fit at mid-life · health · interview

Walking Her Talk…And Her Writing: An Interview With Author Ann Douglas


I first ‘met’ Ann Douglas around 20 years ago when my information-seeking pregnant self picked up her Mother of all Pregnancy Books at Chapters. I loved her writing – she wasn’t the expert talking down to the novice, she was the experienced friend giving you some perspective on whatever you were dealing with right now.

We started chatting back and forth on blogs back in the day and I volunteered to be interviewed for some of her other parenting books, and, in the process, we’ve become good friends. I’ve only seen Ann once in person but we have stayed in touch with phone calls, Zoom chats, and email.

A few years ago, Ann took up the habit of long daily walks and it has been life-changing for her so I thought that Fit as a Feminist Issue readers might enjoy hearing about her routine and about her other projects and interests.

  Image description: Two middle-aged adults in life jackets smile for the camera. Ann, on the right, has curly grey hair. Neil, on the left, has short grey hair and a moustache and he is wearing sunglasses. The deck of a boat and some lake water can be seen behind them.​
Ann Douglas and her husband, Neil, on a boat ride this summer. Image description: Two middle-aged adults in life jackets smile for the camera. Ann, on the right, has curly grey hair. Neil, on the left, has short grey hair and a moustache and he is wearing sunglasses. The deck of a boat and some lake water can be seen behind them.

Ann Douglas is the author of numerous bestselling parenting books and she is currently
writing a book for and about women at midlife. She lives on a lake in a rural area outside of Bancroft, Ontario.

What are some of your current projects (fitness-related or otherwise)? 


I’m hard at work on a book for and about women at midlife, I’m doing a lot of volunteer work related to electoral reform, and I’m taking full advantage of the precious and time-limited gift that is a Canadian summer. For me, that means going for twice-daily walks on a rural road and paddling in my kayak a couple of times each week.



I know that walks are an important part of your daily life. Can you tell me when that started, some details about your routine, and what benefits you have found from incorporating walking into your routine? Does it help your peace of mind? Your feeling of well-being? Your writing?


Walking is a key ingredient in the recipe for a happy, healthy me. I started walking back in 2013, after being completely sedentary for most of my life. And when I say “sedentary,” I mean sedentary. Even a 15-minute walk around the block triggered debilitating foot pain. (I was morbidly obese at the time and my feet were having difficulty dealing with the additional weight I was carrying.) The clock was ticking (I was about to turn 50) and I knew that I needed to find a way to be physically active on a regular basis if I wanted to reduce my risk of developing some of the serious health problems that tend to run in my family, including heart disease and diabetes.


When I started walking, I had physical health goals in mind. What I hadn’t counted on was the impact that regular physical activity would have on my mental health. My twice-daily walks not only help to put the brakes on my anxiety: they also help me to sleep better at night which, in turn, helps to control my anxiety and boost my mood. This has proven to be a complete gamechanger for me, in terms of my mood and my overall quality of life. (I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder 18 years ago.) Getting enough sleep and physical activity are the glue that holds everything together.


Walking has also helped me to manage another major health challenge. Four years ago, I was diagnosed with Meniere’s disease: a balance and dizziness disorder that, in my case, is characterized by really acute attacks of vertigo (the kind where you end up throwing up for a couple of hours straight). I quickly figured out that walking as soon as possible after a vertigo attack helps to reset my vestibular system; and that walking regularly helps to maintain the health of my vestibular system. Walking is a key strategy for minimizing the impact of my Meniere’s disease (along with getting enough sleep; minimizing my intake of salt and caffeine; and avoiding alcohol). I also try to minimize stress, but that can be a little hit and miss.


However, the walking helps with that, so even if I’m more stressed than I’d like to be, at least I have a strategy for dialing back the level of stress.


I’m really lucky that I live in a naturally spectacular part of Ontario, so walking automatically means spending time in nature, because I’m surrounded by nature the moment I step outside my front door. That’s a huge benefit: being able to nurture my life-long love affair with nature while I’m nurturing my body at the same time.


You were asking about the impact of walking on my writing. I deliberately take the first of my twice-daily walks at lunchtime, midway through my working day. It’s a way to recharge my mental batteries, just as they’re starting to lose their charge. And often when I’m out for my walk, a solution to a writing-related problem will pop into my head. (“Wait a minute: Chapter 4 should actually be Chapter 1!”) It’s pretty magical, how that works.

Image description: a rural road extends around a curve. The ground is covered with snow and there are snow-covered trees on​ either side of the lightly-plowed road.
A scene from one of Ann’s walks this past winter. Image description: a rural road extends around a curve. The ground is covered with snow and there are snow-covered trees on either side of the lightly-plowed road.


How do you feel about fitness as a key element in self-care?


It’s a huge deal for me. My younger self would be amazed to know that I grew up to be an adult who is an active living evangelist. I hated gym class when I was a kid. Like really hated it….


Being physically active on a regular basis has also given me some newfound body confidence. I’m willing to try new things that I simply wouldn’t have been willing to try before I became physically active. Two years ago, I bought myself a kayak and now I love kayaking. Younger me would have been convinced I wasn’t athletic or coordinated enough to go kayaking. Midlife me knows better!


You are writing a book about women at mid-life and the founders of this blog, Sam & Tracy, have written a book called ‘Fit at Mid-Life.’  I’m interested to know if fitness came up in your research as an important element for women at mid-life. If so, could you tell
me a bit about that?


It definitely came up a lot—and a lot of these conversations were about guilt: the guilt women felt for not being able to be as physically active as they wanted to be. Midlife is crunch time for a lot of women—a time of life when they’re asked to juggle an impossible number of responsibilities and to live up to sky-high expectations of what it means to be living well at midlife. Sometimes important things fall off their to do lists, simply because there isn’t enough of them to go around. That isn’t something that they should be feeling guilty about. It’s something our culture should be feeling guilty about—for asking so much of women that they don’t always have the capacity to take good care of themselves.

As a parenting author, did you find that fitness was a concern for the parents you interviewed or who sought your advice? If so, could you share a bit about that, too?


This definitely came up in the research for my most recent parenting book, Happy Parents, Happy Kids. Once again, there was a lot of guilt as well as frustration with the very real barriers that can prevent parents from exercising as often as they’d like, and for some parents more than others. For example, if you don’t live in a safe and walkable neighbourhood, being active can be a huge challenge. Ditto if you’re a single parent who doesn’t have anyone else available to give you a break so that you can go for a walk by yourself. (Sure, you can walk with a child, but research shows that exercising with kids doesn’t necessarily reap the same fitness benefits as exercising on your own, as anyone who has ever tried to go for a walk with a toddler can attest. You’ll get to see a lot of dandelions, but you might not get a very robust workout.)


But back to the guilt—both guilt for not being able to take time for yourself so you can exercise and guilt for actually taking that time.


I think the best way to deal with that guilt is to simply ask yourself, “What’s reasonable and sustainable for me right now?” and to look for a way to start with something. It doesn’t have to be a big commitment. It doesn’t have to happen every day. And maybe you can mentally frame it a way that actually feels good: as a nice thing you’re doing for yourself as opposed to yet another obligation to add to an already too long to do list. (“I get to go for a 10-minute walk around the block” as opposed to “I have to….”)

Image description: a bright blue fibreglass kayak is tied up at a small floating dock on a lake. The kayak cover rests on the dock and we can see the water all around the dock and the kayak.
Ann’s kayak awaits her next paddling adventure. Image description: a bright blue fibreglass kayak is tied up at a small floating dock on a lake. The kayak cover rests on the dock and we can see the water all around the dock and the kayak.


The name of this blog is Fit is a Feminist Issue. Does the connection between feminism and fitness resonate with you? If so, how?


Yes, and on so many levels! First of all, in terms of body love and self-acceptance. Being
physically active on a regular basis has allowed me to feel good about my body in ways that I didn’t even think were possible, given the toxic cultural messages women are given about their bodies. A lot of the women I’ve interviewed for my book have been quite explicit about the need to break up with the patriarchy—how that is a path to liberation for them, both personally and politically—and I couldn’t agree more. Gender roles as prescribed by our patriarchal culture make it more challenging for women to find the time or to have the other resources necessary to take good care of themselves. And, of course, those challenges are intersectional, with some women being impacted so much more than others. My rage about these issues intensifies as I grow older. I just want things to be better, and not just for women like me (a cis, heterosexual, white middle class woman). I want things to be better for all women. Because we deserve nothing less.

Is there anything you would like to talk about that arose from other questions but that I didn’t directly ask about?

I guess I’d just add a quick note about self-compassion. There’s a lot of research to show that women who treat themselves with self-compassion are more likely to recover from an exercise setback (for example, an injury, a family emergency, or something else that disrupts their plans to be physically active). Instead of beating themselves up for having to put their workouts on hold, they simply treat themselves with the same kindness as they would show to a friend who was facing a similar challenge. Instead of feeling like giving up, they feel like they can re-engage with their exercise goal. Learning about self-compassion was life-changing for me, which is why I’m always talking about it.

blog · blogging · fit at mid-life · fitness

Two Days Away from the Blog’s 9-year anniversary!

Every year at this time I am astonished that we’ve been blogging for x years, where this year x=9! On August 30, 2012, Sam and I each wrote brief little introductory posts about ourselves called “A bit about Tracy” and “A bit about Samantha.” These inaugural posts show our inexperience at blogging — we didn’t even include our photos! Indeed, many of our initial posts didn’t include photos.

First blog photo of Sam (left) and Tracy (right), taken at the first 5K we did together in October 2012. [Image description: Two smiling women, Sam on left, short reddish-brown hair, glasses, in blue t-shirt and black running tights, Tracy on right, short brown hair, in red t-shirt and black running tights, wearing wired ear-buds; background of balloons, a canopy, bails of hay, pumpkin, and some fall foliage].

I mention the point about photos because the past nine years have been, for us, as much about learning to blog as about doing our feminist fitness thing. We really were trying to find our way both in the fitness challenge and in what we were hoping to achieve with the blog. As some of you may know but many more recent readers will not know, we didn’t set out still to be blogging nine years hence. We set out to become the fittest we’d ever been in our lives by the time we turned 50, and we had two years to figure out what our respective (and unique) challenges would look like. We didn’t think anyone other than friends and family would follow us.

As the blog caught on, we realized we were wrong about that. Friends and family did support our efforts, but our feminist approach to fitness, down-playing weight loss and highlighting performance and even enjoyment (who knew!?), resonated with lots of people we didn’t know. Soon a lively community had sprung up around the blog. Spin-offs like the Facebook page, Instagram, and Twitter got established. Our roster of guest bloggers kept expanding. Then we had some regulars, which has now expanded to an authors’ group that is a community unto itself.

Every year as late August rolls in I reflect on what we have accomplished, both where our fittest by 50 challenge is concerned (there’s a book!) and how the blog itself has blossomed. It’s definitely a team effort these days. That said, people need to know that the real energy behind the blog comes from Sam, whose leadership has kept it thriving even when most of the others of us (myself included) have gone through periods where we’ve had to reduce our commitment or even take a total break for awhile (often to resurface again at some point).

I was going to blog today asking people to think about what they’re proud of. But then I noticed that just a couple of days ago Christine posted a wonderful “Go Team: Find a Win and Celebrate It”. She does that so well that it made me think of the many wins, large and small, that I’ve celebrated through the life of this blog. So many fitness firsts: first 5K, 10K, triathlon, Olympic triathlon, half marathon, around the bay 30K, marathon, bike with clipless pedals, open water swim in a wetsuit, group run, group training in the pool, bike ride with a group, velodrome attempt. I feel good about the wins of pandemic fitness, where it sometimes has felt like an accomplishment just to get out of bed in the morning and make it to a virtual workout.

And I consistently come back to the blog itself and the community around it as a win. Even when I fall to the periphery of the blog team, as I have done in recent years, I count Fit Is a Feminist Issue among the major “wins” in my life and I feel it is worth celebrating every single year. Yay to Fit Is a Feminist Issue on our ninth anniversary, and wishing us many more!

fit at mid-life · fitness · fun · kayak · winter

Dani Donders Has All The Fun: An Interview

Dani Donders is a kayak enthusiast and kicksledder who works for the federal government and lives in Manotick, Ontario with her family.

She is also an excellent role model for how to maximize your fun.

Dani and I have never actually met but we’ve known each other online since our kids were young and we both enjoy trying new things…but only on our own terms.

I have long enjoyed her writing and her photography and I love experiencing her various hobbies from afar. In the past few years, Dani has gotten into two activities that have especially intrigued me – kayaking and kicksledding- and I wanted to know more about them. I thought that the Fit is a Feminist Issue readers would enjoy hearing about them, too.

Thanks for the great interview, Dani!

Small confession: I didn’t know that a kicksled was called a kicksled and my interview questions originally called it a ‘winter slide thingy’ but now I know that it is either called a kicksled or a spark. Yes, I could have left that out of this post but then you wouldn’t get to grin a little at my expense…what’s the fun in that?

A person in a purple winter jacket and black pants stands on a kicksled on a snow-covered winter trail.
There’s Dani, having all the winter fun! Image description: Dani is facing the camera and smiling while standing on her kicksled on a snow-covered path with trees in the background. She has long dark hair and she s wearing a purple jacket, a multi-coloured scarf, and black pants. Her sled is made of a light wood but the treads are black.

What drew you to kicksledding and kayaking? Now that they are part of your regular routine, what do you enjoy about them?


I live on an island in the Rideau River and have pined for a canoe for the 10+ years we lived here, but for some reason I thought I had to get one that I could cram all three kids and both adults into – which would have been very expensive. Now that the kids are older, I felt comfortable buying a kayak and taking the time to go out on my own, away from the family. I’ve always been drawn to water, though. I’ve rented kayaks and canoes and even peddle boats and always loved them. I only wish I’d bought one years ago.


The kicksledding was more random. My friend Annie got one for Christmas, and I loved the idea of it. I’m afraid of falling, so I don’t really like skiing or skating, but I loved the fact that I wasn’t strapped to the kicksled – if I felt it was out of control or going too fast, I could just hop off. It was a bit of an impulse buy, but from the moment I tried it, I loved it. I absolutely love zooming down an icy trail, hugging the edge of being in control. It’s very exhilarating, while being quite safe!

I might have a bit of an obsessive personality, so for both kayaking and the spark, I didn’t just do it once or twice a month. I go out on long adventures on the sled (a 10 km run is my favourite length) and I have paddled more than 300 km so far this year in my kayak. Winter or summer, I’m out doing my favourite activity at least once a week but usually several times each week.

What sorts of physical activities did you do before getting into kayaking, etc?


I had a gym membership, and did hot yoga, but I did not do a lot of outdoor activities. I would say I struggled against being sedentary and am not a very “athletic” person. When I started kayaking last summer and then kicksledding last winter and started spending hours each weekend outdoors, I’d jokingly say, “why didn’t anyone tell me outside was so awesome?” This new-found outdoorsiness is very uncharacteristic for me.

How do your current sport activities contribute to your life?


Especially during the pandemic, both kayaking and kicksledding were enormous stress relievers, and while I go solo most of the time, both lent themselves well to social distancing so were a key form of socializing during the pandemic. What I didn’t expect was how empowering they would be. There’s something that makes me feel like a badass when I can lift my own kayak on top of my car and tie it down and then undo it all and get my kayak in the water by myself. I am actually afraid a lot of the time when I’m kayaking – I don’t like deep water, or seaweed, or bugs, or wide open spaces, and spend a lot of the time when I’m paddling talking myself out of being scared. So that’s empowering, too.


I’ve also gotten enormous peace of mind and stress relief from being physically active. This level of activity is unprecedented in my life. I was a regular but unenthusiastic attendee in the weight room of the local gym, and I did enjoy weekly yoga, but the idea of spending hours outside sweating in -30C temperatures is definitely new for a girl who always considered herself clumsy and unathletic. And it’s made me love my body, for all its softness and pudge, because it’s proven amazingly strong and capable. I used to get aching knees and hips from walking anything more than 5 km, but I can easily paddle 15 km or kicksled 10 km across ice on a winter morning. I would have never imagined I’d be capable of doing that, and I’m really proud of my middle aged body for showing up, if not a little late to the game.

If someone you knew wanted to take up kayaking or kicksledding, how would you advise them to get started?


Both sports have relatively low barriers to entry in that they’re pretty easy to just hop in or on and go. In both cases, there was a cost of about $400 for equipment. I’d recommend anyone who is thinking about it go ahead and get started – one of my only regrets is that I waited as long as I did to get a kayak. Both kayaks and kicksleds are often available locally for rent if someone wanted to try it out before plunking down an impulsive $400 each time like I did. I’m just happy it worked out – both the kayak and the kicksled would have made awkward, expensive paperweights if I happened to not love them as much as I did.

The front of a blue kayak sits on calm water. There is a blue thermos and a half-eaten cookie sitting on the top of a small zippered compartment.
And here’s evidence of some of Dani’s spring fun. She and I share a ‘bring a snack’ philosophy. Image description: The front of Dani’s blue kayak from her perspective. In the foreground is a blue thermos and a chocolate covered cookie with a bite out of it resting on the zippered flap of the kayak’s storage compartment. Beyond the kayak, there is calm water and leafless trees. The trees are reflected in the water.

This blog is called ‘Fit is a Feminist Issue,’ how does the idea of fitness as a feminist issue resonate with you? What meaning does it have for you?


This gets back to the empowerment issue, I think. In both cases, kayaking and kicksledding are activities I do entirely for me, and largely by myself. As a mom to three kids, it’s empowering to carve that space for myself back into my life. I tend to go for excursions very early in the morning so it doesn’t interrupt our other family rhythms too much, but I’ve made taking the time to enjoy these activities a priority in our family routines. I think this teaches the family that it’s okay to do things for yourself, and that taking care of yourself is an act of love.

Is there anything else you would like to add about yourself, your activities, fitness, or feminism and fitness?


Kayaking is a pretty common sport, but the spark is very unusual and my friends all thought it was (might still think it is) pretty weird. I don’t think I’ve ever gone out that someone hasn’t stopped me to comment on it – usually with a smile in response to how much FUN I’m obviously having. So I’d also say don’t be afraid to follow your heart, even if other people think it’s a little unconventional.

I don’t think I’ll ever go back to a conventional gym again. Fitness used to be a chore that I did – going to the gym was important because I know exercise is a big part of a healthy life. What I didn’t realize was that when you find an activity that makes your heart soar, it’s not even remotely a chore. When I’m zooming down an icy trail or paddling up to a turtle sunning itself on a branch, I’m transported with joy and my muscles are just along for the ride. I haven’t been to a gym or done a yoga class in a year, but I’m in the best shape of my life. So whether it’s gardening or ultramarathons, don’t be afraid to try new things (even if you are on the far side of 50 like me) and don’t be afraid to follow an unconventional path.

****************************

See what I mean about Dani as a role model for fun?

Do you have a kayak or a kicksled or do you find your fitness fun in other activities?

feminism · fit at mid-life · fitness

Moving for Me, #podcast

It feels like months ago. Maybe it was. I’ve lost all sense of time in the pandemic. I was interviewed for a new podcast, Peace by Piece.

What’s Peace by Piece all about? “While we don’t always see it, gender-based violence is all around us. At Anova, we believe in a future without violence. But what does a future without violence look like? How do we get there? Peace by Piece is a bi-weekly podcast hosted by Dr. AnnaLise Trudell. In this podcast, we have meaningful and educational conversations with experts and innovators about what makes a world without violence.

In each episode of Peace by Piece, we identify tools and approaches that breakdown gender-based violence, unpack the systems that perpetuate violence, and piece together how we can confront and stop gender-based violence all together.

Episodes range between 45 minutes and an hour and are available on all major podcast listening platforms.”

Here’s their blurb about the episode I’m in,” Tune in to our chat with @SamJaneB, co-founder of @FitFeminists about feminism & how fitness can & should be for everyone, no matter their age, size, gender, or ability! Subscribe and listen on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or visit: http://anovafuture.org/podcast/

aging · fit at mid-life · injury · motivation · running

I Recommitted To Running, But There’s Been A Bump

I want to renew my running vows. I want me and Running to hold hands and skip through a flurry of confetti in great outfits; the way we did back at the beginning of our relationship 25-years ago. 

As some of you know, I did a half-marathon in April (The Half Marathon I’m Dreading). I was not proud of my time. I self-sabotaged. My training was not exemplary. My head was not in the right place. Not the first time. The run made me realize—I love you, running, but I’ve let our relationship go stale. I love you more when we spend quality time together. When I pay more attention. When I push, even a little. When I commit. I have let the inevitable slowdown of age interfere with our joyful communion. Time to do something. 

Early in May, a friend invited me to join her Hood to Coast team. Hood to Coast is a 199-mile (36-leg) relay with teams of between 6-12 members. My partner has done it four times. But with a men’s team. I prevaricated. I said I needed the weekend to decide. I went hiking in Joshua Tree National Park with my partner. Side note: the Mojave Desert is spectacular. I hemmed and hawed. I decided, no. Wednesday, I hit reply to my friend’s invite. Started to type, “I’ve thought about it and I’m not going to join.” Instead I typed, “Sure. Sign me up.” 

What? Where did that come from? I’m a writer. My fingers often come up with words all on their own. But my fingers don’t usually take over decision-making. Sunday night, a few days after I signed up, I told a friend I was upping my game. The strategy of public commitment. My goal: To find the enthusiasm and focus of my years-past beginner’s mind. And at the same time, be mindful of not burdening that focus with performance pressure.   

Monday, I went for the first run with my new Warrior Queen headspace. My IT band hurt so much. I had to abandon my run. 

Aaargh. 

If you run and you have never had IT issues, you are extremely lucky. The iliotibial band is a big tendon running down the side of the leg from pelvic bone, over the hip to the knee. Pain usually manifest on the outside of the knee. In my case, pain is around the hip bone.   

But I’m committed. The Internet of Things delivered recovery plans. There’s time. I dusted my exercise ball.  I can cycle to stay strong. I replaced the exercise band I apparently threw out in a fit of optimism. I’m having fun doing short bursts of strengthening exercises throughout the day. I work at home, which makes that easy.  

So far, I’ve done:

  • squats,
  • single leg squats (a serious balance challenge), 
  • wall sits, 
  • abductor and adductor exercises with the band and ball, 
  • foot and arch strengthening exercises, and
  • a hamstring exercise, which involves lying on the floor, putting my feet on the exercise ball, elevating my hips and then doing repeats of pulling the ball toward me with my heels and pushing it away. The ball is squirrely, so there’s a lot of readjustment in every set. 

I’m also rolling on a trigger point tube. I can feel a big, painful bloop, halfway between my knee and my hip, as I roll over the muscle just behind my IT band. Plus stretching, but lightly. Plus acupuncture. Plus a Traumeel injection.

Silver crown on white background. Ashton Mullins on Unsplash

Fingers crossed; I heal with time to train. Patience. If I don’t heal, I still have my new WQ headspace for other sports and life in general. I feel a particular need for mental-emotional strength, because my new book, Run Like A Girl 365 Days a Year, is coming out in a month (featuring interview material with Samantha and Kim of this fabulous blog!). In one of those poetic convergences of life strands, the book is about the transformative impact of sports in women’s lives, just as I am living many of its questions with this latest injury. So, while I aim at WQ mind, I also know that if I don’t heal in time, I’ll probably be pretty disappointed. It will test my re-commitment. For now, I will ride the wave of renewed intention.

What’s your experience with renewing vows with a sport or other life activity or habit? 

aging · competition · fit at mid-life · running · training

The Half Marathon I’m Dreading

One month ago, I signed up for the Shape Half Marathon in New York on April 14. I haven’t run a regular road half-marathon in about a decade. I do still participate in the occasional trail running event, but some years ago I decided that I’d run enough road races. To compound my dread going in, I knew I wasn’t even going to be able to start training until March 14th(literally only 30 days before the race). Sure, I would be cross-country skiing for the weeks before then, so not out of shape, but certainly not in running form. I only signed up because a friend asked me to. The race is on her birthday, so … Before I could second guess myself, I registered.

Well, I’m remembering why I don’t do road races anymore. My head. My head. My head. I know I’ll be slower than my last half-marathon, yet I don’t want to know. I’m aging. I didn’t start running seriously until I was in my late 20s. It took me a while to find my strength. Which means that I had the good feeling of beating my younger self until I was well into my forties. Not so anymore.  A lot of days I don’t think anything of my generally slower pace. When I’m not training for a race, I’m able to think: How lucky am I to still be running? How good does it feel to travel on my own two legs? How strong am I? But these days, when I’m out for a training run, I think: Why am I so slow? Why am I so tired? Where’s my spring? Where’s my lightness? My zip? 

Pile of old wooden wall clocks, by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

The looming race screws with my sense of self-worth. My mind turns on me and I can’t access my gratitude. Sigh. There’s no joy in the training. Thank you, Sam, for pointing out earlier this week thatwe are not always going to have fun in our workouts. Though I want, as Tracy pointed out, to have some kid-like funwith my body. I am not having fun with this training. I’m having frustration and self-recrimination instead. 

Also, I did not ease into my training. I decided that with only a month to train, I’d start with a 14-mile run. You don’t need to tell me how ridiculous that was. Plus, I wore not just new running shoes, but a new kind of running shoe I’d not tried before. So smart. Turns out the new shoe style did something nasty to my calf, which has taken a full two weeks to almost heal. Two weeks during which I continued to run haphazardly, because how could I not do at least four 2-hour runs before the race? More like 2-hour lopsided slogs through a haze of discomfort. Last week I was only able to run once after my long run, because my body was in pain and exhausted. And I’m not even sure that my “long” run was actually a long distance, because I was in Illinois, running somewhere unfamiliar, and I don’t track distances. All I know is that I was running for more than 2 hours; who knows how far or not far. 

You get the picture. I’ve done a lot wrong to prepare for this race. I might have done better to rest for the full month and then run on the day in my old, familiar running shoes. Am I self-obstructing so I have an excuse (other than time and years) for a poor result? And by “poor” I just mean relative to my own past results.

I’m writing this with 10 days to go before the race. Here’s where I’m at: I know I can run 13.1 miles. That’s not the challenge. The real obstacle is my thinking. I’m competing with my younger self and that’s a losing battle. I need to make the mind shift. As one of the guided meditations I often listen to asks, “If I am not this body, who am I?” Or, I could just keep being disappointed in my physical self for the whole rest of my life (!). But that doesn’t seem like a wise choice. I know that how I think and what I think are choices. That’s step one. Step two is actually implementing that knowledge. 

So hard. Working on it! 

Anyone else slowing down? I’d love your thoughts and insights on how you’ve come to peace with the new normal.  

femalestrength · fit at mid-life · fitness · habits

Some things that make me feel great about my body (this year)

This week I’m super busy and super-stressed about being super busy. But, I am also feeling pretty good body-wise. That is, I’ve been doing more activity and more types of activities that have gotten me out of my winter movement doldrums. Infusing my physical life with some novelty has been refreshing; it’s almost like spring has come early. Well, almost…

Sam posted about some of us trying new things, and for me it’s not over yet; more new things may be in the offing. Stay tuned to the blog for details.

Last year this time I posted about 6 things that make me feel great about my body. I’d like to update the list to reflect what’s happening this year.

Yoga is sill on the list, definitely. Last year I wrote this:

Hanging out in downward facing dog or wide legged forward bend, I feel strong, stretched out, grounded, engaged with my muscles.  In shavasana (corpse pose for resting on the mat at the end of class) I connect with the floor, feeling my limbs and back and head and belly all sink into relaxation and stillness.  And when I get up to leave I feel grateful for the body I have.

Last summer I discovered yin yoga, and it’s added enormously to my enjoyment of yoga, my enjoyment of my body in stillness, and my enjoyment of my body stretching and experiencing shifts from that stretching. I love it.

I also wrote last year that I loved primping and poufing and prettifying myself from time to time, especially focusing on my hair. This year, I’d say I’m not so into that. I do like wearing clothing that feels comfortable, sleek, with pretty colors, and accessorized with more color. What I want more this year is comfort and ease in the clothing on my body.

Walking was on my list last year. But in September 2018, I sprained my ankle, and was in physical therapy for a long time. I’m a lot better, but these days am preferring the gym or the yoga studio to loads of walking. Paying attention to where I still need more healing seems like not a bad thing. Also, working on strength and flexibility through different exercises is where my happy place is (for now).

Cycling was and is and will always be on my list of things that make me feel good physically. But these days I’m letting myself spend more time on other activities before turning to cycling more. Now that spring is here and temps are rising, I’ll be outside on two wheels a lot. It’s been a nice change of pace, however, to try out other ways to move and work my body.

A new addition this year has been weight training. I’m still in the early stages of working with a trainer, but so far I love it– working with free weights feels elemental and pure. I really enjoy how I can tune in to my body when deadlifting, benching, etc. I am still in the process of putting it in place in regular rotation, but I’m getting there.

Finally (and I’m not putting out a content warning, but I will talk about my eating here):

I have had to change some of my eating habits because of a health problem (I had pancreatitis recently). This different way of eating in response to and because of that diagnosis has resulted in my feeling a lot better than I had in a long time. I’ll blog about this sometime, complete with content warning. But for now, let me just say that some health-enforced changes have resulted in my body feeling a lot better. Yay!

Are you doing anything that is making you feel luscious, yummy, energized, comforted, serene, on fire, ready for anything? Let us know– we’d love to hear it.

Two pairs of legs in blue tights intermingled-- I don't know what activity this is, but it seems like a happy image, so here you go.
Two pairs of legs in blue tights intermingled– I don’t know what activity this is, but it seems like a happy image, so here you go.
femalestrength · fit at mid-life · fitness · Martha's Musings · motivation · training · weight lifting

Fostering resilience through fitness

By MarthaFitat55

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Image shows a small fire surrounded by stones in the woods. In the background, a person wearing jeans and a plaid shirt holds a small branch. Photo by Jenelle Hayes on Unsplash

Every day I find myself using something I learned in my almost ten years with the Guiding movement.

While I might not ever go camping in the woods again by choice, should I land there, I know how to build shelter and fire and how to find water. I use my map reading and orienteering skills when I travel; I am conscious of my footprint on the earth and what I need to do to take care of it.

With my Brownie pack and my Girl Guide company, I learned to be part of a team, to solve problems jointly, and to respect others and their gifts. I learned to set goals, to acquire new skills, and to cultivate resilience and strength in myself and others.

I am grateful to the fabulous women who gave their time to support us girls in growing up to become competent, committed, and engaged members of our society.

Today is Thinking Day and I am reminded of what a great space for girls and young women the Guiding world is to learn some practical skills. And this reminds me that I have found or built other spaces where I can continue to grow and develop.

Like the gym. Not the gym of my childhood though. That place was fraught with stress and fear, the kind that is negative and immobilizing. While I know my gym of today can sometimes cause me stress (hello, wonky hip) and a little fear (goodbye Jacob’s ladder), it’s the good kind of stress and fear.

Photo by Meghan Holmes on Unsplash
Image shows a gym with green carpet and grey tile. In the background, a person moves ropes while another does pushups. Photo by Meghan Holmes on Unsplash

The gym is a place for me where I can build the skills that will make me strong, and I hope, keep me that way for a very long time.

The gym is a place where I can push myself to try new things. And it’s a place, when things don’t work, I can try again, or figure out a way to do it differently.

The gym is a place where I learn how marvelous our bodies are: for the things they do naturally and the things they don’t and the things we may need to re-learn how to do all over again.

For me, the gym has become a place of opportunity and a place where I value physical strength, in the same way being in Guides developed and supported others kinds of strength.

How about you? What does the gym mean to you (if you go to one)? What are the other places where you grow and support resilience and strength through fitness?

MarthaFitat55 is a writer lifting all the things, physical and mental.

aging · fit at mid-life · fitness · monthly check in

54

Today’s my birthday. I was going to do a big reflective post like I did last year.  Turns out, last year I  was full of gratitude for my life.

I still am.

But I don’t feel quite as reflective.  I’m good.  It’s February, and I am tired, and I’m still recovering from the flu.  But… I’m good.

I got home at 7 pm last night, and was super tired, but I went out for a short run and pondered what it means to be 54.  And I realized that 54 is really mid-life.  The things I’ve been working toward for decades — intentionally and just by wandering through my life — have come together. I am known for what I do, and I’m doing harder, better, more challenging and far-reaching work than ever before.  I’m on the edge of seeing the end of a volunteer development project with kids in Uganda I’ve been working on for 12 years.  I have the resources to have a home I love and to do all the travel I want.  I got serious about saving for my future a few years ago and don’t feel quite as panicked as I once did. I have the perfect cats. I have community and family I know and trust and care for.  My body moves the way I want it to, most of the time. I like my shoulder and calf muscles. I can do 108 sun salutations and ride 100 km. I have history and experience, and I’m living the fruits of that.

And the middle means… being stretched by aging and waning on one end, aging that just is, isn’t mindset or a construct, but just is.  My fingers are knobbled with arthritis that wasn’t there two years ago — I catch sight of my finger poking at my phone sometimes and am taken aback.  How is that my finger? That is an old person finger!  I’m fatigued, often — by unrelenting menopause, and disrupted sleep, and just less physical resilience than I used to have.  I had the flu in January and briefly caught sight of what it means to be frail and to live alone and to have your sink back up when you’re fighting a fever of more than 39.  I can feel hints of fragility and physical limits — and these are new.

And at the same time — 54 means still being tugged at by novelty, and adventure, and possibilities.  I still haven’t written all of the things that are in me, or learned swahili, and I know there are stories of who I am that haven’t unfolded yet.  There are chapters to be lived I haven’t even imagined yet, people to be loved and known I haven’t met yet, oceans to bob in and coasts to walk and roads to ride on.

54 is knowing myself. Knowing that even though I was tired when I got home last night, what my body and soul needed was a run from home to Coxwell and back. It’s knowing that I’ll sleep better and feel more satisfied in my soul if I scrub the kitchen before bed. It’s having a trusted spidey sense about what’s the right thing to do for myself — whether that’s yep, I need to do this work right now, there’s no other time to do it, or yep, yoga is what my body needs right now, not a spinning class, or yep, this is the right person to go on this date with, or yep, this is a good time to have a glass of wine. Or knowing that I am going to have a complete sugar crash that will mess with my life if I eat this brownie at this moment in time — and I don’t eat the brownie. It’s a knowing that comes with deep listening to myself, to what has unfolded because of the choices I’ve made in my life.

At 54, some pathways are off the table.  I’m not going to go to med school, or have a baby, or a 25th wedding anniversary, or, with this body and its various aches and vulnerabilities, run another marathon. Some things, you just time out of. And part of being 54 is being okay with that, in a way I wouldn’t have been five years ago.

For me, 54 is more about stretching myself more fully into the spaces I already know I love — rather than taking big leaps in new directions.  It’s getting better at the work I already do, and stretching into new niches. It’s embracing my role as Auntie Cate, for my own nieces and with various other people who wander into my life. It’s knowing that traveling alone truly feeds me in ways nothing else does — and finding every possible option to do that.  It’s going deep into yoga and shaping myself into forms I’ve never even seen before.

Like this one, from my Iyengar class on Wednesday.

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I don’t even know what that’s called — some kind of advanced fish pose. It was… exhilarating, opening in new ways. We spent about 45 minutes of that class in various forms of trikonasana.  It was intense, and hard, and focused.  And my body found new alignment, new edges.

That’s what 54 is.  Joy in going deep and full into the self I already am.

I’ll take it.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives, works and practices yoga in Toronto.  She likes to count things, and notes that this is her 90th post for Fit is a Feminist Issue.

 

aging · fit at mid-life · fitness · Martha's Musings · menopause · walking · weight lifting

Menopause, memory and fitness

By MarthaFitAt55

 

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Picture shows a paved highway shrouded in fog. Photo credit: Katie Moum on Unsplash

Last week SamB shared an interesting article from the New York Times discussing the brain fog of menopause. I was mightily relieved to read the article. Like the subject of the article, I once enjoyed a wonderful memory, and in recent times, I was dismayed to discover it had left me.

 

To learn there is a link between brain fog and menopause offers me hope. Over the past five years I have been actively working on improving my fitness. I have found yoga to be quite useful in helping me loosen up my ligaments. I have found swimming to be excellent at working my hip joints. My trainer creates programs that are diverse, work different parts, and are usually fun to do.

The challenge has been remembering how the strength exercises work. Despite the fact I have been doing a hip abductor stretch for five years, I never remember which arm goes up with which knee. Or she’ll say let’s do (insert name of exercise I’ve done multiple times) and all I remember is “blah, blah arms” or “blah, blah glutes.” What I do with the arms or my glutes is a mystery and I wait expectantly for my trainer to fill in my all too frequent blanks.

For awhile there, I was feeling quite stupid about not being able to remember an exercise from one week to another. Or I could remember someting I learned more than two decades earlier, but couldn’t recall a simple piece of information several hours after learning it.

Brain fog, or more properly termed “menopause-related cognitive impairment,” in women is disconcerting. We are responsible for many things: appointments, processes at home and at work, information, data. When you are used to being able to manage all the little bits in life without much effort, it can become worrisome when you lose that facility.

Luckily severe cases of brain fog can be managed with a short course of hormone therapy. However, if that’s not suitable, here something that can help: more exercise!

According to a report published last spring by Harvard Health, regular exercise can rewire your brain and help improve your cognitive skills and your recall. Plus regular exercise can help you sleep better, which also helps maintain your cognitive abilities and keep your mood elevated.

The good news is that cardio exerise really helps; the bad news is that strength training does not. However that doesn’t mean you need to ditch the weights. Variety in exercise offers you benefits in different areas and you don’t get bored doing the same thing over and over.

Right now I’m going to keep focused on my workout plan, I am not going to stress myself out over the need for repetition in instruction, and I will add in a couple of extra walks to keep the blood flowing to my brain as well as my feet. I will also celebrate the small wins like remembring when it is my turn to post!

— Martha is a powerlifter who lives and writes in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador.