Training Tuesdays: when things start to feel easier

It is hard to stay motivated towards fitness goals when things feel hard. Who hasn’t gone out for a run at some point and struggled to make it to a half hour, only to return home utterly discouraged and wishing you could just give up running altogether? Who hasn’t been so sore from a workout that you wondered if it was even worthwhile, if it would ever start to feel good to exercise?

For me, the last couple of years have been a constant battle to keep putting in the work on my strength even though I rarely felt like I was getting stronger, to keep hitting the trails to build up hiking endurance even though every hike reminded me just how little endurance I had.  I’ll be honest, particularly when it came to hiking, the delta between where I used to be and where I am now was at times so vast I almost lost my hiking mojo completely.

But there is this magical thing that happens over time when you stick to whatever your activity of choice happens to be: things start to feel easier.  You have a moment where you suddenly think to yourself ‘hey, this isn’t as painful/tiring/hard/challenging as it used to be!’ It can happen in a moment and serve as a spark to keep you pushing forward.

I was lucky enough to have two of these moments in the last week. The first occurred while running stairs.  It sucked. My lungs were burning. My legs felt like dead weight.  But as I stood there trying to regain my breath at the top of the stairs, I realized something big: I had run to the top of that set of stairs several more times than on my last outing. Even though it still felt really hard, I was making progress. I was doing more and feeling no worse as a result.

The second moment occurred on our weekend hike when I realized that all those easy trails that we’d been hiking, the ones I thought were doing nothing for my hiking fitness, were actually making a difference.  My legs weren’t tired. This longer and slightly more challenging trail felt comfortable. Did I feel ready to tackle a 30km day hike like I used to? No. But I could tell I was making progress.

These moments when things feel easier, when you can tell you are making progress, are the ones that can keep you going when things feel hard, when you feel discouraged, or when you inevitably have another bad workout day.  Bottle that feeling to pull out when you need it most and you just might find yourself a bit more inspired to go harder, push your boundaries, and to just keep going.


TWIR #112: bring on the weekend

Hello and happy Friday, my friends! It has been yet another week filled with long days of work and I, for one, am thrilled that Friday has rolled out around again and that, quite blissfully, I have zero plans.

I set a goal this week of two after-work walks and accomplished neither, so I’m feeling like a big old activity failure this week, aside from my normal workouts, that is. It’s amazing just how sedentary one can be when she is highly focused on her work. I sort of miss the days when I was bored out of my mind and had nothing to do at work. I tended to go for a lot more walks back then…Okay, okay, I don’t really miss that because boredom at work is nothing but soul crushing. Enough ramblings, let’s get on to the workouts!

Activity: hike!
Relevant Stats: 10. 3 km
Observations:  My parents were visiting for some weekend adventures, so we packed them up in the car bright and early and took them out to a local park where we pieced together several trails to form a pretty decent hike. While it wasn’t a great idea to hike 10 km before eating breakfast, we at least avoided the heat and crowds. We rounded out our day with some winery visits, and since hiking + wine is pretty much my perfect day, it was a good start to the weekend.

Activity: planned rest day
Relevant Stats: all of the wine + gelato
Observations: We replaced our morning hike with morning waffles (homemade of course), which I feel is a worthy substitute on a Sunday, and then hit the road to visit even more wineries.  Yay! We even took my parents to our favourite gelato place which was predictably delicious (strawberry custard + milk chocolate for the win). And then I made a ton of pizzas for dinner. Wine, pizza, gelato, waffles. What a day…at least, if you don’t think about the fact that I was barely active…

Activity: strength training
Relevant Stats: 50 min.
Observations: With my parents safely on their way back home, I dove straight back into work. And with a busy work day came the absolute need for a solid workout. This strength workout focused on slow and controlled movements since my SI had been feeling a bit stiff, and mostly targeted my legs and glutes. As I’ve been upping cardio, I’ve been worried I haven’t been spending enough time focusing on strength. This workout was my way of telling my stablizing muscles that I hadn’t forgotten about them.

Activity: spin
Relevant Stats:  45 min.
Observations: Spin first thing in the morning is the worst. It takes my legs some time to wake up and spin requires legs that are awake. To add insult to injury, I had this grand plan of spinning to some classic G n’ R, which required Apple music, but the gym’s wifi was being a total jerk. I had to use the boring old music stored on my phone and I was just not pleased. Still, I held on for the full 45 minutes and getting my workout of the way allowed me to power through a work day full of calls (seriously, 7 hours of phone calls. ugh.).

Activity: personal training session
Relevant Stats: 45 min.
Observations: This was all arrrrrrms. Why?????? My trainer claimed she was trying to balance out my strength but I genuinely like that my lower body is stronger than my upper body.  It serves me far better to have strong legs than strong arms. This week she also introduced some ridiculous contraption filled with water, which is apparently called a slosh pipe, and which seemed like it would be easy but was far from it. I was supposed to hold it out with my arms fully extended, but these arms of mine were having none of that so we had to significantly modify to allow me to bend my arms. It was both embarrassing and a relief.  I told her that next week my whole damn workout better be legs. Sigh.

Activity: stairs
Relevant Stats: 32 min.
Observations: Well, I learned what time not to go to the stairs.  There was a group of dudes who were going balls out sprinting to the top, which made me feel like the world’s slowest human. That said, the stairs are getting ever-so-slightly less horrible, even though I am still a far cry from my former level of stair-running fitness. I forced myself to keep going even when my legs wanted to give up and I consider that extra two minutes beyond a half hour a prize-worthy victory.

Activity: mini hike
Relevant Stats: 6 km
Observations: I expected my legs to be far worse today but they were ready to roll even on an early morning hike. We did one of our favourite short loops which has a reasonable climb and lots of excellent scenery, and there is something particularly rewarding about finishing off a trail workout before 8:30 am.  I consider this an excellent kick start to the weekend.

With that, I am off to enjoy the fruits of my labour this weekend. Wishing you all sunshine, warm weather and much fun this weekend. See y’all next week!

Mid-Week Tangent: Cider Wednesdays

Lately, mid-week has become a time for Wine Wednesdays (see here, here, here and here), where I write about my experiences at local wineries.  Today, I’m shifting gears ever-so-slightly and focusing on cider. It doesn’t have quite the same alliterative ring to it, but I’m going to own it nonetheless.

I’ve found that people’s stance on cider varies wildly. Some love the overly sweet, mass-produced ciders we find at the local liquor store. Others hate cider precisely because of those mass-produced, overly sweetened ciders. In other words, our views on cider can be complicated. Also, for those of you who do love the sweet ciders, I’m sorry but this post is not going to be for you. I mean, you still might like the post, but you won’t like the ciders I discuss. For everyone else who loves ultra dry ciders, this post and the ciders described within it are for you. Here we go!

Region: north okanagan

Cidery:  BX Press Cidery & Orchard (Vernon, BC)

Varieties:  Prospector & Bandit

Price Point: $8-9 bucks per 500 mL bottle

Brief and non-technical Tasting Notes:  Let me start off by saying that I love every single cider I’ve ever tasted at BX, with the exception of one. So in choosing two to highlight, I am by no means saying that the others aren’t worth it. They have many seasonal offerings which are either done til next year (their winter seasonal offerings) or which are not yet ready (summer offerings); today’s two ciders are my two personal favourites among the mix of ciders currently available.

The Prospector: Being a fan of tart white wines and sour ales, this slightly tart and ultra dry cider has been a personal fave since the first time I tried it. It mixes apples and crab-apples and, while I can’t definitively say it’s the crab apples that gives the cider its tartness, I definitely assume that it’s part of the magic. This is super, crazy refreshing on a hot day and I consider it to be a worthy replacement for any beer.

The Bandit: Right at the onset I said that sweet cider lovers would find nothing here, and I was sort of wrong. The Bandit is apple cider blended with real cherry juice. While I wouldn’t characterize the cider as ‘sweet’, it’s certainly the sweetest of the ciders I’ve tried at BX. That said, it’s still refreshing and not at all cloying and it goes brilliantly well with potato chips for reasons I don’t quite understand. If you aren’t really into ciders, trust me when I say this will be your gateway cider.

Cidery Vibes:  Cidery vibes are super important yet underrated. This is the feeling that you get when you walk into a space, and is influenced by things such as: aesthetics, decor, set up, staff friendliness and knowledge, sampling protocol (free vs. fees, sampling variety, etc.), snobbiness vs. accessibility, etc.).

The BX doesn’t just have a tasting room, they have a full-on tasting experience. They do a whole presentation along with their tastings. While some people might just want the cider, I appreciate that this makes trying their ciders more of an outing than a five minute sampling. Plus, there are some really cool stories about the region and cidery’s history, including harrowing tales of a gold thief and prison escape. Bonus points: their visual aids are (professionally) drawn on cardboard. It feels homey and quaint and personal. It does not hurt that you get anywhere from 3-6 sizeable cider tastings to accompany the story.

You will sit at large communal tables, which means getting to know a bit about some other people. That’s not everyone’s thing, but there’s not a ton of time for small talk so I’ve never found it to be awkward (and I am not one for small talk with strangers). You may have to wait for the tasting because it comes with a story, but it’s never more than 15 minutes and there’s orchards to be viewed and a little shop with quaint decor that will keep you distracted.

Tastings are by donation, which is a lovely thing these days. Apparently they tried to implement a tasting fee earlier this year, but it felt wrong to them. I like that they are honouring who they are, and I imagine people are actually more generous when they aren’t forced to pay. Or at least I am.

This is a brilliant place to stop and visit when the hankering for cider strikes, or a fantastic place to go if you’re not sure you even like cider yet. No matter what, go check it out. It’s fun, it’s informative and, most importantly, it’s delicious. Cider on, my friends.

*It probably goes without saying, but I have received no compensation for writing this. BX has no idea who I am, nor do I have a followership on this blog that would inspire anyway to pay me for writing nice things about them.

Training Tuesdays: Irrational Gym Fears

I think anyone who has ever gone to the gym has had the brief and fleeting fear that she might fly off a treadmill while it’s running at top speed. From what I can tell, it almost never actually happens, but when I was a runner it used to top my list of largely irrational gym fears.  To me, at least,  the gym seems to be a veritable breeding ground of potential injuries.  Today, as I was spinning away on a bike that’s always struck me as being in a bad location (see below for more on that), it occurred to me that I have harboured many a gym-based fear over the years. Want to take a look inside my paranoid psyche? Of course you do!

I fear epic jumping-related falls…Whenever I am in the midst of a box jump, I see myself either jumping completely over the box or perhaps just missing with one foot, either of which would surely lead to a horribly ungraceful tumble to the ground. I imagine either miss would lead  to a mishap more embarrassing than injury-causing, and yet I also imagine that, given my host of past injuries, a horribly twisted ankle would be a distinct possibility.  And before you think this could be a legitimate fear, my box jumps are not at such a height where one could reasonably miss her landing by that much.

I fear spin bike tragedies...As I mentioned in last week’s TWIR, the absence of the strap that holds your foot to the spin pedal leaves me visualizing my foot slipping off the pedal and the pedal slamming into my leg, tearing into my flesh with all the vengeance of my pedalling momentum. Not only that, but the spin bike at my current gym is directly next to the railing above the staircase. On many an occasion, I have found myself wondering if I might just randomly lose my balance, or perhaps faint, causing me to topple over the railing, falling all of ten feet to my certain death (because that is evidently the height from which I believe death is certain).

I fear dumbbell-related facial trauma…This fear was recently exacerbated when one of my colleagues appeared at work with a giant scab on the bridge of his nose and a concussion care of a weight he’d dropped on his face (!!!!!).  I already had that fear but assumed it never actually happens to anyone. But it does. It happened to someone I know. And now every time I hoist weights above my face, I picture a brief but horribly damaging brush with clumsiness or faintness. Most often, when I play out this fear, I end up missing many, many teeth.

I fear the most implausible of falling-weights-related death or paralysis…You know those totally secure brackets that you rest your bar on when doing back squats? The ones that don’t move at all? Well, when I do pushups near that bar, I imagine it somehow dislodging itself in such a manner that it might fall upon either my head or spine. There is such a simple solution to this fear: don’t do push ups under the bar.  Against all logic, I acquiesce to my fears and continue to do push ups  sometimes directly underneath the bar, all the while thinking that it might just be for the last time.

There you have it, a short but mildly concerning list of my most irrational gym fears. I’m sorry you had to see what goes on inside my head.

But seriously, you must have some irrational gym fears too, and I’d love to hear them. Anxiety loves company.






TWIR #111: the overwhelm

It has been a long time since I felt like I am in over my head with work, like more than two years. I had forgotten what it feels like. It hasn’t been the crippling kind of overwhelm where you just want to curl in a fetal ball under the covers and hide from your responsibilities. It’s just been the kind that’s required intense focus. And some extra coffee. And some extra sugar. Yes, I soothe my stress with food and drink. It’s not actually helpful to anything but my emotions, but my emotional health could use a good hug right about now. Suffice it to say that it’s been a busy week and my workouts have been enormously helpful in keeping me relatively sane and functional.

Let’s see what I got up to.

Activity: mini hike
Relevant Stats: 6.5 km
Observations: My mini hike wasn’t meant to be my workout. I actually planned Saturday as a possible rest day, with the chance that I’d be motivated to hit the gym after our short hike. I was not motivated to hit the gym by the time we got home, and I also ended up counting this as a workout even though it was only about 30 minutes of legitimate trail requiring any significant exertion. I broke a sweat and thus I consider it good enough to qualify as a legit workout.

Activity: cardio warmup + strength training
Relevant Stats: 10 min. spin + 35 min. strength
Observations: Amidst a day of errands, chores (hallelujah, we hung all our artwork and pictures at last!!!) and work (yup, on a long weekend no less), I escaped the house for a trip to the gym. I spun for 10 minutes just to get the heart and legs going, then switched to a total body strength workout including some weighted single leg squats, lots of annoying tricep work, and some core work for good measure (and to attempt to combat the additional jiggly-ness from Portland and overall increased sugar consumption…it did not work. Sigh.).

Activity: mini hike #2 (!!) + golf
Relevant Stats: 6 km hike + 9-hole round
Observations: We hit the trails early to avoid the heat and knocked off a 6km loop hike before 9:30 am. It was very enjoyable with a morning breeze and without the sun’s intensity. We also fit in a 9 hole round of golf. Look, I know that golf isn’t really exercise, but we do at least carry our golf bags around the course and, when it’s hot out, that feels like a legitimate burden to the body.  We finished both our day’s activities before 1 pm and were like ‘uh, now what’. Getting up early sometimes backfires, because ‘now what’ turned into afternoon drinks on our patio.  We try to be good, but sometimes early season patio weather and drinks are irresistible.

Activity: planned rest day
Relevant Stats: travel day
Observations: I was up and at ’em early to hop down to Vancouver for a quick overnight work trip. Getting up at 5am is absolutely never my cup of tea, but I will say that morning light and the sunrise did make it somewhat more palatable. Aside from walking in airports and walking around downtown, there was little to no activity. The day’s highlights were seeing all my bestest friends for dinner, and then having a moment of panic when I didn’t think there were blinds in my hotel bathroom, which featured a full glass wall looking directly into an office building. Never fear, I found the blinds eventually and was relieved that I wouldn’t have to avoid the bathroom for 24 hours.

Activity: personal training session
Relevant Stats: 60 min.
Observations: I was reunited with my old personal trainer! I was so happy that she was able to fit me in for a session, even though it meant yet another 5am wake up call.  We got right back into it with lots of dead lifts and front squats and all sorts of strange exercises she thinks up that I have no idea how to describe let alone do (seriously, there was this one exercise where I was supposed to be engaging my hamstrings and core at the same time and I could NOT wrap my head around her instructions so much so that we gave up and did a modified version…which I also really don’t think I did right). The session reminded me just how much I miss my old trainer. She is the best.

Activity: spin
Relevant Stats: 25 min.
Observations: A 25 minute workout wasn’t my intention but when my parents showed up about four hours earlier than anticipated, the stress of knowing I wasn’t there to greet them (even though my partner was) got the better of me and I left the gym with the full intention of doing a quick at home workout once we got my parents settled. Best laid plans. Of course getting them settled took longer than expected, and then, you know, work needed to happen and so there’s my really long-winded excuse for why I only worked out for 25 minutes. Sigh.

Activity: cardio + strength training
Relevant Stats: 30 min. spin + 3o min. strength training
Observations: After Thursday’s workout fail, I was determined to get in a good workout to round out the week. My favourite spin bike (i.e. the only one that isn’t inside the black spin studio of doom aka the spin studio that has no real lights in it) is missing the piece that holds your foot to the pedal, so it wasn’t the world’s best spin workout. I feared my foot flying off the pedal and the pedal slicing into the back of my leg. My anxiety about random things is real. Nonetheless, it was decent and I rounded out the day with lots of arm, leg and core work. I felt accomplished when I left the gym, which is about all I can ask for.

With that, another week comes to an end.  This weekend we are entertaining my parents, which should include a diverse range of activities like hiking, cider tasting, wine tasting, and patio drinking. Come to think of it, those are not diverse activities at all, are they? Regardless, the weekend is here. Let’s celebrate! Happy Friday!

Mid-Week Tangent: my love for ice cream DOES have limits

When we told people we were going to Portland a couple weeks ago, almost everyone told us that we absolutely had to go to Salt and Straw. As a passionate lover of ice cream, I gladly accepted a recommendation. I’ve heard of Salt and Straw before and figured it couldn’t hurt to try it.

After 2.5 days of wandering, eating and drinking our way through PDX, it was time to give Salt & Straw a try. And so, on our last day in town, which wasn’t even a full day in that would had to leave for the airport mid-afternoon, I dragged my poor better all the way to Nob Hill (i.e. up a giant hill from our downtown hotel…in 30+ degree heat) for the sole purpose of checking out Salt & Straw.

We got there around 12:30 and headed straight inside where there appeared to be a small line (I couldn’t actually tell if the people hovering were in line and just not paying attention to the fact that the line had moved up, or just  milling about).  I figured we should strike while the ice cream iron was hot (i.e. while the line was short), but my partner reminded me that we hadn’t eaten lunch yet and should probably do that first. Personally, I don’t subscribe to only eating dessert after a proper meal, but I’d also eaten no actual, healthy food in three days so I conceded for once.

That was where I made my mistake. Had I gone for my usual footloose and fancy free “eat dessert whenever the hell you feel like it” approach, I would be writing about their ice cream, rather than rambling on about the limits to my love for ice cream. Instead, we ate a sensible lunch (salad, no less!) and returned almost two hours later to find that the line for ice cream had extended to outside the shop, snaking itself around the corner and doubling over itself into two rows.

I still stand by my initial thought which was ‘Good God, all this for ice cream?!?! It cannot be that good.’ I was eyeing up the ice cream of those sitting outside, those who hadn’t foolishly arrived at 2:30pm on a hot, sunny Sunday, which also happened to be Mother’s Day. It looked, dare I say, like any other ice cream. People were oohing and ahhhing over it, but wouldn’t you do the same if you’d just waited in line for the better part of an hour? I know I would, if only just to prove it hadn’t been a total waste of my time.

Alas, we got in line anyway, and I was doing the mental math on how long it would take to serve the scores of people ahead of us, most of whom I imagined greedily sampling every flavour under the sun before hemming and hawing over their final choice as if an ice cream choice ever has any real consequence (and I say this as an ice cream obsessive). My mental math, and the fact that we hadn’t advanced at all in five minutes, was telling me that this was easily an hour-long line up.

It was at this point that I was faced with a dilemma: do I suck it up and waste my last hours in Portland waiting in line for ice cream that, quite likely, is overhyped and merely good, or do I walk away never knowing if this was the one ice cream shop whose ice cream isn’t highly overrated?  You can tell the title of this post that my choice was to walk away. Because even though I love ice cream probably more than any other confection, and even though a good ice cream is such a magically wondrous delight, and even though I live to write posts about any ice cream experience good or bad, apparently there is a limit to my love for ice cream.

That limit is a one hour line.

Training Tuesdays: when you’re too overwhelmed to workout

My work life is typically pretty chill. I don’t work in one of those occupational areas where it’s life or death, and I self-ejected from the corporate scene years ago. Still, I have times when deadlines all seem to coincide magically, pressures rise, and the thought of taking breaks even to work out seems impossible.  I know that I am not alone in this and that, for many who work in high pressure gigs, this is a constant feeling.

I’m not telling anyone how to live their life, or how to manage their time nor priorities. We are all adults and we all make the choices we think are best for us. What I am here to say is that when you feel too overwhelmed and stressed to work out, that is exactly when your body and mind need it most.

When we are hyper stressed and overwhelmed, our bodies and brains go into threat response mode. Science will tell us that in threat response mode, our brains are at their least effective. We are more prone to making mistakes, overlooking information, responding ineffectively to other humans, focusing on the wrong information (i.e. tunnel vision), and a whole host of other equally damning behaviours. In other words, we’re not terribly productive when we’re in high stress modes.  And yet, when we feel super busy and stressed, we tend to think that taking time to do anything other than staying focused on the work at hand is going to make matters worse. Once again, science tells us that’s just not true.

Taking a break, be it an active break or simply something that breaks the psychological association with what’s causing your stress, will actually do wonders for moving your brain out of threat mode and back into normal operations. With that comes the return of your productivity. Isn’t science wonderful?

I consider my workouts my sanity makers.  When I’m overwhelmed I’m a 12 out of 10 on the emotional disaster spectrum.  Sometimes a workout only brings me down to about a 9, but that three point difference is a wide chasm, my friends.  Granted, you could get the same benefits from taking a quick walk, stretching, doing some structured breathing exercises, talking to a friend about something unrelated to your work, etc. There’s a whole host of ways in which micro-breaks can reduce stress, enhance your productivity, and make you feel better.  That said, why not mix your break with physical activity? Not only will you get the productivity boost that comes from the break itself, but you’ll also get the energy and endorphin boost of physical activity. It’s a double whammy.

Consider it food for thought: when you’re super stressed, feeling overwhelmed, wondering how you’ll ever possibly get it all done, you might just be past the point of productivity already. Even if you feel like working out is the last thing that you need, it might just be the opposite.

Happy stress busting!