#deanslife · covid19 · dogs · fitness · walking

Sam’s pandemic day off and rainy day dog walk

May is usually the month when academics get to catch our collective breath. Grades are submitted. Conference season is about to begin. And even for administrators it’s quieter with fewer faculty and students on campus. But this year isn’t like most years. We’re not on campus. We’re all working at home. For all of us this has been a long semester with unrelenting long days of video conference classes and meetings.

I’ve been reminding staff and faculty of the need to take holidays. We’re all getting worn down. Me too.

Thursday I posted to social media: “I’m taking tomorrow off as a holiday. I’m not going anywhere but I’m also staying off Zoom, WebEx, Teams etc. We need vacation days even during the pandemic. Maybe especially. I just realized recently that I was supposed to have a week’s holiday in California this April, after the conference in San Francisco that was cancelled. I’m going to take Cheddar for an extra long walk. And maybe bake banana bread. Read a novel. Just chill at home. It won’t feel like holiday holidays. But it will feel like a day off and that’s enough.”

How’d it go? Well it wasn’t holiday like exactly but it did feel like a good day off work and that’s pretty good. I slept in. That was an excellent start.

I sat on the sofa and finished Matt Haig’s The Humans which I enjoyed.

It was very rainy and so I was leery of the long dog walk idea initially. Cheddar, however, was not. Luckily it was warm and rainy and so it was actually nice being out there. Cheddar dragged me into the woods to see a dead raccoon. That wasn’t so nice but he didn’t touch it. He just needed me to see it apparently. I have a photo but I’ll spare you.

The nice thing about the rain is that I didn’t have to pay much attention to physical distancing. I think we were the only ones out walking along the river.

While walking I listened to Trevor Noah’s memoir Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood. It’s a terrific audiobook. I haven’t been listening to books lately while walking because of the need to chat and coordinate the six feet rule with fellow path walkers. Today was different and I’ve decided I’m going to embrace rainy days.

On our return from the long wet dog walk, Facebook memories reminded me that two years ago I was in Bremen and four years ago I was Innsbruck, Austria.

I was in Innsbruck for the Austro-Canadian Medical Ethics Workshop, “Man at the Heart of a Modern Medical Ethics: Challenges and Perspectives” and my talk was,
“Making Decisions for Children as if Childhood Mattered: Reflections on Medical Decision Making and the Goods of Childhood.”

These days I’m spending some time racing in Virtual Innsbruck as it’s one of Zwift’s cycling worlds. It’s remarkably realistic. Sadly, especially, the hills!

Oh and 12 years ago I was in Canberra, Australia where I was a Visiting Professor in the Philosophy Department at the Australian National University where I also spent some time riding and racing my bike.

Here’s me on the Stromlo Crit Course.

Thanks Greg Long for this photo of women’s C racing.

So Germany, Austria, and Australia. So much travel, all impossible now. As academics begin what’s our usual summer conference season, it feels extra odd not to be travelling. Usually I head out to the west coast once or twice and go to a conference or two in Europe as well. This year I’m pretty settled in Guelph. It’s all been cancelled.

But I am also feeling happy to be home, with family and Cheddar, the dog. I’m enjoying our rainy day walks. I’m impressed that my knee is holding out. These are longer walks and more regular walks than I’ve been able to do for a few years now. I notice that in my post about Bremen, two years old, I was talking about being unable to walk to campus from the hotel.

I’ve been nervous about my knee surgery being put off in these Covid-19 times. But it looks like that will be okay. I’m doing fine. It’s not all bad news. And it’s good for all sorts of reasons, the climate chief among them, to get used to less summer conference travel.

Cheddar, for one, is happy to have me home.

#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!

#deanslife · cycling · fitness · monthly check in · weight lifting

Sam’s monthly check-in: What’s up, what’s down, the June/July version (CW: discussion of weight loss)

What’s up?

I’m riding lots. Newfoundland was challenging and beautiful. I’ve got a summer of biking and boating activity planned. I feel like a cyclist again and I’m going to write about what that feeling is and why it matters to me in another post, later. I’ve been strength training lots and I’m feeling strong. It’s also summer. The sun is out. I started a new blog, #deaning.

Sarah and I have been learning to race the Snipe.

What’s not to like?

See below!

What’s down?

I saw the knee surgery guys at Fowler Kennedy last month and was told that I shouldn’t have any more synvisc shots since I’m on the countdown to surgery.

They didn’t have positive things to say about physio or physical activity either. Long term neither will fix my knee. Now that I’m on track for surgery they want me to focus on weight loss which is the single most important thing I can do to aid surgery and recovery.

And the thing is this is a team I trust. They refer me to studies. They treat my larger body respectfully. They’re giving the same advice to the aging male athletes there. There’s no judgement and no body shaming. It’s all very neutral and evidence based.

But still it feels shitty. I’ve worked super hard to love my body at this size. I do. I cheer on Fuck fat loss! but now, having thrown those looks-related reasons for dieting away, I’m dieting anyway?

These are lots of reasons for wanting a smaller body that aren’t my reasons.

I’m trying to be clear in my own mind about my motivation but in this fatphobic world that’s hard.

I’ve lost some weight but I need to lose more

I’m rereading Ann Cahill’s work on weight loss. I really like the compassion she retains for her larger body.

“I don’t look back at photos of myself from a year ago and shudder. That was a different body that I lived, with its own set of possibilities, practices, and abilities. And there are certainly cultural contexts where that body would be more useful and conducive to my survival than the one I’m living now. Come the apocalypse, those extra pounds would come in handy.”

It’s important for me to keep the positive attitude about larger bodied me because weight loss might not work. It’s not any easier when it’s for health reasons. Your body doesn’t care about your motives. So in my bag of weight loss tools I can’t have dislike of the way I look now. It’s more that a larger body isn’t such a good match for my injured joints. The best motivaton is that even now, just a few pounds smaller, it hurts less.

What am I doing? Nothing dramatic. I’m trying to maintain a calorie deficit through exercise and tracking food. I’m eating lots of vegetables and protein, the usual thing.

Luckily there’s good food on campus. Lunch today is kale and beet salad, lentils, assorted veggies and hummus, and sunflower seeds.

Speaking of joints, my knee hurts a lot and I’m getting grumpy about the things I can’t do. Yes, I said goodbye to soccer and to running, but staying back at the tent when everyone else was off hiking on our activity day at Gros Morne was really hard. Sitting around and reading a book while others are hiking isn’t me, I think. But also, I think being grumpy isn’t me either. I’m a pretty resilient, ‘happy even in the face of sad, hard things’ person but the pain and lack of mobility is getting to me.

I’m jealous of friends posting step counts and runs and CrossFit classes on social media. For the first time I get why people who can’t do those things might find it tiresome. Grump. It’s so not me. Usually I’m the friend who loves it when you post your travel photos. I have friends who do iron distance triathlons and long long ultra runs. Usually I think it’s great that my friends get to do such fun things. This has clearly taken me off my usual path, my usual way of being in the world.

Oh, also on the “what’s down” front, I broke my bike frame. It’s not repairable. Compared to my knee that seems like small potatoes. I’ve got a second string road bike and maybe a third so I’m shopping, without pressure, for another bike.

Sad face. Broken frame. It’s not just the derailleur hanger sadly.

On the bad side, it happened on our bike trip. On the good side, it happened on day 6. That day was 130 km so Sarah and I split the day and we each rode half the distance on her bike.  We spent the rest of the day in the van. The next day was out and back to L’ Anse aux Meadows. I took the morning ride out there (Yay! Tailwinds!) Sarah got to sleep in but didn’t have as much fun riding back.

It’s such a beautiful place. I’m already scheming to go back. Next time maybe with my mother and a rental car. 

Puffins guarding my latte at the Dark Tickle cafe and gift shop.
#deanslife · cycling · fitness · habits · motivation

“How’s the #writeandride goal going?” Sam is glad you asked.

Image description: Puppy Cheddar, with surprised look on his face. White text over image says, “Shouldn’t you be writing?”

So last week I pledged to write 30 minutes and ride 20 km everyday (except Fridays when I can write for an hour and weekends when I can ride more). I didn’t make it everyday. Life got in the way of writing one day, riding another, and one particularly busy work day neither happened.

In general I’m not someone who throws daily habit goals away if I don’t make them work every day. Maybe I’m too easy on myself. Tracy and I noticed we have different approaches to the corporate step counting challenge that way. Me, I happily get up the next day and try again. Still, I rode 120 km in a week and that’s not too shabby. I finished one book review and two abstracts.

Still on the overdue list: one update of an older encyclopedia piece, one book review, and one companion chapter. Due June 1st, another abstract, 1000 words. Due June 2-4, two contributions to panels at Congress.

I did some of each, writing and riding, at Susan’s cottage on the long weekend. I loved writing on her comfy sofa, curled up with my laptop in front of the fire, surrounded by friends who were also reading, writing, napping, and cooking. It felt so good to finally be outside riding with friends. And best of all, after a weekend of riding hills my knee felt better not worse. Yay!

By the way, in case you think there’s too much talk about academic life here on the blog. Deep breaths. Don’t worry. I’m starting a Dean’s blog over the summer and some of this talk will likely land there. My first post is “Yes, I work at the university. No, I don’t get summers off.”

Image description: A group of young white women with white helmets in matching black and white stripey team kit. They’re riding road bikes, in a close pack, and smiling at the camera, making thumbs up and peace signs.
#deanslife · accessibility · standing

Not all sitting is the same: Sam’s new stool

Image description: A row of stools of different heights and colours, orange, red, green, and blue.

There’s an awful lot of news about sitting in the fitness media. The latest bad news about sitting is that sitting too much can undermine the effects of exercise. Chronic sitters become, over time, less responsive to the effects of training.

For the latest in my newsfeed see New Data Shows We’re Still Sitting Way Too Much. Does Exercising Cancel It Out. Selene Yeager writes: “All hope is not lost, however. Though previous research has found that multiple days of being extremely sedentary makes you resistant to the benefits of a bout of exercise, a newly published study on so-called “high sitters” (those sitting more than 6 hours a day) shows that consistent exercise can indeed counteract the ill effects of lots of forced chair time: It’s just a matter of getting regular activity. “

Sitting is of interest to me and my arthritic knees. On the one hand, my knees don’t hurt when I’m sitting so that’s good. But on the other, if I sit fit any length of time my knees hurt more when I get up. And then there’s my back. I used to hurt my back all the time and sitting was one of the problems. That was the reason I got a standing desk in the first place. See Celebrating my standing desk. I still use it some of the time but not as much as I’d like.

All of this means I’m sitting more than I used to. I was reminded the other day that not all sitting is equal. Active sitting is better than just flopping. People can be against chairs but not against all sitting. Back when I first considered getting a standing desk, friends recommended getting a hokki stool instead. They’re wobbly and good for those of us who fidget. You’re sitting but not keeping still. It’s active sitting.

Here is how the manufacturer describes the stool: “The HOKKI is an ergonomic stool that transforms stationary sitting into an activity, ideal for brainstorming sessions and other active sitting environments.”

Image description: Sam’s new purple hokki stool.

My friend Wayne described it this way,
“It’s a chair for people whose spines like yoga (and/or who don’t like sitting still, and are prone to slouching and leg-crossing in a normal chair).”

This month I started to get nervous about all the sitting I’m doing. I don’t want to put my back out again. And then, out of the blue my daughter Mallory asked for a hokki stool for her birthday. I thought of Wayne’s advice. I reread my old blog piece on active sitting. I ordered one for me too and it arrived today.

I’ll report back and let you know how it goes.

What’s your choice? Do you sit in a chair or do you have another way of sitting?

Image description: A thin, young woman with long straight blonde hair wearing black clothes and sitting on a hokki stool. (All the women on the hokki stool website looked like this.)

#deanslife · accessibility · equality · fitness · injury · racing

Stairs are not Sam’s friends

Image description:
The Girona Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of Saint Mary of Girona, is a Roman Catholic church located in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. It is the seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Girona.
Also, it has lots and lots of steps leading up to it!

Oh, old European cities. I love you. But I hate your stairs. SO MANY STAIRS.

Why do I hate stairs? They hurt my knees. It’s seriously painful even on days when I’m walking pain free. Down is way worse than up. Handrails help. I’m now a person who notices when they’re there and when they’re at the right height. I also sometimes worry that the stairs are making my knees worse.

So I turned to the Internet with my question. Dr. Google, do stairs simply hurt my arthritic knees or do they make things worse? Here’s a good a survey of the relevant literature.

“Stair climbing increases loads on the knee joints. And if we take into consideration the mechanical factor for appearing and progression of degenerative joint disease, it is clear that damage to joint cartilage increases with stair climbing. So reduced loads are beneficial for knee arthrosis.”

“Combination of stairs and weight or better loading and repetition of it is discussed as having some effect of knee joint degeneration. It is calculated that when someone is walking on plain ground he puts about 5 times the body weight or load in every step into the joint. When stairs are used or walking up or down hill the person is loading the knee up to 7 or 10 times the body weight or load according to the speed used. So repetition (circle of loading) – weight (and load) – and inclination of the ground has possibly effect of degenerative knee disease”

“The reasons why patients are advised to avoid them when OA shows up is that stairs are stress raisers, especially descending them. The point is that OA knees regardless the severity,  are often unstable and in these conditions stairs may  induce shear stresses on the cartilage and speed up the degenerative process. “

So I guess I should try to avoid them. I raised the issue at the knee surgery clinic on Monday when I was there for my regular appointment. Their message was clear. “You need to modify your activity. Avoid stairs when you can.”

See you on the escalator/in the elevator!

Though in these old cities there isn’t much choice.

Image description: Yellow brick buildings flanking a narrow walkway of stairs, in the old city of Girona.
#deanslife · death · monthly check in · motivation

Sam is Checking in for December, #monthlycheckin

A red and pink heart shaped rock, resting on fall leaves on the ground, sprinkled with snow. It’s hand painted and the black letters read “every day is a fresh start.”


You can read all my past monthly check-in posts here.  They all have a content warning for discussions of weight loss, including this one.

What’s up? (and down?):  I’m working out a fair bit. I’m going to easily make my goal of 218 workouts in 2018. I’m doing lots of different things and enjoying them. But something feels different now. It’s catch as catch can. I don’t mean that in a bad way but I’m not training. It’s not purposeful. It’s fun and it feels good but I’m learning that, for me, that’s not enough motivation. It’s got me thinking about life and plans and what makes me tick.

On the one hand I’m impressed that I’m managing to work out while dean-ing, but on the other, I want to achieve something. I need goals, people. Big goals. Like being the fittest by fifty! But not that. I’ve been there and done that and co-written the book. You can buy it here

I’m a type A goal achieving sort of person and I need that in my fitness if it’s going to be fun.

But there’s only so much Type A my life can take. And Dean-ing is a big job. I don’t mean that just in terms of hours. It’s also about scope of responsibility and making big plans. It’s no surprise that my big fitness burst took place during my break from academic admin roles. I was Chair of Philosophy at Western from 2002-2011 (with a year off for good behavior somewhere in the middle, hello Australia!). I started Dean-ing in 2018. The fittest by fifty challenge and this blog began in 2012. Tracy and I turned 50 in 2014.

So big ambitious jobs and big ambitious fitness goals aren’t fitting together very well for me. That might be just fine.  The one, modest but very important goal I do have concerns my knee. It’s a lot of work!  All of this damaged knee maintenance is wearing me down. Yes, I’m doing the thing. I’m losing weight. I’m doing physio. I’m so far successful at wearing the knee brace when I am doing long walks. 

And fitness is still fun but I’m also still sad about all the things I miss: No more running. (See sad bye bye running post.) Definitely no more soccer. I’ve  also said goodbye to Aikido, but not here on the blog. I’ve been too sad to even write about that loss. I’ve got a post in the drafts folder about how I miss throwing people around but I can’t finish it. 

I keep  thinking I should just stop blogging about fitness-y things, make it a less central part of who I am.  Blog about dean-ing? Or, sometimes I keep looking for big fitness goals I can do, like riding and lifting. Or continue to make progress with swimming. Or new things I want to try like horseback riding.

Basically, I’m a bit at sea with things, still struggling, and not sure how it will all turn out.  December is also a sad time. It’s the third anniversary of my father’s death. My uncle in England just died.  I still think this doesn’t get easier, losing people. See One of the hardest parts of getting older: Friends, family, illness, and death.

Oh and it’s dark, really dark. We’ve got the earliest sunsets right about now. And some days it doesn’t ever seem to get light at all.

On the bright side, I’m really loving my new job. I love the College and all the exciting work that’s being done here. I also love Guelph. You can come check it out in January at the Night at the Museum Event. Register here.


Obviously, I’m still thinking this all through. The one thing I do know is that I’ve got some big bike goals for 2019. I am reading about kicking my cycling goals into high gear.

And I might schedule knee surgery–partial knee replacement–for the future. If I could choose the date it’d be fall 2019.

Have you ever had “at sea” times? Big life changes? Tough stuff but I’m thinking it through!

I share lots of #sportsselfies but here’s a #deanselfie to balance it out!

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#officeselfie #deanatwork #feministselfie @uog_arts

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