Feminist reflections on fitness, sport, and health
Author: Tracy I
Writer, feminist, vegan, runner, philosopher, yogi, knitter, co-founder of Fit Is a Feminist Issue, co-author of Fit at Mid-Life: A Feminist Fitness Journey (Greystone Books, 2018). Current project: a work-in-progress book on imperfect veganism.
Some people find Facebook’s memories thing to be annoying (and sometimes I do too when it reminds me of things that make me sad). But I like it when it reminds me of things that made me feel good. Like yesterday, when an eight year-old memory came up of my very first running event ever: a 5K with Sam and Tara, with race bibs but no timing chips (I finished in roughly 36 minutes), in support of the Learning Disabilities Association of London Ontario. Here are Sam and I on race day:
It’s hard to believe that was eight years ago–two years before our 50th birthday. I can hardly recall when 5K intimidated me. But on that day I was nervous and excited to be doing an official event for the first time ever. I had no idea what to expect, and 5K was probably the furthest distance I ran in my regular training. Since then, I’ve done so many different running events I can’t even count them all, from 10Ks to half marathons and even the Around the Bay 30K a couple of times and one actual marathon (no more of that for me!). Less than two years after that first 5K, I had completed five or six triathlons, including two Olympic distance events, for Sam and my “fittest by 50” challenge.
Now, after a lengthy Achilles injury (now resolved) and the COVID pandemic (ongoing, as you already know), I’m not training for anything in particular. My last official event was the Around the Bay 30K in March 2019, when apparently I felt strong but just days later I experienced debilitating back pain and then when that resolved my Achilles forced me to back off of running for about a year. Truth be told, I’m not even sure I could do 5K in 36 minutes right now (maybe later today I’ll actually see if I can!). But it doesn’t matter.
During the eight years between then and now I also came to love running with people. But I haven’t done that in ages because of the injury and then the pandemic. I know lots of folks who run in packs still, including my old crew, but I’ve taken to running alone again. It lets me not have to be as scheduled (which right now I like) and I listen to audiobooks at least as often if not more than I listen to music.
I’ve considered getting back to training (with speed work even), this time with the 10K distance in mind. I’m not sure when though. I have started to think about whether I have any pre-60 year birthday fitness goals. I’ve got just under four years to reach them. If I start working with a coach again maybe, just maybe, I can realistically aspire to a 60-minute 10K (that’s high ambition for me!). But do I want that? Not sure.
When I look back at that photo of Sam and me I feel as if I am looking at a different version of myself. Tentative and a bit embarrassed about calling myself a runner at all, too insecure about how slow I was to feel I had a right to establish actual goals. But the more kilometres I racked up, the more comfortable I became in my shoes, at my pace, keeping my stride and not needing to prove myself to anyone. That’s what makes me hesitant about training for something instead of just sticking to the rhythm and routine of running for enjoyment that’s evolved over the past 18 months or so. At the same time, I’ve learned too, through our fittest by 50 challenge and just generally by making activity a part of my daily life, that having a goal can motivate me, and training to meet it increases my fitness and makes me feel energized and confident.
Whatever I decide to do with my running, I love that this memory prompted me to think back on eight years of pavement under my feet.
I’d love to hear about your latest fitness milestone. Congrats to you and please tell us about it in the comments.
Years ago, when I was new to triathlon, I used to train with groups for my swimming and running. Once, two days after some of my swim group had done the Around the Bay 30K (way before I ever thought I would do it myself, which I ultimately did), someone talked about how they had gone for a “light run” the next day. And here they were, back in the pool already. It seemed unbelievable to me that anyone would forgo a total rest day after running 30K. The reason they did it was to get the blood flowing to their tired legs. This approach to recovery is known as “active rest” or “active recovery.”
I used to feel guilty about that sort of thing and blogged about it way back in 2014. Recognizing the importance of rest days and my own struggles to feel okay about actual rest (for myself — I am not trying to be judgmental here about full-on rest), I blogged about taking active rest instead of total rest. But at the time, it wasn’t really incorporated into my workout life as rest or recovery, it was just that I didn’t like taking days off.
Six and a half (!!) years later, I still don’t often take a total rest day. But I vary the intensity of my workouts and take a more conscious approach to switching it up. I do this both with respect to the same activity — harder and easier runs, gentler and more strenuous yoga sessions, for example. And I also do this across my various activities–incorporating a mix of running, Superhero workouts, yoga (with and without Adriene), and walking. Especially since COVID but mostly since joining the 220 in 2020 group, it’s become important for me to do some sort of movement almost every day. That fits perfectly with the idea of active rest or active recovery. After a particularly demanding workout with Alex, I might make sure that if running in on my agenda the next day I take it easy on my run. That’s fine. My objective is to get out the door. Or if I don’t want to go anywhere (COVID has brought out the recluse in me some days), then I’ll do some yoga. A little bit of movement goes a long way to lifting my energy.
The most important thing about active recovery is that it is supposed to be a dialing-down. My personal trainer used to consider all yoga rest, but that’s because he’d never done a power yoga class. Even a demanding flow class wouldn’t really count as an active recovery workout because it’s too much exertion. So if you are going to be honest about incorporating active rest into your program, the experts recommend against using it to sneak in another intense workout under the guise of “active rest.”
This article, “11 of the best activities to do on active recovery days,” explains: “an active recovery day features easy workouts equivalent to no more than 60 to 70 percent of your maximum effort (low to moderate intensity). For example, if you’re training for a marathon, you can use an active recovery day as an opportunity to walk a few easy miles or take a gentle yoga class to work on flexibility.”
I’m also a big fan of listening to my body, and have become a lot more intuitive about my workouts over the years. Though I have a general routine (running 3x a week, Superhero workout 3x a week, yoga several times a week), I know when to back off completely and perhaps do restorative or bedtime yoga and have a nap instead of anything else.
The upshot here is that all high intensity all the time is not a good strategy for anyone. It will result in burnout. But a little bit of movement even on the rest days is fine, and may be exactly what you need. This is not to say that total rest is something to avoid. It’s all a matter of striking the right balance.
Six and a half years ago I asked, “How do you do rest and active recovery?” At the time, I wanted to hear from people who did it “better than I” did. Today I am comfortable with how I do it and I’m always interested in hearing others’ experiences. Have a great weekend!
When Sam and I started the blog back in 2012, we were committed to offering feminist thoughts on fitness and to trying to incorporate our feminism into our fitness lifestyles as we approached our 50th birthdays. Now, as we approach our 56th birthdays in the next couple of months, we continue to reflect on the ways the fitness industry could be friendlier, more inclusive, and more approachable. We are both super pleased that we have managed to carve out and support a community of others who are seeking an alternative to the usual messaging.
I’ve been doing the virtual Superhero workouts with Alex (for more info, check out ABH Movement) a few times a week, and on Friday evening she had a team happy hour on Zoom. She sent around four questions for us to ponder before we met, with the plan to discuss them. We didn’t make it to all of them (because by the time we did a full round where we each talked about when we first started doing fitness classes, happy hour had already spilled into 90 fascinating minutes). But Kim and I thought the final question would make a great group blog post: What’s the top thing you would change about the fitness industry today?
So I did the thing we do: I asked the Superhero team and the blog regulars for their answer to this question. And here’s what people had to say.
Nicole: I would take away the nutrition advice that some gyms provide. I don’t think there is a good way to do it in that environment. Also, it should be illegal for the instructor to say “did you indulge a little last night? Hungover? It’s OK, that’s why you are here!” No, I’m not here for that at all. Ever.
Tracy I (me): If I could wave a magic wand I would banish “weight loss” as a fitness goal from the entire industry. I would replace it with learning to believe in yourself and to love (or at least neutrally accept and value) and trust your body and appreciate it for what it can do, whatever that may be. Also: to encourage other women along the way to do the same. No comparing (I wrote about comparing back in the day)! ❤️
Cate: So many things– I’m 100% with both Tracy and Nicole on this — but I’d add I’d strip out any admonishment or encouragement to focus on anything except form. I have been lucky enough to find some amazing coaches — like Alex — plus yoga teachers and spin instructors who really understand how to support people to work for the next dimension while also emphasizing form, safety, alignment and the specific strength, needs and possibilities of your own body. But occasionally I wander into a class — like at the Y, or with a spin substitute — whose whole coaching is “harder!”. I went to a “boot camp” class at the Y a few years ago where the (20 something) instructor mocked me for doing my lunges slowly and carefully. This is obviously damaging for individual bodies and psyches, but also, I think, one of the biggest things that turns newbies away from fitness.
Sam: Oh there’s so much I would change if I ran the zoo. (Sorry, I can never resist that line from Dr. Suess.) But the most important thing for me would be a much greater emphasis on inclusion and diversity. I want room in my fitness world for people of all races, and genders and ages and physical abilities. Along with inclusion and diversity, I want to end the assumptions about who does what. I want more women in the weight room and more men in the yoga studio.
Coach Alex: As a coach, I desperately want everyone to know that if you don’t enjoy something, you don’t need to do it to “get in shape”. There’s this notion that certain movements/ways of exercising are most effective or necessary for the progress you want to make, and that’s simply untrue.
So many people struggle with developing a consistent and healthy relationship with fitness because it’s either a chore they feel they “have” to do OR they are fearful of starting in the first place (fitness is scary and intimidating). The reality is the fitness industry promotes fad diets, exercise trends, and equipment that ultimately will keep you hopping on and off the bandwagon- but if you find movement you LOVE (whether it’s weightlifting, Zumba, a sport, cycling, etc…) then THAT’S what’s going to keep you coming back. If you do burpees because you think you have to (but you hate them), you’re going to dislike that workout and dread coming back. I wish more people knew that just the act of MOVING is enough to keep you healthy and make fitness gains, and once you find a form of movement that sparks joy for you, that’s where the fun really starts 😜❤️
Chippy (Virtual Superhero teammate): What id like to change is that women are allowed to have muscles and that doesn’t make you unattractive. Those muscles take a tremendous amount of work and are beautiful. Strong is beautiful and there needs to be a cultural shift that goes with that for women 😊
And we’d love to hear from you. If you could change one thing about today’s fitness industry, what would it be?
I just hit the goal of 220 workouts in 2020 on the weekend. It sort of snuck up on me. In fact, I didn’t even notice when I first posted it. It’s not something I “had my eye on” the way I did last year. I’ve even wondered whether it seems like a bit of an impossibility or something people view with skepticism.
Last year, using as my basic criterion “if it gets me moving then it counts,” I managed to get in the 219, with a few extra but not many. The vast majority of sessions I counted were either yoga classes, runs, or resistance training sessions. I had a sort of minimum time limit of about 20 minutes before I would count something as a workout. Yoga and personal training were always an hour. And most of my runs are at least 20 minutes and sometimes considerably longer.
By the time 2020, going on the momentum of 2019, I had successfully incorporated conscious movement into my routine every day. Sometimes, especially but not only while I was in Mexico in January and February, I would do something twice a day, like yoga and running, or yoga and a 10K walk. Starting with Adriene’s “Home” yoga challenge in January, I have actually done yoga almost every day since the beginning of the year. When I started to notice the numbers really racking up on my “count” in the 220 in 2020 group, I began to count two things in a day as one workout (like run+yoga OR walk+yoga) unless one of those things was super exerting or considerably longer than an hour). It’s almost as if I felt bad!
But the fact is, the goal of being able to record a new workout often did motivate me to get moving. And once I had yoga as part of my daily routine, I didn’t want to break that streak of daily yoga. But for me yoga alone is not enough — it counts, but I need to either run, walk, or do some resistance training as well.
Another woman in the 220 in 2020 group also hit her 220 on the weekend. And she asked me, “what now?” My first answer was “keep going.” Which is sort of obvious. I went on to wonder whether there is any reason to keep recording and reporting my workouts, though. The group has achieved its purpose for me — over the past 18 months of being part of a group like this I have integrated physical activity into my daily life in a way I hadn’t quite before. This is made easier this year by my sabbatical, so I am much freer than I usually am. For at least a few more months I get to set my own hours. That allowed me to kick into high gear in the fall, with hot yoga every day (oh, how I miss hot yoga! The pandemic has effectively taken that out of my life for the indefinite future). I made a smooth transition to Yoga with Adriene when I went to Mexico for the winter. That gave me a headstart on the transition to online everything that the pandemic has foisted upon us.
The running/walking + yoga combo was just starting to feel old when I discovered, through Cate, the online Superhero workouts with Alex in late April. That was just the thing I needed to add a new dimension of challenge to my fitness life. I had set resistance training and even running aside for awhile, having injured myself last spring and endured a very slow recovery. For me the perfect balance is a routine that includes yoga, resistance training, and running/walking. I don’t tend to take a day off, opting instead for active rest, combining a more restorative yoga practice with a walk.
This commitment to a routine that includes daily physical activity has also been amazing for my mental health. I have had a tough couple of years that culminated in the finalization of my divorce in early January. Sometimes it felt as if regular physical activity was the only thing I could commit to as part of a daily schedule.
When I stepped away from being a regular on the blog at the end of last summer, it was partly because I had very little left to say publicly about fitness. That still holds true, with the occasional blog post (I think I’ve blogged about 5 times since I “left”) and my daily progress tracking in the 220 in 2020 group being the extent of it. Once in awhile I feel compelled to make some social commentary (like my commentary on “the covid-19” weight-gain jokes, which aren’t funny).
As I hit my 220 target early, with almost half a year stretching out before me, I feel that it’s cemented what started when Sam and I embarked on our Fittest by 50 Challenge and started the blog in 2012. The big shift for me during our challenge was to a more internal and personal relationship with fitness. I realize full well, for example, that no one else really cares, nor should they, what I do. This isn’t to say I haven’t felt supported, encouraged, and motivated by the group. It isn’t to say either that I haven’t enjoyed watching the fitness lives of other members — their accomplishments, their routines, the adventurous and exciting things they do. It is to say that, in the end, I do this for myself. And I’ve experienced the benefits in my life.
So the answer to the question, “what now?” actually is, “keep going.” Not to accumulate a higher number (though I will, if I keep reporting in the group), but because it’s now a thing I do that is a positive part of my life. And recognizing that, it makes no sense to stop. I also think it’s pretty awesome, and I’m not going to worry if that makes me sound boasty or whatever, because sometimes I think we are not boasty enough. We minimize things we do that are actually awesome. And since (as noted above) no one else really cares, and since I definitely do care, well…it makes sense for me to regard reaching this fitness milestone about 5 1/2 months early as an actual achievement. [high-fiving myself now despite slight discomfort at what I just said, which discomfort highlights that I’ve internalized the message about how women shouldn’t be self-congratulatory about what they do even though I actually think we should]
So that’s my “challenge group” story for 2020. Do you have one? If so, let us know in the comments how that helps you (or, if you fly solo, why that works best for you).
In my little city of London, Ontario we have a fantastic system of pathways–The Thames Valley Parkway– that run mostly along the river, through parks and wooded areas. It’s long and lovely, covering over 40 km of ground.
Not surprisingly people use it a lot, not just for leisure but also for commuting from one end/side of the city to the other, for walking their dogs, for exercise. But that’s not the sense in which it’s “multi-use.” That refers to the modes of moving along the path — people walk, run, ride their bikes, travel on their inline skates and skateboards and non-motorized scooters, and in wheelchairs and mobility scooters. The posted speed limit is 20 kilometres per hour. At the moment, there are signs asking people to respect the covid-19 physical distancing guidelines to remain at least 2m apart.
Yes, the physical distancing guidelines raise a whole new set of issues about giving others their space. And (apparently), COVID-19 restrictions have increased the use of the pathway system because our other options, like gyms and yoga studios, are all closed. Plus, kids are home and many adults are either working from home (giving them in some cases more flex in their schedules) or not working. With outdoor exercise being touted (rightly) as an effective way to nurture your mental and physical health at the same time, health experts have emphasized its importance for us during the isolation of the pandemic.
Most people who commented in the thread said that the usual rules of the road should apply, not just during the pandemic, but all the time (how it should be “all the time” was a recurring theme). That would mean pedestrians have the right of way. But not all agreed. Some thought, for example, that since pedestrians can more easily duck out of the way, cyclists should have the right of way. The fact is, the TVP is not a road and the city has not spelled out any guidelines for its use other than “share the path.” The convention is that on the two-lane pathway, pedestrians and cyclists alike use the right-hand lane.
The CBC London comment thread had the usual complaints about cyclists from pedestrians — they don’t ring their bell or say anything to let you know they’re approaching, they pass too closely, they go too fast, they ride in packs (or side-by-side). And there were the usual complaints about pedestrians from cyclists — they take up too much space instead of keeping to the right, they are wearing earbuds so they don’t hear you when you call out, they are sometimes erratic.
The path itself is anywhere from 2.4 to 4 metres wide. That makes it logistically impossible to maintain a two metre distance from everyone you might encounter, whether you’re on foot or on a bicycle, regardless of how much you’d like to keep a safe distance at all times.
Remember too that not everyone on foot is walking. I use the path as both a walker and a runner, and have also used it a lot as a cyclist. My view of what’s irritating, because in general that is how I would describe my reaction when other people’s use of the path creates friction for my use of it, depends a lot on what “mode” I’m in. As one person said to the CBC, “When you’re a pedestrian, you want to think the faster people should get out of your way, but now that I’ve been biking a bit more, I realize I have the opposite mindset when I’m on a bike.” Similarly, when I’m riding my bicycle (or even when I’m running), I get grumpy when people are walking together and taking up the whole lane. But of course, walking in the park together is a thing. An enjoyable thing. And now that we are physical distancing, walking with a friend required that you be further apart than usual.
The other morning when I was out running, I kept as far to the right as possible (I always do that for my own sense of safety from the fast cyclists). Most cyclists who needed to go around me gave a wide berth, but not 2m. I had the easiest time with the people who were running or walking in the other direction because I could (and did) just step a few feet onto the grass as I passed them. Indeed, when possible, I enjoy running on the softer edges beside the paved part, but it’s not always flat enough to do that without risk of turning onto an ankle. The most challenging obstacle I faced was the group of four people walking their large dogs. Between the people and the dogs on leashes, they were literally spread out over both sides of the path, creating a real blockade for cyclists. I did my usual thing and ran off the pathway to navigate around them, but I was annoyed.
I think the worst thing cyclists do besides passing too closely happens when there are pedestrians or runners coming towards me in the other lane and a cyclist approaching them from behind who wants to pass them. It has never been clear to me why it makes more sense from the cyclist’s point of view to ride straight into the path of a pedestrian or runner (me!) in the other lane instead of waiting for a clear passing opportunity. It would be as if you were driving on a two-lane highway and you just kept going at speed, passing cars in front of you without any regard for whether there was on-coming traffic. It wouldn’t even occur to you but quite honestly, 9/10 cyclists do this as if it’s the most reasonable choice in the world.
I am sort of onside with the view that there is no clear right-of-way rule that can easily apply in every case when it comes to the pathway. This is unfortunate because clear rules would be helpful. But I am aware that just because something annoys me doesn’t make it wrong. For example, I have been the cyclist too, and if there are lots of people walking it is exhausting to continually ring your bell or say “on your left.” Indeed, “on your left” can sometimes confuse people or startle them (though typically they will thank you for letting them know).
On the water, when boating, there are clear rules about sail boats having the right of way over power boats. But there is also a sort of convention that the boat who can easily maneuver out of the way should do so if it would be more difficult for the other boat (that’s the reasoning behind why a boat under sail typically has the right of way), even if the other boat technically has the right of way. And really, from the safety point of view, you need to be sensible — if you’ve technically got the right of way but holding your ground might mean you’re going to get run over (like if you’re sailing and a freighter is coming up behind you at twice your speed), then you get out of the way.
I operate kind of like that on the pathway. And most others do too. And as several people on the CBC London Facebook thread said, usually it goes pretty smoothly. And that is amazing considering how busy the TVP can be at times. But I have also taken to going as early in the morning as possible if I’m going to be on the path. And sometimes I don’t have the energy to put up with the added stress, so I just avoid the pathway altogether. I’ve adopted a general policy, that I expect I will maintain for as long as the physical distancing guidelines are required (read: until there is a vaccine and most people have been inoculated): I run alone.
I am still experimenting with physical-distanced walking with friends and I have to say I don’t love it. I need and like to connect in-person with a friend from time to time. But it’s hard to keep proper distance (some people disagree and say it’s easy — that’s not been my experience) and I feel like a jerk if I keep dwelling on it. It also proliferates the navigational challenges of encountering other pairs or larger groups of people walking, running, or cycling together. So, personally I have found it stressful, especially on the pathway. To be quite honest, my preferred way of doing physical-distanced visits with friends is to each bring our own chair and set them up at least six feet apart whether at the park or in someone’s yard. No navigating required. Public health recommendations uncompromisingly followed.
What’s obvious is that in the absence of totally separate pathways, like on the Vancouver seawall where the walking path is distinct from the cycling path, we will need to find a safe way to enjoy these spaces together. The safety and health issues of physical distancing are just one more thing to add to the mix this year. If we’re mostly out there to improve our sense of well-being, and we are truly all in this together, then the both the individual and public health benefits are best achieved by being chill instead of annoyed.
Like most people, I have experienced some benefits I hadn’t predicted from the pandemic isolation (e.g. more time with my parents; the transition from asking “what’s sourdough starter?” to churning out perfect loaves on a regular basis; regular family gatherings on Zoom). But the benefit that has snuck up on me the most is that after over a year of struggling with injuries, I am now, suddenly and happily and unexpectedly injury-free.
On the blog, I’ve been fairly quiet about my injuries (one reason for that is that I had a long good-bye late last summer where I more or less left as a regular contributor, and since then have only written a handful of posts). But also, I’m not big on widespread sharing of my own pain (not that I never have), and I have a personal aversion to dwelling on what’s wrong (not that I never do). People who know me were aware of my Achilles’ injury because it interfered with my regular routines. Most seriously, it took me out of my regular running routine for more than a year. Since I ran the Around the Bay 30K last March, the furthest distance I’ve covered was 10K. I did that maybe 2-3 times. Despite feeling good immediately after the event, I experienced debilitating back pain a few days later. And then, within a short time of the back clearing up enough to take a gingerly approach to running again, my left side Achilles started to bother me in June, and by July I had backed way off. Mostly, I’ve been running between 3-5K or not at all.
The thing is, I’ve been continuing to try. Despite my physiotherapist’s advice and other people’s insistence on the risks of running on an injured Achilles, I spent many months backing off and then easing in again. Really, what I needed was to back right off and take a long break. When I was in Mexico for a few months from January 1 to March 18, I settled into some short running for a few weeks and then brazenly added mountain hiking. If you’ve ever had an Achilles issue, you know that uphills are the worst thing for it. So let’s just say hiking in the mountains was ill-advised. I inflamed my Achilles to the point where I had to stop running and hiking again by mid-February. I continued to walk a lot, covering 8-10K on flat ground most days, sometimes limping. My Achilles wasn’t exactly getting total rest and I was still aware of it all the time, but at least I’d stopped stressing it out.
The other part of my regular routine was yoga, modified so as to put no extra strain on my left Achilles.
When I got back to Canada on March 18, I had to go straight into quarantine for 14 days. I was in the country at my parents’ place (we had travelled together), so I could safely go for very short walks without running into anyone. When the 14 day quarantine ended, I added some very short runs, but I walked on the uphills (it’s hilly around here, but I was adamant that I would respect the Achilles). When the quarantine ended, I was able to extend my distance a bit, but mostly I’ve kept it to a walk or a run most days, plus yoga. A couple of weeks ago I added resistance training classes on Zoom.
I’m giving this little rundown of what’s happened since March 2019 because it’s really only since the pandemic (almost a year from the event where this all started) that, without planning it, I have done exactly what I needed to do to tend to my injury. And since I didn’t plan it, I didn’t “design” my approach with the Achilles in mind. Instead, I have stuck close to home and only gone out for shorter periods of activity because it seems (to me) like the right thing to do.
I’ve kept to my commitment to daily yoga because more than ever I’ve needed a way to feel grounded–morning meditation and daily yoga are two ways I manage to do that. Yes, they are grounding in themselves. But along with my daily walks or runs, they have helped me establish a sense of routine that I absolutely need during the pandemic. I don’t know about you but sometimes I feel as if each day just spills into the next and time has taken on a weird quality where it is on occasion almost meaningless.
Because of the weirdness of time lately, I can’t tell you when exactly it happened. But some time during the past two or three weeks it occurred to me that I hadn’t been aware of my Achilles at all of late. One marker of an injury is that it never completely escapes awareness. It’s hard to believe that just a couple of months ago, around the time when I had to stop the hiking, my Achilles was throbbing and aching all the time, even when I was just lying in bed.
Now, I finish a walk or a run and the Achilles just worked the way it was supposed to work. When I’m doing yoga, I don’t have to back off of pushing my heel all the way down when doing Warrior I. In a Zoom workout, I can keep my heels down during the squats and not worry about pain in lunges or chair climbing or anything I’d usually approach with caution.
Because of the pandemic and my inclination for the foreseeable future to stick fairly close to home, I feel pretty confident that I am not about to “overdo it” despite feeling as if I am good to go. Instead, I can enjoy my new injury-free-again state without putting it at risk (as I might normally be tempted to do). It’s amazing and wouldn’t have happened without Covid-19 forcing such major changes in our expectations on all of us. By the time this thing is resolved (I am not optimistic that it will be within a few months), the foot will be strong and be able to support me in a new training plan that can include distance and intensity. Pretty exciting!
So that’s my story of recovery from injury and of one of the good things that pandemic isolation has brought me. If you have an injury-recovery story and/or a good thing you want to share about pandemic isolation, please leave it in the comments.
Have you added online workouts to your pandemic fitness life yet? So many friends in the “220 in 2020” group I’m in have been posting about online group workouts of various kinds. Friends who live in different cities from one another are suddenly announcing that they got to work out “together.” I was already well-immersed in the Yoga with Adriene universe for the past three months, making it part of my daily life while I was on a sabbatical leave in Mexico. But what I’m talking about now are interactive group zoom workouts with Cate’s fabulous trainer, Alex, and other people (even people I know!)!
After just three sessions, I am sold sold sold. My activities have been consistent and sustaining. But after months of walking and Yoga with Adriene, with some light running thrown into the mix, I started feeling starved for three things: (1) a reason to get out of bed in the morning, (2) company, (3) hard training. The Superhero workouts have met all three needs at the same time.
(1) a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
I’m an early riser usually and I like to meditate first thing. Since I got back to Canada from Mexico in mid-March and started my pandemic life at my parents’ house, it’s a rare day that I’m on the meditation cushion before 8 a.m. To me, that’s a late start. Well, after I signed up for the 3x a week version of Alex’s Superhero classes, I’ve had something to get out of bed for: a 6 a.m workout. It’s hard to understate just how energized this made me feel. It’s not easy to get out of bed at 5:40 a.m. (the advantage of not having to leave the house for the workout!), and it requires some planning the night before (workout gear set out, lights out before 11). But oh how good it feels to get up for a scheduled workout commitment with other people.
And then there is the added boost of being able to say, at 7 a.m., “I’ve done my workout for the day!” It’s been awhile since I could say that.
When Sam and I first started the blog in 2012 to document our Fittest by 50 challenge, I mostly worked out alone and I thought I preferred it that way. Over the years, that has changed a lot. I’ve worked out in the pool in the early morning with a triathlon group. I’ve joined running clinics to train for various distances. I even spent a couple of winters with Sam in her cycling coach’s basement doing tough group work on trainers.
My workout life has merged in lots of ways with my social life. My usual routine when I’m home includes meeting a few friends for Saturday morning yoga and then going out for breakfast together. Then a similar gig for the Sunday morning runs. I’ve been away from home since December 31 and the thing I was most looking forward to was resuming those habits, reconnecting with my people. But then, Covid-19!
Last week when I logged into Zoom for my first Superhero class, I didn’t know any of the other early birds at the 6 a.m. session and I hadn’t yet met Alex. But the simple facts of being able to see other people doing the same workout, and of Alex interacting with us, observing and giving personalized tips on form, encouraging us and checking in periodically gave my workout a new energy. I mean, running alone and yoga with Adriene are great and all, but the social dimension adds another layer. And then at the Saturday 10 a.m. class, I actually got to work out with friends — Cate, Kim, and Anita were all there, as well as Maryjean from the 220 in 2020 group.
We didn’t get to go out for coffee or breakfast after, but at least we got to sweat together and I got to see their faces.
(3) Hard workouts
My routine of late, since I stopped personal training almost a year ago and suffered a running injury that limited my distance and effort for close to a year as well, has been active but not hard. Lots of yoga and walking, so certainly not nothing. But my level of exertion hasn’t been particularly strenuous.
Enter Alex’s Superhero workouts. OMG. Each time I feel as if I can almost not do it, but then I do it (or at least I approximate doing it). It is hard. I come away with a sense of accomplishment and an awareness of just how much I have not done this kind of workout in a long time.
They’re mostly body weight movements with very little equipment needed. A chair for step ups or tricep dips (this morning we did step-up burpees and tricep dips), a mat for floor work, and occasionally a broom handle, resistance bands, light weights (Alex told me cans of food will usually do, and you’ve seen Cate’s book bag solution), a belt or towel. Alex emails us the night before to let us know what we need.
Each workout has a warm-up, followed by three timed segments involving several sets of several exercises, back to back intervals with a teeny bit of rest in between that never quite feels like enough (sort of crossfit style). That provides a combo of strength and cardio work that makes you have to push yourself if you want to stay in the game. Alex is great at creating tough, challenging workouts and offering options that let everyone push themselves appropriate to their level.
What I like a lot about doing it on Zoom is that though I am aware that there are other people, because of the screen size and layout (where everyone is just a thumbnail) I can’t really see what anyone other than Alex is doing. And no one other than Alex can really see what I’m doing. So I’m less likely to compare myself to others and I just focus on what I’m doing–which is needed. Because it’s hard work. (That said, I have a feeling I’m working out with some kick-ass, super strong, super agile, superheros with perfect form on each thing we do).
If you’re interested in checking it out, Alex offers several different sign-up options and you can find her website here. I went for 3x a week (Monday, Wednesday, Saturday), that gives me a choice of 6 a.m. or 8:30 a.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays, and a Saturday at 10 a.m. class. But you can do more or less than that (the more being 5x a week; the less being Saturdays only). If you want a hard workout, company, and a reason to get out of bed in the morning, I recommend giving these workouts a try.
Here’s my makeshift workout space at my parents’ place, where I’ve been hunkering down during the pandemic so far and will likely be for at least another month.
I wasn’t going to blog about this because when I mentioned it on my FB timeline, more than one person commented something along the lines of “people have different senses of humour and we all need outlets in these difficult times.” But if there is one thing that I can’t stand, it’s “jokes” about self-isolation weight gain. Isolation / shelter-in-place weight gain (“the covid 19,” riffing off of the “freshman 15”) has become a hot topic, as people are confined to their homes, possibly moving less and eating more, routines thrown off. There are articles about how to prevent it (with the usual advice, like all the usual advice). There are even quarantine diets.
That’s all fat phobic, fat-shaming, perpetuating harmful diet culture, and triggering for people recovering or recovered from or in the throes of eating disorders. They buy into harmful social ideologies that vilify fat and weight gain.
Jokes and memes take it to another level. They take it seriously as a thing, even a thing to fear. And they make light at the same time. The “humourous” edge makes it more difficult to take issue.
If you don’t find them funny, you are dismissed yet again as a feminist killjoy. Sometimes reprimanded for wanting to deprive others of their sense of humour (the old “just scroll past” rejoinder).
This Allure article, “Can I Socially Distance Myself from These Terrible Jokes about Gaining Weight While in Quarantine?” does a great job of explaining the harm. The most obvious issue is that “gaining weight is framed as an inherently bad thing–an idea that steeped in fat phobia.” When we frame weight gain as a bad consequence of being in quarantine, self-isolation, or shelter-in-place, we add a further layer onto an already difficult situation that calls for kindness to ourselves, not judgment and self-flagellation.
That kind of thinking can drive people into diet mode, or trigger feelings of self-loathing that come up in chronic dieters or people with eating disorders. As if living in isolation during a global pandemic isn’t challenging enough, bringing with it all sorts of fears grounded in the rapid pace at which our lives have changed, coupled with uncertainty about what awaits us in the future, how long we are going to need to live this way, in this shrunken version of our previous lives.
We do not need another demon. We do not need to shame ourselves for wanting treats. And we do not need to shame ourselves for gaining weight. We are trying to survive an unprecedented global situation. Surely that is task enough right now?
I am well aware that people have different senses of humour. And that people need occasions to laugh in the midst of this pandemic. I am also well aware that some jokes perpetuate social harm. Racist and sexist jokes do that. And jokes about the covid 19 do too. They are fat phobic and shaming. I’m sure we can find other things to joke about and lift our spirits.
As I write this I’m at the end of Day 8 of self-isolation after coming home early from Mexico. I’d been there since January 1st, enjoying a wonderfully laid back routine and working on a new book… until I lost my concentration completely two and a half weeks ago. As with many, the rapid pace of change that the COVID19 pandemic has brought is hard to wrap my head around.
Just three weeks ago I had breakfast with my parents at our favourite cafe, Chasite, in La Penita, a small Mexican town in the state of Nayarit. We had just come from the market (!!), an absolutely unthinkable outing today.
Immediately after that breakfast my father called our travel agent (I will never again doubt the merits of using a travel agent) to ask her to book us an earlier flight home. She changed our April 4 flight out of Puerto Vallarta to March 18. The World Health Organization had declared the COVID19 a global pandemic just the day before we decided we would rather be home. The next day, Friday, March 13, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested that it was time for Canadians to come home. The next five days until we departed on March 18 were agonizingly long and, for me, full of anxiety. I couldn’t enjoy much. The only errands I ran after that were brief outings to get take-out food and some cleaning supplies for the trip home. Though toilet paper was in good supply in all the shops, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes were nowhere to be found.
I like the community of a yoga studio. And in fact there was an outdoor yoga very popular yoga studio right next door to where my parents were living in Mexico, just five minutes away from my place. But this time I decided that I wanted to keep it simple, reserving the mornings for short runs and, twice a week, for Spanish classes that I attended with my mother (so much fun!). Every day in January I did the Home practice. When that ended, I decided to stick with Adriene for February. And then March. And am I ever glad I did. It prepared me for what I didn’t know was coming. It prepared me for this.
By the time I got back to Canada, international travelers were strongly urged (not yet required but very strongly recommended) to self-quarantine for 14 days–the possible length of the COVID19 incubation period. So I went to my parents’ place with them instead of going home. We figured since we’d been traveling together, we could quarantine together. By then, everything in my life back in London, Ontario had been either cancelled or moved to an online format. Everything.
The only thing that has been seamless in my transition to this strange new world of physical distancing is my daily commitment to Yoga with Adriene. I just show up on the mat and do what she says to do. I started March with her Creativity playlist. But my creative spirit died at some point. So when Adriene announced instead a new playlist more responsive to this moment in human history, Yoga for Uncertain Times, I jumped into it. And it has given me some comfort. It’s got practices like “yoga for loneliness” and “yoga for change and drain” and “anchor in hope yoga practice.” These are mostly gentle practices, but not always. When it feels like not quite enough (because some sessions are short), I add something else (my old stand-by is Yoga for Neck and Shoulder Relief).
Many of my friends are lamenting at their lack of productivity right now. We feel as if, with this sudden freeing of the calendar, where everyone is working at home and all the theatre and dinners and coffee dates and gym classes are cancelled, we should be able to do all those things that we never have time to do. I said to someone the other day, “I feel accomplished if I do my daily yoga.” And I do. I’ve not been good for much else — well, maybe cooking.
And talking to friends whom I had so very eagerly looked forward to hugging and meeting for coffee. That will all have to wait. I read a powerful piece today called “A Letter to the UK from Italy: this is what we know about your future.” I feel as if this applies to all of us, not just the UK. Of course we all hope we will not experience what Italy is going through. Maybe we will take notice and succeed in flattening that curve so that our healthcare system is not crushed under the demand that a surge of COVID19 cases brings. In my view, we are at this stage: “You’ll have an unstoppable online social life – on Messenger, WhatsApp, Skype, Zoom…”
It’s all feeling like a lot right now (I know I’m not alone).
But whatever happens, there will be daily online yoga.
I’m open to trying to new online yoga, so if you have someone else to recommend besides Adriene, let me know about that in the comments.
Meanwhile, stay safe everyone. Stay home. Wash your hands. And reach out.
I watched Cheer a couple of weeks ago before anyone was writing about it or even really talking about it. I had run out of new episodes of The Good Place and wanted something to watch while I waited a week. Cheer caught my attention among the many possibilities.
It’s a six episode documentary series on Netflix that focuses on the championship cheerleading team from Navarro College—a two-year junior college in the small town of Navarro in Texas. It’s a gripping account of the training leading up to the national competition in Daytona, Florida.
Before the end of the first fifteen minutes you can see that these are athletes if there ever were any. The young women who serve as the “flyers” or “top girls” are masters of aerial acrobatics, balance, strength, and endurance. The young men who serve at the base, hurl the women up into the air, balance them on their shoulders and even their up-stretched hands, and catch them before they hit the ground. Meanwhile, the young women and men who perform tumbling routines have the speed, grace, strength, skill, and endurance of the most gymnasts at the most competitive levels.
The physical toll on their bodies—of the top girls / flyers and the catchers and the tumblers—is sometimes hard to watch. Imagine repeatedly landing, even if it’s on the intertwined solid arms of two strong men, after falling from great heights. Imagine being the base team members who catch them. The documentary audio picks up the thud of the impact. Imagine balancing your team mate on your shoulders (both the men and the women do this). Imagine doing this while you yourself are balanced on someone else’s shoulders. The result, especially when they’ve practiced and practiced and hit the moves as intended, is a mesmerizing routine that has the viewer thinking “how do they do that?!” Cheer gives is some insight into the “how.”
Of course if you’re offering six episodes, you need some human interest and drama. So of the 40 athletes on the team, the filmmaker focuses on the stories of fewer than ten — all of whom have some sort of hard luck angle — as well as the coach, Monica, born and raised in Navarro, and as tough a coach as you can imagine. She is competitive and perfectionistic, because that is what is required in order to win in Daytona. You have 2 1/2 minutes to do the routine. Period. It has to be perfect. And difficult.
I give big points for the depiction of the level of athletic skill and fearlessness required of all of the members of the team. The coach is also impressive in her focus, demandingness, and ability to cultivate a relationship of trust that makes team members not just able to follow her orders to do extremely dangerous and daring stunts, but also able to come to her with “life stuff.”
I’m not going to give an in-depth critique and analysis, but the focus on the hard luck cases (particularly Jerry, La’Darius, Morgan, and Lexi, but also Gabi whose parents come across as taskmasters), while showing how people can overcome adversity at times felt exploitative. Both Jerry and La’Darius are young African American men. La’Darius had a difficult childhood where he was bullied and taunted and shamed for his sexuality (he is openly out as gay in the documentary). Jerry lost his mom to illness and is probably the single most likeable person on television right now because of his endlessly positive and accepting attitude. At one point it looks as if he’s going to be “on the mat” for Daytona but then he is taken off the next day and he surmises that his “chance” was really just to give a wake-up call to La’Darius, who needed to smarten up. Morgan was basically abandoned by her parents as a young teen. She looks up to Monica (the coach) so much you get the impression she would do anything that was asked of her (and she does when she is a top girl).
Though of course there is drama in the very story of training for a championship—will they be ready in time? Will they win? How will they overcome THIS injury (there are lots) or setback (there are lots)? — the momentum for a six episode series (as opposed to one feature length documentary) really comes from developing narratives around these five or six young people who are overcoming adversity and having a chance to shine.
The other thing worth noting is the despite there being a small number of African American men as catchers, spotters and tumblers, the women are almost all tiny, thin, and white—there is virtually no departure at all from the cheerleader stereotype among the women in the show, except perhaps Lexi who is a formidable tumbler who is able to pull off the same floor stunts as the men (which is apparently unusual).
And while they focus on the few whose lives have been difficult, there are another 30+ team members whose families had the financial wherewithal to enable them to be active in all-star cheerleading throughout their lives. Despite the narrative angle, therefore, it’s misleading to suggest that the Navarro team is a motley crew of kids from difficult life circumstances, saved from their terrible fates by Monica. This is not to trivialize the good she does do. Nor is it to minimize the manner in which these team members, despite adverse life circumstances, along with the rest of the team, are incredible athletes who accomplished something wonderful (regardless of the outcome—-and I will not reveal it here!).
Rather, it is to note that building drama around the handful of kids who had a tougher go doesn’t necessarily depict with accuracy what competitive cheerleading at that level is typically like. Like any sport, most of the team members are groomed from an early age and are able to compete because their families could afford their extracurricular activity.
That said, Cheer is worth watching. I watched one one-hour episode a night for six nights and each time I looked forward to it. I truly cared what was going to happen to the team. And I understand that a documentary can’t spotlight 40 people and be successful. There need to be stars, people in secondary roles, and the unnamed “rest of the team.”
Whatever you think of Cheer, you can’t deny that these are all underrated athletes worthy of recognition. What they do is an amazing feat, hard to watch at all, but impossible not to view with awe.