Tag Archives: fitness

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.

 

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.

Why Would You Do That?

Maybe because it’s been minus a hundred around here a lot lately, but I’m fantasizing about running outside. And thinking about motivation.

I remember talking to one of my neighbours a couple of years ago out on our street after my husband and I returned from a 25-km trail run. It was a late spring afternoon. We’d taken the afternoon off work to go to the mountains to run, getting back just in time to pick the girls up from school. It was the last long training run before the Sinister 7 relay, and we’d pushed ourselves hard before the taper.

We pulled into our driveway and piled out of the van onto our cul-de-sac, finding other neighbourhood kids and parents out enjoying the sunshine. We wandered into the street to join the conversation, as we often do. I love that about our cul-de-sac…that it becomes a playground/meeting ground on warm, sunny evenings.

I was sweaty, dirty and walking a little gingerly.

My neighbor asked me if I was alright.

I laughed and mentioned what we’d just done.

A look of concern/confusion flashed across her face.

“Why would you do that?” she asked, in all seriousness and without a trace of malice.

I couldn’t answer the question. I couldn’t explain it.

But I loved the question. I still love the question.

Why does anybody do anything, when it comes to fitness or sports?

Right now, all I know this…

To move is to feel alive.

That still doesn’t explain why one runs 25-km rather than 5-km. Or why someone runs 50-km rather than 25-km. Why someone climbs ice walls. Or takes Zumba. Or does Insanity. Or lifts bar bells. Or swims the English Channel. Or does yoga. Or whatever.

I’m pretty sure though it’s not all about weight-loss or making your jeans fit — as the women’s fitness magazines might have you believe. Though on some days, in some moments, it can be (I have those moments too).  But those aesthetic things simply aren’t meaningful enough to last.  The desire to move is about how it makes you feel, not how you look. How you feel in your bones. In your own skin. In your bloodstream. Deep in the hormonal recess of your brain. You know, how you feel feel.

I think we need a whole new narrative behind “why”.

So this is what I currently think.

You run, or jump, or swim or dance because you can.

Because you were born to move. And to play.

Because of the chain reaction of chemicals in your brain that gets addicting.

Because it forces you to the present and to feel.

And in some respects to suffer. Perhaps life isn’t meant to be a glazed pursuit of comfort, labour-saving devices, and temperature controlled space. Maybe we are wired to seek a more varied experience. To  hang in that balance – that ever-moving teeter-totter – between pleasure and pain, rest and work. We want to feel protected, rested, quiet, at leisure…for a while. But then, we get antsy (because we haven’t been required to go out and chop fire wood or gather plants for dinner), we seek moments of…well…pow!

I heard a friend say once that he doesn’t have to go off to war, so he puts on his waffle-soled, high-comfort running shoes and goes out and runs marathons. Same instinct.

In planning for their next 24-hour bike race, one of my husband’s teammates said – when they were contemplating going as  a 5 person-team, rather than a 4 person team: “But will we suffer enough?” Same instinct.

So why would I, why would you, do that? Bring on a new narrative.  But I leave you with the words of the great explorer George Mallory:

george mallory

 

To resolve, or not to resolve: that is the question

I haven’t written in a while. But – as usual – I am always drawn back to the page. Because writers write. Sometimes the writing turns out to be interesting and engaging to others. Many times, it’s not. Many times, it is simply about showing up at the page and seeing what is there.

So here I am on January 1, 2015…showing up at the page.

The house is quiet. The girls slept over at Grandma’s last night, so we could go out to a small get together at a friend’s house. But we left before midnight anyway. Some of us (read: me) were dozing off during lulls in the conversation. Because we are old. And exhausted.  And parents.

And that’s how the old and exhausted roll.  Yo.

So the quiet house this morning gives me space and silence to think.

I typically feel all sorts of desire to set new year’s resolutions this time of year. Let`s sit down at a blank page and bang some out, I figured. It`s January 1. Fresh plate. New year. Endless possibilities. Work? Parenting? Family? Fitness? What will be on my list?

And you know what?

Turns out…nothing.

Not because I don’t like change. In fact, I love the idea of setting sights on new horizons and chasing them down. I love pushing my understanding of myself…and seeing what lies just beyond. And beneath.

But all I know this morning is that if I try to think of something specific I’ll do differently this year…I can think of nothing.

And I`m taking that as a good sign.

I am taking that as I sign that there is no gaping, obvious chasm between who I am and who I hope to be. I also see it as a sign that I am learning to see the gloriousness of what simply is…right here, right now. I am learning that nothing will be better or worse if I do XX or YY. It will just be different.

I also think this means that I don`t want to pre-determine the “best” way to arrive at new places. I want to stay open to opportunities. I want to let that pathways that I can`t currently anticipate reveal themselves. When I look back on my life so far, some of the most meaningful turns came not when I controlled for the outcome, but when I noticed what felt right and simply followed the feeling.

So I’m running with it. I have no resolutions. But – at the same time – I am alive with possibility about change, growth and personal evolution. It feels exciting. Invigorating. It feels free.

So that`s me.

Showing up at the page on January 1, 2015.

With nothing.

Yo.