fitness · running · training

They’re All Good Runs: A Case for Autoregulation

When you go out for a run or ride, how do you decide how long you will go, how hard, or how fast? Less time lifting weights these days has meant more time running for me, and I’m approaching it a new way–I’m using autoregulation to determine my goals for each outing. For any activity, autoregulation is allowing data from the experience in the moment to determine your outcomes for that event.

Choose your datapoint. Autoregulation does not mean “go for as long as you feel like.” I’m not just running until it doesn’t seem fun anymore. Honestly, for me, the first mile has always been rough, with my body telling me all about how I’m making it do something it isn’t well-designed to do. It can take even longer for my breathing to even out. If I were to use these cues to tell me when I’m done, I’d never run more than half a mile.

What I have learned, though, is that while I may sound like a freight train as I puff down the middle of the road, my pace can remain pretty steady. I start my runs these days around an 11-12 min/mile pace. If I get feeling really loose, maybe if there’s some downhill bits or someone annoys me and I get a surge of adrenaline, I can speed up for a while to perhaps 9:30-10 min/miles.

So, that’s the datapoint I use to autoregulate my runs; I check my pace. As long as I’m running faster than a 13 minute/mile, I keep running. And when I see my pace drop below 13 minutes/mile for a couple checks, I’m done. Usually, my pace drops off really fast. Sometimes that happens after a shorter run, maybe 1.5 miles, sometimes it takes longer. However long I go, I know I’ve gone a distance that challenges me without overdoing it and without cutting myself short.

Choose your route. Obviously, a potential downside to this method is ending up some distance from home and needing to walk quite a ways back. Until my distances become consistently longer, I’m keeping pretty close to home. I started my runs as loops around the perimeter of a beautiful, historic cemetery a few blocks from our house. I can run one loop, about three quarters of a mile, or any distance longer than that without ever being more than a few blocks from home. As I’ve gotten stronger, to mix it up, I also run through the neighborhood along a 3-mile loop. If I can only run one side of the loop, I’m still only a little over a mile from home, which is a nice walk to cool down with.

Celebrate each run. I think the best part of this strategy for me is that it’s reduced the stress of feeling like I need to accomplish something specific on my runs. When I first got back into it at the start of Stay Home Save Lives in March, I gave myself the “add 10% to the distance” rule and tried to adhere to it week to week. It was fine at first, but then, maybe 5 or 6 weeks into it, I hit a wall. I couldn’t run further. I’d try to push through it, and my stomach would start to roil, my legs would ache, my heart rate would spike, and my pace would slow down to slower than if I’d been walking. It felt bad, and I didn’t feel successful.

When I started to give myself permission to just run until my body said stop, the distances run to run varied more, but each run felt better. I didn’t push myself to having a sour stomach all day. My hip didn’t ache for the next week. I had energy for my lifting the following day. It was better. And after a while, the distances started to tick upwards again. It isn’t linear. Every run isn’t further than the run before it. But the trend is slowly becoming longer and longer, and there are moments when it really feels good again to be running. That is why I’m out there in the first place–I want it to feel good, I want to feel good.

This week, I ran just over three miles for the first time in years. There were periods during that run that it actually felt easy. I’ve always laughed at the advice to keep it at a “conversational” pace. Running and conversation have never been in the cards for me. However, for a block here and there, I think I COULD have had a conversation! When I checked my pace, I was surprised to note that I hadn’t slowed down, I was still trucking along around 11 min/mile. So I kept running.

Autoregulation has been a welcome tool for me to enhance my running endurance during these challenging times. It allows me to listen to my body; it gives me a goal that I can pursue without judgement. It has taken away a stressor (externally derived goals) while still allowing me to challenge myself and improve over time. I am so grateful that I can run, and now I am really enjoying it again.

Photo description: Feet in grey and orange running shoes, ascending concrete stairs.

Your turn, dear reader: How do you decide when you’ve gone far enough? Do you predetermine distances or use autoregulation to decide how far to go? I’d love to hear from you.

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found ignoring her ragged breathing, picking up heavy things and putting them back down again in Portland, Oregon.

220 in 2020 · fitness · habits · health · motivation · rest · running · schedule · strength training · training · walking · yoga

220 in 2020: goal achieved, now what? Hint: keep going

image description: Tracy selfie. She’s smiling, wearing a Buff on her head and a workout tank, upper left arm tattoo of flower visible, home workout equipment (e.g. running shoes, cans of beans, chairs, blanket, bin with resistance bands, yoga mat on floor) in background.

A few of us have blogged about participating in “220 in 2020,” which is basically a group where you keep track of your workouts, with a goal of working out at least 220 times in 2020. Cate and Sam started talking about it back in 2017, when they did “217 in 2017.” It got Sam to think more explicitly and more expansively about what counts. And Cate has talked about the motivating power of this type of group and how it’s altered her relationship to working out. I jumped on board last year, with the 219 in 2019 group that spun off of the Fit Is a Feminist Issue Challenge group that Cate, Christine and I hosted for a few months in the fall of 2018.

Reflecting on “what counts” is not a new thing for me. Way back when Sam and I started the blog in 2012, I was already wondering what a workout actually is for me. I revisited that question when I joined the 219 in 2019 group. Then I concluded that “if these challenges are meant to get us moving, then whatever gets us moving counts.”

I just hit the goal of 220 workouts in 2020 on the weekend. It sort of snuck up on me. In fact, I didn’t even notice when I first posted it. It’s not something I “had my eye on” the way I did last year. I’ve even wondered whether it seems like a bit of an impossibility or something people view with skepticism.

Last year, using as my basic criterion “if it gets me moving then it counts,” I managed to get in the 219, with a few extra but not many. The vast majority of sessions I counted were either yoga classes, runs, or resistance training sessions. I had a sort of minimum time limit of about 20 minutes before I would count something as a workout. Yoga and personal training were always an hour. And most of my runs are at least 20 minutes and sometimes considerably longer.

By the time 2020, going on the momentum of 2019, I had successfully incorporated conscious movement into my routine every day. Sometimes, especially but not only while I was in Mexico in January and February, I would do something twice a day, like yoga and running, or yoga and a 10K walk. Starting with Adriene’s “Home” yoga challenge in January, I have actually done yoga almost every day since the beginning of the year. When I started to notice the numbers really racking up on my “count” in the 220 in 2020 group, I began to count two things in a day as one workout (like run+yoga OR walk+yoga) unless one of those things was super exerting or considerably longer than an hour). It’s almost as if I felt bad!

But the fact is, the goal of being able to record a new workout often did motivate me to get moving. And once I had yoga as part of my daily routine, I didn’t want to break that streak of daily yoga. But for me yoga alone is not enough — it counts, but I need to either run, walk, or do some resistance training as well.

Another woman in the 220 in 2020 group also hit her 220 on the weekend. And she asked me, “what now?” My first answer was “keep going.” Which is sort of obvious. I went on to wonder whether there is any reason to keep recording and reporting my workouts, though. The group has achieved its purpose for me — over the past 18 months of being part of a group like this I have integrated physical activity into my daily life in a way I hadn’t quite before. This is made easier this year by my sabbatical, so I am much freer than I usually am. For at least a few more months I get to set my own hours. That allowed me to kick into high gear in the fall, with hot yoga every day (oh, how I miss hot yoga! The pandemic has effectively taken that out of my life for the indefinite future). I made a smooth transition to Yoga with Adriene when I went to Mexico for the winter. That gave me a headstart on the transition to online everything that the pandemic has foisted upon us.

The running/walking + yoga combo was just starting to feel old when I discovered, through Cate, the online Superhero workouts with Alex in late April. That was just the thing I needed to add a new dimension of challenge to my fitness life. I had set resistance training and even running aside for awhile, having injured myself last spring and endured a very slow recovery. For me the perfect balance is a routine that includes yoga, resistance training, and running/walking. I don’t tend to take a day off, opting instead for active rest, combining a more restorative yoga practice with a walk.

This commitment to a routine that includes daily physical activity has also been amazing for my mental health. I have had a tough couple of years that culminated in the finalization of my divorce in early January. Sometimes it felt as if regular physical activity was the only thing I could commit to as part of a daily schedule.

When I stepped away from being a regular on the blog at the end of last summer, it was partly because I had very little left to say publicly about fitness. That still holds true, with the occasional blog post (I think I’ve blogged about 5 times since I “left”) and my daily progress tracking in the 220 in 2020 group being the extent of it. Once in awhile I feel compelled to make some social commentary (like my commentary on “the covid-19” weight-gain jokes, which aren’t funny).

As I hit my 220 target early, with almost half a year stretching out before me, I feel that it’s cemented what started when Sam and I embarked on our Fittest by 50 Challenge and started the blog in 2012. The big shift for me during our challenge was to a more internal and personal relationship with fitness. I realize full well, for example, that no one else really cares, nor should they, what I do. This isn’t to say I haven’t felt supported, encouraged, and motivated by the group. It isn’t to say either that I haven’t enjoyed watching the fitness lives of other members — their accomplishments, their routines, the adventurous and exciting things they do. It is to say that, in the end, I do this for myself. And I’ve experienced the benefits in my life.

So the answer to the question, “what now?” actually is, “keep going.” Not to accumulate a higher number (though I will, if I keep reporting in the group), but because it’s now a thing I do that is a positive part of my life. And recognizing that, it makes no sense to stop. I also think it’s pretty awesome, and I’m not going to worry if that makes me sound boasty or whatever, because sometimes I think we are not boasty enough. We minimize things we do that are actually awesome. And since (as noted above) no one else really cares, and since I definitely do care, well…it makes sense for me to regard reaching this fitness milestone about 5 1/2 months early as an actual achievement. [high-fiving myself now despite slight discomfort at what I just said, which discomfort highlights that I’ve internalized the message about how women shouldn’t be self-congratulatory about what they do even though I actually think we should]

So that’s my “challenge group” story for 2020. Do you have one? If so, let us know in the comments how that helps you (or, if you fly solo, why that works best for you).

aging · fitness · training

Sam’s max heart rate is slowing down but that’s okay, she isn’t

A beating cartoon heart

So I’m back training again. I’m riding and racing on Zwift. I’m working with a coach. Hi Chris! And that means I’m paying attention to data.

I’m also paying attention to some comparative data. Because I’ve been riding and using a Garmin and Strava for years, some things are interesting to track over time.

My ftp has gone up. (FTP stands for Functional Threshold Power and represents the highest wattage number you can expect to average over an hour.) All good. It’s fun. I like measuring and tracking progress.


Except what’s striking is that my maximum heart rate has gone down, like way down. A lot. Fifteen years ago when I used to race crits, do short distance duathlons and do flying laps at the velodrome, I had a max heart rate of 182.

Here’s younger Sam racing in a crit. Thanks Greg Long for the photo.

Now my max heart rate is 164 or so. I used to do time trials at 168. Now my time trial heart is more like 150. That’s the highest heart rate I can maintain for a good chunk of time without blowing up.

Remember the old formula? 220 minus your age? That’s pretty much right for me now. I suppose I shouldn’t care. My top speeds haven’t gone down and neither has my power output. But what’s it all about?

See Heart rate and age: “The relationship between the heart and exercise has been studied for more than six decades and the research is clear: Max heart rate—the highest heart rate you can safely hit during exercise—decreases with age regardless of lifestyle or level of fitness. Why the drop? The reasons aren’t completely known, but a 2013 University of Colorado Medical School study found that one reason could be slower electrical activity in the heart’s pacemaker cells. Basically, “your heart can’t beat as often,” says Roy Benson, running coach and co-author of Heart Rate Training.
However, a lower max heart rate may not necessarily affect your splits. “It’s not a foregone conclusion that a decrease in heart rate max means a decline in performance,” says Joe Friel, coach and author of Fast After 50 and The Triathlete’s Training Bible. “That’s a very common but unsupported view of athletes who are ill informed about the science behind heart rate. They assume a high heart rate means a high level of performance. Not true.”

I started to go down the rabbit hole of reading journal articles about why max heart rate declines. But really, do I need to know? I am still puzzled about why it doesn’t seem to matter as much as I thought it might.

I’ve written about heart rate training before.

See here:

Take it easy: Why train with a heart rate monitor, part 1

Go hard! : Why train with a heart rate monitor, part 2

Obviously, I need to open up my Garmin/Strava settings and put in some new numbers.

Do you track heart rate while exercising? Have you noticed it dropping with age?

Photo by Nick Hillier on Unsplash
dogs · fitness · training · weight lifting

The missing puzzle piece of Sam’s pandemic home workout plan

You know that I left the gym early. I don’t remember when I last went but I posted about my decision to leave on March 9th. It’s been awhile since I’ve set foot inside the gym, the yoga studio, or the Bike Shed.

So I’ve been working out at home for awhile now. Mostly it’s all fit together pretty well.

Piece one of the puzzle is that I’ve been riding and racing my bike virtually. Hello Zwift! Piece two is that I’m back together with Yoga with Adriene, enjoying her Yoga for Uncertain Times series quite a lot. Piece three is everyday exercise walking Cheddar the dog.

Cheddar, napping post walk

But the fourth piece is not working out quite so well. It’s there but it’s a work in progress.

That’s at home strength training. I’ll confess we weren’t as well-prepared. We have a motley, somewhat random collection of tools. The one great thing is Sarah’s TRX which we mounted in the living room which is now combo home office for two and home gym for three. We also pandemic panic purchased a 25 lb kettlebell the day before the shops all closed. Sarah also has a lone 8 lb dumbbell from her injured shoulder physio days. And we own some resistance tubing with handles, one is not very much resistance and the other one a bit too much. You read about that purchase here.

My son is home from university and he’s regular gym goer. He usually lifts pretty serious weights most days of the week. I think at first he thought he’d wait it out but now he’s planning home workouts for us, scouring Instagram for ideas. I’m really glad he’s here.

It feels a bit like the cooking challenge where you’re given random oddball ingredients and asked to construct a meal. But he’s doing a great job.

How to make chest and triceps day out of this?

Sam’s random home gym bits and pieces

We’re making do but I miss the gym. How about you?

Once it warms up we’re going to hang the heavy punching bag in the backyard. Will report back!

covid19 · fitness · habits · motivation · training

5 Motivating Things to Tell Yourself to Get Exercising Again

Finding it hard to get moving these days? Struggling to consistently work out with your routines thrown off? Consider telling yourself stories about yourself to help you get started and keep you going. It’s what I’m doing, and it’s really paying off. When I’m struggling to stay motivated, these internal narratives push me through to the next set.

“I never regret getting started.” This one is completely true for me, and for that matter, I almost never regret working out. Very occasionally, when I’ve been pushing too hard, or I’m coming down with something, or my life is exceptionally stressful elsewhere, I find that I just can’t finish a workout. But even then, I’m glad I made an effort. My body feels better, my thoughts usually feel clearer, and I like knowing that I did what I could. This story gets me into my workout gear and gets me to give it at least a start. I almost always finish.

“I’m an athlete and this is training, not just another workout.” This story (and it is a fiction in my case, albeit a powerful one) helps me focus on the task at hand. When the goal is training, the movement and intensity matter. I can focus on what muscles I’m using, the quality of the contractions, and on how my technique matters. Whereas if I’m just “exercising,” there’s some permission in my head to back off and go through the motions–after all, I’m still getting in my daily movement, so what does it matter if that last set was a little easy or sloppy?

“I am choosing to be a person who does this, it isn’t something I do out of obligation.” Yes, taking care of myself makes me a better wife, friend and daughter. I’m nicer when I take time to work out. I’m also decreasing the likelihood that I get certain diseases and conditions. But, I have a choice every day about continuing to do this work. And some days, I choose to take a break. It’s all ok, but it isn’t ok to act like someone is forcing me, because they’re not. When I tell myself this story, I reduce the rebel inside me that wants to say “Eff you” to the world and skip working out to “do whatever I want,” because this IS what I want.

“I am lucky I get to do this.” I cannot overemphasize how deeply motivating this story is for me. I have been physically disabled to the point that walking a block would make me lightheaded, breathless and in pain. It has taken me years, decades, to get to the level of fitness I’m at today, and I do not take it for granted. I feel so lucky that I’ve been given this time to push myself. This story reminds me to acknowledge this reality with gratitude.

“I’m at the gym right now.” This is a story I’ve had to start telling myself specifically during my home workouts these days. If I’m at the gym, I’m not checking email, doing chores, talking to the cats, or otherwise wasting time. The goal is to use the hour to get some lifting done so I can “go home.” Incidentally, I’ve started to tell this story to my husband, too. Now he knows that when I’m “at the gym,” unless it’s urgent, conversation and other interruptions can wait until I’m done. I am really loving finding some “alone” time even when I’m never alone in the house these days.

In the midst of the surreal realities of our current situation, I am finding the structure of my lifting to be a valuable tool for self-care. These stories, the mindset with which I approach my lifting, have become important to get me off the sofa and to my trusty resistance bands more days than not.

Your turn, dear reader: What are you telling yourself to help you stay motivated?

Marjorie Hundtoft is a (mostly online, and not very good at it, yet) middle school science and health teacher. She can be found using positive imagery and self-talk while pretending to pick up heavy things and put them back down again in Portland, Oregon.

Image description: Someone standing in white sneakers on a checked carpet.
fitness · training

Endurance tips for life these days (3 of 3)

Hi readers! As part of our continuing coverage of life in these unusual times, we asked our bloggers to comment on their experiences of long-term training and long-term projects. What is it like to be immersed in a process that’s important, for which the outcome is uncertain– in terms of time and what it will be like? How do you manage the discipline, the repetition, the discomfort, the uncertainty?

We’re posting their replies this Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 2pm. We would love it if you would add your comments and offer your own tips from your training experiences. How are they helping you (or not!) during this time of sheltering and isolating in one place? We’ll post those comments in a separate post next Monday.

If you want to (re)read Monday’s post, check it out here.

If you want to (re)read Wednesday’s post, check it out here.

Today, we hear from Sam, Kim, Martha and me on how training experiences are shaping what we’re doing now.

First up is Sam, who says “put your own mask on first!”:

There’s a lesson from long distance, group cycling that I think is helpful for this long haul of staying at home and social distancing. It’s about taking care of your self first.

In any group ride where there is an explicit commitment to sticking together the group is only as strong as its weakest member. You don’t always know how other people are doing but you do know how you’re doing and you can take care of your own needs as a big part of the team effort.

On a group ride that means at the start arriving well rested, bringing your own snacks, and making sure your bike is good repair. Along the way, it means pacing. Don’t wear yourself out at the front. You let other people know if you’re getting tired, before you’re exhausted. Take time to drink and eat.

The best thing you can do for the group is making sure you’re doing what you need to take care of yourself. If you’re a stronger ride, then you can help make sure others are doing okay. But put your own mask on first, as they say.

How is this true in pandemic times? Many of you are caring for small children and I know in that context things are a bit different. But in terms of your relationship with older children, partners, parents etc it helps to do all that you can to keep yourself on an even keel.

Here we’re five of us under one roof, plus dogs and a cat, and we’re sharing space full-time in ways that we have never done before. There are two us working in the dining room and living room, twenty-somethings hanging out in the back group, and it’s a delicate balance of cooking and cleaning and working and playing games and exercising. It’s easier if we are all in reasonable moods and I notice that we are all being pretty generous in terms of our household contributions. We’re each eating well and getting enough sleep. We’re talking about our fears and anxieties, taking care of ourselves and one another.

It’s not perfect but I feel a bit like I do on a great group ride. Yes there are stronger and weaker riders but we’re all doing our part, asking for help when we need it, and doing what we need to do so we don’t fall apart on the others.

Next up is Martha, on quilting and focus over a long project:

If you had asked me last year if knowing how to quilt would help me manage the challenges of the staying safely at home during a pandemic, I would have probably laughed heartily. Mostly because quilting involves a lot of math, which is not my strong suit, and mathing can cause me stress.

Quilting, because of the math and the patterning, requires focus. Some people can cheerfully chain piece away; I have to be very focused. It requires a lot of TEA, both the liquid kind and the metaphorical kind.

TEA, according to project management thinker Charles Gilkey, is time, energy and attention. In one of his weekly newsletters addressing pandemic issues, he asked what we could let go, what we could freeze (or pause) and what could we continue to offer TEA and still be productive and engage in meaningful work.

My most successful quilt projects require organization to keep all the parts together. They also require balance: too much work on it at any given time, and I can make mistakes; too many distractions and I lose focus and attention, also causing mistakes and frustration. Quilting is also an iterative activity; each piece builds on itself. Each part brings its own demands for TEA even as it offers patience and a sense of accomplishment when achieved.

The pandemic, like quilting, has a lot of complicated bits and a lot of simple bits. I have to trust in the process of social distancing even though I might not see the impact right away. I can only control when and how I shop for necessities, when I will work, and when I will relax. Letting go, pausing, and (re) engaging are cyclical and important parts of creating and managing this new normal for me and my family. It might not look the best, but it is good enough, and sometimes that is more than okay.

Here’s Kim, on developing resilience and power she never knew she had (which we all have, too!):

Long ago now (well, ok, in 2013; it feels like a lifetime ago!!) I trained for the biggest endurance challenge of my life. In July 2013 I rode 450km in 24 hours and 14 minutes, as part of a charity race from London to Paris (England to France) in support of kids with disabilities in arts and sport.

My then-husband arrived home one day eight months before and announced he’d signed us up. I was REALLY cross to start, but then the work began and I didn’t have the energy to be annoyed anymore. I remember well that we started with a schedule and a plan; it was not orthodox, which is to say it was a bit loosey-goosey, but that suited our world at the time.

We built stamina over 25 mile rides, then 30 mile rides, then 40 mile rides, each weekend, and so on. I lifted some weights, badly I think, and swam a lot (less badly). We gathered friends from among the others signed up, and started going out for longer rides. We discovered enormous pleasure and beauty in new routes from our house in South London into the hills toward Sussex; we rode the now-infamous Box Hill route that featured in the 2012 Olympic road race, many times!

Eventually, one super rainy and gross weekend, we did an Imperial Century (100 miles, 8 hours) along the Dorset coast. I remember that ride chiefly because just before the second feed station we all had to ride through a huge slick of wet livestock poop. YUP.

The training had its ups and downs, but it created a rhythm to my life between fall 2012 and summer 2013 that helped me cope with another huge transition: from living and working in Canada to living and working in the UK.

What I remember most about that time now is making packs of new friends, discovering power and resilience in myself I never knew I had, becoming stronger than ever before, and learning how to tune into nature (what’s the wind speed? From where? Any precipitation? Here or in Brighton?) in ways I never had before. I cherish the memories of that difficult but valuable time.

Finally, here’s me, with a few words on how training mirrors life– focusing on now and focusing on today.

Life feels weird right now. Working and moving and cooking and cleaning and relaxing and socializing and sleeping, all at home, creates all kinds of challenges for me. I have to create a new-new schedule for everything and try to stick to it with very few external constraints to keep me on the straight and narrow. This is not my forte, maintaining internal motivation to keep to a consistent schedule involving every aspect of my life. I guess it’s really no one’s forte.

I’ve trained for bike racing, long cycling events, big group rides and triathlons (and tap dance concerts in the distant past). When I let myself sink into the rhythm of a training plan, submitting to the schedule (you see how anti-authoritarian I am about this?), I discover beauty in two things.

Thing one: the now. When I am doing a workout or practice or exercise, I’m just doing that thing. There’s no multitasking, no talking on the phone, no trying to sneak in another email while grading. There’s just me and the hill, me and the 2 or 5 or 15-minute intervals. I’m breathing. I’m moving. I’m sweating. I’m hearing my own breathing and the bike sounds. Even if I’m outside, I don’t focus much on what I am seeing. It’s rather what I’m feeling and hearing.

That now is a place we can go where we leave behind the rest of the world, for a little bit. I’m working on finding ways to be in the now for writing, or my zoom therapy, or my online class interactions with students. Cultivating that reserved space and time creates a calming space for me.

Thing two: the training schedule. When I have a weekly/monthly schedule laid out with all the sessions I am to do, I feel like I’m off the hook (even if I’m the one who created it). It’s there, and I just do what it says when it says. Tuesdays used to be sprint drills, and Thursdays were threshold intervals, and Saturdays were long rides. Life was simple in that respect.

I’m finding a little of that simplicity through a training schedule now. It’s building up and getting more structured as I can tolerate that structure, but it’s happening. I’ve got my zoom yoga classes 3x/week, and am working on scheduling walking 5X/week. That’s what I got right now.

Readers, what are you doing to develop endurance through this strange period we are going through? We would love to hear from you.


fitness · health · illness · self care · strength training · training

How much is too much? Some thoughts with lots and lots of links

So we all know that this isn’t the best time to get into the best shape of your life, no pressure from us, relax and do what it takes to help you cope in these stressful, strange times, but we also know that exercise–some exercise–is good for dealing with stress and anxiety.

So that’s from the point of view of mental health and emotional well-being but there’s also the idea that exercise helps with our immune response.

Yoyo penguin

Okay, how much? Maybe mild to moderate exercise two to three times a week.

According to Alex Hutchinson, everyone agrees that regular, moderate exercise is good for your health.

“Doing regular moderate exercise lowers your risk compared to doing nothing; studies typically find that near-daily moderate exercisers report about half the typical number of upper-respiratory tract infections. That’s an important message for anyone who’s tempted to slack off their fitness routine until life returns to normal.”

Got it. Get moving. Check!


Okay, but we’ve got lots of time, right? Why not exercise lots more.

The worry is that too much is bad for your immune system. Again from Hutchinson, “If you ramp the dose up too high, your risk climbs steadily until you’re more vulnerable than if you’d done nothing at all. For that reason, Oregon-based elite track coach Jonathan Marcus recently argued on Twitter that athletes should avoid the type of gut-busting workouts that might put them at higher risk. “To train hard now is irresponsible,” he wrote.

(Short version: It looks like intensity is okay, what sets back your immune response is long duration exercise.)

Moderation seems to be key.

Here are two sports scientists writing for The Conversation, How much exercise is OK during the coronavirus pandemic?

“Both too much and too little are bad while somewhere in the middle is just right. Scientists commonly refer to this statistical phenomenon as a “J-shaped” curve. Research has shown exercise can influence the body’s immune system. Exercise immunity refers to both the systemic (whole body cellular response) and mucosal (mucous lining of the respiratory tract) response to an infectious agent, which follows this J-shaped curve.

A large study showed that mild to moderate exercise — performed about three times a week — reduced the risk of dying during the Hong Kong flu outbreak in 1998. The Hong Kong study was performed on 24,656 Chinese adults who died during this outbreak. This study showed that people who did no exercise at all or too much exercise — over five days of exercise per week — were at greatest risk of dying compared with people who exercised moderately.”

Exercise dog!

Interestingly, exercise rates are on the rise during the covid-19 pandemic among everyday exercises and down for elite athletes. In a way, that’s not a surprise for serious competitive athletes. All of their competitions are cancelled. They are just in maintenance mode mostly. For us, everyday types, we actually have some time, some of us, and exercise is one of the few things we can do outside. We’re moving more and they’re moving less and maybe we’ll all meet in the moderate middle. Go us!

It’s the same I think for strength training and weight lifting. The moderates like me, have installed home TRX-es and bought the odd kettlebell. I’m glad I got mine before they all sold out. But some of the serious gym rats I know have just out and out declared it bulking season and say that if there aren’t big weights available, they’re just waiting it out and doing lots less.

Okay, but not everybody is moved to moderation. Some people are making a personal challenge out of these odd times, like the 13-year-old boy who ran 100 miles in Quarantine Backyard Ultra or the man who ran a marathon on his PAris balcony during lockdown.

And none of this is shared with any advice giving intentions. If you care what sports scientists have to say about how much exercise is best during a pandemic, then go follow the links above and read away. If you need, from the point of view of your mental health and well-being to do more or do less, than do what you need to do.

It’s the moderation point that interested me, and I thought I’d share. Thanks for reading!

fitness · training

Endurance tips for life these days (2 of 3)

Hi readers! As part of our continuing coverage of life in these unusual times, we asked our bloggers to comment on their experiences of long-term training and long-term projects. What is it like to be immersed in a process that’s important, for which the outcome is uncertain– in terms of time and what it will be like? How do you manage the discipline, the repetition, the discomfort, the uncertainty?

We’re posting their replies this Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 2pm. We would love it if you would add your comments and offer your own tips from your training experiences. How are they helping you (or not!) during this time of sheltering and isolating in one place? We’ll post those comments in a separate post next Monday.

If you want to (re)read Monday’s post, check it out here.

Here’s what Emm has to say about endurance from a weight training perspective:

Resilience in weightlifting looks like sticking with it for the long term–consistent, hard work week after week, year after year, in order to get results. I’ve been lifting for about 5 years now, and research suggests that it could be as much as 5-7 more years of consistent training to approach my personal, genetic potential.

So, how do I keep at it, especially when the public conversation is about quick transformations? I focus on what I’m doing in the moment and the immediate benefits I am getting from it, not my long term goals and aspirations. In the moment, while I’m lifting, I focus on what I’m doing, how it feels, and how I’m benefiting. It feels good to use my muscles, to feel strong and capable, to be able to do a little more today than I could yesterday.

The lesson from this for my current situation is to focus on small, immediate successes rather than the long term. Right now, I will benefit from staying present and taking the time to enjoy and appreciate what is working for me. This will help me reinforce these helpful decisions and may also reduce any stress from thinking about all the unknowns of the future. As I’m making breakfast, I appreciate that I’ve taken the time to make a balanced meal that will give me energy for the hours ahead. I notice the smell, taste and appearance of my breakfast, and I avoid multitasking while I’m eating it. Gold star! I’ve accomplished breakfast! Now, on to the next task.

A little girl in a Wonder Woman outfit, with a big gold star. Photo by Gabriela Braga on Unsplash.
A little girl in a Wonder Woman outfit, with a big gold star. Photo by Gabriela Braga on Unsplash.

Next up is Cate, talking about running and grit:

For me it’s about the grit piece — reminding myself that the hard parts are momentary and there will be ease in another kilometre, or that I can get through things that are very difficult. When I was running marathons and was facing a hard mile or the last tough 10 minutes of a run I would tell myself “you could run 10 minutes in a nightgown with a fever — you can do this.” I probably wouldn’t use the fever analogy now (!) but the notion of reminding myself that I have the fortitude I need right now is really important.

When I typed in "fortitude" to Unsplash, this came up. It's a picture of Mister Fitz' ice cream place-- the building is bubblegum pink! I hope Cate likes it. Photo by Handy Wicaksono on Unsplash.
When I typed in “fortitude” to Unsplash, this came up. I hope Cate likes it. Photo by Handy Wicaksono on Unsplash.

Finally, here’s Bettina on navigating the ups and downs:

So far, I’ve been dealing with the lockdown better than I would have anticipated. I won’t lie, as bad as this is, it’s catching me in fairly ideal circumstances: I can do essentially my entire job from home, we have a big flat with enough space for husband and I to work without getting on each other’s nerves, we have a beautiful terrace, and we can still go outside to exercise, we don’t have children or parents to care for. Plus the weather has been gorgeous, which has definitely helped. We are incredibly privileged.

Even so, I had one day last week where I was irritable in a way I don’t usually get. Mostly, I was annoyed with colleagues not reading their email and sticking to instructions properly. It wasn’t helped by back-to-back videoconferences from 10am to 5pm. At the end of the work day, I was the grumpiest. Then I went out for a run, and it was a complete game changer. It really helped me calm down and get back into a more balanced outlook on things.

Overall, the ups-and-downs remind me of my half-marathon training last year, but also of writing my PhD thesis. The bad days are like a bad long run that you slog through, or like an 8h-day of transcribing interviews. The good days are like a day where the running just flows, or a day where you get so deep into the writing zone that the words just flow.

A staircase, which goes both up and down. Gorgeous photo by Stefan Steinbauer on Unsplash. Geometric lines of the stairs and a wallpaper railing going up and down. Colors: sea blue and soft light green. Two windows.
A staircase, which goes both up and down. Gorgeous photo by Stefan Steinbauer on Unsplash.

Dear readers: how are you putting your physical training or other long-haul experiences to work these days? We’d love to hear from you, and will post your comments next week (let us know in the comments if you prefer not, which is fine).

fitness · training

Endurance training tips for life these days: (part 1 of 3)

Hi readers! As part of our continuing coverage of life in these unusual times, we asked our bloggers to comment on their experiences of long-term training and long-term projects. What is it like to be immersed in a process that’s important, for which the outcome is uncertain– in terms of time and what it will be like? How do you manage the discipline, the repetition, the discomfort, the uncertainty?

We’ll be posting their replies this Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 2pm. We would love it if you would add your comments and offer your own tips from your training experiences. How are they helping you (or not!) during this time of sheltering and isolating in one place? We’ll post those comments in a separate post next Monday.

Now, onto our bloggers’ stories.

First up: Nicole, on savouring the moments:

One thing that has always helped me with long distance running is trying to savour the moment. That doesn’t mean “enjoy” the moment. Some moments might be challenging, some might be easy, some may be blissful. But when I am struggling during the longer distances I tell myself this may be the best moment of my day. And to savour it.

I think that can translate to the current moment. Savour each moment. Try not to look too far ahead. Honour each moment for what it is. Find gratitude and humbleness. Be sure to stretch and take it easy some times to support the times when bigger pushes are required. The more bigger runs completed provides confidence that one can get through it by savouring and honouring each moment.

Savoring.. by McJames Gulles, on Unsplash. A woman in a beige crew neck t shirt, looking happy. A neon sign saying "planet" is behind her. It's night time.
Savoring.. by McJames Gulles, on Unsplash.

Now to Tracy, on the power in doing small things:

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve read that we are to think of this social distancing and self-isolation that is being required of us as a marathon not a sprint. Since the one marathon I’ve run was pretty much a horrible experience, I feel better when I think about not the event itself, but the training for it.

When I train for an endurance event, the end goal (a marathon, a 30K, an olympic distance triathlon) always seems daunting. But I make it manageable by breaking it down into small, achievable parts. A 10K run here, an hour in the pool there, some hill repeats one day, a short tempo run another. If these are part of a training plan where I build on what has gone before, then I can do it.

I have used the same strategy for writing a book — small and consistent daily effort. I’m working on a book now, and I eased myself into the writing back in January by setting a goal of 15 minutes of writing a day. This physical distancing is 24/7, so it’s not entirely the same, but there is some similarity in the spirit of the approach.

The key, for me, has always been to be realistic about what I can reasonably expect of myself. As in training for a distant goal or completing a huge project, what is required of us in this pandemic is not necessarily going to be fun, even if there are some good moments. I expect that there will be times where I feel I’ve hit my stride, and there will be other times where my feet feel like lead weights. But from past experience I know there will also be a gentle and steady building of strength, where I start to say “I can do this; we can do this.” And we can.

3 small pumpkins, stacked up to create something nice. by Jakob Owens, for Unsplash.
Small things do stack up nicely. by Jakob Owens, for Unsplash.

Last up for today– Mina, on presence and acceptance of where we are (and aren’t):

As I try to keep my head together in this period of extreme uncertainty and disruption, I’m thinking a lot about how to use the consistency and adaptability that’s served me for the endurance events I’ve done can help me now. As much as I love running or any of the other sports I do, there are always days (weeks) when it’s hard to motivate, even when I’m training for something. So I’m trying to remind myself of one-day-at-a-time. Just promise myself to show up for the day at hand.

That’s what this current situation feels like. That’s the consistency part. The adaptability part is reminding myself of all the ways I improvise when I’m training for a long event and then think of these days in the same way. Again, that’s a day to day thing.

For me, if I start theorizing about how long I’ll be living under these conditions, I get overwhelmed. Bite size pieces of time is essential to my capacity to keep my spirits up. Which, again, feels similar to training for a big event. The event is way out there and that can be dispiriting, but the day that’s here is manageable.

All of that said, today I was out for a long cross country ski in knee deep new snow and when I stopped for my peanut butter and tahini sandwich snack I suddenly thought of one of my favourite restaurants and how I couldn’t wait to eat their flatbread again.

A sumptuous offering of flatbread, yogurt, olives, salmon, and other yummy items, with a latte in the middle. By Juliana Malta, for  Unsplash.
A sumptuous offering of flatbread, yogurt, olives, salmon, and other yummy items, with a latte in the middle. By Juliana Malta, for Unsplash.

Dear readers: how are you putting your physical training or other long-haul experiences to work these days? We’d love to hear from you, and will post your comments next week (let us know in the comments if you prefer not, which is fine).

220 in 2020 · Guest Post · motivation · training

“I Just Keep Showing Up”  #MyFitnessLevellnFiveWords (Guest post)

by Laura MacDonald

Hi friends, we made it. We got through January.  All eleven months of it. 

One month ago I confessed on this blog how I felt when I fell flat on day two of the New Year. Ditching a workout and driving home from the gym in tears sure  wasn’t how I planned on starting the New Year. But now that we are on the other side of January, I can tell you that the month also didn’t end as I had planned either. But stay tuned true believers; it is a happier tale today.

On Friday January 31st I logged my 40th and 41st workouts of 2020.  This included a lifting session with good friends where I tested my overhead press 5 rep max and also played with some deadlifts at 3×5 reps.  We also joined an xpressFit class which included tabata planks with shoulder touches, riding the assault bike, hanging knee raises and kettlebell deadlifts. Phew. It felt good.

Open gym on Friday night followed by xpressFit is nothing unusual for me. What was unusual is that this marked the end of a full month of daily intentional movement.  

Every single day in January I recorded at least one workout. 

Some of these were CrossFit or xpressFit or powerlifting, others were hot yoga or Yoga With Adriene at home, some includes walks with a friend in the neighbourhood and some included a quick 100 air-squats in the kitchen while I made dinner.  One workout included two and a half hours walking on a picket line. Some workouts were long some were short, some were hard others were easy. Most were fun, and some challenged my patience and my perseverance. 

Although I started January with the goal of 220 workouts in this calendar year, it wasn’t a conscious goal to move every day.  But as January wore on, I found myself looking for ways to move that would feel good. When #MyFitnessLevelInFiveWords was trending last week (regular feminist bloggers chimed in on this here) I knew what my five words were, “I just keep showing up.” This mantra has been so useful to me for this whole month. Just showing up for movement every day has made a stressful and anxious month a lot more manageable and dare I say joyful. 

This is a sample of my self talk this month:

Don’t like how hot the yoga studio is? “Just keep showing up.”

Don’t like the lack of progress on in my powerlifts? “Just keep showing up.”

Don’t feel like doing a CrossFit WOD today? “Just keep showing up.”

Don’t feel like there is time to workout tonight?  You do have time for 100 air squats. “Just keep showing up.”

Don’t like the new yoga instructor who teaches a slow flow class like it is an advanced flow class? “Just keep showing up.”

Don’t enjoy how much my lungs burn after a cardio xpressFit class? “Just keep showing up.”  

Don’t enjoy the grey and gloom on January?  You can walk with a friend. “Just keep showing up.”

And after a whole month of just showing up – here I am.  I look at this spreadsheet and I feel pleased and proud. I see days where I delighted in movement and wanted to sweat and work hard and I see days where I was tired and the most I could do was twenty minutes of home yoga.  I see days where the best workouts were with friends and days where solitude and sweat was the only answer. I see a whole lot of just showing up and you know what? I feel better for it. 

January spreadsheet

Cheers to picking your self back up and to just showing up. I wonder what the rest of the year will bring?

See you out there pals.

2020 will be good to us yet. 

Laura at the gym

Laura is a secondary school teacher in Hamilton Ontario.  She’s CrossFit athlete, regular walker, new yogi and occasional cyclist.  In 2019 she learned that she loved to count (steps and kilometres and workouts completed) and is currently counting her way to 300 workouts in 2020.