Are you getting excited for ski season? Making sure you have your skates sharpened? Sad that you put your road bike away for the season? Ran a great sprint on the treadmill this morning? I can say no to all of the above. While I enjoy swimming, running, walking everywhere, I have fears that prevent me from doing some of these commonplace activities. I read about A Single Pill That May Be The Key To Overcoming Many Paralyzing Fears and thought hmm, and then, no, just the thought of trying it still makes me feel anxious. Not very badass of me!

The old adage “it’s as easy as riding a bike” doesn’t help me. I learned how to ride a bike when I was a kid, but my mother was fearful of us riding adult bikes on the road, so once we outgrew our kid-sized bikes, I never rode a bike again – until I was about 25 and tried with an old roommate. I had been gifted a new bike for my 25th birthday because of all the great bike paths in my new area. Colleen patiently tried to help me get comfortable on the bike, but I couldn’t get myself to feel comfortable riding it a couple feet, never mind turning with it. Plus, I felt really silly at that age, wobbly in the parking lot. So, if I cycle, it involves a spinning studio and a stationary bike.

New activities usually went something like this when I was young. I’d put on skates and wobble to the boards. Cry and exclaim that I didn’t like it and my parents would sigh and just say “oh well, she doesn’t do stuff like this” and I’d go get some hot chocolate.

I entertained the idea of learning to skate as an adult. I figured I’d have more tenacity and confidence to put the effort in, since I was now a runner… My friend Karen had signed up for “learn to skate for adults” through the City of Toronto and I showed up for the first lesson. Unfortunately, we somehow got the start time wrong and we showed up about 15 minutes late, thinking we were early. That didn’t help my anxiety. I still had to get the borrowed skates I had on me sharpened, attempt to stand in them, and make my way to a scary location covered with ice. I started walking across pavement to the other side of the rink. There was a “railing-less bridge” I found myself on midway. Cue my brain instructing my legs to freeze. Karen tried to encourage me but when my brain is in that state, I can’t really focus on anything but the fright. I told Karen to go on ahead and I stood there trying to will myself to move forward. Eventually I gave up, sat down, took the skates off and went back to the changeroom. I went to watch the lessons and admired some of the adults who seemed equally nervous, who were actually standing on the ice. At the end of the lesson, the teacher encouraged me to come back next week, but I knew I wasn’t going to.

When I first started running, I mostly ran outside, however, I would occasionally run on a treadmill at the gym. I was never one of those people who could hop on and off while it was moving quickly, but I was fine. Until at some point, something was triggered in my head and I started involuntarily jumping on to the non-moving sides of the treadmill as soon as it gained any amount of speed. Even more embarrassingly, I was supposed to go for a stress test a couple years ago. It wasn’t a real health scare, more being extra careful about some pains I was having, given my family history. I warned the receptionist when booking that I had a problem with treadmills. She said to come anyway. I watched as seniors routinely went about the business of getting hooked up to the treadmill. I spoke to the nurse when it was my time and she assured me it would be OK and we should try it out. It was an old clunky treadmill with no sides…and I couldn’t do it. All hooked up and nowhere to go, embarrassment and all, I couldn’t make my legs stay on the treadmill.

Some fears have had a greater impact on me (not talking really important fears here such as whether my step daughter will ever give me and her father a chance). I got my driver’s license when I was 17 and drove perfectly fine for many years. I was never a “weaver” and pretty much stuck close to the speed limits. But at some point in my early 30s, I was driving on a highway. It was free-flowing, light traffic, and something in my brain triggered a panic attack. I had this feeling of doom about this open space, moving at a great speed, and no where to easily get off. I started avoiding highways. Not the best decision. Because that meant just the thought of going on the “on ramp” gave me a sense of panic. I tried unsuccessfully to get on a highway several years later. In the meantime, I still drove in the city, without issue. Made for interesting weekend commutes, when I met my now husband, who lived in Guelph when we met. At first, I tried the “long way” on the backroads, but quickly realized my anxiety levels were better served by me taking the train to Guelph (or using “Uber Gavin”).

In the gym, my fear of heights has prevented me from properly learning how to do a “pull up”. I just don’t want to hang from the height required. I’ve tried alternatives, and it frustrates me because I have decent upper body strength, but I have just shelved the idea for now.

As much as there’s a part of me that would like to conquer some of these things and be a more fierce version of myself, I am mostly OK with focusing on the things I CAN do, and not the things I can’t.

Do you have fears? Related to activity? Have you figured out ways to conquer them? Happy not to? Let me know!

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Nicole Plotkin is a law clerk who loves to: exercise, think about what to eat next, snuggle with her dogs, and enjoy life with her wonderful husband.


Making Exercise a Habit

When did exercise become a habit for me? Not when I was a teenager, when I was sure I was not athletic, and had an unhealthy addiction to nicotine that made my lungs feel heavy when I ran across the street. I dabbled in exercise when I was in my 20s but I don’t recall it being a regular habit until I started running when I was 31. I had quit smoking many times before but running was added incentive to quit smoking for good. Plus, I quickly noted how the endorphin rush calmed my nerves, quieted my brain, gave me an outlet for anger and sadness, or a way to celebrate joys. It has remained a habit because I schedule my workouts in my week, every week. I remind myself to go workout, even when I don’t feel like it (more often than makes sense) because I know it will make me feel better. Because, if I don’t move my body intentionally for more than a couple of days, the edginess builds up, the cloudiness fills my brain, the self-doubt increases. The benefits of my persistence are many. But rather than focus on my reasons, I thought I would interview women who exercise regularly and let them describe their reasons. I hope they inspire you to continue moving, or to start moving, and to welcome the benefits of exercise into your life.

In the interest of space, I have taken snippets from each of their responses.


Brittany doing a back squat with a barbell

What do you include as part of your regular exercise routine?

In a city as energetic as Toronto, I love walking places as a mode of transportation when I can (whether an hour to work, or 10 minutes to grab a coffee). I also strength train 4 times a week, and practice yoga once a week, along with the odd spin class.

What benefits do you get from exercise?

When I first started strength training two years ago, I realized how empowered and inspired it could make me feel. Deadlifting more than my body weight, for example, has never been about losing weight, or getting toned. It’s about proving to myself that I’m stronger than I think I am, and that I’m capable of doing things I once never considered. It’s a shift in perspective that can translate to so many different aspects of life. I also find time for yoga and meditation, which remind me to step back and stay present. Some weeks require that more than others!

How do you handle days when you are dragging your feet?

I assess why I’m feeling that way: Did I get enough sleep? Is work stressing me out? Am I battling a cold? Is winter weather winning today? I listen to my body and work out when I know it’ll benefit me (aka it’s time to leave the office!) and give myself rest days when I know that’s what I need that week (if I’m sleep deprived or sick or am simply due for a night in to relax!).

What are your favourite exercises?

I love lower-body workouts like deadlifts and squats. However, I’m trying to learn to love upper body moves too, to continue to challenge myself. I’m also into cardio, and love running outside when weather permits, because treadmills = death.


Bonnie with her bike

What do you include as part of your regular exercise routine?

– 5km walk per day to/from work – squash 2x/week – used to go to the gym 3-5x/week for HIIT classes, weights, and cardio but recently moved and trying to figure out new workout schedule – used to do yoga too but that has been non-existent in the past years! – road biking during summer

What benefits do you get from exercise?

– Stress release and helps with emotional/mental balance – Social community engagements and friendships – Helps me sleep. I had trouble sleeping for a period and went to play squash by myself at night to try to tire myself out to be able to sleep! – Improved body and mental awareness/control

Do you have any tips for people new to exercise or trying to make it routine?

– No excuses…if you want to get into a good routine, you have to go to the gym/workout and not make excuses not to – Try to find friends or a community that will provide support and keep you motivated – Be aware of your form!!! This is super important in so many aspects! – It gets easier…first step is to take the initiative to get off your butt and do something…nothing comes easier, but as you continue, you will get better and feel better about your abilities and achievements!!! – Don’t analyze and keep thinking it’s so hard…just acknowledge it and do it. Working out is not just physical…it’s mental as well…don’t beat yourself mentally before you even start.


Lesli (in the middle), me and Cate at our gym’s 3rd birthday party

What do you include as part of your regular exercise routine?

I love to walk and try to reach 10,000 steps every day. Gym sessions are 4 to 5 days per week (scheduled a month at a time to avoid temptation to not go/cancel).

Have you always exercised regularly?

Exercise was a big part of my life growing up, teens, and well into my twenties, but then for years I was a couch potato. It wasn’t until I was approaching my forties that I made room for activity again.

If no, what motivated you to start?

Not sure it was “motivation” or a big old kick in the ass from a dear friend. I was suffering from panic attacks and anxiety and withdrawing from friends and she knew I would benefit from exercise.

Do you have an exercise motto?

Consistency carves canyons!!!

Is there anything else you would like to say about why exercise is important to you?

I may look like a hot mess while exercising but I mentally and physically feel like a million bucks. That feeling is priceless.


Cate biking

What do you include as part of your regular exercise routine?

All the things — spinning, riding my bike, going to the Y, small group cross-fit style classes, yoga in studio and at home, running, hiking, brisk walking that isn’t part of my regular day

What benefits do you get from exercise?

community, mental health, better sleep, a sense of virtuousness

Do you have an exercise motto?

You almost never feel worse after a workout; if you do, you have a fever and need to go to bed.

Do you have any tips for people new to exercise or trying to make it routine?

Try to learn the difference in your body between discomfort/effort and pain/strain — when you can make friends with discomfort, many things open up and you become stronger. But don’t work through pain or something that might hurt you.

What about you readers? Do you have favourite exercises? Ways to motivate yourself when you are not feeling motivated?

Nicole Plotkin is a law clerk who loves to: exercise, think about what to eat next, snuggle with her dogs, and enjoy life with her wonderful husband.

Invisible Women

I was walking to work the other day with my friend Mima, and I was telling her a story about being ignored in a local butcher shop. I mentioned, “you know, the invisible middle-aged woman” to which she replied “we are middle-aged?”

The story involved a “chi-chi locally grown, ethically raised meat shop” which typically has stellar service. But this day, I happened to go in midday when there was only one other person in the shop. One male clerk was assisting the other male customer. Another male clerk was in the back and after a minute or two started making his way to the front. I thought to help me, but he started chatting with the other customer. The other customer now had two clerks helping him for what seemed like a long time and I decided I didn’t need the chicken sausages I was planning to buy for dinner. One of the clerks saw me start to leave and he said “I’ll be a minute” and I said “it’s OK, I don’t think he needs both of you helping him so long while I’m waiting, but thanks.”

It may sound as though I am impatient and testy on occasion. This is true. However, I am conscious that as women get older they feel that they become increasingly invisible. In fact, later that day, I was at Metro picking up stuff for dinner. There was a massive lineup to get out because of the after-work crowd. These lines typically move pretty quickly, but I noticed a woman out of the corner of my eye, who had clearly been having a bad day. She was probably 10 years older than me, so I mean, who knows what type of slights she already experienced that day. She had clearly run out of patience that day and upon eyeing the lineup, she loudly exclaimed “this is f*cking ridiculous and dropped her bananas and a couple of other items in a huff and stormed out of the shop. I see and hear you, sister, and I hope your day got better after that.

When walking on a crowded sidewalk, or in the underground path, I often think in my head “do you not see me?” when I am trying to yield slightly to the right, but the other person is oblivious to the need to yield and I need to quickly move out of the way before getting elbowed. One of the reasons I was never a fan of dance clubs, is that I always felt that if someone was going to be knocked repeatedly, as if I was not seen as an obvious human obstruction to go around, it was going to be me. I have never felt comfortable waiting to “work in” at the squat rack at the gym, as I feel I have to make myself seen, if I want a chance to do my reps (and part of the reason I don’t go to a conventional gym). So, there was always a feeling of invisibility inside me.

I do feel as though it is happening more often, but does it happen to everyone, regardless of age, gender, attractiveness? Should I care? Just get over it? I mean mostly, I notice it and move on, but it doesn’t feel very badass (or feminist) of me to care whether I am seen or not.

I’ve heard other women lament that they don’t feel seen in the same way as when they were younger, fresher, “sexier”. That there’s no flirtatious banter or glances with men in public places. I rarely felt like I was the recipient of such (random) flirtations, or if I was, I wasn’t aware of it, even when younger, so what I am feeling these days relates to a broader sense of the world. To being seen. Period. As interesting, having something to say, something to give the world through a vocation.

Speaking of vocations, it is hard not to notice that opportunities geared towards “growing your career” or “learning leadership” skills in the corporate world tend to be geared towards younger adults who are just starting out, or people who are already in leadership roles (and looking for ways to enhance that role). I think that in an age where people are working longer than ever and typically will have more than one career, there is a gap for those of us who are still “looking for opportunities for growth” and are well into middle age. This can be disheartening if we are still looking for ways to make our mark.

Invisible Woman Syndrome, which apparently starts around 50, isn’t just a random nuisance. It is documented that it results in an absence of research, statistics, information about women’s health, particularly as they move beyond child-bearing age, which can be downright frustrating and dangerous.

One thing I know, in the scenario I described earlier in the butcher shop, I don’t feel as bad for leaving, showing my discomfort, as I might have before. I don’t beat myself up as much for acknowledging that I don’t like how I’m being treated at any given moment and stating it. I don’t think hours later, maybe I overreacted, should have stayed, shouldn’t have said what I did. As long as I wasn’t rude (I said it in a calm voice) I let it go (although what does that say about my acceptance of my own feelings of anger?). I am pleased with this evolution within myself. I’ll acknowledge any benefit of my current age/state of mind that I can.

Most of the time, I think I am at a great age/time. I love where I live. I am newly in love. I still feel as though I have time (and fortunately, good health*) to consider ways I can have purpose and be of service, whether through my career or otherwise. I am also more likely these days to seek out different opportunities, even if they are small. To say yes to things like writing for this blog.

Have you had an experience of feeling invisible that you attribute to being a middle-aged, or older woman? Does it bother you?

* kein ayin hora* – just throwing in some Yiddish there for good measure – “may the evil eye stay away”

Invisible Woman with umbrella

Nicole Plotkin is a law clerk who loves to: exercise, think about what to eat next, snuggle with her dogs, and enjoy life with her wonderful husband.

fitness · running

Sweaty, Sore and Slow

I completed another half-marathon this past Sunday. When I added my medal to the other ones, I counted 12 (2 for full marathons), but this was the first half marathon in about 5 years. I felt tired but happy. Each race inspires me to continue running despite the highs and lows throughout training and the race itself. It’s never not worth it in the end for me.

My training went pretty well. My version of training this time included one long run every Sunday. I did a couple shorter hill-training runs early on, but mostly, during the week, I went to the gym for my conditioning and strength training. A couple of weeks ago I reached 19k, on schedule.

However, last week I had a bit of a head cold. And my back hurt. I think I pulled it picking up a couple of kettlebells at the gym the day before. And now it felt a bit like there is a knife in the left side of my lower back, going into my butt. But, as is typical, time and stretches, helped and it felt mostly better by the weekend.

I was feeling a little low-level anxiety the day before the race. I’m pretty sure my husband noticed I was a bit testy! But I concentrated on carb loading (yay!), had some delicious pumpkin, coconut pasta for dinner, and went to bed early.

On the morning of race day, I enjoyed an Americano and got my gear together. I played around with my bib until I had it properly secured and not lopsided. I applied my Body Glide to all the parts of me that rub together and cause chafing over the long run.

I left on schedule to take the streetcar to the start line. Still clearly pumping out a bit of anxiety, I thought I’d walk to the start line, then realized part way that I wouldn’t get there “10 minutes” before the first corral start time, as required, so I got on a streetcar and then realized the diversion wasn’t going to help with time, so I hopped into a cab with another person on their way to the race.

Then I made my way through the crowds. I am not a big crowd person. At the same time, I can appreciate the festive, supportive atmosphere, I get stressed trying to make my way through the slow walkers/spectators/baby strollers/smokers(!) trying to figure out where my corral was (2nd from last).

Once I found my corral, I decided I had time, and needed to pee, so I went to the dreaded Porta Potty and made my way back to the corral. I listened to Mayor Tory congratulate us all for being there (thanks, Mayor Tory, can you bring back the Relief Line over the Ontario Line?), and then the first corral was off at 8:45. Then we all fidgeted on the spot and tried to stay warm until our corral was allowed to start at about 9:10. We were off!

I felt OK, starting slow and steady. I hadn’t had any liquid while waiting, but lo and behold (probably nerves) I had to pee urgently about 1km in. At the first 2km pit stop, I reluctantly got in line to pee (at least 3-4 min off my time right??). Back on the road, I felt OK, but stiff. Started repeating the motto in my head “I am doing great. This is probably the best part of my day!”. Before the pit stop I was pretty close to the 2:20 pace bunny but I couldn’t see her anymore.

What I could see was my fellow runners. One thing I like about running is that at a race, it is always evident, that it is available to everyone. Fit seniors, curvy, tall, skinny, male, female, those wearing signs that they are kind of injured, but doing it anyway. Those inspiring people can also be slightly annoying throughout the race too. The random throat clearing spitters, the random stoppers without warning,
the space weavers who have no sense of the space around them. This race was surprisingly dense throughout. Good for camaraderie. Requires more motto chanting for me.

About halfway through, I was feeling pretty sore in my butt/lower back, but I popped a Motrin and repeated my motto over and over. I also stopped to stretch briefly (2 minutes off my time right?). I learned in my training this time, that a running gel helped with leg stiffness about halfway through. But I didn’t bring any, figuring there would be some at the race, but the one and only gel station was fresh out of gels by the time I got there (except for the sticky discarded packages on the ground).

I was sure my motto for this race was going to be “Sweaty, Sore and Slow”. I was certain I was running slower than ever. But, I was shocked when I got to the finish line, within my usual time – 2:26 (about 2:20 minus the pee break and stretch right??).

Overall it was a decent race. The weather was glorious. My husband was waiting for me at the end and I was very happy to see him (and be on our way to brunch at Impact Kitchen). A friend (Hi Seanna!) said hi to me about a 1/3rd of the way in and it gave me an extra pep in my step. I also ended the race with the conviction that I will continue my longer runs through the winter and try to incorporate more speed work.

It’s been mentioned by many that running is a great metaphor for life – sticking through the hard times and enjoying the benefit at the end, and all that. Running a race is a good reminder of these benefits.