fitness

Getting My Courage Up For a Spooky Ride

Do one thing every day that scares you. I don’t follow Eleanor Roosevelt‘s advice every day, but I did last week When I went for a night-time bike ride. I haven’t ridden at night since sometime in the 1970s when I was trying to beat curfew: even then, it wasn’t by choice.

The ride took place on a very dark and rainy night, and our little group rode to a part of the city I had never biked through before.

There were puddles. The paths were covered in leaves so that it was hard to see where the edges were, let alone stay on my side of the yellow line. Wet leaves are slippery. I was super nervous about sliding and falling.

At first I had minimal peripheral vision because I had my rain hood so far over my face to keep my glasses dry. My bright headlight failed in the first half hour; thankfully I had my old one as a backup.

I survived and actually had fun. It was quite magical riding between trees that arched overhead to form a green/red/yellow tunnel. We even stopped to admire Halloween decorations.

Halloween-themed lights in various colours glow on a dark night, with bicycles and cyclists barely visible in front

That night ride was enough of a confidence boost that a few nights later I rode downtown to an evening ballet performance.

I am as prepared as I can be: helmet reflective vest, and cycling pearls.

Diane Harper lives in Ottawa, where she commutes to work by bicycle and is trying to live a mostly car-free lifestyle. Longer rides, just for fun, are a relatively new adventure.

fitness

Riding the Temperature Down to Cold-Water Swims

I haven’t swum as much as I usually do this summer, and now fall is here, with colder air and water temperatures. My little group of cold-water enthusiasts has shrunk, and we have all been pretty busy. Still, we did get together a couple of weeks ago, which was lovely.

Aimee, Vicki and me in the water under a brilliant blue sky. Vicki wears a wetsuit, but Aimee and I just wear bathing suits and caps.

It may have been our last group swim until spring, unless we can get coordinated for a Vampire Swim. We do that in costume for Halloween, and have treats on the beach afterwards. A blood donation or donation to the Red Cross is traditional.

All that means riding the temperature down will be tough this year. Cold water swimming is fun, but it can be miserable when your body isn’t used to it or when there is a sudden drop in water temperature. In past years, I tried to get into the water at least once a week in the fall and early winter, giving up only in late February if I couldn’t find open water for a swim.

There is a lot less incentive to go without my buddies, and it is also more dangerous should something go wrong. We are very careful about not going past about waist deep, having hot drinks on hand afterwards, and changing quickly into warm dry clothes (we even bring a changing tent so we’ll be out of the wind).

Not everyone sees this crazy sport the same way, though. On Thanksgiving Monday I hopped on my bike and rode to the local pond. The water was about 15C, which is definitely cool, so I did a lot of head’s up breast stoke until I felt I could put my face in the water. I did my usual three loops in just under 40 minutes and got out to a small crowd of people applauding – quite possibly the weirdest reaction ever to one of my swims!

Me in a blue bathing cap, with the pond and autumn trees in the background. Ignore the time info – Strava records the distance accurately but gets very confused about swimming speeds.

I then made the rookie mistake of standing around in my wet bathing suit and bare feet, talking to people who had questions about cold water swimming. I didn’t feel particularly cold, but after I biked home I felt quite sleepy for the rest of the day; I had forgotten just how much energy it takes to keep your body from suffering hypothermia.

How about you, readers? Have you ever considered swimming in cold water? If you tried it, how did it make you feel?

Diane Harper lives and swims in Ottawa.

fitness

In Praise of Jessica Fletcher, and RIP Angela Lansbury

Dame Angela Lansbury died yesterday. In addition to her show Murder, She Wrote, I had fun last year listening to this podcast about her fitness book Positive Moves. I even tried her fitness video, which you can watch here. They only reinforced all the good feelings I had about Jessica Fletcher as an active role model, that I blogged about last May.

I have been re-watching Murder, She Wrote for pandemic relaxation. I admired Angela Lansbury in the role of Jessica Fletcher, author and sleuth, back when it first came out, and watched the show regularly. Now that I am approximately the same age Jessica was when it was filmed, I love her character even more.

Lansbury was 58 when the show debuted, and from the opening credits of the very first episode, Jessica is casually active in so many ways. She walks, cycles, skis, jogs, rides horses, and dances. She travels widely and fearlessly. She is both clever and wise. I remember admiring those things about her when I was younger. She was a bit of a role model even then.

Jessica Fletcher, wearing a beige jacket, smiling and on her bicycle, in the village of Cabot Cove

Now that I am older, I have been noticing and learning new things about the show. Especially in the early seasons, Jessica treats a diverse cast with dignity and respect. Long before the age of Black Lives Matter, a much larger immigrant community, Indigenous issues and disability rights, Murder, She Wrote tackled some of these issues and represented all those communities on screen – sometimes because it was relevant to the plot, and sometimes simply because they were people.

Jessica is widowed, but never remarries or has a romantic entanglement despite many male characters being interested in dating her (and one offering marriage). Apparently, this was something that Lansbury herself insisted on, in order to keep the focus on her character as a mystery solver. She also has a panoply of strong, interesting older women as guests on the show. Half the fun has been checking the bios to discover (or rediscover) stars from the 30s through the 60s.

Almost 40 years after she first appeared, Jessica Fletcher is still a role model for me. And apparently for others too. Aside from articles about the Jessica Fletcher effect (cycling inspiration for women as they hit their 40s), there are websites about “what would Jessica do”, as well as Twitter and Instagram fan sites. Dame Lansbury is still active at 95. Now I have new life goals, still inspired by her.

Dame Lansbury with her famous bicycle in 2013. She is wearing a white top and long black skirt.

Diane Harper lives in Ottawa, where she is currently working from home and riding her bicycle, walking, dancing, and riding a horse as often as possible. She does not solve murder mysteries.

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Truth and Reconciliation Bicycle Tour

Yesterday was Canada’s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a day to reflect on the legacy of residential schools and their impact on the indigenous peoples. I decided to join a couple of formal events and then ride out to a site in Pointe Gatineau I had read about. It seemed especially appropriate to do everything by bike today, to leave a light footprint on the land.

My tour started at Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa, where we did a short walk to the graves of four people connected to residential schools. Then I rode downtown for another walking tour of sites mostly connected to Dr. Bryce, the man who first reported on the conditions at residential schools over a century ago. Both tours were led by young indigenous people, mostly Anishnabe (Algonquin) from Kitiganzibi and Pikwanigan.

An indigenous man holding an eagle feather leads a tour, surrounded by people wearing orange shirts. Orange shirts recall a girl whose orange shirt was taken from her on the first day of residential school and never returned, so they are a symbol of forced assimilation.

This was the first time I had heard about an indigenous burial ground downstream from the waterfalls in the Ottawa River, very near the Canadian Museum of History. So, across the river I went. I couldn’t identify the spot, but I did find a plaque about the history of the Anishnaabe who have lived and traded in the Ottawa area for thousands of years, plus a statue of Chief Tessouat, who was party to the first major alliance between Europeans and the First Nations, 400 years ago.

A metal statue of an indigenous man in traditional clothing, with the Ottawa River in the background.

I continued along the Voyageurs Trail, a 30 km route, towards Pointe Gatineau. There were more plaques with bits of history, and I stopped to read them all. I am a bit of a plaque nerd.

The next spot of interest was near a bridge I had never noticed before. Called Mawandoseg (land where our people once gathered), there is also a statue in the form of a stone point, to recall the artifacts found here that show the site had been used for millennia.

The back of a statue in the form of a stone spear or arrow point.

My next stop was in Pointe Gatineau, at Place Abinan (the people were here), a little park near the water. When excavated, this area had proven use dating back 7,000 years, with people traveling or trading widely. From just a few metres away, it was possible to see the confluence of the Ottawa, Gatineau and Rideau Rivers, waterways that made this such an important site for trade.

In the foreground is the Gatineau River as it joins the Ottawa River. On the far side, in the centre, you can just make out the Rideau Falls, where the Rideau empties into the Ottawa.

Looking across the river, I remembered the Chief Pimisi portage route around the falls, so that’s where I cycled to next. I rode through Rockcliffe Park but decided not to tackle walking down to the water, since there was no place to lock my bike. I did get a selfie looking back towards Pointe Gatineau.

Me in a turquoise and white sweater and bicycle helmet, with an orange shirt pin. In the background are trees just beginning to turn yellow and orange. place Abinan is barely visible in the far distance near my left ear.

Finally, it was time to head home. It ended up being my longest ride in years, somewhere between 27 and 28 km. Since I wasn’t wearing proper riding gear, I was grateful for all the breaks along the way. But even in proper gear, I think this was a good way for me to do a longer ride. It allowed me to combine my love of history and social justice issues with a fitness activity.

Diane Harper lives in Ottawa.

fitness

Is it too Early to Think about Winter Biking?

I hope not, because I am thinking about it a lot right now.

In some ways, I am very late to winter cycling. have been thinking about it since the miserable 51 day bus strike in the dead of winter (December 2008-January 2009). That was the first time I ever saw cyclists in the snow, and I envied them as I trudged to work, a 45 minute walk in good weather, on cleared sidewalks.

I dismissed the idea even as I reluctantly returned to public transit, instead riding my bike to work for up to 9 months of the year. Then I met a couple of colleagues at a new workplace who rode year-round for environmental reasons, and I was intrigued again. Two years ago, I actually stopped a random guy at a street light in late winter, and quizzed him about his experience and gear.

Last winter, my friend Florence introduced me to the concept of studded tires. She cycles year-round, even to swim practice (brrr). And last week she came to the Fancy Women Bike Ride in a Cleverhood rain cape like this:

Model wearing a bright yellow rain Cape poses on a red commuter bicycle.

I was starting to see ways I could feel safe and warm as a winter cyclist.

My next step was to acquire a bike I wouldn’t mind getting rusty. That came thanks to my local community mail list, where someone had an old Trek with seized gears that they wanted to give away.

Advice for how to fit it up came from the Ottawa cycling community on Twitter (which includes a lot of moms, every day commuters, and cycling infrastructure advocates, so I felt confident their advice would work for my cycling interests). One thing they said was to get the studded tires now, to avoid shortages later in the fall.

I picked up my bike from the shop on Friday. It has studded tires, fenders, new gears and brakes, a rack to hold my pannier, rechargeable lights and a bell. My new red hood is hanging by the back door, along with a pair of splash pants and my reflective vest. I have a bottle of chain oil that I will use daily, and a rag to wipe down my bike after each ride.

Red and white Trek bicycle with studded tires.

It is definitely too early for winter riding, but I am ready (and ridiculously excited).

Diane Harper is a public servant in Ottawa. She doesn’t love commuting, except by bicycle.

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Fancy Women (and others) Ride Bikes

According to Wikipedia, The Fancy Women Bike Ride is an event started in 2013 by history teacher Sema Gür in Izmir, Turkey. The event draws attention to the themes of freedom and women.

This year, it was held in some 200 cities in at least 25 countries. In 2022, Sema Gür and co-organizer Pınar Pinzuti were awarded with UN World Bicycle Day Award. World Bicycle Day recognizes “the uniqueness, longevity and versatility of the bicycle as…a simple, affordable, reliable, clean and environmentally fit sustainable means of transport”.

I joined the ride in Ottawa on Sunday September 18, along with about 20 women, men, and girls.

The FIFI bloggers had debated a bit about who was being left out by calling it the Fancy Women’s Bike Ride, but I found that it was inclusive and focused specifically on safe infrastructure for all riders.

Some of us had dressed up, while others preferred sensible GoreTex. we all decorated our bikes with flowers before starting, which was rather fun.

A group of cyclists lined up in the rain, with the Ottawa River in the background.
Cyclists of all ages in brightly coloured gear.

Cycling infrastructure matters a lot to me. I have ridden my bike to work for many years, most of them on streets that were rather terrifying. Modest changes over the last few years have made my commutes feel much safer, but I am still learning where I can avoid most of the worst traffic. I have been known to rant that “paint is not infrastructure!”

Will I go again? Almost certainly. I had fun connecting with other cyclists, and exchanging notes on best gear for different weathers. I am very happy to support better cycling infrastructure too – it makes the streets and sidewalks safer and more accessible for everyone, not just cyclists.

Diane Harper lives in Ottawa. She commutes to work by bicycle, mostly for environmental reasons.

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Back to the Pool!

I no longer look forward to the start of the school year, but one late summer ritual for years now has been to return to swimming indoors.

I swim with a masters club, which is a fantastic way for someone like me to keep to a routine. There is a coach to set workouts and correct my technique. There is a fixed schedule, and I have already paid to be there (I hate wasting money, so it’s a strong incentive to show up). Most of all, there is the camaraderie of seeing my swimming friends again.

Between travel, elder care and COVID, I didn’t get nearly as much swimming in as usual this summer. I could have been going much more regularly once the crises of July and early August were over, but once the pattern had been broken I found it hard to get back into it.

So Saturday’s swim was extra special, and extra hard. I managed to eke out 1600 yards. It turns out that my pool is celebrating 100 years of operation today, so extra extra special. You can read more about this historic pool here.

Diane in a white swim cap and goggles, with the pristine water of her pool in the background.

My sister says my swimming pictures are boring because they all look the same. I don’t care. That sameness, that routine, is part of what keeps me coming back to the pool.

How about you? Does the return of autumn get you executed about classes or clubs, or are you able to set your own training programs and stick to them?

Diane Harper lives and swims in Ottawa.

fitness

I went for a group ride

#ottawabikesocial is a group that gets together for weekly rides in different parts of Ottawa. I was intimidated by the idea of joining in, but then they posted about going for ice cream afterwards. That sounded like my kind of group!

My friend Florence rides with them regularly, so I followed her to the meet up spot, where we were joined by 25-30 people, men and women of all ages and sizes. There were people in Lycra, in casual shorts, and even one in an elegant dress and tights.

The bikes were even more varied. There were road bikes and mountain bikes, cargo bikes, electric bikes, bikes with baby seats, and even a recumbent bike and a Brompton folding bike. Plus there was Winston, a little dog who loves to ride in own basket.

A large group of cyclists at a stop sign, waiting to cross the road.

We headed at a comfortably sedate pace to the nearby bus station, where we had a chance to try using the the rack and roll system that allows cyclists to use public transit.

A group of cyclists looks on as one person demonstrates how to put his bike on the rack. Winston is in his basket on the right.

The rest of the ride took us along paths and urban streets, over the highway on a pedestrian/cyclist bridge, through parking lots and then through a park along the Rideau River to our start point..

All told, with the ride there and home, plus my commute to work today, I did about 22 km, my longest ride this summer.

As I rode with a group that pushed me out of my distance comfort zone, I was reminded of a 2007 report for Natural England about the shrinking space of childhood.

A map showing the space where four generations of children in one family were allowed to go without an adult, all at age eight. It shrank from 10 km for the great-grandfather, to less than half a kilometre for the great-grandson.

On my bicycle, I can be like the great-grandfather. I have the freedom to go a fair distance. Things are closer than they appear, and often it is almost as fast to get there by bike as it is by car.

Happy me in a pink cycling jersey and my blue helmet after the ride, with more cyclists in the background.

How about you dear readers? What have you tried that turned out to be less scary than you thought? What did you learn from the experience?

Diane Harper lives in Ottawa, where she mostly uses her bike to commute to work.

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Girls don’t fall out of love with sport… they are driven out of sport by structural barriers

The title of this blog is a quote from vice-chair of the South African Women’s Basketball Association, Kornelia Semmelink, at the South African Women and Sport Foundation last week, courtesy of Dr. Sheree Bekker, who researches gender-inclusive sport.

I follow Dr Bekker on Twitter, and here are a few more of her thoughts from that conference:

“Which actions/measures must we take to enforce long lasting changes in women and sport? Huge focus on building and supporting next generation leadership, transparency, values, and a national policy that has teeth.”

A national policy that has teeth might be something like Title IX in the USA. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, Title IX was established in 1972 to provide everyone with equal access to any program or activity that receives Federal financial assistance, including sports. This means that federally funded institutions, such as public schools, are legally required to provide girls and boys with equitable sports opportunities. Before Title IX, one in 27 girls played sports. By 2016, that number was two in five.

Dr Bekker also noted “Let’s remember that it’s not only about elite sport. It’s about community sport, organizations, sport for social good, health and peace.”

Four Black and one Asian girl hugging and smiling on a sports field. Most of the girls are wearing blue T shirts, and one is in red.

That point led me to recall past efforts to encourage sport for all children as part of international development efforts. While those efforts seem to have faded away, I did come across an article prepared for a side event to the Women Deliver international conference in 2016. It was on the power of girls’ involvement in play.

Here’s what Women Deliver had to say: “The evidence is clear that sport and physical activity provide a myriad of physical and mental health benefits….perhaps equally important, sport represents a mold-breaking departure from the traditional scripts of femininity that girls are often given. Well-designed programs can begin to transform gender norms, challenge traditional roles, and break down gender stereotypes.

By increasing girls’ visible, active presence in the public arena, sport can transform the way girls think about themselves and the ways their family and communities perceive them. In short, sport can be an empowering force in girls’ lives….We know that sport provides girls’ access to female mentors and role models, as well as an expanded network of friends, group membership, and social capital. These connections are extremely valuable and often lacking for girls in many settings.”

As we celebrate the 10th anniversary of this blog, these reflections remind me of what drew me to it in the first place. Though it started out as a blog about being as fit as possible by 50, it has morphed into something much more. Here’s to another 10 years of reflection and advocacy for the rights of people who identify as girls and women to enjoy sports and healthy lives.

Two white hands holding glasses of fruit juice as they make a toast, with a blue background

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Can Outdoor Swimming Improve Mental Health?

About a month ago, I read an article about researchers from the University of Portsmouth in the UK who are starting a study of the benefits of swimming in nature for treating depression.

Some doctors already prescribe exercise to help address depression. Cold water immersion can reduce stress levels. So offering swimming outdoors and measuring its impact in a rigorous way seems like a good idea to me.

The three sites chosen for people to join a swimming program are an urban lido (outdoor pool), rural lake, and an ocean beach. The results of the swimmers will be compared against a control group using existing treatments for depression.

It turns out I read this article just four days after my last swim for a month. I can’t remember when I last went that long without swimming, especially in the summer.

I don’t suffer from depression, but I was definitely feeling unmotivated after more than a month of dealing with elder care, then COVID. But on Sunday there was a last minute group swim organized for early morning. It was amazing! We had the lake to ourselves for most of the time.

Me treading water in my blue cap and goggles, with an orange swim float. Three friends are swimming in the background, and you can see the trees on shore in the distance

It’s anecdote, not evidence, but you don’t need to convince me that swimming outdoors is a mood booster, especially when I go with friends.