Category Archives: Fitness Adventures

Why it’s Not About the Work-Out

It’s stormy out.

Rain and wind are pummeling the west coast. In my community, branches and leaves scatter the streets, drumming up deep, rich smells of pine, earth and Christmas. Our power was out for eight hours last week. More warnings came over the last few days. Tie down the deck chairs, folks, and have your flashlights ready. Mother nature is taking the stage.

And big, ugly political storms brew in the U.S. Well, they are actually in full gale force. Trump’s house is dislodged and being pummeled in the funnel cloud. I stand riveted in the thought of it-can’t-happen. I also stand in deep revelation and reverence of what I, as a women, hope to witness next month. The fury of the storm always clears a path.

A few mornings ago, mid-storm, I got in a workout before my family woke. Typical for me, this morning ritual is driven by a deep need to come awake. To shake off layers. To ignite something. I’m still not sure what to call it, this why of mine.

Post-workout, a hot sweaty mess, I got to the headlines. I took in the torrent of articles about Trump, the emerging accusations of sexual predation, and reaction to Michelle Obama’s powerful and devastating speech.

And I was reminded of something.

We need to be well and keep strong because we’ve got big work to do. All of us. In our own corners and arenas. The world needs us at our best. Strong and powerful. With endurance and stamina and capacity. We need to be ready to step in. To serve. To stand firm in the midst of a storm.

What I know is this. It’s not about the work-out; it’s about the work it’s preparing me for.

its-not-about-the-work-out-its-about-the-work-its-preparing-me-for

Castles and Illusions

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“Who is that?” asks a 10-year old girl in the grocery store line up. She points at a magazine cover featuring an unnamed model.

I’m not sure. Some nice lady. 

“What’s she doing?”

Standing in front of a camera.

“Why is she standing like that?”

I’m not sure. She might be trying to make herself look different than she is. 

“Why would she do that?”

I’m not sure. Good question. 

“That’s weird.”

I know. [Silence.] It’s kinda weird.  

Because I’d hazard a guess that nice lady doesn’t look or stand like that most of the time. For what it’s worth, I’ve never seen women at a business meeting, or women at the gym, or women in the school yard, or women at the beach stand like that. Someone else did that nice lady’s hair and makeup so she looked quite different from what she looked like when she got up that morning. After other people with big cameras were done taking photos of her with special lights, that lady probably washed her face, put on comfy pants, and went for a sandwich. Then later maybe she hung out with some friends or her family. Maybe walked her dog. Did some pottery, played volleyball or something. I bet she’s super cool and smart.

It’s just that things and people sometimes get depicted like they are not. Sometimes it’s art. Sometimes it’s trickery. Sometimes it’s commerce. Or entertainment.

Sometimes it’s fear.

And a lot of times it doesn’t feel quite right.

Like when we get our family portraits done. It’s awkward sitting there with hands on each others’ shoulders. With hair combed just right. All that smiling when nothing’s funny. Your face starts to twitch, and your eyes get desperate when you stare at a camera and hold a fake smile for too long.

Or like keeping the house clean when you’re trying to sell it. You make the house look like it  never looks. And you run around every morning shoving things in closets and putting out fake place-settings. And you cannot wait for it to be over so you can get back to how you actually live.

Or the recipe pictures. The shimmering green smoothie on a white marble counter in front of the vase of yellow tulips. If you pan out a couple of feet, there’s a pile of slimy, black banana peels. And spatters of spinach and almond milk on the stove top. And probably stray ice cubes melting on the floor. The smoothie still tastes sweet and rich and glorious.

There’s a furious attempt to build castles and illusions, my dear. And I’m still not sure why. I can’t see all the way through it just yet.

The work comes in the un-layering, in finding what is real to you. Because the discomfort in the pose is real. The toil and story behind every image is real. The desire to flee the illusion is real.

As is the homecoming.

 

 

The Spaces In Between

There are spaces of nothing between bursts of something. This is where my mind gets busy, and I scheme feats of mid-life athletic amazement. This is where possibility takes root…along with its gnarly second cousin: fear.

Such was the case with the fondo a few weeks ago.

The fondo was my first experience riding in a big group. It was a pretty big group – several thousand cyclists. It had occupied my thoughts for weeks. The idea – the newness of it – thrilled me. But I was also worried. Not about the distance. I was doing the quarter and had covered the distance easily in training. As a typically solo rider, I was worried about maneuvering in a crowd of other cyclists. A crash. The dramatic highway pile-up. You know, skin grafts and such.

I like that about triathlons…you’re not allowed to ride near each other.

Well, I don’t know what went on at the front of the pack, but there was no sardine-packed peleton where I was. No inch-apart wheels. No tempting of fate with each twitch of the brakes. It was simply a bunch of folk of similar pace riding and keeping an eye on each other. And on the spaces in between.

Big groups are always like that really: just lots of you’s and me’s showing up until something aggregate takes shape.

The group thing, though – this posse of strangers moving together through air on wheels – brought out something new in me. As I found the slipstream of other cyclists, I could feel the rhythm of the collective. The air moved around me faster. The odometer ticked faster. Even when I found myself alone. Like during the last 10 km, as I whipped along the lakefront into the wind and barreled down the streets of Penticton. I could see my average speed was notably higher than I’d predicted. I began an instinctive race against my bike computer and the “point-9” at the end of my average speed. I tucked in and hunched down. My breath took on an unfamiliar tone. I pushed, pushed, pushed through the empty streets. I flew across the finish line – leaning in like Peter Sagan inching out a rival for the stage win. Yeah, I was exactly like Peter Sagan.

And the only crash was the one that came when I was going precisely 0 km/h and that was related to precisely zero other riders. At the rest stop, I couldn’t un-clip from my pedals fast enough. I toppled over on my left side right, bike still between my legs, in front a line of riders outside the port-a-potties. It was dramatic in its own special way.

In the end, there was plenty of space in between. The mental space required to imagine the fondo transformed into just the right amount of physical space to complete it. It reminded me that in the act of doing – distinct from thinking about doing – there is no fear. Just presence. Fear is a precursor of the mind. But it can’t exist in the bright light of action. The minute I clipped in and pushed down my first pedal, fear burned off like summer’s early morning haze.

Source: Axel Merckx Gran Fondo

Source: Axel Merckx Gran Fondo

sunrise

The Things I Notice When I’m Running

Lately I’ve been running to early morning boot camp. It’s not far. Maybe a 10 minute run each way, depending on if I take the 90-second shortcut through the woods (8 minutes) or stick to the sidewalk (11 minutes). This, in turn, depends on the extent to which I hear people discussing the potential for cougars in our neighbourhood. One morning I came across a deer in the dark December woods.  I didn’t actually see it in the tight glow of my headlamp. But I heard the rustle and gallop close behind me. I hope I didn’t wake the neighbours with my instinctive perilous shriek.

In the 16 to 22 minutes of running I really notice things. It’s like the first inhale of cool morning air snaps my senses awake.

Head barely out the door, I listen and look for rain. Most times there is none, though its night visits leave tell-tale signs. The wet stairs. Dripping in the eaves-trough.

Then I listen for bushes rustling. One morning I opened the door at 5:50 to find two deer immediately on the door step nibbling our bushes. Once again, scared the sh*t out of me. They are everywhere.

Heading down our long driveway, it’s the stars. I glance up at them twinkling overhead, unfettered by any urban glow. They always seem bright and close. Like really close.

Then it’s leaves rustling in the wind. And on unusually windy mornings, if I’m lucky, I also hear the waves down on the Bay. Distant, vague crashing sounds of the ocean.

Into the second or third minute of the run, I notice the rhythmic beating of my heart and my exhales. Particularly on that dark road with no street lights where I can’t see much beyond the blackness. I keep my eyes locked on the single driveway light about 500 meters down the straight, dark road. It’s like a beacon, a lighthouse. I run down the middle of the road toward it. In the visual vacuum, I hear the tenor of my foot strike, the cadence of my breath, the swish of arms against my windbreaker. I hear myself through the dark.

Around the final bend, the well-lit intersection emerges. And the world opens up again. Just a minute to two to go. Asphalt glistening. The far off sounds of the main road.

Then on the way way home, it’s the brightening sky, now indigo behind the outline of the Douglas Firs. Just before I come down the hill, I stop to scan the horizon. These days, the peach glow of sunrise is coming up from behind the hills on the other side of the channel.  Birds chirping.  Sometimes the hoot of an owl. A barking dog. A car engine and a set of headlights.

And always, always…my own breath…regulating, slowing. The heat and damp of my skin. The tingling of work in my legs, as they walk me the last few minutes home.

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Our Greater Work

I don’t workout when I first wake-up anymore. Not necessarily, at least.

Instead, I do something creative or productive. I read or write. Meditate. Do one or two work tasks. I find focus and clarity of mind in the quiet morning hours, when the rest of the house slumbers. The air and energy illuminate.

The workout now often come later, as a welcome break when my mind and focus start to tire. I don’t need motivation or accountability or willpower. I don’t need to get it out of the way. A time always comes when I’ll want – be compelled – to move.

Focus on the detail of the workout has also faded. The how much of this and how fast of that simply doesn’t matter. Spending mental energy on that stuff doesn’t help my life. That immeasurably-valuable, but limited, vault of personal energy and focus is needed elsewhere. It simply matters that I move.

I am not a fitness professional. Or a competitive athlete. My greater work is elsewhere. I suspect most of us fall in that category. We are the people who workout because it fuels and energizes and supports our work in other areas. We move our bodies…then we get on with business. We clean windows, fly airplanes, care for children, do heart surgery, write newsletters, invent stuff, run committees, run companies, run for office.

It’s a paradox. Fitness is important and essential to our health. It can also be a joyous hobby. A source of community and passion and mental release. But there is a point of diminishing returns if we overly identify with it and non-health related outcomes.

The most important things I can get from a state of fitness are energy, longevity, clarity of mind, and body functionality. Nothing comes from running a certain time. Or lifting a certain weight. From looking a certain way. Or covering a certain distance. Such outcomes are – at best – neutral byproducts. They are like the footnotes in small text at the bottom that no-one ever reads.

I workout and move because it prepares me for my greater work.

 

 

When Running Isn’t About Running

Recently, I went for a Saturday run while Isabelle was at her swimming lesson. With limited time, the plan was to run out and back from the pool along the city trails. I was making time for fitness on a busy Saturday morning; I felt organized and in control.

It was a cool and grey April morning. The pathways were busy. People were walking, running, pushing strollers. There were kids on colourful bikes, dinging their bells.

I’d been running about 20 minutes when I found myself on a narrow stretch of path that was bordered by tall, dense, green bush. It created a sense of containment and quiet. This stretch was empty except for two people running ahead of me.

At some point, I noticed the two runners ahead of me had stopped. They were standing in the middle of the path, facing each other.

At next glance, I saw they were hugging. Maybe a quick, friendly, goodbye hug before they went their separate ways. But they continued to stand – unmoving – in the middle of the trail, in a full embrace. It felt like something else.

I kept running toward them.

I could feel myself getting closer to their zone. I sensed I was getting closer to something deeply personal, not meant for any witness.  I instinctively slowed down. I wanted to create more time for them.

About 10 feet away from them, I noticed more detail. I could see his arms gently moving over her bright pink running jacket, over her lower back and shoulder blades.  She was on her tip-toes, her white cap lowered over her eyes and arms gripped around his neck. Each of their faces was buried in the other’s shoulder. Silent. Hanging on.

Eventually I jogged by them, squeezing myself as quietly and respectfully as possible around the edges of their moment.

As I passed, I stole one last glance. They were still embracing. Still silent. Still hanging on. I’m sorry. I love you. It’s over. Never let me go.

Once past them, I picked up my pace. The emotional density of the air was somehow cleared. It was back to trail, bushes, random thoughts…and distant sounds of the city.

But the moment I witnessed between those two runners created a moment for me.

They reminded me that life is bigger than the run. Or the work-out. Or the Project. Or our various acts of busy-ness. The big life moments pop up in unexpected places. When the energy and air pressure is just right, they arrive.  Sometimes we are stopped in our tracks.

And maybe, just maybe, the running…the movement of the body…helps create a little more space for certain moments. In the physical shake up of the body, things fall away. And other things settle in. Layers are removed, and insights pop and stir. Then one day, little cracks open up. And what you need – and perhaps didn’t know you needed – has just enough room to step in.

So keep running. Keep moving. Have your goals and competitions and lists, if that’s your thing. But sometimes, just run and let things shake out. And watch what happens.

See what moments and insights arrive.

Because when they do, our job is to recognize them. And stop.

To turn toward them.

Embrace them.

And hang on.

 

Changing Narratives

I’m deeply honoured that a version of this blog post (Written on the Bodywas published a few days ago in elephant journal. I love elephant journal. I especially love its tagline: dedicated to the mindful life.

This article (click here to read) is the beginnings of a new fitness narrative for me. And for anyone who wants one.

elephant journal article 2

What if we “exercised” and “trained” without attachment to outcomes or results?  What if we did it with no expectation of anything outward changing? What if we did it not to get faster? Or better? Or higher? Or bigger? Or smaller?

What if we moved, ran, climbed, lifted, rode, or  jumped for…say…joy?

For clarity of mind?

For longevity?

For the sense of being more alive?

To find new parts of ourselves?

Or to return ourselves to a place of gratitude?

What would the magazines write about? What would the advertisers come up with? The trainers and coaches prescribe? The doctors say? How would the athletes perform?

What would show up on our bodies? And present in our bodies? And in our hearts and minds?

What would show up in the world?

What would that be like?

What if instead of working out, we worked in?

We won’t know until we try.

 

Upward, Toward the Light

I went out for a run last Saturday morning. It’s officially spring, but the air was hovering below zero. The sun, mercifully, was dazzling. The cold air caught my breath as I stepped onto my front porch and put on my shades.

I was going to run to GoodLife, do some weights, then run home. But I changed my mind. I needed to just run. Stay outdoors.  Don’t worry about destination, time, pace, heart rate. Run until it feels right.

So I started down my street. I found a good pace, as the creaks and twangs in my ankles and knees settled in and dissipated. I had no route in mind. I have been known to pre-plan even the simplest run. Like 12 minutes warm up, then 6 sets of stairs (resting for 2 minutes in between), then 12 minutes easy run home. This time, no. Just move the legs, girl. Open up your body and mind to the experience.

So I ran across the soccer fields, and up past the construction site. Then on from there. Mostly I ran towards the sunny patches.

At times I felt the cold of the air stinging my freshly-washed teeth. It felt better than mouthwash. As I ran across the school field, I fell into the direct path of a sunbeam. The sun glistened off the frost on the grass, like a carpet of glitter. Like what I glimpse on daughters’ cheeks and hands after they’ve been playing dress-up or doing crafts. Sparkles of indigo, gold, white.

From the school field, it was down the path, through the trees and into the shade. I cooled off quickly and picked up the pace. Get back to the light. So I rounded the corner and went up the wooden stairs behind the library. I kept going upwards. In absence of any other plan, this seemed like a good rule of thumb. Go upward, upward toward the light.

Makes sense for running. Makes sense for life.

At the top of the stairs, on the hillside ridge, it was breath-taking. The mountains were etched white on the blue morning sky. It was the perfect destination… for now.

Without knowing, I had brought myself to the right place.

I stood scanning the western horizon, catching my breath. Drinking it in.

I stayed until it felt right.

Then I turned for home.

 

This post was written as part of the GoodLife Fitness Blogger Ambassador Program, however all opinions expressed are my own,

Written on the Body

In one fell swoop I let it go. The driving sense that my body should be different than it is.

I also let go of any notion of “fitness”. I don’t even know what that word means. There’s a fitness narrative out there that doesn’t make sense to me. I got really caught up in it for a while: the food rules, the workout “programs”, the results. Like it’s a thing. It’s not a real thing. It’s a construct. If you’re not careful, it can leave you perpetually feeling like you should do more. Be more. Or be less. It took me a while to see it, but I was chasing myself in circles.

So in a breath, not so long ago, I stepped out of it. I thanked it for the experience. I took a few good lessons and bits of information. And I quietly moved on.

Here’s what I know.

I love to move and sweat. Each day, I don’t feel quite right unless I make it happen. Perhaps in another life I was a Spartan runner. Or a tribal warrior tasked with running through the night to get food. Dunno. But the act of moving and sweating creates a state of being which allows me to come home. It forces me to the present. In creating the physical sensation of work in my body, I create a meditative space to feel and be. It is an end in itself.

It also creates an enormous opening for gratitude.

My God, look at my body. Look at yours.

Look at me walking, and running, and lifting things. Moving the pedals. Breathing. Stretching. Waving my arms about. Walking up stairs. Lifting myself out of bed every morning. Touching people’s shoulders and backs. Wrapping my arms around my family.

This body has been serving this soul for 45 years. As I get older – and my knees crackle and pop a little more and I get twangs of this and that – I stand in amazement of it all. I declare the whole thing a miracle.

The fair, Irish skin, reminding me of my windswept ancestry.

The lines settling in around my eyes and mouth, born of a thousand careful-or-I-might-pee-my-pants laughs and my fair share of tears. The shadows that tell stories of the restless and relentless work of parenting. And many late nights working at my craft.

The hips, which allowed me to carry and fairly easily birth our two little miracles six and nine years ago.

The scars that are the marks of life…of childhood falls, adolescent growth spirts, and surgical incisions of adulthood and that one particular harrowing night.

And never mind the inside stuff. The bits and pieces that magically keep working. Like the remaining ovary that gave us the possibility of Sophie. The lungs that push air in and out. The blood that keeps circulating, circulating, circulating. The brain that keeps directing traffic. And the heart. Oh, my alive and beating heart.

The idea of it all is staggering. It’s all written on the body. Our experiences. How we move. What we eat. The stories, choices, ancestry, work, and the love. My body is my warrior canvas. As is yours for you. It’s a goddamn miracle.

So I move, sweat, and jump and run because I’m wired to. It’s my archetype. I now relax into it and let it show up on the body. No other reason is required.

This is the narrative where my sports and movement live.

The other stuff is gone.

Sweet smell of spring

I shouldn’t be saying this. But I can smell spring.

Yes, I know it’s March, and I live in Calgary. This typically means there will be several more major snow storms to endure before actual spring starts on about the 12th of August.

But it’s seriously beautiful here. Like be outside in shorts and a t-shirt beautiful.

These sorts of days make me crave outdoor sports, rather than the conceptual pursuit of fitness. These are the days I want to get out of the basement or the gym. I want to run outside. I want to grab my bike and head for the highway. Swim across a lake. Or just take my functioning, healthy body outside for a long, cobweb-clearing hike.

These kinds of days make me think about summer sports goals. Will I do some races, for fun and good measure? A triathlon? A 10k or two? A mud run? Things that will get me outside, with hordes of other crazies doing their own version of their best self? That’s always my favourite part about races, the throngs of people of all sizes and ages doing their thing. Plus all the free bananas.

I bet like many kids around here today, my daughter wanted to ride her bike after school. In the balmy afternoon sun, I hustled her purple bike down from the storage shelf in the garage so she and her little buddy could cruise around the cul-de-sac for a while. I saw my own bike hanging there. How long will it be, I wondered, until I bring her down? Is one whiff of spring enough? I know, people more dedicated than me have theirs down already. They have them down all year. But me, I always wait until it feels like winter has truly passed. Until it feels like there’s a good stretch of road-time ahead. Only then, it feels like “time”.

And given what I know about Calgary, I think my bike will stay up for a while. But after months and months of indoor workouts, I did run outside today. I have started to think about possible races. I will explore some spin classes at GoodLife to find my biking legs. Perhaps, crazy speak, I will even find my way to a pool.

So I tip my hat to these oddly and joyfully warm days of winter and thank mother nature for the reminder of the good things to come.

This post was written as part of the GoodLife Fitness Blogger Ambassador Program, however all opinions expressed are my own