blog · blogging

Top ten posts in June, #icymi

Pretty pink blossoms on a tree.

The most read post this month was the same as the most read post last month: COVID-19 and the Gym: Building Engineers Weigh In (Guest Post) Thanks Sarah and Cara for laying it out so clearly.

In second spot is Cate’s much loved still menstruating post.

Catherine asks, When is it okay to say “good job” to a woman while she’s in the middle of physical activity. That’s the third most read post of the month.

Fourth is Marjorie’s post Systemic racism looks like the death of George Floyd, denying the science of masks, and our perspectives on dietary privilege.

Fifth is another post by Marjorie, Women are ‘Someone,’ Too.

Catherine’s post Exercising while black: a few women’s stories was the sixth most read post in June.

The seventh most read post was Christine’s post on tricking yourself into getting started.

Everyone is looking for at home workouts. This barely pre-pandemic post on the NYT 6 minute workout is often in our top 10 during these pandemic months. It’s appreciated, Catherine! I think you knew something was coming. This month it was number 8.

Martha’s post on weight stigma and COVID-19 was the ninth most read post in June. It’s a concern here at the blog. Tracy also wrote about weight stigma and fat shaming jokes in the context of 2019.

And the tenth most read post in June was Mary’s guest post on her calm and humorous take on the big race that wasn’t. Love your attitude Mary!

June was a strange month. Bad enough that it’s been memed. Here’s hoping for a better July.

fitness · monthly check in

Sam’s monthly check-in: June’s ups and downs

My last monthly check-in was February. And then they stopped. I wonder why? Hmmm.

Now it’s the end of June. What happened to those months? Geesh.

The great pandemic pause. I think today is day 106 of the state of emergency in Ontario.

Some things in my life are chugging along and other things seem on hold. I haven’t been keeping up with my academic research and writing. Zoom academic administration, chairing video conference meetings in a period of crisis, takes a lot of time and energy.

For the first time, I’m having attention span issues. I pick up books and I put them down. I start writing things and then I stop. I feel like I’m waiting for something to happen, for something to be decided, but it’s not clear what.

Interestingly general fitness is going fine. I’m working out lots. It helps with stress and I get to work out with my son for company. I’m racing my bike on Zwift and getting in some yoga though not as much as I’d like.

I’d been writing the monthly updates for awhile now. I liked writing them. But what’s to update in the great pause? Except it’s now clearer than ever that we’re in this strange state for a long time. It’s not a pause. I have friends starting big new jobs. Friends moving across the country. Friends having babies. In the middle of the pandemic life goes on.

We’re emerging a bit here in Ontario. I’m still working from home but I’ve been out riding my bike and having friends visit in the backyard. I’m nervous about what fall and winter will bring so I’m making sure I get out some now while we can.

I’m starting to think about my impending knee surgery and wondering if the dates will be changed by Covid-19 and hospital priorities. I’m reminding myself that I should focus some of the exercise I do on getting ready for knee replacement.

FOCUS.

That’s my word for the year.

“Focus” seems an ironic word choice during the pandemic. It’s so hard to do.

I’m back on it though. Trying. The good thing is my knee is doing mostly okay. I carried laundry up steps this morning without pain. If I go early enough I can even take Cheddar for longer walks. Riding lots seems to help.

fitness · running · training

They’re All Good Runs: A Case for Autoregulation

When you go out for a run or ride, how do you decide how long you will go, how hard, or how fast? Less time lifting weights these days has meant more time running for me, and I’m approaching it a new way–I’m using autoregulation to determine my goals for each outing. For any activity, autoregulation is allowing data from the experience in the moment to determine your outcomes for that event.

Choose your datapoint. Autoregulation does not mean “go for as long as you feel like.” I’m not just running until it doesn’t seem fun anymore. Honestly, for me, the first mile has always been rough, with my body telling me all about how I’m making it do something it isn’t well-designed to do. It can take even longer for my breathing to even out. If I were to use these cues to tell me when I’m done, I’d never run more than half a mile.

What I have learned, though, is that while I may sound like a freight train as I puff down the middle of the road, my pace can remain pretty steady. I start my runs these days around an 11-12 min/mile pace. If I get feeling really loose, maybe if there’s some downhill bits or someone annoys me and I get a surge of adrenaline, I can speed up for a while to perhaps 9:30-10 min/miles.

So, that’s the datapoint I use to autoregulate my runs; I check my pace. As long as I’m running faster than a 13 minute/mile, I keep running. And when I see my pace drop below 13 minutes/mile for a couple checks, I’m done. Usually, my pace drops off really fast. Sometimes that happens after a shorter run, maybe 1.5 miles, sometimes it takes longer. However long I go, I know I’ve gone a distance that challenges me without overdoing it and without cutting myself short.

Choose your route. Obviously, a potential downside to this method is ending up some distance from home and needing to walk quite a ways back. Until my distances become consistently longer, I’m keeping pretty close to home. I started my runs as loops around the perimeter of a beautiful, historic cemetery a few blocks from our house. I can run one loop, about three quarters of a mile, or any distance longer than that without ever being more than a few blocks from home. As I’ve gotten stronger, to mix it up, I also run through the neighborhood along a 3-mile loop. If I can only run one side of the loop, I’m still only a little over a mile from home, which is a nice walk to cool down with.

Celebrate each run. I think the best part of this strategy for me is that it’s reduced the stress of feeling like I need to accomplish something specific on my runs. When I first got back into it at the start of Stay Home Save Lives in March, I gave myself the “add 10% to the distance” rule and tried to adhere to it week to week. It was fine at first, but then, maybe 5 or 6 weeks into it, I hit a wall. I couldn’t run further. I’d try to push through it, and my stomach would start to roil, my legs would ache, my heart rate would spike, and my pace would slow down to slower than if I’d been walking. It felt bad, and I didn’t feel successful.

When I started to give myself permission to just run until my body said stop, the distances run to run varied more, but each run felt better. I didn’t push myself to having a sour stomach all day. My hip didn’t ache for the next week. I had energy for my lifting the following day. It was better. And after a while, the distances started to tick upwards again. It isn’t linear. Every run isn’t further than the run before it. But the trend is slowly becoming longer and longer, and there are moments when it really feels good again to be running. That is why I’m out there in the first place–I want it to feel good, I want to feel good.

This week, I ran just over three miles for the first time in years. There were periods during that run that it actually felt easy. I’ve always laughed at the advice to keep it at a “conversational” pace. Running and conversation have never been in the cards for me. However, for a block here and there, I think I COULD have had a conversation! When I checked my pace, I was surprised to note that I hadn’t slowed down, I was still trucking along around 11 min/mile. So I kept running.

Autoregulation has been a welcome tool for me to enhance my running endurance during these challenging times. It allows me to listen to my body; it gives me a goal that I can pursue without judgement. It has taken away a stressor (externally derived goals) while still allowing me to challenge myself and improve over time. I am so grateful that I can run, and now I am really enjoying it again.

Photo description: Feet in grey and orange running shoes, ascending concrete stairs.

Your turn, dear reader: How do you decide when you’ve gone far enough? Do you predetermine distances or use autoregulation to decide how far to go? I’d love to hear from you.

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found ignoring her ragged breathing, picking up heavy things and putting them back down again in Portland, Oregon.

fitness

How adventurous are you feeling?

This?

As the province of Ontario is gradually, slowly emerging from COVID-19 restrictions, some adventure tourism is now open. Perfect for physical distancing, for example, the Niagara Falls Zipline is open.

Paddling down a river is more my speed.

It’s skill-free (pretty much) and easy for physical distancing, I’m thinking of tubing again. We did it last year for my birthday.

Me last year in my tube. And if anyone gets too close I can whack them with my paddles. Fun times!

Any adventures you’re thinking of trying that are compatible with the rules around physical distancing?

fitness · fun

YouTube passive cross-training exercise videos for you!

Hi readers– sometimes when I sit down to write a blog post, the words just flow effortlessly. Inspiration strikes, and I’m off to the races. The perfect photo or metaphor or theme appears, and voila! Blog mission accomplished.

Sad to say, not today.

Just so you know I have tried, here are some topics I thought about writing on for Sunday, but rejected:

  1. a compendium of bad stock photos depicting women playing sports (yeah, that didn’t go anywhere). I was inspired by the twitter hashtag #badstockphotosofmyjob, which is actually at least 2 years old, but hey, I just made it to the party…

2. A compendium of inspiring stock photos of women playing sports, reminding us 1) there was such a thing as women’s sports that spectators could watch, in person even; and 2) sports playing is something we might consider doing, too, albeit safely. I admit I’m sorely in need of motivation to leave my house more often. Inertia’s a tough one…

3. A review of one of the many feminist/sports/activity/self-care books on or near my bedside table, just waiting to be read and summarized by me, for you.

4. Another installment of “cockamamie and likely non-functional exercise devices sold over the internet.” I never tire of looking at them. My current fave (which I haven’t ordered yet) is shoe covers that fit over sneakers, facilitating dancing either on hard floors or carpet. This model purports to make pivots and turns much smoother. I’m sold.

5. A commentary on this article revealing how T. Rex wasn’t (as conventional paleontology would have it) a fast sprinting lone hunter. No. T. Rex was all about the energy conservation, so ambled along at a more leisurely pace. Perhaps there’s a lesson in that for us all. Or not. Which I why I didn’t pursue the topic further.

Instead of any of the above, I’m offering you a chance to do some passive cross training with gymnasts and parkour instructors. I have to say I enjoyed these. They are two YouTube videos in which male athletes in one field try to teach female athletes in another field, and the women kick ass. Then, when the tables are turned, the male athletes don’t do as well. Turns out, in this pair of videos everyone is incredibly talented and also pretty chill and good-natured. Okay, I might as well insert them here.

Women college gymnasts try out parkour and rock.
Male parkour instructors try gymnastics and do okay.

See you all next week, when I expect to be chock-full of inspiration and humor and fluency and sincerity. In writing, as in all things–

Some days you get the bear. Some days, the bear gets you.
Some days you get the bear. Some days, the bear gets you.

Hey readers– are you doing or reading or hearing or eating or seeing anything that’s got you excited or inspired or fired-up or out of the house or off the couch or out of bed before noon? I’d love to hear about it… 🙂

fitness · motivation

Tricking Myself Into Getting Started

I know that a lot of our bloggers and our readers are into exercise for its own sake. They don’t have to ‘convince’ themselves to start and they look forward to their workouts. 

For me, exercise can be a bit like this famous writing quote attributed to Dorothy Parker

A purple background with an image of writer Dorothy Parker, in the foreground is text that reads 'I hate writing. I love having written. '~ Dorothy Parker

It’s not completely accurate because I enjoy exercise once I have started – I just have trouble making myself start.

So, I do everything I can to reduce the challenges of getting started and make the whole process as easy as possible so there are fewer parts that I dread. (To be clear, I do challenge myself with my workouts, I’m not taking it easy in that sense, I just try to find ways to keep my brain from arguing with me about exercising.)

So, I have a few handy tricks that I use to reduce my mental static around exercise. These aren’t particularly innovative or new but they are handy so I thought I would share three of them in case they are useful for someone else, too.

Counting Down

When I have reps ahead of me, I prefer counting down to counting up. Whether I am counting bicep curls or jumping jacks or trips up the stairs, I start with the number I am aiming for and count downwards. 

This might be an ADHD thing. Any challenging task, even an enjoyable one, is hard to start because it feels like it might go on forever. If I count upwards, it could continue for ages. If I count downward, it has to end at zero. 

I mean, yeah, I could go into negative numbers but the risk of me doing that is minimal at best. 

Savasana

When I do yoga, I always tell myself that I can just do a single pose – corpse pose. I rarely ever stick with that but I have promised myself that I can always stop after 13* breaths in that pose.  

Knowing that something so relatively easy still ‘counts’ is freeing and it makes my yoga more of a choice than an obligation.

An  upside down photo of the author’s head and shoulders.  She is lying on a greenish-blue yoga mat  and she is smirking in a friendly  way.
Upside down smirking still counts!

Music/Audiobooks/Podcasts 

This isn’t particularly quirky but it was a big deal for me when I figured it out. 

I have a few workout playlists but I sometimes find that they don’t match my mood or the activity I want to do that day and that makes me feel kind of blah about getting started. So I have given myself ‘permission’ to listen to a podcast or an audiobook while I exercise instead. 

Not only does that mean that I am less likely to get bored (the overarching fear of the ADHD brain) but knowing that I get another episode or chapter gives me additional motivation to exercise.

How about you?

Do you have these kinds of quirks or tricks to help you get moving?

Do you have a workout playlist or a podcast that you can recommend?

*I do all kinds of things in increments of 13 (13 reps, 13 breaths, 13 minutes of writing/tidying/reading) For starters, despite its reputation, 13 has always been a lucky number for me. Also, 10 minutes often feels too short to be ‘worth it’ but 15 minutes can seem like a long time so 13 is a solid compromise.

fitness

Journey Back to Something

Waaaaaaay back in January, the before times, as we say, I wrote this post about an unexpected inner journey that occurred when I was doing a lot of Yoga. I touched on a part of me that was not strong or graceful or confident. She was awkward and thought of herself as weak and deficient. She didn’t know what she could do and she was about 12 or 13. This part was not in touch with much of what the 51.5 year old me had accomplished in her life. I marked for myself that she needed attention and some reassurance. I also knew I wanted to show her the life we were living now, as opposed to being stuck in middle school with bad middle school gym teachers and not nice friends.

Then, all hell broke loose. I sunk into a hole of despair that was really profound. On the surface, I was functioning, working, coping and doing pretty well. I was busy spouting inspiration and holding up all the people in my world. But that was a front. Underneath, I was suffering and I don’t think I really knew it until well into May. As a person who works in the realm of human contact, the lack of it was like acid wearing down my soul. To be clear, I had some contact. I had my adult kids who are delightful. My girlfriend and I decided we were family enough even though we didn’t live together (yes, it’s Cate, a blog romance). I have pets. I had a lot more than many people I know both because of who is in my world and also the risk I was willing to tolerate. What I did not have was my clients in a room with me and day after day I spilled out my energy into an abyss documented here.

Meanwhile, that part of me that had just started to get some love, the middle school student with gangly arms, was also left languishing. I had no space to deal with her and her whiny crap, I was too busy trying to look like I wasn’t falling apart.

Then for some blessed reason 9 weeks ago, I decided I needed to do something more. I couldn’t tolerate self directed fitness because it was just too lonely. So I signed up with the mysterious “Alex” that Cate goes on about often, to see if there was anything more left in me than dog walks. I was suspicious about the idea that a trainer over Zoom could offer much value. Oh boy, was I surprised in the best way. My goal was to prep for the probably-not-going-to- happen trip back to Iceland to ride some more horses (see here for my first adventure). We immediately stumbled upon my imbalances and wobbly right side (I couldn’t stand on my right foot and balance for more than a second or two). So I’ve been working on these things twice a week now for just over two months.

The other things that Alex stumbled upon was realizing that I did not appreciate much of what I could do. I presented myself as a person who couldn’t balance, had little upper body strength and had given up on fitness for a lack of energy and hope. Yet she saw someone with tremendous core strength and excellent form when I did core work. She saw strength in my strong places and technical issues in my other places but everything had a solution.

Over a very short period of time I have acquired enough balance to access my strength. More than the physical balance, there has been some sort of emotional balance that has come upon me. She is over the top with her praise and sometimes I just laugh to myself listening to her. Yet, the 12 year old in me is wide eyed. That was something that occurred to me just today. Alex had basically tricked me into a wall-walk as I was talking about my horrible middle school experiences of trying to do hand stands. I told her how much I wished she had been my gym teacher and how different my physical life would have been. But then I realized that now, today, this moment, she IS my gym teacher. I’m not saying I’m going to do a hand stand in the next month or two, but I might. Certainly, I will walk up walls and hang out with strong shoulders and perfect form and feel like a frickin’ superstar.

This has been a long road back from wherever I went. It’s not over, as this virus just keeps building it, the end appearing and disappearing as the horizon undulates. While I’m walking on it, there’s a little one that has maybe caught up more into real time. She’s doing one legged squats and generally being a badass.

I got my trainer tire off my bike and the road tire back on. Maybe I will venture back up a hill or two in the next weeks. And if there are no hoof beats on the steppes of Iceland this year, I will hope for next year, ever stronger and more grateful.

screen shot of a long woman with her feet up a wall and her hands on the ground. Her sleepy yellow lab is flopped in the foreground.
Who is that? It’s me! I’m up a wall!!

strength training

Resistance bands and home workouts

Like many people I bought resistance bands as part of my at home workout plan. I even bought some that were too strong–they had a woman on the box, I was charmed and surprised–and blogged about it: Pleasant surprise!

Since then we’ve bought more and between them and the sandbags and the water jugs, we’ve been working out lots on the back deck. Will I keep this up when my son, who is usually a frequent gym goer moves out next month? I hope so. Stay tuned.

Here’s some useful links to find out more:

The benefits of resistance bands

All You Need to Create Literally *Any* Piece of Gym Equipment at Home Is This $15 Resistance Band

Five Great Things about Working Out with Resistance Bands

Best resistance band exercises for legs

Sam in a blue tshirt on her back deck working out with a green resistance band
covid19 · fitness · fitness classes · gadgets

To pod or not to pod?

Owners of gyms and yoga studios and general athletic facilities, which have been closed for a few months now, are starting to make plans for how to reopen safely. The biggest problem is how to restrict the transmission of virus droplets that occurs when a lot of people are breathing in the same enclosed space. If you missed our super-popular and informative post about this by engineers Sarah and Cara, you can read it here.

COVID-19 and the gym: building engineers weigh in

The problem of reconfiguring building systems and infrastructure to mitigate virus risk is ongoing, and experts are hard at work formulating plans.

And then some other people came up with this idea:

A person doing yoga (downward facing dog) inside a clear geodesic pod. In a group of others doing same. Outside. In Toronto.
A person doing yoga (downward facing dog) inside a clear geodesic pod. In a group of others doing same in their own pods. Outside. In Toronto.

So many questions come to mind here. The first one for me is “WHERE’S THE DOOR?”

Don’t worry– it’s right here.

Person doing savasana, or corpse pose (or maybe just sunbathing) inside pod, with door open.
Person doing savasana, or corpse pose (or maybe just sunbathing) inside pod, with door open.

They probably left the door open to avoid heat stroke– it’s got to be pretty toasty inside. Yes, there are fans, but I’m guessing they’re not going to help a lot. the instructor apparently gave up on their pod and taught from the open air.

Pod-yoga instructor, teaching podded students after escaping from her pod.
Pod-yoga instructor, teaching podded students after escaping from her pod.

The activity-within-pod idea isn’t actually new. For about 10 years now, novelty marketers have been advertising clear plastic watertight balls for playing on water.

Adults and children flailing about inside clear airtight plastic balls in a pool.
Adults and children flailing about inside clear airtight plastic balls in a pool.

For about the same amount of time, consumer and governmental safety agencies have warned against using these things, as they increase risk of suffocation or drowning. Of course, you could cut your risk of death in half by using it only on land:

A ballerina in a white tutu, posing inside a clear plastic ball. She's got max 30 minutes of air, FYI.
A ballerina in a white tutu, posing inside a clear plastic ball. She’s got 30 minutes of air, max.

I have to say, even if my risks of 1) drowning and 2) suffocating were eliminated, I don’t think I’d enjoy exercising inside a pod. Frankly, I’d feel too much like this:

Praying Mantis practicing rock climbing inside glass dome, looking uncomfortable.
Praying Mantis practicing rock climbing inside glass dome, looking uncomfortable.

It occurs to me that maybe it’s the dome-shape that’s got me bugging. A gym in LA has come up with plastic-sheet cubicles for its early-adopter clients. They can do classes and weight work inside, surrounded by clear plastic.

It’s not clear to me, though, whether the cubicles solve the problems that Sarah and Cara raise about gyms, air circulation and droplet transmission. There’s so much we don’t know. And, we need to get data through testing, which takes time.

For now, I think I’ll keep doing my group physical activity either inside through zoom or outside in small groups at a safe distance. And the only thing I think we should use those clear plastic balls for is making an impression on the runway, as Shangela did on RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 3.

Shangela stomping the runway inside a clear plastic ball.
Shangela, stomping the runway inside a clear plastic ball.

So, dear readers– would pods of either the domed or cubicle variety get you back to the gym or keen to join group classes? We’d love to hear from you.

fitness

What’s Your Healing Ritual?

What’s your healing ritual? Mine is walking. Some might consider walking to and from work every day as more of a routine. But, it also has a healing, or spiritual aspect to it. It felt more like a ritual.

Part of Nicole’s typical walk to work in Toronto. The “flatiron building” in Toronto is centred in the picture.

I can still go for a walk during the pandemic. In the beginning of the lockdown, it felt very eerie to walk outside on deserted streets, where there was some uncertainty if one should even be out and about. But now, there is good information out there, to provide comfort that walking past people outside, not lingering, keeping your distance, etc., is pretty low risk. Not as low risk as some people behave, forgetting to social distance, as if we are in Stage 5, not in the cusp of Stage 2 in a Toronto. But, still, low risk.

Most of my walking these days is to run errands. Everything is within a 10-15 min walk radius. It’s better than nothing, but it’s not the same as walking to work every day.

Some days, with walking both ways to work, walking both ways to the gym, running errands, meeting people for social engagements (Remember those? Sigh), I could easily get in close to 25,000 steps in a day. That is a great activity boost, with or without my HIIT workouts and running. Now I walk from my second floor to my first floor for work. From the dining room to the living room (technically, same room) for my virtual workout.

I could get used to working from home indefinitely. But, I miss the routine of setting out fresh, on foot, in the morning. Enjoying the more sparsely populated sidewalks on the eastern portion of my route. And the bustle as I got closer to the financial district. At the end of the day, I may be a little mentally tired (or numb). The rush hour crowds near the office can seem a bit too much, but with each step away from downtown, I’d find energy that I didn’t know I still had in me for the day.

It’s not that every part of my daily walk was enjoyable. There are always reasons to be irritated. Mostly because people can be very irritating. But between absent-minded wanderers, entitled sidewalk hoggers, reckless drivers and flippant cyclists, would be pleasing city views, sights and senses unique to each season, friendly faces and courteous individuals.

A busy Toronto sidewalk, with people walking.

And walking the same route every day is meditative. At least for me. I love active meditation. I love long runs for the same reason. Other than being aware of traffic hazards, I am free to get lost in my head. Let repetitive thoughts move freely and not get stuck. I can explore my creative thoughts. Give angry thoughts an outlet with each step on the pavement.

I have other fitness routines. I still do my regular HIIT workouts. I still go for jogs and do some yoga. None of these things, save for the special 108 Sun Salutations that I do each solstice, seem like a ritual, the way walking does.

Do you have routines that feel more like rituals? What are they? Are you able to do them during this pandemic?

Nicole P. is looking for more opportunities for daily long a