“Something about Mary: Guts, Glory & the Grouse Grind”

A true story of perseverance, change, and empowerment: How I confronted procrastination and middle age with an authentic “F*CK THAT” attitude by fighting for who I am.


My conscience warned me not to surrender to negative self-image perceptions; I needed to embrace my love handles, welcome wrinkles, sprouts of random white hair and accept that I won’t fit into my favourite jeans.

My belly bump was self-earned from the countless joys of gobbling addictive chewy candies, the satisfaction of gorging on anything deep-fried and the comforts of raiding my hidden junk food cupboard.

Now, it’s time to dress and act my age; toss out those high heels in exchange for Velcro, learn to knit – not hip hop, golf instead of backpack and settle into middle age — and the fatigue and reduced energy that comes rolling with it.

This is what I told myself when I stared at my reflection a few months before my 49th birthday last year.

FUCK – THAT – ATTITUDE. What I needed more was to fight for who I am, challenge myself to become a stronger, fiercer, healthier version of me and reclaim my feisty spirit.

For the past decade I was exhausted from parenting my 9-year old son along with managing the balancing act of work, relationships, and household responsibilities.

I was struggling to find energy to mother, discipline and substitute as the play mate of my only child after a long workday and commute, in the midst of making supper, checking his math homework and sorting laundry before taking him to his next extra-curricular activity, then repeating the process the next day.

I wondered how parents with multiple children managed the chaos, whether I’d get “caught-up” with anything that required attention and if I’d ever reclaim — myself.

My daily exhaustion fuelled my passion for junk food over exercise and tendency to either binge or procrastinate, playing a part in the result of my fatigue, anxiety and lack of self-confidence.

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“Hanging On” Photo by Natalie J. McMillan.

How I feel innately reflects on how I portray myself. I lost my inner shine. I wanted to revive my energy, increase my strength and restore the power behind my confidence —through exercise.

I contemplated how I could change my habits, improve my health and embark on a fitness journey.

My ultra-marathon trail racer husband assured me I could change.

Human beings are capable of more than we think,” he told me. “It’s a test of will and perseverance when I run. My body wants to give up after the first two kilometres but I keep running. These (50K to 100k) races aren’t just for me. I do them for you and to show our son that if he pushes himself, he can do anything.”

“Oh,” I replied. I paused my Netflix episode, dropped my potato chip – sighed. Could I get out the house, stretch out my comfort zone and test the endurance of my own human spirit? 

Positive self-change is admirable, empowering; tough work requiring motivation, effort and perseverance.

My husband’s fierce determination to run his first 110K mountain-trail race, my desire to become a positive role model for our son, and my guilt (my truth in knowing I wasn’t trying my personal best) launched my butt off the couch.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I needed to prove to myself that I could do better and find ways to incorporate exercise into my daily routine.

After my last bag of potato chips, a week of shattering my self-doubt and delaying the beginning, I told myself “YES, today is the day.” I promised to make change by pushing myself to try harder.

Hell, I was aiming to blow out those FIFTY damn candles in one breath next year!

I set a date, created an exercise/food plan, recorded my body measurements and started with a 9-day challenge of eating no junk food, drinking two litres of water daily, not eating past dinner and walking 10,000+ daily steps.

I used stairs – not elevators, stood instead of sitting for desk job tasks and walked during breaks. I lost six pounds in nine days.

Posting my progress on Facebook becoming accountable on social media enabled me to push harder and I continued to set up monthly fitness challenges.

I cycled to work, ran during my son’s soccer games, swam during his swim lessons and knocked out Burpees during his judo practice.

I learned hip hop and contemporary dance, powered through infrared infused yoga, Pilates and fitness classes and pushed through intense 30-minute personal training sessions before or after my workday, On weekends, I hiked the notorious vertical 2,830 mountain stairs of the Grouse Grind.

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“Water revives.”  Photo by Natalie J. McMillan.

However, sticking to a nutritional diet was an uphill battle.

I thought about junk food every five minutes because it was ubiquitous; placed in convenient spots such as the communal office snack table, nearby cafes, fast-food joints or my kitchen cupboard.

If I craved candy, cake or Poutine, I sometimes indulged, relishing every bite but used self-talk: “Eat cake, but not every day.”

To compensate for my junk food obsession, I challenged myself to overcome my anxiety and fear of racing which led me to compete in three of “my first-ever” mountain races – the winter Grouse Grind Snowshoe Race (5km), spring Grouse Seek the Peak Race (13km) and autumn Grouse Grind Race (2.9km).

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“Seek the Peak Race: Took me 6 months to earn the guts to step to this start line”

The races were tough, painful and killer uphill. I asked myself why the hell I signed up during every race, cursed every mountain climb and was tempted to quit. 

When I met a 73-year old female racer who passed me on the Grind leg of the Seek the Peak race, I knew I needed to keep climbing – my age was not an excuse to stop trying.

I crossed the finish line, overcome with relief exclaiming, “I can’t believe I did it – me!”

After the race my son said, “Mommy, why do you keep talking about the race – uphill, uphill, uphill…blah blah blah. It’s only 13K! Daddy ran a 50K race last week.” 

I laughed, floating on my racer’s high, proud of the glory for finishing the race. I placed 34th out of 56 female racers in my age category.

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“Proud to finish: My glory in placing 34th of 56 racers in race category” (Seek the Peak Grind Race)

Exercising enhances my well-being. It reduces my anxiety, easing me into a calm state of mind; reducing my complaints about stuff I don’t have and prevents me from comparing myself in a negative light to others. 

It shifts my focus onto what I’m grateful for, enabling me to help others. With a clear perspective things are easier to manage.

By posting my truthful progress on Facebook, I made people laugh and inspired them to become active.

I was approached by the PAC leader of my son’s school while grocery shopping who told me, “I took my first 10,000 steps because of you.”

Facebook friends supported my efforts through uplifting comments, an ex-boyfriend said I resembled my twenty-year old self (really?), a friend volunteered her expertise to shoot my fitness photos and others signed up for training I believed in.

My ultra-marathoner, proud of my achievements complimented me multiple times in the bedroom, lights on.

"Jump!" Photo by Natalie McMillan.
“Jump!” Photo by Natalie J. McMillan.

Then in March this year, “spring break” brought indefinite closures of schools along with our community centres, playgrounds, libraries, fitness facilities and non-essential services. Families were advised by our government to stay home due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

My work, parenting and fitness routine collapsed and I slipped into a state of anxiety, grief and “what the f*ck is happening to our world?”

Some point between endless Covid-19 news updates, social distancing and mild depression, I forced myself to wake up earlier, dress before noon and try not to eat too many cookies, chips or jujubes.

Each time I washed my hands I reminded myself that I’m blessed, grateful for my life in Canada and I clapped or banged my pots and pans every night at 7pm to show support to our team of local health professionals.

In April this year, instead of my usual complaining about boredom, lack of structure, menial tasks and missing in-studio workouts, I said “FUCK – THAT – ATTITUDE” and I remembered Billy Blanks! During the 90’s Tae Bo craze, I owned the entire VHS set but hadn’t done a pre-recorded workout since.

My VCR is gone but I turned toward online fitness training and challenged myself to exercise every single day to various free YouTube fitness videos for 30, 60 then 90 consecutive days (or donned a face mask like a Ninja for outdoor workouts.)

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Photo by Gustavo Fring on Pexels.com

I formed and led a Facebook fitness group of a dozen members by inviting friends to join me for these online monthly challenges where we checked in daily with our progress and cheered each other on.

 It wasn’t just guts and willpower that got me through my fitness journey; this collage of people formed “my social fitness village”, kept me accountable and inspired me to persevere.

Days I push myself through a vigorous work out, I can open space within myself to engage with my son, focus on tasks or creative writing.

Days I don’t exercise and choose to binge on junk food coupled with Netflix results in lost sleep, leaving me with an aftermath of low energy, anxiety and a melancholy mood. The sugar addict in me can’t wait for those vulnerable moments and I admit I take delight in this guilty pleasure.

Most days I incorporate exercise and a nutritional diet into my lifestyle but allow space for “cheat-treats” and forgiveness for unwise decision-making between my accomplishments because sometimes I need a f*cking break — and that’s okay. I’m human, life happens and I know that tomorrow I’ll get back on track.

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Photo by Alexander Dummer on Pexels.com

Life is better with chocolate cake – I’m not counting calories when I think in chocolate.

By working hard, enduring the sweat, swearing and tears throughout training, I became muscled, healthier, happier and lost 19 pounds. I’m physically stronger now at age 49 than at 39 (before my geriatric pregnancy).

I’m proud to bare my belly in a bikini after the hard-earned toning of my body parts that resulted from exercise, but there is more pride behind my emergency C-section scar hidden beneath my bikini line. 

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“Staying true to my philosophy and self-mantra – “Try, Mary, Try Photo by Natalie J. McMillan.

Now I can take a breath, quiet my mind and capture a moment to hold my son’s hand and listen to his words, while I press pause on the cranial “to do list.” I connect with him —now— before he grows up and doesn’t want to hang out with Mommy.

I appreciate the simple joy of finding renewed strength to cross the monkey bars to endure chicken fight challenges against my son, until my palms are blistering.

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I feel like a strong mother, leading by example because my son bet that he could do the gruelling, uphill 13k Seek the Peak June 2020 race (now pushed to 2021 due to C-19).

Maybe we’ll hold hands once we reach the Peak of Vancouver summit, before he asks me one last time “are we there yet?”

I’m not someone extraordinary or an ultra-marathon runner and may never be the fastest racer in my age group, but I can climb mountains.

I’m me – striving to meet my ongoing personal fitness challenges and goals. In the realm of exercise, I pushed myself harder the past 18 months than any other period of my life, reviving my energy, confidence and inner strength.

Exercise ignited my fire by empowering me to stay true to my self-mantra I set over one year ago: “Try, Mary, Try” no matter how tough it can be, it’s worth the sweat. I may not be exceptional but I re-discovered through my self-journey that there is — “Something about Mary.”

Light up those candles — this is 50.  I found my shine!

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“Something about Mary…finding my shine.”  Photo by Natalie J. McMillan.
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“Guts, Glory & the Grouse Grind”

Note: Feature photo (“high heels out the window”) courtesy of Liza Lova on Pexels.com

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