Archive for December, 2011

My wonderful brother gave me a CD called Mission Bell for Christmas – songs by Amos Lee (I’d never heard of him before this and I’m so glad we’ve now been introduced).

One of the songs is called El Camino, which of course explains why my brother chose this gift for me.

The version below is the reprise version on the CD, sung by both Lee and Willie Nelson. I find it hauntingly beautiful. I hope you’ll take a listen – I’ve been sitting here playing it again and again.

Here’s the thing. The song, I believe, is not about El Camino de Santiago. He’s  referring to what was once called El Camino Real (Spanish for the Royal Road) – in America, not Spain, but the connection is strong.

This 600-mile road along the California coast and down the Baja peninsula into Mexico was, between the late 1600s and towards the end of the 19th century, under Spanish jurisdiction and connected the many mission outposts of the time.

In the late 1800s, volunteer groups created these distinctive bell markers to make it easier for people to find their way.

Another long road. One that drew pilgrims then and now. And songs get written.

This verse chimes softly for me:

“…You know I’m headed out to that Mission Bell
Gonna wash my soul, gonna get it clean
Heading down the border road called the El Camino.”

I did go to the gym for intervals tonight, once I realized that all the reasons I told myself not to go were lame. Plus today’s lunch with friends was not a salad or even close. And that fitness is not a state of mind or something to do tomorrow – etc, etc.

Did the treadmill again even though I was supposed to move to the cross-trainer. I did so because I wanted to try to do all the Stefan-suggested stretches afterwards and see if that helped ease the high impact effects on knees and back. Managed 2 minutes per side on the foam roller, and then used the stability ball to do this excruciating hip flexor/quad stretch.

Surprise, I felt a lot better after these intervals than I had in some time. Ok, he gets to be right yet again.

After the gym, I went to my next door neighbour’s house for a glass of wine – so once again thwarted in the pursuit of healthy eating after a workout. I ignored the shortbread and chocolate – for 20 minutes.

She and another friend asked me ‘Why Camino? Why is the draw so strong?” These are women who like to walk, exercise, and stay fit but they knew there is more to this Camino story for me even though right now I’m seriously focused on the physical prep.

I don’t have a canned answer to this quite reasonable question. I don’t know if I ever will. Every day, though, the Camino hums quietly deep in my heart. When I listen closely to this music, I feel my sense of intention – to walk, to seek, to let resistance fall away.

That’s as close as I can get today with words.

Here’s a snippet from a poem by a Camino pilgrim that I love:

The road waits.
Do not ask questions but when it invites you
to dance at daybreak, say yes.
Each step is the journey; a single note the song.
~ Arlene Gay Levine ~

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Yeah we do!

That was the ‘go for it’ message on a young woman’s t-shirt today at the gym. I’m now on the hunt for my own, of course.

Great bad-ass face going on. Shannon Milo, world class power lifter.

Time for Iron Kate to go bad ass.

Today was the second post-holiday workout with Stefan. I didn’t make it to the gym for intervals yesterday after a day trip to Toronto, home later than I thought, and the excuse mantra could go on.

I also had to make dinner – which involved hurling all the appetizer snacks left over from Christmas onto a plate. Dip, olives, pretzels, cheese, nuts and cookies – yeah, that was a feast for champions. I couldn’t find a carrot to round this carb/sugarfest out? Apparently not.

So not the healthiest of days. Stefan simply said ‘ok, that was your day off this week. Intervals tomorrow, weightlifting Saturday, intervals Sunday.’ Also, give your body some good fuel. Got it.

Today’s penance menu:

Conventional dead-lift: 115 lbs!!! New record! My ‘warmup’ was 95 lbs, and then Stefan added ‘dimes’ to the bar, 10 lb plates. Yes, the 5 lb ones are called nickels. The 2.5 lb ones are the cookies. I think. 10 reps, just one set.

60 lb rows, 3 sets, 12 reps. These were on a different, stand-up apparatus than the usual rows where I’m sitting down, which offers greater leverage. So a lower weight than the usual 70lbs.

Romanian dead-lift: 85lbs, 12 reps. This was higher by 15 or 20 lbs than last time.

Low row: Yet another of those exercises I've watched from afar and thought how easy they looked. Right.

Seated Cable Low Row: 50 lbs, 12 reps, 2 sets.

Back Extension apparatus: 10 reps x 2.

I think today took care of at least some of the chips and dip.

Confession: I forgot to do the foam roller. I’m telling the truth though no one will believe that. I *meant* to do it but brain checked out after we’d finished the workout proper and I left the gym to do errands.

I think it should count that one of those errands was looking (unsuccessfully, though) for a foam roller in a couple of fitness gear stores. I used to have one of these demonic devices at home.

She's either faking workout glee or has gone mad - no one hugs foam rollers.

I believe I ‘accidentally’ discarded what one fitness site calls the ‘foam of profanity’ during a move. Profanity is most certainly essential to foam-rolling.

Of course I realize the only person who suffers for my foam roller amnesia is, well, me. So I will now suck it up and not complain about muscle aches and joint twinges. I won’t. I’m good.

In other Camino prep news, I am now the proud owner of what I hope will be heavenly hiking boots. Actually, they are La Sportiva hiking ‘shoes’ which are supposed to be stable enough for the terrain I’ll be traveling in Spain and for the daily distances (about 20-25k).

Here are some specs:

  • Eco-friendly construction includes recycled materials in the upper mesh, laces, insole, and outsole
  • Breathable mesh in the upper improves ventilation to give sweaty toes some air
  • Vibram River sole absorbs shock and gives excellent traction
  • Impact Brake System means the lugs of the soles face opposing, slanting directions to increase your braking power and control

Bought them at wonderful MEC in Toronto. And I don’t mind shilling for these folks – great products, they have an open, friendly return policy, and the staff know stuff. The young guy who helped me, a hiker himself, listened carefully to everything I told him about the Camino trip, weather and temp at that time of year, my hiking experience (little), and lots more.

He made several recommendations and this one was the one that fit and felt best, though I’d expected to go for Merrells, a shoe and boot I know.

Nope, they didn’t work as well as La Sportiva. He told me to, and I quote, ‘beat the crap out of these over the next few weeks’ so you’ll know if they work. He very nicely asked me if I’d try to do this all indoors in case I needed to return them.

So I’m going to wear them for the next couple of weeks at work. Iron Kate in army boots? Well, almost.

I’m *very* excited to have boots – oh, and some high-tech cool-mesh hiking socks which make an incredible claim: blister free – guaranteed. My guy there said blisters result almost exclusively from ill-fitting boots and he was going to do his best to make sure I didn’t have that problem.

#Blisters are a trending topic on the Camino so if I have the magical blister-preventing socks, I expect I’ll be very popular.

The Camino – starting to feel real! I’m about to start yet another book on the subject, this one a Christmas gift, called All the Good Pilgrims by Robert Ward.

This book details the author’s 5th time on the Camino and the cast of characters who share his pilgrimage.

Here’s a blurb from the jacket cover:

“The Camino never runs out of surprises. Each day brings new lessons, friendships, questions, memories, gifts and challenges, proving to Ward that it isn’t the pilgrim who walks the Camino – it’s the Camino that walks the pilgrim.”

I look forward to acquainting my new boots with this adventure.

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Today was the morning after the night before.

During the past week of the festive season, I went careening off the food program with great abandon. While I stopped short of full-on gluttony, I ate – shall we say – liberal helpings of turkey, potatoes, gravy, cookies, pie et al.

Plus all the pre-dinner treats that add up to a meal in themselves if one’s not careful. And I wasn’t. Nuts, cheese, chips and salsa, crackers – need I go on?

Red and green sprinkles - I know that's not food. I simply can't resist.

I didn’t so much as fall of the wagon as leap, free-falling into sugar comas and tryptophan bliss.

For these 4 days, I also did not darken the gym’s door. In small defense, I was having some real troubles recovering from the pounding involved in running treadmill intervals, plus the gym was only open a few hours a day.

I did walk the dog at least 5k every day. Still.

I expected a painful reckoning today – the first Stefan workout for 5 days.

When I first got there, he wasn’t doing anything. I asked him what was happening, and he said ‘my client’s in the washroom. She had to throw up.’ That’s the welcome back message I was looking for, as I became even more trepidatious.

Turns out, the workout was wonderful! As was Stefan, who assuaged all my worry and guilt feelings by assuring me he’d over-indulged, too, for one thing. Second, he said those over-the-top days add up to less than 1% of what you’ll consume in a year so enjoy it, let it go, and get back on track.

Here’s what return to action looked like today:

55 lb barbell box squats.

I am awed at how much she's lifting. My barbell had much smaller weights.

The box can be different sizes. When it’s lower, the squat and lift are harder. We started low and moved up when Stefan could see I might be stuck there forever.

70 lb rows. Though we’ve been at this weight for a while, I don’t find it any easier. Stefan said, however, I was getting lots better. Not sure what he sees, but as he sees everything, I will accept this as truth.

105 lb dead-lifts: (woo hoo!). We started with 95, a weight I’d already lifted, and it went well. Stefan then added cookies, which I thought made it 100 lbs, the weight I lifted last time, but he told me after it was 105 – a new record! He knows it’s sometimes better to tell me later because my head does crazy things when I think I’m facing too big a hill to climb.

Various mat exercises, including a 1 minute, 3 second plank, so records continued to fall today. Since I was expecting much bigger pain, given my days of relative sloth and excess, I was happy.

We have made a change – for now – to intervals. Instead of running on the treadmill, I’m going to do intervals on a cross-trainer.

These machines provide a no-impact workout, which I actually found tougher than the treadmill in today’s demo. So many things look deceptively easy in the gym – mind games day in, day out!

I have to keep choking down fish oil (to try to reduce some of the inflammation I’ve been getting from running) AND do the foam roller every single time I’m at the gym.

So *that* was the reckoning I’d been expecting.

What are 105lb dead-lifts compared to the exquisite agonies of foam-rolling? Apparently, this is really the only way I’m going to get my ol’ IT-band in fighting form. I managed a minute per side today.

The journey continues. I definitely took a short detour through Christmas (and a few days before and after), and the scenery was nice. But I’ve re-set my GPS for the original destination.

I hope all of you had a wonderful, joyous time – Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice – whatever you choose to celebrate. I did, and all was beautiful and perfect.

And now I’m all set to heft some iron and roll some foam.



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Today was the last weight-training session with Stefan before Christmas break, so he generously gave me a present called ‘This will make sure you won’t forget me while I’m away’ workout.

No way I could, especially since he told me I’d likely be ‘feeling this one’ tomorrow. Nothing says the festive season like the sensation of having been run over by a truck.

I enjoyed it, though.

A few highlights:

Warmup– I now warm up by heaving around a 10 lb medicine ball, swinging it up over my head, side to side, then across my chest and diagonally over my shoulder – 15 reps of everything x2. I used to warm up on the treadmill for about 10 minutes.

This is the over shoulder one I mention. This is not a beach-ball - just sayin'.

Turns out this medicine ball dance does a whole lot more to get muscles and joints primed and ready to lift. I was sweating, breathing hard, and aching – and we hadn’t even gotten close to the weights. The treadmill – not in the same league.

So even warmups get progressively harder under Stefan’s reign.

The ‘real’ workout included:

70 lb Freemotion machine rows – 12 reps x 3

65 lb Romanian dead-lifts (up from 45 last time) – 12 reps x 3. The way you do these puts more pressure on your back than conventional dead-lifts so we couldn’t do a repeat of last night’s 100lb lift.

60 lb stepups (down from 70 but heavy enough just the same)

20lb one-arm dumbbell rows on the bench – 12 reps x 3

Dumbbell one-arm row: When done right, strengthens shoulder and back muscles.

Some other presses I don’t know the name of before hitting the mats to work on abs.

All went quite well, especially considering I’d had two glasses of champagne at a Christmas lunch and this was part 2 of the second double-header in a row.

Then came planks.

A few posts ago I said something nice about planks. I take it back.

My 3 times were: 46 seconds, 28 seconds, and 32 seconds. Boo.

Stefan said, however, that these planks were harder than the earlier ones. He’d been letting me ‘get away’ with an easier position (legs farther apart, butt more in the air…lovely image, that). No more Mr. Nice Guy – we’re done with that.

Now I have to do them right, and tonight I was – hence they were much harder. I shook like a leaf, my arms were on fire, and sadly, I returned to face-planting on the mat when I’d had enough. Stefan’s assessment: these were much better than the ones I held for a minute before. See how this works here?

Who cares about planks?

I should. Planks work wonders with lazy, unconditioned abs. And abs affect, well, everything – they support your spine, lead to better posture, and provide the core strength you need – not just to lift weights, but to do just about anything in life with ease, energy, and without pain.

So, I’m working on my attitude. New Year’s Resolution Number 1: Love all Planks. Do not let them bitch-slap you into submission. Abs rule.

That’s it until after Christmas, at least for Stefan workouts. I will still be heading out with my dog on hikes to the lake and going for intervals at the gym. And eating turkey with family, thus making gym visits essential.

Turns out the workout was not my only parting gift from Stefan. He also gave me the most wonderful-sounding book, which I can’t wait to read! It’s called The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, by Robin Sharma.

Interestingly, mine has a different cover than the one pictured, with this sub-title: A remarkable story about living your dreams.

I love that.

The book, as the title suggests, is about someone who changes his life and takes an entirely different path than the one he spent years mapping. One of the Amazon reviews says it’s about finding a way to live with “greater courage, balance, abundance and joy.”

Stefan said the book was given to him some years ago by a client and touched him deeply. So now he’s giving it to me – he knows I’ve become a gym rat for many reasons, and he supports all of it.

How could I not try my damnedest to do planks for this man??

Thank you, Stefan. For so many things.

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What is motivation anyway?

Here’s what I wanted to do tonight after work instead of going to the gym:

Swing by my favourite Thai take-out place for their ultra-superb Pad Thai and springrolls.

Throw on fuzzy garments of some sort and drape myself on the couch with the cat and dog.

Or even better, recline on a cat couch!

Watch West Wing DVDs (Seasons 1-3 only, the Sorkin years) – all of the episodes, yes all of them.

Drink hot chocolate.

Play Scrabble.

Here’s what I did instead:

Ate an apple and peanut butter about half an hour before scheduled workout time.

Went to the gym.

Worked out.


Well, I realized somewhere on the drive home that the Pad Thai serving I used to quite happily eat by myself would be enough for a small village and I would likely be ill if I even attempted this right now. Plus, loving daughter had made sure there were healthy – and tasty – leftovers ready.

I’d lent my WW DVDs to a friend at work.

Stefan would have had one of 3 possible reactions:

a) miss me terribly and pine away

b) berate me (in his very nice way)

c) kill me

Also, we’d been talking at work today about motivation, how it works, where it comes from.

Two of the fabulous people on my team – young, fit, and many years into the gym habit – both felt like taking a pass on their planned workouts tonight. But they went.

They have poured support onto me for this thing I’m doing – every day in myriad ways. I am so grateful. Careful, I’m about to launch into Wind Beneath my Wings – have been known to do that, but usually after wine.

Anyway. I decided I couldn’t let them down after all they’ve done. So Jazzy and Colin, this one’s for you.

Hey, wait one sec. I saw these two consume lunches from our fave Asian diner near work for one, and leftovers from a Southern barbecue place for the other. Then I recalled the 18 lbs of candy they inhaled through the day (we did some gift exchanging on the team; candy was a big theme, except for me – I got quinoa  – which I like!) Plus Colin has my West Wing DVDs. 

So they *had* to go to the gym, basically. Three or four hours there may, just may have done something to stem the tide of gluttony and stave off hypoglycemic shock.

Ok, truth. These wonderful people usually eat quite healthily, and almost never miss the gym. Today was just one of ‘those’ days. Every one has them, it seems. A few encouraging words to each other and off they went.

What I realized on the way to the gym is that I don’t really know what ‘motivation’ is, exactly. It’s difficult to define except in cliches. Yet I think it is a ‘thing’ – it matters, it’s important. I just can’t see it, describe it easily, or sometimes hang on to it.

People have asked me ‘how do you stay motivated’? I get evasive and kind of embarrassed at this question since I know how much and how often I struggle, fight with myself, mess around. And I’ve only been actively doing this big life change for 3 months.

I guess I think that over-thinking this issue is problematic, too. I have spoken often of being ‘conscious’, making choices, eyes wide open, looking at one’s self and life in a more rounded, balanced way – as opposed to saying ‘I’m going on a diet. I’m starting a gym program’.

I have the original vision of hiking on El Camino. I have more than that, too – I am simply moving forward, expanding my physical – and spiritual – horizons. I am focused on being grateful.

Maybe somewhere in that web of notions is a thread called motivation.

So I just say ‘this is what I’m doing now’, when pressed about such matters. Eloquence for someone who works in communications, yes? Sigh.

And on that note, let me note here, for the record, that tonight at the gym:



This is the only Scrabble move I’m capable of tonight – thank you.





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I was glad to be back to the Stefan workout tonight, having pounded my knees and back pretty thoroughly through intervals and dog walks this weekend.

Stefan thought that while the devil foam roller is still required, what I must also do – now – is drink more water (did I hear right, something like 4, 5 or 6 litres a day??)…and take fish oil, a natural anti-inflammatory that also apparently aids weight loss. Who knew?

I’ve tried before and found this a fairly disgusting supplement, but apparently there are better brands that can hide in a smoothie. I will try.

Back to the gym underworld tonight, where I usually just stare, often slack-jawed, at what those big boys are lifting and squatting. And keep to myself.

Tonight, though, I chatted with a couple of them in between dead-lifts. These guys lift 500-600 lbs (!!!) and, by the way, they aren’t in their 20s, by a long shot.

They were wonderful to me – not the least condescending, dismissive, or macho, really, despite their bulging biceps and lifting prowess. They said they’ve kept lifting iron for years because they like it, it makes them feel good, and because they can.

I asked about age and ability. (I still play that tune in my head sometimes when I’m feeling particularly creaky or catch a glimpse of myself in the gym mirror…). The guys simply said age doesn’t have to be a factor. And they mentioned, in respectful tones, a few guys in their 70s and 80s winning world championships. One only began weightlifting in his late 50s.

This guy's 74; others mentioned were 79 and 81.

As they went back to their barbells with 3 or 4 giant iron rings on them, I went to mine, and said ok, it’s time to lift.


85 lb dead-lifts (down from 95 last time, perhaps because Stefan knew my knee was squawking?)

70 lb rows (up from 60)

Oh, who am I kidding…here are the ‘real’ highlights from tonight, ha:

3 inches down

8 lbs of fat down (as measured by the gym’s high-tech scale which Stefan assures me isn’t making this stuff up just to make people feel good).

2.4 lbs of lean muscle tissue up

And yes, 6 lbs down on the scale, but I’m putting this last because I am seeing more and more how this number truly does not tell the story. It’s not irrelevant, but it’s incomplete, at best.

Grand total so far: 17 lbs (on scale, more than that in body fat percentage); 21 inches down. I’m incredibly math-challenged but I think I have this right; undoubtedly, Stefan will now check.

Given the Christmas and Solstice parties, a few missed gym sessions due to that persistent cold, and the fact we’re in the ‘build muscle’ phase not highly focused on losing fat, these were considered excellent numbers by Stefan. High five to me from him – woo hoo!

Here’s a funny one, though. My chest was up by a centimetre or two. Stefan says that was practically impossible until he realized what had happened.

See? I'm sure her chest is sticking out farther as she stands tall!

I’m actually standing up straight! Or straighter anyway, and this naturally leads to sticking out your chest…so I’m not becoming Dolly Parton, I’m just finally developing good posture.

My Grade 3 teacher would be so proud. As am I.

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But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.”

Robert Frost’s Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening was one of my mom’s favourite poems. I had it memorized by the time I was 8 because she quoted it often. I can still conjure her voice this way – and I love that.

I am lucky enough to live near woods, with trails meandering alongside a river (see pic) all the way to a lake, where I walk my most-adored Cairn Terrier every day. While there’s only a light dusting of snow so far, this poem echoes in my heart every time I enter the woods at this time of year.

Last night was a special walk in the woods. My dog-walking friend and neighbour had a Winter Solstice party (yes, a few days early) to celebrate the season and say goodbye to the longest night of the year.

About 25 of us, ages spanning 18 to 85, plus 3 dogs, bundled up, walked a ways into the dark, deep woods, where we lit a fire (just a tiny one), drank hot spiced wine, and sang Christmas songs in English, French, a little German and one Estonian birthday song.

Not one true minstrel in the bunch but we gamely sang on, warmed by fire and wine, la la la-ing when we couldn’t remember the words, which was often. Most of us didn’t know each other as we were from all different parts of my friend’s life.

That didn’t matter at all. We shared a lovely moment in time, a communion, a fellowship – just for a little while because we were gathered this night, together around a fire, all of us caught up in recalling those words and melodies we’d been hearing since childhood.

I believe this was a preview of the Camino de Santiago. Everyone I’ve spoken to and everything I’ve read suggests this kind of community creation is how life is on The Way. People drift in and out of each other’s lives there, with the single common purpose of ‘miles to go before I sleep’.

Yet indelible impressions are made. People step out of their separateness. Even if only for a few minutes or hours before going back to their long walks and their own lives elsewhere. I look forward to that.

The fire-lit walk in the woods was second for day; I’d already done a 5k loop with my friend and our dogs in the morning. Later I hit the gym for intervals, choosing to raise my heart rate on the treadmill instead of my blood pressure in the mall, choked as it is now with frantic Christmas shoppers.

Stefan urged me to keep raising the speed on the intervals, even if just a little as often as possible. Eek. So I raised it a fraction, to 6.1 from 6.0 – hey, this is a real mathematical increase!

The walk, plus household chores, plus intervals took something of a toll – had to return to the evil foam roller to try to work out the kinks. 5 minutes a side – no way. 1 minute maybe – I can’t explain how this thing can cause such righteous pain!

Here’s a quote I found from a trainer on a fitness site, who uses foam rollers regularly with his clients, like his brother-in-pain infliction, Stefan:

The sensation of rolling will range from a gentle pressure to somebody taking a jackhammer to your muscles. . . I keep having to tell my clients (and reminding myself) that the more you feel it, the more you need it. That said, do what you can tolerate and build from there.” (Mike Howard’s diet blog)

Think of this on your thigh! Remember, I didn't make this up. Trainer said so, internet doesn't lie.

Did you hear that – jackhammer to the muscles! I am embracing my inner masochist, though, and hoping this so-called tolerance happens soon.

Today: same walk with dogs in the a.m., intervals in early afternoon. By now, I’m really feeling it – back hurts, knees, various other joints. Would have preferred a massage or to douse myself in hot water and epsom salts, but the gym called, and I answered.

6.1 intervals again, except for the last one. I decided to call this an experiment, and reduced the speed to 5.0 (ok, yes, I was tired of the pounding). In fact, though, this little comparison test was effective – 5.0 was easy, easier anyway. Good to know.

No foam roller to be seen today. No I didn’t look hard. I should have, I know!!!!!

I chose going to the movies (Sherlock Holmes) over jack-hammering today. I am clearly insane.



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