fitness · swimming

“Love that dirty water”: Catherine jumps into the Charles River in Boston

The Charles River in Boston: I’ve kayaked there many times– with Samantha, even! But I’ve never swum in the river. Why not? Because the river was too polluted. This is a sad truth about some of the great rivers in some of the great cities– the Seine in Paris, the Thames in London, the Tiber in Rome, the Yongding in Beijing, and on. Centuries of no sanitation procedures followed by decades of neglect resulted in water water everywhere, and not a place to swim.

Happily, the situation is changing all over the world. Governments, spurred on by environmental advocacy groups, have been doing cleanup for the past decades. And it’s making a difference. Paris recently opened up a summer swimming area along the Canal de L’Ourcq, and it’s hugely popular.

Happy Parisians swimming and sunning in an enclosed area along the Canal de L’Ourcq (yes, I checked the spelling).

Boston has something similar in mind. But it takes a while. So they’ve started out with a one-day-a-year Charles River in a deep-water roped-off area, with timed entries and lifeguards. Here’s what the Charles River Conservancy says about it on their website:

The Charles River Conservancy’s first City Splash on July 13, 2013 marked one the first public community swims in the Charles River in more than fifty years. Swimming has been prohibited in the Charles since the 1950’s when a growing awareness of the health risks posed by pollution in the Charles caused the beaches and bathhouses lining the river to close. After years of environmental health progress, most notably the EPA’s Charles River Initiative, swimming is now allowed through state-sanctioned events such as the Charles River Conservancy’s City Splash events and the Charles River Swimming Club’s annual One-Mile Swim Race, which began in 2007.

I’d intended to do this swim for several years. But, with the added motivation of going with my friend Nina, I managed to score a ticket (they’re free and run out in a couple of hours). So off we went on Saturday June 18.

We waited in line, and then ambled to the dock, our identities checked twice– once on the way in, and once on the way out. They don’t want to lose anyone…

The water was warm– around 72 F/22 C. Nina and I swam and chatted and got out and dived back in, making satisfying splashes. Most folks got out after 5–10 minutes, but the die-hards (including Nina and me) swam for half an hour.

You can probably tell from these pictures that it was very big fun for everyone who went. Seeing (and being one of the) adults squealing and laughing loudly, using their outside voices– we need more of this.

The Charles River Conservancy has a vision to create a seasonal home for swimming in the Charles. Here’s what their vision might look like:

A vision of a future water park and swimming area on the Charles River in Boston, with a false bottom to protect swimmers from sediment and allow for different depths. I want to swim here ASAP.

Readers: have you done any urban swimming in rivers or lakes in cities? Was it sanctioned or wild swimming? How was the water? I’d love to hear any stories you’d like to share.

Before I go, I’ll leave you with the song my blog title was based on. Please to enjoy the Standells with “Dirty Water”, an ode to the Charles River in Boston.

ADHD · fitness · time

What Are YOU Up To This Summer?

Now that the stresses and fun of the past month or so have passed, I’m looking forward to the mixed blessing of a flexible summer schedule.

I mean, I love having my evenings free and since I work for myself, at home, I can shift things around to take advantage of good weather or some pop-up fun.

A GIF of a meerkat popping up from its den and looking around.
This is fun, right? Pop-up fun? Image description: a light-coloured meerkat popping up from its den in a sandy surface.

BUT

Since my brain has a very casual relationship with time under any circumstances, the flexibility of summer can also be a challenge for me. If I don’t make my decisions in advance or if I don’t pay close attention to how I spend my time, I can suddenly find myself at the end of summer, frustrated about all of the things I missed out on for no good reason.

So, one of my projects for this weekend is to figure out how I want to spend my summer.

An outdoor shot of a patio railing, a shed, and trees with blue sky in the background.
One thing is for certain, I want to make sure this view plays a big role in my summer. Image description: the view from my patio chair on a bright sunny day. In the foreground is a chair with a red cushion and a table with flowers in a pot next to the rail of my patio . In the background is my red shed, wooden fence, and green trees against a warm blue sky.

I’m considering when to work and when to rest (and thinking about what ‘rest’ includes). I’m figuring out what to include in my day-to-day and which larger summer activities I want to organize and do. I’m thinking about the projects I want to complete in the house and in the yard and deciding when I’d like to work on them.

Basically, I want to make sure that I actively choose a shape for my summer instead of just reacting moment by moment.

(By the way, if a summer of reacting moment by moment is your ideal, please have at it! Do what works for you.)

I’m planning to include things like revising my novel, practicing my TKD patterns outside where there’s more room, hula-hooping, going swimming, reading in my hammock, taking a few hikes, taking Khalee on longer walks, going for longer bike rides, creating some zines, and spending a lot of time hanging out outdoors with my friends.

A GIF of a child using a hula hoop in a department store. Even after their hoop drops to the ground, they keep wiggling their hips.
This little one and I have a lot in common with our hoop skills but I think we both have fun all the same. Image description: a GIF of a small child with long brown hair and glasses in a department store aisle. They are trying to use an orange hula hoop and even after it clatters to the ground, they keep wiggling their hips back and forth.

What do YOU have planned for your summer? Let me know in the comments!

Or if it isn’t summer where you are, what do you have planned for the next few months?

fitness

Aging Parents and What it Means for Our Own Fitness

I have mentioned a few times in previous posts that one of my motivations for being active was to avoid some of the health issues I see in my parents.

I inherited Mom’s varicose veins, slow thyroid and tendency towards osteoporosis. Lately I have also been getting some twinges of arthritis too, though thankfully nothing like what has led her to have three hip replacements.

Mom and me from a few years ago.

Keeping myself fit and mobile was all I needed to worry about, until very recently. Dad has always been capable, and Mom is stubborn, so elder care mostly involved visits, and occasionally helping with a meal. Then Mom had a fall and broke several ribs.

Luckily, I had booked six weeks of vacation and live in the same city, so I will be available to take care of cleaning, meals, supervise physiotherapy exercises between visits, and help with personal care.

So far, I have sitting with her or with Dad, trying to get answers from hospital staff, and making sure I have the necessary arrangements in place for once she gets home. I treasure the moments brushing Mom’s hair, and don’t mind sitting quietly for hours while she naps, but at the end of the day that non-activity leaves me more ready for bed than a a physically demanding day.

If ever there was a time for meditation, yoga, or an early morning swim, it is now. I am not one for traditional meditation; I prefer to cook instead. Some nights, there is a lot of cooking.

I am pretty comfortable thinking about my own health – how to maintain it, accepting certain limitations as I age. And I knew there would come a time when my parents would need more care. What has been a surprise was exhausting it would be.

For the next few weeks, I plan to do some early morning gardening or go for a swim before heading off to do elder care duties. I will take advantage of every offer of assistance from my sister. I will keep some sort of craft on-hand to work on rather than doom scrolling. And I will work on getting enough sleep. More than ever, I want to be alert and avoid injury myself.

Diane Harper lives in Ottawa.

fitness · running

Trying new things: Trail Running

With less travel these days, I decided to take a fresh look at what London, Ontario has to offer. I landed on a city-run trail running program and a basic skill Stand-up paddleboard (SUP) class, both of which I’m doing with Anita. Today I’ll take about the trail running.

The trail running program is a Learn to Run Trails (5K) every Wednesday for eight weeks. At $55 you can’t really go wrong even if you’re going to miss one or two of the outings. It’s listed as an outdoor/nature program, and part of the objective is not just to learn to run trails but also to discover and learn about our city’s trails, which are designated as Environmentally Significant Areas (ESAs). In the service of that, the city sends us an info sheet on each week’s trail. It’s a five-page PDF that describes it and talks about the ecosystem and wildlife in the area and what makes it environmentally significant. This week we ran in Kilally, and this is the first page of the info flyer.

Image description: info sheet on Kilally Meadows Environmentally Significant Area. includes a photo of the area and a description of its location and main features.

We had our first day out two Wednesdays ago on the literal hottest day so far this season, where it was in the high 30s C with a humidex of 43 degrees C. If it wasn’t the first night of a new program there is no way I’d have gone running at 6:30 pm that evening.

But at least 25 of us, mostly women, gathered at Westminster Ponds for a 4.5K in a shaded quite technical trail (I think that mostly means lots of roots, mud, winding parts, and ups and downs). Three of the four coaches were there, and they assured us that no one would be left behind or forced to push their pace. There was a coach up front, leading, one in the middle who sort of went back and forth keeping track of people, and one at the rear of the group making sure no one was falling behind.

We started off easy, with lots of pauses and walking (especially walking around the mud). The shade of the trees made it quite a bit cooler, but even so it was a tough running day and I immediately wished I’d brought two waters instead of one. The trail had quite a few muddy bits, and at the first one I realized I’d forgotten to wear my trail running shoes and instead wore my regular shoes for running on pavement. I will not be making that mistake again.

I mostly ran in the middle of the pack, sometimes falling back because I took more frequent walk breaks than some. It was uncomfortably hot and I was feeling it, and we hadn’t settled on any prescribed intervals (like this week’s 3-1s). We did a 2K loop and I was under the mistaken impression that because of the heat and it being day one, that’s all we were going to do. But when we stopped to regroup at the end of it, Terry suggested that we do it again in the other direction “if that was okay with everyone.” He explained how taking a trail in the other direction is almost like doing a new trail. Everyone was so darn agreeable about doing a second loop. Maybe no one wanted to be the naysayer. Granted, 2K is a pretty short run. But OMG.

Many walk breaks later, and quite a few short spurts of “I can make it to that tree” and “I can make it to that bend” and “I can make it up this hill,” and we made it. In all we were out there for just under an hour, which makes it the longest 4.5K I’ve ever done, but also the hottest. And on a trail.

We gathered in the parking area after and the coaches explained that every trail is different, and that in trail running you can’t really compare your times from one trail to another. They’re all different, and you’re bound to run a trail more slowly than the same distance on a paved pathway. Even the same trail can be quite different on a different day or in a different direction. They also challenge us in different ways, using more muscles because whereas in road running you are consistent in the way your foot hits the ground and your stride and so on, in trail running that’s not the case. You need to go over or avoid roots, adjust to different conditions under foot, watch out for tree branches in your face or on the ground, and go around (or through) mud.

This week we did a much easier, flatter trail in Kilally Meadows. It wasn’t quite as shaded but it also was considerably cooler (still about 30 degrees but less humid). We divided into two distinct groups this week — the fast and the slow. I chose the slow group, which the lead coach Joelle called “party pace,” and we did 3-1 intervals (3 minutes of running, 1 minute of walking), covering about 3.5K in half an hour or so. It didn’t feel nearly as brutal as the previous week, and I was able to keep up with the pace and the intervals without any trouble. I might try the other group some time but I liked being able to enjoy the whole experience rather than feeling like I was pushing the pace just to keep up.

I had some concerns about it being buggy, and especially about ticks, which lots of people are talking about this year. I bought a special “tick key” that removes them without breaking them off. Lyme disease is a risk when you pull out a tick wrong. They burrow and it is easy to break them, releasing the toxin that carries the disease (that’s my lay understanding of it anyway). But the coaches also assured us that if we shower when we get home, we’d probably be fine because they are slow to move and the burrowing takes about 24 hours. That was reassuring. But I did do a quick tick check anyway. And I sprayed myself down with deep woods insect repellent.

Anita and I are out of the habit of taking pictures every time we go out, so I have no photo of either night, so I can’t prove that we were smiling but we were. Trail running is a great way to get out for a run, learn about the city’s trails, and discover new places to run when it’s hot and shade is welcome, or when you just want a change of scenery. I’m excited to discover the other trails in the area, and definitely want to add trail running to my roster of activities.

Have you ever done trail running?

fitness · Guest Post · strength training · weight lifting

Do not disturb, or on not having ‘hungry eyes’ for men at the gym (Guest Post)

By Brett

This past month has presented me with plenty of inspiration for a blog post. It was, as per usual, incredibly difficult for me to narrow down what to share. However, despite the volume of vulnerable, queer, fitness-related experiences I’ve found myself in there is one moment that feels heavier than the rest. As most of my uncomfortable gym situations begin, this moment was initiated by a male person approaching me mid-workout.

Allow me to paint this picture more clearly. By ‘mid-workout’, I mean a headphones-on-full-blast-sweating-through-my-tank-top-unaware-of-the-rest-of-the-world state of mind.

Now, I have very few objections to interacting with others at the gym. Developing an open, positive community within the gym environment can remove social barriers that hinder the enthusiastic participation of everyone wishing to pursue an active lifestyle. However, this was not one of those interactions. I retrieved my dumbbells from the ground, stood upright, and proceeded to perform my bicep curls.

Simultaneously, this male person positioned himself about 4 feet behind me, and continued to dance his eyes between the back of my legs and making direct eye contact with me via the mirror that stood in-front of both of us. I have a horrible tendency to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, regardless of how clearly their behavior should be reprimanded. Therefore, using said mirror, I quizzically raised my eyebrows at the male person, hoping he may just be looking for someone to spot him on a lift, or perhaps was wondering which direction the washrooms may be. It must be at this point that you are wondering if I moonlight as a comedian…because, yes, these innocent wishes about his intentions were dead wrong.

His response to my quizzical eyebrow raise was to begin speaking, despite the music blasting from my headphones. I set my weights back down, turned to face him, and slid a headphone back.

“Sorry, I didn’t catch that.”

“Uh, I was just like wondering if you like compete, or like yeah.”

“Compete?”

“Yeah, in like physique stuff.”

“No, I do not. I’m just a gym rat.”

It was at this point that he began this disturbing soliloquy:

“That’s cool. You should do physique competitions; you have great definition. I was like worried to ask you because so many girls get so offended when I try to chat with them. But, I could just like tell from your form that you know how to work out, and like I knew your vibe was different. Honestly, you’re just so focused, most girls like look at me with like ‘hungry eyes’, but you just are doing your thing. It’s cool, you know?”

When I tell you that I have heard this well-rehearsed chaos on hundreds of occasions, I say so with little exaggeration. Now, a piece of unsolicited advice, if you redirect the topic of conversation onto them, you quickly fade into the background of a wonderfully self-centered dialogue regarding their macro-intake or something equally as unimportant. Which is exactly what I did, and exactly what he did. Fortunately, this led to a perfect opportunity for a swift ending to the conversation, and my ability to slip my headphones back on (my gym version of a “Do Not Disturb” sign).

It is not my intention that this post comes across as scathing, rant-ish, or a generalization of male people in fitness. Rather, I’m hoping that we can let out a big collective chuckle at the absurdity of this moment.

First, the mental image of me participating in the hyper-feminine culture of physique modelling is absolutely comical for anyone who knows me well.

Second, the fact that this person had the audacity to paint himself as a victim when approaching women at the gym and them being “offended” shows so little self-awareness it made me question how this individual managed to think so highly of himself… while clearly having no idea of who he truly is.

Third, and my personal favourite part of all of this, my lack of “hungry eyes” played no role in him recognizing that I truly, sincerely have little to no interest in gazing at men.

Finally, bold of him to refer to me as a ‘girl’.

Regardless of all the technical issues of his little plan, the most curious part was that he could not recognize the hypocritical nature of his actions. My feminist training began running wild. The Madonna-Whore Dichotomy, suffering under a male gaze, r*pe culture and the idealization of ‘the chase’, etc. Luckily, I snapped out of my trance just in time to realize that “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor was playing through my headphones. I picked up my dumbbells, mentally wished all non-conformists a ‘Happy Pride Month’, and purposefully moved those weights with horrible form.

30 lb dumbbells

Bio: Hi! I’m Bret and I hail from Guelph, ON, where I completed my undergraduate degree in Philosophy. I am currently working towards an MA in Philosophy at Western University, and enjoy engaging in feminist theory, ethics, as well as gender and sexuality studies. I’ve had the amazing opportunity to be taught by both Sam and Tracy, and I am excited to join the Fit is a Feminist Issue community! When my nose isn’t in a book, I can be found in coffee shops, at the gym, or taking on car repairs that are far beyond my capabilities.

advice · commute · covid19 · ergonomics · fitness · habits · planning · self care

Habits to Offset Being an End-of-Day Grump After Back-to-Work Commuting

Shortly after coming home from my work commute the other day, I found that my partner (and cat) could barely stand to be around me. I was being a total grump—tired and irritable. Why?

I had spent the last two days commuting by car (an hour each way, plus more travel between sites), then sitting for hours at desks that were not my own. Being vehicle- and desk-bound used to be my work-a-day norm. But, after only a few days back at work, and despite all the travel, I felt unusually sedentary and yuck.

A woman hunched over her laptop while seated at a desk
A woman hunched over her laptop at a desk. Posture posture posture!

I have worked from home during most of the COVID-19 pandemic. This means I’ve had the luxury of walking or exercising before or after work (most days!), and taking short stretch breaks anytime I’ve needed to in a private and comfortable space of my own. More control over how, where, and how much I sit.

You may be thinking—with all this privilege, 5 hours in the car over 2 days is not, relatively speaking, a big deal. Boo hoo, Elan. (At first I thought that too.)

Yet, because I am trying to be mindful and notice things more, I realized maybe I hadn’t prepared myself sufficiently for what back to work would feel like for my body.

Reminders are for people who need reminding. Here is a brief list of reminders for how I might show up more prepared for my return-to-work days a (and be less of a grump around those I love afterwards).

  • Leave 15 minutes earlier than I need to and park at the far end of the parking lot to have time to walk and stretch before sitting in the office.
  • Bring more water and veggie snacks than I think I will need in order to stay hydrated (and avoid the snack machine).
  • Schedule in-person meetings to end 10 minutes before the hour, and use that time to get up and move around, perhaps reacquainting myself with the buildings and their outdoor spaces.
  • Assess the ergonomics of my seated position in my car and in my hoteling office work spaces—try to notice my posture and pack what I need to adjust myself.
  • Make time to stretch before getting back into my car near the end of the day.
Cats and trucks lined up on a highway
That’s me, third car on the right.

What else could help me to manage feelings sedentary and grumpy during return to work? Please share your ideas in comments below!

challenge · clothing · fashion · fitness

A year without buying clothes, shoes, purses, jewelry…Can Sam do it?

I’m going to take the plunge and quit shopping for clothes (also shoes, purses, jewelry) for one year, July 1, 2022-June 30, 2023.

Why?

Well, I’ve been inspired by Mina Samuels’ account of her one year no shopping challenge. See Making Room in My Mind: A Year of No Shopping.

Not having much stuff with me is one of the things I loved about my sabbatical years in other countries. I arrived with a suitcase of clothes and wore them for the year. I had a few work outfits, a few hanging out at home outfits, some bike clothes, a bathing suit (not 7!) and a raincoat. That was about it. I spent a lot less time deciding what to wear and since I only brought clothes I really liked with me, I was pretty much always happy with my choices.

Simpler life on sabbaticals suits me and while I haven’t been able to make that work at home, I’d like to try.

I’ve also been stress shopping in pandemic times and I’d like to stop that. In terms of pandemic stress bad habits, it’s not the worst but who really needs a nap dress or a #workfromhome llama onesie! I also now own Pride Hunter rainboots AND bright pink UGG rainboots, and leopard print crocs with fur inside. Really, that’s enough frivolous footwear for a lifetime.

Sam’s frivolous footwear
Animated Sam in her llama jammies onesie

Regular readers know that I’m a critic of fast fashion and I used to teach about the ethics of consumption in the context of fashion. While I mostly buy made in Canada clothes, not fast or inexpensive, there’s still not much good in owning as much clothing as I do.

I also hope to get rid of stuff I don’t actually wear. Possibly that might include the nap dress. Lol.

Finally, I’d like to put some money away for travel once the pandemic travel panic eases a bit and I feel like, for me, the bother/pleasure is right again.

Why not?

I get a lot of pleasure out of clothes, and clothes shopping, and putting outfits together. Why quit one of things that makes me happy? The thing is I’m curious. Can I get a different sort of pleasure working with what I’ve got? That’s its own sort of sartorial challenge, right? I confess I was tempted by Nicole’s challenge, wearing the same dress for 100 days, but when I went to the website that sells the wool dresses connected to the challenge, I somehow ended up with three different styles and colours in my cart. I don’t think moderation is the path for me here!

Why blog about this here?

Well, mental health is health and we write about well-being broadly construed here on the blog. I like Mina’s description of making room in her head for thoughts other than shopping. Also, there are some fitness implications. See exceptions below! Most importantly thought putting it out here makes it real, makes it more likely that I will stick with it. I’m also taking all shopping apps off my phone. Do you have any other advice to make this easier? Wish me luck!

Any exceptions?

I will make exceptions–say if my cycling shoes break–or if I need a new pair of cycling shorts. I’ve been shopping for a new non-underwire bra for work clothes and while I am hoping to snag one before the 1st of July. If I don’t, then that too will be an exception. I am not putting off the challenge for the sake of finding a decent bra.

A cute cat waving goodbye

Goodbye Luc Fontaine, goodbye Lesley Evers, goodbye Fluevog and Poshmark too (used clothes are still clothes…)!

Sam’s #OOTD Instagram
More #OOTD instagram
fitness · yoga

Balance, baby, balance

June 21st is many things. It’s summer solstice, it’s also National Indigenous Peoples Day — a day for all Canadians to celebrate the diverse cultures, unique heritage, and contributions of First Nations, Inuit, and Metis peoples, and it’s International Yoga Day.

Laura is celebrating International Yoga Day with a standing balance flow. She writes, “Are you up for a fun (I think) standing balance challenge? Here is a short (<10 mins.) flow, taught by me.”

Bonus content: her dog Trudy demonstrates a beautiful execution of “Sleeping Dog Pose” throughout this video.

And balance is also in the news days these day as a marker of health.

Balancing on one leg may be useful health test in later life, research suggests

“If you have difficulty standing on one leg, it could be a sign of something more serious than overdoing it at the office summer drinks party. Middle-aged and elderly people who cannot balance on one leg for 10 seconds are almost twice as likely to die within 10 years than those who can, research suggests.

How well a person can balance can offer an insight into their health. Previous research, for instance, indicates that an inability to balance on one leg is linked to a greater risk of stroke. People with poor balance have also been found to perform worse in tests of mental decline, suggesting a link with dementia.

Now an international group of experts from the UK, US, Australia, Finland and Brazil have completed a first-of-its-kind, 12-year study examining the relationship between balance and mortality. Although the research was observational and cannot establish cause, its findings were striking.

An inability to stand on one leg for 10 seconds in middle to later life is linked to a near doubling in the risk of death from any cause within the next 10 years. The results were published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

The findings are so stark that the researchers, led by Dr Claudio Gil Araujo of the Clinimex exercise medicine clinic in Rio de Janeiro, suggest a balance test should be included in routine health checks for older people.

Unlike aerobic fitness, muscle strength and flexibility, balance tends to be well preserved until the sixth decade of life, when it starts to wane relatively rapidly. However, balance assessment typically is not included in health checks of middle-aged and older people, possibly because there is no standardised test for it. Until now there had been little hard data linking balance to clinical outcomes other than falls.”

ADHD · fitness · martial arts

A Victory for the Bold: Christine’s 4th Degree Belt Test

The short version of this post goes like this:

I did it! I just earned my 4th degree black belt in ITF Taekwondo!

Image description - Master Scott Downey, Me, and Master Cathy Downey right after the test. They are both in blue suits with white shirts and yellow ties, I am in my white dobok and we are all standing in front of an International Taekwondo Federation flag.
I have a version of this post-test photo where I am smirking but I was so tired that my smirk made me look unhinged rather than mischievous so I chose this ‘pretty damn pleased with myself’ one instead. Image description – Master Scott Downey, Me, and Master Cathy Downey right after the test. They are both looking polished and professional in blue suits with white shirts and yellow ties, I am grinning and looking appropriately sweaty and disheveled in my white dobok and we are all standing in front of an International Taekwondo Federation flag.

The longer version goes like this:

After deciding that I was going to be bold about my test, something shifted in how I was preparing. I stopped trying to do things perfectly and started trying to do them well, started trying to feel more comfortable with my movements.

For me, being bold wasn’t about pretending I wasn’t nervous, it was about forging ahead anyway, about showing up with everything I had.

I had a few little spots of worry on Saturday when I just couldn’t make small sections of a few patterns work but I reached out to my TKD friends for reassurance and recruited my husband and my eldest son to help me.

My husband watched a YouTube video of one pattern while I was practicing it in the living room and let me know when my movements didn’t match. My son sat with my pattern instruction book in hand and read me the descriptions of certain sections so I could be sure I was moving correctly.

A selfie of Christine, a white middle aged woman with a round face and chin length curly brown hair and green-framed glasses.  She is sitting in the driver's seat of her car, wearing her white dobok and smirking.
Me in my car before the test. I was trying to take a goofy photo but ended up looking more ‘resigned to my fate’ than I actually felt. I was a bit nervous but leaning a bit more toward excitement – or at least excitement to finally be done! Image description: a selfie of Christine, a white middle aged woman with a round face and chin length curly brown hair and green-framed glasses. She is sitting in the driver’s seat of her car, wearing her white dobok and smirking.

Overall though, I was far less nervous than I usually am. Deciding to be bold was one factor in that and the changes in my ADHD meds since my last test is definitely another but I also think that I am finally reaching the point in my training where things are coming together for me. I am more easily able to explain the purpose of my movements and I can more clearly see the connections between the theory and the practice in TKD.

That’s not to say that I am doing everything perfectly nor that I am applying my theory to every movement. Everyone in TKD is still a student, just some have more practice than others. As a 4th degree black belt (!) I am more advanced than many but I still have lots to learn.

Usually the morning before one of my tests would be a complete blur of nervousness and practice and stress. This time, though, I decided that my only practice would be to read the movement descriptions for my last three patterns. Instead of practicing and then hyperfocusing on small mistakes, I did yoga and meditated and drew a magic symbol on my wrist.

When I was testing for lower ranks, I used to do things like dyeing a strip of my hair and/or paint my nails the colour of my upcoming belt. For my last few tests, I have painted just my thumbnails black (to remind me to focus), but this time I drew a B for bold on my wrist and then put a star and a spiral next to it.

My left forearm with a 'magic' doodle drawn in green sharpie. The drawing is an upper-case B (for bold) with a spiral (for releasing stress) on the left and a star (for effort) on the right.
Sharpie tattoos don’t hold up well to three hours of exertion. The magic worked though. This was taken while I was relaxing on my patio at home after the test. Image description: My left forearm with a ‘magic’ doodle drawn in green sharpie. The drawing is an upper-case B (for bold) with a spiral (for releasing stress) on the left and a star (for effort) on the right. Behind my arm you can see part of my right leg (in black leggings) and my right foot (which is resting on my left knee) as well as parts of my patio, my yoga mat, and the grass in my yard.

A black belt test has a lot to it. I had 18 patterns to do (luckily two students were testing for 5th degree so I didn’t have to do any of the patterns alone at that point), then we did step-sparring (a coordinated attack/defense demonstration), self-defense, endurance drills, and a solo step-by-step demonstration of a pattern identifying the purpose of each movement. After all of that, we try to break some boards.

I did not do my patterns perfectly. Throughout the pandemic, we stopped doing the loud, rhythmic breathing that helps us execute our movements effectively, as well as keeping us all on track. I haven’t even been practicing with it much at home because I was afraid that I would unconsciously use it during class when I wasn’t supposed to. We have only recently gone back to including the breath sounds and we’re a little out of practice with it. And, it turns out, I have been practicing my movements just a little too slowly. The combination trying to speed up a little, adding my own breathing and being able to hear everyone threw me off a little in a few early patterns and then REALLY threw me off for my newest ones.

Since I was concentrating on remembering the movements and remembering to breathe loudly, I didn’t have enough mental space to ALSO choose to ignore everyone else’s breathing and movements. ADHD, after all, is not actually a deficit of attention, it is (among other things) an inability to decide where your attention should be focused. Between nervousness, the challenge of performing newish patterns with an audience while being graded on them, and the addition of the breath factor, I didn’t have the capacity to tune other people out.

But thanks to my instructors’ patience, and a healthy dose of perseverance for all concerned, we got through (and, for the record, I wasn’t the only one making mistakes, which was a comfort.) And even though I was a little slow in my movements, I did my final pattern effectively and I was VERY proud as I shouted the pattern name (Choi Yong) after the last move.

I felt sharp and purposeful for the step-sparring and self-defense and drills, and I was happy with my step-by-step pattern but I was THRILLED with my board breaking.

I did a speed-break hook kick, a 360 back kick, a flying side kick (with a slight modification to minimize jumping), a middle twist kick, and then…and then…

I BROKE A BOARD WITH A PUNCH!

At my very first board-breaking test (about 8 years ago), I tried a punch for my hand-technique but I didn’t coordinate all the elements of the movement properly and I really hurt my knuckles. Since then, I have broken boards with my elbow and my knife-hand (the side of your flattened hand) and my sidefist (aka – the side of your fist) but I couldn’t convince myself that I had the power to punch through a board.

I tried for my last test. In fact, I was supposed to jump up and punch two boards in succession but while I hoped to fluke into it, I didn’t really expect that it would happen.

This time though, I wanted to do it. And because my brain is getting better at applying my theory to my movements, I could think clearly about what I had done wrong before and make a good choice about how to make it work this time.

I used a reverse punch – which means that I had my left leg forward but I was punching with my right hand – so I could generate speed and power without having to move my feet (sometimes the choreography of footwork gets me tangled up.)

I lined myself up, measured my distance, and punched clear through the board as if I do it every day.

It felt like the biggest victory of a marvelously victorious day.

Image description: a stack of pieces of pine board that have been broken in two by my kicks and punches. The stack is sitting on a red table outdoors.
And this isn’t even all of my boards – these are just the pieces I took home. Ki-YA! Image description: a stack of pieces of pine board that have been broken in two by my kicks and punches. The stack is sitting on a red table outdoors.

Getting ready for this test was hard work. I’ve been learning and practicing all through the pandemic – sometimes in person, sometimes on Zoom. During that time, I have been dealing with a variety of challenges in all areas of my life but throughout it all, TKD has been a great way to take care of myself – giving me an external focus that had all kinds of personal benefits. I’m really grateful to have that outlet and I am grateful for the support of my instructors and my fellow students as I train.

Thank you to Master Scott Downey and Master Cathy Downey for the instruction and support, to Ms. Reid and Mr. Dyer for the instruction, trouble-shooting, and encouragement, to Ms. Vere-Holloway for the extra practice, to Mr. James for the encouragement, to Mr. Lake, Mr. Abbott, Mr. Hooper, Mr. Power, and Mr. Codner for holding all of those boards, and to Ms. Gathercole for the empathy. Special thanks to Steve and Alex for helping me with my last few practice sessions, to Lori Savory for choreography help, and to Team Codner for the on-site encouragement.

Congratulations to Ms. Vere-Holloway, Mr. Power, Ms. Gathercole, Mr. Abbott, Mr. Lake, Mr. Codner, and Mr. Hooper for your hard work and for your success yesterday!

camping · charity · cycling · fitness

Weekend of riding eases bike rally jitters

It’s been 5 years since I’ve done the full 6 day version of the bike rally.

FIVE YEARS is a long time.

(To recap, I did it the first time in 2014 with David. That was the year I turned fifty and the rally was a big part of my “fittest by fifty” challenge. In 2015, Susan and I did it. In 2016, Susan and I were team captains. And in 2017 it was David and me again. 2018 and 2019 I just did the one day version. See Sam and Sarah’s first metric century of the summer on the 1 day version of the Friends for Life Bike Rally: We made it to Port Hope! And then the pandemic hit. I rode virtually and fundraised in 2020 and 2021 but it wasn’t the same.)

I’ve been nervous about having signed up for it this year. The training is hard, the fundraising is hard, I’m getting old, I’m waiting for knee replacement surgery, I’ve got a big job, and the rally takes a lot of time. Maybe those days are over? Nothing last forever, right?

I know some of that anxiety is unreasonable. I’m actually not that old. My knee is a disaster but otherwise I’m in pretty good shape. I know some of the anxiety is related to having lived through the pandemic. But it’s also hard figuring out what’s reasonable and what’s not. And whether or not it’s reasonable the anxiety is certainly real.

I tell people that doing one day of the rally isn’t that hard. Lots of you could do it right now. The hard thing is getting up the next day and doing it again. I blogged about the ‘toughness’ of the rally here: How was it? Could I do it? Reflections on the bike rally.

It’s true you don’t need to ride that fast but in a way it’s harder to ride slowly. It’s more time on the bike.

I like the rally experience best when I’m in good shape. I get into the campground with energy to put up my tent and go for a swim. I get a massage, I stretch, and enjoy a delicious vegetarian dinner.

Here’s one my favourite stretches of road on the rally:

Long Sault Parkway

So this weekend, I put some of my jitters to rest. Sarah and I rode 70 km on Saturday with Jeff who is town having helped with a boat delivery, and on Sunday we rode 97 km on a bike rally training ride. We did the thing I was nervous about, ride one day and get up the next and do it again. And it was fine. Better than fine. Both days felt great. My knee was fine.

Yes, it was a bit of slog out to Musselman Lake on Sunday with some hills and a headwind but we made it just fine and the ride back, with a tailwind, was glorious. It was also great to see bike rally friends again.

It helps that lots of them are my age. I’m not alone in being nervous about doing this thing again after a break. Thanks to the pandemic we’ve all had a break.

Deep breaths. It’ll all be okay.

Please support my fundraising efforts here.

Sam and Sarah