What makes a good spinning class?

(This post has a soundtrack.  Click here or go to mixcloud.com and search George Chaker. Click any of the spinning mixes and play it while you read).


Spinning that feels like a dance party.  That’s George, at Torq ride.  I’ve been spinning, off and on, for about 18 years, and I recently discovered George.  He’s a DJ and a fitness guy and probably my favourite spinning instructor I’ve ever had.  He has just the right blend of presence, push and trust in the class.  George starts out moving fast and it just gets faster. No pauses, very little recovery of any kind.  But I do it and leave the class feeling incredible. Here’s what happens in my head when I’m in one of George’s classes:

I like the dark… that music is fantastic … RPMs not at 85, go harder, find the beat of the music, push harder, those watts are climbing…135… 149… 187… 201… reach harder… 210 … 201… 202… this is crazy but my body is keeping up… are my knees okay?   The guy next to me is keeping time by beating his hand on his handlebars… he’s so into it… up out of the saddle — form… 3 position, core, form… music …pedal harder… 35 km/hr… 241 watts… 30 second push… 335 watts… tension off, keep pedalling, stay at 85…That guy next to me is moaning… how is it george pushes us like this.  this was a terrible class to forget to grab a towel — my hands are slipping off the bars… use your shirt… everything is slidey… everything feels strong and breathless.. 5 more minutes… one more push… 334… oof… that guy is moaning again…push push push omg that felt so good 


This photo depicts a row of barely visible people on spinning bikes in a dimly lit room.

50 minutes pass and I’m working in the hardest zone possible for the whole time.  I hop off the bike, stretch, dripping sweat.  I wash my hands, leave the studio and check my phone, clicking my email to get my performance numbers.

Screen Shot 2017-03-25 at 3.44.00 PM.png

That’s a good spinning class, 50 minutes that feel like a dance party, where you actually sing out loud with the ironic dance mix of You are my Sunshine at the end of the class.

I had a class this week that was the opposite.  I won’t name the teacher, but the music was mediocre and played too loudly, and she kept shouting instructions over the music that I could never actually make out. Here’s what I was thinking in her class:

I hate it when the teacher frames the class as “you’re going to hate me” — I want to be on a team with the teacher, not set up to hate my own sense of movement. Why is she pressuring us to hit these watts right out of the gate — this is actually hurting my knees.  She’s a much bigger person than I am — does she think someone my size can actually do that?  That music is so loud it hurts my ears.  What the hell is she shouting now? How long is this push supposed to be?  Or is this a sprint?  Where is the torq stick supposed to be?  How much longer in this stupid class?  Shit we’re only 15% done.  I’ll just click the stage button so I can’t actually see how much time has elapsed… that music is so loud it’s actually damaging my hearing… fuck, what would happen if I just stopped right now… how much longer… can I still count this as a workout if I stop after 30 minutes… were we supposed to end that segment with the end of that song?  She’s not really keeping track. Oof my knees hurt, why is my foot all twitchy?  Fuck 5 more minutes, I can hang on.

Here’s the thing:   on the numbers, I actually hit similar levels in her class as George’s. But the experience of being in George’s class leaves me euphoric, completely present to the ecstasy of driving music and moving my body in unison with 25 other sweating, pushing people in the dark.  We’re together, and strong.  I believe I can do anything and I push for it. It doesn’t feel like an “exercise class” — it feels like deeply grappling with my strength and a deep pleasure and what’s possible.


This photo is a sandwich board with the message PUSH: Persist Until Something Happens

And so, I go back. And I get stronger.

Spinning doesn’t need to be a spiritual experience.  I have some deep skepticism about things like Soul Cycle,  which claims to “change lives,” not just bodies.  Torq is inspiration-lite, the sandwich board outside the only real “messaging.”

But every instructor has a philosophy that seeps through. The ones that don’t work for me?  Now you can go to brunch and have a mimosa with a clear conscience… This will make up for going out for St. Patrick’s day… You’re going to hate me…

The ones that work?  Like George, they’re about strength and being in your body.  Use this class to get out the stuff that’s bugging you.  Find your own road and dig just a little deeper.  We’re all doing this together — you can push each other just a little harder.  

Some instructors let you dig deeper than others.  And in a week where I’m in my head way too much, where I am in charge of too many things, putting myself on a bike and letting George create the soundscape and rhythm for my life for an hour takes me somewhere important.

cate new hairFieldpoppy is Cate Creede, a regular contributor to the blog. (Look for her the second Friday of every month).  She lives in Toronto, where she is a strategic change consultant and educator working mostly in healthcare spaces.  She also blogs at fieldpoppy.wordpress.com.


6 things that make me feel great about my body

women of different sizes and colors and abilities, dressed as wonder woman

1) Yoga

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. Here’s one of my posts on trying ropes yoga. Kim wrote about yoga here. And of course, Tracy reconnected with yoga on the beach here.

And then there’s the post about doing 366 days of yoga in a row.

2) Reading Natalie’s posts

Oh the body positive posts from Natalie always always make me smile and then shake my head slightly and say to myself “maybe I can be like this sometime”.  It’s impossible to pick a favorite (there are so many!), but here are a few to revisit:

Belly patrolling

why I hate going to the doctor (but go anyway)

big arms and making bread

3) Sex with myself

There’s nothing like ordering up an orgasm when you’re feeling off kilter (or not).  The fact that my body does this super nice thing for me also makes me smile.  And it clears the cobwebs and is relaxing.  I wrote more about it here.

4) Engaging in some manner of primping or poufing or attention to some part of me that I want to prettify

For me it’s my hair:  I get color, highlights, keratin, cuts,  blow dry and flat iron from time to time, and I feel (and I might add look) marvelous.  Some people attend to nails, or body ink, or piercings, or shoes (love the witchy Fluevogs, Sam!).  Or something else.  These are nice ways to feel pretty or boss or bad ass or however you want.

Here’s where you can get a look at one of the pairs of Sam’s fabulous Fluevog pointy-toed dancing shoes and her festive sparkly outfit.

5) Walking

On the beach, in the woods, around my neighborhood, on the university campus where I work, downtown in the city.  I feel purposeful, in control of speed and effort,  entertained by whatever’s happening around me, and aware of what’s doing well and not so well for me at that moment.  Walking gives me time to check in with my self, and it always always works.

Here’s a guest post on walking as a feminist act.

6) cycling on my own or with friends on a mellow ride

Cycling is my primary exercise love, and it soothes me and challenges me and revives me and exhausts me. That is, cycling is life to me. These days I’ve felt more challenged by it because of lower fitness and accompanying fears. But I got a new bike– see my post here.

And I’m also making plans for riding—alone, and with others. I’m seriously thinking about doing the one-day PWA ride with Sam and crew. See more info here.  All in all, the year is shaping up nicely for upcoming riding.

What makes you feel good about your body? We’d really like to know.









A love letter to my bike, and others

Sam gave it away on Facebook this week: today’s post is about my time at bike camp in Table Rock State Park, South Carolina. We got back a week ago today, and man, do I ever wish I was still there.


A view of the southern Appalachians from the top of Caesar’s Head in South Carolina. The skies are unsettled, cloudy and grey; the mountains are blue-grey. There is a lookout and a tree in the near right distance.

The riding was really hard and really fun, and as I predicted in my post last month, I was ready and managed some (for me) good finishes. I’ve got goals for next year, and absolutely, I’m already planning to head back (maybe even in the fall, by myself… stay tuned).

Susan reminded us recently, though, that the bunch of us who contribute regularly in this space have a tendency to toot the old horn. Not that this is a problem – women, own your awesomeness, PLEASE! – but it is sometimes, I suspect, a bit much. Maybe a little bit smug. Because fitness and athletics is all about failure, as well as success. You can’t have one without the other.

I didn’t have any epic fails at camp, but I did have a few moments when I got hit, hard, with the reminder that being on my bike is not about anything more than being on my bike. That’s enough. And women, is it ever glorious and powerful! Just to be able to do this wonderful thing called riding my bike when I want to.

I wanted to share three of these small, but precious, moments with you.

On our first day, my group (“B”) rode up Paris mountain, near Traveller’s Rest (a groovy suburb of Greenville. GOOD COFFEE!). It was my first mountain ride in a while – even though by mountain standards Paris is a bit small (20 minutes to the top, give or take). But on this day, the snow had fallen early in the morning, and it was still clinging to the branches at the upper elevations as I rode into the clouds. Blossoms and snow… it reminded me of time I spent in Japan, and felt quiet and magical as I moved through it. I stopped breathing heavily; I slowed my pace a bit so my heart rate could catch up with the scenery. I wished I could stop to take a photo but was pretty sure that would mean I couldn’t start up again… so I just drank it in. That was, I think, the right call – even though we didn’t get the chance for snaps at the top because The Law was chasing us down… apparently, at the summit, we were trespassing on state property!


This photo shows the sun shining through evergreens, which sport snow on their branches. It’s from Paris Mountain, but I did not take it. 

On day three, we all did the Caesar’s Head climb. Caesar’s is the big challenge in the area, and I was geared up for it. My time was 48:02 according to Strava – maybe a little slower than I’d dreamed, but better than I’d hoped. We stopped for photos at the top this time (state park! Public access!), and enjoyed the accomplishment and the view.

That evening, I got a text from my ex husband and still very close friend, J. His step-mom had died while we were climbing. We were prepared for this, but the timing was a painful gift. As I was celebrating my strength – my love of my bike, and all the things I can do with my powerfully-aging, middle-aged body – she was slipping away.

I knew then that I needed to enjoy every minute on my bike from now on, and love it more than ever.

On our last day we climbed to the eastern continental divide, before getting packed up and heading home. I was, I confess, anxious to get on the road; we had 12+ hours of driving ahead of us and I really, really wanted to get back for Saturday, to clean the house, shop for groceries… Until I started climbing and swooping past the small communities on our way.

This was another magical climb: through clusters of trailers, shacks, and other makeshift spaces built into the mountains and valleys, every inch cozy homes. I slowed to enjoy them. I sped up to catch the others in my group. Then I slowed again, just taking the stillness, the loveliness, all in. Eventually Amy, one of my occasional riding friends from LonON, caught up to me; she’s a stellar athlete and climber. We chatted; I then pulled ahead to catch another rider, Derek, who was driving home with me. When we reached the divide, I was sure I’d posted a solid time.


This photo shows me next to the sign that reads “Eastern Continental Divide: elevation 2694 feet”. I am wearing a pink Castelli riding cap, my riding glasses, and my green helmet. I am sort-of-smiling; when I take selfies I always think I am smiling but that’s not always actually true.

I was wrong. My continental divide climb was objectively terrible; I was near the bottom, on Strava, on all the segments. UGH!

But subjectively – for me – it was glorious. Some of it hurt, but mostly it was magical (like Paris), a ride through a dream of quiet, utterly spellbinding landscapes. So I’ve decided not to care at all that Strava tells me I did shit on this particular ride. Because what I felt on this ride Strava cannot capture. And because what I did on this ride was not for Strava, anyway.

It was for Norma, god bless her, and her loving family.

It was for Ruby, my beloved bike and constant companion.

It was for me.



The Future of Climbing: Meet Ashima Shiraishi

Image is a colour head host of Ashima, wearing a black and white striped hoodie. She has dark straight hair tied back into a pony tail with bangs, dark eyes, and is looking into the camera with a closed mouth smile.

Image is a colour head shot of Ashima, wearing a black and white striped hoodie. She has dark straight hair tied back into a pony tail with bangs, dark eyes, and is looking into the camera with a closed mouth smile.

Earlier this week I attended the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour.  I saw eight different films and the one that blew me away the most was called Young Guns. The film, by Reel Rock Films, introduces the future of climbing. From the production company’s website:

Meet the new faces of climbing: 15-year-old Ashima Shiraishi and 16-year-old Kai Lightner are the leaders of the next generation, already taking the sport to the next level. A trip to Norway puts their skills to the test, and Ashima attempts to make history on a V15 boulder in Japan.

Both Ashima and Kai are impressive, but I was absolutely riveted by Ashima’s story. She’s unbelievably amazing to watch as she does apparently impossible things. At age 15 she is one of the most impressive and accomplished climbers in the world. Her father is a retired dancer. Perhaps it’s in the genes because Ashima applies the grace of a dancer to her astonishing climbing style. I know nothing about climbing but there’s no denying that she’s outstanding.

I recommend Young Guns. If you ever get a chance to see Ashima Shiraishi do anything, take it.

Here’s a link to the teaser.

Fit is a Feminist Issue, Link Round Up #85

This is where we share stuff we can’t share on Facebook page for fear of being kicked out! Read why here. Usually the posts are about body image, sometimes there’s nudity but we’re all adults here. Right?

Target’s Swimwear Ads Are Photoshop-Free
It’s nearly beach season and, with that impending dream of warmer weather, Target debuted its latest swim campaign. The ad is filled with models who represent a wide range of ethnicities and body types. What’s more? The images are also fully unretouched, showing off each girl’s gorgeous curves and stretch marks in all their glory. In other words: It’s Target’s most empowering ad campaign yet.

Naked Mannequin Photographer Banned from Facebook

A Canadian photographer has been banned from Facebook after criticism over her photos of naked women posing behind a mannequin. Julia Busato insists she won’t let the ban stop her, even though she says it’s putting her livelihood at risk. The photos have been shared more than 200,000 times and Julia says women are still asking to join the series.But the images haven’t been welcomed by everyone and Julia says she was banned after some Facebook users reported her.

We Decided To Re-Create Iconic Playboy Covers And Here’s What Happened

You miiiight have heard of Playboy. It's a magazine that's been around for a gobsmacking 63 years!



Running in heels, yes, but why?

I finally saw Hidden Figures last night and loved it. What a great movie.

There’s lots worth noting. I was struck by how much bathroom discrimination and having a place to pee matters, and how long explicit racial discrimination in the workplace and in schools lasted in the United States.

I also hadn’t realized that computing machines weren’t around in the first days of the space race. I hadn’t imagined that it would even be possible to do those kinds of mathematical calculations, so many of them, with just human head and human hand, no machines. I feel silly for not having thought about the technology timeline in that way before.

I hadn’t known that “computer” once referred to a job description for a person. And I hadn’t known that African Americans did this job in something like a segregated computing pool.

So I learned a lot and loved the movie.

But putting all of this aside, I was also struck by all the footage of women running in heels. The African American women  had to run miles across the NASA campus to get to the bathrooms for “coloured people” and NASA’s dress code mandated that they do it in heels. Why did they have to run? Limited time for breaks, distance, job security, and the space race.


However, unlike other Hollywood movies Hidden Figures didn’t make running in heels look easy.

The one time I decided to run home from a party while wearing shoes with heels, in a “sprightly fashion” according to friends (why is another story, for another time) I ditched the shoes and carried them. Luckily there wasn’t any glass on my route.

So it’s not that I never wear heels but I am opposed to anyone having to wear them. The shocking thing about this recent news item, Canadian province considers banning high heel requirement for women in workplaces, for many people was the idea that employers could dictate heel height as the law currently stands.

Big boots, little boots

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I like to be able to run in the shoes that I wear. I can run in my McKinlay boots from Dunedin (above) and I can run in my “aggressively unfashionable” Dansko clogs. I can’t run in my witchypoo Fluevog shoes but I can dance in them and that’s good enough.

New Year's Eve shoe decision

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Why do I care about running when I am not wearing running shoes? There are a lot of reasons. Safety, sure. I want to be able to run away from people. But that’s not even the reason that comes first. I also like to run if I’m late: for coffee, for meetings, for buses, whatever..

Running keeps me warm in the winter. I often run to my office from remote parking just to keep my fingers from freezing off.

Some people, of course, can run in heels. They even make an event of it. But not me.

And men do it too.

Why I hired a running coach

Image description: Stopwatch in a white woman's hand with her thumb on the top button. The silver watch has a white face with black and red numbers and a smaller dial indicating minutes within the larger face indicating seconds. It is in the foreground against a background of blue sky and white wispy clouds.

Image description: Stopwatch in a white woman’s hand with her thumb on the top button. The silver watch has a white face with black and red numbers and a smaller dial indicating minutes within the larger face indicating seconds. It is in the foreground against a background of blue sky and white wispy clouds.

If you’re a regular reader of the blog you know I’m often switching things up. I also like to work with coaches and trainers. It keeps me motivated and accountable and helps me get stronger, faster. My latest switch-up is that I have taken a break from triathlon after deciding to quite the bike.

That means I’ve also taken a hiatus from swimming. I would keep swimming but lately I can’t seem to do the 6 a.m. thing and the triathlon swim is so popular that I felt bad taking up a spot that I hardly used.

So that leaves running, weight training, and yoga. I’m working with a personal trainer already for my resistance training and I’m all good with the hot yoga. Since the Key West Half Marathon, I’ve been training for the Around the Bay two-person relay. Two years ago I did the ATB 30K, and that was just a bit much for me. So I gave it a miss last year. But the two-person relay sounds do-able, at only 15K per person. Julie is running anchor and I’m starting out. Anita is running it too with Violetta as her anchor person.

My friend Linda is an amazing runner, personal besting still at age 68. She is a coach and trainer (you can find her at Master the Moments), so I met with her about my ATB plans and shared my goal of wanting to get faster. I’ve been wanting to get faster for some time now. But I confess that I am guilty of what Linda calls being a “one pace wonder.” I don’t have a enough varied paces in my training.

Linda’s training schedules for me have dealt with the OPW phenomenon, with a mix of interval drills for speed work, tempo runs at a steady pace, and easy distance runs. She based my recommended pace times (which vary depending on the type of run) on my race times at various distances.  No matter what type of training run I’m doing on a given day, the pace is always a bit uncomfortable. For the intervals and tempos it’s a bit of a harder push than I’m used to. For the longer, easier runs, Linda is sometimes recommending a slower pace than I’m used to. That can also be a challenge.

I’ve enjoyed working with a coach who outlines a new plan for me every two weeks with my goal race in mind. Linda has a positive and encouraging attitude and it’s good to have someone rooting for me and checking with me regularly. It also keeps me accountable and motivated.

It’s hard to know if I’m actually getting faster. I’ve so far not done the recommended runs perfectly as recommended, so it’s not clear that they’re having the desired impact on my speed.  But I plan to keep working with the plans Linda has given me after Around the Bay until I start seeing actual results.

I think it was last summer that I was going to concentrate on my 10K time. But it didn’t really come to much. This summer I’ll give it another go. I would love to be able to get my 10K to an hour. When ATB is over (It’s on Sunday), I’ll meet with Linda to discuss new goals and get new plans to help me meet them.

In short, I like working with a running coach because it motivates me, gives me training plans that are designed to achieve specific purposes, and keeps me more accountable. It’s also nice to be encouraged and pushed to do more or work harder than I would on my own (which is always the way with me — I never work as hard on my own as I do when I have a trainer or a coach).

How about you? Do you work with a coach for any of your sports? Why?