fitness

Battle ropes, Brompton, Backyard!

I won! I haven’t won very many prizes in my life but I was very happy to be a winner in the university’s outdoor exercise challenge this May. It’s the usual deal. You track your outside workouts, download their app to join the challenge, post to social media, tag the campus fitness folks, and get entered into a draw for outdoor exercise goodies.

But look what I won! I thing I don’t have and miss from my days at the gym. My son and I have already added it to our outdoor, backyard workouts. Here’s a pretty good list of thing you can do with battle ropes.

The funny part was picking up my prize. I arrived with my Brompton but there was no way that was going to work. Family member with car to the rescue!

cycling · fitness · habits · hiking · holiday fitness · swimming

Getting on board with the slowness plan

You would think that, now more vaccination is happening in the US and Canada, that we would all be waiting at the thresholds of our homes, raring to go, just waiting for Dr. Anthony Fauci’s starter pistol (which, in a way, has already gone off). Time to get out there, do the things, see the people, go to the places!

Track lanes, or the countdown if you prefer. Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.
Track lanes 1–7, , or the countdown if you prefer. Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.

I’ve gotten the message, and am venturing forth. I’ve driven through 9 states and back to see family and friends, had a bona fide dinner party, and eaten in a few restaurants inside, with no masks. I’ve been to the beach and the pool, the grocery store and parks. It’s so nice to see other people I know and don’t know, out enjoying everyday life. Yay! Whew. Thanks, science!

Probably not a scientists pouring COVID-vaccine into a flask. But the color is pretty. Photo by Louis Reed on Unsplash

But, life doesn’t feel back to normal. Not yet. Not even close. Just thinking about adding new things to my to-do list, filling my social calendar, resuming all the activities I used to do, makes me anxious and fearful. I’m not ready. Or at least not ready to do it all right away and fast, like the pandemic never happened. No sir.

But, but: life is returning, coming at us, speeding up, expanding to fill all available space and time. What are my options?

I can go slow.

What?

You know– slow.

Turns out I already have the start of a library of how-to-do-stuff-slowly books. Here are two of them.

I’m taking a memoir writing course online with an old friend and former colleague, Edi Giunta. One of the things she assigned for us is being part of a 100-word writing group. It works like this: people are assigned different days of the week. One starts, writing 100 words exactly. Then the next person writes exactly 100 words, taking inspiration from whatever strikes them in the previous writing piece. And so on.

I love this! It’s breaking down writing into sentences, words, punctuation. I admit I don’t write my pieces very slowly; but, given that it’s just 100 words, I feel like I have all the time in the world to complete it. What luxury– the feeling of rafts of time to do something, and then doing it within that time. WOW.

So I’ve been thinking: if slow writing feels this good, what else will be very satisfying doing slowly? Here’s one: swimming. After reading the Why We Swim book (which we reviewed extensively, you can start here if you want to take a look), I felt the urge to be in water, but not to swim fast or hard or long. I like just being in the water, moving around at my own paddly pace, stopping and treading water or floating to look around. There are slow swimming groups (here’s one on FB; I’m guessing Diane knows about them), but I am happy (for now) being a group of one or two or so.

There’s also slow hiking. Admittedly, I don’t have much choice on this one: I am a very slow hiker, no matter what my age, fitness level, geopolitical situation, etc. If and when it’s okay to hike slowly, I almost sort of like it a little bit. I mean, the outdoors, and woodsy hilly outdoors, are lovely. Being able to appreciate however much or little I want of it seems like an good approach for me. And yes, there is internet information on it, but I warn you: several pages I went to (like this one) featured a picture of a snail. Sigh… Still, it seems promising. And when I’ve done this with fully-on-board-with-the-plan friends, it’s been marvelous.

And then there’s slow cycling. That one’s hard, because I remember being not-as-slow and am not as satisfied with slow-as-I-am-now. But maybe this is the most important one. Why? Because 1) I love cycling; 2) I’ve missed cycling; and 3) I simply am a slow cyclist. At least right now. Given the choice between slow cycling and no cycling, I pick slow cycling.

My sister and I have done a bunch of slow cycling on beach bikes. It’s so much fun. She likes riding around beach neighborhoods, looking at the houses, and wondering aloud how much they cost. I like riding with her. This situation suits us both. In lieu of my sister (who lives, alas, far away from me), I’ll have to slow-cycle on my own or with friends who I’m comfortable slow-cycling with.

Dear readers, what do you like to do slowly? Anything? Have you considered taking up an activity or returning to it, but in the slow lane? I’d love to hear about it.

fitness

Marathon Swim Plans Update

So far, I’m mostly on track! I looked up some training plans for a marathon swim, and decided that what i need to do is 3-4 swims per week, with one long swim and some shorter swims that incorporate drills and speed work.

I did my first 5km swim last weekend, and I have tested out three different recipes for snacks plus one for drinks. Because staying fuelled and hydrated is at least as important as swimming, right? I’m still working out how often to eat and drink, but right now I’m happy with a bottle of liquid every couple of loops of my route (I take it with me so I can have smaller drinks along the way). Snacks are less frequent, but I like stopping for a couple of peanut butter/oatmeal balls every hour or two.

A friend who has done marathons says I’m on the right track, so that feels good. And my friend Aimee has been bringing out her giant swan to keep boaters away.

White woman in a yellow bathing cap and goggles, with river and a large inflatable white swan in the background

Diane Harper lives and swims in Ottawa.

fitness

Cake as self care

I can’t help it — everytime I go shopping, I scan the headlines at the magazine stand. How else am I going to keep on top of the juicy celebrity gossip? I kid (no really!). I often miss some of the stuff in small type due to the required distancing, but I had no problems with this headline.

Image shows a magazine in the stand. Chatelaine’s cover features a pretty cake made with strawberries and pink icing. The headline reads: No matter how you slice it, It’s been tough. Eat some cake.

I have seen many people stressing about eating a cupcake at the best of times. It’s refreshing to see an acknowledgment that the past 16 months have been super stressful. Even if cake isn’t your thing, do something nice for yourself. Enjoy that strawberry, sniff that flower, lie in the field and look at the clouds We all deserve pleasure.

Book Club · fitness · swimming

FIFI Book Club: Why We Swim, by Bonnie Tsui. This week: Flow

Hi readers– we’ve been reading a new book for this installment of the FIFI book club. It’s called Why We Swim, by Bonnie Tsui. We’ve been reading and commenting on the various sections of the book over the past several Fridays. Today we wind up with the last section of the book in our final group post.

Five weeks ago, we introduced ourselves in terms of our past, present and aspirational relationships with moving around in water.

Four weeks ago, we reported on the section of the book titled Survival.

Three weeks ago, the topic shifted to Well-Being.

Two weeks ago, we talked about the section on Community.

Last week, we turned to Competition.

And now here we are, at the last section: Flow.

First up, Kim:

As we finish reflecting on Tsui’s book, I’ve been watching the city staffers tasked with sprucing up my local outdoor swimming pool. Just 250 metres from my house, it’s a gem: it’s the “beach” for all the older folks on fixed incomes who live in the supported housing building over the road, play-pad central for neighbourhood kids of all stripes, and the place I long to be every single time I pass it on a dog walk when the warm months are here and the sun is glinting off the mirror-glazed blue surface. Oh how I cannot wait the 11 days until it’s open!

“Flow” refers to being so in the zone you are In-The-Moment 2.0 – a state I’ve never experienced. I think of it like deep meditation, like the perfect Savasana, a state of intense being that borders on the dissolution of self with task, with state of play. Maybe I’m overthinking what flow feels like, but I know I’ve never experienced what Tsui talks about here – and yet, at the same time, there is no place in the world that makes me feel more fully alive than the swimming pool. And I’m not even talking about swimming; I’m most alive at the end of a swim, with the endorphins surging, when I float, weightless, bobbing and stretching and revelling in the touch of my skin to the water, and, in outdoor pools, in the unobstructed view of the wide open sky.

I confess Flow was not my favourite section of Tsui’s book, and I’m not really referencing its details here because, to be totally honest, I finished reading it a week ago and (unlike every other section) almost none of it has stuck in my memory. What will stay with me from Why We Swim, though, are individual stories: the human seal; Kim the unbreakable (who returns in Flow, FYI, and that is a wonderful bit of the section); the samurais. Like others I wanted more sometimes – more critical engagement with the racism embedded in swim access; a perhaps more potent ending – but there is no question that Tsui helped me connect with my deep love of the water, and to think about it in ways that I hadn’t been prompted to do before. I’m grateful to have read this book and excited to pass it on to others!

Next up is Bettina:

Like Kim, I finished reading this section a while ago. And also like Kim, I don’t think I’ve ever really been “in the flow” except maybe when writing, but swimming would still be the closest I have come. When I’m in the pool, the outside world does sort of retreat into the background as I focus on my strokes and breath.

Likewise, I don’t think I’ve ever been “in the zone”, where physical performance is absolutely optimal. But again, I’ve never felt as physically amazing and strong as I have during some swimming sessions.

What I think I have experienced is “blue mind”, “a ‘soft fascination’ to let our focused attention rest and the default-mode network to kick in”. As I think I’ve previously mentioned, I’ve definitely had some of my best ideas and found solutions for some vexing problems in the pool.

“Flow” is home to the sentences that most struck a chord with me in the entire book: “Submersion creates internal quiet, too. […] We enter the meditative state induced by counting laps and observe the subtle play of light as the sun moves across the lanes. We slip from thought to thought, and then there’s a momentary nothingness.” I have definitely felt that. And “Even in grief […] I have marked time by water. […] I will say that swimming, in all of its permutations – in a pool, in a lake, paddling a surfboard out to sea – has always helped me come out on the other side of a difficult time.

“Despite all these truths, overall “Why We Swim” fell just a little bit flat for me. I can’t put my finger on why. I have to say that I felt the same with other “swimming” books before, such as “Turning”, by Jessica J. Lee. I think in my case it might be a problem of expecting too much? I get so excited about books about swimming that they have a high (impossible?) standard to live up to. Even so, I enjoyed “Why We Swim” and would recommend it to other water enthusiasts.

Next up is Diane:

There were bits and pieces about this section I really liked, but overall I found it disjointed. I did like the bit about Lake George and the Tsui’s extended family there (it’s a place I only heard about this year. It is a famous open water swim spot, apparently, and will be doing its annual race as a virtual event – I won’t join officially, but I will track my distance for the race period). However, the poetry and problem-solving sections didn’t resonate at all. I am usually too busy working on my strokes or enjoying the sensations of being in the water to have big ideas or solve problems. Non-fiction of this type is not my preferred reading, but several swimmy friends liked it. Overall, I’m not sorry I read it, but it isn’t something I will read again.

Here’s Sam:

My own experiences are pretty far from Tsui’s when it comes to ‘flow.’ I don’t think I’ve ever been a flow state while actively swimming. It’s not that I am worried about drowning. I can swim some pretty long distances stopping to float for a bit when I get tired but if I am swimming I have to coordinate my breathing and that gets in the way of anything like ‘flow.’ I’ve always wanted that from swimming but it’s eluded me even when I’m swimming regularly. That said, I do have a happy relaxed feeling in the water but it’s not flow and I associate it with floating, not swimming.

Like everyone else I loved Tsui’s story of swimming across Lake George. It reminded me of my own lake swimming as a child. In a book that flitted about themes quite a bit I liked coming home to Tsui’s own swimming story.

And last up is me, Catherine:

I agree with the other reviewers that the last section didn’t quite live up to our expectations. However, writing about the experience of flow is like trying to describe something ineffable. What this section did for me is encourage me to go seek out my own ineffable water experiences. I’m a competent swimmer and I love the water. I’ve never competed, other than two triathlons that felt like swimming in a giant washing machine. I don’t think there’s any flow to be had there– more like agitate and then spin…

I do, however, profoundly relate to the idea that being immersed in water can create shifts in our perception of time. For me, it’s shifts in all spatial things. My body feels freer, less gravity-bound. My shape feels sleek, even hydrodynamic. I’m a seal, flipping around, diving under, flapping in greeting at my friends, floating on my back, comfortably held.

One of my favorite spots is the middle of Walden Pond. Whenever I go, I swim out to the center and hang out, floating on my back, looking at the blue or gray sky and the formations of clouds. Walden is a very popular spot in the summer, but the water muffles the voices. Everything and everyone recedes. This isn’t the flow you experience through movement (I have felt that on the bike many times), but it is a sort of blue-mind sort experience.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who loves water, or even wants to know more about loving water.

Let us know if you’re reading the book, or read it already. We’d love to hear from you.

fitness

Expanding the conversation about menstruation

Last fall quite a number of friends circulated a new advertisement for BodyForm menstrual and intimate care products. It’s a lovely piece of advertising combining music, art, animation, and film describing a variety of experiences with menstruation. Here’s the link in case you haven’t seen it yet:

BodyForm made waves a few years ago when they decided to stop using blue fluid to represent menstrual blood. When you think about it, it is past the time when we have needed to think differently and talk openly about menstruation.

I like the advertisement for its acknowledgement of the myriad experiences of menstruation. It looks frankly at the experiences — the hopes, the fears, the anxieties, and the pain — this aspect of reproductive physiology represents and its physical and emotional effects on people who menstruate.

It packs quite a bit in its three minutes and the company acknowledges the contributions of people who shared their wombstories with the ad’s creators. We see everything from the beginning of menstruation and its ending to assisted reproduction, anxiety over possible conception, and unhappiness over missed conception.

Could this ad do more about changing our beliefs, biases and attitudes towards menstruation and the kinds of people who experience it — the joy, relief, sorrow, anger? Ability, age, binary, non binary, trans? Absolutely. Is it a stepping stone to more interesting conversations about menstruation? Yes indeed.

Periods and fitness have a complicated relationship. When I was growing up you could be excused from gym while menstruating. Being active while menstruating was also seen as risky — the world would fall apart if you leaked because then everyone would know!

You didn’t talk about it but you managed. Back in 1969, a huge uproar erupted when Gordon Sinclair, a retired male journalist asked Olympic swimmer Elaine Tanner how she dealt with periods while training/competing.

We’ve talked about menstruation before here on the blog. Back in 2018 fieldpoppy wrote what is now one of the blog’s most popular and most read posts. We’re seeing more spaces opening to talk about a process that half the population experiences for a good two thirds of their lives. Even the language we use to talk about it — people with uteruses — is changing to recognize the diversity of identities of people who menstruate. With the BodyForm advert, the intimate priduct industry and the marketing agencies behind them are also making sure we see these experiences differently too.

MarthaFist55 is a writer exploring all the ways she can make her body move in this world.

221 in 2021 · fitness · motivation

Tracy hits 221 in 2021 and…stops tracking

Image description: overhead inside shot of a purple tulip, starburst formation with some sprinkles of pollen, blur of leaves in the background.

Last year a few of us, myself included, discovered that the pandemic changed the shape of our workout life so much that we hit last year’s 220 workouts in 2020 by early summer. For me, working from home eliminated the everyday movement I had taken for granted before stay-at-home orders and lockdowns were a thing. The pandemic meant that most movement had to be deliberate or not happen at all. For me, anyway, that meant lots more deliberate workouts and a lot less incidental movement. And so by mid-June last year I’d hit 220 and I blogged, “220 in 2020: goal achieved, now what? Hint: Keep going.”

This year I got there about two weeks sooner. And I do plan to keep going with my workout routine. But I’m no longer tracking in the group. For those who aren’t sure what I’m talking about, workout tracking groups like “221 in 2021” are online groups where people share with the group when they’ve worked out, with the annual goal creeping a little upward each year. So in 2018 people aimed for 218 workouts and in 2019 it was 219, last year 220, this year 221. You get the idea. The groups are just the right combination of support and (for some perhaps) competition to motivate people to stick to their workout routines.

For me this change from last year’s attitude to this year’s attitude is really an example of needing different things at different times, and being mindful to consider why I am doing something. What did being a member of the group do for me last year that it’s not doing for me now?

When I posted about meeting the goal last year I said, “the goal of being able to record a new workout often did motivate me to get moving.” I also said that I would continue… “not to accumulate a higher number (though I will, if I keep reporting in the group), but because it’s now a thing I do that is a positive part of my life. And recognizing that, it makes no sense to stop.”

This year, I feel almost the same way, that is, I will continue. It is a positive part of my life.

But I won’t keep counting or posting about it. While posting my “number” helped motivate me last year, this year it just felt tiresome. I have solidly internalized the habit of working out in some way daily, at least once, often more than once. I really don’t do it for anyone but myself. Perhaps that is selfish, in that it’s possible that for some people, seeing others “counting another workout” inspires them to workout too. But I have long been of the view that my workout life is one area where I do it for me and me alone. I’ve also long been of the view that tracking and counting isn’t something I love. It’s fine for a while, but (for me) it’s no way to live.

This could also be part of my more general orientation of late away from social media (FB specifically), where the tracking group was one of the only things that kept me going to FB on a daily basis. Sometimes I ask myself with respect to a thing that has become a habit, “what value is this bringing to my life?” I did this check-in with respect to FB not too long ago and the answer was “not much.” The community feeling that FB has always given me was great when it was a supplement to a full life of regular in-person connection, but its existence in my life as a poor copy for real connection has become clear to me during the pandemic. My real relationships do not take place on Facebook. My real sense of community doesn’t come from clicking into a virtual community. The relationships that give my life meaning these days come from one-on-ones with people who reach out or to whom I reach out. I realize this thought might be more existential than a post about why I don’t want to track my workouts to an online group anymore needs to be, but I’m sure it has contributed.

The long and short of it is that my enthusiasm for counting my workouts and posting them to the group has fizzled. I don’t care if anyone knows what number workout I’m on. And I myself no longer know (or care) what workout number I’m on. And while it’s great to see others feeling good about their activities, I don’t really need to know what number they’re on either. In keeping with my word-of-the-year, mindfulness, I know what I’m doing today. And today I’m working out in some form or other because that’s what I do now.

I understand that being a part of this type of group actually can and does add value for some people at some point in their lives. It can be motivating and supportive. It did so for me for two and a half years. And I know that if I decide that’s what I need again, the group will still be there (I haven’t quit; I’ve just stopped visiting).

Are you a member of a workout counting/check-in group and if so, what does it do for you?

fitness

Wordless Wednesday: it’s okay if you gained weight

I’m sure you’ve heard the multiple jokes about the COVID-19 (a play on the phrase Freshman 15 for weight gained in one’s first year away at school). It drives me bananas. Luckily, SamB shared this image and it really resonated. The artist’s other work can be found here: https://www.ciaraioch.com/

A black and white image shows two people jumping in the air giving each other high fives. The caption reads “It’s okay to gain weight during a pandemic because it’s okay to gain weight.

Your weight doesn’t not measure your value as a person.

fitness

Kids riding bikes aren’t renegades or miscreants– officials should watch their language!

It’s summer 2021, and many of us are starting to emerge from isolation, social distancing, and sticking close to our own neighborhoods. In my neighborhood during the pandemic, the kids formed what I liked to call ” the small child mob” , but I admired and envied them. They ran around in all weather, masks on, looking for and finding fun. Usually that fun was conducted and narrated in booming outside voices. Fair enough– it’s not like I’m particularly soft-spoken either.

The exuberance and curiosity and need for novelty occasionally drove my kid-neighbors to activities that kind of crossed some lines; one day I saw some kids throwing sticks at my car… 🙂 Another day, they were gathering/purloining rocks from all of our yards, no doubt to erect a temple to the post-pandemic gods (that would’ve been my idea). But they were in just continuing the search for fun and distraction, as we all were.

I wrote this piece in 2019, arguing that we should praise kids on bikes, not censure them. Kids just gotta have fun, and so do we. As we all well know here in 2021. I hope you enjoy it.

FIT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE

In my little corner of the cycling world, we have a great organization called Mass Bike— they do the usual advocacy and education things related to biking, like lobby for more bike lanes in Boston, sponsor educational sessions on cycling, and host social events and volunteer opportunities. I’m a member and get their newsletter, which is informative if not compelling.

Except for this week. The executive director of Mass Bike, Galen Mook, responded to a recent Facebook post by the city of Springfield, MA about a “crackdown on renegade dirt bike and bicycle riders”. Here’s the post:

Post on FB from City of Springfield MA.
Post on FB from City of Springfield MA.

Galen highlights the use of inflammatory language in his letter this week:

The City uses phrases like “miscreant” and “negative individuals” to describe the riders, instead of calling the riders what they are, which are kids riding bikes. This is followed by the…

View original post 469 more words

fitness · habits · motivation · planning

Go Team – June 15: Re-evaluate, Revise, Reframe

That’s a lot of ‘Re’ for one title, but let’s forge ahead.

Here we are in June, well into year two of ‘Everything is just a bit strange, isn’t it?’ and I’m hoping you’ll pause, take a breath, and reconsider your fitness/wellness plans and goals for the year. (There was another ‘re’ in that sentence, there is no escape from them!)

Maybe everything is going exactly as you planned, things are humming along, and you are wondering why I am even suggesting this.

If that’s the case for you, keep rocking it and here are some gold stars for your hard work: ⭐️🌟⭐️🌟⭐️🌟⭐️

But, if you are like me and this year has been all fits and starts with your fitness/wellness goals, let’s get into all of those ‘Re’ words above.

Re-evaluate

When you started the year you imagined things were going to go a certain way. You combined that imagined future with the facts you had and made plans based on that.

Now that we are part way through June, you have more information about your schedule, your preferences, and your capacity.

Use that information to reevaluate the goals and plans you made in January.

Consciously decide whether you are going to continue or if you are going to choose a different path. (Sometimes, I will hold on to an old plan for ages, even though I am doing nothing with it, because I keep thinking I will get back to it. Consciously choosing NOT to do it is always a relief.)

Revise

Your plans for fitness and wellness are for YOU, not for anyone else. And only you can decide if something is working for you.

You don’t have to follow the plan exactly as you set it out at the first part of the year. You can choose to revise it at any time to meet your current needs.

If the big ideas you had in January, whatever they were, still suit you but the details didn’t work out, change the details.

If the big ideas no longer suit you, ditch them and try something else.

Reframe

One of the tricky things about making goals and plans is that we can be very hard on ourselves if they don’t work out the way that we hoped they would.

That brings us to our third Re: reframe.

Please, please, please, do not frame your efforts over the past months in terms of failure.

For most of us, that will not be a valuable approach.

I’m not suggesting that you pretend everything is perfect nor am I suggesting a falsely positive approach.

Instead, I invite you to acknowledge that your initial plan wasn’t possible and then reframe your results in terms of effort or knowledge instead of failure to meet a plan.

So, instead of some self-defeating statement about failing to do daily yoga, say something like: “I couldn’t do yoga daily the way I planned instead I got on the mat once a week and really enjoyed it.”

Or, instead of being harsh about your running progress, try something like: “I’m not ready to run in a race and that’s ok, I have learned a lot about how to pace myself with my training and I can run with more ease than I could in January.”

Looking at your efforts in this way will keep you from feeling defeated and help you take a realistic view of where you are with your fitness plans.

Go Team

So, as we move into the second half of the year, I hope you are being kind to yourself about your efforts, your capacity, and your plans.

You can take the goals you set in January and re-evaluate, revise, and reframe them until your plan for the rest of the year serves you best.

Fitness isn’t all or nothing, it’s a process. We need to acknowledge and celebrate our efforts and be kind to ourselves in the process.

PS – Here’s your gold star for your hard work, no matter what form that work is taking for you right now.

GIF of a gold star agains a black background, the animation adds white lines to make it seem shinier.
So shiny! image description: a GIF of a gold star against a black background. The animation adds a white lines to the star to make it seem shinier.