Walking is tricky these days. I have good days and I have bad days. I’ve been worried about my future walking. I’ve been jealous of friends posting very high step counts on social media and angry at friends who say they can’t imagine a life without walking.
Saturday was glorious. Here in Guelph it was 13 degrees and sunny. Cheddar needed walking and my son, Gavin, and I wanted to go back to the Rockwood Conservation Area. I did all the right things. I’d biked that morning (Zwift in Central Park), and stretched, and taken pain killers. My knee is always better after riding and that’s a great thing.
It worked! We walked 5 km on mostly level trails and boardwalks, saw some beautiful scenery, met lots of dogs, and had a great afternoon. I was relieved that my dog hike days aren’t over. I think Cheddar was happy too!
Here he is with other family pets napping after the walk.
I’m very late to the party, but I have finally gotten a FitBit. Mine is a fake one ($29.95 on Amazon), and it does count steps, more or less.
Why did I get this gadget? Mainly, I want to know how active
I am in my regular weekly routine; I haven’t been cycling much (yet), so
walking has been much of my cardio-ish exercise.
So what have I learned after a week with Fake-o-FitBit?
First: My activity patterns tend to fall into one of three
working from home, I don’t get in many steps (3000-4000ish?)
until I make a deliberate plan to take a walk.
I sort of knew this, but having the data makes a stronger impression.
Teaching and running around on campus, I get in
many more steps than I expected (6000-7500ish?). Still, it doesn’t feel like
much of a workout.
Any day in which I plan a walk somewhere (or am
traveling—airports are great for lots of step accumulation) seems to rack up
more than 10K steps, all told.
This is very useful information for me, because it’s telling me that if I want to be more active on days I’m working from home, I have to schedule it. Maybe this is obvious to everyone else, including me, but somehow having the numbers in front of me makes the situation clear.
During the summer, I tend to cycle very often—riding around
town from place to place, doing errands, etc.
I also take longer road rides alone or with friends. So, that activity
takes care of itself. But if I’m not on two wheels and want more activity out
of my day, I have to make a plan.
Second: step counts don’t tell me how hard I’ve worked
physically. Duh. But again, I needed to
experience the week and see the data to conclude that substantial cardio
fitness for Catherine will not automatically happen through just
stepping a lot.
Third: It was totally worth $29.95 to get this information. Yes, I kind of knew this, but I respond well to data (even likely inaccurate and over-counted info from a possibly-pirated step counter).
Not that I’m planning on throwing it away, now that I’ve
learned some things. I’ll keep wearing it and sync’ing the info to see if any
different patterns emerge. It seems like
Fake-o-FitBit will help keep me honest and aware of what I am and am not doing
Fake-o-FitBit won’t help me set my fitness goals and physical
activity schedule. That’s not what it does. I have to do that my damn self.
Which I will. But it does help me see what counts as sedentary/meh/more active
for me in daily two-legged movement. That’s worth the price.
Dear readers, how do you use step counters? Do you find similar categories of activity?
How do you use the data? I’d love to
hear your experiences.
A few weeks ago I got a message that I had achieved a new level of steps on my Fitbit — the distance of a monarch butterfly migration! More than 4000 km, or 5.5 million steps in 15 months.
I do like to walk. But all of this is abstract — until I think about what went into each of those steps. Many are mundane — putting away laundry, walking to the streetcar, trying to find my way around the hospitals and universities I work in. Some are pragmatic and deliberate — workouts and the kinds of non-sublime runs I’ve been doing for the past couple of years. Some are privileged and rarefied — hiking in the mountains of Bhutan and Kyrgyzstan, walking around Paris with my 14 year old niece, around Lisbon at the end of a work conference.
But the 30,000 steps I’ve taken over the past two days? These are the ones that matter.
I’m in a town in western Uganda I’ve been to many times. I’ve been part of running a project here since 2007, when a small group of Canadians wrapped our arms around 52 kids with no parents or no parental support and committed to supporting them until they are educated, grown, self-sufficient, strong members of their communities. Our project is called Nikibasika, which means “it is possible” in the local language.
We are almost there. Our commitment is to support each kid with vocational or skilled trade certification or a university degree. By May next year, only 17 of the “kids” will be remaining in the program.
It’s an all volunteer, all donation commitment from Canada, with two stalwart leaders on the ground in Uganda. And because we are hitting the tipping point of more kids being done than in the program this year, we made this our last “official” visit, choosing to channel our travel money to the more practical.
Half of the kids are in the capital Kampala, and we saw them early in the week. The other half came from all of their schools around Uganda to gather in our project house. Four of the alumni came too, sleeping in tents (a novelty!).
Many of the kids asked me for one-on-one time, and I asked them to walk with me. “I like to walk,” said Siima, a primary care health officer with his own clinic now. “You talk and hear stories.”
It was oppressively hot, the sun blazing between the rains of April. The mountains are green, the roads are red, dust is everywhere. Now, I notice the smell of charcoal cooking fires when I first arrive and step into the tarmac, but it quickly fades.
I walk with Siima, talking about his upcoming visit to Canada and what it will be like for him to experience diversity and queerness for the first time, as an African man in a homogenous and homophobic country. He tells me he has already encountered discrimination as a western Ugandan in a school or easterners. “We must be adaptable and respectful. I must adapt.”
I walk and talk with Dorcus who breaks down when she tells me she worries about disappointing me if she fails one of her plumbing exams, the intense pressure she feels to support her extended family. She’s 20, and can’t sleep. We talk about boundaries and self-care and my unconditional love.
I walk and talk with one young man who is so quiet as he confesses his dream to be a songwriter and an artist, to connect his quiet voice to other people’s yearning. I walk and talk with a young woman who cries hard and tells me that our care feels deeper than her family’s, like we want her to know herself, be strong and independent. I walk and talk with four of the older girls, three of them complete, one married and so happy, who brought gifts to the kids still here. We talk about why we all want to stay deeply connected, support each other.
I walk with Brian, who was a lost tiny boy when we started coming, who learned so much from the love of my colleague Blair. Brian is now a man, doing his exams for a skilled trade. He finally found his father last year thanks to our director’s incredible persistence, and is so happy to belong to a family. He earns money at small jobs to pay his younger sisters’ school fees.
“When I was young I often shed tears,” he laughs. “But in Uganda men are not used to doing so. But even now, sometimes I have shed tears over a grade — and it is crazy to shed tears over a number.” We talk about how that means he cares, and how that is a good thing.
This project wasn’t intentional, and I often feel I have made far far more mistakes than anything else. Earlier, I was often impatient, resentful, so worried about fitting everything into our short weeks I tried to do everything and didn’t leave space for everyone’s voice on our team to grow. This project has been my crucible to really reflect on and reshape who I want to be on the world.
In these steps this week, I saw reflected back at me what I did right. These kids began in literal rags with no English, one meal of porridge a day. Today they are vibrant, eloquent, self-sufficient, reflective. Kagame talks about how he meditates every morning, learned when my colleague Bonnie began teaching yoga in the mornings. The youngest boy — at 15 — tells us the path he has planned for himself.
Because I have come back every year since 2008, these young people feel seen, feel cared for, feel heard. Phionah and I were talking on Monday and she suddenly stopped in response to something I said and said “why do you understand how it feels and no one else does?”
I listen. This is what I have done right. I share my own vulnerabilities. I have mobilized people. And I am persistent. So annoyingly, doggedly persevering.
This project is a miracle, taking abandoned children and the orphaned children and the children of parents who were too overcome by their own ills and sorrows and trauma to be able to parent — and gave them a family, a space to become themselves in a whole new world of independent women, men who can shed tears, who can look for their artistic voices.
It is a miracle, and it’s not done. We have one big final fundraiser this summer where we are trying to shore up enough funds to see the remaining 17 through finding their own lives. Please join us.
One of my favourite things about my work life is that I get to spend a lot of time with people who are thinking about Big Things about the World. I work in strategy and change leadership within healthcare, higher education and academic healthcare, and there is no world more full of committed, smart people trying to make sure that their work has meaning.
Last week I facilitated a major forum with a bunch of rehabilitation professionals — mostly physiotherapists — about the anticipated evolution of health over the next decade or so. Some of the ideas that we chewed on as a group are right in the sweet spot of what we care about on the blog: what is a truly equitable approach to fitness and wellbeing? what is the role of moving well in living well? what is the relationship between physical mobility and economic, social and emotional wellbeing? how do we define and support physical fitness in way that acknowledges and counters privilege?
Two of the ideas that really intrigued me both related to redefining what we take for granted about wellbeing. The first is the concept of “physical literacy” — defined here as: the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge, and understanding to value and take responsibility for engagement in physical activities for life.
The speaker on this topic works with an organization that leads programs and research around the relationship between positive social outcomes (life skills, academic performance, positive health behaviours) and developing physical literacy, activity and participation in sports among kids.
The concept of “literacy” can be a bit provocative — my group yesterday had a good conversation about the issues with implying that people are “illiterate” in their own relationship to their bodies before they are taught differently. But I also know in my own life that as I have increasingly learned to listen to the nuances and signals of my own body — and, for example, sought physiotherapy for pain in my shoulder before it becomes a real problem — I am much more confident about what I’m doing in the gym or on the road. I.e, as my literacy about my body and the things I can do to care for it improve, my health improves.
The other concept that really intrigued me was about the notion of redefining successful health outcomes as not being about lifespan — i.e., the pretty baseline measure of “I’m not dead yet” — to “healthspan” — how long a person is living a *healthy* life — or, how long am I living as fully as possible within my own definition of what’s important, meaningful and possible within my own body?”
I’ve spent a lot of time in the past few years redefining my own notion of healthy living and aging. I’ve written before about the idea of having regular mobility assessment and plans as we age, which is possibly even more important than regular screening for cervical and breast cancer if we want to preserve our ability to move and do the things that give our lives joy and meaning as we get older. And I’ve about how I’ve already had several different identities around my fitness as my body and life have changed, from Action Figure to Aging Adventurer. Sam has also written eloquently and honestly lately about her increasing comfort with accepting that exercise and movement are sometimes necessary work, not just fun, as her body changes.
I think, when our bodies change and age and hurt, and we get more tired, and movement doesn’t always come with ease, it’s very easy to let it slip away. (Confession: I am writing this post on my back in my bed with a laptop on my … well, lap, and a cat under my knees, after a long work week. I napped instead of working out. #thatsokay). But being physically literate to me is about recognizing that yes, sometimes, napping is what we need — but so is movement, and building strength, and doing the work part of fitness. And that means scheduling movement for the morning after my tortilla chip-fueled recovery nap.
Susan wrote a deeply lovely post this morning about finding new strength to open her own jars. Anytime I pay attention to an ache in my knee or shoulder and get it tended to so I can move better, anytime I shake off inertia and show up to a spinning or crossfit class or yoga class, or anytime I squeeze in a quick run or leave early to walk to a meeting — I’m looking for that same jar-opening strength. Reminding myself that I am in my own body, I own my body, and I’m making life fuller for the lithe old lady inside me.
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives, works and naps in Toronto.
Let this be your cheer, your mantra, your slogan, your
driving force in your next bike race or in whatever kind of racing you do.
(Note Pam! is not someone’s name, but more like bam! or wham!)
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig gives an exciting play-by-play of how she raced in the Ronde van Vlaanderen, aka Tour of Flanders, bike race last weekend. The Dane came in third, but she’s a winner in her heart. She loves the race, the fans, the energy of big-time pro cycling in Belgium. At the critical moment in the race, she and her breakaway companions saw they had the lead, but the main group was closing in fast. At that moment: “Pam! Let’s put the hammer down!” so the break could stay away.
The Tour of Flanders featured women’s and men’s races, with huge crowds lining the roads because: Belgium. Cycling is the most popular sport in the country. The women raced 157 km, and the men raced 265 km. However, both women and men raced over the same famous short steep climbs like the Kanarieberg, the Oude Kwaremont, the Paterberg. These hills brutalize the legs with uneven cobblestones and gradients from 8% to 22%. And the winner often comes from the leading groups over these climbs.
I’ve watched many post-race interviews with cyclists (men and women) who say milk toasty things like, “I felt strong, the team was great, I’m happy to win” in their I’m-too-cool-and-accustomed-to-winning monotone. Not so for Cecilie, who puts us on the bike next to her in the race: the effort, the anticipation, split-second decisions in the breakaway, the exhaustion. And most important: THE JOY OF RACING.
Unfortunately, some in the male-dominated cycling media christened this video “hilarious.” It seems like a bit of a put-down. Because it’s funny when women show excitement and emotion? Because she didn’t listen to the media-training about not moving around and using her hands? Because she laughs? Come on, boys, bike racing is fun! I prefer adjectives like “fantastic” or “awesome” for her race re-cap.
Cecilie inspires me, and I hope she inspires you. Her compatriots in New York feel the joy, too. @DenmarkinNY re-tweeted the video with: “May you live every day with the same confidence and enthusiasm as Danish cyclist Cecilia Uttrup Ludwig!”
Left to my own devices I am not a big fan of stretching. It’s time consuming, boring, and border line painful. It’s even more boring than physio exercises.
I like doing activities that involve stretching–yoga and Aikido, for example. But stretching after cycling, or worse yet, before, has never been my thing. At personal training Meg builds stretching into the workout and then I stretch. Yay! (Oh, you’ll get to meet Meg soon. She’s going to guest blog for us.) Yet my knee physio involves daily stretching and I struggle to get myself to do it.
However, the Guelph gym has these cool fancy stretching machines that get you into position and then leave your hands free to check your phone while holding a stretch. I really like them.
I confess though when I am getting myself into the machine I keep thinking of medieval torture instruments. I’m reminded of a novel I read–was it by Rose Tremain?–about a young woman captured by the Inquisition who looked on at the stretching rack, knowing that she would die on it, waiting her turn. It’s one of three stories in the book. One of the others was about Joan of Arc. If you know the name of the book, could you let me know? I’m digressing. Sorry!)
But the university stretching machines are all self-controlled and you can get to a just barely comfortable position, check your Facebook notifications, and then stretch some more. I like that. I approve comments on blog posts and play moves in various word games. All while stretching.
Fitness magazines tell me that stretching is the New Big Thing. There are even whole classes devoted just to stretching and now stretching studios. For now, I’m sticking to the stretching machines and Meg’s stretching routines and the ones I can manage to do at home.
How are you about stretching? Do you like it? Do you do it?
As I write this I am in bed with a cold pack on my right lower back and just got a text message from a friend who used to be a nurse. It said, “do you think maybe you should see your doctor? It’s not getting better over time?” She was talking about my lower back.
Ever since a couple of days after my Around the Bay 30K two Sundays ago I’ve had almost no sustained relief from a pain in my lower back unless I’m lying down. And even then, to get into a lying down position is a slow and careful process that sometimes leaves me weeping. Getting up from it (or from a chair, or into / out of the car) is similarly difficult.
If I move wrong when sitting, standing, or lying down, I get a searing pain and my back and leg go weak, such that it feels as if they are about to give way. Needless to say, I have not run since Around the Bay. I also cancelled my personal training last week. I made it to one actual yoga class, and it felt good, but again I had to scale to my capacity, which meant forward bends and anything that involved getting up or lowering myself down required a modified approach.
I asked Sam whether I should blog about this because I was so pumped after Around the Bay and felt so strong in every way possible, that this back situation feels like an enormous disappointment. Quite the come down, actually. Sam said it’s real and an okay thing to blog about.
Damn right it’s real. I don’t think I’ve experienced physical pain this real in years. The kind that makes me cry. I’ve got great pain tolerance. I didn’t even cry when the dentist drilled into a raw unfrozen nerve during a root canal.
But I tend to be a bit private about pain. Not that I don’t share setbacks and difficulties with my friends. And not that I never blog about challenging times. And not that the people I work with aren’t aware of my delicate back situation this week (because otherwise they would be wondering why I’m walking so slowly and wincing from time to time for no apparent reason). I’m not one to suffer in silence. But it would never occur to me to tell my Facebook friends that I am in excruciating back pain this week. So blogging about it is a bit uncomfortable.
Truth be told, I’m not “rolling with it” particularly well. I mean, I thought and expected that it would resolve in time for me to go for an easy run on Sunday morning. But that was not realistic. I probably shouldn’t have walked home from work on Wednesday. And now, I just can’t even imagine running or walking any distance, or going to the weight room, or even doing a yoga class without taking it super slow and easy.
I’m seeing an osteopath after work today and I went for a massage focusing on that part of my back at the end of the day yesterday. And yes, I’m lying on an ice pack right now and I think I will pop a couple of ibuprofen caplets. I hope, as Susan said, that the osteopath will “gently wiggle” me “back to health.”
Meanwhile, I think this has helped me decide that perhaps, as much as I love running, distances like 30K are too taxing on my 54-year old body. When I do get back to running, I’m sticking with a 10K max for awhile (until Anita talks me into another half marathon or something).
How well do you cope with injuries that interfere with what you’d ideally like to be doing?