fitness · Guest Post

Big Fat Myths, Or, Why So Many of Us Avoid the Gym (Guest Post)

by Weronika

I’m here to tell you that you can be both fat and fit. read it again. fat and fit. not fat to fit. not fat but fit. fat AND fit. that’s right. and yes, i have read the articles (including the most recent one from across the pond – it wasn’t peer-reviewed if that’s something that matters to you) that argue that fatness and fitness cannot co-exist. i’ve read them, internalized them and spent years unlearning the things they claimed to know about my body.

i also spent years avoiding the gym (and fitness in general) not taking care of my body because the measures of success too often involved scales and shame (so much shame) and a focus on weight loss. well i’m calling bullshit. and i’m asking that we start focusing on measures that make sense for our lives, whether that be having an easier time getting out of bed in the morning or struggling less with our groceries or lifting twice our body weight at the gym. we need to focus less on the numbers on the scale and more on what healthy means to us.

fitness (to me) is about taking care of myself which happens to include my mental health. it’s about listening to my body and loving myself at every size despite what the world tells me. fitness to me is about self-love, whether that be lifting heavier and sweating more at the gym or staying home with a pint of ice cream because the world feels like too much that day. gym culture can make all of this hard because fitness so often seems to equate to thinness in workout spaces but i’ve been figuring out how to take up space at the gym with my fabulous fat (and fit) body, exaggerating moves and turning the whole experience into some kind of performance. but i still totally get why some people avoid it. i did for a long time too. it can be such a toxic place which seems to care about everything but health.

the gym can really suck (especially for those of us who do not fit fatphobic and racist beauty standards) but i’m going to spend my time there trying to make it a space that can not only be fun but also shame free while also totally getting that you can be fit (and fabulously fat) without spending time or money on a place that can still make so many feel like utter shit.

now i’m spending time unlearning fat shame and learning to listen to my body and what feels good for it. and now i can say that my fat body gives me strength and i love it. so much.

Weronika is a white queer working class libra who wakes up way too early, way too happy. They are ambivalently working on their doctorate while distracting themselves with other projects like developing a trauma-informed therapy practice. They are into reading books, lifting heavy things, and making food for and with people. They are also a body positive personal trainer working with those who hate the gym. You can find out more by emailing them at fatandfitinthesix@gmail.com

fitness · Guest Post · race report · running

Race report: 38th Melissa’s Road Race in Banff (Guest Post)

Heather BanffSometimes I think I’m not really a runner. I took it up as part of a new year’s resolution — my friends and I decided to sign up for a 5k race and give it a shot. Two years later, I’m reading my cadence data and learning about zones, and my Strava segments are looking good.

Two years ago, the thought of running a 5k felt like a bit deal. This past year, I’ve been running our local 10k races, and the goal was to try run my first half marathon.

“Without barfing or crying!”

The race:

Melissa’s Road Race is a tradition in Banff — it takes place in late September, and offers a 5k and 10k race that wind through the town of Banff, and up towards Tunnel Mountain Drive. The half marathon — my race — goes out towards Cascade Falls, and then behind the historic Banff Springs Hotel and out to the golf course. Two laps of the golf course road takes you around Mount Rundle, and along the Bow River, and all in a very quiet, secluded area.

Race day: 

My girlfriends and I drove out from Calgary the night before and stayed in a b&b. After an obligatory walk to Banff Avenue for a late night snack, we turned in. There’d been a heavy snowfall warning for Banff two days before the race, but the morning was cold and clear…about 2 degrees Celsius, with fresh snow above the treeline. I had laid out my gear the night before, and I was prepared for the cooler weather: long tights with funky knee socks, a long sleeve shift, arm warmers, a wind vest, hat, buff, globes, and skull cap. A lot of clothing, but as it turned out, I was layering up and down all through the run.

We walked down for the 5k start and I saw my friends off, and then got ready for the half marathon start ten minutes later.

One of the greatest things about Melissa’s is the spirit of the race. Registration is capped at 4,500 participants by Parks Canada and the Town of Banff. The half marathon runners received a wildlife briefing — we had a short elk delay. I polished off a Clif bar while I waited, and then had the first Gu gel while I chatted with the runners around me. I was feeling pretty darn nervous, and had a good case of the ‘I don’t belong here’ frets.

0-7k

I tried to start slow…I really did! The first 5k were easy…running down towards the falls, enjoying the view. I’d seeded myself at about the 7:30 mark, but I found myself passing that pace group and then evening out between the next one, so the crowd had thinned quite a bit.

The first aid station was at the 5k mark, and I walked in to have some water and walked out with the first snack — one of those pressed fruit bars from the grocery store. I’ve been trying to work out inexpensive things to take on runs, and a thirty-nine cent bar is a lot easier to swallow (ha, ha) than the more expensive performance foods and gels.

As we left the 5k station, we were running in sun. The golf course itself was screened from view — it felt more like being out on a back road or laneway, and I only caught a few glimpses of sandtraps and groomed greens. With the sun out, I was warming up…but as the course dipped down and closer to Mount Rundle, we moved into shadow and I had to layer back up. This really was a theme for the run…warm patches of meadow followed by very cool stretches in the shadow of the most glorious mountains.

image description: Road stretching out ahead with three runners in front, green pines on the side, and high, rocky, snowy mountains as a backdrop.
image description: Road stretching out ahead with three runners in front, green pines on the side, and high, rocky, snowy mountains as a backdrop.

8-13k

I am, most definitely, a slow runner. Melissa’s is a race that attracts a lot of fast runners. At this point, there was a lot of room between me and the other runners, and as I got towards eight kilometers, the faster runners in the race were already onto their second lap.

Boy howdy, is that a weird feeling. The first speedy runners blasted by, and I had that moment: what on earth am I doing here? I’m so slow…I don’t belong here. This is awful! I clapped for the faster runners, and to my surprise, they were congratulating ME. “Good pace! Keep it up! Great run! You got this!” It was a real lift to the spirits…especially as I hit 11k and realized I still had another ten to go.

Leaving the 8k aid station, I snacked on a package of Honey Stinger gummies…and shared them with a fellow runner (also his first half marathon). Then off running again, and I kept finished that first lap of the golf course, had a bathroom break, another fruit bar, and charged out for the next lap.

13-15k

This was where everything started feeling hard. I’d trained well through the summer, and I was feeling pretty confident that I had the strength to finish. Certainly the scenery was keeping the run breathtaking in all the right ways. The sharp smell of pine and the croaking of mountain ravens will stay with me for a long time, I think.

But there was something about this long stretch…I’d read about the psychology of long races, and the point where the effort becomes just as much mental and emotional as it is physical. For me, it was the ‘dig deep’ moment…I had to look inward, trust my body, and settle in for the long run still to come. The fast runners had left us all behind, and it was time to get the job done.

My 5k friends were texting encouragement to me and I was reading the messages on my Garmin…and at this point, those little buzzes were really welcome. I knew they’d be waiting for me at the finish, and those motivating messages helped so much. So did the sight of a Parks Canada ranger keeping a close eye on something off in the trees…

16-18k

More snacks. More positive self talk. A few more walk breaks. My pace was feeling good, legs good, feet starting to get a little sore…but I was doing it. When I hit kilometre sixteen, I started thinking about how I only had five to go, and how it was just my evening run. Just my regular, run of the mill, after-work run through the neighbourhood. It helped to look at the distances and think about where I’d be if I was back home.

At 18k, I had my last snack — a gel I’d been saving as a ‘just in case.’ I’d been keeping up a fairly regular pace but I was suddenly very hungry and tired, and in retrospect, I probably needed one more snack than I’d packed. Fortunately the gel — the one I almost put back but left in my pocket after my friend told me to take it for emergencies — did the trick.

The run down along the falls meant a slog uphill. At the top of the hill, I saw the marker for the nineteenth kilometre, and the volunteers were cheerfully calling out that it would be level from this point on.

19-21k

Home stretch! At this point, I was dodging tourists on the pathways and running past 5k and 10k runners leaving the race, but I was determined to keep going. My friends had been tracking my progress, and were waiting close to the turn point into that last little bit.

I managed to put one last burst of speed and sprinted in to the finish…I wanted to finish strong, and finish proud, and coming in as fast as I could manage was the way I wanted to do it.

Image description: Beaming in a "Calgary Marathon" blue ball cap, sunglasses, and a bright pink top, Heather holds up her finisher's medal, with an image of a snowy mountain, green slope, and water and the name, "Melissa" in orange lettering. Behind Heather is a small crowd, pine trees, and cloudy blue skies.
Image description: Beaming in a “Calgary Marathon” blue ball cap, sunglasses, and a bright pink top, Heather holds up her finisher’s medal, with an image of a snowy mountain, green slope, and water and the name, “Melissa” in orange lettering. Behind Heather is a small crowd, pine trees, and cloudy blue skies.

Impressions:

I did it! At 39, I ran my first half marathon. After a year of hard work and preparation, I finished with a chip time of 2:37:45, towards the back of the pack for overall time and for my age group. I am deeply grateful to have the strength and health to do this, and as I approach 40, I’m also very grateful to have friends to share my training and run talk with, and that we celebrated this accomplishment together.

We all went up to the hot springs afterwards, and I ran into another half marathoner — one of the fast ones that lapped us. I was congratulating him on his fast run, and how much in awe I am of the people that were flying by me. But what really struck me was what he said about seeing the slower runners (and I paraphrase):

“I see all of you, and you’re just on your seventh or eighth kilometer as we’re going by on fourteen and fifteen, and I think ‘goddamn, look at them…they’re pouring their heart and soul into this, and look at them — they still have the whole race ahead of them but goddamn if they aren’t giving their all! It’s so %!@#ing amazing, because you’re just made up of grit and will and ^!$#ing determination.”

And that, friends, is exactly what you should remember the next time you think you are too old, too slow, too out of shape, too inexperienced, too amateurish, too whatever to do what you want to try to do. Grit and will and determination. You have it all.

I won’t soon forget it.

Heather Banff finish joy
Image description: Heather in a joyful jump, wearing sunglasses, a blue ballcap, black sleeves and a pink t-shirt, black tights and yellow socks and a yellow race bib #3144. Meadow, mountains, blue sky, and white clouds in the background.

 

 

 

 

competition · cycling · fitness · Guest Post · race report

Race Report for ITU Age Group Worlds Standard Distance Duathlon (Guest Post)

by Cathy

Race Report for:               ITU Worlds Standard Distance Duathlon, Penticton, BC

Distance:                             10.0 km – 40.5 km – 5.1 km

Date:                                     Monday, August 21, 2017

Weather:                            ~20-25C, full sun with moderate NE winds

Description of Course:  asphalt streets and interlocking bricks run, mostly flat with some false flat up and back down (Run 1 = 4 loops, Run2 = 2 loops, bike mostly flat, head/side wind out and tail/side wind back (2 x 20km out & back)

Actual Time:                      2:50:40

Goal Times: Low Mid High
Sub 2:45 2:47 Sub 3:00

 

Personal Best Times: Lifetime Recent This Race Last Year
2:38 Esprit 2013 This is my only standard distance du this year 2:58 but run and bike courses were a bit different

 

Category Place
Women 50-54 25/29 finishers
All Women 154/220
Overall 467/603

 

Goal Pace: Actual: Overall Placing Heart Rate:
Run 1: 55:00 (5:30/km) 55:02 (5:30/km)

 

25th 168
T1 1:45 Not ranked
Bike:  sub 1:20:00

(+30 km/h)

 1:20:48 (29.7 km/h for 40k per Sportstats, = 30.2 km/h for 40.5k) 24th 148

 

T2 2:59 Not ranked
Run 2: < 30:00

(sub 6:00/km)

30:06 (6:01/km) 25th 159

 

Description of Race:

I had done this race course for Nationals last year, so I was very familiar with it.  The only differences were that they changed the run course to take out the big Vancouver Ave hill, to make an almost flat course, the bike course was a bit longer, the transition area was a bit further away and the transitions themselves were a bit longer.  With better fitness than last year, I expected to cut a fair amount of time off of my 2016 result of 2:58.  2016 was my return to racing after a lot of personal issues in 2014 and 2015 (my concussion, cancer death of very close friend, menopause, weight gain, plantar fasciitis) affected my training and resulted in next to no racing.

My training this year was affected by the illness and death of my mother in the winter/spring, followed by a viral infection that knocked me out for almost two weeks in July.  I had intended to lose at least 20 pounds since my 2016 race, and I had lost 10 pounds by mid-March but stress-eating caused me to gain that all back by May.  Once my training increased again after that, I found it very difficult to lose weight, and decided to just maintain my food intake to fuel my workouts, and deal with weight loss after Worlds.

Lead-up to race – We arrived four days prior to the race, which was enough to get settled and complete all the tasks required at a World Championship race, such as the Parade of Nations, run and ride course familiarization and team meeting, not to mention socializing.   With this being my third Worlds, I knew what was involved in the lead up and I was determined to minimize the changes to my normal routine.

I was able to do my assigned workouts for these days although not exactly as planned, due to various factors.   No excuses, but it’s not as easy to head out the door in an unfamiliar place, as it is at home.  I felt good during the workouts since my quads were finally rested and my ongoing tight calves were no longer tight.   What a relief.  It made me wonder if that calf tightness might be related to my desk/chair position at work, and being away from work resolved it.  Will have to look into that further once I’m back to work.

We stayed at a motel on the Penticton lakeshore strip and made most of our own meals to avoid sitting in crowded restaurants waiting for food, and having to worry about not getting the type and quality of food I wanted.  I slept in every morning until I woke up naturally so I was getting 8-10 hours of sleep every night.

Race Day:

Warm-up – about 15 minutes of easy jogging on and off.  All good, no hamstring or calf tightness.  Nutrition good, bathroom good.    I did my sighting of the Run In/ Bike Out/Bike In/Bike Out, which was a bit of a serpentine path.

Run 1 –  We (Women 40+) started in a corral, about the fourth wave to go.  I felt happy and calm at the start…. It had been a long journey back to being at Worlds, with my last one being Ottawa in 2013.

I always view the first 10k of a standard distance duathlon as something to be gotten through, so that I can get onto the bike.   It always seems to go on forever and you have to push hard, but not quite as hard as a standalone 10k.   This day, it went fairly well.   There was a long stretch on each of four 2.5k loops that was a false flat uphill but this was followed by coming back down it, so I don’t think I lost too much time due to this.  By the second loop, I could see that I was pretty far back in the pack, but this was not unexpected so I did not get too discouraged by this.  I kept on at a steady pace, trying to keep my pace below 5:30/km.  When I finished, my Garmin said 5:25.  Sportstats says 5:30, which was my goal, so close enough.

Bike – I had my bike shoes on my bike already (new strategy for me this season) and had a fairly good mount.  Not a full flying mount, but I got my left foot in, got rolling, swung my right leg over and I was off.  Much better than running to the mount line in my cycling shoes as I used to do.

I was expecting my ride to be a fair bit faster than last year, as I am fitter, the course was the same and the forecast was for very low winds (last year 1:23:38, 28.7 km/h).  I was a bit disappointed to only be 3 minutes faster in the results but given a couple of mitigating factors, I’m satisfied.

  • The wind was definitely stronger than last year, which slowed us down on the out portion of the double out & back course, but it didn’t feel like we got a pure tailwind on the way back. My speed was only about 3-4 km/h faster on the south bound course versus north bound.
  • Last year, we rode in the far right and far left lanes. This meant that the traffic was still flowing in the two inner lanes (and was halted at the turn around). This made for some scary moments when transport trucks passed us, but we were all amazed by the slip stream effect we got from them. It was almost like we were pulled along when they passed.  That was definitely missing this year as they had us ride in the two lakeside lanes while the traffic was in the two mountainside lanes.   It made for a much safer race course, but we all agreed that we lost a bit of speed that way.
  • The course this year was about 0.5 km longer, with a dogleg near transition that required a real slow down.

My power number was a bit lower than we had hoped for but my average HR # was good as a measure of effort.  As I finished the bike, my Garmin said 30.4 km/h.  I was very pleased to be over 30 km/h, but Sportstats has me at 29.7 km/h, I think because they divided by 40km and the course was at least 40.5km.  Either way, I am still satisfied as this is the first 40km effort I was able to do this season due to scheduling conflicts.  I had feared that I would falter at 30km and end up with a 90 minute split.

Run 2 –  this run was 2 loops of the run course, so I knew what to expect.   I was aiming to go sub 6:00/km overall.  I started out very slowly at closer to 6:30 but pressed on and eventually got my average speed down to about 5:55/km.  I was able to hold this until about the 3.5km mark, when I really started to slow down.   I tried my best to keep my speed up but the final uphill did me in, and I finished up with a 6:05/km average per my Garmin, although Sportstats had me at 6:01.  I’ll take it!

Finish – I crossed the line and immediately felt very faint, which is pretty normal for me with my low blood pressure.  Dan and my friends were at the fence and saw this and got me hooked up with a fellow Canadian finisher to hold onto me and guide me through the line.  Once I got some food into me, I came back to life quickly.

We got a very nice medal at the finish line and further on, we got a duathlon finisher scarf which was a nice touch.  The finisher area opened up into the spectator area and I was able to meet up with Dan.

At this point, things got a little weird as the solar eclipse was at its maximum.  The sun clouded over, the temperature dropped quickly by 5-10 degrees at the same time my body was cooling off, and people were stumbling around with eclipse glasses and boxes over their heads.  It was a bit surreal!

Final Thoughts:

When I describe Duathlon Worlds to someone who hasn’t done it, I say, it’s like being the smart kid in your high school, then going to university and realizing that everyone else there is as smart or smarter than you, and it can be pretty intimidating.  This time around, I knew I would be closer to the back of the pack than I was in Ottawa 2013.  I purposely didn’t say, “I don’t want to be last,” because you don’t have any control over who else shows up, and really, what’s wrong with being last at this level of competition???

Leading up to the race, I was getting really sick of training and really tired of thinking about the race.  I felt like I didn’t want to put myself through this very long lead up again.  I also felt like, I just wanted to prove to myself that I could get myself fit enough to participate at this level again, and then maybe put this level of competing behind me.  I purposely had not attended any qualifying events for 2018 Worlds.

However, a day or two after the race, I had decided that I wanted to at least consider qualifying for Worlds 2018 which will be in Odense, Denmark ….. but that’s a story for another day!

Gratitude:

A big thanks to my family for supporting me emotionally and physically and for tolerating the bikes in the kitchen!

Thanks to my coach Mike Coughlin, of Discomfort Zone Performance Coaching, especially for that phone call in the final week.

Thanks to my training partners, especially the two Mikes.

Thanks to my technology guy, Spencer.

Thanks to my nutrition coach Michelle Goldrick for steering me in the right direction.

Thanks to Tracy my trainer, Dr. Tina my chiro and Andy my physio for fixing my broken body last year.

Thanks to the Girls Who Bike, 20 Minute Daily Groove, London Centennial Wheelers, Cycles London, Runners Choice and Nordic Cat CX peeps.

Thanks to all my friends, both athletic and not, who have pushed, prodded and propped me up, when I lost the faith so many times in the past year.  It was so very much appreciated.

 

Cathy is a 54 year-old duathlete based in London, Ontario. When she’s not running and cycling, she’s a sole practitioner CPA and the co-manager of a family unit, aka a wife, and mom of two young adults. She is very excited to be entering a new age group next year!

cycling · fitness · Guest Post · health · traveling

N+1: A Love Story (Guest Post)

I know many of the contributors and readers of this blog are avid cyclists. I’ve only recently discovered the joys of cycling. Although, like most people, I learned to ride a bike when I was a child, it never captivated me until I moved to Aotearoa New Zealand and started commuting to university by bike. My officemate, who was leaving the country, sold me his bicycle (whom I christened Beatrice), and my love affair began. After a few months of commuting (plus an unexpected influx of cash), I decided to buy a new bicycle that fit me well and expressed my personality. Beatrice was lonely and needed a sister, after all! Plus, I am told that it is a well-known adage amongst cyclists that the number of bikes you need is n+1, where n is the number of bikes you currently have.

A side photo of a bright orange commuter bike leaning against a white house in the sunshine.
Image description: A side photo of a bright orange commuter bike leaning against a white house in the sunshine.

My new bike, Jezebel, is a commuter bike with a temperament to match her bright orange paint job. I’ll be the first to admit that I know almost nothing about bicycles—although I’m slowly learning a few basic maintenance things—but that hasn’t stopped me from falling hopelessly in love with my new bike. Even though I grew up with a triathlete mother, I never really understood how some cyclists could develop such deep emotional attachments to their bikes.

Now I do.

So, I present to you, dear readers, a love letter to my bicycle*:

Dear Jezebel,

How happy I am that you are in my life! Your blazing orange coat fills me with joy every time I lay eyes on you. I can’t wait to show you all around the great city where we live, and I’m looking forward to taking you up and down roads, over hill and dale, along rivers and around the harbour. You will accompany me everywhere I need to go: to friends’ houses, my office, the supermarket, the swimming pool. I’ll tuck you in, safe and sound in the garage, and dream of speeding off into the sunrise with you in the morning.

You push me to be stronger and more adventurous, facing wind and hill and black ice with courage and determination I didn’t have before. You’ve also made me notice the small details I never would have seen otherwise. The potholes, quirks of the traffic lights at different intersections, hidden driveways, and roads that look flat but are actually very gradual inclines would have escaped my notice if you hadn’t pointed them out to me.

In you, I found freedom I didn’t know I lacked. Before we met, it took me ages to get anywhere. Although I enjoyed walking, it took up a lot of time. I didn’t drive anywhere because I don’t know how, and driving is impractical anyway because traffic is slow and parking is scarce and expensive. And if I took the bus, I was always travelling on someone else’s schedule. Now, you and I can go anywhere whenever we want. While the roads are filled with trapped cars waiting for the procession ahead of them to make it through the next light, we gleefully zip past them down the bike lane. I create excuses to go places simply so I can spend more time with you. I can’t wait for the long and happy life we will spend together.

Love,
Chloe

P.S. Be nice to Beatrice. Having a younger sister has been an adjustment for her.

A 26-year old white woman with short blonde hair, wearing a red and grey plaid shirt and black glasses smiles while posing with her orange bicycle.
A 26-year old white woman with short blonde hair, wearing a red and grey plaid shirt and black glasses smiles while posing with her orange bicycle.

*Yep, I know my bike can’t read.

aging · fitness · Guest Post · injury · running

Today I Ran (Guest Post)

Today I ran.

I didn’t run far but for me this is a milestone nonetheless. It’s not that I have been entirely inactive. Although I broke my foot (a stress fracture) a year and a half ago, and it did take most of a year to heal, since the break occurred while I was running I figured that even if it healed I wouldn’t run again. 

Running hadn’t been my main form of exercise for about 5 years and so I felt I could deal with that. I do CrossFit (see my earlier post on this), bike, and hike and so I thought I could let running go. I mean, I’m 66 and so I figured that there are some things that maybe I have to admit I can’t do any more. But apparently running isn’t one of them (yet).

This is what that means to me. 

First, I can still come all the way back from a pretty distressing injury even if not that serious injury. I was in a boot and on crutches for 6 weeks but struggling long after that. Resilience is a good thing and so that’s reassuring. 

Second, I discovered that even when injured it is worth continuing to exercise. The trainer I work with (the wonderful Brandy) figured I could still row even with my foot is a clumsy hard boot (the stationary bike and running were clearly out – oh, and no burpies either). I am grateful that she was inventive. I put the booted foot on a skateboard and rowed away. Third, feeling strong is a good way to feel – and I am not saying this just because I saw Wonder Woman yesterday. 

Finally, I learned that I shouldn’t prejudge what I can and cannot do based on some idea about how old I am. Yes, I’m getting up there but it isn’t clear what that means about my capabilities and I am finding that it means different things for different people. Finding where you are in that spectrum of experiences is a process and not some pre-determined or static fact. What the limits are is something to be discovered – not told by yourself or others.

I’ve made a note to myself to watch out for mental shadows that prematurely limit my willingness to experiment. I was out riding for the first time in over a month this past weekend and I felt a little shaky. The thought crossed my mind that maybe I shouldn’t be out there giving that I was so old! 

I told a friend on the phone and she said, “I know! The paper would say elderly women killed while cycling. How awful!” I laughed even though I was less worried about what the report would say after the fact then the possibility of it becoming a reality (one difference in our personalities). This is not to say that one shouldn’t be careful. I am a very careful cyclist but I am careful precisely because I want to be riding for as long as possible. And while even careful people have accidents and get injured it is not only those over 60 that have that worry.

I may not be running a lot, but that’s okay. At least I know I can run again. Watch out! Elderly runner/biker/hiker coming through!

Picture of three “sheep ladies” hiking from a shop in Sardinia.

Sharon Crasnow is a retired philosophy professor who writes on feminist philosophy of science and lives in San Diego.

addiction · fitness · Guest Post

Have I Just Replaced One Addiction With Another? (Guest Post)

On my daily walk to the gym, in the darkness of 5 am in London, Ontario, I began reflecting on the changes that occurred when I got into fitness.  Thinking about the hours spent researching fitness and nutrition, the stacks of supplements (proteins, amino acids, greens) on top of my fridge, how I weigh out and track my food intake, I found myself wondering, “Have I just replaced one addiction with another?”

Let me back up a bit…

About a month ago, I had the pleasure of attending a Rotman Institute of Philosophy talk at Western University by Dr. Hanna Pickard, entitled Why Do Addicts Use? Getting Real about Drugs, Identity and Adversity.  In her talk, Dr. Pickard explored the power of the neurobiological myth (i.e., that addicts are neurobiologically compelled to use and cannot help it) and its social and moral repercussions.  While not wholly dismissive of neuroscience, Dr. Pickard emphasized the multifaceted and complex nature of addition.

In doing so, she noted that to understand addition, we also need to have conversations about the value of drugs, the relevance of psycho-socio-economic context, and the role of narrative self-identity.  You can listen/watch the full talk here.

I was particularly struck – in that full-bodied, dizzying kind of way – when Dr. Pickard read a personal narrative from a former addict (name omitted for anonymity).  In this narrative, the person recounted the loss of identity they experienced while recovering from a drug-addicted lifestyle.  That is, when your self-identity is so strong that it permeates almost every aspect of your life, there is a tremendous void when this identity is given up during recovery – how do you fill up that heavy, daunting space?  What do you do with all your time now?

As you may have read when Tracy interviewed me here, I got into fitness after what was a couple years of problematically drinking and partying.  My drinking made up my self-identity, fueling my behavior and filling most my thoughts.  For instance, I would plan my week around when, where, and with whom I would drink, and when I would recover (because it was excessive enough that recoveries were required).  It was the way my peers, friends, and family knew me; it was how I knew me, as if I truly did not know how else to be.

When I got my gym membership last January, I had no idea what I was in for.  I had no idea that I’d fall in love with fitness like I did.  As that love developed and grew, the old habits that came with my drinking lifestyle slowly faded away as new habits that came with my fitness lifestyle filled those would-have-been voids.  Instead of starting off my day with a pounding headache, wondering who I could get to drink with me that day, I’d wake up at the crack of dawn, full of energy and excitement as I’d weigh out my pre-workout meal (to make sure I was getting adequate amounts of macro-nutrients to fuel my workout) and pack my gym bag.  Late nights out were replaced with early nights in (to ensure I had a proper amount of sleep for my muscles to recover and grow).

I’ve often been told by my peers and others in my life that my lifestyle is problematic, excessive, and unhealthy, being told things like “well you need to be able to enjoy other things in life too”, or “weighing your food is excessive and wrong”, and “your lifestyle is too extreme, you sound like an addict, that can’t be right”, and on it goes.

So, on that early morning walk to the gym, these reflections had me wondering whether I had just replaced one addiction with another.  While it may seem as if I did to some, for me, something much deeper and more complex than mere replacement had occurred.  My drinking lifestyle and self-identity was life-restricting, but my fitness lifestyle and self-identity is life-enhancing.  My drinking self-identity made me feel like a spectator in my own life, watching it unfold without ever really participating in it – as if I were sleepwalking through my life without ever truly feeling.  And while I never felt like I was truly myself, I genuinely did not know who else to be or what else to do; in a sense, I became a prisoner to my own self-identity.  It was just who I was, it was just what I did, and what people expected from me.

My fitness lifestyle and identity, however, didn’t just act as a replacement for my old lifestyle/identity; it did, perhaps, initially, but as time went on it became more than that.  When we replace one thing with something similar, we usually get the same output, behavior, or end-result.  I like to think of it in terms of RAM on a computer.  If the RAM (random access memory) on my computer dies, I can replace that part and (hopefully) my computer runs just as it did prior to the crash.  With respect to the question above, however, the result – my quality of life – was not the same (or even similar) with my new lifestyle/self-identity.  It was enhanced and enriched; it woke me up.  No longer was a spectator to my own life, but was a genuine part of it.  Finally, I felt like I was authentically myself.

Through Dr. Pickard’s incredible talk, my reflections on what fitness means to me, and what it taught (and continues to teach) me, I’ve come to deeply appreciate the new narrative self-identity that I’ve created and fostered through fitness.  So, when people offer their unsolicited, “Oh, that’s unhealthy, excessive, wrong, etc.” I smile on the inside, because I know that they cannot contextualize my current lifestyle within my deeper, complex, and often quite painful personal history.

A selfie in a parking garage. Jaclyn, after a grueling leg workout.
Jaclyn, after a grueling leg workout
Jaclyn is an aspiring fitness blogger, living in London, Ontario, completing her PhD in philosophy of neuroscience at the University of Western Ontario.

fitness · Guest Post · yoga

Guest Post: Everyday Shakti (“Power”)

by Treena Orchard

My yoga journey began in January, as a way to deal with heartache- new year, old sorrows. I needed to move, not just out of my apartment but out of my head and the disappointment that had taken root there. There are only so many times I could cry or limp through my days feeling angry and hurt, only so many times I could listen to that broken heart soundtrack featuring Tina Turner (Typical Male, You Better Be Good to Me- wishful thinking, clearly), Alicia Keyes (Fallin), Lauren Hill (X-factor), and that 1990s favourite by Mazzy Star -Fade into You.

I wanted to do something else, but hadn’t done yoga for years. Is this what I want to do? Where? When? Do I still have yoga clothes? These are the questions I asked myself while scrolling through the studio options, weighing the pros and cons of each one: ‘Only does hot- nope, never done that, not ready for that’; ‘Too far away, I’ll never go’; ‘Too trendy, not up for seeing all matter of fit young things sweating up a pretty storm.’ Then I came upon my goldilocks place: ‘It does hot and normal yoga, is only a block away, and it looks cool.’

I chose a non-hot Yang/Yin class because it seemed the most basic place to start and with trepidation and excitement I strode through the red door of The Yoga Collective, ready to begin. As the Tuesdays and Thursdays, and then Sundays too, began adding up so did my strength and desire to do more. It was like rekindling an old relationship with myself through my body, welcoming back the knowledge stored in the muscle’s memory. To remember is to become aware of something again and like our guru Robin often says at the end of class, when we’re all zenned out and just about to utter ‘Namaste” in unison, it’s like coming home.

Does all this goodness mean that I was totally on board with the 30-day challenge when talk of it first began to circulate through the studio? Hell no—NO. No, I can’t do that. That’s what my Vancouver friends did, super fit people who were into super cool things- namely yoga, brunch, and being from Vancouver. Could I do a yoga challenge too? Do I want to? I thought about it a lot and talked with my fellow women yogis, who seemed to be in the same see-saw place as me, wanting to do it but not quite sure about making the commitment. Making a commitment is making a promise and being dedicated to something, serious business.

Despite the positive traction that has been made to reframe how we talk about failure as well as success, I’d be lying if I said the prospect of failing didn’t matter. The image of a circus appeared in my mind, not an innovative, fashion-forward Cirque de Soleil thing but a more carny, less health and safety variety. I am high atop the crowd in a shiny, non-cotton leotard with those dreadful ‘spice’ coloured tights, traipsing inch by nervous inch across the tightrope towards a piece of wood nailed to a pole or some such fictional symbol of a successfully completed 30-day yoga challenge.

Clearly, I really wasn’t sure I could do it. I did not want to fail and my primary concern was related to the physical nature of the challenge. Could I really do yoga every day? I’d only been going three times a week…The tipping point came when Robin said that he decided to hold the challenge when he thought we could do it. Enough said. Fuck it, I might not finish it perfectly but I’m going to do it. I was excited and proud of myself for making the decision.

But, I still felt nervous, especially as Day 1 crept up. These feelings continued into the first week of the challenge, when I was rather obsessive about “doing yoga” and “making time for yoga.” Happily, those feelings began to melt away as the incorporation of yoga into the rhythms of my daily life became ever more seamless. Time itself began to bend to the clock of yoga, which became the measure by which I paced, organized, and rearranged all other things. Tick-tock went the mornings and nights of practice.

As the days passed I felt stronger physically and mentally and those 30 days were an exceptionally creative time too, not just for ‘work work’ but also my own writing, reading, and thinking. The 6 am classes were my favourite. As I walked quietly through my apartment, packing my water bottle and looking at myself in the mirror before heading out into early summer’s dawn, I often thought of Sylvia Plath. During the last months she worked in the very early hours, the only time she could steal away for herself and her beautiful, caustic reflections on a life that was fast slipping away.

Women have always done this, always found ways to make room for themselves and their ideas, the things that matter. They have done this despite and because of others, whether it be the children they love, those who hurt them, or the world that remains caught up in repetitive cycles of patriarchal madness. We must make time and take space for ourselves because no one else will give it to us and because it is essential for our minds, souls, and bodies. Whether it’s a ‘room of our own’ or a yoga mat, amidst lemongrass diffuser mist and beside women and men who have become our friends, we all need that place where we can dwell inside the universe.

Treena is an anthropologist working in the School of Health Studies at Western University in London, Ontario. She lives with her adorable cats Shiva and Mr. Marbles, her art and books, and gets back home to Saskatoon as often as she can.