Image description: Close up shot of a tree trunk with light green ferns growing around it
Tomorrow is May 1st! Surely we can spend lots of time outdoors in May. David Suzuki is challenging you to get out there.
“Want to get healthier, happier and smarter? Try adding a daily dose of nature to your routine. Starting May 1st, we’re challenging people across the country to spend 30 minutes a day in nature for 30 days.
Over the last decade, researchers have realized what most of us know intuitively: nature is good for us! It is well documented that being regularly immersed in a natural setting, like a park, field or forest, can lower blood pressure, anxiety and stress levels, and boost immunity. ‘Green time’ has also been shown to reduce feelings of anger and depression, while increasing energy, creativity and even generosity.
Living in the digital age, most of us spend too much time in front of screens and little time outdoors. It’s time for us all to get outside. During the month of May, we’re asking Canadians to pledge to spend 30 minutes in nature every day for 30 days.
Last year, we inspired over 10,000 Canadians and 300 workplaces to join us in cultivating the ‘nature habit’. They took to the great outdoors, doubling their time outside. Our research showed that participants were sleeping better, felt calmer and less stressed. Impressive results for a half hour a day!”
I won’t be taking Jonathan Coulton’s advice on what we should start doing outside starting May 1st. This is Canada, Jonathan Coulton. This week it snowed in both Calgary and in Newfoundland.
If you’re wondering what I’m referring to, here’s Jonathan Coulton’s First of May, not safe for work or for tender sensibilities but it always makes me smile.
If you want to read about the raunchy song before deciding to click play on the you tube video, read about it on the Jonathan Coulton wiki. Cory Doctorow has this to say about it, “CaptainValor gives Jonathan Coulton’s delightfully filthy “First of May” song an enthusiastic American sign language interpretation with two backup signers. This is the gesture-set that JoCo’s material truly demands.”
My own quibble is that it’s definitely a guy song. It cries out for a women’s version…
Oh, and as commentator notes you have got to love a song that rhymes “big toe” with “in flagrante delicto.”
On Sunday morning I ran the 10K in the Forest City Road Races. What a great event! The weather gods cooperated with a sunny morning and moderate temperatures. The usual race-day buzz filled the air. And I loved the route–familiar roads well-supported with police at intersections, guides to point us in the right direction, and cheering squads along the way.
I went in with a modest goal: to beat my last 10K time enough to take me in under 70 minutes. To know just how modest that actually is: the top finishers get to the end of the race in less than half that time!
I have a watch-style GPS that tells me my pace. I knew going in that if I could maintain an under 7 minutes a kilometre pace, I should be able to beat my previous time. I met up with Sam’s friend Helen at the starting line. She said she planned to run at her usual pace, which typically brings her in at around 66 minutes. The only difference is that her race plan doesn’t include walk-breaks. Mine so far is all about the 10-1 run/walk system I learned at my 10K clinic.
I also had a new strategy on the table on Sunday. Are you ready? Here it is: push myself! Sam laughs when I tell her that I don’t like feeling uncomfortable. But it’s true. Most of all, I get a bit panicky when I feel out of breath. This makes her laugh even harder. “How can someone who races etc. not want to be out of breath or uncomfortable?”
True, pushing ourselves to discomfort seems to be what racing is all about. That’s why race day is not the day for the slow, easy run. No. Race pace is another thing entirely. In my case, I just haven’t done enough races to know what my race pace is. But I set out on Sunday prepared to push beyond my usual running comfort zone.
This strategy started to materialize during the Run for Retina. During that race, I engaged in quite a bit of reassuring self-talk along the lines of “it’s okay to be out of breath. Push yourself a bit harder. The end isn’t all that far away.” That sort of thing.
In the two weeks between these races, I consciously adopted it as my race strategy. I would ignore that voice that wants to stop at the first sign of discomfort and push harder instead.
Running alongside Helen during the first ten minutes I felt strong and energetic. When my timer told me it was time to walk, I ignored it and committed to running through to the next walk break, 11 minutes from then. By the time that one came around, I felt as if I could probably run through it too. But we weren’t even half way yet. I didn’t want to sabotage my goal by hitting a wall from pushing myself too hard too early in the race.
I watched Helen trot away from me. Her neon pink top kept me on pace when I resumed my run less than a minute later. I amended the 10-1 plan a bit, never taking the full minute for walking. I just walked enough to take a few sips of water.
That was the other element in my race strategy on Sunday: bring my own water and drink when I felt like it, out of bottles that were easy to sip from. That paper cup thing at the water stations just doesn’t work for me.
At the halfway point, I could still see Helen. My pace stayed in the range it needed to be for me to hit my goal. I hauled out some of the focusing techniques I read about when I was studying up on chi running. One is to keep your eyes fixed on a high point way in the distance — the top of a tree works best for me. Another that I like is to think of your feet coming off the ground the way self-sticking postage stamps peel up off of their backing. When I do that, my ankles always loosen and relax. Finally, I remembered that the chi running folks say to tilt the whole body slightly forward, sharpening the tilt when you want to pick up speed.
All this kept me much more focused and present than music ever has. I am pleased at my decision to leave the music at home on race day.
So all that, as well as regular glances at the pace on my watch, kept me focused on what I was doing. Meanwhile, each kilometre was well-marked. So I knew as I came up to the 8K mark that if I could maintain my pace and not take up the next walk, I’d make my goal.
When I came into the home stretch, with less than a kilometer to go, the route took us past the Symposium Cafe on Central Ave. Renald and my mother-in-law and our friend, Peter, were standing outside to cheer me on. Renald, who had been planning to meet me at the finish line at 11:10 (because I told him that’s about when I’d be crossing, and I had admitted to him the day before that it would mean a lot to me to have him there), yelled out, “You’re early!”
I picked up my pace for the final two blocks. I felt a bit tired, but coming into the home stretch of the race, running on Wellington down the long side of Victoria Park, I let my strategy kick in. I no longer had to worry that I would hit a wall before the finish line. The line was just around the corner.
I approached the arch and heard “Hey Honey!” in what sounded like Renald’s voice. But he’d just been at the Symposium, so how could it be him? When I crossed, the clock said 1:08:08! Yay for me! It’s times like that that you really do wish to have someone you know there to share the moment with you.
As I stopped down to get my medal, Renald shouted out again from the sidelines. He’d run down from the restaurant to meet me and take pictures.
All in all, it was a really fabulous morning. I implemented the things I’d learned from the last race: bring my own water and leave the music behind. And best of all, I embraced the idea of discomfort on race day.
Next time, I’m going to get even more uncomfortable. I’m feeling hungry for an even faster time. New goal: sub-65 minute 10K.
A friend posted to Facebook this week about losing a toenail. Actually, it’s a friend who may be familiar to readers of this blog since Shannon guest posted here about the walk that caused the toenail crisis.
Here’s her Facebook status: “Ew ew ew!!! What the cuss?? One of my toenails just fell off, painlessly and out of the blue. I’m like Jeff Goldblum in The Fly. It’s horrifying! I think it’s related to the Spinoza walk. That was the toe that suffered the second most pain and swelling. I’m a little worried now that the toe that was the worst will soon go Goldblum on me too. ”
Many of us replied with stories of our own toenail losses. I lose one, the same one, pretty much once a year. It’s like having fallen off once it’s less attached to the idea of remaining part of my body. The process started with cross country skiing but now anything can set it off. I feel like I could look at this toenail the wrong way it would turn blue begin the great separation.
I told Shannon that endurance runners often get rid of their toenails to avoid this problem. Toenails are sensitive creatures and it turns out we don’t really need them. I’m not tempted to get the full set lopped off but this one non-committed toenail may face that fate in the future. It doesn’t hurt except when it’s in the process of falling off and getting caught on things but it is messy and annoying.
““A lot of runners have problems with their feet,” explains Ulrich. “They get black toe, which is when you get a blister under the toenail and, in a few days, the toenail simply falls off.” Back in the mid-’90s, Ulrich never had more than three or four toenails at a time. “They were always in the process of falling off and growing back. And they were more bothersome every time they’d come back,” he says. So Ulrich decided he didn’t need them anyway. He asked a doctor if removing them was a possibility. It was.”
But I like dog jogging. I like soccer. And I like the atmosphere at 5 km races and at triathlon/duathlon events. I like taking part in these events with friends, Tracy for example, and with family, like Mallory and Susan.
Athletic people are used to injuries. I’ve had my share. I’ve come to think about injury/recovery as part of what it means to lead an active life. The sports medicine clinic I frequent is full of athletes of all ages. I love trying to guess which sport someone does from their injury. The last time I was there I had a bad shoulder, the result of an Aikido roll gone wrong. See Injuries, exercise, and thank God for dogs.
It’ll be the usual series of mobility and pain tests–Does this hurt? How about this?–followed by x-ray and MRI and I suspect, physio.
And then there’s sports therapy massage. Sometimes I feel like it takes a team to keep me going. I’m lucky to live in Canada and to have good supplemental health benefits.
Since I hurt my knee running, you might wonder (Hi Mom!) is running bad for your knees?
On a recent walk in the (long overdue) spring weather, a friend impatiently reproached himself for failing to live up to his New Year’s resolution to get more fit. “I don’t know why I bothered making one,” he concluded. “I’ll just make it all over again next January and break it before spring.” Although I sympathized with his self-reproach, I urged him to keep remaking the resolutions, whether the same or different.
“Because we’re never done,” I explained eagerly.
This did not seem very motivating to him. “Great,” he ground out.
I’ve got an exercise machine that hasn’t been used in a few months, myself. But I’m not getting rid of it, or giving up on my New Year’s ambitions. I think we’ve heard the wrong messages about resolutions, and it explains why exercise equipment stores see a lot of returns in the spring. Resolutions to exercise are not on-off switches, and neither are our identities. Our bodies change, and our day-to-day lives change. Of course we have to commit, and then re-commit, and then do it again. No one exercises just once and wakes up for the rest of life with a hard body. Everybody who does it has to renew their commitment on occasion. It may be easier for some. But for the rest of us, I want to urge more self-forgiveness.
My research focuses on forgiveness, and most of my work concerns the things we beat ourselves up about. We’re only capable of resolutions because we’re capable of memory, and unfortunately, memory is also what makes us good at focusing on our failures. Self-reproach is a function of memory, and self-inflicted harms – like sacrifice of our plans and hopes, and taking on unworthy images of ourselves – linger and reinforce negative beliefs we already have about ourselves.
The funny thing is, I don’t hear much about self-forgiveness in fitness circles. People vary, individuals differ in what motivates them, and it is entirely possible that people prone to stick to exercise resolutions are also people who find a little self-reproach motivating. “I didn’t meet my personal best yesterday,” a very fit friend informed me. “I’m going to push myself harder! My legs are not giving out – my head is giving up! It’s all about will-power! Rraahhhr!” Okay, maybe she didn’t say rraahhhr. But she said the other stuff, about how much she punches herself into more effort. Good for her. But I notice that most of us are not diligent about fitness the way she is, and most of us are really much more likely to feel discouraged by self-reproach. I do not recommend flagellation for most of us. I recommend self-forgiveness for fitness, and there’s a trick to it. If you suspect that self-reproach does not make you want to jog, read on.
We’re often kinder to others we’ve let down than we are to ourselves. The evidence suggests that others are much more likely to forgive us if we apologize and make some effort at “forward-looking” restitution, a combination of acceptance and a plan. Note that this is not accomplished by feeling bad, or telling the other you feel bad. In fact, feeling bad can be completely absent from saying you acknowledge you messed up (acceptance) and offering restitution.
Look at the contrast with this and the way we think about self-reproach for falling off our New Year’s Resolutions to exercise! That crummy baggage is all about feeling bad at the sight of the treadmill. So here’s the trick: Apologize and offer restitution to yourself. It’s way better than feeling bad. Feeling bad looks backward, but we don’t move backward through time. We only move forward. Put on some walking shoes and offer yourself an apology: you let yourself down but you have a plan to make the future different. That’s self-forgiveness. Do that again tomorrow. Do it again the next day.
I love New Year’s Resolutions. I have come to think of them as the thing which marks another year on the earth in which I get to recommit to myself over and over. And we know too that it’s almost never the case that it’s too late, that one can usually regain some muscle or some health.
My advisor in graduate school, Claudia Card, referred to self-forgiveness as an achievement. But achievement connotes something you’re finished with and got a medal for. Because of the way memory uncontrollably recurs, and self-reproach hangs out until you tell it to settle into the back seat, I prefer to describe self-forgiveness as an ongoing commitment, like the commitments involved in long-term relationships. The thing is, we’re often a lot more disposed to recommit to our long-term relationships with others, but when it comes to our long-term relationships with ourselves, we are actually more likely to dredge up every failure and beat ourselves over the head with it. Most of us would never treat others the way we treat ourselves about bailing on a resolution to exercise more. So I’m telling everyone that I see self-forgiveness as a continual re-commitment to the ultimate long-term relationship, that is, the set of relationships between one’s past, current, and future selves.
Most philosophers of forgiveness conclude that forgiveness is not the end of the story, accomplishing, instead, a change in how the story might continue. For some of us, regret may be inevitable, but self- forgiveness is an act of hope that affirms the possibility that we will continue even in the presence of regret. It is difficult to recommend that we look forward in the full knowledge that the future contains more bad news, more failures, yet acceptance of oneself includes acceptance of one’s uncontrollable parts. The commitment to persist includes the commitment to continue the work of self-forgiveness despite oneself.
Self-forgiveness is optimistic, hoping and trusting that one’s future selves will continue the commitment to be kind. I made a New Year’s Resolution. I didn’t “keep it,” but it wasn’t an object to keep. It’s a relationship. It’s my relationship with myself. And I’m in this for the long haul.
We live in an era of gadgets and devices. On cold or rainy mornings when I take the bus to campus instead of walking or riding my bike, at least 50% of the other passengers are texting or checking Facebook, listening to music, doing something with their smart phones.
My latest gadget is my Garmin Forerunner 310XT GPS watch. When I’m out running, it tells me when to walk, when to run, what my pace is, how far I’ve traveled, how much time has elapsed. If I’m wearing the heart rate monitor, it reports my heart rate too.
When I get back, it shares the information with my Garmin connect account. I can see the map of my route and it tells me the distance. It lets me compare that with my performance on previous runs.
One night I got twitchy and irritated because I made the mistake of telling it I was inside (because I was, listening to a clinic talk before our group run). It shut down the satellite and only recorded my time. No distance. No map. No pace. It was almost as if the run hadn’t happened.
This past weekend, I went to visit my parents. They live on a lake about 5 hours from me. Their place is on a serene cottage road that’s a perfect 5K out and back route with just the right number of hills, a good balance of sun and shade, and always a low probability of encountering any traffic.
I packed the Forerunner. But not the charger.
When I turned on the GPS it said “low battery.” I paid no attention. I’ve had a few gadgets before. They usually start to give the low battery warning with ample time to squeeze out a bit more juice before they die. Not the Garmin. I wasn’t even off the property, hadn’t even rounded the corner to where Kipp’s Lane climbs up to Birch Narrows Road, hadn’t even locked on to any satellites, when the screen went blank.
It was only then that I noticed I had no music either. The smart phone was on my dresser. That twitchy irritability took hold again. Just me, the lane, the cold country air, and nature.
And then something happened. New possibilities presented themselves to me once it sunk in that there would be no tracking of this run and no music to distract me. I glanced up the hill. Instead of the 5K, I opted for some hill training. It was perfect. I went up, then back down, then up, back down. Ten reps like that. No tracker, no pacer, no sense of whether I was going fast or slow, and yet a keen awareness that I was working hard. Hills are perfect for high intensity interval training.
When I’d done my ten repeats, I continued out to the other road that sloped up still further. It was a longer stretch and I chugged along to the dead end at the top. Rounding back, I ran past our lane into a little dip in the road and up the other side. Then I turned back, down again and up again.
I may not have tracked, but I can tell you this: I worked! I didn’t miss the music. I didn’t miss the stream of data.
From now on, I’m going data free when I do my hill training. And I’m more committed than ever to enjoying running without music.
For more on wall balls, read my report on Karen, the deceptively simple CrossFit workout which is 150 wall balls.
T-Rex may hate wall balls but they’re probably my favourite CrossFit exercise.
There were three tricks I had to master to make my peace with wall balls. First, I learned to take my glasses off. Wall ball to the face while wearing glasses isn’t fun and my optometrist wondered what I’d done to my frames. Second, it’s all about timing. Catch the ball on your way down into the squat. Third, to meet the “no rep” line on the wall–minimum acceptable wall ball height–jump on the way back up.
Readers of the blog have heard lots about my standing desk. I’m in love! See Celebrating my standing desks. Like Emma and her treadmill desk, I was an instant convert. Now not everyone is convinced. See here. YMMV, as they say. But the standing desk works well for me. I’m a fidgeter by nature. I like pacing.
In the past my favorite working state has always been physically exhausted and mentally alert. I used to ride my bike and then rest, writing at my desk. But back pain and lousy sitting posture got me to investigate standing desks.
“The list of ills associated with hours of uninterrupted sitting includes elevated risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other conditions, which occur as your muscles switch into a “dormant” mode that compromises their ability to break down fats and sugars. Crucially, exercising before or after work isn’t enough to counteract these effects – sitting all day is harmful no matter how fit and active you are. “
Tracy has wondered about ableism of all this “sitting kills” talk. Not everyone can stand or get up and walk around. “Just Stand” as a slogan seems to assume that standing is an option. And not all bodies can stand.
I’ve had two thoughts about this. First, I’ve thought we need to consider of the health risks of extended sitting for wheelchair users in our discussions of the health risks of sitting. There are discussions of active sitting and about standing wheelchairs. Second, we can’t assume that standing is an option for everyone. It’s not. My back problems mean I can’t sit all day. Other people have bodies that can’t stand. Human bodies and abilities vary.
A search for disability and sitting also turn up the concern that the two are causally linked. The obvious connection is the one I’ve mentioned, that wheelchair users sit more than non wheelchair users. A less obvious connection is that those who sit a lot are at greater risk for needing a wheelchair.
“Here’s another reason desk jockeys need to get up and move. Researchers are finding that sedentary behaviors like sitting even just an hour extra per day can up your risk for disabilities in later life — even if you are a moderately active gym rat.
The study published Wednesday in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health is the first to show that sedentary behavior alone may be an independent risk factor for disability, separate from lack of moderate physical activity, its authors say.”
For me the benefits of standing aren’t just physical. I’ve found it changes my writing. I’m more engaged, on task, alert. Less day dreaming and random web browsing. Now I tend to save that for when I flop on the sofa with my smart phone. As I posted to Facebook one day, if sitting is the new smoking, is flopping your bed with your smart phone the new heroin?
The world seems to be changing fast on this front. I know lots of people with standing desks. My partner’s workplace has standing meetings. They’re livelier, more engaged, and shorter he reports. I’ve gone for walks with my PhD students talk about thesis chapters. They humour me. I’m the supervisor, after all.
But some work related challenges remain.
First, there’s air travel. Just flew to California twice this post month. Five hours sitting. On the way home my anti sitting instincts were confirmed by my seat mate, a cancer researcher, also at a conference. He says he’s read the research and is convinced. He sets an alarm and gets up every 20 minutes. With the permission of the flight attendants he stands at the back of the plane. But we can’t all do that. Should we organize turns?
Second, when you get there there’s the conference itself. If my regular working day is a 5 or 10 km run, conferences are sitting marathons. Papers started at 9 am and sessions ended at 9 pm with very few breaks. Most sessions came in three hour chunks sometimes without breaks. Now that I’m not used to sitting, it’s worse. I fidget, practise martial arts wrist locks, and then finally stand at the back. That’s okay but since everyone else is sitting even the speaker, it feels odd.
That’s a long day of sitting. Four days in a row.
Looking around at this conference I started to wonder about how we might change things. Airports now, in recognition that people will be sitting for a long time on their flights, have gotten better with stand up options. The London airport, in my home town has two long standing counters with electrical outlets close to the departure gates.
I thought that some of those counters at the back of conference rooms would work well.
Speakers, for sure, ought to stand. From my days in radio I know they’d sound better, more alive.
But the audience too might be more awake and engaged.
Third, there’s teaching. Not me, I stand and walk but I do worry about my students. I do try to get people up at least once in a one hour lecture.
Do you ride no matter what? Or are you, like me, someone who watches the weather?
Sam pulls together a group to go for a short lunch time ride every Tuesday and Thursday, starting today. It’s the right kind of length for me–maximum two hours on the road. And the right kind of speed–they pace to the slowest in the group. It also couldn’t be more convenient. The group meets just outside the Philosophy Department. And Sam has assured me that we don’t knowingly go out in the rain.
But I’m even more fairweather than that. It’s not raining right now, but it was cold when I left for work this morning. And windy. It had been raining earlier, when I left to go to the Y for my swim. Environment Canada said it might rain into the early afternoon.
If it’s wet, or even just threatening to be wet, and it’s cold (under 10 degrees C), and windy (“Wind northwest 30 km/h gusting to 50” was today’s forecast), then at least for the time being, I’m not interested.
Why? Well, here’s the thing. I just got my road bike out of winter storage the other day and pumped up the tires (with some help from my FB friends, who had to remind me about that little valve that needed to be unscrewed first). I’m keen, even excited, to get back on the bike. But my last ride of the season, which was also only my second ride on the road bike ever, was miserable. So horrible was it that it prompted me to write a post about suffering.
So I want my first ride of this season to be a good experience. Rain was not the main issue on that early-November ride that left me wondering whether I really should have bought a road bike. Even the cold wasn’t so bad. But those gusty northwesterlies? No thanks. If there’s one thing I’ve learned is that you can never cycle a whole route with a tailwind. At some point, around some corner, it will happen that you turn into a headwind. So there’s that.
Add to that that this morning, it just felt like a dreary morning to get on my bike for the commute in. So I bailed.
For a moment I felt as if this fairweatheredness of mine said something about me, like maybe that I lack grit or something like that. I may not be the grittiest of them all, but hey, I was in the pool at 6 a.m. this morning and swam over 2000 metres before a lot of people I know were even awake!
I ran 2-3 times a week through the polar vortex winter, increasing my distance steadily from January to March.
I’ve already ridden my (commuter) bike home in the rain this spring, so it’s not as if I won’t do it. But I won’t “go for a ride” if the weather is bad.
That’s where I draw the line. I want to enjoy my time on the bike. I know that sometimes we all get caught in the rain. I can live with that. And I know that sometimes the wind comes up. I can live with that. But I won’t knowingly go for what’s supposed to be a fun ride over the lunch hour when that’s in the forecast.
That may change. But for now, I’m a fairweather cyclist and I’m okay with that.