competition · Guest Post · race report · racing

Moving around (Guest post)

By Şerife Tekin

    Exercise was not a regular part of my life until my early 20s. Not because I did not like being active, it was simply not an opportunity or privilege afforded to the kids of middle income families in the 1990s Turkey. I was able to swim, however, in the summers, and I felt so at HOME in the Aegean waters.  I discovered running as a young adult during my MA in a super cold city in Western Canada (Saskatoon!) thanks to my roommate K and continued to run on and off during my PhD in Toronto. Loved running around the Lake Ontario: was as close as I could get to the Aegean.

    I never considered myself an athlete though, because (i) I wasn’t particularly fast nor ambitious enough to get faster, (ii) I mostly ran solo, so was not part of a “team spirit”, and (iii) I ran so that I could write: I never ran for running’s sake. I grew the habit of drafting my papers, and then eventually my dissertation during these long runs. My love of running complemented my love of writing. It was during those years that I read Murakami’s “What I Talk About When I talk About Running” so many times. 

    I trained for and finished my first ever half marathon when I was 29 with a beloved Toronto friend a few months before I finished my PhD. I was 29. Fast forward 10 years: Moved 5 more times in 10 years (academic job market!!!), went through several episodes of back pain exacerbated by a combination of cold weather, job market stress, sitting long hours on horrible chairs to write. I continued to run on and off, even did half marathons with my students, but never dared to call myself a runner. I also started spinning at indoors with my friend A: Spinning kept us warm and cozy during the epic snowpocalypses of Buffalo. I always wanted to incorporate running and cycling into my daily routine and start swimming but the perpetually cold weather, pre-tenure grind, and the intermittent back and knee problems were not particularly helpful. 

    Things have finally changed for the better when I moved to San Antonio: Even before my fly out for my job interview I knew everything about the UTSA’s gorgeous heated outdoor pool and how warm the city stays in the winter! I got the job. Within first few months of moving down, I started biking in the gorgeous trails that lace around the city and took lessons to improve my swim. My swim coach introduced me to the UTSA triathlon club and Paragon Training and for the first time in my life I started regularly training with a super supportive team of athletes from different walks of life under the leadership of my inspiring coach Mark Saroni. It was January 2019. It was a humbling start, I felt like I was constantly trying to catch my breath during the swims, and just “wanted to die” during the 5k run time trials. To my surprise, however, I did start feeling like an athlete even though I was and still am constantly struggling. Overall, I had more energy. I was a lot happier. I made great friends which was SO welcome because moving – yet again— to a new city in mid-life is NOT easy even for social butterflies like me.

    I did my first Sprint Triathlon at the end of September in a cute Texas Hill Country town. Not only was I able to finish, I also got pretty good results. Most importantly I had so MUCH fun. I loved the high energy nature of the sprint triathlon; I loved how focused I was during the race: just one breath, one stroke, one pedal, one step at a time. After the race, I started training more. 

    Today I raced the running only component of Texas Tough Duathlon which is put on by the UTSA’s triathlon team (go Runners!!) and Paragon Training. Caveat: there were NOT that many runners, but the course was super hilly and I broke a PR – 8.43/mile – and won the first place among women. I am so happy and proud of how far I have come.  After having moved around all years, literally and figuratively, I am happy to have found a community that moves around with me to “suffer faster,” in our coach Mark’s words. What I learned from fellow athletes is that you start planning your next race the second you are done with one: For me, it is a Half Ironman, for which I shall start training once I get tenure.

Şerife Tekin is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Medical Humanities at UTSA. When she is not moving around she can be found petting her kitty cat Cortez. Her website is www.serifetekin.com.

fitness · Guest Post · meditation · rest

Float Therapy: supposedly good for your well-being (Guest post)

For my latest birthday a friend gave me a coupon to try “float therapy.” I hadn’t heard of that before (even though as I just learned, Cate blogged about it over THREE years ago). It reminded me of the “tranquility tanks” from the eighties (I think it was the eighties). You may remember those sensory deprivation tanks where you would float for an hour in dark silence. Now it’s called “R.E.S.T. (Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy),” because, you know, everything in these days of wellness is “therapy” of one kind or another.

It didn’t appeal to me then. And I wasn’t so sure it appealed to me now (claustrophobia!). But when I checked the website I saw that you could book either a room or a pod. They seemed aware of the possibility that people might have claustrophobia, so they suggested that first timers try the slightly more spacious room over the pod.

Image description: float room, shallow tub that spans the full length and width of the room, pictured here with low blue lights and a side handle for getting out of tub.
Image description: float pod with lid open, dim blue light inside, set in a room with a chair with towels on it and a small table.

It’s supposed to be totally relaxing because you’re floating in a shallow pool where the water has over 1000 pounds of epsom salts in it (more salt density than the Dead Sea) and that means you effortlessly float. Once in your floating position you’re in a zero gravity state, and that’s supposed to relieve your muscles, central nervous system, and spine of their usual load, thus alleviating the effects of gravity on these systems. If you turn off the lights and sound and move as little as possible, you purportedly go into a state of deep relaxation. The website makes the bold claim that research has shown one hour of floating is like four hours of sleep. I guess that’s if you do it right for the whole hour instead of taking 40 minutes to settle into it.

I think the first time is almost a throw-away experience. I was a mixture of skeptical and worried. Even though the room was recommended for first timers, when the attendant showed me the room I felt claustrophobic at the mere sight of it. You enter into your own space where there is a shower and a place for undressing and leaving your clothes. The float room is adjacent to that. It resembles a very large shallow bathtub, perhaps 8 or 9 feet long and about 4 or 5 feet wide, with ample head room of at least 6 or 7 feet.

I had a brief orientation where she showed me the room and told me to keep the salt water out of my eyes, mouth, and ears (they provide ear plugs). I would have seven minutes to shower before and some time to shower after as well. I would know my session was beginning because a woman’s voice (who sounds like “Mother” from the movie Alien) would come through the speakers to tell me it was starting. The attendant also repeatedly reminded me that the floor was very slippery, both in the anteroom with shower and the floor of the tub. This proved true and made me wonder how anyone with the least bit of balance or mobility issues could do this (I don’t think they could safely get in and out of the float room alone—I had to be very careful myself).

I found it alarming that there is no panic button inside the floating room. But the attendant made it seem as if I was the very first person ever to ask about that. She said if I was really panicking I could bang on the door (which turned out to be a useless piece of advice, as I will explain in a moment).

I undressed, showered with their super luxurious bath products, put in the recommended ear plugs and the head float thing (a flat buoyant circle of floaty stuff that fits around your head for extra support), and climbed in.

When you pull the large door shut, you’re in an insulated enclosure. The floating area (the tub) extends entirely to the sides, so there is no “edge” to speak of. Just four walls. Beside the door are two buttons to control lights and music. The water is not hot or cold — 93.5 degrees F, or the “skin-receptor neutral” temperature. The air within the enclosure is about the same. The air outside, in the shower and change area, is cooler, making it a bad idea to leave the door open.

Why might you want to open the door, you ask? Well, for my part, I found it difficult to breathe. The air is thick. And the enclosed nature of the thing, with no obvious ventilation system to circulate air into it besides the door, made me afraid to let go completely for fear that I would run out of air and suffocate. I kept thinking of things like refrigerators and container trucks where trapped people die from lack of air.

Once Mother told me my session was under way, I lost track of time, so what follows are estimates. I spent the first 15-20 minutes fiddling with the lights and music. At first, I had them both on. Then I remembered it was recommended as a sensory deprivation experience, so I turned off the music and tried to dim the lights. They were a lot like those hot tub lights that change colour every few seconds. If I could’ve steadied them on red and kept my eyes closed, I think that would have been fine. But I could see the changing brightness through my eye lids and I found it distracting. I messed around with it only to discover that there were just two settings. Completely off or cycling through the colours. I tried it with the lights off.

In this windowless enclosure, when the lights go off, it is capital “D” Dark. Like, can’t see your hand in front of your face Dark. I tried to settle into it, lying back in my floating position suspended in the salty water. But the level of Darkness just freaked me out even though I had my eyes closed. So I wanted to turn the light back on. But by then I had floated into a different position relative to the door and the light switches and I could find neither. And that’s when the panic began to rise and I thought for a few moments that I would lose my mind. And I absolutely couldn’t breathe and felt sure I would die right there. Which is why the instruction to bang on the door if I panicked did me no good at all because if I could find the door I wouldn’t be panicking.

I fumbled around and then remembered that basically it was just a room with four walls and if I traced a path along the wall with my hand I would find the door handle (it was like the bar you would find in the accessible shower stall). Beyond the door I found the light switch and turned the lights back on and then opened the door for about 30 seconds for some air.

At that point I started wondering how long I’d been there and how much longer and was I doing it right and I’m a seasoned meditator so why is this so hard? I didn’t do enough research into what you’re supposed to do, so I just tried to relax as much as possible and calm my mind. And breathe, which remained difficult. I settled into it enough after about half an hour to keep the lights off, but I opened the door for air at least four or five times. Finally, with I’d say 20 minutes to go, I settled in, confident that there was enough air in the room to last me to the end and that any sense that I couldn’t breathe was actually not accurate. I could breathe just fine, salt is supposed to be good for you, and in any case it’s almost done. I only had brief thoughts of abandoning the whole thing and had already decided this would be a one-off because…why am I here?

And that’s when I floated into a state of total, zero-gravity, sensory deprived R.E.S.T. I stopped thinking “when will this end?” and drifted off into floaty, relaxing, thought-free bliss. I’m guessing about 15 minutes passed before Mother’s gentle voice coaxed me out of my nothingness. If one hour of floating is equal to four hours of sleeping, my 15 minutes of mind-free floating must have been equal to an hour of sleep. And I did feel revived and recharged, disappointed that it was over.

Getting out was a careful process of trying to climb over the edge without slipping on the floor of the tub and then the floor of the shower and changing area (which is, to me, unnecessarily more slippery than it needs to be). I got a bit of the salty water in my mouth, and it tastes like something sour and disgusting and almost rotten. I showered with the luxurious bath products again, dressed, and went out to the vanity area to fix myself as best as I could for the outside world.

I asked to see a pod before I left. One look at the pod and I knew I would not be signing up for that. But I do think I will try the room again. Now that I know what to expect I think I can settle into a good experience a lot more quickly. I liked the final feeling of weightless zero-gravity and temperature neutrality. It’s comforting and stress-free (if you can get there). I’m not sure if it’s any more or less “therapeutic” than any other thing that forces you to quiet yourself for an hour, suspending the demands of the world. But the added bonus of zero gravity and sensory deprivation invite relaxation a lot more easily than, say, an hour of Vipassana meditation.

It’s not cheap. When Cate went, she paid $39. I had a $55 gift card (because it was my 55th birthday present) and I paid a $29 top-up for my hour of floating. I’m keen to give it one more go, which is more than what I would’ve said 30 minutes into it. But the price makes it an indulgence.

Have you had a floating experience? And if so, what was it like for you?

body image · competition · fitness · Guest Post · health · injury · race report · racing · running

Couch to 21.1 km (Guest post)

by Jennifer Burns

Content warning: Body image 

Last Sunday, I ran my first race. I’ve been running for eleven years (and are my legs ever tired!) but I’ve never run any kind of a race before. Mainly because I’ve just never been much of a one for races. I even dropped out of the rat race a few years ago, because – as a funnier and wiser woman than I once pointed out –  even when you win, you’re still a rat. 

So naturally, for my very first race ever, I chose to run a half-marathon. Because why not? 

Actually, it was Andra’s idea. Andra is my physiotherapist, and a former competitive swimmer and volleyball player. She takes no shit from anybody, least of all me. 

I’ve been working with Andra for over three years now. For two of those years, I wasn’t running at all. She helped reconfigure my body after my last pregnancy downloaded and installed some updates that I don’t ever remember clicking “OK” on. 

The thing is that, apparently, for most of my adult life, I’ve been walking around with an undiagnosed case of scoliosis: a bent spine. Mine curves from side to side, creating a posture somewhat reminiscent of one of Tom Thomson’s windblown jack pines. I always knew I was a bit off-kilter, but I never knew until three years ago that I had A Condition. 

Apparently (don’t quote me on this) if you have scoliosis, one pregnancy is OK, but subsequent pregnancies can worsen the spinal curvature. Much hilarity ensues. Like, if you’ve ever wanted to recreate the Grand Canyon between your rectus abdominis muscles, scoliosis plus pregnancy can totally help you with that. 

Now, I did not want the Grand Canyon, but it ended up being part of the whole post-partum package-tour I embarked on back in 2016 (you really gotta read the fine print on these things). In addition to scheduled stops at Sleepless Gulch and Hormone Crash Hill, there was also plenty of commentary from the locals: “Already pregnant again!?” “Is this one of those weird twin pregnancies where they’re born weeks apart?” “Wow, I forgot how long it takes to look normal after giving birth!” etc etc. 

Worst trip ever. But at least, after the magical “six weeks pp” were up, I’d be “allowed” to run again. Right? Right?!

[Ron Howard’s voice: “She was wrong.”]

In September 2016, I found out that not only did I have scoliosis, but it had also probably worsened during the pregnancy, turning the area under my ribs into a veritable pressure-cooker and creating a gaping 12cm/6-finger separation between my abs. This separation, together with the scoliosis, was setting me up for even worse alignment problems that could result in spinal deformities, disc herniation, urinary incontinence and – everybody’s favourite – pelvic organ prolapse. 

And so, given this, I should give up running, forever, and take up race-walking. (If my life were an episode of Friends, this would be the one where Chandler Byng quips, “Because race-walking is such a ordinary, everyday activity that doesn’t make you look ridiculous or stand out AT ALL.”). 

Oh, and also? My abdomen would never be flat again without at least ten-thousand dollars’ worth of plastic surgery, followed by a two-month recovery and almost inevitable chronic and incurable pain from nerve damage. Pretty much the best thing I could do, in this strange, new, disloyal, and no longer conventionally-attractive body, was “be grateful” I was a “mama”, and “embrace” my “journey”, along with my “battle scars” and my “tiger stripes”. 

I am still mildy amazed that I didn’t “drop-kick” the “physiotherapist” right there and then, but forgive me, my reflexes were pretty shot from lack of sleep. 

That was Physio No. 1. Physio No. 2 was Andra. Who, in her no-nonsense, does-not-suffer-fools-gladly, clipped Romanian way agreed with Physio No. 1 that my situation was “not good” (“It feels like gummy bears in here, it feels like a trampoline” she said, prodding my abdomen). 

Then she uttered life-changing words: “We will fix this.”

If I’d known, sitting in a tiny office up the street from the Reference Library on a dreary winter afternoon, that the path to “fixing this” was going to involve a two-year slog through electro-accupuncture, progressive core-activation exercises, swimming endless laps, tedious floor work, before finally graduating to modified workouts with a trainer at the gym – I’d have crumpled to the floor. This piece, written then, knowing that, would have been entitled By the Toronto Reference Library I Sat Down And Wept, and I probably wouldn’t be running today. Actually, I’m not sure – I’m a stubborn old cuss when you get right down to it. But knowing that entire years lay between me and me getting back to my preferred – at the time, my only – sport, would have been devastating. Andra was smart. She didn’t say anything about how long it could take. She just said we would fix it, and I believed that we could so I was ready to show up and do the fricken work. 

And if you’d told me that in less than three years, I’d run a half-marathon – me, who had never run any race, ever, who had run a continuous 20K exactly one time, in three hours, four years ago – me, always picked last on teams in gym class – me, lugging this living cautionary-tale of a postpartum body around, a “Here Be Dragons” warning made flesh – me? Run in a marathon? I would have laughed so hard I’d probably have busted a gut. (Except it was already busted, so no worries there). 

But. Reader, I marathoned. OK, I half-marathoned. I ran the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half on October 20, 2019. My goal was modest: sub 2:30. I crossed the finish line at 2:27. 

A year ago, almost exactly, I was running one minute and walking five. I was glad to be running again, even if only for a minute at a time, but I was finding it really, really hard. I had so little endurance, despite all the work I’d put in over the past two years. And when winter came, I quickly got bored of running on the indoor track at the gym. So I took up skating instead, because if you can’t beat Winter, you may as well throw your arms wholeheartedly around it while also leaping around frozen surfaces on sharp blades.

When the ice melted, I moved the skating indoors, but I also went back to running. With Andra’s endorsement, I registered to run the STWM half. I didn’t commit to seriously training for it until June, which is when I made the total rookie mistake of upping my daily mileage by 6K in one day and made the fascia around my right hip “angry”, in Andra’s words. My hip’s temper tantrum set me back weeks.

Nevertheless, I persisted. Andra’s advice plus a tennis ball and a foam roller got me back on track. By September, I was running 10K easily.  Then 12, then 14, then 16, and finally my last three long runs before the race were just over 18K.  

Seasoned runners joke that running a marathon is simply a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. So too was my recovery. Except, I stopped looking up while I was doing it, because every time I looked up, I scanned for a horizon I couldn’t even see, much less imagine, and this made me angry and scared and sad. So, I just kept my eyes on my feet and kept moving them forward. One foot, then the other. Physio, swimming. The gym, my bike. The stairs in High Park, and then the hiking trails. Run one, walk five. Skate a bit, run a bit more. One foot, then the other. I just kept showing up. I went to the gym and to the rink and to physiotherapy (thank you childcare, part-time job, supportive partner, and generous spousal health insurance coverage!) and somehow, somehow along the way on this metaphorical “journey” (*makes flourishing air quotes with hands*) I upgraded from the all-inclusive Occasional Runner package, to some kind of Choose Your Own Jock Adventure deal. And that’s an upgrade I’m more than OK with. 

Jennifer is a writer, mother, wife, runner, cyclist, skater (ice and inline), and non-profit administrator. She lives in Toronto. 

Guest Post

In Admiration of Badass Women (Guest post)

by Nicole Plotkin

I was watching a show on Netflix, called Unbelievable.  While I was crushing on Toni Collette, I said to my husband, “in case you didn’t know, I love her, she’s badass”.  He looked at me and said, no she’s not.  I said yes, she is.  I realized he thought I meant badass, as in mean, or tough.  Maybe I mean a little tough, but not a hard ass.  That’s different.  I think the term badass has come to mean different things, particularly for women. 

I find myself increasingly admiring (my version of) “badass” women these days.  I don’t care for a person that is “mean, violent or aggressive”.  But the trusty internet provides other definitions of “badass”:

From an article in Psychology Today from 2010:

“A real badass is driven by values such as responsibility, justice, honor, courage, compassion, humility, integrity, and selflessness”.

“A badass is someone who does the dirty jobs, the jobs that other people don’t want to do…. A badass does what needs to be done, no matter how difficult it is, without complaint or need for fanfare. A badass doesn’t take the path of least resistance.”

Also, from the same article, and with which I completely disagree “Yes, girls can be badasses too (I use the word girls deliberately because I don’t think women want to be this sort of badass). A badass girl these days is beautiful (or thinks she is), has big breasts (likely augmented), is tanned (even in winter), wears stilettos (hurt me!), and is the grown-up version of the mean girls from high school”. Talk about a male fantasy version of a badass female!

The Urban Dictionary says:

“A badass stays true to themselves, always. This means being themselves for themselves, and not being fake to impress others. 4. A badass does not give up. Badasses will always push themselves for the better, no matter how hard it gets.”  This is much closer to what I mean.”

Perhaps it’s because I often feel a bit stifled by my fears (repeating past mistakes/inadequacy in intellectual pursuits, heights, speed) that I admire people who seem to have it together).  Even if it’s a smidgen of my day, I try to exhibit these traits where I can.  What are these traits that I admire these days in women and consider badass?

  • Seeming unafraid when asking for what they need, particularly at the office.  When I see a woman who just exudes confidence, stating what they need, even when they are asking for something others might find unconventional, I am cheering inside.  This type of woman often has a way of carrying herself that says, don’t look at my physical presence, listen to what I am saying.
  • Also, a woman who shows her vulnerability – but still insists on respect her strengths.  Being honest and sharing vulnerability is a great way to inspire others.
  • Identifying an issue that needs to be dealt with and handling it. It might mean uncomfortable phone calls, or lending your scarcely available time, but it needs to be done. So, they do it.
  • Celebrating their differences.  The woman with the extremely wiry hair, who makes it even kinkier. The one with the curvaceous hips who accentuates them.  The middle age woman who is unafraid of the creases appearing around her eyes and mouth.
  • They say things out loud that flout boring clichés.  They hear someone say men grow more handsome with age, but not women.  They call bullshit. Tactfully, perhaps. But there’s no need to agree. They say that perhaps our ideas of what is handsome or beautiful is the problem, not an ageing woman.
  • They do it anyway.  They are told they should do things that are appropriate for their age – pull back, do less, wear more, tone it down – and they ignore them and do what they like. And then bench a PR at the gym.
  • They cheer each other on – whether at the gym, or the office, or at school.  They root for each other.  And not just their cliques.
  • They experience a setback, maybe with respect to fitness, and figure a way to work around it. Even if this means small, incremental gains.  They are patient towards their goal.
  • They show their true emotions. They know that being kind and authentic doesn’t mean being phony or smiling all the time. And if they are angry, they admit it – tactfully.
  • A woman who insists on the time she needs to do the things that make her thrive – exercise, time with her friends, to get enough sleep – so she can be extra badass for her loved ones.
  • She doesn’t feel the need to debate or argue if she doesn’t agree with someone.  She may state what she believes, but she doesn’t need to convince someone else that they are wrong. She is content to know her own values.
  • She challenges herself outside of her comfort zone – in a way that suits her – in the gym, that can mean doing 5 extra burpees on a day she wanted to stay in bed, or deadlifting 135 lbs on the day she thought she’d have to cut back because her back was tweaking.  Maybe it means running 17.5 km on the day her training schedule suggested she do 16 km.
  • She is kind to people – but will also not be taken advantage of or made to feel less than by anyone.
  • She is constantly looking for ways to improve herself in her career and feel useful, whatever that may be.

Do you like the term “badass”?  What does it mean to you?

A tattooed woman wearing a black T-shirt which reads, “THE BADASS WOMAN IN ME HONORS THE BADASS WOMAN IN YOU.”

Nicole Plotkin: law clerk, loves to exercise, eat good food, snuggle with her dogs, and her wonderful husband. 

fitness · Guest Post

Sweet Things (Guest Post)

by Nicole Plotkin

This week marked the beginning of a new year on the Jewish calendar.  

There is something enticing about marking the beginning of something.  Even for an atheist, but cultural Jew. A fresh start, a chance to consider where you’ve been, where you’re going, who you are, who you want to be. On Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) it is traditional to offer wishes for a sweet year ahead. We dip slices of apple, or pieces of challah, in honey.  We add a symbolic touch of sweetness to most dishes on the table, keto trends, be damned, to welcome a sweet year.

Now that my annual challah baking is done for the year, what are some sweet things I selfishly hope for in my daily life?  Of course, I wish for sweet things on a grander scale in the world, but these are closer to home. Perhaps it will encourage you to think about what you wish for.

Patience.  Whether while I am walking to work and weaving through the air pod wearers, golf umbrella carriers, peeled-to-phone walkers, I would like to be granted patience.  Patience would also come in handy anywhere people do not follow rules. See quiet zones, highways, off-leash dog zealots in non-off-leash areas, workout stations, etc. Rule followers require a lot of patience these days. Rule followers, going backwards from puberty (hello, perimenopause), with an innate habit of speaking inside voices, out loud, need even more patience.

“Don’t mess with me” vibe.  I don’t have this. I would love to have this.  I admire people who ooze it. Especially if they have that, plus easy charm.  Extremely valuable, and I would like some.

Focus.  Whether to continue with my fitness goals – continue running long distances in the winter, increase my strength training noticeably, tend to unfinished courses, focus on learning at work, I would like more focus.  I’m either all in or all out, when it comes to focus. Balance would be great.

Contentment.  Mainly re my relationship with food.  I would like to feel more confident that I am doing OK. That I drive my relationship with food, not my deeply ingrained feelings that it will always be a love-hate, up and down, relationship. That I am not a failing person, if I love food too much one day.  Actually believing that there is no such thing as a “bad food”, not just saying it. Actually believing that I don’t believe in diets, not just saying it, to myself or out loud. And really believing that it is just fucking food. Get over it. Move on. Focus on more important things.

Indifference.  You know that cliché that people like to say, that women over 40 finally start learning how not to care what people think of them.  Does this apply to “people-pleasers” over 40? Because my skin hasn’t thickened yet, in this sense. Some indifference about what people think – would be welcome.

Less fear.  I carry a lot of fear.  Heights. Movement where my feet are not on the ground.   But the fears that are increasing with age, and which cause more fear, are related to the fragility of life.  I would like less fear about the fragility of life.  

Gratitude.  I want to have unfiltered gratitude for the little things in my daily life.  For my husband. My dogs. Flowers, ability to exercise, living in a great city, art, laughter, abundance of food and coffee options, chatting with friends.  Gratitude that I have such a fortunate life that I get to ruminate on sweet things.

I wish sweet things for all.  What sweet things do you hope for?

One of Nicole’s chocolate challahs.

Nicole Plotkin: law clerk, loves to exercise, eat good food, snuggle with her dogs, and her wonderful husband. 

cycling · Guest Post

50 pour/for 50 (Guest post)

by Joh

50 km pour mes 50 ans

Le 29 septembre dernier, par une belle journée d’automne, j’ai décidé de faire 50 km à vélo en l’honneur de mes tout nouveaux 50 ans. Équipée de l’itinéraire bâti sur MapMyRide, j’ai stationné l’auto près de la route 121 pour éviter le chemin en gravier conduisant au chalet que j’avais loué et je suis partie vers Haliburton. 

Au retour, l’intention était d’emprunter la Haliburton County Rail Trail qui, je l’ai vite réalisé, est en gravier, souvent très mou. J’ai ici eu beaucoup de sympathie pour mon amie Cate, qui a vécu la même situation lors d’un récent voyage en Lithuanie, mais avec un vélo chargé. Pas facile! Je vais donc alterner entre la route (où les voitures me frôlent à 90 km/h) et la “piste cyclable” en terre, mais isolée de la route. Et c’est ce qui me fera manquer la bifurcation entre les étapes 40 et 45 de l’image ci-dessus… pour allonger mon parcours de 20 km. 😕 

Mais bon, on dit que ce n’est pas la destination mais le voyage qui compte. J’ai quand même apprécié les couleurs automnales, la quiétude de la piste cyclable, les multiples chenilles qui traversent la route (mais où vont-elles donc ainsi au péril de leur vie?) et le soleil radieux. Par contre, je me suis désolée de voir autant de déchets en bordure de route : contenants Tim Horton, cannettes de toutes sortes, bouteilles de plastique… en ce surlendemain de manifestation mondiale pour le climat, on peut se demander où va la planète si on ne peut même pas rapporter ses déchets!

Cela étant dit, je recommande d’explorer à vélo ce coin d’Ontario tout à fait charmant, avec juste assez de côtes pour ne pas s’ennuyer et de beaux chemins pas trop achalandés. J’éviterais cependant la route 35 si j’en avais le choix… en ne faisant pas la même erreur de parcours la prochaine fois. 

Joh. est traductrice, originaire de Montréal et vit maintenant à Toronto. Elle aime être en plein air autant que possible et fait du vélo, du ski, du canot, du kayak, de la randonnée pédestre et, plus généralement, aime trouver du temps pour être active, malgré une vie divisée entre un travail à temps plein, des contrats et un enfant.

La route de gravier
The gravel road
Joh sur le pont au-dessus de la rivière Drag
Joh on the Drag River’s bridge
Couleurs d’automneFall colours

50 km for my 50th birthday

On September 29, on a beautiful fall day, I decided to ride 50 km in honour of my 50th birthday. With an itinerary I created on MapMyRide, I parked the car closer to route 121 to avoid the gravel road leading to the cabin I rented and headed to Haliburton. 

On the way back, the intention was to use the Haliburton County Rail Trail which, as I quickly realized, is made of gravel, often very soft. I had a lot of sympathy here for my friend Cate, who experienced the same situation during a recent trip to Lithuania, but with a loaded bike. Not easy! I decided to alternate between the road (where the cars zoom by at 90 km/h) and the dirt “bike path”, but isolated from said road. And that’s what made me miss the turn between steps 40 and 45 of the image above…. to extend my route by 20 km. 😕 

But hey, they say it’s not about the destination but the journey. I still enjoyed the autumn colours, the quietness of the bike path, the multiple caterpillars that crossed the road (but where are they going at the risk of their lives?) and the radiant sun. On the other hand, I was sorry to see so much garbage on the roadside: Tim Horton containers, cans of all kinds, plastic bottles… two days after the climate strike event around the world, we may wonder where the planet is going if we can’t even bring back our garbage!

That being said, I recommend riding your bike in this very charming part of Ontario, with just enough hills not to be bored and beautiful roads that are not too busy. However, I would avoid Route 35 if I had the choice… by not making the same mistake of missing a turn next time.

Joh is a translator from Montreal who now lives in Toronto. She likes to be as active as possible, and is into biking, skiing, canoeing, kayaking, hiking, and enjoying an active life, between a full time job, some contracts and having a kid.

cycling · fitness · Guest Post · illness

Gut Job, Butt Job: On Cycling, Yoga and Long-Term Cancer Recovery (Guest Post)

by Andrea Zanin

Four years ago, I underwent the second of two surgeries and radiation treatment for a rare spinal cord tumour that caused me chronic pain for over twenty years. I’ve shared a few posts here about chronic pain and my experiences of figuring out how to be in my body and regaining fitness post-treatment. Today I’m doing a deep dive into some recent developments on that journey!

When I started cycling more post-cancer treatment, I used my feet and calves to pedal. Seemed the obvious choice. Then I realized that was doing a helluva number on my knees, which were getting creaky and painful. So I started consciously using my quads more. I also started making sure to press down with my big toes in order to stop my knees from winging out. I figured good alignment would help reduce pain. 

This in turn meant taking more of the effort along the inner line of my legs, which strengthened the muscles weakened by the ways long-term chronic nerve pain had affected my gait. Definitely an improvement—no more knee pain, much stronger legs over time. 

This summer, I started to notice that as I strengthened my core muscles with yoga, my body naturally wanted to use them in cycling too. As a result, my core started doing more of the work and pulling my legs along for the ride. The push and pull came from my gut muscles, while my legs were the pistons that were simply there to rise and fall, lending their weight to the job but doing less of the work.

This more concentrated core work also got my glutes involved. So flat-surface cycling was a gut job, like front-wheel drive, but uphill cycling became a butt job, like rear-wheel drive.

This week I’ve noticed two new things. One, my butt is strong as a fucking tank. I can *feel* the power of those big muscles every time they fire. It’s a lot like the pleasure of a deep yawn or a good stretch in the morning—I can feel blood filling up places it hasn’t reached in a long time, tingly and rich. Everyday squatting is a breeze (sitting, picking things up from the ground, etc). In yoga, balance poses are easy—line up the leg bones, grip the core, engage the glute and then just hang out in whatever weird one-legged position with barely a wobble. 

Also, the added strength means that I can do backward-bending movements that previously triggered leftover nerve pain. Because I can hold myself steady with my glutes, my lower back doesn’t collapse and put pressure on my surgical site with its missing bones and stripped nerves.

But it’s really more a feeling thing than a performance thing. It’s like a heating system that was shut off for many, many years is finally being shot full of power, and the coils are creaking and glowing. It’s still early days, I can tell, because I think in the next phase I won’t even notice this feeling anymore. At the moment it still feels new. 

The second thing is, when I cycle, those stronger butt muscles are collaborating with my core—so instead of front-wheel versus rear-wheel drive, cycling feels like four-wheel drive no matter what kind of incline I’m on. It’s like my parts are figuring out how to operate as a cohesive whole. I don’t need to tell them how or think about it. My body’s got this all by itself.

I’m almost exactly four years post-cancer treatment and I’m still healing. But this phase is unlike the others thus far. This phase isn’t about emerging from the deep hole of pain. This one is about building upward from flat ground, and discovering what this new body can do beyond surviving. I had years of thinking this wasn’t even possible. So please forgive the possibly TMI description of the inner workings of my butt muscles here—it just feels kinda amazing to experience this and I don’t want to take a second of it for granted.

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

A green bike with rear basket against a red brick wall
Esmerelda!