fitness

That Don’t Impress Me Much

Content warning: this blog post touches on aspects of diet culture.

In “FITNESS”, meaning the “business of fitness”, we are inundated with messages, visual or spoken, about what it means to be be fit. We are all familiar with “fitspo”, “before and after” (cringe), hyper masculinity, cut abs, silly phrases such as “strong is the new skinny”. We have talked about these things in various ways, and often, on this blog. It’s probably one of the reasons I was initially drawn to this blog, years ago, before I became one of the bloggers. It felt like a place I could relate to, as a woman in her late 30s/early 40s (the blog is 10 years old this year so it’s easy for me calculate when I must have discovered it) who worked out regularly and never saw myself represented in those messages and images. Those messages and images didn’t describe the myriad of benefits that I was deriving from fitness that had nothing to do with how I looked. Those other benefits (confidence, stress relief, anxiety control, maintaining healthy blood sugar, to name a few) were what kept me coming back several times a week.

Photo (courtesy of Unsplash) of a weight rake holding rows of dumbells. In the background is a white woman with blond hair in a ponytail. She is hinged forward and appears to be working on her dumbbell rows. Hopefully, she is feeling the benefits that last - power, stress relief, fun and more.

Photo (courtesy of Unsplash) of a weight rake holding rows of dumbells. In the background is a white woman with blond hair in a ponytail. She is hinged forward and appears to be working on her dumbbell rows. Hopefully, she is feeling the benefits that last – power, stress relief, fun and more.

This messaging still surrounds us. Thankfully, there are more voices speaking out about the “everyday” benefits of fitness. We see various shapes, genders, ages and abilities, represented in FITNESS. What hasn’t gone away and what I continue to see frequently is “fitspo masked as wellness”. What I see in abundance is people who appear to know that it’s not helpful to talk about losing weight in conjunction with fitness and they know many people do not want to associate traditional notions of beauty with fitness. Whether consciously or not, they mask these “incentives” in other words and visuals, in messages about wellness. Some may talk about their early experiences with fitness where they were preyed on and convinced they had to be skinnier than they already were (and to be sure, they were conventionally thin). They developed unhealthy diets to achieve these unnatural states. They bought into a hyper glam, hyper feminine form of fitness for women. Once those notions stopped working for them or they became unhealthy because of them, they discovered all the other reasons for fitness that many of us discover early on. They now see the benefits of strength training and cardiovascular health that I mentioned earlier. They feel stronger, body and mind. Their diets may be less restrictive than they once were. But not by much. Discovering the benefits of strength training is great. But they talk about their experiences as if they have completely changed despite it being clear they have not. They are still hyper glam. They are still making their bodies smaller. People are free to do all these things that fit their own needs. But, where I find it frustrating, is where they talk about changing and not subscribing to diet culture when it’s clear that they do. They give advice about their “nutrition” regimen as if it is not restrictive. They provide advice about their lifestyle and promote practitioners who they frequent. They make it sound as if they do not believe in one way to be fit or one way to look. But they do. They may not recognize it but they are still subscribing to all these things. Not to mention that often the suggestions they offer are not attainable to many people because of costs, both of time and money. And many of these people tout their ideas because they believe they are qualified when they are not. I would argue (having taken a couple of these courses myself) that taking a holistic nutrition course or personal training certification that touched on nutrition does not make one qualified to provide advice. Many of us fall into the trap of “this worked for me and so it will probably work with you”.

I fully subscribe to embracing fitness in a way that works for you. I have made fitness a part of my regular schedule for more than 20 years and I can talk ad nauseam about all the ways I benefit from it. I just wish people who believe in fitness just talked about that. Why they love it. How they enjoy it. Ways to enjoy it if you don’t. But, I would love it if people kept their own evolutionary stories relating to diet and beauty out of it. Most people, even if they are trained in fitness, etc., do not fully understand their role in perpetuating diet culture and unrealistic beauty standards. It would be great to keep nutrition and beauty ideals out of the gym and fitness world. At least, stop making “inspiring” messages about them. Especially if they are influencing people because of their fitness expertise.

Picture of smoothie bowl. Appears to be some type of berry smoothie. It has a bit of pineapple, raspberries, blueberries, granola and kiwi, encircling the bowl. It's sitting on a light wood cutting board. There is a glass with a spoon in it that appears to contain some sort of light green protein drink. You may hear about a lot of these types of options within fitness circles, particularly if they contain protein. They can be delicious. But not necessarily related to your workout. Courtesy of Unsplash.

Picture of smoothie bowl. Appears to be some type of berry smoothie. It has a bit of pineapple, raspberries, blueberries, granola and kiwi, encircling the bowl. It’s sitting on a light wood cutting board. There is a glass with a spoon in it that appears to contain some sort of light green protein drink. You may hear about a lot of these types of options within fitness circles, particularly if they contain protein. They can be delicious. But not necessarily related to your workout. Courtesy of Unsplash.

“Falling out of love with diet culture” is great. In order for a message to be inspiring, it needs to sound authentic. If it is not well thought out and not adequately self-reflective, it won’t be very inspiring. And, it won’t impress me much.

Nicole P. loves to workout for energy, clarity, feelings of power and stress relief. She loves food and has her own thoughts about nutrition, but would prefer the fitness and wellness industry were not so commingled with fitness.

Nicole P. loves to workout for energy, clarity, feelings of power and stress relief. She loves food and has her own thoughts about nutrition, but would prefer the fitness and wellness industry were not so commingled with fitness.

fitness

Riding My Own Way (no more Peloton)

Heading into the first autumn of pandemic isolation (2020), I recognized the need to have an at-home cardio option to supplement my winter running and virtual HIIT classes. Cate boasted about her new Bowflex spinning bike and I decided to invest in one, as well. I checked out Zwift and Peloton and quickly decided that the Peloton cycle classes would most inspire me, given my historical love of music-heavy, interval-laden, indoor spin classes. I subscribed to the app and loved it. It worked for me. I wrote about my admiration of Christine D’Ercole here, here and here. I enjoyed regular 45-60 min sessions with various Peloton coaches, including Jenn Sherman, Cody Rigsby, Tunde Oyeneyin, and others,

I didn’t have a need for Peloton’s other workout options with the (virtual and outdoor) classes I was still enjoying from my gym. When the weather warmed up, I would use the bike less and run outside more. I used the bike a lot, again, the second pandemic winter and continued to enjoy the Peloton app’s offerings. Overall, I was still enjoying the classes, but was starting to develop some pet peeves. I really feel fickle about some of my pet peeves, but coaches talking and singing over the music, not enough long ride offerings, and even, D’Ercole’s inspirational word smithing was starting to wear thin (to be fair, I still use her mantras in my head for other things and I appreciate them!).

As I head into the third winter with my Bowflex bike, I know my bike seat will heat up again, but this time, it will be without the Peloton app. My credit card information changed recently and when I went to correct it after the subscription lapsed, I was made aware that it would be $16.99, rather than the $12.99/month I was paying previously. I tried to contact Peloton various ways to explain the lapse to see if there was a way of resuming my previous membership (price). No one from Peloton has responded to me. I find this strange, considering it’s been in the press that they are not doing well. You would think they would want to keep an existing customer. Either way, I can’t justify the $4/month increase for the amount I use it.

Recently, I hopped on my bike for the first time, without Peloton. I asked Alexa to play some “Woman Rock” and she obliged with “here is a women’s indie channel”. I called my sister on speaker and started riding while catching up. The telephone call lasted about 30 min and then I increased my tempo and did some hills and intervals for another 15 minutes. I loved it. Since then, I have asked Alexa to play Lizzo, Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill album, David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust album and Squeeze’s Singles on 45, and it has been just as effective and just as sweaty as a coach-led ride. I already know how to warm-up, time hills and flat roads and enjoy intervals. I’m looking forward to playing around with my newfound freedom on my bike! I may even create my own marathon ride!

Robyn – Dancing On My Own embedded video

Nicole P. is ready to dance on her own on her indoor bike this winter.
fitness

Sweatworking: No thank you

In September 2021, I ventured into downtown Toronto for an outdoor lunch with colleagues. It was the first time in about a year, because of the pandemic that I had been in the financial district. As I was waiting at the elevator bank that leads to the restaurant, the elevator door opened and a trio of “men in suits” disembarked. The vibe surrounding these men made me think, “oh yeah, I don’t miss this part of the financial district”. I am a downtown person. I have worked in the financial district for 25 years. I live just east of the core. It has a different vibe. During the pandemic, when we were exclusively working from home, often in our alt-leisure wear, and only traversing a vicinity of several blocks surrounding my home, I could really be myself at all times. I didn’t have to worry about “putting on my financial district” face. Whether that was a certain outfit or the mask of “I feel dead inside but I have important places to be”.

I am also committed to fitness. If you’ve read any of my blog posts or been subjected to any of my social media posts, you know that I have been a runner for about 20 years and I love to do strength and conditioning workouts, spin and I walk everywhere. I was fortunate, in that, I was able to continue my routine throughout the pandemic. I was still able to run outside, spin on my bike, do virtual or park strength workouts and more.

Occasionally, there are fitness challenges in workplaces. I am not a fan of the wellness challenges that have anything to do with food. No matter how much the organizers think they are not promoting diet culture, they are. The workplace is not the place to coach people about what they should and should not be eating. It’s too personal. It’s too fraught with our own socialized “messed up-ness” even when we think when we think we are no longer guided by diet culture. What works for one person doesn’t work for another. The workplace should not be the place where your colleague professes their success with avoiding maple syrup on their oatmeal that week.

The fitness challenges that involve encouraging movement can be OK, in my opinion, as long as they do not promote one form of movement and do not make people feel bad for where they are at.

But, when Sam shared this article with the bloggers a while ago, my immediate reaction was NO THANK YOU. The article is basically an ad for a group of gyms in the financial district where sweatworking is encouraged. Sweatworking is a way of business networking while working out. Exercise has mental health benefits. It is stress relieving. Ideally, it’s a non-competitive zone. It’s a place where you go to have balance from stress, which can often come from work pressures. Unless your work is in the fitness industry, I vote not to actively encourage mixing going to the gym with “working with colleagues” or “networking for business”. This doesn’t mean that you may not have a friend, who you know from work, who you escape with at lunch to go to the gym, to workout. That is different than what is being sold in the linked article about “sweatworking”. Sweatworking, the way it is described, seems to be looking to make the gym an extension of the workplace, along with the poser vibes I was alluding to when describing the men in suits getting off the elevator. Making the gym an extension of the workplace seems to me to be doing the opposite of what the corporate world is suggesting they are trying to do these days: make the workplace a healthier place, one that is healthier for your mind and one that knows it is best to make time for people to go to the gym, if that’s how they like to work out, but that it is a bad idea to blur the lines between the workplace and the gym. Let’s keep them separate.

I haven’t even touched on the fact that the gym can be an unsafe place for people who identify as women or LGBTQ2S+. But, in an age where we are actively trying to ensure zero tolerance in the workplace for unsafe spaces for anyone, encouraging blurred lines between the gym and the workplace, both places with histories of sexual harassment, is just a bad idea, for that reason alone.

What do you think? Is sweatworking, as described in the linked article, a good idea?

Nicole P. says no to “Sweatworking”

fitness

Have you ever swung a steel mace?

I hadn’t until today, but I had fun and it was even more exciting because it happened in a new fitness studio that opened near me called “La Femme Strong”. La Femme Strong bills itself as “a multi-disciplinary strength training community for women and those who experience a “femme” identity. Our goal is to create an inclusive atmosphere that celebrates individual strength and alters the dominant fitness narrative in order to take up space and embrace our bodies’ unique abilities.” Sounds great. I’ve heard variations on this description before and it is not always true. Based on my experience today, I can confirm it indeed seems to be honest advertising.

La Femme Strong has had other, smaller, locations in East Toronto, but I was excited when I saw that it moved into a new space about 5 min from my home. I do have a regular strength training gym that I have been going to for several years, which is also a “women’s only” gym. I won’t get into describing the differences between the two here, but while I enjoy the workouts, the coaches and my workout buddies who I’ve come to build a sense of community with, it’s nice to change things up, here and there, and it definitely felt like I did that today.

When I arrived, a woman named Katie greeted me and then the owner, Sydney, who was teaching the Strength class I had signed up for, arrived to greet me as well. There was an immediate chill vibe that made me feel at ease. The front foyer has a sign with the words, “Work out because you love your body”. There is also a drawing on the wall of a curvy woman with brown hair with the words, “Stop waiting to be enough”.

Front entrance to La Femme Strong. “Work out because you LOVE your body”

When you walk through the space there are lockers, a couple restrooms and more art of curvy women with words such as “Our bodies fold and roll…it’s fine” and “Tighten your belt and get after it. Then rest and go again” and “Lose baggage before weight”.

The next room has about 6 squat racks and various kettlebells, straps, rings, etc. and maces. I’ll get back to the maces shortly. Past the room that the Strong class was to take place, was another room, where a small Pilates class was taking place at the same time. Each room seemed to hold about 10 people (if doubling up on the squat racks). The gym holds various classes. I have been told there is a class where drumming is part of the workout (and squats and lunges). It also sounds like a good time and I will have to try it out.

For the Strong class I attended, there were 3 participants that day. the other women seemed to be regulars. They were about my age or a bit older.

Sidney led us through a warm-up which involved deadlifts with a kettlebell, ring work and plie squats with the kettlebell. After the warm-up, we did 3 rounds of split squats with the squat rack paired with clean and push press with the kettlebells. Next, we completed 8 rounds of EMOMs of 5 deadlifts, 5 pushups, and then we got to swing the mace for the rest of the minute. Sydney demonstrated the movement with the mace. She showed us how you get the right angle to one side and then let it fall and bring it back up on the other side and then overhead. You get to swing it overhead! Being an overthinker and a bit clumsy with anything that requires coordination, I felt a bit unsure…but “once I got the swing of it” I loved it. I could definitely see the benefits. Aside from the work on your grip strength, triceps, lats and more, it was just fun and empowering. What’s not to love if you are a fit feminist!

Needless to say, I plan to try more classes at La Femme Strong and if you are in East Toronto and identify as a woman, I recommend trying it out too.

Nicole P. loves to run, do HIIT workouts and swing maces in inclusive spaces.
fitness

Coaches: Please stop calling alternative movements “easier”

It’s become commonplace in gym classes, for coaches, to offer alternatives for certain moves. Perhaps, the move is a box jump or a chin up or Bulgarian split squats. Sometimes, they will say “here is the easier version.”

Coaches: Please stop calling these alternative movements “easier”.

Whether a move is easier or not is not relevant. There are factors such as mobility, injuries, head space, and many other factors. Doing an alternative move is not always easier. It may seem easier to a person who is used to doing box jumps to do broad jumps instead. But, for someone who has less hip mobility, shorter limbs, who’s not used to jumping with both feet off the ground at once, it’s not “easier”. Also, if that person will get a better workout doing a move that they can actually do, than trying to do something that they are not able to, and therefore, not “moving” as much, then that is not “easier”.

There is no need to diminish an alternate move. They are simple options in a banquet of options for overall fitness.

Just call them alternatives. Option A, B or C. One individual may do option A one day and option C the next. It’s all good as long as they are aware of what is good for them in that moment. Try to remove “easier” from your vocabulary in the gym. Encourage your participants in whatever option they choose.

Are you a coach? What do you think? Are you a participant who considers alternative moves? What do you think?

Nicole P. likes her coffee and her options in fitness.
fitness

Re-learning to “just be”

“The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn.” Gloria Steinem

The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn. Gloria Steinem – quote printed on background photo of mountains and water.

After a lifetime of molding (miraculous bodies we were made to feel were less than), minimizing (voices, hair, butts), anticipating (reactions), absorbing opinions, and many other ways women learn to exist in the world, we reach an age where we just want to be. It also takes some relearning and practice.

Maybe that happens much younger for some. Maybe some were born with an ability to be themselves from the get go. For many of us we were born to be free but then we quickly learn ways to exist in the workplace, in gyms, in social settings that end up feeling exhausting. We reach an age (35, 40, 50, 55) when we just want to be. And we need to teach ourselves to refocus certain (internal) thoughts and comments from others.

We remember comments making us feel self-conscious about:

  • chubby cheeks
  • big glasses
  • frizzy hair
  • too thin
  • too fat
  • not looking like a runner
  • a substantial nose
  • laugh and squint lines
  • “not doing too much to our faces”
  • potentially fading glow
  • too much blond
  • not enough blond
  • big bones
  • looking too young
  • looking too old
  • being perceived as judgmental
  • having opinions
  • speaking too much
  • sounding too old based on experiences

We don’t want to be a celebrity who’s fixated on looking half their age (see Nicole Kidman). We don’t want to be adored for how we look. We want to feel strong and healthy. We want to share our work and our value. We want to care for others and share ideas. We want to be appreciated for what we can contribute. For all the years of learning how to be. And not have it backfire in our faces, publicly (see Lisa Laflamme)

Let’s just be and stop reducing women to their parts, the colour of their hair, the lines they have or do not have, the pitch of their voice. Let’s stand up for other women who just want to be. Who resist other’s opinions about how they should exist. Let’s support those who thrive in BEING as they see fit themselves.

Black text on pink background that says:
“Unlearning the beliefs I hold about myself that keep my life very small.
Unlearning the beliefs I hold about other that keep my heart hardened.
I lay out all the things I’ve learned and try them on to see what doesn’t fit anymore. It is a gift to outgrow, to find room that I can expand into”

Nicole loves running, HIIT workouts, spinning and a little yoga to keep active and just be.

fitness

Take your time – even when dog walking.

I always feel an urge to get to where I’m going. Even when I’m not in a rush. There are times when I am walking my dogs that I do need to rush. If I’m walking them before work and didn’t give myself enough time to saunter. If I took them out for a quick walk between meetings. What about the times when I really have no reason to rush, but I am still in “get this walk done mode”?

Part of the reason I have become a speedy dog walker is that my dogs can be reactive on leash. I have a 10 year old shih-tzu named Barley and an 11 year old mini schnauzer named Miggy (short for Miigwetch). They are both good dogs, and have had training, but for various reasons can bark incessantly at other dogs. One of the ways I’ve managed it, is by keeping my distance from other dogs while walking them. Hence, I’m always on the lookout for potential triggers. Off leashers. Big, fluffy dogs (they seem to hate big, fluffy dogs). Being on constant lookout, isn’t helpful for the dogs either, because they can probably sense my anxiety. I have learned enough about dog behaviour to know this is only going to make them more reactive.

A cute picture of Barley, the grey shih-tzu, lounging on the grey couch.

We have a new dog walker who walks Miggy and Barley once a week. She oozes calm. She doesn’t have to fake it. I can see how calm they are with her. They aren’t perfect but they definitely have a different vibe with her. Since witnessing this sense of Zen, I have been trying to mimic that calmness when I am walking them.

When I was walking them on Saturday, it was a beautiful, breezy, sunny, perfect August day. I had no where to rush.

Usually, I walk the dogs on a loop, through our local park, making detours as necessary for other dogs who may be triggers, then, to a loop through neighbourhood sidewalks. I feel I have to keep a steady pace to keep them focussed enough not to react. I’m usually hustling. This particular day, I thought, “just walk slowly and smell the roses” (or beautiful gardens they keep in the park). I let Miggy enjoy more of his back rolls than usual. I figured we could spend more time, walking slowly in the park, and not worry about making the rest of the loop.

Miggy (grey and white mini schnauzer) rolling on his back on the grass. It’s always one of his favourite things to do.

It occurred to me that it could be useful to apply this sense of ease and calm, where possible, in other areas of life. I don’t always have to be in a hurry. I don’t have to walk “like I’m in the army”, as a stranger said to me once, everywhere I go. Lately, I feel an urge for more ease and calm. I’ll see how it goes and if I can successfully slow down in some places, and if as a result, I feel the benefits during those times when I can’t slow down.

Nicole P. loves to run, walk everywhere, sweat it out in HIIT classes and practice coordination in boxing classes in the park.

fitness

HELL YES! and nothing less.

My cousin Rachel was over for dinner the other day. She’s in her late 20s and art-y and youthful, and, as is often the case with young people, also wise. We were catching up on my patio over homemade Ethiopian food and talking about doing things that don’t excite you and Rachel told me about one of her favourite sayings “HELL YES! and nothing less.” Basically, you should do things that truly excite you and that things that don’t really excite you, aren’t worth your energy.

Blue background. Yellow text with the words “If It’s Not a “HELL YES”, Then It’s a No.”

I’m often thinking about ways to bring more of what I love into my life. Particularly, as I feel a keen sense of “if not now, when?”, having just celebrated a milestone birthday (50).

There are things one has to do out of responsibility. We all have different barometers of comfort with respect to living outside our comfort zone. Doing what we SHOULD do vs. what we WANT to do. Is the measure of a successful life, finding that sweet spot where those two places merge?

On occasion, I think I should take some “time off” from my day job and spend some time really finding things I enjoy doing, speak to me as “Nicole, you have one time on this Earth”, but that also allow me to continue to pay my mortgage and enjoy certain perks of a regular, full-time, corporate job. But, my “practical side” has won over so far and I continue to do what I “should” do on that front.

But, this is a fitness blog. Where might “HELL YES! and nothing less”, fit into a fitness routine?

I already subscribe to doing what I enjoy when it comes to exercise. In fact, when Rachel asked me what I was looking forward to the week, my answer was “my scheduled exercise”, oh and, the Alanis (Morissette) concert on the weekend.

There has been talk on this blog about the rewards of doing something hard. For example, a half or full marathon is hard. There is a euphoric feeling when finishing that hard thing. BUT, if I didn’t want to do it in the first place, I don’t think I would have that same reward hook at the end.

Doing things that are a “Yes!” to you doesn’t necessarily imply they are easy though. They just speak to you. When you think about them, your automatic response, inside your brain and inside your heart, is “YES”. What are some of those fitness-y things for me:

  • should I go for a run?
  • should I schedule my regular strength and conditioning workout(s)?
  • should I walk to (store, friend’s house, restaurant, work)?
  • should I take a rest day (my initial response is usually no, but if I really listen to my body, the response is YES and when I do take it, my body thanks me)?

At the same time, movement should be (mostly) fun. It most certainly shouldn’t feel like a chore. Some people naturally find movement fun. Some find it hard to start, but fun once they are doing it. Some find a lot of movement a chore. I am lucky that I find each of the activities I listed above, naturally, fun. But, if I didn’t, I would hope that I would look for ones that work for me. Note to say that I am not dismissing that in many cases, wanting to do something is not all that’s necessary. There are other factors that can prevent someone from participating in certain movement, whether a disability or a real lack of time.

Assuming someone can do something and has the time, I love the idea of people finding time for movement they enjoy. Also, I love the idea of people finding joy in movement, where they didn’t expect to. AND, not spending time on movement that feels mediocre to you. It might be someone else’s jam, but not for you. That’s OK, find what IS FOR YOU.

What forms of fitness do you automatically say YES to? What can you let go of that is mediocre for you? Letting go of the mediocre activities might make room for the ones that excite you. Let me know what types of activities make you respond with “HELL YES!”?

Nicole P. is a “Hell, Yes!” when it comes to her long run, HIIT and long walks.
fitness

Crap on the run

After 19 years of running, I earned a badge I would rather do without. I crapped on a run. It was as horrifying as it sounds. It wasn’t even a long run. It was a measly 5K.

Anyone who has ever trained for a long run or paid attention to running events, knows that “runner’s trot” is a thing. I’ve heard the “messy” stories of marathon runner’s crossing the finish line with, is that “dirt”, is that…”oooh”…

I’ve also experienced the scary urge to go. There’s typically a washroom close enough before it’s too late. I can’t recall a situation in recent years where it’s even been a threat. My routine-oriented self usually gets up early enough to have a coffee, maybe a little yogurt or banana, and let nature do it’s thing BEFORE I head out.

A woman with a high ponytail, wearing an orange racerback tank top looking at a long country road ahead with the words “Where will you poop today?”

You can probably tell by the way I am writing this, that I don’t particularly enjoy talking about SHIT. And let me be clear, I probably don’t ever want to TALK about this in real life. For blog posts, I like to share stories others might read that will help them (a) from experiencing the same situation, or (b) if they have experienced this situation, know that they are not alone.

This dark morning started out in beautiful Victoria, BC. My last day there on a vacation. I headed out over the Johnson Street Bridge to a newly discovered path called the Galloping Goose Trail. The day before I had admired townhouses partway along the path that I fantasized might be a good place to buy an investment property so that I had a place to visit once in awhile.

A stretch of the Galloping Goose Trail in Victoria, BC.

Because I was on vacation, my routine leading up to this morning was different than usual. I do find that flying can screw up my system for days afterwards. I had consumed a huge muffin and shared a fibrous bar the day before. I had three drinks (a lot more than my usual one drink a month) a few days prior and was still feeling a bit more tired as a result. Drinking, even a little, can mess with my stomach. I had also been experiencing pre-menstrual symptoms for a couple days. I hadn’t had a coffee in my hotel room nor given my body enough time to “relax” before heading out. Nothing felt particularly ominous when I set out though. It wasn’t until about the 4th kilometre, which isn’t particularly far, that I felt the initial rumblings. By the time it was feeling urgent, I was in an area that was industrial, on a Saturday morning, when everything was closed and not a bathroom in sight. I seriously considered finding a discreet place behind a building a couple times. I may have balled my eyes out afterwards if this had been necessary. Not that what happened was much better. The thought of doing this was horrifying but it seemed like I might not have a better option for a bit.

I decided to walk back, being aware that walking can be better than running in these situations, and for awhile it seemed to be holding things at bay. Alas, by the time I was about 5 min away from my hotel, back near the Johnson Street Bridge, it was too late. And, I really had no warning or opportunity to find a place to squat. I will spare the rest of the details, both for your sake and mine. I texted my husband and said, “I have had a bad accident and I will need the washroom as soon as I get in and please don’t look at me!” He found this amusing afterwards, that I didn’t want him to look at me. Thankfully, there was no one to pass in the boutique hotel I was staying in.

The fateful Johnson Street Bridge in Victoria BC.

Aside from the very humbling experience of crapping my pants, there were other thoughts going through my head. Sympathy for houseless people who must find themselves in such predicaments often, was chief amongst these thoughts. I know that the Covid-19 pandemic also brought to light the problems with lack of public washrooms in cities. I don’t even know what people do and I feel like I should look into what people are doing to try to fix the problems of accessibility. I was also grateful I was wearing 3/4 pants rather than shorts at the time!

I thought this was a good article about how to avoid runner’s diarrhea. Some main points:

  • pay attention to foods consumed that may be triggers (eg, according to the article, high fat foods are often triggers because they take longer to digest and can linger in the digestive tract longer. Then, when you start running, that not-fully-digested food could cause GI distress and ultimately, diarrhea,).
  • how food will affect you is very individual and it is important to know your own triggers. However, avoiding having too many foods high in fibre within 24-48 hours of a long run, seems like a good thing to try. Also, avoiding sugar alcohols that can increase feelings of bloating and gassiness.
  • dehydration can make matters worse. But, so can drinking too much water, too quickly. To avoid discomfort and cramps, drink small amounts of water consistently throughout your run.
  • become aware of washrooms on your planned runs. I think this is good advice, however, in my experience, even the best routes will have stretches without a washroom in sight. There may be bushes, etc., in an emergency, but if you find yourself in an industrial, pavement covered area, where nothing is open, I’m not sure there is much one can do other than plan to make it back to the nearest washroom, if possible.

Have you found yourself in this situation? Do you have tips for planning running/long hiking routes, etc. with bathroom access? Plans for avoiding finding yourself in this situation?

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Nicole enjoys running, HIIT-style workouts, strength training, yoga and walking 20,000-40,000 steps a day on vacation.

fitness

Punching in the park

When I walked into my Saturday morning “conditioning class” at my regular gym, Coach Beth said “Nicole, you look so summer-y!” “Summer is my season!”, I confirmed. I don’t know if it is because I was born a couple days after the summer solstice or if I naturally prefer carrying around less layers or I just thrive on longer daylight hours. Regardless of the reason, when we finally reach warm weather each year, I feel as though I come out of my crustaceous shell just a bit more. I look forward to more outdoor activities. I embrace my summer athlete.

A picture of Nicole, from last summer, doing push-ups with her feet elevated on bleachers, at a park. Embracing her summer athlete.

I walk everywhere, all year around and find more opportunities to walk in the summer. I run all year round, but the distances get longer and the outings become more frequent in the summer. I can also go out much earlier which works for me as a morning person who runs in the city and prefers the quiet early morning streets.

During the pandemic, my regular gym was doing outdoor classes in the park which I attended regularly and loved. I loved the fresh air, small group of regulars and a great conditioning workout. Understandably, since the gym has been able to resume regular indoor classes, they have ceased doing outdoor workouts.

Very early in the spring, I attempted a half-assed attempt at gathering some of the regulars for our own hill running at the park. But, it was too early, too wet outside, and too cool for park workouts, now that there are many other options again, and that didn’t pan out.

My park workout loving, inner summer athlete, was interested when, about a month ago, Newsgirls announced they were going to organize boxing in the park starting late spring. Newsgirls had a studio space that closed during the pandemic. It describes itself as “a safe space for women and Trans* folks to explore the sport of boxing”. For the upcoming boxing in the park, we had to fill out some red tape and then Savoy, the owner, would let us know about times, etc.

When I heard the first class was going to be on the coming Sunday, I already had my weekend workouts scheduled in my head. Conditioning workout on Saturday and long run on Sunday. My brain doesn’t love changes to schedules. It starts worrying that if I mess things up, I won’t get my long run in or something similar. I wasn’t sure Sunday would work for the new boxing class. In the month between expressing interest and now, I had become comfortable, again, going back inside the gym for the Saturday conditioning workout. Prior to that, I was doing my long run on Saturdays and figured I could do boxing on Sunday. My workout buddy, Laura, had arranged to go to the boxing class, as well. I was looking forward to trying the class with her and I recognize the benefits of mixing things up here and there. After going back and forth in my brain, I made myself comfortable with going to the outdoor boxing class on Sunday and getting up extra early on Monday for my long run.

A photo of Riverdale Park where boxing in the park took place. The park has a great “broad view” of the Toronto skyline. You can see the track in this photo. This photo was not from Sunday, when Nicole had too much fun to take photos.

The boxing class was to be from 10-12 on Sunday. Usually I am done my long run by 9 am and at Boxcar with coffee in hand at that time. This may sound weird to people who aren’t so schedule-oriented, but again, I had to get myself adjusted to the new schedule. I woke up at 6 am. Had coffee with my husband and dogs in bed. Walked the dogs. Went for a long walk with Gavin en route to Boxcar, which opens at 9 and had coffee BEFORE my workout. I was a little out of sorts on my way to the park, thinking I would rather be done my workout at this time, rather than starting it. But, of course, once I started, I forgot about my own weird mind ramblings, and I had FUN.

The weather was PERFECT. About 20 degrees Celsius and mostly sunny, with a bit of shade from the trees and a nice breeze.

Savoy was as easy-going and fun in person as I pictured from following her online. I would say the overall vibe of the workout was “easy-going”. We filled out forms. Savoy joked that there was a rule that every time we said “sorry” throughout the class, we would have to drop and do 10 push-ups. We talked about boxing names. I had thought mine would be Rev as an ode to my Mom’s side of the family, where there were some well known boxers in Toronto in the 40s. But, I was wearing my Cycology tank top and Savoy suggested my boxing name be Cyco (a kinder spelling of Psycho).

With the formalities taken care of, we were instructed to do two laps around the track, two sprints up the hill and one, going up, backwards.

I used to do hill sprints during the park workouts, but not since the fall and the hills were shorter. These hill sprints were challenging. They are also something I should be doing anyway to complement my endurance runs.

A photo of a woman with brown hair in a pony tail, black sunglassed and black tank top and black shorts, running up the hill at Riverdale Park.

After the running, Savoy told us to do our own stretches for about 8 min. With these instructions, I carried out some of the active stretches that Beth used to have us do at the park.

After stretching, it was the ab workout. No problem, right? Except, it was 3 rounds of 8 ab exercises. We forgot about this after the first round and were surprised to be reminded that we had to do all exercises twice more. It was a challenging and good workout!

After the ab workout, Savoy spent some time showing us how to wrap our hands. Despite dabbling in boxing at various gyms, I had never been shown this before. Savoy has a dry wit throughout and between jokes, she showed us how to wrap our hands and explained why we were doing so, to protect our wrists and knuckles.

With our wraps secured, Savoy took us through a series of 6 punches. We played with those for about 15-20 min. My FitBit lost its charge partway, so I wasn’t able to check the time, which was cool.

Next, we donned our gloves and she instructed us through different pad work. Laura and I were partners and had fun practicing and chatting throughout. Savoy, good naturedly joked that this was one of the perks of Newsgirls vs more serious boxing clubs. Chatting wasn’t discouraged. Just saying sorry was and Laura and I both said sorry once, which resulted in us dropping for push-ups.

Following the pad work, Savoy had us practice throwing a tennis ball, back and forth. I had momentary “elementary school gym class flashback anxiety”, but it was all good. Laura and I continued to catch “most” tennis balls and continued chatting and laughing under the trees.

Before we knew it, it was after noon. Time to get on with the day. It’s always good for the brain and soul to try something new and the two hours playing and learning new skills in the park was a pleasant addition to the weekend. We also noticed a group drawing in the park, as we were leaving, and noted that we should find out who was organizing it.

On the way home, a guy with a table set up outside the local Scientology branch asked me if I wanted to “take a stress test”. I didn’t know what he was talking about at first but quickly caught his table set up Scientology books in the corner and I said, “ahh, no thank you”. As I was walking away I thought I could have said that punching in the park was more effective for stress than anything he was proselytizing, but because I was in a good mood, I just carried on my way.

Summer athlete Nicole with coffee in hand (from last summer)