fitness · monthly check in · season transitions · Seasonal sadness

Sam’s monthly check in: September was busy!

As usual, September is a blur. That’s true in both non pandemic and pandemic times. I’ve been a student, then graduate student, then Professor, now also Dean. September is always a blur for me.

This one was especially busy with lots of time with students, in my role as Dean and Professor, both physically distanced on campus and virtually on Teams/Zoom. The university is a hectic place as we carry on mostly remotely. So many meetings!

We’re also busy navigating our slow and cautious return to campus as a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic begins which will likely mean drawing back, restricting our activities further, and staying at home much more than usual this winter. There’ll be no warm weather biking for me in January. In a recent post Cate asked what we’ve been doing to nourish our soul, given that we are heading into a tough winter.

Well, I spent September working hard, but also riding my bike, visiting with family outdoors, taking care of some basic needs (haircut and dentist) and reading fiction. I’ve been trying to appreciate fall for what it is, rather than worrying about what’s to come. Less anticipatory sadness more now is all we have. Thanks Nicole!

Sarah and I have been spending more time at the farm in Prince Edward County. That means loops around Big Island and racing the Osprey Nest to Osprey Nest Strava segment we created.

I’ve also started working on campus, one day a week. That means I’m bike commuting again, which I’ve missed.

Left; Sam wearing her pink sparkly helmet and her Art Gallery of Guelph Begging Bear mask.
Right: Pink Brompton leaning on rock outside campus building

Here’s my office on campus, my outdoor office hours, and an empty (usually bustling) student plaza.

Despite being busy I’m still riding lots (for me). I might make 5000 km this year.

I’m loving Yoga With Adriene’s PE series for young people. That’s where my yoga attention span is these days. And we’re going to push backyard personal training as far as we can into the winter months.

I’m trying to think like a Norwegian about winter: “ People in Svalbard (at 78 deg north) had a more positive mindset than the people in Tromsø (69 deg north), who took a more optimistic view than people in Oslo (60 deg north). In other words, the positive wintertime mindset is most common where it’s most needed. These positive attitudes were apparent in Leibowitz’s casual conversations; indeed, she says that many of her friends struggled to understand why you would not enjoy winter. They embraced the possibility of skiing or hiking in the mountains, and savoured the chance to practice koselig – a Norwegian version of Denmark’s hygge – which might involve snuggling under blankets with a warm drink in the candlelight. Far from dwindling in the dark, Tromsø’s community flourished in the long polar night. “There is this interaction between the culture that you’re part of, and the mentality or mindset that grows out of it,” says Prof Joar Vittersø, Leibowitz’s collaborator at the Arctic University of Tromsø.”

fitness · monthly check in

Sam’s monthly check-in: June’s ups and downs

My last monthly check-in was February. And then they stopped. I wonder why? Hmmm.

Now it’s the end of June. What happened to those months? Geesh.

The great pandemic pause. I think today is day 106 of the state of emergency in Ontario.

Some things in my life are chugging along and other things seem on hold. I haven’t been keeping up with my academic research and writing. Zoom academic administration, chairing video conference meetings in a period of crisis, takes a lot of time and energy.

For the first time, I’m having attention span issues. I pick up books and I put them down. I start writing things and then I stop. I feel like I’m waiting for something to happen, for something to be decided, but it’s not clear what.

Interestingly general fitness is going fine. I’m working out lots. It helps with stress and I get to work out with my son for company. I’m racing my bike on Zwift and getting in some yoga though not as much as I’d like.

I’d been writing the monthly updates for awhile now. I liked writing them. But what’s to update in the great pause? Except it’s now clearer than ever that we’re in this strange state for a long time. It’s not a pause. I have friends starting big new jobs. Friends moving across the country. Friends having babies. In the middle of the pandemic life goes on.

We’re emerging a bit here in Ontario. I’m still working from home but I’ve been out riding my bike and having friends visit in the backyard. I’m nervous about what fall and winter will bring so I’m making sure I get out some now while we can.

I’m starting to think about my impending knee surgery and wondering if the dates will be changed by Covid-19 and hospital priorities. I’m reminding myself that I should focus some of the exercise I do on getting ready for knee replacement.

FOCUS.

That’s my word for the year.

“Focus” seems an ironic word choice during the pandemic. It’s so hard to do.

I’m back on it though. Trying. The good thing is my knee is doing mostly okay. I carried laundry up steps this morning without pain. If I go early enough I can even take Cheddar for longer walks. Riding lots seems to help.

fitness · monthly check in

Sam’s monthly check-in: February’s ups and downs

First, the February good news. I’m counting down the days to spring. I’m loving the added evening light. There are days when it’s clear spring is happening soon.

It’s 23 days to spring and this is a photo of pink buds with green grass and a bright blue sky.

Also, February contains Valentine’s Day. And that’s a good thing.

Happy Valentine’s bitmoji

The rest of February is a mixed bag of feelings.

With my knee surgery within the year, I’ve been trying to push myself. I want to be in the best shape possible before it’s all knee rehab all the time. I’ve been watching another athletic friend go through the work that’s required in recovery and that was her goal. Go into surgery in fighting form. (Go Patty!) That’s my focus for the year.

My knee and knee surgery isn’t really bad or good. It just is.

But it’s also a challenge in that there a lot of things I just can’t do. Have I mentioned how much I miss running? Aikido? Soccer? CrossFit? Blerg. Yawn.

Here’s a green belt Aikido selfie from four years ago.

Aikido Sam selfie in dojo washroom mirror

But focusing on what I can do…

Mostly it’s strength training, yoga, and Zwift these days with the odd dog walk thrown in for good measure. There’s also a lot of tedious knee physio. That’s not a bad combo but by temperament I’m a Jill of All Sports.

Home yoga with Cheddar

It’s also a lot of balancing. Workout hard, let my knee recover. Gentle exercise, hard thing, rest. Repeat. I’m edgy about it. I want to bite peoples’ heads off when they say, listen to your body. (Sorry friends!) Our bodies don’t have singular messages. They don’t speak with one voice. My heart and lungs want to push harder. My knee says slow down. My strong core is ready for anything but again the knee doesn’t like quick, unexpected movements on unstable ground. Okay, so maybe I should just listen to my knee since that’s my focus for the year. But my knee isn’t always the most helpful voice. My knee says, nothing hurts on the sofa. Grab a book! We can wait for surgery with a backlog of unread fiction and pots of tea. Lots of Netflix to catch up on.

But I’m with Cate about the importance of movement. I’ve written before about life as a shark. Keep moving. Keep quiet knee. My brain knows what’s best.

Also, for the first time since this whole knee falling apart thing began I’m self conscious exercising in public. I’m noticing my incapacity more and feeling embarrassed. I shouldn’t have that attitude. I wouldn’t have it if others had the same disability. And then I get angry at myself for being so self-judgey. That’s not a very good mood cycle.

When I do Modo Yoga in the studio now I’m very conscious of my limitations. There are things I just can’t do no matter how modified. That’s you, hero pose. I can manage tree and eagle with my right leg as the sole leg but not the left. I imagine I can see people looking and wondering what’s up.

This month I went to my favorite lunch hour fitness class at work, the full hour TRX class plus a “playground” add on that’s like calisthenics. The regular instructor was away and instead we did a Tabata style thing with circuits and partners and there were a couple of things–like sprinting for 40 seconds and jumping jacks for 40 seconds–that I just couldn’t do. I felt rotten and I nearly left the class. Instead, I told the instructor about my knee and I did planks instead. I’m glad I stayed even though my abs are sore.

As you can tell even my mood has taken a hit. I’ve become crankypants Sam. This is not normal for me. My mellow disposition is somewhat legendary. It’s part of what makes me a good academic leader. I’m hard to ruffle and cheerful and generous by nature. I don’t work at it. It’s how I wake up. It’s who I am. But I’ve been realizing lately that it takes a certain amount of exercise to keep me that way. As other people have been counting up to some really big numbers in the 220 in 2020 group, I’m having to workout less than usual to keep up with knee issues and recovery.

Also, it’s been extra busy at work. If January feels like it lasted forever, February is the month that flew by.

Also, unlike January when I did a lot of riding, February has been all indoor riding. I think that’s been part of the mood issue. My plan is to get back on my bike and make some plans for summer riding.

So Sarah and I got out for some fat bike riding on the weekend. That was fun!

Fat biking in six photos

Sarah, Joh, and I have registered for the Ride for Heart. It’s 75 km pretty early in the season. We’re really looking forward to it.

You can cheer me up by sponsoring me here.

fitness · injury · monthly check in

Sam’s monthly check-in: January’s ups and downs

Ups! January ends on a high note! I’m writing this post somewhere warm. I’m riding my bike in Florida. Whee! Last year it was Clermont. This year it’s the nearby town of Mount Dora. Here’s our very cute cottage rental and me amid the lush shrubbery.

Sam in Mount Dora

This very cute Florida town is home of the Mount Dora Bike Festival though we’re not here for that. The festival is in October and we’re here in January hoping to make good use of their route maps for the rides. Later in the week we’ll be taking on that classic Florida climb, Sugarloaf.

Earlier in the month I was at a conference in Arizona. That was fun too. It’s an excellent conference. But I missed having my bike. There are so many cyclists in Arizona many of them from Canada. Instead, I did Yoga with Adriene in my hotel room and went for walks in the nature trails around the resort.

Downs! These are just January initiatives that weren’t as successful as I’d hoped they’d be. They’re not serious downs or failures. I tried to do Yoga with Adriene at home. I should have done it in my office! I just don’t have room at home. Here’s Cheddar “helping.”

I started out doing the bike everyday in January thing, #31DaysofWinterBiking. I managed commuting by bike lots of days but not all of them. I rode inside some of the time–loving Zwift!–and now I’m spending the last week of winter biking riding in Florida. That hardly counts. 🙂

View this post on Instagram

#31daysofwinterbiking

A post shared by Samantha Brennan (@samjanebrennan) on

But I made it through January, the second worst month of the year, right after November. My bright light helped.

fitness · monthly check in · weight loss

Sam’s monthly check-in: October’s ups and downs (cw: brief mention of weight)

Ups this month?

I’m back inside riding. Why hello Zwift! It’s been awhile. So much fun.

I’m also continuing the path to become an indoor cycling instructor. I wrote the test yesterday. Scary. It won’t be graded for a few weeks. I’ll let you know. Next up, playing apprentice instructor in a few classes.

But I’m still trying to go for short outside rides too. I’m commuting by bike and I’m looking forward to playing in the snow with bikes. I even blogged about my transition to being an all season rider. That makes fall less sad. But so too do plans to go riding in January in Florida

It’s not fitness related but it was a big month work-wise, in a good sense. Guelph played host to the Canadian Society for Women in Philosophy conference. Catherine blogged about some of the talks here.

The day before was the groundbreaking for the new MacKinnon Building renovations and the construction of the ImprovLab. Here’s me looking very happy!

And before that I was in Munich for a conference on Neglected Relationships talking about chosen family. What a big month!

Downs?

So dark! And getting darker still next weekend. Pretty soon I’ll be getting up in the dark, riding to work in the dark, and riding home in the dark too. I’ve got my warm, reflective gear ready along with all the lights for my bike out and fully charged.

I’ve also decided to order some full spectrum lights to help with the season of darkness. Do you do that? Does it help?

My knee pain continues. I’m not able to walk very far without my knee brace but even with the knee brace it’s limited. I’ve pretty much cut out long walks which is hard. I didn’t see much of Munich. I miss walking Cheddar!

Cheddar did walk with me to vote this month!

I’m losing weight still and still conflicted about all of that. I’m at the stage of needing to replace some clothes. On the upside I can now fit into my smaller jeans again.

I’m trying to avoid the internalized version of you’ve lost weight, you look great. That’s a little bit too easy of a trap to fall into if I try being body positive about my slightly smaller body. Body positivity is easier for me at smaller sizes. No surprise. And it feels mean to my former size. Given that I know the odds of never seeing that size again aren’t great, I’m trying to avoid all of that.

Instead I’ve been trying out Tracy’s body neutrality attitude. This is a good body. So too was my larger body. It’s just that the larger body wasn’t such a good match for my aging arthritic joints. It was better for some things and this body is better for others.

Black commuter bike forms the two “o”s in “I feel good today.”
cycling · monthly check in · weight loss

Sam’s monthly check-in: September’s ups and downs (cw: brief mention of weight)

Bitmoji Sam with her arms up in the air, in a pile of brightly coloured leaves

September is the big back to school month for many of us here on the blog. I’m teaching for the first time in awhile. My class is three hours on Tuesday afternoon and that often means I’m doing the reading, grading, etc on Sunday afternoon. I also have days of solid back to back meetings, followed by events most evenings. My max this year was three evening events. A meet the new grad students thing, followed by a gallery opening, followed by a dinner with some new faculty members. Don’t get me wrong. I love my job. But September is hard work. There’s a lot going on!

I’m also trying some new things. One scary new thing is cycle instructor training. It’s a goal I announced as part of the fittest by fifty challenge but it didn’t get done. This year when the university announced they were offering training, I jumped in.

I’ve completed the full day class. Next up is the exam. After that there’s an instructor mentoring program and then for my final test, I plan and teach a class on my own.

I also tried a new thing that I thought I might hate but actually really enjoyed: golf. Friends, you can let the teasing commence.

Another good thing in September? Camping with Sarah in Killarney park. We had lots of fun paddling and we weren’t eaten by bears. I’m planning on more paddling trips next summer. I love my canoe.

I’m coping with my usual September/October sadness. I definitely need to spend more time on my bike. But it’s getting dark early in the evenings so that’s going to be just a weekend thing or an indoor thing from now on. Oh, September.

Pretty soon I’m moving my bike training indoors. Back to the Back Shed! See you soon on Zwift!

On the mixed feelings side there’s weight loss. I’m not even sure really how to to talk about it and it’s a thing people love to talk about. I’ve invested a lot of effort in, and spilled a lot of virtual ink about, loving my larger body. But I need to lose weight for knee replacement surgery and I’m doing it.

Most people are excited and happy that I’m losing weight. I’m mostly “meh” about it except that my knee hurts less and that’s a fabulous thing. All of a sudden people are noticing and complimenting me. Mostly I shift the focus pretty quickly to my upcoming knee surgery.

In my heart of hearts, I’m with Carly B, the “cheerful chubster.” I need to remind myself that even at my smallest I’m still “overweight.” I don’t even aspire to be in the normal weight zone. I’m trying to make peace with changing size by telling myself that as much as I like my larger body my injured and aging knee can’t take it.

See below for why the scare quotes above!

cycling · monthly check in · season transitions

Sam’s monthly check in: What went on in August (cw: brief mention of aspirational weight loss)

This is a very quick update. In early August I met with a knee surgeon at University Hospital. I’ve decided to go ahead with their recommendation which is total knee replacement. Even going through the intake questions it became clear how much I’ve lost. I won’t get running or martial arts back but I’m looking forward to some really long walks.

I don’t sleep through the night without pain. I get my knee in a good position with pillows but then I I wake up each time I need to move. It’s a good 3-4 times a night. I can’t stand, sit, or walk for very long.

Now it’s a 16 months countdown to knee surgery with a focus on leg strength, exercise, and weight loss. It’s not all fun but having a deadline gives me a new sense of focus and determination. Wish me luck.

Eventually I’ll need both knees done but I’m hoping to get a bit of a break between surgeries.

Happiness is a new knee.

Towards the middle of August I started to notice the earlier dark. I’m pining for lost morning and evening light. I love riding before and after work and I’ll lose the light for that long before I lose the heat. Boo hoo. I saw this the other day on Facebook. “Sunset is now before 8pm. We will not see it set after 8pm again until late April.” Sigh. For more, see here.

At the very end of August, the last day, today it’s my birthday. 55! We set out ride 55 km but in the end messed up with routes and got back after 53.6 km. Other people might have ridden around the block (Cate!) but I decided I’m 53.6 years of age at heart.

Hume Road. For the philosophers.
Susan, David, me, Sarah, and Stephanie
#deanslife · cycling · fitness · monthly check in · weight lifting

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

What’s up?

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

Sarah and I have been learning to race the Snipe.

What’s not to like?

See below!

What’s down?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Puffins guarding my latte at the Dark Tickle cafe and gift shop.
accessibility · fitness · monthly check in · motivation

Sam’s monthly check-in: What’s up, what’s down, the April version

What’s up this month? The weather has been miserable this spring! I usually hate March and love April but not so much in 2019. It’s certainly affected my plans to be regularly riding outside now. And my knee pain has affected my ability to dog hike with Cheddar very much.

I’ve been commuting by bike to work but otherwise not really riding outside. It’s been cold, and wet, and windy. The last I can take but the other two have kept me inside Zwift-ing away into April.

As a result I’ve also been spending a fair bit of time inside at the gym: personal training, weight training on my own, rowing, knee physio, and fancy stretching. I love having the university gym so close to my office. It’s probably not the best gym for me but since the best gym is the one you actually go to, it’s best for me right now.

The rowing machine is my fave piece of cardio equipment at the gym and I start most days there with a 2 km warm up at a moderate pace. For me that’s 10 minutes for 2 km, or 2:30 for 500 m, My speedy pace is 2:00 for 500 m, or 2 km in 8 minutes. I’m not doing 2 km tests these days or racing in ergattas but I still love the rowing machines as my go-to piece of cardio equipment at the gym. My heart rate goes up. And most importantly, my knee doesn’t hurt.

I’ve also been doing lots of fancy stretching. I love being able to reply to emails while the machine holds me in a stretch position.

The other machine that I’ve discovered that’s hard but not knee punishing is the Jacob’s Ladder. See photo above. The thing is I like tough, challenging workouts. We can debate whether it’s right to say that I like suffering or whether endurance athletes are really all masochists or whether it’s okay to dub your indoor cycling space your pain cave. It’s been tough for me to find things that don’t aggravate my knee but are still challenging in the way that I like athletic activities to be. I miss CrossFit!

What makes it such a tough workout?

See Jacobs Ladder climbers reach tough fitness rewards.

“Jacobs Ladder, a moving, angled, climbing machine, may be named after the Biblical stairway to heaven, but it packs such a challenging workout people have dubbed it the stairway to hell.

Fitness experts say users of the fitness machine, which is a favorite among Army Rangers, Navy Seals, and “The Biggest Loser” television series, reap total body, calorie-busting rewards.

“It’s a great and tough cardio piece,” said Neal Pire, an exercise physiologist with the American College of Sports Medicine. “Picture a step mill that combines the lower and upper body, and you have Jacobs Ladder. Except instead of steps, you have rungs.””

Here’s an argument for preferring the JL to your treadmill.

In April I’ve also come to appreciate some of my personal features that have helped me slog through this winter with my badly arthritic knees. It’s not just toughness though people say that about me and I’ll nod. Toughness isn’t enough given the nature of the problem. It’s also creativity and being positive when things are difficult. It’s funny because I know those characteristics are true of me in other areas of life but I haven’t thought about it in the fitness context.

Looking forward to spring and the warm weather coming up!

cycling · fitness · monthly check in

Sam’s monthly check-in: What’s up, what’s down, the March version

Thing 1. I am really tired. I don’t usually play the “I’m busier than you” game. I love my work.  But March in the academic world is not a fun month. My former Dean used to say, when I was a department chair, that we should never introduce anything new in March.  Faculty will hate it, guaranteed. Also, nothing anyone says in March really counts. Professors have been teaching all year and they’re tired. However, all the faculty also retreat to their research cocoons in April and so there’s some pressure to get projects that require faculty input and involvement finished. Add to that the tension around our provincial government’s budget and cutbacks to universities, we’re all busy, tired, and stressed. I work 12 hour days quite often and then I come home and do this. (Note though, unlike other Deans I don’t work on weekends other than showing up to events and though there’s lots of those they mostly feel fun and celebratory.)

Thing 2. My left knee saga continues: This is neither up nor down. But it’s official. I’m in the queue for partial knee replacement. The wait time is 6-12 months which is good because that’s after the 5 Boro Bike weekend, my Newfoundland bike adventure and likely also after the one day bike rally and the tri-adventure. Priorities. It’s not certain yet that I’ll go through with it. It’s scary stuff but I’m one step closer and I’ll get (yet more) expert advice.

Here’s an image of knees from Unsplash but they aren’t mine.

Image description: Someone’s knees, not mine. The knees are wearing brown cargo pants. A blurry mountain and some trees are in the distance. Photo from Unsplash.

Thing 3. My riding: I kind of hoped to get outside riding more in March but thanks to the weather that didn’t happen. Instead, I bought a monthly membership for unlimited indoor trainer riding at the Bike Shed. I’ve left my bike there with the goal of making it in three times a week. I love it there. I’ve left my bike there and I’ve been Zwift riding around New York City and London, UK.

Screen capture of my recent Zwift ride.

Oh, and Facebook and Google keep reminding me that in Novembers past I was riding outside in March. Thanks, I guess.