Have you tried barefoot running on the beach?

Footprints in the sand along the shore of turquoise water and light surf.

Yesterday I woke up early and it was a beautiful morning. The wind had died down and the sun was out and I knew the beach would be perfect. 

The beach on Stocking Island is one of my favourite places in the world. The turquoise water is crystal clear and the white sand is soft underfoot. Best of all it’s practically deserted. I’ve never seen more than two or three  other people no matter what time of day. 

The surf can get fierce on this beach when the winds blow in steady from offshore. That happens a lot. So when the winds shift and die down, it’s inviting and not to be missed. 

We climbed over the ridge to get to the beach. That’s another cool thing about this beach–you can’t see it right away. You climb up and over a little ridge and then on the way down it opens up to this:

Grass opening up to white sand and beyond that turquoise surf.

Okay, now to the barefoot running. I’ve read lots about barefoot running and how to great for some people. Sam’s daughter Mallory for example runs barefoot. But it’s never appealed to me. In ordinary conditions i need shoes. This I know. But this beach is way too soft for shoes. You just can’t run normally on it. 

By chance one day last week we (Renald and I) discovered that if you run softly and briskly you can get a rhythm going that feels really good. The sand gives just enough that there’s no harsh impact. But it is firm enough that unlike with shoes you don’t sink right down into it either. 

So on this beautiful early morning we went back and ran barefoot on the beach. Other than a woman and her dog we saw no one. And then we dove into the beautiful water for a cool down. 

My sailing trip in the Bahamas is coming to a close and I feel good about the drins and drabs of training I’ve managed to squeeze in between the intensive R and R. 

Thanks for indulging me by reading my indulgent posts about vacation training. Heading back to the north soon, hoping winter is over! 

Have you ever run barefoot on a beach? Elsewhere? Did you like it? 

108 Sun Salutations. Oh My!

Keeping with the theme of doing my best to stay active with my training on the boat, another experiment this week was to do 108 Sun Salutations, also known by some yogis as vinyasa flows. Those with a regular yoga practice will know this as a vigorous sequence of poses that really gets the blood flowing. In a regular moksha class, which is the style of hot yoga I do, we might do 10-12 of these and that doesn’t even include going to standing in between. 

We have a visitor on board the boat right now who is doing her teacher training and has a strong yoga practice. She invited us to join her on the bow of the catamaran for some morning yoga. So after my water jogging session I did exactly that. 

Doing yoga with someone when you’re both regular practioners always starts with an interesting conversation about what you’re going to do. When Michelle and I landed on vinyasa flows (sun salutations) and she asked me how many, I was mulling the question over when she told me the recommended number is 108. 

If you’re wondering about the details of a yoga flow, this article in The Huffington Post giveyou an idea: 

Begin by STANDING at the front of your mat, feet touching, shoulders back, chin level with the ground, arms relaxed at sides. Mouth is closed; breathe through the nose.

Step 1. Inhale (through the nose) as you sweep the arms up overhead until palms touch. Look up.

Step 2. Exhale (through the nose) as you bow forward to touch the floor with hands.

Step 3. Inhale to lift only the head up to look up.

Step 4. Exhale to jump back (or step back if you’re not ready to jump) to the bottom of a push-up, feet hip distance apart, eyes gaze forward.

(That’s right, a push-up! Draw elbows close to ribs. Hips are level with shoulders – you’re flat like a board. If you can’t manage hovering there, then lower to the floor.)

Step 5. Inhale as you press hands down to straighten arms into Upward Facing Dog pose, curving chest and chin up. Feet are still hip width apart. Look up.

Step 6. Exhale as you lift your hips and roll over your toes to come into Downward Facing Dog Pose. Downward Dog is the shape of an upside-down “V”, with your hands flat on the floor, the balls of your feet on the floor and your hips high. Feet are still hip width apart. Look to the navel (or if you can’t see it, then the thighs). Remain in this pose as you take five in-out breaths (through the nose, of course). 

Step 7. Inhale as you jump (or walk) your feet to between your hands. When you land, the feet come together, your hands touch the floor, and you lift the head to look up. This is the same position as in Step 3.

Step 8. Exhale to drop your head down as far as it goes, getting as much of your palm on the floor as you can. This is the same position as in Step 2.

Step 9. Inhale and sweep your arms up as you raise your torso to stand with your arms over your head, palms touching if possible. Look up. This is the same position as in Step 1.

Finish: Exhale and bring your arms to rest by your sides, just like you started.

Your next inhale begins your very next Sun Salutation! No waiting in between. If you lose count, you have to start again. Kidding. Kind of. If you’re lucky enough to find a facilitated 108 Sun Salutations event, then someone else does the counting for you.

Now I’ve been around yoga a long time and maybe I’ve heard this before but if I have, I forgot. The number 108 has all sorts of spiritual/religious meaning: 

* 108 is the number of “Upanishads” comprising Indian philosophy’s “Vedic texts”.

* 108 is the number of names for Shiva (a really important Hindu god).

* 108 is the number of names for Buddha.

* 108 is the Chinese number representing “man”.

* 108 is the number of beads on a Catholic rosary.

* 108 is the number of beads on a Tibetan “mala” (prayer beads, analagous to a rosary).

* 108 is twice the number “54”, which is the number of sounds in Sanskrit (sacred Indian langauge).

* 108 is six times the number “18”, which is a Jewish good luck number.

* 108 is twelve times the number 9, which is the number of vinyasas (movements linked to breath) in a Sun Salutation.

It seemed like an awful lot of flows. But I like a challenge. And I could picture us, one on each trampoline at the bow of the boat, moving through the flows together, with the turquoise Bahamas water between us at anchor and the white sand beach. I mean when do I get a chance to do any yoga at all in such idyllic surroundings? 

So we started. We took turns counting groupings of ten and reminded ourselves to focus on the breath, when to inhale, when to exhale, finding our rhythm. 

Michelle and I starting our flows on the trampoline on the front of Guinevere V.

It’s easy to start off strong. I do a lot of yoga and have been for close to two decades. I managed unmodified vinyasas for the first 40. When I was counting I lost count a few times so we did either 9 or 11 I think. But that’s all part of the meditative quality of the practice. You need to focus on breath, on counting, on staying strong in the core so as not to strain the back. 

Chadaranga dandasana (plank) in the middle of a flow. Tracy on the right, Michelle on the left.

What’s a yoga practice without downward dog?

Doing 108 yoga flows is kind of like a journey with different moments to it. Things change. It’s a mental battle too to stay present. At 50 my mind really started to mess with me. OMG we are not even half way! I had to include the odd modification where instead of a strong chadaranga (plank) I needed to drop to my knees. It’s a rare day that I need to do that. But then again it’s a rare day that I will be doing 108 flows in a row. 

The next thing I knew we were at 80. Then 90 and 100. And we counted the last eight together and boom. Done. 

I once knew a senior yoga teacher who had been practicing for decades. She had a sort of running list of yoga things she wanted to be able to do before she was 80. I liked that idea because it made me realize that yoga is a life long practice. I don’t know if 108 Sun Salutations was on her list. But I do know that if it was on mine, I’d be able to cross it off now! 

Have you ever done the canonical 108 Sun Salutations in a row? How was it? 

Water-jogging and other vacation workouts 

I’m back on the boat for a couple of weeks. Sometimes it doesn’t interrupt my running training, like when we are in Fort Lauderdale or Annapolis or Newport or anywhere with safe running routes. But Georgetown and Stocking Island in the Bahamas is a different story because there are no safe roads to run any distance on and the beach is too soft for running. 

Since Anita and I are training for a half marathon on May 27th, I had to ask Linda to make some suggestions for the interrupted training. Usually I just muddle through with yoga, kayaking, vigorous walks on the beach and hiking up to the Monument, and some body weight or elastic band resistance training. And yesterday I did have quite the workout on the beach, with push-ups, ballistic squats, ab work, yoga flows, and topped off with body surfing in fairly strong seas. We kayaked over in a head wind, giving me an upper body workout too. And we walked briskly in the sand, getting the heart rate up and working the legs at the same time. 

The beach on the open water side of Stocking Island in the Bahamas, taken from the sandy path that you walk to get from the sheltered side to the big beach. Tall grass in the foreground. White sand and blue water beyond.

Today it was time to experiment with Linda’s surprising suggestion: water or aqua jogging. I shouldn’t have been surprised but I’ve never thought of it before. I usually associate water jogging with rehab from an injury. If you can’t run, you aqua jog. But I never thought of it as a part of training when land running isn’t a live option. In “The Benefits of Aqua Jogging,” Elizabeth Kelsey suggests that it’s not just for the injured and it’s not necessarily a lesser workout. She even says it could be good for speed training. 

I didn’t need a belt to keep me upright but some do. Here’s what you do: 

Once you find a pool and a belt, the rest is cake. Simply use the same running form as you would on land to propel yourself forward through the water. You’ll move much slower than on land, so measure your workout by time, not distance. The difficulty of the workout will depend on leg turnover rather than speed. “To raise your heart rate, increase your cadence,” explains Souther. The faster you move your arms and legs in the water, the harder the workout and the greater your strength gain will be. Stay conscious of your form and be careful to mimic your on-land stride, not the doggy paddle.

I skipped the pool and the belt and just dove off the back of our catamaran. It’s 50 feet long and 27 feet wide and we are anchored about 300 or so feet off the beach in around 15 feet of beautiful turquoise water in a sheltered area between Stocking Island and Great Exuma. I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to sea life. I’ve seen sea turtles and dolphins in the anchorage already and that makes me wonder what else could be swimming around. That’s why I don’t swim far enough to get a workout when I’m here. Also, there is a lot of boat action in an anchorage, with people going back and forth from their sailboats in their motorized dinghies. I worry about not being seen. So I decided to play it safe and do my intervals across the back of the boat, about 35 feet because I went a little past in each side. 

You don’t travel far or fast when water jogging but it’s pretty exerting. I was definitely working hard for about 20 minutes. That’s about all I had the patience for but I could build to half an hour if I played some music off the back of the boat. I’ll do that next time. 

Tracy water jogging with blue goggles atop her head.

I travel a lot and it’s always a highlight that tests my creativity to find ways of sticking workouts when away from home. Water jogging is a keeper for the boat when regular land running isn’t an option. But I doubt I’ll be replacing my regular runs with it when I get home. If I’m going to the pool, I’d rather swim. 

Meanwhile, I’ve got a few more water jogging sessions lined up over the next ten days and some yoga, kayaking, walking, and resistance training. Oh, and some rest and relaxation! Have you ever tried water jogging? 

Selfie of Tracy, short blond wet hair and smiling, blue microfibre towel around neck, bottom of inflatable kayak visible just behind and blue water behind that. Taken from the back of the catamaran.

What do you do when it’s all just a bit much? 

Oh did I ever have one of those weeks last weeks. You know the ones. Where it’s all just a bit too much. And the treadmill of life is going a tad faster than your comfortable pace. And people offer to help and you can’t think of any way of delegating that wouldn’t take more time than doing it yourself (this I am sure is a shortcoming that not everyone has). 

When this happens it’s tempting to let go of exactly the things that help me feel better, like running and yoga and personal training and meditation and time with the supportive women in my life. And sleep. That stuff all gets pushed aside to make more space for what seems like an endless stream of work. 

This was my week, trying to meet a deadline.

But what I did this week instead was not push that stuff aside (other than sleep). Oh I wanted to. I felt like I wasn’t allowed to do the things that help me because I had to do the things I had to do. This is a thing with me–an overcommitted work ethic (maybe that’s a euphemism). 

I was making a big push to meet a deadline before leaving for a two week vacation on Easter Sunday. The list of things to do was long and boring and I talked about it endlessly. There was some weeping. 

And instead of skipping out on running and yoga and time with women, I got lots and lots of it. And guess what? I felt restored each time I did it. And I met my deadline. 

What do you do when it’s all a bit much? Are you one who doubles down and works at the expense of everything? Or do you keep to the routine as much as possible? Or some other strategy? Suggestions welcome! 

Still a fan of body neutrality

net-neutrality-thumbnailI’m a big fan of neutrality over positivity. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to optimistic outlooks and affirmations. But I think the idea that we’re supposed to feel good all the time and be happy all the time is the source of so much dissatisfaction at the normal variances in day to day life.

In the recovery circles I move in we have a saying that I love: “life on life’s terms.” I interpret that to mean that basically I’m not in charge of the universe. Sometimes it will dish up stuff that I wouldn’t necessarily choose. These unexpected happenings can be what would ordinarily be regarded as setbacks, or they can be amazing little miracles that fall into my lap unplanned and unanticipated.

So that’s a nutshell background to set up my latest plug for body neutrality. I’ve blogged about this before. See my post “Here’s an idea: body neutrality” It seems I’m not the only one who thinks this. I came across an article recently called “People want to replace body positivity with something more relatable.

What’s that more relatable thing? Body neutrality! The author, Lauren Gordon, says:

While Body positivity preaches unwavering self-love, body neutrality is almost indifference. It is the acknowledgement that your body exists in its current state and your reaction to that is more factual than it is emotional.

This really speaks to me. One reason it does is not that I find it difficult to preach unwavering self-love for my body (though I do), but because I’m not even sure that’s a thing worth preaching. This brings me back to my thought that the whole idea that I should love my body seems totally over-reaching to me. Why not just have it? Live in it? Experience it? Feed it? Move it in ways I find enjoyable?

Some people argue that body neutrality is a cop-out, a way of dissociating from the body rather than trying to love and accept it. I disagree. Being neutral rather than judgmental has long roots in all sorts of spiritual traditions. We cling to all sorts of judgments, opinions, and ideas that set us up to be constantly disappointed.

To me, the goal of body positivity is one of those things. When I wrote about body neutrality last time, here’s what I said:

But something more attainable [than body positivity], and certainly a step up from body hatred, is a neutral attitude towards our bodies. For me, I feel best when I’m neutral. Why? Because when I’m neutral I’m not passing judgement either way. It just is.

I would rather just be comfortable in my skin than basking in my body’s awesomeness (which basking is not a likely scenario for me). I’ve just come back from two weeks of wearing a bikini every day. And I have to admit, I don’t find that the easiest thing to do.

I just can’t get behind the idea that I’m falling short if I don’t love my body. It’s just another kind of pressure.

So here’s to body neutrality. I’m still a fan!

Getting Fitter with Age (Guest Post)

Image depicts Anne Cummings, a smiling women with short grey hair wearing glasses and a purple t-shirt that says "GETTING FITTER WITH AGE" in white block letters. She is standing against a plain white wall.

Image depicts Anne Cummings, a smiling women with short grey hair wearing glasses and a purple t-shirt that says “GETTING FITTER WITH AGE” in white block letters. She is standing against a plain white wall.

Sam and I (Tracy) have long been interested in hearing from women who are older than we are, who can serve as role models for aging well. When we started the blog approaching 50, we recognized that there’s still a long way to go after 50. One good reason for hitting 50 with the right attitude towards health and physical activity is that with any luck we’ll live a lot longer than that.

So it’s my great pleasure to introduce you to today’s guest blogger, Anne Cummings. I met Anne at Wednesday Feminist Lunch when I first started working at the university as a tenure track assistant professor back in 1992. Wednesday Feminist Lunch was a regular thing that we did week in, week out. And that’s where I got loads of informal mentoring from wonderful feminist scholars and activists like Anne.

When she retired early, I remember asking Anne if she would still continue attending Wednesday Lunch. I mean, she came every single week. How could she give it up? With no apologies, Anne said, “No. When I retire, I’m retiring from it all.”

I heard from Anne last week about how her physical fitness has improved in retirement. This sort of thing always makes my ears perk up. “Do you want to blog about it for us?” I asked. “Okay,” said Anne.

So here is Anne’s blog post about how her fitness has improved in the years since her retirement.

Anne’s Story

I was an academic for many years of my life with most of that time being spent sitting at my computer writing and responding to emails. During my last ten years, I did do yoga once a week and walked an hour with a woman five days a week in the late afternoons. However, I knew that was not enough to counter the many hours of sitting.

So when I retired, I made a commitment to myself that taking care of my body was going to be a high priority. To my yoga and walking (now with four different women partners), I added weekly Tai Chi and a bi-weekly exercise class with the Canadian Centre for Activity and Aging at Mount St. Joseph’s which is a non-profit research centre of Western University for people 55 and older. It is this latter program that greatly changed my perceptions of the physical capabilities of female seniors. See this link for more information.

Unlike a commercial fitness centre, this program first assesses your current physical abilities and then places you in a class that fits your capabilities. While the majority of the Monday-Friday, 6:30 a.m.- 6:16 p. m. classes include intense cardiovascular exercises, there are also classes for people with balance, lung or osteoporosis issues. It surprised me to discover that the program had over 500 participants with an average age of 75 and a range from 55-100 years.

At my first class in their gymnasium, I could not believe the level of exercise that we were pushed to do by a very enthusiastic, drill sergeant-type instructor. I had no idea that women seniors ran, did push ups, burpees, mountain climbers, etc. I found it highly motivating to see women (80-20 ratio of women to men in classes) who were my age or older exercising with such vigor.

I realized that I had internalized a view of aging that included diminished physical abilities. Because I was with the same group of people bi-weekly, it was easy to bond quickly with classmates for both support and good-natured complaints about being worked so hard.

After eight years in the program, at age 70, I feel incredibly fit and strong from both the cardio exercise and weight training on machines. I am rarely sick and am very grateful that I found this program. If there are days when I do not feel like going to class, I go anyway because I want to spend time with these friends and I know that I always feel better after class.

Because I am a competitive person and because the oldest person to remain in the program made it to the age of 100, I now have the goal of staying with this exercise program until I reach 100 years.

Anne Cummings is a happily retired Professor Emerita of Counselling Psychology from Western University in London, Ontario. She is still a feminist activist working on LGBTQ and Islamaphobia issues.  


Lacing up for other women (Guest Post)

by Alison Conway

image description: this colour photo depicts the four women who are on Team Atalanta, from the back, wearing long pants and blue t-shirts with white block letters that state their name. From left to write the shirts say "JENN," "ANNIE," "KEEKS," and "ALISON." They are in front of book cases filled with books.

Team Atalanta runs again for LWAC, with Danielle pinch hitting for Jenn. [image description: this colour photo depicts the four women who are on Team Atalanta, from the back, wearing long pants and blue t-shirts with white block letters that state their name. From left to write the shirts say “JENN,” “ANNIE,” “KEEKS,” and “ALISON.” They are in front of book cases filled with books.

Last weekend, I finished my longest run to date: North America’s oldest road race, Around the Bay, in Hamilton, Ontario.  At 30 km (18.6 miles) it is not a marathon, but it has its own torments—winds off Lake Ontario and rolling hills on the back 10 km. “Rolling” makes the hills sound picturesque, but they gutted me. To add insult to injury, the race includes a monster incline that awaits runners around kilometer 26. It is, as they say, a challenging course.

I approached the race with a mixture of dread and excitement. Many times I asked myself, “Why am I doing this?”  The answer is simple. Running has changed my life profoundly since I took it up again after decades away. It seems like a miracle to be able to claim the streets at middle age; as the miles add up, my confidence and joy grow.  The running community provides support with its bottomless enthusiasm and acts of generosity and kindness. And, as it turns out, I love to race. So there I was, on those rolling hills, duking it out with my doubts and aching legs, feeling grateful.

The transformations running has made possible in my own life have led me to consider how it might transform the lives of others. I’ve been volunteering for  Start2Finish, a reading and running club that works with at-risk children in elementary schools around Canada. The children with whom I feel most connected are the girls approaching puberty. Puberty looks to me a little like middle age: changes in the body that can’t be controlled, self-consciousness, fears of failing, negative self-chat.  For this particular group of young women, add the challenges that attend the socioeconomic realities of their community. These girls are brave when they face down Race Day.

Tomorrow (April 1), I will race 5 km race in support of another at-risk group:  those women (and children over 12) who are supported by the London Abused Women’s Centre.

The Centre helps women lacing up their running shoes, metaphorically speaking. To step out the door into a new life requires a trust in the larger community and a belief that a better future is possible.  Please join me in helping women gain the strength they need to go the distance. If you’d like to support the cause with a donation, you can do that here.

How about you? Do you feel more motivated when you’re running for a cause? We’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments.

Alison Conway is an English professor at Western University.  Her favorite workout is running the roads and trails of London, ON.