competition · cycling · fitness · Guest Post · racing · running · swimming · triathalon

Is this what retirement is like? (Guest post)

by Mary Case

Day one of retirement was officially declared a “jammie” day. No alarm clock, a pot of tea, a good book, feet up, sitting in front of the fireplace. It was blissful and lasted almost ninety minutes.

Author in a comfortable arm chair, sitting in front of a fireplace with her feet up, reading a book with her dog at her side.

And then that was enough for the dog who, delighted that there was another human home, insisted on a walk.

Somewhat reluctantly I changed out of my jammies.

It is so quiet and peaceful on this crisp winter’s day.  No noise except the occasional passing car. Was this what it’s like, this retirement thing?

I returned home an hour later, fully intending to return to my perch. (My colorful, cozy jammies now replaced with walking gear, looking suspiciously like running gear), and then I had a vision: an empty pool, a lane to myself perhaps. Was that actually possible? 

Empty YMCA pool.  All lanes free.

It was too irresistible, and so the perch by the fireplace was abandoned again. And there it was: my empty lane. Two kilometres of blissful, uninterrupted swim strokes.

Was this what retirement is like?

The choice to retire from teaching elementary school music was a tough one. I loved my job and was not particularly desperate to get out. 

I had a fulfilling and vibrant career but, I was curious what life would be like on the other side. 

Last fall, in a moment of “but what will I do when I retire?” I wondered what it would be like to be a gym rat, and so I approached my computer in search of half ironman races. These are called 70.3’s in the triathlon world. It seemed a good idea at the time, and it was a distance that my years as a triathlete had prepared me for. 

I chose a date. May 31st, that worked for me. It would have been concert prep time, if I was not retired. 

I chose a location. Connecticut, I could drive there. 

Done! I signed up. 

Oops. I missed a little bit of homework here. I found out later that this half ironman is called the Beast of the East. 

As I write this blog, week one of retirement is almost over. It’s also my 59th birthday. I think about this “fitness” thing. For me, it’s always about the joy of seeing what my body is capable of. I do not have a point of view about speed, competition, losing weight, or much of anything else. 

I love a challenge; my body loves to move endlessly, and the amazing thing is that I am fitter, faster and stronger than I have ever been. 

I think I might  be able to get used to the quiet, the recovery time and being able to head to the gym, my trainer or the road, at hours that do not involve the numbers 4, 5, or 6 attached to “a.m.” 

I think I can get used to this thing called retirement. And who knows, hills may just become my new best friends. 

Author, School photo.  Looking very professional in a pink top and pearls.

Mary is a recently retired Elementary School Music Teacher, an Energetic Body Worker and a professional violinist. When not involved in any of the capacities mentioned above, she can often be spotted in water, on a bike, or running to prepare for her next triathlon.  

cycling · fitness

Virtual Speed and Sam the Daredevil

ZWIFT activity report.

When I first joined Strava I became aware of my downhill speed compared to other riders. See Strava, QOM, and does downhill count?

But there are limits to my downhill speed caused by real world practical concerns like FEAR OF DEATH. Years ago, in Canberra, Australia (I was there on sabbatical) I did a course on safely descending at speed and I’ve gotten better with time. Interested? There are some good tips here.

I follow more experienced riders downhill and follow their lines. I don’t brake that often. Still though I don’t pedal hard downhill. Did I mention FEAR OF DEATH?

But this winter and last I’ve been riding on a trainer in the virtual world created by Zwift. One joy of Zwift riding is that you can’t crash. It’s not just that you don’t actually crash. You don’t virtually crash either. There’s no crashing at all. So there’s no reason not to keep up your watts as you zoom downhill.

My efforts in the virtual Yorkshire, speeding down hills unlocked a new achievement for me, DAREDEVIL, for exceeding 50 mph.

Me a Daredevil? I think my kids are likely laughing. But I can be a virtual Daredevil it turns out.

cycling · Guest Post · planning · running · yoga

A different kind of running (Guest post)

By Shawna Lewkowitz

The lessons learned while being active are ones we can use in every part of our lives. My own journey of running and doing yoga taught me plenty and served me well for when I decided to leap into a whole different kind of running, as the NDP candidate for London West in the Federal Election. 

For years I was a regular runner but like many, I didn’t come to running until later in life and it took me a while to see myself as a “real” runner, whatever that is supposed to mean. I made my way from 5ks to 10ks to half marathons, always believing marathons were out of reach for me – meant for the actual real runners. People who were of course more athletic and capable than I was.

As you can imagine, the decision to run in the election wasn’t a simple one either. I’d asked and supported many women to run and founded a local organization,  Women & Politics to support them when they did. But for many reasons, when previously asked to run, I’d always said no.

 This time was different. I still went through the cycle of questions: Am I really the right person to do this? Do I have the grit to make it through the inevitable criticism, long days and hours of campaigning? How will I make this work with all the other responsibilities in my life? What will the impact be on my family? And most of all, do I really want this? Questions that were similar to the ones I’ve asked myself in other situations.

Before doing marathons, I wasn’t sure I was capable of running 42.2 kms or perhaps more pointedly, doing the training to run 42.2 kms. Before doing yoga regularly, I didn’t think I was capable of a daily yoga practice. I eventually learned that like everyone, I am always capable of more than I think I am and that big challenges usually excite us and terrify us in equal measure. So, after lots of conversations, soul searching and contemplation, I took the leap and said yes to being a candidate. 

Running and yoga proved to be great teachers for an election. During the actual campaign period, the days were long and extremely intense. Twelve hour days or longer, with at least half of that spent out door knocking were the norm. I consistently woke up tired. But just like training for running, I put on my shoes and headed out the door. There was no “if” about it, I just did what needed to be done.

But none of us do anything truly on our own. When I was training for marathons I did so alongside a supportive running community and encouraging friends and family. In my daily yoga challenge, I had a consistent online group of like-minded yogis. For my election run, I had an amazing campaign team working with me and an incredible partner and two teenage daughters who all who took on the bulk of our family responsibilities. They made it easy for me to focus on what I needed to do. 

I treated the pre-campaign period before the election was officially called, as my “base training”. We were door knocking and listening to people all summer long. The time spent walking and listening for those months laid the foundation for the six-week election period (the marathon). Not only the intense physical requirement of campaigning but also the intellectual and emotional considerations of being “on” and in tune with people’s needs.

My many years of doing yoga, brought a calm and clarity to the emotional experience of campaigning. People shared really hard stories at the door and they trusted us to do something about the issues they were facing. At times it was overwhelming – the pain and struggle people live with is real. When overwhelmed by the immensity of it all, I would go back to focusing on being present, listening and offering up a platform that I absolutely believed in. 

There were also the inevitable negative reactions at the door. Misogynistic comments about my appearance, my obvious feminism and my stance on gender issues. Men who would argue with me just for the sake of arguing, who would slam doors in my face and call me names. People who would make racist or homophobic comments to volunteers. But honestly these interactions were minimal compared to the positives experienced at the door. 

There will always be people who think we aren’t capable of accomplishing our goals – exercise, work or personal wise. They will put real and imagined obstacles in our way. The key is to see them for what they are and to stay focused on what we set out to do. The hate only drove me to push harder and as a runner, I know how to push hard. 

I did ultimately end up losing the election, but we ran a campaign I can say I am really proud of and I have absolutely no regrets about running. I’ve trained for races I couldn’t complete before. I know what it feels like to put your heart and soul into something and have it turn out differently than you hoped. But it doesn’t make the journey any less worthwhile and if anything, it prepares us even better for the next time we show up at the starting line. 

The lessons learned through being active have relevance to all areas of our lives. It is one of the many reasons we lace up our shoes, get on our mats, bring out our bikes, show up for that game, make time for that walk – we know the value is in more than just the moment. That our commitment to moving more, and reaching our goals helps us to do more, cope better and feel healthy in all areas of our lives. 

Shawna is an instructor and community-based learning coordinator in Social Justice and Peace Studies at King’s University College, founder of Women & Politics, and the past Federal NDP Candidate for London West. She does all kinds of active things that feed her soul but her favourite is getting lost in the woods with the people she loves. 

commute · cycling · fitness · snow · winter

Sam’s January challenge

When I saw this in my Twitter feed, I smiled: “Anyone else interested in the #31daysofwinterbiking challenge, starting 1/1/2020? It’s a judgment-free, no-shame way to be active in January, inside or out.”

Here’s how it all got started.

I figure I can do it. Certainly I bike commute to work. If I’m stuck I may count riding in Zwift.


And it will help that we’ve got a week of riding in Florida planned at the end of January.

#biking #winterbike #biketowork #BikeEveryDay #winterbiketowork

Sarah and Sam on a fat bike lesson

Joining in? Use the #31daysofwinterbiking

See you out there!

219 in 2019 · cycling · fitness

Sam is quickly checking in for December

I think it’s mostly good news really. My knee isn’t worse. I’m walking more. It still hurts a lot but there’s a lot of research that suggests moving anyway is better than not. See here.

I made it! 300 workouts in 2019. The goal was 219 in 2019 but that went by months ago. I thought 300 was too ambitious but by counting physio I did it.

I passed my indoor cycling exam.

I’ve been riding in Zwift lots.

Zwift at the Bike Shed in Guelph

Still waiting for the snow for fat bike riding.

The only bit of bad news is my arthritic toe

#deanslife · cycling · fitness

Sam passes the test! Phew!

In October I took a day long course at the University of Guelph as part of the process of becoming an indoor cycling instructor.

“The University of Guelph has developed its own Group Cycle Certification course. The principles of conditioning will be applied by incorporating details around set-up, class format, applied anatomy and kinesiology. Learn the do’s and don’ts, precautions of cycling and the basics to coaching participants through this type of workout. Certification includes a written exam and a practical assessment to be booked for a later date.”

It was a fun day that ended in each of us taking turns leading the class in a workout, a one song drill, that applied one of the techniques we’d been learning about.

What else to tell you about it? It was a mix of small group instruction in a seminar room and practical instruction on the bikes. We learned some stuff and then sat in on an indoor cycling class to see the theory in action and hear the instructor cue the class in the ways we’d just learned about. We also learned some exercise theory, some things specific to indoor cycling, and practical things about the bikes. I wasn’t even the oldest person in the class and the instructor wasn’t a twenty-something either. (Not that age matters but I was feeling a bit sensitive about the whole thing.)

Oh, we also learned that we couldn’t ever call indoor cycling “spinning.” It turns out that Johnny G has that term trade-marked. “Mad Dogg chases down countless companies, demanding they instead replace “spin” with the term “indoor cycling.” Somehow, “spin” does not fall under the same guideline as “Pilates,” “yoga,” and “karate,” which, according to an October 2000 Manhattan federal court decision, are considered exercise methods and cannot be trademarked. “

I did my section to this song, Pink’s Raise Your Glass. My drill included fast, flat road spinning, go fast intervals with time for recovery. It turns out that I was happy at the front of the room. I smiled and called out instructions. I succeeded at the timing. And I was okay talking with a wireless mic while breathless. (I was worried about that.) In many ways none of this should have surprised me. I’ve been taking indoor cycling classes for a very long time. I’ve even had a chance at the front of the room in Coach Chris’s basement when his regular trainer class assistant was away. I’ve also been teaching in a university context for more than 30 years (yikes!) and I’m pretty comfortable in that role.

But for some reason, the written exam–which came later–had me very nervous. First, I couldn’t write with the rest of the class because of my schedule (#deanslife, #senate.) Second, it’s been a long time since I was the person writing, not grading, an exam. I did write an exam, I think, or at least I took a course, when I became a foster parent. But that was many years ago. We had covered a lot of info during the class–so many muscles, so many different exercise theory principles–and I wasn’t sure what would be on it. I ended up writing on my own on a Monday afternoon in an office at the university fitness centre.

It was super hard hand writing an exam. I realized a few minutes in how little I do that these days. My handwriting is not the easiest to read! I wasn’t sure how much information to include. I apologized when I handed it in. The exam covered a lot of material–some muscles, some exercise principles, workout design, and bike set up. I finished early but then weeks passed and I didn’t hear. What if I failed? What if they were too embarrassed to tell a dean she’d failed an exam? Could I take it again? Fretting happened. Finally, recently, I heard, I passed. 88%. Woo hoo!

A woman’s hand writing in a book.
Photo by Hannah Olinger on Unsplash

In the new year, I’ll be taking part in their cycling instructor mentorship program. I think I’ll sit in on some of the classes taught by the person who taught the cycling instructor class. She’s pretty terrific. High energy, tons of experience, and seems to really care about the quality of instruction at the university.

“You’ve taken the course but now need to hone your skills through some supervised ‘hands on’ teaching before you attempt your practical? Let us help you. This membership will give you access to all our cycle classes (providing space is available) and an opportunity to apprentice and team-teach with our instructors. Weekly feedback will be provided in order to assist you in preparation for the practical.  “

After that, I teach a full class on my own for the practical exam. I’ll have to find friends to come and take a class from me. Watch out Fit is a Feminist Issue community, I might hit you up!

cycling · fitness · Guest Post · winter

The wonders of non-hardcore winter cycling (Guest post)

Bike frozen in ice. This would be a non-cycling day.

by Andrea Zanin

As a cyclist and non-driver, I have developed a winter strategy. I keep an ongoing list of errands and grocery needs. I check weather and road conditions regularly. As soon as a day comes up that’s clear with dry roads, I cycle around doing all the things I can squeeze in. That includes stocking up on groceries and household stuff even if I don’t expect to run out imminently, because I don’t want to be stuck without toilet paper when a week-long snowstorm hits. In summer, errands can be run daily. In winter, it’s more like binge/bust. I also vary my transportation more generally between cycling, public transit and cabs depending on the weather.

I’m not hardcore. I’m very aware of how fragile the human body is and I have nothing to prove. No heroic ice-biking for me. I don’t want to break my neck. I stick to safe road conditions and I plan my routes to avoid heavy traffic, high speeds, major hazards and so on.

I’ve figured out over time that I can breathe comfortably down to about -5°C, though I hope to test out a face mask and see if that opens up colder days. I have mild asthma and carry an inhaler, but rarely use it. I wear layers, but nothing high-tech. I wear multiple bright lights at night, carry a bungee cord for loads (I have a rear basket), use my bell lots and have absolutely no problem yelling at drivers who put my life in danger, which they often do—but I don’t play chicken. I’m the only loser if it’s me against a car. I think a lot of accidents can be avoided by selectively breaking rules when they go against safety, going slowly when the roads are snarled, and expecting that nobody can see you and acting accordingly. Right of way is less important than survival.

These basics have served me well.

I’m saying all this because I think a lot of people put their bikes away at this time of year—and legit, I did too until a year ago. But at least here in Toronto, you don’t have to. You can still get all the benefits of cycling if you switch up your strategy for the season. The freedom of movement, the exercise, the connection to the urban landscape, the convenience, the low environmental footprint—so much good stuff. Cycling may be weather-dependent to a point, but it’s not season-dependent. You just have to adapt a bit.

I’m thinking more and more these days about sustainability, about our impact on the world around us—and cycling is a key part of that for me. So I figure a little mythbusting, a little reassurance, a little encouragement might help get more of you to two-wheel it year-round.

And I also have to say: there’s joy in it. It’s not just a “you should.” It feels amazing to get your blood moving on the chilly days. Makes the body less sluggish and stiff. Warms you up from the inside and makes you glow. At least that’s my experience!

Anyway, there’s my little winter cycling manifesto. Maybe you’re already there (high five!). Maybe, like me until a year ago, you’re not—but you could be, you’ve just got to decide to give it a shot. Hope this helps a bit!

Andrea Zanin has written for the Globe and Mail, The Tyee, Bitch, Ms., Xtra, IN Magazine, Outlooks Magazine and the Montreal Mirror. Her scholarly work, fiction and essays appear in a variety of collections. She blogs at and tweets at @sexgeekAZ.