death · running · self care

When Grief Is Your Running Companion

In Joy Hargo’s poetry collection,  Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings, there is a poem titled, We Were There When Jazz Was Invented, interspersed with lines of italicized words I didn’t recognize. Wey yo hey, wey yo hey yah /hey.I like to read poetry aloud and, as I read her poem, a series of strong emotions swept through me — sadness, longing, love. I am often overtaken by the emotion of a poem while I’m reading, but, in this case, I didn’t even know if I was reading proper words. I later learned that they weren’t words. They are what’s called vocables (more on that in a moment). Yet, I could feel their meaning as I spoke the sounds aloud. They compelled a chant that seemed to start in my very DNA. I read that poem in summer 2019.

The feeling of that poetic chant came back to me suddenly last Tuesday morning when I was running. My beloved 17.5- year-old cat had died in my arms 3 days before.

The loss arrived less than six months after the loss of my mother and my relationship of almost 29 years. I felt (feel!) like I have been thrown into a bottomless abyss. The nausea of falling and falling and falling; of fear & grief and fear & grief and fear & grief. Of ear-ringing silence. And yes, I had gotten myself out to move my body, if only for a reprieve from the desire to crawl out of my own skin. As I was running, I started to cry. The tears were not enough. I started to moan quietly as I ran. Then I found myself vocalizing sounds, as in Joy Harjo’s poem. Of course, I couldn’t remember what her exact not-words had been, nor did I remember that they were called vocables. I just remembered the feeling of the chant.

As I ran, I let sounds arrive on my out-breath, until I settled into a pattern of Hee Ya, every second out breath. I varied the pitch, tone and emphasis as I chanted. I varied the volume according to how close other people were, getting louder when I was less likely to be heard. Still, I saw some heads turn as I ran by. I didn’t care if people thought I was crazy. Maintaining the chant was a challenge. I had to control my breath more consciously than I usually do when I’m running. More like swimming. At times, I felt like I wasn’t getting quite enough air. I continued. I had the sensation that my nervous system was shifting into a different gear. Slower. Deeper. Even as my running pace picked up. Breathe in. Chant out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Chant out. For the last three miles of my run. Over and over and over. Here’s what that sounded like.

I was not containing my grief. I was opening a channel to allow the grief energy to flow. When I finished my run, I was rinsed. The desolation was not gone, but it wasn’t stuck inside me either.

And I wanted to share the practice with you. In case any of you are going through a challenging time. I remembered that I’d written about reading Joy Harjo’s poem. I rummaged around on the internet until I found that piece. I had completely forgotten that later, on the very same day I first read the poem, I was reading Ursula K LeGuin’s book, Always Coming Home, when I came across a footnote that read (the italicized paragraphs that follow are directly from my 2019 piece): “This is LeGuin’s tribute to Native American tradition, in which the syllables “he-ya” are common vocables, or wordless syllables. As American folklorist Barre Toelken comments on a Navajo song that is all vocables, ‘it has no words, but is all meaning. (The Anguish of Snails: Native American Folklore in the West, 2003).’”

At the time, I was astounded by the not-coincidence of this explanation landing in my field, on the very same day. Today I am amazed to see that the very vocables I landed on, for no conscious reason, are common vocables.

Understanding! The words in the poem were vocables. Now I had a word to describe their wordlessness. The footnote went some way to explaining why I had responded with such feeling to Joy Harjo’s poem. I felt, too, how grabbing at the word for my experience satisfied me intellectually, but left me wanting to understand at a more visceral level.

The next morning, I listened to a meditation guided by Thich Nhat Hanh. Our breath, he said, is how we access the oneness of our body and mind. Aha. Three points of contact with an idea and a glimmer of gut-level connection clicked into place.

Song is like breath. If there are no words, only wordless syllables, then our bodies and minds can receive the song, as breath, without judgment, without trying to figure out meaning. We can’t think our way to the answer. We have to feel. Chanted vocables enable us to access the oneness of body and mind.

As I ran, the chant was opening access to my body-mind, to my wholeness. No compartments. Clearing a channel for the fullness of my emotions.

I intend to explore the practice on my next runs. I’ve noticed with embodied practices, like this, that once I have a better intellectual grasp, I’m often able to deepen the impact. As if having agency (which I define as intention + choice) enriches an experience. We shall see.

And if you decide to test drive the practice, let me know how it goes.

femalestrength · feminism · gender policing · sexism

Sweating Like a Whore

I once called my mother a whore. We were playing double solitaire. A game that, between the two of us at, was a full contact sport. Slapping our cards down with no mind as to whether the other person’s hand might be in the way. In this particular game, we were neck-a-neck, cards piling up in the center at the speed of light, then we were both going to the same stack with the same card and my mum’s hand was quicksilver, hitting the mark before me. You whore. I shouted loud enough for the house to hear. She laughed with gleeful satisfaction. I wasn’t even grounded. That’s how complicit we were in our intensity. Even calling her a whore was allowed. I don’t know why, but that was one of the insults au-courant between my best friend and I. We felt very dangerous and risqué when we used the word.

Now, I hate the word. I hate all its implications. Of women demeaned. Of the judgment reserved for women and never their client-suitors. So, when a Soul Cycle instructor used the word the other day in class, my whole body snapped to angry attention. Here’s the context. Into the third song of the 45-minute workout he asked, Are you all sweating like a whore in church? ‘Cause if you’re not, you should be working harder.

First, it took me a minute to figure out what the expression even meant. The word whore had sidelined my reasoning capacity. Then, as my mind picked back through the expression, it dawned on me. Oh. She’s sweating, because her work is deemed a sin according to the doctrine of the religious institution, whose pews she’s seated in. Sweating because she has too much to repent. Judgment Day is coming for her. Sweating because she’s a woman who leverages her sexuality. Sweating because the lord on high will be displeased by her presence. Maybe he will smite her.  

Why (oh why) would someone use that expression in a room full of strong, modern women? A young gay man, no less. He could have substituted himself into the expression, the implications are the same. And he would, at least, have been making a joke on himself (still not a nice joke, though humor is more excusable when we make ourselves the butt of the humor). Instead, he regurgitated what was, no doubt, an expression he heard in his childhood. Perpetuating values infused with religiosity and thus with patriarchal misogyny. I’m going to hazard a guess that the largest proportion of the women spinning that day did not look to the church as their arbiter of moral values. I doubt that even the instructor looks to the church as his moral beacon. Yet, there he was quipping in support of organized religion’s apparent mandate to control women and their bodies.

Sweating bottles (I chose this image because it is beautiful, IMHO, and I wasn’t keen on putting an image of a sweating whore), by Greg Rosenke on Unsplash

I contemplated speaking to him afterward. Trying to make light, yet still make clear what I’d found disturbing. I reasoned that he probably was not even aware of what he was saying, even that he might appreciate me pointing out the dissonance. Then I worried that he’d dismiss me as a cranky older woman. Then I worried that I was a cranky older woman, too easily triggered because my current life circumstance is high stress. And the result is that I have zero tolerance for any demeaning treatment of women.

What did I do? Nothing.

Except canvas various of my friends about their responses. Everyone, except me, had heard the expression before. While they all agreed it was offensive, when considered closely, they were split on whether I should have said something or not. Some agreed with my do nothing approach and others thought it was important to call such things out.

And, in case you think that calling women whores is a relic of church jokes, this happened to me and a woman friend the other day. We were out for a brisk morning walk together in a mixed-use bike-walk lane. Or so we thought. Until a cyclist zipping by said, Slut!

At first, as with the whore joke, we were both perplexed. We verified with each other that we’d heard correctly. Never mind that I was confused by the singular, when there were two of us. Was only one of us a slut? If so, which one? We deduced the angry cyclist thought we were infringing on the bike lane, after studying the available lanes more closely and noticing there was indeed a walking lane further over. I wonder if the insult applies only to women walking in bike lanes, or if it’s any woman doing an activity in an unsanctioned location. Push ups on a tennis court. Cycling in a walking lane. Is any unsanctioned activity by definition slutty? Does slut retain any sexual connotation? Or is the unsanctioned activity viewed as an indicator of loose morals? A gateway to turpitude.

What I’m sure of is that the cyclist wasn’t having a good morning.

There’s no true equivalence for whore and slut to describe a man. They are words with ugly intent. Normally I like to reclaim words and expressions and transmute them into a feminine power expression. I haven’t figured out how to do that yet with these words.

Any ideas? 


My Fit Feminism Is a Fraud

My “brand” is Run Like a Girl. I’ve written two books about the transformational impact of sports in women’s lives. How physical strength transmutes into empowerment for us elsewhere. And I write for this blog, at which feminism is baked into the very name. Before becoming a writer, I worked as a lawyer and human rights advocate for several years, even doing a Master’s of Law at Ivy League school. I transmuted my own life when I started running and accessing my potential in new ways. The extremely short version is that I left the practice of law. I started to focus on my passion, which was writing. I climbed back down the ladder and took entry level editorial work. I started to climb back up the ladder in publishing. Then, I moved to an educational start up as head of content, which soon head south organizationally and financially.

I liberated myself from my day job and took advantage of the financial freedom offered by my marriage. I worked freelance as a ghost writer and editor, without the daily fear of absolutely needing to make money. Instead, I worked on my own writing projects and followed my curiosity and desire to find work that felt creatively and artistically fulfilling and also of service. I trained in theatre, in Non-Violent Communication and Internal Family Systems, based on which I lead workshops, facilitate learning groups and offer writing, creativity and compassionate communication coaching.

In other words, I have a decent suite of skills.

I should be successful.

By which I mean—financially independent.

I am not.   

Time after time, I made decisions to prioritize the flexibility and freedom that benefitted me and my relationship. We (the team that my relationship was) didn’t need more money. I had the luxury of following my heart. My partner loved his work. He wasn’t resentful that I didn’t contribute my share financially. My contribution was …

This is where things get tricky. Me. Card carrying feminist with the author credits to prove it. What was my contribution to my relationship, if it wasn’t financial?

I paid the bills, even if I didn’t make the money to pay them. I managed a lot to do with the household and our social life. How gendered. I know. It gets worse. There was this: I offered my energy, my creative engagement with the world. I brought home what I was immersed in. A magpie decorating her nest. Would you like to hear the Baudelaire poem I worked on in theatre class? I’d translate it on the fly for my partner, to his delight. How about this demo of the Internal Family Systems technique that I watched today? Or would you come to a rehearsal of my new play and give me some feedback? And then I’d run an ultra-marathon on the side and feel strong and accomplished in the breadth of my life.

I told myself that I wasn’t a ‘50s housewife, setting my hair in curlers once a week and making sure I had on fresh lipstick and dinner in the oven when my man came home from work. But, was I really that much different? That woman offered her energy and engagement to nurturing and maintenance of the relationship. And when the relationship failed. She was lost.

After 29 years, my relationship has failed. I am not financially independent. I am in trouble.

At one point in my life, when I was working as an editor on finance books. I had an author who wrote about the importance of a woman being financially independent. I was a great editor—emotionally supportive, while constructively challenging her ideas and structure, to create more clarity and impact with her message. And I did not take the message in for myself.   

What was I thinking? That I would be safe and secure forever inside my marriage?

I did not even have a credit card in my name. I was the wife on my husband’s cards. Result? The only credit card that I am currently eligible for is cash secured. In other words, a debit card dressed up in a credit card costume. Which I was rejected for when I applied online. It wasn’t until I called customer service to point out that it didn’t make any sense to reject me for a cash secured card that I actually got approved. Having the sense of privilege to even make that phone call is a barrier to entry that made me wonder how many people are turned down and do not feel entitled to call the bank to follow-up. Ending up with a cash secured card with worse terms of use than mine and no possibility of being converted to a real credit card.

The feminist part of me is in a rage against the part who thought she’d be safe and secure. The tension between these two parts of myself, which has simmered for years beneath the surface has burst, spraying all the pus and blood of my misalignment. Bring back the stocks. Lock her up in the public square and allow real feminists to throw rotten tomatoes at her (and not even heirloom tomatoes). Tattoo my shame on my forehead: Bad Feminist! At least the feminist part doesn’t want to stone me to death. That would be against her politics.

Graffiti poster on multi-color wall repeating Feminists Resist by Claudio Schwarz on unsplash

These days, I feel like I’m held together by strings and tape (not even good duct tape, just flimsy scotch tape). I wake up in the morning and have to remind myself to breathe. When I exercise, which I still do, albeit very slowly and delicately, I need to take breaks for dizziness. And over and over and over again, I ask myself, why did I allow this to happen? Who is this woman I’ve become? 

I’m terrified, too, that exposing this truth about my fraudulent feminism will cost me friends and work, neither of which I can afford to lose right now. Yet, I can’t live anymore with the dissonance in my system. I don’t know what the future will be. Except I know it will be more feminist-aligned.

A friend sent me this Rumi quote: As you start to walk on the way, the way appears.

I sure fucking hope so.


Breathe and Blossom—What I Learned at a Biathlon Clinic

In the spirit of “welcome”, my word of the year, I’m trying to open myself to the flow of life. So, when I happened to walk through the Tahoe Donner cross-country ski center and saw a notice that a biathlon clinic (that’s skiing and shooting a target) was happening the next day, I signed up before I had time to talk myself out of it. For more than a decade, every winter, I promise myself that I’ll take a biathlon clinic and then somehow, magically, I am never available (or they aren’t offered due to pandemics). The date I signed up for was the only one of the three Sundays offered that I could participate. I didn’t have anything big planned for the Sunday and still I felt some resistance. Oh, it’s too cold. I don’t want to do it alone (originally it was something a friend of mine and I had wanted to do together, but that was already 10 years ago and she moved away 6 years ago). I’m tired from the week and would rather hang out on the couch.

I did it anyway.

Biathlon is my favourite Winter Olympics sport. As a spectator (and someone who cross country skis), it has always looked ferociously hard. Repeated ski sprints, punctuated by quick stops to take 5 shots at a target, with penalty loops if you miss any of the 5 shots. I tried to imagine what it would be like after skiing hard to stop and, instead of hanging over my poles gasping for breath, I had to calm my heart asap and be precise.

Now I know.

It is indeed ferociously hard.

Here’s a clip of some women’s biathlon highlights from this year. Note—in my clinic we practiced shooting from a prone position (pictured earlier) in which it is much easier to catch one’s breath and aim; versus the standing position, which is usual in world class competition:

I’m really glad I took the clinic. Even though it was brutally cold, especially on the bare trigger fingers. And even though when we did a 20-minute, 3-loop-3-rounds-of-shooting race at the end, I was DFL (dead fucking last) out of the 8 of us in the clinic. Still, that feeling of dropping prone to the ground, getting into position and raising the sight to my eye was a sizzle of power. I realized that I had never pulled a trigger in my life. Okay, I wasn’t pulling live rounds. For a first effort, we were using laser rifles, but still. I think of myself as a pacifist. Target shooting, even skeet shooting, has never appealed. I’ve never played paintball. Too close to the violence I don’t want in my life and the world.   

And this was different—not violent at all. Before I went, a friend said, Oh, that will be a great outlet for anger. You can imagine you are shooting at (insert name of any number of maleficent people in the world). I didn’t imagine. Shooting at a target was not at all about who I might be aiming at. Rather, it was about the Zen of controlling my breath, calming my nervous system and finding ease in the precision of the aim. In this, shooting was much more like rock climbing or mountain biking is for me. That dance between sharp focus and soft ease. Engaged and allowing. In fact, Gyöngyi, the lead instructor on the clinic and a former Romanian champion biathlete, was someone I had met before in a seemingly totally different context—she offers sound baths and sound healings.

One instruction she gave me about aiming resonated in particular: Start with the sight below the target and use your out-breath to allow the sight to blossom upward until the target is centered.

I’ve put what Gyöngyi said in bold, because as the days pass since the clinic, I notice how her words continue to act on my system, the metaphor extending to other things I’m aiming for in my life. That day, in the biathlon clinic, when I could hold the image in my head, I hit the target. More often, my impatience got the better of me. I didn’t want to pause for another breath. I was cold. Agitated by my insufficiency—ironically, since that very agitation interfered with my aim. And pressured by competition, which can be fatal to my performance. I want to already be good at the thing that requires patience to become good at it. A conundrum.

I notice my path for growth. Where else can I breathe and blossom?  

Also, I let go of my judgment of a friend’s regular target shooting practice as a disguised enactment of violence and set up a date to learn from him. I’ll keep you posted.


Mina’s WOTY and Annual Challenge

I woke up alone on Sunday morning (January 1st) for the first time since I was 19 years old. I had a lovely celebration with friends the night before and even in the days leading up. And the day of the 1st itself was rich and full—I wrote, I went to a three-hour 5Rhythms event, talked to a friend on zoom and had dinner with another friend. But it’s clear that this will be a very different year. How different and in what ways is still an unknown.

So, my word of the year (WOTY) is WELCOME.

Every year (as many of you do, no doubt, and many of us here at Fit Is a Feminist Issue) I choose a WOTY (here’s about last year).  Sometimes the word is aspirational and other years it is a beacon. This year it is the latter—a lighthouse to indicate the shoals, when I fall out of alignment with its intent; and a north star to guide my speech, actions and spirit. Last year was a hard one and this year coming will be … well, January 1st is at its core, just another day, the next day following December 31. It is not a magic wand or a reset button. It is a continuation of what already is, with the added seasoning of a societally reinforced moment for self-reflection and taking stock. All of which means, this year will be hard, too. At least for a while. How I approach it is where I can make a difference.

Other contenders were words like resilience, grit, open and heart. None of those quite captured the full essence. Resilience and grit were too anchored in the challenge, too much about survival. Open and heart did not feel robust enough, like they were too easily crushed. Then Nicole proposed greet and my mind immediately jumped to welcome (Thank you for the prompt!). I can greet something with pleasure or dismay. I wanted a word that included the dismay, invited it in. I want to welcome the dismay, the grief, the fear, and all the everything hard and unpleasant. Just as much as I want to welcome the love, the heart, the kindness, the connection and all the everything pleasurable and joyful the year has in store. Welcome contains flow and ease, dynamism and stillness.

Good. That’s settled then.

As for my annual challenge (not a resolution!), I had some initial resistance to this staple in my new year habits. My being protested, “Just getting through the year will be a challenge! Isn’t that enough?” Yes. And an annual challenge will redirect some focus. I’m sticking with my habit. This year I’ll return to a challenge I undertook 5 years ago—to not shop for clothes, shoes, accessories for the year. I had an initial instinct to change the challenge a little from last time and allow myself vintage or second-time around shopping, but even in just thinking about it, I quickly realized that I appreciate the challenge not only for its environmental aspects (which Sam talks about so well here in her piece about how she’s continuing her no shopping challenge), but also for the mental hygiene, keeping my mind space clear of my tendency to crave a new piece of clothing. To wit, I almost didn’t take up the challenge, because I had this thought, “But I’ll need the pressure release and/or the solace of buying something new!”


This year I’ll work on welcoming the discomfort, instead of burying it under a new pair of pants and a fresh top.

Wish me luck!

And welcome to whatever may come.


The Intense Challenge of No Workouts for a Week

Over the American Thanksgiving week, I was in Costa Rica on an 8-day retreat; an opportunity to radically slow down and look inward. As part of the retreat experience, I decided to challenge myself to not workout for the week either. 2022 has been an extremely challenging year for me, so far, up to and including my mother’s sudden and unexpected death a month ago. My body has been feeling the accumulation of exhaustion, even as my movement has also felt like my salvation at times. This retreat seemed like an opportune moment to make the choice to not elevate my heart rate.  

A bit of background—I’m addicted to moving my body in a vigorous fashion. I generally workout 6 days a week, with one day of rest. And rest still involves walking or biking around town for 30+ minutes. In weeks when I know I’m absolutely not going to be able to get in any exercise on a particular day that’s not my preassigned rest day, I’ll re-engineer my schedule to extend the number of workout days in row, so that the day I can’t exercise becomes my rest day.

A few sentences ago, when I used that word addiction, I decided to look it up and make sure I wasn’t being extravagant. Nope. The definition talks about occupying oneself with something habitually or compulsively. And workouts are, for me, always habitual and sometimes compulsive (which you may already be thinking from what I’ve said so far).

I didn’t 100% commit to the no-workout idea in advance. I wore my running shoes on the plane. Just in case I decided I wanted to hike or run or go for a walk that was longer or faster paced than my flip flops would support. Normally, even if I was planning on running somewhere, I would not wear my running shoes on the plane. I only wear running shoes when I’m actually running (or hiking) or on my way to or from the activity (I could go on for some time on this topic, but that’s a different rabbit hole). In this case, in the interests of packing as light as possible, I didn’t want to wear street shoes on the plane and add runners to my luggage. All to say that wearing my running shoes, as if they were street shoes, was my first opportunity of the retreat week to let go of my usual way of being.

As soon as I got to Sugar Beach and saw the setup, I understood that running was pretty much out of the question anyhow. We were asked not to leave the property (to maintain our inward focus and group container) and the beach is in a small cove, unconducive to a beach run. There was a gym with a treadmill. That didn’t appeal. And there was wifi, so I could have streamed workouts from my Peloton app. That didn’t appeal either. In the context of being on retreat, those options felt too much in the world. Whereas running outdoors has the potential to feel more unplugged. I have, for example, gone for runs at silent meditation retreats.

I put my running shoes at the back of my closet and didn’t touch them again until it came time to leave for my flight. 8 days later.

What did I do?

Short beach walks. Dips in the ocean. Playing in the waves. Walking from place to place on the relatively small property. And the 60-minute light movement class, which was offered to participants, on 7 of the 8 days. Plus, 5-10 sun salutations before three of those movement classes. The movement class focused on balance, posture, bilateral alignment, stretching, fluidity, and re-learning developmental movements (by which I mean things like learning to crawl). This video of a move called pinwheel (to increase fluidity in the hips, knees and ankles and strengthen the core), is an example of one of the more vigorous movements.

And this heel rocking (to relieve body tension, promote tranquility and activate the parasympathetic nervous system) is an example of the typical level of effort:

How did it go?

Well, the first few days my body felt great. Quiet. Rested. Limber. Easy. Alert. Dipping in the ocean and in movement class, I could feel the strength of my muscles in a new way, as if the noise of their usual fatigue and even soreness was out of the way, making it easier to hear their pleasure in the gentler exertions. By day 5, I was starting to feel restless. Caged. My physical energy didn’t quite know where to go.

I was in need of a steam valve.

And, well, I left out two blocks of movement (on days 6 and 7) in my list above. There was dancing. Once for about 20 minutes and a second time for 45 minutes. I danced my heart out, fueled by the steam energy of my days of rest.




The dancing was all I needed to feel free again.

I haven’t talked about food yet. To be sure, food has some bearing on my relationship with exercise. Part of the compulsivity that sneaks into my workouts, at times, is the feeling that I need to counter balance my appetite for food. On the rare other occasions, when the counter balance of exercise has been eliminated from the equation, I have cut back radically on my eating. This time, I didn’t do that. If anything, I ate more for breakfast and lunch than is my norm. I didn’t bring any snack food with me. And there was none available. Plus, in keeping with the spirit of the retreat, there was no sugar, dairy or gluten in any of the food that was served. I have no idea if I consumed more or less calories than I usually do. What I know is that my body felt stable. Neither heavier nor lighter. Or maybe that was just my mind. I ate until I felt satiated and then I stopped. A level of simplicity I seem to have difficulty with in the swirl of daily life, in which I’m often either forbidding myself a next bite or groaning and stuffed. The opposite of last week’s simplicity.

All to say, it was an interesting pause for self-investigation and reflection (and I haven’t even talked about the retreat program). I’m glad to be back in the swing of my regular life. I’m back at my workouts and grateful for the sweat. And I’m taking my reintegration as slow as possible, given work and other responsibilities. So that I can stay connected with what I learned and what will emerge as the dust settles on the experience.    

A short list of things I learned (mostly again):

  1. My body loves to move. My movement is not just habitual and compulsive. It’s a joy.
  2. Be more mindful of where the balance lies between joy, habit and compulsion.
  3. Take such rest breaks more often. Then they can be shorter.
  4. No one but me noticed or cared that I was wearing running shoes on the plane.
  5. Dance. Dance more.

Head Games with Peloton Bike Statistics: the challenge of calibrating my nervous system  

I have a love-hate relationship with my Peloton bike.

Love: Easy access, anytime, any length, intense workouts with great music—not just on the bike. I also do their Pilates and light weights strength classes.

Hate: I am always so discouraged on the Peloton. It’s the statistics. The Peloton bike offers metrics up the wazoo and I can’t get them out of my head or my body. The bike tracks cadence (leg speed) and resistance (how hard it is to push against the pedal). Resistance can be dialed up or down by the rider. And, as the instructors always say in the intro to their rides, those two numbers (cadence and resistance) come together in a moment-to-moment output number (measured in watts) and at the end of the ride I have a single total output number, against which to gauge my previous efforts. Instructors cue a range for each of those numbers during the ride—for example, cadence 90-100 and resistance 35-45. I can barely ever maintain even the minimum resistance and cadence. So, that’s disheartening.

Then there are the comparative stats—the leaderboard, on which I can choose to track two different rankings—where I measure up against others who are “here now” riding simultaneously, or I can track my performance up against all others who have ever done the ride. More disheartenment. I am always in the bottom 5-10% of all riders who have ever done the ride. Every time.

This “reality” does not match my self-identity as an athlete. Yes, I recognize that I’m 56 years old and not as strong as I used to be. And, I am still quite strong. When I’m outside running or biking, I observe that I am not in the bottom 5-10% of others engaged in the same activity. Yet the Peloton metrics feed my personal narrative of insufficiency and I doubt my own strength. This doesn’t make me want to work harder, to push through, to climb the leaderboard, it makes me wonder why I bother.

I had heard from friends with Peloton bikes that calibration was a thing. As in, some bikes are calibrated hard and some are calibrated easy. Information I heard intellectually, but didn’t actually relate to myself. My nervous system decided that my bike was speaking truth to me about my strength.

My eyes opened this past Labor Day weekend. That’s when I rode a friend’s Peloton bike, my first experience of a calibration gap. My friend told me in advance that her bike is calibrated easy. This was even confirmed by a second friend who has ridden both bikes. Friend 2 assured me that my bike is calibrated hard. I was still doubtful. Until I rode Friend 1’s bike.

I did a 45-minute climb ride with Christine. My previous PR for the same genre of ride, with the same instructor, was 218 total output. My new PR?  438.

In case you’re wondering if I’d revolutionized by workout regime in the interim and accessed new untapped wells of strength, the answer is—no. All other factors are pretty much the same. If anything, I’m going through a stressful time in my life. I’m more tired than usual. I feel less perky in my workouts. Yes, those assessments are completely subjective. I don’t measure myself anywhere on workouts, except on the Peloton. I stopped measuring when I realized that the downside was more discouraging than the upside was encouraging. I’d put pressure on myself. The joy of a success was fleeting, compared to the pits of the you’re-not-so-strong-today-are-you? days. I can confirm that my calibration with running partners had not changed, which tells me that I am not breaking new strength barriers.

The wild increase in my PR was all just calibration. I knew that. I really (really) knew that. And yet, as I was riding, I felt revitalized. Stronger. More willing to push harder. While the higher PR was all due to calibration, I’m guessing that there was some small portion of that increase that was the result of the extra motivation of hitting the bigger numbers, not always falling off the bottom of the proposed ranges.

My mind knows that nothing is different, except the numbers, which are untrustworthy in both directions. And my nervous system takes its motivational cues from whatever baseless stats it’s served.

What a head game! Compare and despair! You are your only benchmark! And so on. We’ve all heard these truisms a million times. When will that message hit my nervous system?


Acoustic Bikes: New Language Changes How I Think About E-Bikes

I am an avid user of social bike systems wherever I go. These are bikes available for shared public use for a small fee. In New York, it’s Citibike; in Montreal, Bixi; in Paris, Velib. And I’ve used systems in Helsinki, Boise, Berlin, Toronto, London (in the UK) and I’m forgetting where else. In many of the systems there’s a choice between non-electric bikes and electric-assist bikes. The latter involves a slightly higher fee. I choose non-electric the vast majority of the time. Despite that choice, lately I’ve noticed that my mind chafes at the usual way in which people refer to the two different types of bike—one as “normal” and the other as “electric.”

As I’ve become sensitized to all the judgemental implications of the word “normal,” I am uncomfortable with that designation, even for the bike. I see in myself how when I use that word to describe my choice, I am slighting the electric. (Yes, there are many good reasons to choose e-bikes and my fellow bloggers have talked about their choices, including: Elan here, Sam B here and Bettina here. They make great points about the virtues and benefits.)

Despite which, when I choose an electric bike, I am often saying something like this to myself: “I’m so tired. I don’t have enough energy for a normal bike.” Or, “I’m late. I’ll make this compromise to be on time.” Both of these could be as anodyne as discerning what I need, or even just want. Yet, if I’m honest with myself, most of the time the comments are tinged with judgement and self-criticism.

Then, the other day, while riding an electric bike (by which I mean electric-assist), when I started to hear that critical voice in my head, suddenly a new supportive voice piped up, “Not normal, acoustic.” The voice emphasized her point with a forceful strum of a chord on her acoustic guitar. Oh yes, the voices in my head are often kitted out with props.



I considered the implications of this linguistic possibility.

Acoustic bikes are the ones that rely completely on my physical power, on my body and where it’s at that day. I know that wherever I go, whatever hill I climb, it’s all Mina-powered. Acoustic days are ones on which I’m tuning into to my own strength. On the other hand, just like an electric guitar requires an amplifier, electric-assist bikes amplify my strength and fluidity. Some days, Mina-amped is a wonderful option. I can still be outside, instead of on a subway, and I don’t have to wear myself down to a nub. I can be on time, without being harried. Plus (important plus)—the joy of the extra speed, freedom and ease. Let’s blow out the speakers with great music. Choosing with discernment. No judgment.

My synapses made some connections with another kind of amplifier—psychedelics. I work as a Learning Facilitator with The Synthesis Institute in their Psychedelic Practitioner Core Training, a program for people interested in facilitating psychedelic-assisted therapy and/or ceremony. Scientists often call psychedelics “non-specific amplifiers,” meaning that the effect is to amplify the pre-existing mindset and setting, which includes the intention a person brings to the experience. Research suggests that even a so-called bad trip can be used to a person’s benefit, if they are open to receiving the message, which may ignite our inner healer, pointing toward new possibility. In my own first facilitated experience, I was subjected to a super amplification of negativity from every one of my inner critics. An unpleasant trip. Yet, I heard the message, “Mina, it’s time to change your relationship with the inner critics.” Changing my relationship with all those voices in my head is a work in progress. Including, most recently, changing my relationship with the inner critic who wants to judge me about my choice of bike on any given day.

What kind of bike I ride is just that—a choice between two worthy options. Sure, I mostly like an acoustic ride. And, there are days I want to plug in the amplifier and ride like the Queen of Rock and Roll. Sometimes I need to tune into Mina-amped—to let me know what to work on in myself, or just to get around town.  


Do I Belong On My Mountain Bike?

I love mountain biking. I feel strong, capable and even graceful. I often have the sensation that I’m dancing with my bike and the terrain. Alert. Fluid. Light. Mountain biking, more than any other sport I do, is metaphor made real. This is where all that talk about having the skill and trust to let go into flow becomes real for me. Of course, the sport is incredibly effortful, both physically and in terms of mental focus. And, it simultaneously demands a level of relaxation to be able to glide through the obstacles. Even when I get home from a ride where I’ve had to get off my bike and walk through the toughest sections, I feel pretty good about myself. Proud even.

Then, recently, I was provoked to wonder if I was fooling myself into thinking that I was capable rider and, in reality, I sucked and had no right to be on a mountain bike, never mind write blog posts about it (such as here and here).

What happened was this. I connected with a friend of a friend out here in California (where I am for at least a month every summer). She suggested we mountain bike together. Oh no. Now someone was going to witness my dance on the bike and I was suddenly self-conscious that I would look unskilled or ridiculous. Worst of all, I would learn how deluded I was about my talent.

I know. Compare and despair. A lesson I need to learn and re-learn over and over.

The moment of reckoning coincided with a personal exploration I’ve embarked on to notice where and when I don’t feel like I belong and bring more compassion to the parts of me who feel outsider (and not in a good way). A part of me that I think of as my Self-Belonging Part has shown up recently. She’s the part of me who is bold and comfortable in herself. She believes that she belongs anywhere she wants to belong, so long as she arrives with humility, respect, openness and love. She is getting more air time in my internal thoughts than she used to, but that’s not saying much.

She was quiet as I started out on the ride with my new mountain bike acquaintance. Instead, I felt anxious and off-balance. We started out with me ahead, because I knew the trails. It became apparent that she was stronger physically and her technical skills were a notch up from mine. When we got to the longest stretch of the trail that had no forks or decision points, I asked if she wanted to ride ahead. She hesitated. We had already been having a conversation about the different voices in our heads; so, I took a risk and told her that there was a voice in my head who was super worried that I was embarrassing myself with my woeful lack of talent. As soon as I’d spoken the words, my Self-Belonging Part piped up. You love riding mountain trails. That’s all that matters. You belong on your bike. Just having named my fear to this almost-stranger enabled the more compassionate part of myself to manifest.

The rest of the ride was playful and challenging. In the end, we were more than compatible enough to both enjoy our time together. I dropped the compare and did not despair. I stopped worrying about whether I belonged on the bike. Of course, I did. I reveled in the conversation. As much as I love riding alone, having company was a big treat. I hope we’ll ride together when I’m here again.

As I write this (on Friday), my summer sojourn here in California ends tomorrow. This morning I got up extra early to squeeze in one last ride I hadn’t yet had the courage to do. It’s not overly long (it takes just under 2 hours from my house), but the trail is technical and quite steep at some points. I’d never actually done the ride alone and was more than a little daunted by being out there without a partner to help me out if I crashed. As I took off, I told myself I could decide to cut the ride short and leave out the hard part, if I wasn’t feeling good when I got to that decision junction. And then the ride flowed. It was exciting. At one point I landed hard going over a 2.5 foot drop off a rock and one foot unclipped, but I managed to keep the bike rolling and re-attach myself to my bike. The name of that bit of trail is Drunken Deer and I felt tipsy after the episode. That happened early in the ride and gave me the courage to continue. I didn’t see another person on the trails. It was glorious. Zen. Intense. My Self-Belonging Part felt satiated and empowered.

Top of Sober Deer, the highest point on the loop I rode. And yes, one part of the trail was Drunken Deer and this part is Sober Deer. The Sober section is even more challenging than the Drunken section, for me.

My continuing commitment to explore the boundaries and possibilities of my belonging was well nourished. As it also was by this spoken version of Pádraig Ó Tuama’s poem, “How To Belong Be Alone,” which I came across recently. My Self-Belonging Part thinks he wrote it for me (even though he has no idea I exist). You might feel the same way about his words.


Running with Books as a Spiritual Practice

I arrived out here in the California mountains last week and the very next morning I went for a trail run. As I was getting ready, I was debating whether I should listen to the book I was in the middle of reading with my ears. After all, said a judge-y voice, I was in the mountains, shouldn’t I just be paying attention to nature? Why was I looking for distraction, when I could listen to the wind in the trees and the dust beneath my feet? Did my reverence for the terrain fall short? Then another, gentler voice, chimed in. Just listen to your book. Who made up these rules anyway? Who says you can’t honour nature while engaged with literature?

View from the top of Castle Peak in California. One of my absolutely favourite funs!

I listen to books when I run. I love the feeling of a voice cozied into my ear, telling me a story or illuminating a topic I’m curious about.

I listened to my book. I ran a favourite trail, while Clint Smith (the author) recounted his journey to Senegal to visit a slave house, in his book, How the Word Gets Passed: Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America. In the book, he visits a variety of places directly connected to slavery, including Angola prison and the Monticello Plantation (owned by Thomas Jefferson). As I was running and listening, I suddenly thought—this land I’m on may not be directly implicated in these stories I’m listening to, but I cannot disentangle my privilege at having access to this gorgeous swath of nature, from the fact that this whole country was built on slavery. Never mind that here in Truckee, California, there is also the story of the oppression of the Chinese population, brought here to build the railroad under brutal conditions.

I realized that, for me, running with a book is a way of connecting with other people, just as surely as running enables me to connect with nature. I fortify each of these connections, by bringing them together in what suddenly felt like a spiritual practice. Often when I’m listening to a book, like Clint Smith’s, I am overcome by emotion. Because I am running, I can allow my emotions to flow freely. I can allow the book to touch me more deeply, because I’m alone and even if I pass other people, the experience is so brief, that I don’t need to worry about my tears or my joy being disconcerting. My intellect is interacting with my felt sensations to create a new reading experience. I can interact with the book in a more embodied way.  

There’s another aspect I like about running with books. I feel freed from the burden of highlighting passages and learning the content properly. Instead, I am able to absorb the book at a more cellular, experiential level, which enables me to make connections between what I’m hearing and other ideas that are marinating in my system.

Here’s a few of my recent running books:

Bittersweet, by Susan Cain, about the ways in which light and dark in our hearts are inextricably intertwined.

The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World, by David Abram, that questions our habitual sense of perception.

The Way of Effortless Mindfulness: A Revolutionary Guide for Living an Awakened Life, by Loch Kelly, which is what it’s title describes.

Unbound: A Woman’s Guide to Power, by Kasia Urbaniak, which combines Urbaniak’s experiences as a dominatrix and Taoist nun.

Some have said that they don’t run as fast if they are listening to anything other than music. I don’t know if that’s the case for me. Some stories get me charged up and some probably slow me down. In the end, what matters to me is getting outside and moving my body. My goal is to run, simply to run. As an aside–reading may also be a goal, as Sam talked about in her recent post.

Last thing—I love running and I love books. So, putting the two together feels decadent and delicious, as if I have more time in the world to do the things I love.