Have you tried barefoot running on the beach?

Footprints in the sand along the shore of turquoise water and light surf.

Yesterday I woke up early and it was a beautiful morning. The wind had died down and the sun was out and I knew the beach would be perfect. 

The beach on Stocking Island is one of my favourite places in the world. The turquoise water is crystal clear and the white sand is soft underfoot. Best of all it’s practically deserted. I’ve never seen more than two or three  other people no matter what time of day. 

The surf can get fierce on this beach when the winds blow in steady from offshore. That happens a lot. So when the winds shift and die down, it’s inviting and not to be missed. 

We climbed over the ridge to get to the beach. That’s another cool thing about this beach–you can’t see it right away. You climb up and over a little ridge and then on the way down it opens up to this:

Grass opening up to white sand and beyond that turquoise surf.

Okay, now to the barefoot running. I’ve read lots about barefoot running and how to great for some people. Sam’s daughter Mallory for example runs barefoot. But it’s never appealed to me. In ordinary conditions i need shoes. This I know. But this beach is way too soft for shoes. You just can’t run normally on it. 

By chance one day last week we (Renald and I) discovered that if you run softly and briskly you can get a rhythm going that feels really good. The sand gives just enough that there’s no harsh impact. But it is firm enough that unlike with shoes you don’t sink right down into it either. 

So on this beautiful early morning we went back and ran barefoot on the beach. Other than a woman and her dog we saw no one. And then we dove into the beautiful water for a cool down. 

My sailing trip in the Bahamas is coming to a close and I feel good about the drins and drabs of training I’ve managed to squeeze in between the intensive R and R. 

Thanks for indulging me by reading my indulgent posts about vacation training. Heading back to the north soon, hoping winter is over! 

Have you ever run barefoot on a beach? Elsewhere? Did you like it? 

GapFit, wtf? (Also, nice work REI)

Image may contain: text

A blog reader emailed me this ad and asked if I’d seen it and what I thought of it.

I have to confess it took me a few minutes to parse what it might actually be saying. Why do 100 squats if our tights make you look like you’ve done 100 squats when you’ve only done 20? That’s 80 extra squats.


We’re all about athletic rather than aesthetic values here. Presumably the Gap tights don’t make you fitter or stronger. Or even if they do, as one of our Facebook readers asked, what happens when you take them off? You’re all of a sudden only 20 squats strong again.

Over on our Facebook page, no one was having it.

Sandi says, “So what happens when I take off the pants? Do I have an ass that looks like I’m 80 squats short? And how will the pants actually help my sportzing? Will they help me lift heavier?”

One reader said the contrast between this campaign and REI’s Force of Nature ads was striking. I looked and they’re right. I love this imagery and messaging.

Thanks REI.

My mother the cyclist!

Regular readers of the blog know that I’m part of a family of cyclists. My daughter Mallory and I ride together a lot. See here for our most recent adventure. But I didn’t know that my mother, Kathleen Brennan, rode a bike as a child.

It’s not that she’s never ridden a bike. She did ride my old bike for awhile as a grandmother caring for grandchildren when my sons were riding bikes to school and needed accompaniment. My mum took care our kids while Jeff and I both worked from the time our third child was born. So I have seen her on a bike. It’s just that I’ve never thought of her as having a bike riding past.

I made the discovery about my mother’s bike riding past this week when we had a basement flood. Boxes of old family photos were in the basement and Facebook friends know that we’ve been traveling down memory lane a bit. I keep taking pictures of photos and sharing them in Facebook albums (with family members’ permission, of course) before they dry all curled up. Our houses are interesting places to be right now as the old photos are being laid out on all flat surfaces everywhere to dry.

It turns out that my mum got her bike Christmas when she was 10. She lived in small town northern England, in Lancashire that’s part of a cluster of connected towns and communities–Colne, Nelson, Barrowford, Brierfield, and Burnley.

The photo below is from her school’s Bike Safety Rally in 1954 when she was 12. Notice the lack of helmets. But I love the smiling faces and her basket!

That’s my mother, Kathleen, on the far left.

I asked her some questions about riding a bike: Did she remember riding? Did she like it? Was safety a big deal for kids who ride the way it is now? Why did she stop?

Here are some of her replies, “Yes, I remember riding my bike. It gave me a certain amount of freedom. It was a big deal when I got the bike as it was new, a Christmas present. I remember being so excited as there wasn’t any snow and I could use it that day. No, I don’t think safety was as big an issue. We had the safety rally at school but I don’t remember getting much in the way of advice from parents as neither of them rode a bike that I know. Also, we never really had to use the main road, so many small local streets you could get into Nelson easily. I used to go to the library for me and Dad. I think there was equal riding for both girls and boys. I loved riding and for a while went to work by bike then I changed jobs and went by bus. I think I stopped riding when your Dad came on the scene. He had a motor cross motor bike and we used to go to rallies.”

Thanks Mum!

Spinning in the cold and the dark in Nathan Phillips Square, #thirty4thirty

Sarah and I had signed up for the 10 pm shift. It seemed like a better idea in the light and warmth of the day but we had dinner plans with a friend early in the evening.

We were ready to ride bikes on trainers in Nathan Phillips Square for an hour at the time I normally like to be settling down to sleep.  I knew my FitBit would scold me. Cate did too. Also, we were riding in a temperature that better matched warm blankets than outdoor exercise.

Why? We were part of the bike rally’s thirty4thirty spin-a-thon.


“PWA’s Friends For Life Bike Rally will be honouring PWA’s 30th anniversary with a 30-hour “spin-a-thon.” It will be 30 hours for 30 years – that’s where “Thirty 4 Thirty” comes from. We’ll continually ride bikes on trainers, recruit, fundraise, and engage with the media, all with the Toronto sign and the reflecting pool right behind us. Through coordination with City Hall and the media, we’re arranging quite a bit of activity, building towards a major media event at 12 noon on Tuesday, April 25.

During the 30 hours, we’ll be telling the story of the 30 years of PWA and the nearly 20 years of the Bike Rally in the context of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and its effects on Toronto. We’ll do that through visual presentations, speakers, and special-guest spin volunteers.

We’ll also have incredible support from local bike shops, notably , who will be operating “pop-in tune-up” tents for commuter cyclists to get a quick tune-up or ask any bike maintenance, equipment, or sales questions.

This is an incredible opportunity to share the story of the Bike Rally and PWA broadly, and we’re very, very excited. Together, we can create an amazing event, attract more Participants, and raise more money.”

So yes it was cold and dark and past my bedtime. Yes, riding someone else’s bike on trainer without my clip in shoes had its challenges. But we got to chat with lots of people who stopped by to a)tell us that the Raptors won, and b)ask what we were up to and why. It felt really good to tell the story. It was also really nice to reconnect with the bike rally community of cyclists and support people.

And you’re part of that extended community too, blog readers who read about the bike rally, sponsor me, and in many other ways support my big summer ride.

You can sponsor me here. Thanks. I really appreciate it.

I also stopped by for the last hour, hour 30, to show support for people who’d be riding in the very hard rain all morning. Here we are, smiling but also cold and wet.

108 Sun Salutations. Oh My!

Keeping with the theme of doing my best to stay active with my training on the boat, another experiment this week was to do 108 Sun Salutations, also known by some yogis as vinyasa flows. Those with a regular yoga practice will know this as a vigorous sequence of poses that really gets the blood flowing. In a regular moksha class, which is the style of hot yoga I do, we might do 10-12 of these and that doesn’t even include going to standing in between. 

We have a visitor on board the boat right now who is doing her teacher training and has a strong yoga practice. She invited us to join her on the bow of the catamaran for some morning yoga. So after my water jogging session I did exactly that. 

Doing yoga with someone when you’re both regular practioners always starts with an interesting conversation about what you’re going to do. When Michelle and I landed on vinyasa flows (sun salutations) and she asked me how many, I was mulling the question over when she told me the recommended number is 108. 

If you’re wondering about the details of a yoga flow, this article in The Huffington Post giveyou an idea: 

Begin by STANDING at the front of your mat, feet touching, shoulders back, chin level with the ground, arms relaxed at sides. Mouth is closed; breathe through the nose.

Step 1. Inhale (through the nose) as you sweep the arms up overhead until palms touch. Look up.

Step 2. Exhale (through the nose) as you bow forward to touch the floor with hands.

Step 3. Inhale to lift only the head up to look up.

Step 4. Exhale to jump back (or step back if you’re not ready to jump) to the bottom of a push-up, feet hip distance apart, eyes gaze forward.

(That’s right, a push-up! Draw elbows close to ribs. Hips are level with shoulders – you’re flat like a board. If you can’t manage hovering there, then lower to the floor.)

Step 5. Inhale as you press hands down to straighten arms into Upward Facing Dog pose, curving chest and chin up. Feet are still hip width apart. Look up.

Step 6. Exhale as you lift your hips and roll over your toes to come into Downward Facing Dog Pose. Downward Dog is the shape of an upside-down “V”, with your hands flat on the floor, the balls of your feet on the floor and your hips high. Feet are still hip width apart. Look to the navel (or if you can’t see it, then the thighs). Remain in this pose as you take five in-out breaths (through the nose, of course). 

Step 7. Inhale as you jump (or walk) your feet to between your hands. When you land, the feet come together, your hands touch the floor, and you lift the head to look up. This is the same position as in Step 3.

Step 8. Exhale to drop your head down as far as it goes, getting as much of your palm on the floor as you can. This is the same position as in Step 2.

Step 9. Inhale and sweep your arms up as you raise your torso to stand with your arms over your head, palms touching if possible. Look up. This is the same position as in Step 1.

Finish: Exhale and bring your arms to rest by your sides, just like you started.

Your next inhale begins your very next Sun Salutation! No waiting in between. If you lose count, you have to start again. Kidding. Kind of. If you’re lucky enough to find a facilitated 108 Sun Salutations event, then someone else does the counting for you.

Now I’ve been around yoga a long time and maybe I’ve heard this before but if I have, I forgot. The number 108 has all sorts of spiritual/religious meaning: 

* 108 is the number of “Upanishads” comprising Indian philosophy’s “Vedic texts”.

* 108 is the number of names for Shiva (a really important Hindu god).

* 108 is the number of names for Buddha.

* 108 is the Chinese number representing “man”.

* 108 is the number of beads on a Catholic rosary.

* 108 is the number of beads on a Tibetan “mala” (prayer beads, analagous to a rosary).

* 108 is twice the number “54”, which is the number of sounds in Sanskrit (sacred Indian langauge).

* 108 is six times the number “18”, which is a Jewish good luck number.

* 108 is twelve times the number 9, which is the number of vinyasas (movements linked to breath) in a Sun Salutation.

It seemed like an awful lot of flows. But I like a challenge. And I could picture us, one on each trampoline at the bow of the boat, moving through the flows together, with the turquoise Bahamas water between us at anchor and the white sand beach. I mean when do I get a chance to do any yoga at all in such idyllic surroundings? 

So we started. We took turns counting groupings of ten and reminded ourselves to focus on the breath, when to inhale, when to exhale, finding our rhythm. 

Michelle and I starting our flows on the trampoline on the front of Guinevere V.

It’s easy to start off strong. I do a lot of yoga and have been for close to two decades. I managed unmodified vinyasas for the first 40. When I was counting I lost count a few times so we did either 9 or 11 I think. But that’s all part of the meditative quality of the practice. You need to focus on breath, on counting, on staying strong in the core so as not to strain the back. 

Chadaranga dandasana (plank) in the middle of a flow. Tracy on the right, Michelle on the left.

What’s a yoga practice without downward dog?

Doing 108 yoga flows is kind of like a journey with different moments to it. Things change. It’s a mental battle too to stay present. At 50 my mind really started to mess with me. OMG we are not even half way! I had to include the odd modification where instead of a strong chadaranga (plank) I needed to drop to my knees. It’s a rare day that I need to do that. But then again it’s a rare day that I will be doing 108 flows in a row. 

The next thing I knew we were at 80. Then 90 and 100. And we counted the last eight together and boom. Done. 

I once knew a senior yoga teacher who had been practicing for decades. She had a sort of running list of yoga things she wanted to be able to do before she was 80. I liked that idea because it made me realize that yoga is a life long practice. I don’t know if 108 Sun Salutations was on her list. But I do know that if it was on mine, I’d be able to cross it off now! 

Have you ever done the canonical 108 Sun Salutations in a row? How was it? 

Cardio-vélo à deux voix/ Spinning in two voices

Everyone who reads this blog knows that I am a bit spinning-crazed.  My friend Joh and I did the Bike Rally together last year, and now we go on workout dates. Last week, I dragged her to a fancy spinning studio for the first time.  I wanted to know how she felt about it, so we had an email conversation.  Joh is from Quebec and makes me step up and use my French, so here is our conversation, in two voices, hers in French and mine in English — Cate


Hi Joh — so I took you spinning in a real “spinning studio” for the first time last night.  I looked at you red-faced and damp at the end of class and thought, “I need to hear how this was for her.”  What did you think?

Pour moi, les dix premiers kilomètres sont toujours très ardus, que ce soit sur la route ou en cardiovélo. Ce fut le cas hier soir, lorsque j’ai cru devoir abandonner au début… jusqu’à ce que je réalise que j’approchais le fameux 10 km où je prends mon second souffle.

That’s interesting that you had the same experience with spinning as you do on the road.  What happened when you got your “second wind”?

C’est alors que j’ai réellement commencé à avoir du plaisir, à entrer dans le jeu, à apprécier la pénombre et la musique, à pousser et tirer sur les pédales au rythme de celle-ci sans réfléchir à autre chose que d’écouter les instructions et de porter mon attention sur les deux chiffres au cadran (de tour/minute et de watts). Ceci a duré pour les prochaines 20 prochaines minutes, jusqu’à ce que l’instructeur, Brian, nous demande (ou plutôt, nous intime l’ordre) de nous lever.

I’m glad you found the fun of it — you know I love the fact that it feels like a game or a party.  There IS pleasure in pushing yourself this hard with the music flowing through you.  How did you feel about the way Brian structures the class?  He can be a bit … bossy, lol. 

C’est alors que l’instructeur, Brian, nous a demandé (ou plutôt, nous a ordonné) de nous lever. J’ai obéi pour la première ronde, mais au moment de répéter l’exercice, la rebelle en moi s’est exprimée : il est malade, pas question! Je déteste me lever sur les pédales et en plus, j’ai terriblement peur à mes genoux. Et je me dis que ce n’est pas quelque chose que je fais sur la route, donc à quoi bon m’y exercer en cardiovélo!

I actually think that’s really important — you have to listen to your own body and do what feels right.  I think that’s something I wish everyone understood about spinning or any kind of class — there is this combination between the group pressure of everyone pushing you, which I really find motivating — and you also that you just do what feels right.  If you feel like standing doesn’t work for you or hurts your knees, don’t stand!  How did that work for you?

À la place, chaque fois que la classe se levait, j’augmentais mes rotations et je gardais la cadence à plus de 100 tours/minute, comme un sprint. Tout en espérant qu’il ne m’interpellerait pas devant les autres… et puis, si ç’avait été le cas, j’aurais prétendu ne pas avoir bien compris les instructions… en souhaitant que mon accent français serait assez convaincuant! Mais non, il m’a laissé tranquille et les intervalles se sont poursuivis, ainsi que le fil de mes pensées : assis-debout-sprint-augmente la tension-diminue la tension et on recommence… combien de temps reste-t-il? Est-ce une classe de 45 minutes ou de 50 minutes? Est-ce que je vais me rendre jusqu’au bout? Ah, quelqu’un vient de partir… mais non, pas moi. Je vais terminer ceci, à tout prix! J’aurais besoin d’une autre serviette, la mienne est toute trempée déjà.

LOL — you have captured exactly the same inner dialogue I have during every class.  In many classes, I’m arguing with myself about whether I could actually just get up and leave or not. But you stayed!  

Eh oui, je suis restée, tout en me disant qu’il faut être masochiste sur les bords, et que l’instructeur doit être un peu sadique. Mais, en même temps, que c’est relaxant de ne pas penser à autre chose que ces deux chiffres, répéter les coups de pédale, suivre le rythme de la musique, regarder le tableau de bord et me comparer aux autres participants.

I think you just hit that exact moment of presence that really makes spinning work for me — the numbers seem abstract, but they give you something to fix on and stay focused.  Like an object of meditation. And everything just gets very…. now.  

I know you’re strong, but I was impressed at how you stayed in it.  I tried not to look at you too much but I did look at your numbers on the screen up above the class.  You were very … persistent, lol.  How did you feel at the end?

Vers la fin, j’ai été surprise de l’annonce du dernier sprint. Déjà? Yé! J’ai réussi! Je vais monter ça à 125 tours/minute pour terminer en puissance! Et voilà, c’est fini!! Je suis trempée de bord en bord, essoufflée, rouge, mais souriante et heureuse.

Thanks for playing with me ;-).  Will you come again?

Absolument! J’ai assez aimé l’expérience pour la répéter! Quand est-ce qu’on y retourne? 🙂

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives in Toronto where she works as an educator and strategic change consultant in academic healthcare and other socially accountable spaces. She blogs here on the second Friday of every month.

Joh est traductrice (de l’anglais au français) et correctrice, originaire de Montréal et installée à Toronto depuis 2014, où elle a découvert un nouveau réseau d’amateurs de plein air et de sport. Elle pratique le vélo, la randonnée pédestre et le pilates aussi souvent que possible.

Running is contagious? It depends on who and where and when you are

A group of women of different sizes and colors, all running wearing "too fat to run?" tank shirts

There’s a new study out in Nature this week reporting the results of tracking 1.1 million runners who ran a total of 350km over five years and used an app that tracked their runs and social network ties to other networked runners.  They made the following conclusions:

1) exercise is socially contagious and … its contagiousness varies with the relative activity of and gender relationships between friends.

2) Less active runners [their activities]influence more active runners[to do physical activity], but not the reverse.

3) Both men and women influence men, while only women influence other women.

This is interesting.

For today, I’m just going to talk about 2).  3) is very interesting as well, and I will blog about it in the next week or so.

The article points out a real asymmetry in influence patterns between consistent vs. inconsistent  and also more active vs. less active runners.  Scientists (and philosophers who pay attention to science) love asymmetry.  Why?  Because it points to something complex or unexpected that’s happening.  Or it shines light on some phenomenon that spurs us to do more work or try to better understand it.

You might think, if I’m using a fitness app (the researchers won’t say which one they partnered with), and trying to develop as a consistent runner, that being networked with a bunch of other people who run regularly would motivate me to lace up my shoes and start pounding the pavement.  According to the article, that’s not the case.  In fact, it’s the opposite.  If my fitness app social network friend X (seasoned runner) sees that I (newbie runner) got out there and ran when it was raining and chilly, that influenced X to get out there, too.  But not the other way around.  Here’s the way the researchers put it:

Comparisons to those ahead of us may motivate our own self-improvement, while comparisons to those behind us may create ‘competitive behaviour to protect one’s superiority’… Our findings are consistent with both arguments, but the effects are much larger for downward comparisons than for upward comparisons.

That is, the competitive urge with those less active than I am is stronger than the motivational urge to keep up with/approach those more active than I am.

For those of you who want the numbers, here they are:

Suppose, for example, that a runner (A) usually runs 6 km at a pace of 7 min km−1 (0.143 km min−1) and their friend (B) usually runs 6 km at a pace of 8 min km−1 (0.125 km min−1). An extra kilometre run by B (an increase from 6 to 7 km) causes A to increase their running distance by 0.3 km (from 6 to 6.3 km). Also, a 0.01 km min−1 increase in runner B’s pace (from 0.125 to 0.135 km min−1) causes runner A to increase their pace by 0.003 km min−1 (from 0.143 to 0.146 km min−1).

As a long-time active person, this seems both right and wrong.  Having riding and paddling and yoga partners is, for me, key to maintaining and improving on regular exercise habits.  However, when I see myself as not like my more active friends (Steph, I’m talking about you!),  their (exhausting-sounding to me) activity regimens don’t influence me to join in.

In 2005, I bought my first real road bike, encouraged by my bike racer friend Rachel (thanks, again, Rachel!). who rode with me, introduced me to groups of cyclists, and offered all kinds of help and support.  I developed a real-life cohort of cyclist friends, with whom I would ride and also do other social activities.  Many of these folks have become dear friends and the core of my social life/family of choice.

The past couple of years I’ve been much less active.  My relationship ended and that was a major loss.  For whatever reasons, I just couldn’t see my way clear to getting back out on the bike.  My active friends stayed with me, luring/bribing/tricking/dragging me out there (yes, I mean you, Janet).  And it’s always fun (well, mostly) to move around and be active with my friends.

However, attempts by my friends and by me to motivate myself to rejoin them in their habits haven’t been so successful.  I wanted to do the PWA ride with Samantha and the other Fit is a Feminist Issue bloggers and friends last summer, but didn’t end up getting myself trained (and had some knee problems that I didn’t address).  I’ve canceled on a bunch of other planned activities as well.

So from my perspective, having a social network of more active folks around is not the solution for kick-starting or restarting physical activity habits.

For philosophers, we might say this is a necessary but not sufficient condition.  That means that without my social network of active friends I might never get out there, but having them there doesn’t guarantee that I’ll be active, too.

I’m happy to report that it seems to me as if my activity levels and satisfaction are steadily increasing these days.  I think I’m finally recovering/bouncing back/getting back in the saddle (literally) again.  What’s the cause?  Probably a bunch of things.  Can I tell you exactly what things and how much they’ve influenced me?  Nope.

Note:  In 2016, the McArthur Foundation (the people who fund those “genius” grants) announced that they were going to fund a $100 million grant for one group to solve a BIG social problem. One of the submissions was from a group that’s trying to crack the problem of behavior change, including how to change our health-related habits.  Read more about it here. I wish them lots of luck.

I’ll end here with a question:  how do you think your social connections with more and less active people affect you?  Are you looking for motivation?  Does competition get you moving?  What about those Strava QOMs or other app personal bests?  I’d love to hear your stories.