Physical activity and personal fortitude

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At the core of every change in my life, there has always been physical activity.

In high school, it was every single sport. When I first moved to Vancouver as a teen, it was long solo bike rides, and intramural basketball. When I went through a rough breakup in my 20s, I turned to yoga. When I moved to Toronto 3 years ago, I took up running again. And recently, I’ve been working more and more on strength training.

Exercise is always there in one form or another, but when I’m seeking real change in other areas of my life, I usually undertake some kind of measurable physical challenge.
The past year has been filled with a lot of uncertainty. I left my job, and spent a lot of time hopping back and forth between Toronto and the West Coast, wondering what to do next. And because I needed something in my life that I felt sure of, I trained for my first ultramarathon. With all of the things in my life that were beyond my control, or that seemed nebulous and unsure, this was one major challenge that I could diligently work towards, that wasn’t entangled with the same complications as all of the other decisions in my life. I could just run. And in running a great distance, I could prove to myself that I had the fortitude, strength, and discipline to accomplish this one big thing, even if I was feeling a little lost about where to direct my energies in my career, and in daily life.

Then the fall hit, and I spent a lot of time travelling, and I fell a little out of my routine. I took a break from running because of injury, and took a break from the gym because I was mostly out of town. And that’s fine. Sometimes our bodies need rest, and sometimes as people, we just need a break from commitments and routine. But a month in, I was getting antsy. And I finally made some decisions about my life. For years, I’ve been saying, “I want to live in Toronto AND in BC! I want to work on all of these side projects! I want variety in my life!”, but instead of doing anything about it, I kind of just put the idea that I could make that happen on a shelf, and kept looking for a full-time job that I knew that I would never be fully satisfied with. Why? Because trying to do things differently is scary. TBH, every week I waffle back and forth between feeling like this is a great idea, and everything is going to be amazing, and thinking that it’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever done, and I’m going to be broke as fuck, and actually just fucked in general if I keep thinking that full-time freelance is going to be a thing that I can do without just completely burning out while at the same time not getting anywhere. And by the way, who do I even think I am anyways? JUST GET A JOB, DUMMY.

But there is one important thing that I can do that always makes me feel better and stronger and more capable; that let’s me know deep in my bones that I’ve made the right decision; and that I know what I’m doing. And that thing is physical activity. Yes, there is also maintaining relationships with friends, and informational interviews, and hustle, and eating right, and other forms of self care. But nothing makes me feel so completely in control of my own destiny, and empowered and sure of my own strength, as overcoming physical goals. So I’m back at the gym, five days a week. I’m back running three times a week. I’m rowing, and lifting weights, and sprinting up hills. I’m pushing myself until my muscles shake and my lungs burn. And it’s not because I want to fit into a dress, or lose weight, or get my body beach ready. It’s because physical activity gives me a clarity of mind that I just can’t get anywhere else. And somehow, the more I build physical strength, the more this strength of body somehow spills over into strength in every other aspect of my life as well. It’s like I’m physically building myself a well that I can draw on for the energy that I need in other parts of my life.

I know that if physical activity isn’t a part of your every day life, that it can be really hard to get started. Maybe you’ve never been active; maybe you were teased as a kid and you hated sports; maybe you recently had a baby and you feel estranged from your own body; maybe you just think that exercise is stupid and it doesn’t fit in with your personal narrative about yourself.

I’m going to make you a promise though – if you find one physical thing that you think you could possibly like, and just try it for a while, let’s say once a week for three months to start, you will start to notice a change. Not necessarily in the way you look. You might not lose weight, or get swole, or have a thigh gap. But you will feel differently. Slowly that thing that you were dreading will become something that you look forward to. The thing that was so hard will become easy. And over time, your body will surprise you. Rather than being a fleshy vessel that you inhabit, it will become a source of personal fortitude.

So this blog post is part personal essay, part challenge. If it’s been a while since you’ve been active, or you’ve never been active at all, give yourself the space to just give it a try. Not to “get fit”, or fast, or slim, or whatever, but to build your well. I know that getting started sucks, but I promise that one day down the road you will wake up and realize that physical activity has changed your life. All you have to do is keep showing up.

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Mental health and community

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Photo by Academy of Lions

Thank god for community.

If you’ve read through a few of my blog posts, you probably know that I am a person who lives with a generalized anxiety disorder. And that every now and then, this is also coupled with depression.

Under usual circumstances, I am very careful about balancing my life so that I can mitigate the negative effects of these mental health issues. But over the winter, I was unemployed, and broke, I let my gym membership lapse, I got a month long severe sinus cold – which further interfered with seeing friends and physical activity – and I fell into a depression.

For me, and I’m sure for many people, my anxiety and depression manifest themselves as a complete withdrawal from the things that matter the most to me, and incredible amounts of insecurity and self doubt. From a logical standpoint, I know that the things that I am thinking about myself are irrational and untrue, but this doesn’t make them any easier to deal with.

When I’m in the depths of depression, every venture outside of my house feels like a farce. Every interaction with anyone who matters (whether friend or colleague) feels like I am putting on a one woman show of “someone who is ok”. And when I do let it slip that I am not coping all that well, I get so incredibly nervous that I am coming across as needy/incompetent/a mess, that I completely fumble my thoughts and words, so that I am met with confused head tilts, which only makes matters worse.

I wouldn’t consider myself spiritual, and I don’t believe in THE SECRET, but I have had enough experiences where “the universe” gives me exactly what I need, that I do believe in serendipity, and also the general goodness of the humans around me.

I was sitting at home yesterday thinking to myself, I NEED TO GET A REGULAR WORKOUT SCHEDULE AGAIN, OR MY MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES ARE GOING TO BURY ME. Then later that afternoon, I got an email letting me know that Academy of Lions would now be offering Community Classes; I immediately signed up for three this week. Just knowing that I would be having a solid workout in a gym that I really love, and that I would be able to access classes regularly even in my incredibly broke state, took such a burden off my shoulders. I went to class that afternoon, and a few minutes in, I could already feel the fog lifting. For me, really serious exercise is not an option – it is literally what keeps me alive.

Once I get working again on a regular rotation, I will be very happy to pay my monthly gym fee to go and work out. But while I am going through this transition, I am so incredibly thankful that community classes are a thing that exist, and that my community offers them.

So if you’re a gym owner, or yoga studio manager, or whatever, I know that it might seem counterintuitive to offer regular free classes when you could simply be registering paying clients, but the loyalty and positive word of mouth that you will garner from giving back will be well worth your while. And in the process, you might actually save someone’s life.

the 100 day project day 6 – always on the run

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(photo by Parkdale Roadrunners)

Just as Tuesdays nights are for full group Parkdale Roadrunners runs, Saturday mornings are for ladies runs followed by a class with City Yogis, a coffee from Capital, and a smoothie from Bolt.

It is one of the best, and healthiest weekend rituals I have ever held. The women who I run with are strong, and encouraging, and smart, and funny. They are loving and wonderful. I’m not sure what to say about running at the moment other than that lately it feels amazing, and freeing and like a year of putting in time is starting to pay off in so many ways. The Toronto communities that I am a part of are feeling more and more like home, and what better feeling is there in life?

Earlier this year, I was pretty much feeling like my running had plateaued, and then in the past month everything has changed. I upped my weekly kilometres, and allowed myself to connect more with the other runners on my crew. There’s been more bonding, which for me, makes the whole experience more meaningful.

And not that this is the reason that I’m running, but I am FINALLY starting to notice a real difference in the way my body looks, which is hugely encouraging for me. Running is feeling more like a sport and less like a burden.

I don’t know. I don’t want to come across as all OMMMMGGGG RUNNNNIIIIINNNNNNNGGGGG. And all fitness preachy or whatever. Or just all FEELING ALL THE FEELS (like many posts that I write maybe?). But on days when I am feeling stressed or bummed, running helps. And running as part of a community and having that as another venue to connect with other humans who I respect and admire and draw inspiration from is a million times more helpful.

I know that running is not for everyone. And yoga is not for everyone. And sports are not for everyone. But if you’re not currently physically active, I’d like to express just how much it has the potential to truly and deeply transform your entire life for the better. It might take time. It might take a LONG time where you’re gruellingly dragging yourself out the door, but one day out of nowhere, you will notice that somewhere along the way you began to love it. I promise.

My new favourite thing

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WordPress just randomly deleted the first round of this post… which was completed. So here we go with ROUND TWO.

Recently, a friend convinced me that because I am already a very experienced cyclist, and a moderately experienced runner, that I was now ready to be a brand new beginner triathlete. And so, on Sunday August 24th, I will be competing in the Toronto Island Give-it-a-Tri race. With only 3 and a half weeks to race day, the only thing that I really needed to work on was my swim stroke.

While I’ve loved spending summers swimming in lakes and the ocean since I was a child, I have never really SWAM and have usually hated the idea of swimming laps (booooring), and have avoided chlorinated pools like the plague. However the need to train so that I will not die in the opening leg of my triathlon trumped both of these things. I was wary at first, but then I discovered Toronto’s free outdoor summer pools.

More specifically, I discovered Sunnyside – Gus Ryder Pool. While busy on the weekends, I’ve found weeknights at Sunnyside blissfully calm, and I’ve never had to deal with more than 2 other people in the slow lane. The pool is long and peaceful, with a deep end that allows for water treading or a long float on my back staring up at the sky as the clouds go by when I’m done my laps.

Sunnyside is a quick 15 minute bike ride from my house, along side streets and the lake front. And if I decide to go for a little 5 km jog to round out my training, I can run over to a freaking butterfly habitat. It’s beautiful. As previously mentioned, on top of all of this, Sunnyside is also FREE. FREEEEEEEEEE. I know that normally swimming pools only charge about 3 dollars for admission, but it’s still so amazing to me that I can pop in for a little 20 minute swim if I’m in a hurry and it costs me absolutely nothing at all. On top of this, Sunnyside also has a pretty amazing history, but I’m not gonna’ write about that here.

ANYWAYS. I don’t remember how I signed off the first time I wrote this post, but the second time around it goes something like this: next weekend, I will compete in my first little mini-triathlon, and a few short weeks after that, Toronto free outdoor pools will close for Fall. While it won’t be the same, I will reluctantly drag myself to swim my lanes indoors, paying my three dollars, so that I am better, stronger and faster when I return to summer pools next June.

THE END.