after a 60km ride with Kim

I started reflecting on how my relationship to my body has shifted so many times since the lockdown started. I’ve moved from needing the structure of daily virtual classes to move at all to — in the past week — yearning to just let my body tell me what it needs. So this week, running, riding, self-guided yoga.

But my consciousness of my body is shifting again, this week of uprising and turmoil.

I’ve tuned back in this week to deep consciousness that the body I treat as my own personal, individual body, a body I relate to with workouts and movement — this is also body defined by its race, its gender, its age, its size — with a lived experience and privilege that is completely mediated by those accidents of genes and history.

This week, I have a deep, atavistic sorrow I can’t put into words about the broken-ness of the way we as humans have created our world. Like so many people, I yearn to make things different, recognize that I’m a complicit part of the structures that shape this world of inequity and oppression. And I know that this knowledge is fumbling, insufficient. But I also know that fumbling and insufficient are a start, and they are the only way I’ve ever accomplished anything.

Going to the dentist might seem like a weird way to feel reawakened to my body in all its implications. But caring for my teeth reminded me of the power of simple touch, simple caring, human interaction, the need for the most basic kindness and being attuned to other people. Listening and responding to what my body needs reminds me that that listening is where I need to be right now. Listening, and recognizing that my body isn’t just “my” body — it’s also part of a human system, where my features aren’t just mine, aren’t just neutral, but shape the lived experience of the people around me.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and hopes in Toronto.

covid19 · fitness · yoga

My empty yoga mat

On January 1, I greeted this shiny new year with 108 sun salutations on the rooftop of a hotel in Singapore (remember hotels??). Then throughout January, along with half the people I know, I did the Yoga with Adriene (YWA) “Home” sequence, doing yoga almost every day for four weeks. And in the bigger picture, I’ve been doing yoga pretty regularly for 25 years. But since the start of the lockdown, I’ve only found my way to the mat about four times.

What gives? Why have I neglected something I know grounds me in every possible way, makes me feel more human, gives some ease to the physical and emotional knots I’ve found myself in?

It’s not that I haven’t been working out — I’ve done Alex’ virtual superhero workouts at four or five mornings a week, run 3 or 4 times a week, gone for long walks, jumped rope between meetings, perfected handstand shoulder taps and holding crow pose. But that moment where I get on the mat with just me and my body and my full, vulnerable self? I avoid, I distract myself, I wander away.

Last week, someone else posted in our 220 in 2020 community that yoga was making her sad, and every time she started doing a YWA, it made her cry. Others joined in, with their own stories of struggling with introspection and restlessness, especially during yoga. The overall portrait was that even among this community of people — even a yoga teacher! – – among people who value movement, self-knowledge, being in their bodies — right now, even as we are functioning reasonably well, more or less, in the bigger world or in our goals, those moments of truthful quiet, face to face with what’s really present? This can feel like too much.

What is it that’s too much? What am I avoiding?

(Pressing pause on writing this post to go do some yoga and see what I can find)

Okay, I’m back. I did a 20 minute YWA full body flow, the one that came into my inbox with Adriene’s weekly Sunday newsletter today. It was the perfect little flow — a few vinyasas, some lunge stretches, a little tree. I added a few twists, turned the side planks into full side plank with one leg lifted. Did my current party trick, crow. Added some pigeon at the end. What did I experience?

First, I found crinkly noises — in my neck and shoulders, in my knees — like the elastic giving out on a cheap, old pair of pyjamas. Tight shoulders, immobile hips, tight calves. And bruises — mostly on my elbow from where my new hammock hurled me out yesterday, but a few random ones on my legs. Stiff arthritic big toe, and raw skin on the bottom of that same toe, a silly little wound I acquired during that sun salutation fiesta in January and which has never really healed, since I’ve been in my house, barefoot, for the better part of two months. (There were actually spots of blood on my mat after my morning workout two weeks ago from my toe).

But more than bruises… I’m sore. I’m tight. I’m untended. I have all this big muscle strength — I’ve been doing pushups, handstands, wall walks, arm balances, loaded squats, I’ve been running up hills — but I haven’t been caring for my small muscles, the connections, the fascia. I can do crow — hard and focused — but I can’t get my foot all the way up my thigh in tree, because my hips are so tight.

What I have been doing

It’s barely a metaphor.

I think I’ve been avoiding yoga because it slows me down, and slowing down, I feel the wash of the all encompassing experience right now, and it’s … hard. It’s not impossible, but it’s hard. I’m grateful I have work, but doing group work online is a lot of slog without the reward of shared energy and excitement. I’m worried that cases of covid19 continue to spike in my province and our parks were too full of people yesterday (understandable, but worrying). I’m worried that the political system south of the border is so unstable. I’m sad about the suffering in so many parts of the world, including in Uganda where there are so many people I love. I’m fretful about uncertainty. I’m also moved and grateful and inspired and loved and caring, and all of those emotions take up just as much energy as the worrying.

What I should be doing

I have a lot of strength, and I’ve been leaning into it. Challenging myself with handstands and crow, to make sure I can keep the hard balance. But without looking too closely at the impact on my fascia, on my cells, on what’s underneath. I need to surrender, just a little.

Time to peek underneath and give those cells some breathing room. Time to slow down. Thanks again, yoga.

What about you? How are you doing with quiet, introspective practice?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is trying to notice what she needs.


When will you feel okay about going back to the gym?

Last Monday, ping, ping, ping, one after the other, I got emails from three of my gyms/fitness studios with surveys asking me when I will want to come back to the gym, with questions about what kind of sanitation measures I would expect. Articles started popping up everywhere asking whether it’s “safe” to go back to the gym.

In most of Canada, gyms aren’t open yet, but clearly, they have their feet in the blocks waiting for the starter pistol. It’s understandable — fitness studios depend on class and member revenue to survive, and most have hefty investments in space and equipment. We had an animated conversation about this among the bloggers about our own comfort, and realized that most gym managers/ owners are not likely to err on the side of caution — they want to open, and as soon as they are permitted, they will be looking to their members to tell them what will work for them. So what DO we feel safe doing? I captured the key themes from a few of our bloggers.

First, our overall consensus is that none of us is comfortable just quickly going back to any gym in the near future, starting with concerns about heavy breathing and close proximity. Covid19 has been spread through choir practices and, in one study, through a fitness studio in South Korea. Sam captured the general consensus: “Too many people, breathing heavily, in an enclosed space just doesn’t sit well with me right now.” Nicole agrees: ” I don’t believe it to be a safe environment, working out closely, breathing heavily, indoors.”

Gyms are also hotbeds of possible droplet-spread through touching, and that seems both dangerous and icky. Bettina loves bouldering, but even if she weren’t pregnant, she wouldn’t be going any time soon: “Some gyms are reopening with restrictions where I live (Germany) but it doesn’t feel right. The idea of touching the same holds as other people and potentially touching my face after to wipe off sweat (old habits die hard) doesn’t seem appealing at all.”

Touching of shared equipment is my personal big issue — I can’t imagine going to a gym where we all touch the same equipment, but I might be open to a space like spinning with lots of distance between bikes, good ventilation and a good wipe of the equipment between classes, and no use of shared washrooms or showers. (I may not be logical about this, but I really miss spinning!)

While sharing equipment feels like a no no for everyone, others are concerned about avoiding other people in breaks, the change room and washrooms. Nicole noted “how would the washroom/change room, situation work? I cannot go to a class and not pee before and after! And the change room would seem like a hotbed of potential virus transmission right now.”

Bettina agreed. “Pools aren’t open yet where I live, and I miss swimming so much! But with pools, the problem doesn’t seem to be the actual swimming so much as the time spent outside the pool, or taking a break without suitable distance from others.”

Kim also misses the pool, and is ready when they are: “I’ve read articles from trustworthy sources that suggest pools are one rec site that can reopen safely sooner rather than later, as long as social distancing measures take place in change rooms. I live close to my local pool so will not plan to shower there; instead I will change into my suit at home, and then throw my clothes on in the change room before going straight home to wash everything (myself included).”

She is also focused on solo riding right now: “My cycling club is run by a surgeon, and there’s NO WAY he will let us ride together until he is convinced it is safe for us to draft each other. I have total confidence in him, and am enjoying solo rides right now.”

After three months of training ourselves to view any touching as possibly risky, we have developed a strong tendency to notice if other people aren’t observing the same “rules” as we are. Several bloggers talked about how they MIGHT be comfortable in a gym where they could work out, safely apart from others, wiping off equipment before and after use, but being anxious about others following the same protocols.

Nicole said, “I am anxious sometimes at the gym anyway about people following rules at the best of times — there are people who don’t pay attention to station flow, keeping things in their station, etc. It’s too risky right now for that to happen and i would be even more anxious now, and that would overshadow the enjoyment I find at the gym.”

Martha agreed: “I know how careful I am. I’m just not confident others are as careful. How do I know this? Because I’ve been in classes in the past where people show up barely symptomatic with a respiratory illness but are determined to sweat it out. Or they say it’s allergies but it turns into something else. I believe we have to rest when we are unwell. As someone who is self-employed, I don’t get sick days, but I still take my days so I can recover. I realize not everyone feels this way so my answer for now is “thanks, but no thanks. It’s too soon.””

Several of us miss our gyms, and understand the impact on small businesses — but recognize that this doesn’t overshadow a need to take care of ourselves. Nicole again: “I want to support them, but I can’t let my sense of guilt or obligation to the small gym owner, or fear that they will not make it if they do not open to in-class programming, overshadow my concerns about being in the gym right now.”

Overall, as a group, we agreed we will either continue with our at home and virtual workouts for the foreseeable future — and for some, this feels great. Nat has found a new rhythm at home: “My gym isn’t reopening soon and that’s okay. I’ve gotten into a nice at home workout groove. I’ve never been so consistent or felt so disciplined. This confinement has taught me to reclaim my inner locus of control. I’m enjoying being free from the gaze of others or waiting on a machine. I do miss the social aspect but not enough to go find another gym.”

Catherine has also adjusted. “I’ve been gymless for more than a year now. After my latest bout of physical therapy, I got set up at home with some light weights. I do miss working with heavy weights. However, now is not the time to go gym shopping! Doing both bodyweight exercises and functional fitness are appealing, and I hope that zoom classes will continue even after gyms reopen. I feel like I can get most of what I need from those. For the rest, I’m sitting tight…”

Weighing the risks and benefits, Sam is also going to keep working out at home. “I might ask Meg, the personal trainer I work with, to come visit our backyard in the summer and work with the group of us, including my mother. Between now and next winter, I think I’ll buy some more weights. I’m very happy with my indoor cycling set up and Zwift. We’ve got the TRX. If I had more space I might buy a rowing machine. Bottom line: I’ll proceed pretty cautiously. But I am also pretty privileged in terms of space and workout company at home.”

Overall, we miss lots of things about our gyms and fitness studios — Bettina and Kim miss the pool, Sam misses hot yoga, Nicole and Nat miss the community, Catherine, Nicole and I miss heavy weights, I miss spinning and yoga classes — but for now, we’ll stay focused on at-home or solo movement, and make thoughtful choices about group spaces one at a time.

What about you? Will you be there on “Day 1”? Or are you in a wait and see mode as well?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives in Toronto, where she’s been discovering new spaces on her solo runs.


Still menstruating at 55 1/4 — and still learning new things!

I’m the doyenne of menstruation around here, with my two year old post “53 and a half and still menstruating” consistently in our top 10 posts every month. I wrote an update a year later, in which I expressed a bit more frustration with my status as a Menstruator Emeritus.

Well here it is, three months after I turned 55, and blam, here I am, too old to invest in a diva cup, but bleeding like a young thing.


But here’s the thing: on my 550th period or what have you, I’ve learned something new. Yesterday, I was complaining about cramps, being tired and having a sore throat. In the Time of Covid, a sore throat is one of those EEEK moments.

But then I started reflecting, and I texted Susan — “I complain about a sore throat every time I have my period, don’t I?”

“Yup,” she said. “It’s so weird.”

Whenever I feel crappy when I have my period, I just sort of vaguely handwave “hormones.” But I tend to assume that hormones translates into grumpiness, fatigue, sleep problems and hot flashes (like my classic experience on Sunday, where I strode around in a tank top outside in 10 degree weather, complaining that my thin cotton tights felt like snowpants).

So I finally looked it up. And apparently, flu like symptoms around your period are a thing — and more specifically, SORE THROATS are a thing for some people.

How come I never knew this? I talked about the flu thing with a colleague a few years ago — a cardiologist, no less — and she said she had that too, but had never heard any medical colleagues talk about it.

First, estrogen and progesterone surge when you ovulate then dip when you don’t need them for baby-making, and this dip can cause achiness, sleep disruption and fatigue. And then the hormone prostaglandin kicks in to cause the familiar uterine cramps and the less discussed intestinal and stomach cramps, hot flashes and — sometimes — fever. (This may explain why I get a lot of weird uterine cramps even whenI’m not bleeding). AND – apparently –these hormones can cause a rarely-studied but not-unique-to-me sore throat.

According to a sleep doc I found online, progesterone can be an upper airway muscle dilator, and when the progesterone dips, your throat muscles relax more, which can lead to weird sleep stuff and sore throats. And — even if it’s not that muscle dilation — the hormonal shifts can exacerbate existing allergies, like mine to all the pollen and all the cats.

So, A) I’m not imagining it. When I menstruate, I feel like I’m getting the flu or a sore throat, almost every time. It’s a Thing. And B) I don’t have covid19. And C) apparently the universe is not done teaching me things through my period. Oh, universe, you trickster.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives in Toronto. This is what a 55 year old who hasn’t hit menopause yet looks like. Her cat opened that closet door.



I’m running 2.23 miles today, for Ahmaud Arbery.

You know the story, by now. If you don’t, you should. Arbery — a 25 year old Black man — was running — jogging — through a Georgia suburb in February when he was pursued, shot and killed by two white men (a father and son) with guns. They claim they assumed he was responsible for recent break ins.

Kamala Harris’ tweet — “exercising while Black shouldn’t be a death sentence” — is a meme by now.

During the pandemic, everyone has had to come to terms with the idea that going outside is “dangerous.” For some of us — white people, affluent people, western people — this is a new experience. It’s not new for people of colour, for women fearful of running at night, for people who wear religious symbols that are outside dominant culture. It’s especially not new for Black men in North America.

I’m a white, middle aged, affluent Canadian woman with a lot of privilege. I run when I want to. I even argue for my right to run — carefully, thoughtfully — during a global pandemic. That’s privilege.

My feminism is intersectional. I’m listening when my black friends tell me they need to raise their sons to know that the world is not safe for them. I’m listening when endless, overwhelming numbers are showing us that the pandemic is just re-emphasizing existing health equities, with far more people of colour — especially men — dying in North America. I’m noticing that “zoom bombing” most often takes the form of racist and misogynistic attacks.

I’m a white woman, and I’m a feminist. This story breaks my heart, and it makes me so angry. I’m an ally, and #justiceforahmaud has to be my fight too.

Ahmaud was murdered on 2 – 23 – 30. He was supposed to turn 26 today. Run 2.23 miles today with thousands of others, in solidarity.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives in Toronto.


Experimenting with the “Four Second Workout”

After writing my post a couple of weeks ago about how much I miss incidental movement since the lockdown started, I started trying to move a little more — a quick walk around the block between zoom calls, spending 15 minutes sweeping my terrace in the middle of the day, putting away laundry in a very inefficient manner (think, three facecloths at a time). And lo and behold, I felt better, just a bit more at ease.

I also started paying more attention to how much I’m sitting, and how that was making me feel. I’m privileged enough to have an ergonomically functional workspace because my home office is my main workplace all the time. But even with a decent place to sit and some integration of deliberate incidental movement, as the lockdown has worn on, I’m still finding myself mushy between the ears and super sleepy by the middle of the afternoon.

Then last weekend the New York Times Well section offered a very alluring idea — the Four Second Workout!

Unlike the six minute workout that Catherine wrote about recently, the “four second workout” isn’t about efficient and doable ways to integrate focused fitness into your life — it’s about adding short intense bursts of movement throughout the day to counter the nasty effects of sitting too much.

I realized, reading this article, that despite hearing “sitting is the new smoking” for a few years now, I have only the vaguest notion what those nasty effects are. This article reiterated what I knew — that prolonged sitting leads to increased risks for heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and other metabolic disruptions — but it also explained why. Many hours of sitting can “contribute to a later rise in the bloodstream of fatty acids, known as triglycerides, probably in part because muscles at rest produce less than contracting muscles do of a substance that breaks up triglycerides. High levels of triglycerides, in turn, are linked to an increased risk of heart disease and other metabolic problems.”

Basically, this study began with earlier findings that long periods of sitting create more triglycerides and insulin resistance in the blood in otherwise healthy young people. Other studies found that sitting is a problem even if you break up the sitting with an intense hourlong run workout during the day. In other words, in a day where you go for a run in the middle of the day but are otherwise just sitting, that run isn’t having the much of an effect on your heart and metabolism — the sitting counteracts the run.

This new study explored whether tiny, frequent workouts would break up the effects of the sitting. They had volunteers add short, intense workouts to their long days of sitting. Every hour, they got on a heavy flywheel bike, did 4 seconds of sprints, followed by 45 seconds of rest, repeated five times in total. (So a total of 20 seconds of sprinting over about 4.5 minutes). They did this 8 times over a work day, for a total of about 160 seconds of intense activity. The next day — magically — this lowered their triglyceride levels by 30%.

The advice? “When you find yourself sitting for most of the day, try to rise frequently and move, preferably intensely, as often during the day as possible and for as many seconds as you can manage.

Now, I don’t have a flywheel bike in my home office, and I don’t always have 5 minutes between calls. But I decided to try a version of this, to do the very scientific experiment of “seeing how it made me feel.” I grabbed the trusty skipping rope I fortuitously bought shortly before the pandemic, and set my pomodoro timer for every 30 minutes. (This is a method I already use to manage my productivity). Here are my fieldnotes.

7:30 – 830: I do my usual virtual HIIT workout. It’s moderately intense with lots of legwork. I decide this means I can start skipping around 10.

10:00: I do a set of 100 reps, in about 47 seconds. 50 fast skips is easy, it turns out, but it starts to get harder around 70. Process improvement: add shoes. (Ouch). And a bra.

11 am: I don’t really have time to skip between calls, but I let myself be a minute late. I trip up a couple of times and whack my toes but keep going. I arrive on the zoom still breathing hard, shedding my wrap. At this point in the pandemic, I have stopped even trying to look “professional” on calls. But my heart rate is sure up.

Noon: Before I start making lunch, I do a set. This one feels efficient, but I’m getting hot.

1240: I throw in a few random skips while I’m waiting for my tomatoes to finish roasting. I feel virtuous.

1:30 pm: Lunch is still heavy in my tummy. I decide 70 reps is enough this time. My shoe comes untied and I just let the laces flop.

2:00 pm: I’m bargaining — wouldn’t 50 be enough? I go for 100, but I whack my toes a lot, and it’s more like 28 – 37 – 62 – 68 – 75 – 1 2 3 4 up to 25. I sure feel awake.

3 pm: I add music, Icona Pop’s I Love It. I do 100 reps in 45 seconds without stumbling, and then lurch back to my desk, shooing the little cat off my keyboard. She settles back down with her butt on my arm.

3:30ish: Lizzo. The little cat stares at me. This is really feeling like work. Maybe 100 reps isn’t necessary — it takes a full minute to slow down my heartrate. But I do them and I’m not sleepy!

415ish: (forgot to set the timer). Kelly Clarkson. I whack my foot at 37 and 98 but otherwise it’s unremarkable. Does doing this 10 times in a day count as an actual workout, I’m beginning to wonder?

500 pm: I wonder how much I’m annoying my downstairs neighbour. Also, is it possible this skipping rope is too short? I hit my toes a lot.

530: I do a final skip to cap off the day at my desk, with Shakira. I slow down a little and indulge in a bit of side to side. My word but that is a lot of skipping.


By the end of the day, I had skipped for around 500 seconds (about 8 minutes), over 10 episodes. How did I feel at the end of the day? Much more invigorated than I have any day since the lockdown started! My brain was still clear at the end of the day and I felt “awake.” I also found that this integrated well with my existing pomodoro “work hard for 30 minutes, take a quick break and stand up” approach. I was also a little sore, but I didn’t know if that was from all the squats and wall sits from my morning workout or from the skipping.

The next morning, I kind of wanted to measure my triglycerides, but since I couldn’t’t (and since I didn’t really know what triglycerides were 48 hours ago), I did a body scan instead. I slept better than the night before (coincidence?), felt reasonably rested and decided I wanted to go for a run outside rather than working out with my virtual group. After my run, I found myself less inclined to eat a bagel and peanut butter than usual, and went for a smoothie instead.

The next day, I had very little buffer between calls, but I threw in a few random skipping episodes during the day, and I think I’ll keep doing that. It can’t hurt. Unless you’re not wearing shoes. Or a bra.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who is tired of sitting and screens in Toronto. Here she actually put on lipstick and a nice outfit for her afternoon zooms, but skipped between them anyway.


What really is okay for exercising outside?

“I just wish someone would give us clear guidelines,” someone said to me the other day. “There’s so much contradictory information!”

It’s true. At this point in the pandemic, every jurisdiction seems to have slightly different guidelines for outdoor activity. In Canada alone, every province is different. Consider this weekend. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer of British Columbia, said “Please, go outside…The risk that somebody who is sick spreads this virus from coughing or sneezing outside and you walk by them very quickly, even when it is within six feet, that risk is negligible…. We always say ‘never say never’ in medicine, but the risk would be infinitesimally small.” Nova Scotia opened up its provincial trails and other outdoor activities like driving ranges, with “caution”. Most other provinces had similar advice, with appropriate cautions. But the Chief Medical Officer of Toronto “lamented” stories of people going outside, and our biggest park was closed for the weekend to keep people from congregating to see the cherry blossoms, giving us a “bloomcam” instead.

So how do we make sense of this? For the past six weeks, we’ve heard “sledgehammer” messages that the only responsible choice is to stay inside; this has led to the kind of conflict between runners and other people we normally only see between cyclists and cars. We’ve seen social media shaming and outright animosity, like this sign in NYC’s lower east side:

To try to detangle some of this, I interviewed Dr. Michael Gardam, an infectious disease specialist and Chief of Staff at Humber River Hospital in Toronto, and a frequent voice on CBC and Global TV. (He’s also a colleague of mine). I asked him a few specific questions from our blogger team about his perspective on outdoor movement.

What is the actual risk of spreading covid19 by exercising outside?

“It is extremely unlikely that viral transmission would happen outside without close contact — you would basically have to be right in someone’s face and that would be a really weird thing to do with a stranger.” He added, “this virus is actually pretty wimpy, and it is either killed pretty quickly by UV or dispersed by the wind.” In other words, it’s a lot safer to exercise outside than inside, but to be safe, you need to maintain that two metre distance.

What about people who are so frightened of transmission that they see all runners as a threat?

“People are frightened, and we all need to be kind and do our part to give each other space. If you’re running, it’s better for you to be the one moving out of the way if you can, because you’re going faster. Now isn’t the time to claim your turf on the sidewalk. Be kind.”

“Is the virus actually spread “in the air”?

“If this virus were airborne, we’d all have it. We are talking about droplet transmission, which lingers on surfaces, and can be directly transmitted if we are panting right in someone’s face. Think about what it’s like in a crossfit class, with all that sweating and panting — you don’t want to be doing that. But outside, transmission is extremely unlikely.”

What about swimming? Should pools be opening up?

“In a swimming pool, the chlorine would kill the virus — the issue would be with people breathing hard too closely on you. Pools should be low risk if the number of people in them is limited and you aren’t touching other people or their stuff in the change room.”

What about vigorous vs. lighter exercise? Does that make a difference?

Again, the risk of transmitting this virus outside without direct contract is almost infinitesimal — it doesn’t matter how vigorously you’re moving as long as you maintain some distance. It could make a difference inside, though– think about that sweat and moisture I mentioned before.

So you think we should still be exercising?

Absolutely — from a mental health and overall health perspective, we need to keep moving. We should be creating more space for people to move around outside, safely. We need to be thoughtful about other people’s fear, but that means leaving them space and moving responsibly.

Why are there so many different messages?

“The lockdown of the past few weeks was aimed at making sure that we didn’t have such a surge in cases that our health system was overwhelmed. In Ontario, we’ve escaped that — both because people have observed social distancing and because the hospital system did excellent preparation to reduce everything but the most essential care. With a new infectious disease like this, we want to slow down transmission so we don’t all get it at once, so we can learn more about the virus and who is most susceptible, how to treat people who are ill, give us some time to get the science ramped up, and so we can keep our health system functioning. We have never had to do this before — so the basic message of “stay home” is the simplest. But as we open things up gradually, we will need to each take some accountability for resuming activity in a thoughtful way. We need to maintain physical distance for a while, but that doesn’t mean not moving. It just means being responsible in how we do it.”


You can follow Michael on twitter at @DrMichaelGardam. And I appreciate his time and insight, so much.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who went for a happy socially distanced run after their conversation, turning around at the entrance to the closed trail.