fitness

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 · Guest Post · injury · mindfulness · racing · triathalon

Pause and Ponder (guest post)

This is a reblog of a newsletter post from the Rockvale Writers’ Colony by Sandy Coomer, its founder and director. Note: I’ll be there for a two-week writing residency in mid-October! She has things to say about what happened when she had to take a pause from life as usual. I’ll let her take it from here. -catherine

Anyone who knows me well knows I’m very active and busy. That’s my natural tendency. When I rest, I’m often thinking of and planning for the next burst of energy required for the next new project or idea. It’s hard for me to slow down. In fact, I rarely stop for long . . . unless I’m forced to. Funny how that works. When it’s necessary to pause, when I’m required to stop my busy enterprises, I’m pleasantly surprised at how refreshing it is to simply “Be.”

I had a triathlon race in Wisconsin this past weekend. I had a good swim and was at mile 15 of the bike when a pedestrian/spectator ran onto the bike course and we collided. The collision made me crash head-first into a parked pickup truck. The moments that followed were interesting. I was unable to say where I was or what my name was. I didn’t feel panic – just a sort of confused wonder at what I was doing on the road. I knew I was in a race, but I had no idea where. When someone told me I was in Wisconsin, I remember thinking, “How in the world did I get to Wisconsin?” Within a few more minutes, I remembered everything, and then I was whisked away to the emergency room.

I’m not badly hurt, but I will need a few weeks to heal from my injuries. It’s a forced pause, a slow-down to allow my body to heal and my concussion-addled brain to steady. Living in the still air of patience and acceptance is a lesson in a different sort of fortitude than the one I’m used to. It wasn’t in my plans to get hurt, but the hurt came anyway, and it’s my responsibility now to see what I can learn from it. Otherwise, the experience is wasted.

Here’s what I’m discovering from my forced “Pause.”

  1. People matter more than anything else. So many people have taken the time to check on me and see if I need anything. Am I attentive to others’ needs when I’m in “Busy” mode? Can I take a moment every day to tune into another person’s heart and say “I see you, you matter?” 
  2. Being still teaches a certain kind of balance which can lead to delight. I sat on my back porch yesterday and watched the afternoon fade into dusk. Two chipmunks were chasing each other from the porch to the grass and into the burrow under the shed. I felt like I was a crucial part of this scene. I belonged in an intricate way to the wonders of nature. I didn’t move or direct anything. I simply was there.
  3. Letting go of perfectionism is the key to being satisfied. I was sorely disappointed I didn’t finish the race. I kept replaying the details of the wreck in my head over and over. What did I do wrong? What should I have done differently? Sometimes, stuff happens that we can’t control. Sometimes, we simply have to accept the drama of the day and move on with gratitude.
  4. Beauty exists in every situation if you stay open to it. As I was being driven from the ER back to my hotel, I noticed the light glinting off the water of the lake, little cups of sparkle and glee. I thought, “how beautiful.” Back at home, I settled into my own comfortable bed with its floral comforter and sage green pillows and I thought, “how lovely.” Do I even notice this when I’m focused on all I need to get done?

When I think about my writing, I realize that if I get too focused on the achievement aspect and forget the beauty of each moment, I can miss the whole point of writing entirely. I write because I have something valuable to say. My writing comes from my soul, not my ambition. Remembering that is what will keep me at the page. 

A “Pause,” forced or chosen, can be a time of pondering and eventually, great insight. If we believe every situation has a purpose and a lesson, we’re more apt to let experiences teach us and take the lessons to heart. Yes, we learn a lot from work, but we learn equally from not working, from pausing our “Go” button, and simply allowing the universe to share its infinite wisdom. I would not have chosen to wreck in the race, but I AM choosing to ponder the Pause, the Moment, the Wonder of Being Here Right Now. 

It’s something I’m glad I didn’t miss.

-sandy

challenge · fitness

Seeking Comfort

This Girl Can recently asked what exercises have taken you out of your comfort zone and made you feel empowered. Sam posted some of the FIFI group responses in a recent post.

Screenshot of social media post from This Girl Can that reads: It can be easy to feel comfortable with an exercise or activity we know, but sometimes taking it one step further or trying something you never thought you could do can make you feel like a badass! What activities have taken them out of your comfort zone and loved them?

When I saw the question pop up from This Girl Can I immediately started thinking about comfort zones and what they mean. For me, a comfort zone is a place where I feel safe and cared for, either by myself or by others. Many factors go in to creating that zone of comfort, including comfort clothing (no more hard pants!), comfort foods, and even comfort weather – I’m a big fan of peak fall weather when it is chilly enough for sweaters but not coats, socks but not boots, and colorful leafy views.

When I think about fitness through this lens I realize that what feels empowering to me is to stay IN my comfort zone. We tend to think of comfort as something that is easy or unchallenging, but when I dive deeper I realize that if I don’t feel safe or if I don’t feel like I am caring for myself in a smart way I do not feel empowered.

I’ve taken up a lot of different fitness activities. I was not raised to enjoy or do physical movement – instead it was something to dread, and to feel shame about how my body looked attempting such feats. I started to encounter minor mobility issues in my late 30s, a twinge here, a pain there. Various treatment pathways, traditional and holistic, brought me to walking. Just simple walking. I felt safe in my neighborhood. I felt cared for, by myself and by my health practitioners. I felt empowered. I started adding short jogs into my walks – the the next telephone pole, to the yellow house, to the street corner. I was testing my limits, but I was still protecting my body and my soul, making sure it felt safe.

I do not respond well to being pushed or pushing myself beyond “limits.” Sometimes those limits are arbitrary, and sometimes they shift with the given moment. Some days are “beast mode” and some days aren’t. I’ve taken all sorts of clinics, workshops, and classes for things like yoga, swimming, cycling, running, TRX, zumba, water aerobics, pilates, and strength training. Some felt empowering while others felt defeating. Coaches who pushed often found that I was slower, more uncoordinated, and crankier when they insisted I do something a particular way or aim for a goal that felt unattainable. Coaches who asked “can you add/do more/focus on…” and allowed me the time to think about the answer got more favorable results. I was able to ask myself “does adding/doing/focusing feel safe, does it feel right for my body?” Folks who ignored me when I said “no, that doesn’t feel safe” quickly became untrustworthy and people whom I distanced myself from going forward.

Here’s the rub with that plan though – I have to really listen to myself. To give myself space to say “no, that doesn’t feel safe.” To ask myself, and listen to the answer all the time, not just sometimes. I love to try new things and can get easily excited about a new activity, hobby, or project. I do feel empowered when I try something new, but I need to stay in my “comfort zone” more often than not to feel good about something.

Amy ziplining.
Amy’s first ziplining experience

Maybe others view their comfort zones differently and are able to leave them more freely, to take bigger risks, or at least to engage in things that feel riskier for themselves. I’m okay with that! My comfort zone lets me try all sorts of new activities in ways that work for my heart, my head, and my body.

See you on our next adventure!

Amy Smith is a professor of Media & Communication and a communication consultant who lives north of Boston. Her research interests include gender communication and community building. Amy spends her movement time riding the basement bicycle to nowhere, walking her two dogs, and waiting for it to get warm enough for outdoor swimming in New England.

cycling · fitness · inclusiveness · Zwift

Celebrating diversity on Zwift

Great news for the paracycling community and for those of us who see opportunities for greater inclusion in the world of virtual cycling. The latest Zwift update includes handcycles.

A handcycle in Zwift

To be clear people at home having been using handcycles to ride in Zwift but the virtual bike options didn’t match. And that matters.

Says Zwift in its announcement of the handcycle option, “Zwift is a platform for everyone and our goal is to represent all members of our community within the worlds of Zwift. We hope that the Zwift Handcycle will allow adaptive athletes to have more fun in-game and better represent themselves on the roads of Watopia.”

We’ve written before about inclusion in cycling both in the virtual and in the real world. See In favour of April Fools’ Day Trikes and Inclusive Representation and Not all bikes are pedaled by foot, Sam finds out. I’m happy that the Zwift developers made this a priority and I’m looking forward to seeing some handcycles out there this winter.

Zwift Handcycle

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.

ADHD · fitness · meditation · mindfulness

A short reflection on 22 days of meditation

A few weeks ago, I posted about finding ease by doing the easy thing and, at that point, I was on my 9th day of yoga and meditation.

As I write this (on Monday night) I am at Day 22 and I feel really good, really at ease.

A screen cap from a meditation app that shows a small round photo, text reading ‘22 Consecutive Days’, and a row of stars.
I chose this profile photo in Insight Timer ages ago, I didn’t realize until now that the teeny version looks either smug or disconcerted – I’m actually smirking of course. Meanwhile, I love that the app has given me gold stars. Image A screen capture from the ‘Insight Timer’ app that shows a small photo of me, text that reads ‘22 consecutive days’ and a row of 5 stars – 2 bronze and 3 gold.

Not every minute of every day but, at any given point, it’s a little easier to find that space, that breathing room, when I need it.

And, to be clear, I’m not saying that I am meditating here and there in search of that ease. I mean that, because of my short daily meditation sessions, there’s a little bit of extra room in between my thoughts – I just have to choose to look for it.

Given my galloping ADHD brain, sometimes it is a bit tricky to remember to make that choice but I am definitely making it more often than I ever have before.

An up-close view of evergreen needles.
Looking closely at these evergreen needles also makes me feel peaceful so I thought I’d share. 💚 image description: an up-close view of evergreen needles on a tree.

I know that I have tried to develop a meditation practice several times before and my results were mixed, to say the least.

This time, though, doing the easy thing, not making a plan, just taking it a day at a time has worked out marvellously for me.

It has become easy and straightforward to include meditation at the end of my day – sometimes for 10 minutes, sometimes for 2 minutes – and I feel great about it.

In case you were wondering, Khalee is also a fan of my quiet practice…

A light haired dog rests in a burgundy armchair.
When I finished my practice a couple of nights ago, I looked up from my mat to see Khalee looking off in the distance like this. I can only assume she was mindfully paying attention to her breath like I was. Image description: Khalee, my light-haired, medium-sized dog, is resting in a burgundy armchair. Her head is resting on the seat cushion and she is deeply relaxed while she looks forward but off somewhere to left of the camera.

fitness

Sam is checking in two weeks after knee replacement surgery

After a rocky start and an additional night in the hospital, things have been progressing pretty well with the total replacement of my left knee.

Here’s a few milestones on my road to recovery:

I’m sleeping in my own bed and the stairs, with crutches, seem pretty manageable. I’m still only doing them once a day though.

I’m also going on tiny walks down the street each day.

For better or worse, lol, I can now manage basic household tasks such as unloading the dishwasher, sorting laundry, and making lunch.

Physio tells me I’m going well at both ends of the range of motion, getting the knee to lay flat and bend. Physio is so hard!

I got back on the bike on the trainer just to work on range of motion. That felt both inspirational and humbling. I know it will take time.

Friends warned me about out of character things they’ve said and done, wild emails sent, while on pain medication for knee replacement.. So far so good for me. Except I might have gone on a middle of the night pillow shopping spree after googling “best pillows for sleeping after knee replacement.” They keep arriving.

Yay for tonight body pillow

And speaking of pain medication, I’m just taking the heavy duty stuff now for night time and after physio.

We also went to the wedding of dear friends on the weekend. So much joy! I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to do it and I wasn’t sure how I’d feel just being there for the ceremony, but thanks to pain medication, ice, and Sarah’s help it went perfectly. It was lovely to see friends and to be there to celebrate with Jenn and Annada and their friends and families. I promised them we’ll dance next year for their anniversary.

What’s not going as well as I’d hoped? I’m still struggling with attention span and reading. I was hoping to enjoy having time to read but it turns out physio and recovery is pretty much a full-time job. So far I’m sticking mostly to tv and audiobooks.

Enjoying She-Hulk, for example, but the Booker prize winning novels will have to wait.

She Hulk

What’s up this week? Staples removal and follow up appointment with the surgeon. Stay tuned.

cycling · fitness

First time back on the bike

It’s baby steps but I’ve been given the okay to get back on my bike on the trainer.

The goal isn’t some number of kilometres, a given amount of time, or to reach a certain power level

Instead, it’s something much more basic and fundamental. It’s all about regaining enough mobility so that I can make a full rotation of the pedals. It’s range of motion time, baby!

Various guides to knee replacement say to expect a 5 degree improvement in the angle possible for your new knee each week. You need 90 degrees to ride a bike. A goal is 120 if your leg size permits that. Not sure mine does. I was at 52 degrees last week, a few days after surgery, and 67 today eight days after replacement.

But all of these guides to knee replacement say don’t compare your progress to the progress of others. Different people take a different amount of time to get there.

It’s unlikely I’ll be able to that the first few times I try I’ve been told. So no expectations.

Also, even once I can I’m to use the trainer in a very spinny gear, no pressure at all on the pedals.

Whether or not you’re a cyclist the bike trainer is a basic rehab tool after knee replacement surgery. Surgeons and physiotherapists have to talk people who aren’t cyclists to give it a go. It’s easy when the patient’s first question is how soon can I get back on the bike (on the trainer to start.)

It’s all about passive range of motion. Here we go!

Sam on her trainer
boats · fitness · kayak

Paddling–following the signs

Yesterday my friends Janet and Kathy and I took advantage of the lovely September weather and did some kayaking north of Boston, at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, north of Boston. It is largely salt marsh, which means two things: 1) you need a canoe or kayak to see it; and 2) because of tidal ebb and flow, you need to time your trip for between two hours before and two hours after high tide. Otherwise, you’ll be dragging your boat through mud.

The very kind folks at the refuge created special routes for us (and other people) to follow, marked with signs.

Two marked paddling routes through the salt marshes at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge.
Two marked paddling routes through the salt marshes at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge.

We dropped off our boats and gear at the landing– the green teardrop at the upper right. The area had potholes with water in them and was generally kind of wet, even though it hadn’t rained overnight. Unbeknownst to Kathy and me, Janet had spotted fish in the puddles. What could this mean? We’d find out a few hours later.

After moving the cars to the parking lot (there was no parking allowed at the landing), we launched our boats and set off. We crossed an area with boat traffic, then (as Siri advises us), proceeded to the route.

It was a beautiful day, in a beautiful place.

Janet, a very experienced sea kayaker and navigator, had maps and navigation app and gps and everything to keep us on track. However, the signs in the marsh were very visible and easy to follow, which is great for more recreational paddlers. In fact, this route is meant for them– to make it possible to explore the marsh safely.

View of Kathy and me paddling from the bow of Janet's boat, equipped with extra paddle and compass.
View of Kathy and me paddling from the bow of Janet’s boat, equipped with extra paddle and compass.

In addition to navigating, Janet was our trip photographer. Here’s our obligatory on-water selfie:

Janet, me and Kathy, in our trio of kayaks.
Janet, me and Kathy, in our trio of kayaks.

We took the slightly longer yellow route and then, because Janet had maps and a navigation app, went a bit further before making a left turn to go back to the marked route. The marsh was very full because 1) it was high tide, and 2) it was a spring tide, which happens after a full or new moon. At those times, the difference between high and low tide are largest. This is one reason why it’s important to read tidal charts before settling off in one’s boat in coastal waters.

Eventually, we got hungry for our lunches, which were waiting for us in coolers at our two cars. So we reluctantly left the beauty of the marsh, and headed for the boat landing. Entering the landing, we noted what a difference a few hours makes.

The three of us in our boats at the landing. The whole area had flooded with the tide!

When we launched our boats, we did so at the two poles in the background. A couple of hours later, we could float in right past the poles, pretty far into the landing area!

When they say No parking at any time, they’re serious. And there’s a reason– you can see it in these pictures.

Honestly, the extra water made it much easier to move our kayaks from the landing area to the parking lot. We could float part of the way, pull the boats in water a bit longer, and carry them across the road to our cars in the designated parking lot.

After loading the boats on the cars and changing clothes, we grabbed our lunches and headed to the beach, which was on the other side of the parking lot. Loads of people were there, enjoying the warm sunny September Saturday. Not many were swimming, though. Hurricane Earl, far off the Atlantic coast, was bringing pounding surf and rip currents up and down the East Coast.

Janet had originally planned a coastal sea paddle for us to a lighthouse on Cape Ann. But reading the warning signs posted on weather and navigation apps, she changed course and picked a safe route for us instead.

The waves on the beach confirmed the predictions. They were bigger than usual and very powerful. Swimming was strongly discouraged. We enjoyed watching them, though.

Kathy, standing near (but not too near) the pounding surf.
Kathy, standing near (but not too near) the pounding surf.

I learned more about kayaking this trip. The most important thing is to read the signs and follow them; that will make life easier (and also probably longer). The other thing is to bring a bin or plastic bag for soggy, salty, sandy stuff, so as not to mess up the inside of your car. Live and learn…

East coast readers, did any of you see the pounding waves this weekend? They were really something.

body image · diversity · fitness

Love Your Body

By Martha Muzychka

Bodies



Look at all the lovely bodies. All kinds of shapes and all kinds of sizes!

I saw this display of of pre classic bodies and my heart skipped a beat.

Look how different they all are. Each tells a story.

These days we are so focused on hyper skinny shapes, we forget our round parts, our squishy bits, our mom soft bellies, our strong arms and open hearts that hug and hold and work and soothe and love.

Love yourself today. Celebrate what your body is and what it does.

No one else will do it for you.