accessibility · fitness · Guest Post

Guest post: Sam (the other Sam) rows for years and finally falls in and finds out it’s not so bad after all

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Today after 3 years of recreational rowing. I finally fell in. I am surprised it took this long. This was also the first time, I have rowed with both a hat and sunglasses. Until today I had avoided taking anything more than water in the boat, specifically because I might fall in. Ironically, this morning I thought "you're not going to flip". Thankfully hat and glasses are fine. If you had to fall in today was the day to do it! Toronto is hot. I am not sure my running shoes appreciate the dip. I fell with full audience. I appreciate how helpful everyone was. It was surprising, but not traumatic, I credit that to those around me and the folks on the dock. I was able to get back in and still have a great row. The water was super calm. I can't even blame the water. Interestingly, my father used to do open water rescues; he mentioned that people don't drown because they can't swim, but the shock of falling in usually makes them panic or they swallow water and can't get air. His advice was not to panic and tread water or hang on to the boat. Today was not dramatic at all but I can totally see why folks would panic falling in. #realrowernow #row #toronto #torontolife #adaptivesports #disabledsports #rowing_s2

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Sam is a recreational rower and sociologist.


Wellmania: Misadventures in the Search for Wellness (Book Review)

We don’t review a ton of books on this blog, but Sam came across this one and asked for a volunteer to read and review it.  I quickly said yes, because this is exactly the kind of thing I like to read in the shower:  a “lighthearted” tale of an Australian woman’s “misadventures in the search for wellness.”  Basically, a blog in book form.  (I’ll get to that whole reading in the shower thing some other time.  It’s a family quirk.  Once you get over the fallacy that books should be kept dry, whole worlds open up).

I actually started reading this book in the bath at Susan’s cottage way back in April, and about 60 pages in, I got out of the bath and, still in my towel, kind of ranted about the book.  “Listen to the way this woman describes her need to do this ridiculous detox!”

“My body was not a temple, it was a stockyard, where dirty animals passed through, where there was some horsetrading, it was busy and noisy and full of action.  Stockyards are dynamic places and useful things happen there.  But they’re far from the idea of the temple and they’re certainly not clean.”

It really set me off:  “She’s all ‘oh I was drinking and eating and sometimes doing party drugs and just generally having a good time so I decided to get CLEAN and of course the only way to do that is to STOP EATING FOR LIKE TWO MONTHS and let someone pummel me every day until I bruise.’

Susan, ever practical, said, “she wasn’t working then, was she?”

No.  Her whole job was this “detox” so she could write about it for a magazine.  And it took her to page 88 to even ask the question about whether or not this kind of radical fast was a good idea.  The first several chapters are full of “jokes” about how weak she felt or how her one spoon of rice on new year’s eve made her feel “full” or nonsensical explanations of the “theory” of fasting”:

“Part of the appeal — if you can call it that — of fasting or restrictive diets is the notion that you can reset your tastebuds.  It’s like a hard restart or system upgrade on your computer.  You switch it off and the buggy bits — the bits that crave salt and grease and sugar — can be expelled, and in their place your body will crave salads, vegetables and gallons of water.  Willpower isn’t necessary when this happens.  You just follow your cravings and they will lead you to the organic vegetable aisle.”

Spoiler alert:  it doesn’t work that way.  Of course she loses a ton of weight on this fast, but then the desire to, you know, be able to walk up the stairs, takes over and she starts to eat again and regains the weight.

That pretty much takes care of the “Clean” section of the book.  Then we have “Lean” (her years-long relationship with yoga, also done in obsessive every single day terms, coupled with colonic irrigation, though I might be confusing that with another part of the book). And finally we have the section on “Serene” (meditation and a quest for spiritual calm, in classes all over hipster neighbourhoods in Melbourne and Brooklyn, retreats in Sri Lanka and Bali, five day hikes in northern Australia).

The thing is, I can empathize with Delaney’s quest — I think everyone who reads this blog has gone down a lot of winding pathways trying to find balance between our sense of inner equilibrium, our strength, our experience of our bodies matching what we yearn for, wanting to find a way to be of the world but not pushed and pulled by endless distraction.

And while being a bit Breathlessly! Hilarious! in all of it (never trust a narrator blurb-writers compare to Bridget Jones), Delaney does have something of a critical gaze on what she’s doing.  She notes how much praise she got for being super lean after her fast, while saying clearly “this is not a real person’s body — this is not sustainable.”  She describes the irony of how the theoretically simple desire for wellness has spawned a complex, profit-based wellness industry, as well as the exploitation that comes along with any system that relies on gurus and acolytes (most notably, Bikram yoga).  And throughout the last section of the book, she explores why we may use Wellness to fill the space of morality, certainty and mystery that was once held by the organized religion for most people in the Western world.  All of this does help hold the skittery nature of her quest together, though I’m still never sure of her actual point of view.

The biggest problem with Wellmania is that Delaney tries to take an experiential tone throughout most of the book, and the nuggets of insight never really infuse her in-the-moment descriptions of what she’s doing.  You never know whether she really believes that her body is a stockyard or that detoxing is like cleaning out your filing cabinet.  And more problematic to me, I never figure out whether she ever comes to realize that there is no “one right answer” that will deliver the equilibrium and sense of inner/outer burnishment she yearns for.  In the final note of the book, she does acknowledge that “shooting for serenity” is an everyday, ongoing practice — but even in that, there’s an implication that “doing it right” means “doing it every day.”

In the end, it took me a couple of months to actually read Wellmania, because I was so put off by the “Clean” section.  I developed more affection for Delaney when I finally worked my way through the last two sections, and could empathize with some of her descriptions of wanting to hang onto the momentary wellbeing that come from focused presence in yoga or meditation.  As a shower read, I’d give it two and a half bars of soap out of five.

Vancouver cate


Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives in Toronto, where she is endlessly in search of equilibrium. (In this photo she’s in Vancouver for work two weeks ago, happily running around Stanley Park). She writes for the blog on the second Friday and third Saturday of every month.  




health · meditation

Meditate on this – Christine decides on a slow build to a new habit

This isn’t going to be a post about how I fight my brain in order to meditate. 

A large maple tree branch full of leaves against a blue sky with a few clouds in it.
This is the view from my hammock in my yard, it gives my brain the same kind of feeling that meditation does.


In fact, I really like meditating and once I sit down, I enjoy the process of bringing myself back to my breath over and over. I like the IDEA of it, and I like the practice.


Yet, I don’t meditate regularly.


It’s not that I don’t want to meditate, I just have trouble *starting* to meditate. 


Changing activities is a real challenge for me.  Even if I want to do the next thing, my brain hates to let go of the thing that I am already doing and transition into the next one.


So, I have to use some tricks to make that happen.


Through trial and error, over time, I have discovered that I can get over the transition barrier (that trouble switching tasks) by identifying how long it takes me to start to enjoy something once I switch into that activity.


Writing, for example, takes 5 minutes to become fun. No matter how much I don’t feel like writing in a given moment, if I spend 5 minutes at it, I stop fighting myself. Then I start to find the fun it, it starts to become rewarding.


With exercise, it usually takes 10 minutes before I stop fighting myself, before I can quiet the inner temptation to do something else – anything else. Once I hit that 10 minute mark, I am in the groove and I have fun.


So, I don’t let those initial feelings of discontent convince me to switch activities in that ‘warm-up’ time and as a result I spent my time in an intentional, purposeful way.


Oddly though, despite my desire to meditate, I haven’t applied that ‘warm-up’ approach to meditation.

The author, a white woman in her mid-forties, with light brown hair, wearing a black shirt, lies on a green mat. Her eyes are closed.
I’m not actually meditating here, obviously (how would I get a photo of that?), this was part of a photo project. Let’s pretend it is a meditation simulation.


It’s on my mental list of enjoyable things to do in a given day, but it rarely makes it into practice.

A screen capture of the timer screen of the Insight Timer meditation app. The words 'Starting Bell' are at the top, and a bowl is depicted below with the word 'Basu' on it. Below the bowl are four oblong shapes indicating the duration of the timer (Meditation 3 minutes), the interval bells (none), the ambient sound (none), and the ending bell (Basu is listed again). The word Start is in a white circle at the bottom of the screen.
My timer screen for week 1. One of the things I like about Insight Timer is how peaceful all of the sounds are.

It’s time to change that.


In July, I am going to incorporate a short meditation practice into my day, lying on my yoga mat, using my ‘Insight Timer’ app to time myself and to journal about the experience.


In week 1, I’ll do 3 minutes, twice a day and if that is successful, I’ll increase in two minute increments each week.


I know those are very small goals but want to find that ‘warm-up’ point, and I want to keep the bar low. I’m not trying to do a great practice, nor a deep one, I’m aiming for a consistent one.


I’ll report back after week 1.

A screen capture of a phone app featuring a black screen with the word Journal at the top middle and the words 'Write your journal note here...' underneath it.
This is the journal page of my app. I like how plain it is.

The damn photo contest again (Sam and Tracy vent)

Something more recent blog readers may not know is that before we turned 50, Sam and I each took at turn at the Precision Nutrition Lean Eating Program. We both came away with mixed feelings. Some of the info was helpful and the focus on “healthy habits” matched a lot of what we already thought. But we both absolutely despise the photo contest. And since we are former clients, we each get an email encouraging us to vote on the best “transformation” every six months (every six months they have a new group commit to a year of coaching). That happened this week. And we started venting to each other all over again. Now we are going to vent about it to whoever wants to read on…


What I hate most about the Precision Nutrition photo competition is the dishonesty.

In the very early 1980s my very best friend wanted to be in our town’s beauty pageant but she didn’t want to take part in the bathing suit competition. They tried to reassure her that it wasn’t about looking good in a bikini. Instead, it was about showing that you took good care of your body and that you had confidence in a bathing suit. She argued back. We were both budding feminists. Isn’t it easier to have confidence if you look great in a bikini? How do you know who is taking care of their body? All you see is them in a bikini? But they were having none of it. She took part and refused to wear a bathing suit. She lost gracefully in a beautiful beach caftan. I miss you Leeanne!

The PN photo competition is the same. I asked about it when I was enrolled in the program. I said it didn’t seem to match all of their material on health and wellness. Why the focus on appearance? Like the beauty pageant, they said it was really about confidence and well-being. You could tell from the contestant’s posture that they were happier. You could tell from the glow of their skin that they were healthier. It’s an inner transformation contest!

Except what we are judging is the exterior. And this idea that you read things off a person’s body is pernicious. Like people who think they can tell you’re lazy by looking at your weight. Or worse, in children’s stories, that we can tell that you’re evil because you’re ugly. Or in the worst of children’s stories that your soul is deformed because your body is disabled.

So if you’re judging bodies, judge bodies. That’s not my thing. But be honest about it. Don’t say you’re judging health, wellness, or confidence.


I don’t love dishonesty either. The whole idea of judging someone’s “transformation,” whether inner or outer, makes me really uncomfortable. And like Sam says, if you’re only going by the before and after photo, then it’s totally based on the body transformation.

If you wanted to judge something more, then how about asking them to write an essay? Or do a Q&A?

I look at the photos and I just feel really sad for the women in them. A year of working on healthy habits and it comes down to this? A photo to put beside your “before” photo so we can see and judge how you’ve changed. It’s excruciating to look at grown women posing in swimsuits or workout gear, under a headline that tells you for each how many inches and pounds she lost, so they can be scored in a contest.

It feels demeaning in all the ways a beauty pageant is demeaning. Surely we are more than our bodies? And surely we ought not be judged for our bodies, on the basis of whether someone finds them pleasing or approves of our physical transformation?

When I did it they spent an entire month trying to get us to have a professional photo shoot. Of course they would. The photo contest is probably one of their biggest ways to bring in new clients, and the better the pictures the better the (free) advertising. I quite resented that part too–the many arguments they gave to encourage everyone (when we are already paying a lot) to get professional “swimsuit” pics so they can use them in their advertising. For sure no matter who you are the amateur selfie smartphone “before” picture will not be as good as a professional “after” shot taken in a studio by an actual photographer with an actual camera. That would be true even if the “before” was taken just minutes before the “after”!

I hated the photo contest when I did PN, and I still think it’s the worst part of the entire year.


218 in 2018: Halfway there!

As you all likely know I’m doing the 218 in 2018 challenge. It’s a simple challenge. The goal is to workout 218 times in 2018.

Our halfway mark is July 1. The halfway workout is 109. I’m at 108 and I’m about to get on my bike and ride 25 km. I think I’ve got this! Just under the wire….

Update: Almost 25 km ridden with Sarah this evening!

(Oh, please sponsor Sarah in the Friends for Life Bike Rally. I’ve made my minimum donation (twice over, thanks friends and readers) and she is just starting.)

What I have been up to? Biking some (but not enough), lifting weights, also dinghy racing, Pride marching, physio, and walking.

I counted a day’s worth of gardening. I’ve got a blog post in the drafts folder called “Does gardening count?” but since it involved shovels and a wheelbarrow and I got sweaty, I think yes.

Image description: A small sailboat on a trailer. Our sailboat. Our Snipe.

I’m actually less sure about Snipe racing but I counted that too. What’s the activity in it? First, there’s getting the boat in and out of the water. Even on trailer it’s work for me and Sarah. The hull weights 381 lbs. Second, there’s hiking. An excellent ab workout. Wikipedia defines hiking this way: “In sailing, hiking (stacking or stacking out in New Zealand; leaning out or sitting out in United Kingdom) is the action of moving the crew’s body weight as far to windward (upwind) as possible, in order to decrease the extent the boat heels (leans away from the wind). By moving the crew’s weight to windward, the moment of that force around the boat’s center of buoyancy is increased. This opposes the heeling moment of the wind pushing sideways against the boat’s sails. It is usually done by leaning over the edge of the boat as it heels. Some boats are fitted with equipment such as hiking straps (or toe straps) and trapezes to make hiking more effective. Hiking is most integral to catamaran and dinghy sailing, where the lightweight boat can be easily capsized or turtled by the wind unless the sailor counteracts the wind’s pressure by hiking, or eases the sails to reduce it.” Third, there’s a lot of balance required moving around in the boat. Finally, there’s a lot of pulling lines, ropes, halyards, etc.

I’m not sure what the rest of the year holds. Weights in the gym, for sure. Also bike riding. Also, more Snipe racing.

I’m trying to stay active everyday. See the Google Fit report below. That’s more than 1 hour of biking and walking each day. Not too shoddy, I guess. But I still feel like I’m missing something. I think it’s group activities and intensity. Mulling. Will report back.

fitness · running

Do you run in the rain?

Image description: Wet concrete ground with reflection of rail, some leaves, and Tracy's feet in running shoes.
Image description: Wet concrete ground with reflection of rail, some leaves, and Tracy’s feet in running shoes.

On Friday morning I had a dilemma. I was in Chicago, which is a great running city. But it was raining, and not just a little bit. I considered my three options: 1. skip it; 2. run on the treadmill; 3. go out in the rain anyway.

I had no intention of skipping my run. After a day in the car on Thursday, my body wanted to move. So option #1 was off the table. Treadmills are for the worst winter weather and it’s not winter. So that ruled out option #2. Besides that, I’m feeling really motivated with the 10K training these days and I didn’t want to miss my tempo run or slog it out on the treadmill.  So I head out.

At the beginning, it wasn’t raining all that hard. Just a little misty drizzle, really. It was kind of cool, which felt so good. I usually associate summer running in Chicago with heat and humidity. It was a pleasant change, actually, to run in the cooler wet weather.

But at about the half way point the gentle drizzle turned a bit harder. There were very few people out even before that. As I turned onto the lake shore pathway, it started to pour. But I was determined to do my tempo run and maintain the pace as best as I could despite the rain. When I turned around at the halfway point, I discovered I had been running in a tail wind. Conditions got a bit more unpleasant at that stage, but there wasn’t a lot I could do about it.

Image description: rainy day with low mist, tall buildings in background, concrete lakeside path with painted lines, lake on the right with sailboats on moorings.
Image description: rainy day with low mist, tall buildings in background, concrete lakeside path with painted lines, lake on the right with sailboats on moorings.

By then I was soaked right through. But I felt really good because it was pretty temperate, and the rain kept me from over heating. On my way back up Michigan Avenue towards the hotel, I stopped in at Starbucks to get a soy latte. That’s when it became really clear that I was totally wet from head to toes. I stood in line dripping in my running gear while everyone else was all dressed for work, picking up their coffee on the way.

When I got my latte, it was still raining really hard, but by then it didn’t matter anymore. So I just took a few sips so I wouldn’t lose any on the way back, headed outside, and ran back to the hotel (the Omni). Both times I went running on the weekend, I was offered a cold bottle of water when I walked in the front door. And on the rainy day, I was also handed a nice fresh towel so I could dry myself off.

I’m really glad I decided to go for it and not skip my run or do the treadmill. It’s a good reminder that when the temperatures are reasonable and it’s not an electrical storm, running in the rain is kind of pleasant.

Do you run in the rain?

fitness · Guest Post

Step Counters and the Guilt Triangle: Food, Friends, and Fitness (Guest Post)

After a few years of participating in our employer’s annual team-based “step challenge,” Tracy decried step counters on Facebook. I then boldly announced that I would provide a counterpoint blog entry in defense of them. (Spoiler Alert: Did I actually think she would be wrong about something?)

My teammates and I (“Ahead by a Century”) have been stepping for just over 25% of the 100-day “Global Challenge.” This initiative involves teams of 7 combining their daily fitness activities tracked by step counters. A mobile app encouragingly shares the team’s progress, releases virtual badges for achievements, provides health information, etc.

Having done this challenge before, I knew there would be highs and lows in using a “stepper” (as I started calling it while being thoroughly searched by US airport security guards after forgetting to remove it for the metal detector/x-ray thingy). So, to prepare for this blog entry I have kept a brief journal. Over the past 31 days I have occasionally ranked my stepper as a motivator, with 1=not motivating, 2=somewhat motivating, 3=highly motivating. From my 15 entries, my stepper shows an exercise motivation level of an average of 1.8 so far.


With each entry, I have described how and why I reported that particular rank. Let’s compare my first, middle, and final entries:

First Entry: Went for a walk at night to get to 10,000 steps. Stretched after soccer, smelled lilacs, and walked off the Wendy’s Frosty I bought!

Middle Entry: At day 11 I have noticed that my pattern seems to be guilt to exercise from either the bad food I eat or the fact that my team is counting on me. The stepper itself is not motivating, but it keeps me honest in a way that I probably would not be without it, especially at 11:30pm at night.

Final Entry: Many, many days of <10,000 steps. Will walk today. Guilt.

Certain patterns have emerged in my 15 comments. These include:

Getting to a certain number of steps: 7 mentions
Mention of food or beverages: 6 mentions
Statements of criticism or guilt: 5 mentions
Statements of affirmation and satisfaction: 3 mentions

Early in the step challenge, I noticed that “I enjoy the exercise when I do it, and it offsets my guilt or gives me something to enjoy.” However, mid-way through I also noted that “when my frustration or tiredness is stronger than my guilt I do not exercise.” On some occasions I expressed frustration with the stepper itself, such as on a travel day I wrote: “Dropped it and it slid into the airport bathroom stall beside me, and I almost didn’t say anything to get it back.”

There were days when I cut myself more slack, such as when I spent half of a day in a hospital’s emergency room. “Getting sick puts the step challenge off the table,” I wrote. “I feel like I’ve let my team down when my exercise for the day is walking to and from the various rooms of the hospital building (but at least I didn’t take the wheelchair!)”

A quarter of the way through my step challenge, I have determined that my friends (challenge teammates, soccer team, etc.) push me to exercise, and guilt over food or drink often pulls me. I describe myself exercising just to work off the pizza I had, or running in circles in my bedroom just before midnight just to get to an even number of steps.

In conclusion, because I have been so focused on achieving a certain number of steps, rather than associating the exercise with my health, so far overall I have not been motivated by my stepper in positive ways to increase daily activity levels. I’m not sure that this is what the Global Challenge folks had in mind, but at least this added “mental exercise” has given me pause for reflection on my current habits.

Now if you’ll excuse me…I have to finish this post and get off my computer to go for a walk, as I’m only at 3000 steps and it’s already 5pm.

Elan Paulson is soon to be newly employed, and is an occasional FIAFI blogger.