competition · cycling · fitness · Guest Post · racing · running · swimming · triathalon

Is this what retirement is like? (Guest post)

by Mary Case

Day one of retirement was officially declared a “jammie” day. No alarm clock, a pot of tea, a good book, feet up, sitting in front of the fireplace. It was blissful and lasted almost ninety minutes.

Author in a comfortable arm chair, sitting in front of a fireplace with her feet up, reading a book with her dog at her side.

And then that was enough for the dog who, delighted that there was another human home, insisted on a walk.

Somewhat reluctantly I changed out of my jammies.

It is so quiet and peaceful on this crisp winter’s day.  No noise except the occasional passing car. Was this what it’s like, this retirement thing?

I returned home an hour later, fully intending to return to my perch. (My colorful, cozy jammies now replaced with walking gear, looking suspiciously like running gear), and then I had a vision: an empty pool, a lane to myself perhaps. Was that actually possible? 

Empty YMCA pool.  All lanes free.

It was too irresistible, and so the perch by the fireplace was abandoned again. And there it was: my empty lane. Two kilometres of blissful, uninterrupted swim strokes.

Was this what retirement is like?

The choice to retire from teaching elementary school music was a tough one. I loved my job and was not particularly desperate to get out. 

I had a fulfilling and vibrant career but, I was curious what life would be like on the other side. 

Last fall, in a moment of “but what will I do when I retire?” I wondered what it would be like to be a gym rat, and so I approached my computer in search of half ironman races. These are called 70.3’s in the triathlon world. It seemed a good idea at the time, and it was a distance that my years as a triathlete had prepared me for. 

I chose a date. May 31st, that worked for me. It would have been concert prep time, if I was not retired. 

I chose a location. Connecticut, I could drive there. 

Done! I signed up. 

Oops. I missed a little bit of homework here. I found out later that this half ironman is called the Beast of the East. 

As I write this blog, week one of retirement is almost over. It’s also my 59th birthday. I think about this “fitness” thing. For me, it’s always about the joy of seeing what my body is capable of. I do not have a point of view about speed, competition, losing weight, or much of anything else. 

I love a challenge; my body loves to move endlessly, and the amazing thing is that I am fitter, faster and stronger than I have ever been. 

I think I might  be able to get used to the quiet, the recovery time and being able to head to the gym, my trainer or the road, at hours that do not involve the numbers 4, 5, or 6 attached to “a.m.” 

I think I can get used to this thing called retirement. And who knows, hills may just become my new best friends. 

Author, School photo.  Looking very professional in a pink top and pearls.

Mary is a recently retired Elementary School Music Teacher, an Energetic Body Worker and a professional violinist. When not involved in any of the capacities mentioned above, she can often be spotted in water, on a bike, or running to prepare for her next triathlon.  

fitness · Guest Post · swimming

I’m swimming, get out of my way! (Guest post)

Recently, and along with recent trends inspired by social media, I have taken a more dedicated approach to recognizing when my emotional climate is at risk, the waves of change it goes through and how an evolving emotional climate can affect my day-to-day. While I won’t get into any mental health aspect in this post, I really wanted to share how tracking physicality can act as an indicator for emotional climate.

I probably would never have recognized what being physically active does to me had I not taken up swimming. I started swimming in lap pools a few years ago after taking a swim cycle class. Side note: Have you ever taken one of these? It’s where you drag the spin bike into the therapeutic pool for a semi-submerged spin class. It’s quite something!

Getting into the water that day inspired me to go my local community pool, sign up for a very inexpensive swim membership, and swim laps when I can. I had swum for fitness once before and that was during a swim course in university. Before that course, swimming had always been a part of my life – just in a more casual way.

Going to that community center lap pool was challenging. The centers were difficult for me to get to, especially since I wasn’t used to winter months, and most days it just didn’t work out. However, I recently moved to a new home which is conveniently located five minutes away by foot to a YMCA. The pool there is quite nice; it is large, well-kept and there is usually at least 1 lane open throughout the day (and during optimal times, 3-6 lanes).

Before I even started swimming at the Y I bought new gear. Why? Because I was super uncomfortable in my old gear. To clarify, this wasn’t a familiar uncomfortableness. It wasn’t that I was worried about how I looked. No, for once, my gear was actually uncomfortable. My swim cap didn’t fit and it was extremely tight on my head. This combined with an ill-fitting suit and some hand-me-down goggles left me in a poor state. I’m honestly surprised I had put up with it for as long as I did.

Recognizing that my gear was actually uncomfortable was validating. When I judge myself about my body on a regular basis, knowing that I am happy with my body in the water makes me smile.

I also noticed that even with all its convenience, I still had trouble scheduling swims. I work from home, so I think it goes without saying that my daily schedule is usually unique. But, having to carve out time to go to a very convenient gym with a very convenient lap pool schedule made me realize that I was the one not prioritizing my health.

Recognizing that I wasn’t prioritizing my health was disappointing, but useful. Now, I schedule it in, and I use a habit tracker to stay on top of it.

Now, my swim sessions usually take around 30 minutes and that’s what I’ve found works for me. Since I know this about myself, I commit as much of those 30 minutes as I can to constant movement – easy or hard, it doesn’t matter. This mindset helps me to keep moving, it helps me to more accurately assess my mental and physical health, and it forces me to do one thing and one thing only (the water helps with that too).

Recognizing that 30 minutes of swimming is okay relieves me of the pressure to swim more or faster.

This dedicated 30 minutes of putting on my goggles, my cap, and being submerged in water is enough for me to ignore any other obligations I have and have a conversation with myself. These conversations are usually good. In fact, I’ll notice when they are maybe too much or distracting because I stop swimming. I usually stop swimming because my breathing is off and I have to catch my breath. If my breathing is off then I am distracted. Then I start again.

And of course, recognizing that I am distracted while I’m swimming helps me to stay present.

I also love what swimming does for me. I’m not able to be aware for every second of the swim, but it is rather supporting to know that something as simple as getting in the water can act as a type of recalibration. I don’t need any fancy doctors or medical knowledge. I just need movement.

Score! Free health care for life.

Most importantly, this form of movement has tuned me in to patterns of negative mental and physical health that seem to overtake my lifestyle. Getting back into the water helps to create a routine of swimming, where I realized that before I did not have a routine of swimming let alone self-care (and honestly, what was I doing?).

Not working out should be a major indicator that I am not taking care of myself, but that’s not how life works. This is why I now have a lifestyle coach. Okay, so it isn’t completely free health care, but it is very affordable and it will keep me dedicated to recognizing my physical, emotional and lifestyle patterns.

I think for those on this blog, using physical activity as a tool for feeling good and refreshed might be normal (right?). However, I think a large majority of people don’t see it that way, especially when it comes to being water active. In this overworked world, being active is a chore (#fitlife), while getting out to the water is called leisure or vacation. There’s a book by Wallace Nichols that relates to the transformative power of water (let alone being active in the water): Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do. It’s on my must-read this.

As I woman I find that shutting off the world for 30 minutes – 30 minutes every single day – is necessary. There are so many balancing acts that I am trying my best to navigate and to un-navigate. And now, instead of having to claw my way through self-care, I can just go swimming. Swimming is easy and, for me, there’s something entirely ungendered about it.

Cami is a PhD candidate at Western University studying the ethics of women’s sports science. Her studies stem from her past as a professional volleyball player and personal trainer. Now she prefers to climb rocks, tend her vegetable garden, camp, hike, surf and play in the water.

Photo by Etienne Girardet on Unsplash
Image description: Blue water, a yellow pool deck, and a stainless steel ladder
fitness · swimming · tbt · training

On Doing What Makes Us Feel Like Kids Again #tbt

Yesterday Sam wrote a serious post about how most of her exercise these days is not fun. And she’s doing it anyway. I felt profound relief when she got to the part where she said she can still ride a bicycle (the thing that most makes her go “wheeee!”) and lift weights.

It made me reflect a bit on my own activities and how my definition of “fun” has changed from “fun” to “challenging with a bit of fun thrown in.” In honor of spring, I thought I’d repost something from my swimming days about doing these that make us feel like kids again. Lately for me that hasn’t been swimming (not fitting into my plans these days), but rather colouring books (the ones for adults) and photography (SO much fun). But even those don’t quite reach the fun level of the little swim sprint races I describe in this post.

Have you had any kid-like fun lately?


three children under water swimming, smiling.

The other morning at the end of a 6 a.m. training session in the pool, the coach told us to swim down to the flags about 3/4 of the way to the other side of the 25m pool.  The point: to do group sprints from there back to the end of the pool, about 20m.

When the four of us in my lane got to the flags, we treaded water waiting for her countdown.  Three, two, one…GO.  When you’re used to pushing off from the pool wall, starting up from treading water feels odd. The first few strokes almost don’t take at all.

But you know what I learned as I powered out of the deep end and made my way to the end of the pool as fast as I could, lane-mates doing the same alongside me? I’m not bad at it.  I gained momentum after a couple of…

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fitness · menopause · swimming · winter

Swimming in the cold, brrr!

I love swimming outside. But I hate being cold. Probably that means I should live somewhere else! Bora Bora was lovely. See above.

The other day this came through my social media newsfeed: The remarkable health benefits of cold water swimming. That article focuses mainly on the mental health benefits of swimming in cold water, especially helping with depression. But it’s also said to be great for relieving the symptoms of menopause.

It’s said to be all the rage: Why wild swimming in depths of winter is the new natural high. I love being outside. I love being in the water. But I prefer it if the water is hot! See Sam’s day at the spa. On my spa day I did dump a couple of buckets of cold water over my head after the too hot sauna but I couldn’t get myself to swim in the river. Next time I’ll try it. Promise.

How about you? Tempted to swim in the cold water outside?

fitness · Martha's Musings · planning · swimming · training · weight loss · yoga

Strategic planning for the fit feminist

By MarthaFitat55

I work as a strategic planner as well as a communications strategist and trainer/facilitator. In the last few years, I have jotted down a series of goals as an informal strategic plan for myself. This year I decided to take a couple of days to be more structured about how I plan as I want to achieve some specific things by 2020. (As a side note, there isn’t anything really special about that date for me lifewise, but I like round numbers and that one appeals to me.)

I have five categories in my plan: work, home, family, relationships, and fitness. This isn’t a priority listing. My plan is a series of circles, and these overlap and separate over time.

When I first began working on fitness as a goal to get me to 55, it was pretty simple: I wanted to show up. Five years later, I still show up, but I have refined my approach somewhat. In past years, I have added learning how to do pull ups, how to get up from and get down to the floor, and increasing the weight on the bar for deadlifts, squats and bench. I also wanted to mix things up so I added swimming and yoga to the mix. The past six months have been busier than I expected with work and family commitments, and more times than I liked, fitness fell by the wayside.

Thus the need for a more focused approach, because I know when my life gets busy, the time I set for fitness can get chewed up by other Imporant Things.

I decided to apply the questions I use when I help organizations develop their own strategic plans. I ask three questions to get started: why do you want to do this? what will you achieve? and how will you make it happen? I then ask two supplementary questions: when will this happen and where?

Image shows a spiral-bound, lined notebook with a fountain pen resting on a blank page. Photo credit: Aaron Burden, Unsplash

My why is pretty clear: I want to be healthy and active for a long time. My what is also pretty straightforward: I want to be fit and active. The how is also known: I like weightlifting, I enjoy the flexibility of yoga, and swimming gives me a way to connect with my body differently than the weights or mat can offer. I’ll be identifying some key benchmarks in these objectives, because measurement is a way to keep me focused and accountable.

My biggest challenge is the “when” as there are many demands on my time. The drafting of a strategic life planning document gives me the opportunity to make certain promises to myself and those promises are getting plugged into my calendar so I have away to be accountable.

Over the coming months I’m going to track how my plan is working. What are you thinking about doing in 2019 to keep you on track with your fitness goals?

fashion · feminism · fitness · gear · running · swimming

Bettina’s quest for a multi-sport watch – small wrists and designing with women in mind

Following the untimely demise of my wristwatch, I’m currently in the market for a multi-sport watch. Tracking can be problematic in a variety of ways (see posts e.g. here and here), but I like data, and I like tracking my exercise performance over time. So I’ve wanted a multi-sport watch for quite a while, but could never quite justify the expense because I had a functioning watch. There was also a second problem that persists and is currently thwarting my watch acquisition project. I have small wrists.  Very small wrists.

So I can’t find a watch that fits me. With some models, the body is literally wider than my wrist (I’m looking at you, Samsung Gear Fit Pro 2). It’s uncomfortable and looks ridiculous, but also has the potential to become dangerous since it increases the risk of getting caught on something, say a pool line. In the past I’ve owned a Garmin Swim that I wore exclusively in the pool. Tracking swimming was literally all it did, and even though it was chunky, it was just about ok. It did a good job at recognising strokes and provided other analyses I was keen on having, like stroke efficiency and such like. Later, I started looking into multi-sports watches more seriously, since I’d also gotten into running and wanted something that could track that too. This was the start of my sizing troubles. In the end, I settled for an activity tracker that counts lanes very reliably and does a reasonable job at estimating distance when running, although this is inaccurate enough to be annoying.

Bettina’s current fitness tracking setup: a Misfit Ray. Not bad, but there is room for improvement. Also exhibit (a): small wrist.

One would think that over time, manufacturers would catch on to the fact that there are people with small wrists around, but no. I still can’t find anything that suits me, and I’m starting to get quite angry. I’d really like a Garmin Forerunner 645 or Vívoactive 3, but even these smaller models are really too big. I might just about be able make the Forerunner 645 work – but it would be a big compromise practically and aesthetically.

I wonder why there are no suitable watches around. Yes, my wrists are small, but I wouldn’t say they’re extraordinarily tiny. One possible explanation for the lack of options is that manufacturers can’t currently fit all the functionalities one would want into a smaller watch. If someone can convincingly demonstrate to me this is true, I’ll rest my case. Another reason could be that you need a certain display size for the watch to be functional. I get that point. Still, I have trouble buying those arguments. The Apple Watch has loads of functionalities and is still relatively small. The difference: it is very clearly aimed at men and women. My hunch is that this isn’t exactly the case with multi-sport watches.

Yes, there are multi-sport watches out there with a more “female look”, usually rose gold and white. But they’re still massive! Even for instance the Garmin Fenix 5S, supposedly designed with women in mind. Not to mention that not all women are keen on the rose gold/white colour combo. My theory is that it still has something to do with “designing with women in mind”. I’m not talking about “shrink it and pink it”. That would probably actually imply a loss of functionalities. In fact, many activity trackers seem to fit exactly that purpose, and there are plenty available that are explicitly aimed at women. Fitbit even launched a “female health tracking” functionality earlier this year that attracted some excellent snark among our blog contributors (Would the messages come in shades of pink? Would it do emotional labour for you on the variance in your numbers? – It ended up reducing “female health” to “menstrual cycles”, which has a whole other load of problems, but that’s not under discussion here).

So is it carelessness? Or laziness? Are the people who design these watches a bunch of men whose effort to think about potential female customers stops at “oh, let’s slap some women-y colours on it and be done already”, combined with a dose of “women aren’t interested in a serious multi-sport watch anyway”? Is the number of women with small wrists and a desire for detailed sports tracking too small to make it worth the effort? Maybe. But I’d still like one. With swimming analytics beyond lane counting. With GPS. With music streaming integration. Yes, the full deal. Really.

If any of you have tips for a device that might fit the bill for me, please shout. I’d really appreciate it! Or are you running into the same problems?

fitness · swimming

Sam is loving her swimming classes

This is the gold pool, at the University of Guelph. It’s the lane swimming pool to which I aspire!

They’re just two nights a week, for a half hour. But I’m loving it. Monday night I was sitting in my office reading the horrible news about the Quebec election. I could have kept reading but instead, I walked to the athletic centre and put on my new swimsuit and my new goggles and worked on my breathing while doing lengths of the pool. Swim classes start at 8 pm but there’s no one in the small pool before us so I usually get there 15 minutes early and practice. I needed that.

What do I like?

Time flies when I’m learning to swim. Right now swimming takes all my concentration so all the worries of my day disappear. There isn’t room for them. Swimming clears my mind and I don’t work again after. I’m more relaxed after and that’s a valuable thing these days.

I love the learning curve when you start something new. I’m better each week. That’ll slow down and drop off soon but it makes the first few weeks fun.

Learning to swim isn’t about fitness.. It’s technique focused. I’m learning new skills. We’re giving so much attention to skills that I sometimes forget it’s exercise at all.

For me, swimming, in particular breathing takes a lot of concentration. I have to be very deliberate in my breathing.

Also, so far while swimming, my knee doesn’t hurt. It’s nice to have exercise other than cycling that doesn’t involve pain.

I love that there’s so much body diversity in the pool. My instructor is larger than me and also obviously much faster than me. She’s a former competitive swimmer.

I love being a student. My instructor is a fourth year student. The other person in my semi private lesson is a second year student. Here I am the Dean but in the pool I’m the student. It’s fun being a beginner again!

This is the red pool. It’s smaller and warmer than the gold pool and it doesn’t have lane markers. It’s where I take swimming classes.