218 in 2018 · 219 in 2019 · fitness

How challenges challenge me, and why I’m a convert

I used to scorn and dismiss fitness challenges. I even wrote about it for the blog: The Challenging Challenge of Challenges. But then, I read this post on 366 days of Yoga. Laura, one of our guest bloggers, wrote honestly about her challenges:

My practice still was not easy. My progress was slow. I continued to struggle with both mental and physical yoga demons. And I often despaired that my body was just too old now, too out of shape. I feared I was “over the hill” and would never get back what I had lost. But I kept showing up. I kept rolling out my mat every day, getting on it, and doing the practice.

Reading this opened up for me the possibility that the d.. d… d… disc-i-pline (this is such a hard word to say, much less do) of every day movement practice would become a part of me, a treat, a haven, a reward, a pleasure in itself.

This is the thing that hits me in the gut: the idea of committing to a daily something-or-other that never ENDS. That’s never DONE.

It feels like those really long staircases that you see in various places around the world.

Some people (who are these people?) look at all those stairs and think, “oh fun! I’m going to tackle them and get to the top!” When I look at a lot of stairs, I worry. I get anxious. I proactively feel tired. They don’t motivate me, energize me, mobilize me, inspire me. They just make me feel ashamed that (hypothetically, as I haven’t even taken one step yet) I will be:

  • too slow
  • too sweaty
  • too tired
  • too weak
  • too scared
  • too alone

to enjoy the (too far away to even imagine them) pleasures at the top.

I decided to do the 218 Challenges in 2018 because a bunch of the bloggers were doing it, and I wanted the support and the push to be more self-aware of my physical activity. I wrote about my process and finish (on Dec 30, 2018) here: 218 in 2018: Today’s the day! Sam wrote about her finish that year, too: 218 in 2018: Achievement unlocked with a week to spare! Cate’s post yesterday, Workout #250 for 2019, about her journey through challenges, spurred me on to write about how this year’s challenge is going for me.

This year, doing the 219 in 2019 challenge, I feel like I have the mental space to think about what life is like in the process of climbing all those stairs. Sometimes I do feel weak or scared or tired or slow (and usually sweaty, too). And I am doing it myself, for me alone.

A woman with a pink bag, climbing a long staircase by herself.
A woman with a pink bag, climbing a long staircase by herself.

The challenge, though, offers me another viewpoint on that staircase. Although I’m in charge of getting to the top myself, there are others walking on that same staircase, on their way up and down. I can:

  • keep going up with them
  • stop and take a few breaths
  • talk with others on the way up
  • pick up my pace
  • ask people on their way down how far it is to the top
  • ask for help
  • decide to stop and head back down
People walking up and down a long staircase.
People walking up and down a long staircase.

I like this way of thinking about challenges. I can go at my own pace, and when I need a hand, it’s there for the asking.

A woman going up a long staircase, pulling another person by the hand.
A woman going up a long staircase, pulling another person by the hand.

There’s another challenge I’m a part of– a September is for Yoga challenge, run by our blogger Christine. Like the 219 in 2019 challenge, we get to decide what counts as doing yoga that day, and we can post about it (or not) on our FB page. When we do post, Christine gives us a gold star. For whatever we post– successes, attempts, emoting, whatever– we get one. And who doesn’t love a gold star?

Back to my original fear about challenges: the daily practice, the commitment to doing something every day, engaging in a process that doesn’t end, but rather continues ad infinitum.

Turns out, I need help with follow-through, with maintaining consistency and continuity of process. I need help when life’s vicissitudes are visited on me through injury, overwork, family crisis, anxiety, etc. In those times I need support around adjusting practices, suspending them (to resume in changed ways later on), or persisting in them, being reminded that they are part of the solution, not the problem.

Challenges do that for me. At least these do. They help me do the physical activity I want, all by myself, with them, any day I want, for as long as I want.

Readers, what are you current views about challenges? Do you like them? Avoid them? What made them work for you? What made them not work for you? We’d really love to hear your stories.

218 in 2018 · body image · Fear · fitness · Metrics

Changing my mind about metrics: how counting can be cool

Keeping track of number-y things has always been a little scary to me. I have never actually balanced my checkbook. There, I said it. Billable hours accounting? Hah. After all, I’m an academic. I don’t really want to know how many or few hours I work in a day/week/month. Yes, some of you may be thinking, what’s the deal with this?

Cartoon of ostrich with its head in a hole, against a lovely sky-blue background.
Cartoon of ostrich with its head in a hole, against a lovely sky-blue background.

Actually, I don’t think I’m really like the ostrich. I’m more like this:

A cartoon turtle, hiding in its shell, with the message "duck and cover".
A cartoon turtle, hiding in its shell, with the message “duck and cover”.

When it comes to physical activity, I’ve resisted metrics with every fiber of my being. And blogged about it here– Cycling (not) by the numbers.

Why? One word:

fear.
fear.

I didn’t want to be exposed and revealed– to myself, to anyone else– to what I was actually doing; how fast/slow I ride, how many minutes I worked out, certainly not how much I weigh.

What was I afraid of? Feeling demeaned by actually knowing how little I could do, how heavy and slow I was, etc., leading me to lose my identity as a cyclist, an athlete, a strong person, a worthy person.

Wow, that’s a lot of burden to place on a) myself; and b) some otherwise-unsuspecting numerical information.

Lately, though, I’ve grown really tired of carrying around those burdens of fear and shame, and doing all that ducking and covering, bobbing and weaving, all in service of– what? Trying not to know how my body is doing?

A duck, weighing in on the previous paragraphs, saying "well, that's just silly".
A duck, weighing in on the previous paragraphs, saying “well, that’s just silly”.

I have to agree with the duck here. This past year, I’ve experienced the non-catastrophic effects of keeping track of my activity. Last year I joined the 218 workouts in 2018 Facebook group, and I’m signed up this year for 219 Workouts in 2019. So are Sam, Cate, and a bunch of others. You can read many blog posts about it here. And you can read my post about meeting my 218 goal here.

For the record, so far this year I’m at 30 workouts. What I’m tracking is workout days. If I do a yoga class and take a walk or ride, I count all that as one workout day. This is my choice. It’s what *I* want to track, namely consistency (and gaps) in being active during a given week. Others are tracking individual workouts, and have their own ways of defining what a workout is for them. Their choice.

I love doing this. It is giving me information about how I’m doing, making me curious about what causes workouts to be easier or harder during my week, and helping me rethink my work/play/travel schedule to make more room for physical activity. This process just wouldn’t be possible without the data. So I’m officially embracing it.

I heart data!
I heart data!

Where is this going? Technology shopping, that’s where. I think I may finally, FINALLY buy a Fitbit or some such activity tracking device. I’m definitely putting my cheapo CatEye bike computer back on the bike. Perhaps a Garmin or other schmancy computer is in my near future. But no scales. I don’t need that information. Although if/when I do, I’ll use one at the gym or doctor’s office.

I’ll be posting more about this, asking for your advice on devices and reporting on what I buy and how I like them. For now, I’m curious about what trackers people use and how they like them. What do you recommend as a step counter/activity tracker? Thanks for any advice, and as always, thanks for reading.

Cookie cake saying "you rule", which all of you do.
Cookie cake saying “you rule”, which all of you do.
218 in 2018 · fitness

218 in 2018– today’s the day

We’ve all been reading about (and we’ve been posting) year-end reports about various fitness challenges for this year. After trudging through my messy relationships with challenges, I’m pleased to say that I’m now going to finish one.

Today is the day I hit magic number 218 in the 218 workouts in 2018 challenge. Let there be much rejoicing!

A silhouette of a woman jumping for joy on a beach. It's not me, but it would be if I were there.
A silhouette of a woman jumping for joy on a beach. It’s not me, but it would be if I were there.

How on earth did this happen, I wondered. I’ve quit fitness challenges with wild abandon in the past. They’ve always felt confining, judgy, and way too hard– I felt like if I missed the mark one day, it was O-V-E-R. Of course this all-or-nothing thinking is exactly what we try to push hard against in the blog. So, when I saw Sam and Cate and other sporty friendly feminist Canadian friends on the 218 in 2018 challenge, I decided to sign on.

So, how did it happen this time for me?

First, I just committed to documenting what I did, not looking too far down the road, but just doing what I was doing. I got a late start because I had pneumonia in January; that meant I didn’t really get moving (literally) until late February. But I did get moving. And kept moving.

Second, I successfully incorporated at-home yoga into my life. I’m all set up with mat, blocks, strap, and an attractive bright orange bolster in my living room. I have some favorite yoga youtube channels (check out bad yogi, yoga with Kassandra, and yoga with Adriene if you’re interested), and enjoyed mixing it up. I also discovered yin yoga while on a vacation work trip in Tucson, Arizona in July. It’s transformed my life– I love love love it.

Third, I internalized the view that the perfect is the enemy of the good. Or, for those of you who prefer graphic explanations, this:

A graph showing a curve where good enough is close to the x-axis, and perfect is never-gonna-get-there...
A graph showing a curve where good enough is close to the x-axis, and perfect is never-gonna-get-there…

Just doing some purposeful movement that I scheduled and carried out that day was the plan. It didn’t have to be epic (and rarely was). But it happened, and it happened because I-DID-IT. Yay again!

Finally (and this is the best one, so read on!): I decided to let what I counted as a workout be relativized to my physical/mental state, my schedule, and what was within my grasp for that day.

What does this mean? For instance, after I sprained my ankle, I did yoga on my bed, as I wasn’t able to get up from my yoga mat without help. I also did stretching and upper-body work during this period. Last week during a Christmas trip to see family, I offered to do dog walking to get a mellow workout in for the day. I walked two dogs multiple times– thanks Baxter and Kiwi! When I had a busy work day, I parked far away across campus so I could get an a 40-minute walk (to and from my car).

Yes, I also had some long bike rides, some hard bike rides, some hiking, swimming, etc. Those were fun, and I want to do more of them. But this challenge provided me with daily motivation to find some (even a little) time for exercise, movement, physical effort, no matter what state I was in.

Today I’m walking to and from my yoga studio to do a 90-minute restorative class. It’s not vigorous. That’s okay. It makes me feel great in my body and keeps me moving. That’s the point. And how does this make me feel? I’ll let this unlikely result of my image search for “218” get the last words:

A homemade green poster/it (I can't tell) saying "218 rocks for woman". Yes, that about sums it up.
A homemade green poster/it (I can’t tell) saying “218 rocks for woman”. Yes, that about sums it up.
218 in 2018 · fitness

218 in 2018: Achievement unlocked with a week to spare!

We’ve written a lot here about our 218 in 2018 challenge. 218.

And I’m happy to report that I made it. I just posted the following to Facebook: “Woohoo! Closing the campus gym for the holidays. Strength training with my U of Guelph son. Chest day! With bonus triceps.

218 in 2018 unlocked!”

There’s another week left in the year and I’ll likely get a few more workouts in. Fun in the snow with family and friends, I hope.

Happy holidays!