Mini cupcakes? Really, Google Maps? (Guest Post)

by Megan Dean

No, Google Maps, I do not want to know that my walk to the post office will burn off a “mini cupcake” worth of calories. This is not useful or motivational or even innocuous information. In fact, it kinda ruined my afternoon.

I have put a lot of effort into keeping “calories” out of my life. I don’t read fitness magazines, I actively ignore the screen on the elliptical machine, I avert my eyes from nutrient breakdowns on prepared foods and recipes, and avoid diet conversations like the plague.

I never expected Google Maps to invade my carefully cultivated calorie-free mental space with unsolicited information about my afternoon stroll, accompanied by a stupid little emoji.

In any case, I KNOW how many calories a 20 minute walk burns. It is etched into my mind and taking up space there permanently, as is the number of calories in an apple, a slice of angel food cake, an egg, a cup of vegetable soup.

I know this because I have spent hours of my life calculating how many calories I ate in a day and how many I burnt off. It has take me years of work, thousands of dollars of therapy, and a good number of self-help books (shout out to Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy!) to stop quantifying all my daily activities in calorie form.

Reducing everything to calories might be helpful for some people but for me it’s soul-crushing, pleasure-destroying, time-wasting bs. It flattens out my life, and makes me feel I need to earn the right to eat.

No thank you. Cupcakes can be delicious, walks can be pleasant, these things shouldn’t be interchangeable, exchangeable, or commensurable.

So, shove it Google Maps. I’d rather ask for directions, and I’m an introvert.

Megan Dean is a PhD candidate in Philosophy at Georgetown University, and a pre-doctoral fellow with the Mellon Sawyer seminar “Approaching the Anthropocene: Global Culture and Planetary Change.” She really likes eating and considers that an achievement.

Finding Quiet

This month, I don’t feel like I have anything especially reflective or clever to say about fitness stuff.

I just got back from a period in Banff, where I attended a workshop and enjoyed my time isolated in the Rocky Mountains.

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Image Description: Sunset over the Rocky Mountains. Hard not to feel both in awe and at peace with views like these. 

While I was there, I fully allowed myself to exist in “The Bubble.” No news. Limited communication with the outside world. Limited mindless Internet browsing. And less coffee. (Gasp!)

I have to say, it was transformative.

It’s amazing what a little peace and quiet will do for your mental state.

Lately, I have felt the painful hum of current events more and more acutely. I have become more anxious about the state of the world, and those who seem to run it. Naturally, I’ve always been a very optimistic person and in the past, the gloom of current events tended not to bring me down as much as they have more recently. It’s as if the world’s worries feel more palpable to me.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older? Or maybe it’s because things are getting worse? Who knows.

In any case, allowing myself to experience what was in front of me was just the thing I needed. I felt my spirits lift, my anxieties decrease, and my overall mental and emotional states improve. I felt a clearer sense of myself, what I value, and how I want to be in the world.

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Image Description: Overlooking Bow Falls in Banff National Park. Though it isn’t a steep waterfall, the force (and noise) were incredible. That sound of water rushing over rocks is one of my favourite sounds of all time. Like Mother Nature’s own white noise machine.

In coming back home, I want to find a way to maintain that peaceful state of mind—and I feel myself already worrying that it won’t last long.

Before I left, I was often pulled between several tasks at once, or just felt a general sense of NOISE in the back of my mind. I felt this intense need to hurry up, to keep the pace. I would lose entire weeks without realizing what even happened or what I’d done. Indeed, I have started incorporating a broader practice of mindfulness and meditation into my daily life. But there was something about feeling physically sheltered by mountains from the chaos of the world. It was just so quiet.

As I said, I don’t have anything particularly witty to share today. Only the hope that you too find time for peace, for quiet, and for yourself in this increasingly noisy world.

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Image Description: The misty Rockies in view past the Banff Centre. 

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Image Description: Walking through the woods alone. 

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Image Description: This deer grazed at my window every day! Usually around the same times, too. It felt miraculous to look out my window to see a deer (or a few deer) casually snacking

Why Yin?

peppermint patty dancingWe’ve had a weirdly warm September here in Toronto, but with some truly beautiful days.  A few inspired me to get outside and move my body — I went for a random solo 100km bike ride on what turned out to be the hottest day of the year, and Kim and I got out for a 75 ride together, finally (Hi kim!).  And I few times, I managed a couple of those short runs where everything works that make me feel like Peppermint Patty dancing.  (Or doing aerobics — who knew Peppermint Patty had a fitness video?  The world is indeed full).

But — as Sam has written about, September grinds a bit hard on me.  I’ve had a ton of tiring work to do, including a four day intensive I teach in, and a few quick work trips that tuckered me out.  So although I shoved a few workouts in here and there, and managed to get to spinning a couple of times, I just felt tired all the time.  And most of the time, when I was working out, it was either a horrible slog or I’d rev up suddenly and madly and end up overdoing it.  Off balance, a little?

Last week, I was in London (Ontario) for a two day work trip, and I was on my own after my work finished.  It was another glorious sunny day, and I went for a 5K run down on the multi-use path by the river.  It should have been delightful… but it was just… a plod.  I stopped more than I should have, and was sort of vaguely conscious that things just didn’t feel… right.

Earlier that day I’d had the instinct that maybe I needed some yoga, so I’d signed up for a Moksha hot yoga yin class at a studio I’d never been to before.  (Tip:  sign up and pay in advance, because I sure didn’t feel like going after my bleh 5K run).  After my run, I changed my shorts, swiped off the sweat, and grabbed a hotel towel.  I walked over to the studio, through a mostly nice, somewhat sketchy park.

yin

A woman wearing pristine white yoga clothes doing eye of the needle pose

Yin is basically a form of yoga that focuses on connective tissues, where after a warm up (in this class, we did a series of sun salutations and warrior poses for about 20 minutes), you hold a few postures for a long time.  (These tend to be the stretchy deep postures like twists or pigeon, not balancing or strength postures).  I’ve done yin a few times before, but I tend to put it in the “I should do this more” category instead of the “I am actually doing this” category.  It seems like a lot of effort to find my yoga matt, pay $20 and go lie down on the floor in someone else’s studio for an hour or so when I could just lie down on my own living room floor.

Except, of course, I never lie down on my own living room floor.

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Cate with messy hair and a certain … glow… after a 5k run and hot yin class

As soon as I sank down on the mat I paid $2 to rent, I listened to what I was feeling.  For the first time in weeks, I let myself notice that the bottoms of my feet hurt.  My hips were tight and sore.  My calves were almost knotted. I used a strap to pull my leg straight up to stretch out my hamstring and it was as taut as an overtuned viola string.  The hot room loosened me up, and I still couldn’t fully stretch out my legs without them yipping at me like a tiny angry dog.  My neck was tight and my big toe and thumb — both showing early osteo-arthritis — downright hurt.

How had I not noticed how much everything ached?

I’m not gonna lie here.  This was not a comfortable class.  I focused on form in the vinyasas, and it was an effort. I wobbled in warrior.  The most basic backbend gave me that “eek I’m being strangled” feeling.   Even the simplest twist — legs one way, arms the other while lying on your back — was a challenge.  Very quickly into the class I realized that while I have been pushing my body through work, through travel, through workouts, through long days in shoes that make my knees hurt — I’ve been ignoring what’s happening under one layer of it.

I’m 52, and I’m really quite fit, and I’m working a lot… I’m tired.

I think, when I get busy, I have this quite phenomenal capacity to keep moving myself forward — I can do a LOT of work and switch gears quickly, I can juggle many things.  I can push myself through a hot 100km ride on sheer will.  But I can easily stop paying attention to the next layer underneath — both physically and emotionally.  When I’m pushing myself through a busy life, I stop stretching and I stop breathing.  And when I start listening, I notice the soreness beneath.

And all of those tuckered out, bickering connective tissues are a built in alarm system telling me “do something different or something is going to break.”  The last time I ignored that alarm system I ended up training for a marathon through a grindingly askew hip/IT-band/knee/calf system, and hurt my knee irrevocably.  Then, I put a postit on my bathroom mirror that said “listen to your body.”

Lying on that mat in yin class, my body squawked loudly.  More stretching, more sleep, more care, please.

Okay.  More yin, I think.

What are your signals that it’s time to lie on the floor and stretch?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives in Toronto.  She works in education and sustainable strategic change, primarily in the space of academic healthcare.  She writes for this blog on the second Friday of every month, as well as at other random times when she feels compelled to yammer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another gem in Linda’s bag of running tricks: “long counting” salvages Tracy’s tough training run

Image description: Cartoonish numbers 1 (in red), 2 (in blue) and 3 (in yellow) against a plain white background.

Image description: Cartoonish numbers 1 (in red), 2 (in blue) and 3 (in yellow) against a plain white background.

On Tuesday I drove the 5 hours back home from visiting my parents for the glorious Thanksgiving weekend that so many of us have been blogging about this week because of its all-around spectacular-ness!

I had plans to meet my running coach, Linda from Master the Moments, in the park for a daunting looking workout she had assigned me called “Specific Endurance Race Run.” Doesn’t it just sound as if it’s going to be brutal. The heart of it was supposed to be 4x2K at specific pace times that I knew ahead of time were going to be a push for me. I was so relieved that Linda agreed to meet up with me for that session because that was my only hope of staying even remotely on task that day.

It was another sunny warm day in London and I met Linda in Springbank Park, a popular spot in town with a paved and tree-lined path beside our Thames River, well-travelled by runners, cyclists, and pedestrians.

I won’t get into all the details of my lack of enthusiasm for what we were supposed to do. In fact, at first I had the wrong workout programmed into my Garmin (because when you’re meeting your coach, you don’t have to pay as much attention to the details). But Linda is always so upbeat and optimistic. She said she thought I could do it, even if not exactly, at least well enough. She also offered to modify the plan (on more than one occasion). And she never skips the warm-up, which is a nice habit that I’ve also started to get into because, guess what? A proper warm-up usually leads to a better run. Go figure.

We ran from our meeting spot to the pedestrian bridge where we do our stretching. We’re two for two for seeing the blue heron who lives at that part of the river standing on a rock while we do some leg swings and hip cranks (I don’t know what they’re called) and fast feet (and a few other things). Linda is really good at distracting me with chit chat. And then when the going gets tough, she gives me tips and strategies to stay in the game.

I had difficulty maintaining the suggested pace even for the first 2K. Linda was hardly even breathing hard, which is a good thing because it meant she had no trouble saying stuff like “focus on the sign ahead and nothing else.” I don’t know how, but focusing on the sign ahead actually does help. Before long, she even had me doing some short pick-ups. When we got to Storybook Gardens, almost 1.5K into the first interval, we did a couple of laps around the parking lot and it was time for a one-minute walk, which seemed really short.

We continued further along the path. The second 2K interval was tough and my pace slowed even more. But before long we were back doing a couple of rounds of the parking lot. Linda kept telling me I was doing great (I didn’t feel like I was). We continued to do the occasional pick-up, which seems counter-intuitive if your energy is fading but actually switching it up breaks the monotony and that in itself is energizing. During those, she had me focus on turning my feet over. I felt good when she said I have a nice light step.

Linda asked me what was giving out. “My breath,” I said. It felt laboured and difficult and we still had another 2K to go (I voted for dropping the fourth set).

The magic really happened in the home stretch. I was almost whining (not quite but inside I felt like I wanted to whine) and Linda decided it was time for what I think she called “long counting.” She started saying a counting rhyme out loud: “1..2..3..works for me, 1..2..3..and you will see. 4…5..6..get your fix…7..8..9..to the end of the line” and then on a two count “10, 11, 12..”etc. all the way to 100 and then back to 1, 2, 3 again. I couldn’t get the whole rhyme at first (nor did I have the breath to say it), but I was able to count quietly to myself and to say the 10s, 20s, 30s etc. out loud.

The counting got me into a solid rhythm, where every even number landed on an exhale. My breathing started to get steadier and my feet seemed to be turning over faster (Linda is all about fast feet). She continued to suggest short bursts, setting specific end points (e.g. that bench, the green sign, those people up ahead walking with strollers, the stop sign by the parking lot…). Soon we were at eight hundred. And the next thing I knew we were done. And the best part is that final portion, after I thought I had nothing left, ended with me feeling strong, fast, and steady on my feet. I’m a convert to counting.

As we were walking it off for a bit of a cool down, we said out loud what every runner knows: the mind wants to give up way before the body. The thing then is that you have to trick, distract or find some other way to stop the mind from messing with you.

What strategies do you use to re-group and get on track when your mind starts messing with you on a run and telling you that you’re out of steam (when you’re probably not)?

Helmets, usually, but not always, and that’s okay

This photo of the new leader of the New Democratic Party was making its way through my social media newsfeed. I love it.

I 🚴🏾 Halifax . I 🚴🏾 Dartmouth . #CycleLife

A post shared by Jagmeet Singh (@jagmeetsingh) on

But some friends worried about the lack of helmet. Not me. I don’t always wear a helmet. I’ve rented bikes in Amsterdam and not fussed about a helmet, for example. Here’s proof:

And I’ve written about helmets too even though it’s a debate I hate getting into. Mostly I wear them. On my road bike, always. But on a coaster bike, going slowly, I sometimes go without. Bottom line, it’s about choice.

Also, insofar as helmets mark cycling as a special scary activity they result in fewer people on the road. Yet the single biggest variable that affects bike safety isn’t helmets. It’s the number of people on the road. It might be safer overall if everyone put on a helmet for riding but that’s true of walking too. See Women, cycling, and safety in numbers.

Connections, gratitude and breathing deep

As Tracy and Nat both wrote about earlier, this weekend was Canadian Thanksgiving.  It’s my favourite holiday by far — it’s about food and community with no religious overlay or consumer frenzy, and it’s all centred in gratitude.

I formally celebrated by having 16 people for dinner on Monday, two of whom I’d never even met before — they were the important people of people who are important to me.  I loved that my nodes of people connected to other nodes of people.

I got a text Tuesday morning from one of my friends thanking me for “modeling community building.”  That touched me, and it made me think about all of the different communities I’m part of, what makes community, and why it’s important to our general well being. In my little invocation at the start of dinner on Monday, after acknowledging the history of the land we were on and the Indigenous peoples who were here before us,

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Food labels for the different dietary needs at my thanksgiving dinner

I said that I was so grateful to be in a room full of people who all care about the same things I care about. The world feels often fragile right now, and being surrounded by people who care about human connection, respecting inclusion and diversity (even in food preferences, lol!), and creating a more sustainable, loving world is a profoundly important part of feeling grounded.

Earlier in the weekend, I had another lovely experience of community building and being with people who both push my thinking and reassure me about the world.  On Saturday, I drove to Hamilton to go for a bike ride with Kim. We’d never met before in real life, but since we both started writing regularly for this blog a couple of years ago, we’ve orbited each other in social media and email. It was like we’d been friends forever — I pulled up to her beautiful new house, we got on our bikes, slogged up the escarpment (she was patient with my slow climbing), and then rode 75 mostly rural km through a truly glorious sunny day. We rode along, talking about cycling and families and mid-life legacy, and intersectionality and the feminist and decolonizing questions that we can’t seem to grapple with yet as a culture.  All while riding strong and making each other laugh.

This is what community is, and this is one of the important places to restore, build new energy.  People who care about the things we care about, people who ask and dwell in hard questions, people who open their hearts to the bigger world. This is where I dwell in gratitude.

How do you find gratitude, and what is its role in your life?

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Kim and Cate squinting into the sun halfway through a surprisingly warm and not-windy 75km

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and works and ponders the world in Toronto.

My Dad’s Running Advice: “Don’t Push Yourself”

It was Canadian Thanksgiving this weekend and I was visiting my parents at their place, which is my favourite spot on the planet. So welcoming and relaxing.

Image description: Painted sign with image of lake and trees and says, "Welcome to the Lake." Propped up against a yellow and pink flowering plant with green leaves, piece of driftwood in the background.

Image description: Painted sign with image of lake and trees and says, “Welcome to the Lake.” Propped up against a yellow and pink flowering plant with green leaves, piece of driftwood in the background.

Sunday morning it rained so I put off my long run (12K scheduled) until the afternoon. This is usually a mistake because it’s so easy to skip it if put off.

The weather turned glorious, brilliant sunshine and blue skies. I sat down at the lake and took in this unexpected October glory. My dad joined me and we remembered Thanksgivings past, some where it even snowed and the unwinterized pipes on the original seasonal cottage froze.  Soon it was 3 o’clock. Then it was creeping up to 4 o’clock. If I was going to get my run in I had better get going.

But I didn’t feel like it. I griped a bit and said out loud, “Okay, I’m going.” As I gathered myself together to get out the door, I said, “Ugh. I’ll start with 6K and then check in with myself about the other 6K.”

That’s when my dad gave me his advice: “Don’t push yourself.” I had to chuckle because in lots of ways running is all about pushing myself. If I never pushed myself I wouldn’t run at all. I would walk. Not only that, this is uncharacteristic advice coming from a man who I thought was all about “pushing yourself.” After all, he was a fully credentialed practicing physician by the time he was 22 years old. It’s kind of a high bar.

But his words made a difference because in the end I decided not to push myself, and that made it possible for me to get myself out the door. It was hot and sticky out by then, but I ran to a beautiful little 2K stretch of cottage road that’s fully in the trees. It’s a quiet, hilly 1.5K to get there. Once there, it’s a good place to do flat repeats because there’s a ton of shade and almost no traffic. It’s also incredibly picturesque.

Taking Dad’s advice, I didn’t push myself. I’m already a fan of doing less, have been for ages. I put on my music and took it easy. I stopped to take a few pictures because everything looked so damn beautiful yesterday.

Image description: treed lane with sunlight streaming through green and orange trees, some fallen leaves in the foreground.

Image description: treed lane with sunlight streaming through green and orange trees, some fallen leaves in the foreground.

Image description: Another treed lane with blue sky and clouds above, orange trees and plenty of shade.

Image description: Another treed lane with blue sky and clouds above, orange trees and plenty of shade.

I ended up doing 8.25K instead of 12, backing out of my prescribed sets of 2x5K at a moderate pace with 1K easy in between. After three repeats on the shady lane I made my way back to my parents place and went straight down to the lake.

Image description: Tracy's feet in robin blue running shoes in the foreground, resting on a weathered wooden dock with a swim ladder going into the water, the lake, tree-lined shore, and cloudy skies with a hint of blue in the distance.

Image description: Tracy’s feet in robin blue running shoes in the foreground, resting on a weathered wooden dock with a swim ladder going into the water, the lake, tree-lined shore, and cloudy skies with a hint of blue in the distance.

Then I made up for taking it easy the day before with a steady 5K yesterday, pushing myself hard not to stop on even the most brutal uphills that I usually walk. I’m sure that even if he said “don’t push yourself,” Dad didn’t mean never push myself. Both runs felt good.