Tough love

Don’t you just love this sweaty, super-flattering and smiley selfie I’ve


chosen for the image for this post? You might be wondering why on earth I would choose such an, um, great photo of myself to share with the world at large on a platform where I have complete editorial control.


Good question!

The answer is that it provides a launching point in several ways for the subject of today’s post, so I’m willing for my glamorous image to take a hit.

First of all, although I am super hot and sweaty in that photo, I am less hot and sweaty than I would be if I was wearing a tank top in addition to that sports bra. That’s right world – I did stairs without a shirt on!

And guess what? No one died, no one stared, and the world didn’t end. More importantly, I didn’t think twice about it really until I stopped to take the picture. Depending on who you are, where you are, what sort of body you’re in or upbringing you’ve had, maybe this is not such a radical concept to you  (and if that’s the case – more power to you).

But for me, given years of weight loss and weight gain, plus my somewhat conservative upbringing, this was a big moment for me. It felt like a call to arms. A moment of not waiting until my body was at it’s smallest (which it definitely is NOT right now). Not trying to conform to some sort of ideal to “be able to” work out without a shirt on. Just thinking “it is freaking hot out today and I would be more comfortable and less sweaty with no shirt on.”

Two side notes before I move on: working out with no shirt on is not the end-all, be-all. And if how you feel most comfortable, confident and proud is to be more covered up, for whatever reason that is, I salute you. I won’t judge you and you don’t judge me. And lest you be reading this and thinking that I have some sort of rockin’ bod, let me just say friends: the thigh chafe is real (baby powder is your friend for summer running), and so is the jiggling.

Now that the first part is out of the way, why else am I sharing this photo with you? I am sweaty and gross because I just reached the top of a set of 500 stairs, something I’ve found myself doing a lot of lately (multiple times in one go, a couple times a week). This is something I totally have a love/hate relationship with, and that has really causing me to pause and evaluate my whole attitude on health and fitness (really? 500 stairs can do that?).

The end of September will mark 5 years since I started CrossFit. 5 years of incredible ups and downs, accomplishments and setbacks. Speaking of setbacks, one of the latest has been some fun knee pain that I’ve been dealing with for most of 2018 (yay aging!). After a referral from my doctor, I’ve been working with a physiotherapist for the last few weeks.

In addition to the daily exercises he’s given me, I’ve been told that “stairs are great for knees.” Ok, I already do stairs. But he wants me to, wait for it, run the stairs. Initially I replied that I used to run the stairs, but I “just sort of got out of it.” I waited for the easy out, the part where he’d say it was good just to walk them because I already do CrossFit and get in lots of physical activity. Nope. Just told me to get back into running them. Great.

I should stop here and tell you that I have a long and complex history with running (way too long to go into full detail here). But the short version is that I completed a marathon and a few other long distance races in my early 20’s. When I started CrossFit, I was still running a couple days a week. The more I did CrossFit, the more I realized how much more enjoyable it was for me than running, so running slowly fell by the wayside, except for the odd 5 k with friends.

In my 5 years of CrossFit, just as my fitness level has changed, so has my perspective on myself, my body, relationship to food, fitness and health and wellness in general. Of late, I’ve been embracing (ok, attempting to) the intuitive eating approach. As well, I’ve been trying to take a more self-compassionate approach towards myself, my body and what forms of exercise I feel I “need” to do (for more on self compassion, try the book by that title by Kristin Neff, which I read earlier this year).

It might seem like I’m digressing, but I have a point here. While I have been trying to embrace a more compassionate, intuitive approach to fitness; I am am also firmly entrenched in a sport that espouses the mantra of “embracing the suck,” and prides itself on building mental toughness. In fact, one of the things that I enjoy about CrossFit is that it is, and continues to be so tough, and is constantly pushing me to do hard things that I DON’T WANT TO DO.

So when it comes to running stairs, I feel sort of conflicted.

I’ve kind of gotten into a bit of a fitness funk this year. A lot of it is real and not imagined (both from ongoing knee pain and a mysterious months-long cough – my cardio and running was pretty pathetic earlier this summer). But there is also a pretty big mental barrier I’ve allowed myself to put up. I’ve somehow convinced myself, whether it’s real or imagined, that I can’t run anymore. While no one would have ever described me as fast (or used the gazelle descriptor I hear thrown around for some of the speedier athletes at my gym), I would say that at one point, I was passably at the the slower end of average.

Granted, as I mentioned above, I have had some setbacks this year. But I’ve allowed them to combine with my mind and its natural dislike of running, to further set me back, and continue the narrative on a loop, until it’s something I’ve internalized and kinda come to believe. When I try to run, I am inundated by thoughts of how slow I am, how I can’t do it, and how I want to stop.

All that to say, running the stairs is not 100% pleasurable. So I am conflicted. Self compassionate and intuitive Hilary says that I don’t have to punish myself, force myself to make myself do something I don’t want to do. The CrossFit side of me says it will build mental toughness, and work on an area of fitness where I need to improve. Which one is right?

The answer, as I’m learning for pretty much all of life, is that it’s not black and white (seriously, I should have named this blog 50 shades of grey, because basically every post could be summed up by saying is that there’s no one right or wrong answer).

While I do still struggle with the run, doubt myself, sometimes stop because I’m tired; I do also kind of love it, in some twisted, sadistic way. It may feel like an epic struggle (and it’s definitely a literal uphill battle), but I kind of love the inner satisfaction I get from gritting it out and doing it anyways (mental toughness anyone?!). I might have to sit on the couch and muster up the gumption to get out and run. I might tell myself I can’t for 90% of it; but once I get back and I did, well, that also feels pretty amazing.

Why else am I telling you all of this? Well, I may or may not have started a little challenge for myself called #steptember. And I may or may not want company and accountability (side note: runners or walkers welcome. I am not fast. I definitely do not run all 500). And while I might not love it, I might feel like I hate it, if it’s part of rehab, I gotta keep doing it. I might have to stop part way. I might want to stop the whole time. But gosh darn it I will keep going, and feel amazing afterward.

Where is the line between self compassion and mental toughness? I am really not sure. So I’m going to keep pushing myself, but not punishing myself. Striving, but not forcing. My fitness may ebb and flow. But I’ll keep going, one step (or 500) at a time. …anyone else coming?

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