Last week, I finished my medieval walking challenge. 183 miles over two months. By the end, it wasn’t even that difficult, despite the challenge of finding enough time.
Happily, my last big walk was 8 km in late medieval Flemish clothing, while at an event in the pretty town of Campbellford Ontario.
So now what? I am definitely back into walking, in a way I haven’t been for ages. I did a Challenger walk last year. Kirsten likes them but they aren’t really for me.
I think I’ll start doing Volksmarches again. Volksmarching is a popular walking activity that started in Germany in 1968. When I lived there as a teen and young adult, they were a great way to visit villages and the countryside throughout much of Europe.
These walks, usually with either 10 or 20 km distances were deliberately non-competitive, and usually ended with a big tent serving sausages on a bun, fries and even beer. Often there would be an oompah band.
Everyone participated, as most were very accessible. For a while I did two a day – running a 10 km with an older family friend, then walking a second 10 km with his wife and young kids. I distinctly recall being passed by little old ladies still dressed in their church clothes and sensible shoes, with a handbag on their elbow.
I nearly missed my high school graduation because I was desperate to get three walks in that day, and ended up several hours from home (in the pre-internet days, I had literally pieced together a route by finding upcoming events on three separate flyers with little maps, not drawn to scale).
Why do that? Like the Challenger walks, there was bling. You kept a little booklet that got stamped with your distance. Every time you did the required distance (minimum 500 km), you would mail it off for a hat pin and badge to sew on your vest or backpack. Plus there were completion medals you could collect, reflecting local history, clubs, landmarks, festivals or agriculture.
When I moved back to Canada, volksmarching was in its infancy here, but I participated in quite a few events. Then I got busy, and stiff, and out of touch. I’m ready to give it another go now.
Over time, the Canadian sport has evolved. There are shorter walks for people who don’t feel up to doing 10 km. Medals have fallen out of fashion. In many cities, you can do self-guided walks and stamp your booklet yourself, using the honour system. Canada isn’t alone in that; I once spent four days in London, sightseeing on foot via the four volksmarch maps I downloaded before traveling.
You can find more about upcoming walks in Canada using this link. From there you can also connect to clubs in other countries.
It turns out I could have done a slightly different walk that day in Campbellford and gotten credit for it. I’ll remember for next time. And Kirsten, there is a club in Kingston, along with three year-round walks. Maybe I can join you for one this summer?
Have you ever been part of a walking club, or volksmarched? What appeals to you? What would make it better?
Some people start fitness challenges in September, the start of the school year that somehow feels like the real start of the year to many of us. Others go with the more traditional January start. It appears I like April. I wrote about it last year.
This year my workplace is doing an activity challenge for the month. It doesn’t have to be walking, but that happens to fit with another challenge I’m also doing. I like the fact that getting enough sleep and drinking plenty of water are also goals.
The other challenge is with one of my medieval groups, where we are aiming to walk 183 miles by the end of May. Why 183 miles? I have no idea! There is probably a very logical reason that I have forgotten, or missed completely in my enthusiasm to join up. Whatever.
The challenge works out to about 5 km a day for me. I used to do 10 km walks regularly, but haven’t done one in at least 15 years.
Sometimes I go out late in the evening, and catch the light near dusk. I am lucky enough to live near two large rivers, so there is always plenty to see.
I feel blessed to live in a walkable part of the city, with a real variety of landscapes.
I don’t do 5 km absolutely every day, but I am getting the distance done each week. My walks are getting longer, I am going into the office as an excuse to knock off an easy 6 km, and on Easter weekend I walked for 10.6 km.
Best of all, the chronic hip flexor pain is gone. Apparently I needed to get out of my chair a lot more than I realized. And I am learning to enjoy my own company, just wandering and admiring the views.
And, yes, there is truly a month or a week or at least a day for everything. Maybe that fact makes you a bit meh about all of these sorts of declarations (and that’s fair!) but I kind of like the idea of finding something to celebrate on any given day.
Maybe I am not going all in for National Garlic Day today, I haven’t planned any celebrations for Coin Week this week, and I don’t even think I have the required millinery to celebrate Straw Hat Month but I *am* strongly pro-fun so I vote yes on anything that brings a little levity to your day-to-day.
ANYWAY, back to the celebration at hand.
Apparently Active Dog Month was started by Natasha at Om Shanti Pups but I didn’t delve too far into the history of this auspicious month, so I can’t be sure of its origins. However, I do know that she has some good posts on keeping your dog active so check those out for some ideas.
There’s a fair amount of dog talk here on the Fit is a Feminist Issue blog (a while ago, Sam compiled some of them into a post here) so I thought it would be fun to get a few of our bloggers to chime in about dogs and exercise.
I no longer own a dog. I like being able to travel and not worry about boarding. When I had a dog, I always resented having to take him out for long walks when I was trying to get ready for work, or it was time for bed. But I love dogs, and enjoy a moment of interaction as many as possible while out walking, even if it is just a quick whispered “who’s a good pup?” as we walk in opposite directions.
I do not have a dog, but I walk/hike semi-regularly with two friends’ dogs, Ellie and Ricky. I notice a heightened, vicarious enthusiasm for walking while with a dog. With a dog, the walk seems more interesting, perhaps because humans and dogs find different things interesting while walking. There is a sense of companionship and satisfaction when walking with a dog that even some non-dog owners notice. Is there a difference between dog walking and walking while with a dog? Dog owners probably know.
Cheddar is around the blog a lot. The blog turns 10 this summer and Cheddar is 7 so there’s a lot of overlap! These days Cheddar is the reason I’m out walking at all. While waiting for total knee replacement, both knees, I’m not a fan of walking even though it’s good for me. It hurts. But Cheddar gets me out there three or four times a week. He’s lucky that I’m not the only person who walks him. I’m lucky he’s excellent at adjusting his pace to the person walking him. He’s also a most excellent yoga dog, though unlike Adriene’s Benji he’s not good at staying off the mat so he gets his own.
Walking Lucy has become my partner and my touch point time before work, on our lunch break ,and after dinner during the week. Our youngest kid is 20 and regularly takes Lucy out solo but also subs in for one of us if cooking, work or other exercise needs my time.
Since the walks have to happen I’m out way more consistently and for longer than I’ve ever been before.
Back to Christine:
Whether we are walking our dogs or they are walking us, at least everyone has the chance to get some movement into their days.
I am intrigued by Elan’s comment about companionship and about the difference between walking a dog and walking with a dog. When my kids were small, I used to love going for a walk and pushing the stroller – more often than not I would be yammering away to them and they would be asleep! And as much as I enjoy walking on my own, I had missed the feeling of pushing the stroller.
I thought that I was missing the extra effort that the stroller required, that my brain needed the extra work to calmly stay on task instead of filling up with other ideas about what I should be doing. (ADHD brains have a knack for that kind of thing.)
I don’t think that I really considered it before now but I think that walking Khalee gives me a lot of the same feeling that walking with the stroller did. There’s a larger purpose to my walk and I have company (which, as many people with ADHD will attest, makes almost any task more doable.)
So, now that I think about it, I definitely know the difference between walking a dog and walking with a dog, and I am doing the latter.
I’m not walking Khalee, we are walking together. I do most of the talking and she does most of the sniffing – everyone working to their strengths, you know?
And maybe her blog posts are all about hoping that I am getting enough exercise this month.
She started out subtly 😉 glancing back from the door
But when I stood up, she began to implore…
“Come on, Christine, it’s time for a walk.”
Well, I imagined her saying it, if she could talk.
In a few minutes of walking, with deep breaths of fresh air.
I began to feel better, my brain started to clear,
Now, Khalee’s to-do list was short, and she sure took her time,
Sniffing and scouting to see what she could find.
As she ambled along following all her dog plans,
I came to realize I was in good doggy hands.*
By getting me outside, making me breathe the fresh air,
Khalee had banished brain clutter and helped make my thoughts clear.
As we headed to the bridge on the way back to our home,
I shaped my blog thoughts into this Pete-ish poem**
And then I filled it with photos of good Khalee pup,
to divert your attention from where I messed up.
So, my dear friends, if you are scattered, if your brain’s filled with bees,
Please take Khalee’s advice and walk to find ease.
You don’t need to move quickly, an amble will do,
It really helped me, may the same go for you.
*Er, paws are kind of hands, right?
**Pete is my Dad. Back in the day, he wrote this kind of light-hearted foolishness for birthday cards and office Christmas parties. I learned poetry-writing from an engineer, that should explain a few things.
I think I am developing a new Sunday habit – a walking chat.
Or maybe a chatting walk?
Either way, I’m having a great time catching up with friends while we walk along various trails in my community (and near by.)
In the Before Times, I probably would have just waited until we could swing a time to sit down together in someone’s house or a cafe and we’d catch up on each other’s lives while we snacked and drank tea.
I’m still strongly pro-snack (and pro-tea) but here in the During Times I don’t find it as relaxing to be in cafes or even in other people’s homes. I’ve met a few people for tea – sometimes on patios and sometimes inside – but I’ve also missed seeing a lot of people who I would normally catch up with in person every few months.
Recently, my friend Elaine wanted to bounce a few ideas off of me and I was about to suggest that we meet on Zoom on Sunday morning when I impulsively suggested that we meet for a walk instead.
As I was starting out on my ideas walk with Elaine that Sunday, my cousin Sheri, who I haven’t seen in ages, texted me about walking with her later that day. I jumped at the chance for two walks and two chats and I really had a relaxing, connected-feeling Sunday as a result.
This past week, my friend Sandy and I realized that we had gone too long without a chat and decided that this Sunday, we would take our conversation on the road. (Ok, so it was actually a path but it had the same effect.)
We did an hour’s walk and crammed in about 3 hours of conversation. I suspect that anyone overhearing us thought we were on fast- forward 😉
And, once again, my Sunday found me feeling relaxed and connected.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’d still love to cozy into a chair with my hands wrapped around a cup of tea and have in-depth conversation but right now those conversations aren’t as relaxing as they once were. I get distracted by the ambient anxiety of living in our Covid-world.
And Zoom chats are good but they can’t fully replace being in someone’s comforting and invigorating presence.
Walking to catch up is the perfect solution for me. I get to have a bit more movement in my day, I get to actually SEE my friends and, we get to have the sort of wandering and satisfying conversations you can really only have in-person.
I’m definitely making plans to do this regularly and catch up with everyone I have been missing.
Ok, full disclosure: *I* was doing a walking meditation.
Khalee was just walking and sniffing everything and deciding where to pee…which is being really in the moment, I guess so she’s got this mindfulness thing sorted already.
I usually set out for my walk with one earphone in, using my walking time to hear some cool podcast stories that I would forget to make time to listen to otherwise.
Today, though, my mind was busy and I didn’t think I could focus on a story. So, I decided to try a new walking meditation that I bought last week.
I’ve tried to do walking meditation before, figuring that the movement would help me focus, but I found it was the opposite. Trying to make myself think about how my feet were landing, over and over, was enough to make my brain want to crawl out of my skull.
(Note: I have only tried two walking meditations before and they were both really foot-focused. Perhaps that was an unfortunate coincidence and most aren’t like that.)
Last week, thanks to a tweet from someone with ADHD requesting ideas for meditation, I came across a walking meditation from Anna Granta, an ADHD Coach from the UK.
I figured that a meditation from an ADHD coach would be a bit more tailored to someone with ADHD, and I was right!
For starters, she has a great voice. Lots of meditation leaders have voices that grate on my nerves but Granta’s is sensible, even, and friendly.
The meditation is short – less than 5 minutes from start to finish, including instructions.
And it’s very practical – leading the listener to tune into what they could see, hear, smell, and feel while they walked.
And once it was done, I kept my podcast off for the rest of my walk, noticing the sounds, smells, and the details of the sights around me.
It was a short practice but it was really refreshing. And it would be easy to do in the future.*
I returned from my walking feeling like I had untangled a knot in my brain.
Neurotypical people or those with an established meditation practice might find this practice too short or too quick but my ADHD brain loved it. It was short enough to feel doable, long enough to calm down a bit, and clear and inviting enough that I could keep practicing even after the audio finished.
I’ll definitely be using this meditation in the future. Not for every walk, because sometimes hearing a story is exactly what I need in a given moment, but I love having it close at hand for when my brain needs to smooth out a bit.
Khalee’s walking meditation was also successful. She left the house untroubled, returned the same way, and just walked when she was walking and sniffed while she was sniffing. She’s a mindfulness expert, really.
*Her instructions are clear and now that I have followed it once, easily done on my own even without the recording. I will still go back to it, though, to help me ease into the process.
I first ‘met’ Ann Douglas around 20 years ago when my information-seeking pregnant self picked up her Mother of all Pregnancy Books at Chapters. I loved her writing – she wasn’t the expert talking down to the novice, she was the experienced friend giving you some perspective on whatever you were dealing with right now.
We started chatting back and forth on blogs back in the day and I volunteered to be interviewed for some of her other parenting books, and, in the process, we’ve become good friends. I’ve only seen Ann once in person but we have stayed in touch with phone calls, Zoom chats, and email.
A few years ago, Ann took up the habit of long daily walks and it has been life-changing for her so I thought that Fit as a Feminist Issue readers might enjoy hearing about her routine and about her other projects and interests.
Ann Douglas is the author of numerous bestselling parenting books and she is currently writing a book for and about women at midlife. She lives on a lake in a rural area outside of Bancroft, Ontario.
What are some of your current projects (fitness-related or otherwise)?
I’m hard at work on a book for and about women at midlife, I’m doing a lot of volunteer work related to electoral reform, and I’m taking full advantage of the precious and time-limited gift that is a Canadian summer. For me, that means going for twice-daily walks on a rural road and paddling in my kayak a couple of times each week.
I know that walks are an important part of your daily life. Can you tell me when that started, some details about your routine, and what benefits you have found from incorporating walking into your routine? Does it help your peace of mind? Your feeling of well-being? Your writing?
Walking is a key ingredient in the recipe for a happy, healthy me. I started walking back in 2013, after being completely sedentary for most of my life. And when I say “sedentary,” I mean sedentary. Even a 15-minute walk around the block triggered debilitating foot pain. (I was morbidly obese at the time and my feet were having difficulty dealing with the additional weight I was carrying.) The clock was ticking (I was about to turn 50) and I knew that I needed to find a way to be physically active on a regular basis if I wanted to reduce my risk of developing some of the serious health problems that tend to run in my family, including heart disease and diabetes.
When I started walking, I had physical health goals in mind. What I hadn’t counted on was the impact that regular physical activity would have on my mental health. My twice-daily walks not only help to put the brakes on my anxiety: they also help me to sleep better at night which, in turn, helps to control my anxiety and boost my mood. This has proven to be a complete gamechanger for me, in terms of my mood and my overall quality of life. (I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder 18 years ago.) Getting enough sleep and physical activity are the glue that holds everything together.
Walking has also helped me to manage another major health challenge. Four years ago, I was diagnosed with Meniere’s disease: a balance and dizziness disorder that, in my case, is characterized by really acute attacks of vertigo (the kind where you end up throwing up for a couple of hours straight). I quickly figured out that walking as soon as possible after a vertigo attack helps to reset my vestibular system; and that walking regularly helps to maintain the health of my vestibular system. Walking is a key strategy for minimizing the impact of my Meniere’s disease (along with getting enough sleep; minimizing my intake of salt and caffeine; and avoiding alcohol). I also try to minimize stress, but that can be a little hit and miss.
However, the walking helps with that, so even if I’m more stressed than I’d like to be, at least I have a strategy for dialing back the level of stress.
I’m really lucky that I live in a naturally spectacular part of Ontario, so walking automatically means spending time in nature, because I’m surrounded by nature the moment I step outside my front door. That’s a huge benefit: being able to nurture my life-long love affair with nature while I’m nurturing my body at the same time.
You were asking about the impact of walking on my writing. I deliberately take the first of my twice-daily walks at lunchtime, midway through my working day. It’s a way to recharge my mental batteries, just as they’re starting to lose their charge. And often when I’m out for my walk, a solution to a writing-related problem will pop into my head. (“Wait a minute: Chapter 4 should actually be Chapter 1!”) It’s pretty magical, how that works.
How do you feel about fitness as a key element in self-care?
It’s a huge deal for me. My younger self would be amazed to know that I grew up to be an adult who is an active living evangelist. I hated gym class when I was a kid. Like really hated it….
Being physically active on a regular basis has also given me some newfound body confidence. I’m willing to try new things that I simply wouldn’t have been willing to try before I became physically active. Two years ago, I bought myself a kayak and now I love kayaking. Younger me would have been convinced I wasn’t athletic or coordinated enough to go kayaking. Midlife me knows better!
You are writing a book about women at mid-life and the founders of this blog, Sam & Tracy, have written a book called ‘Fit at Mid-Life.’ I’m interested to know if fitness came up in your research as an important element for women at mid-life. If so, could you tell me a bit about that?
It definitely came up a lot—and a lot of these conversations were about guilt: the guilt women felt for not being able to be as physically active as they wanted to be. Midlife is crunch time for a lot of women—a time of life when they’re asked to juggle an impossible number of responsibilities and to live up to sky-high expectations of what it means to be living well at midlife. Sometimes important things fall off their to do lists, simply because there isn’t enough of them to go around. That isn’t something that they should be feeling guilty about. It’s something our culture should be feeling guilty about—for asking so much of women that they don’t always have the capacity to take good care of themselves.
As a parenting author, did you find that fitness was a concern for the parents you interviewed or who sought your advice? If so, could you share a bit about that, too?
This definitely came up in the research for my most recent parenting book, Happy Parents, Happy Kids. Once again, there was a lot of guilt as well as frustration with the very real barriers that can prevent parents from exercising as often as they’d like, and for some parents more than others. For example, if you don’t live in a safe and walkable neighbourhood, being active can be a huge challenge. Ditto if you’re a single parent who doesn’t have anyone else available to give you a break so that you can go for a walk by yourself. (Sure, you can walk with a child, but research shows that exercising with kids doesn’t necessarily reap the same fitness benefits as exercising on your own, as anyone who has ever tried to go for a walk with a toddler can attest. You’ll get to see a lot of dandelions, but you might not get a very robust workout.)
But back to the guilt—both guilt for not being able to take time for yourself so you can exercise and guilt for actually taking that time.
I think the best way to deal with that guilt is to simply ask yourself, “What’s reasonable and sustainable for me right now?” and to look for a way to start with something. It doesn’t have to be a big commitment. It doesn’t have to happen every day. And maybe you can mentally frame it a way that actually feels good: as a nice thing you’re doing for yourself as opposed to yet another obligation to add to an already too long to do list. (“I get to go for a 10-minute walk around the block” as opposed to “I have to….”)
The name of this blog is Fit is a Feminist Issue. Does the connection between feminism and fitness resonate with you? If so, how?
Yes, and on so many levels! First of all, in terms of body love and self-acceptance. Being physically active on a regular basis has allowed me to feel good about my body in ways that I didn’t even think were possible, given the toxic cultural messages women are given about their bodies. A lot of the women I’ve interviewed for my book have been quite explicit about the need to break up with the patriarchy—how that is a path to liberation for them, both personally and politically—and I couldn’t agree more. Gender roles as prescribed by our patriarchal culture make it more challenging for women to find the time or to have the other resources necessary to take good care of themselves. And, of course, those challenges are intersectional, with some women being impacted so much more than others. My rage about these issues intensifies as I grow older. I just want things to be better, and not just for women like me (a cis, heterosexual, white middle class woman). I want things to be better for all women. Because we deserve nothing less.
Is there anything you would like to talk about that arose from other questions but that I didn’t directly ask about?
I guess I’d just add a quick note about self-compassion. There’s a lot of research to show that women who treat themselves with self-compassion are more likely to recover from an exercise setback (for example, an injury, a family emergency, or something else that disrupts their plans to be physically active). Instead of beating themselves up for having to put their workouts on hold, they simply treat themselves with the same kindness as they would show to a friend who was facing a similar challenge. Instead of feeling like giving up, they feel like they can re-engage with their exercise goal. Learning about self-compassion was life-changing for me, which is why I’m always talking about it.
That’s where our heroine, Khalee, comes to the rescue.
Because she needs a walk, it’s an automatic part of my day.
So, despite the fog, despite the chill, despite my lack of motivation, late this afternoon, I bundled up and took Khalee for a stroll.
As we walked along, looking around and taking deep breaths, I started to feel a lot better.
I started smiling at Khalee, sniffing her way along, wearing the dog shirt that I refer to as her ‘pyjamas.’
And I was filled with gratitude for this good pup whose simple need for exercise helped drag me out of today’s doldrums.
I was still tired but I didn’t feel meh at all anymore.
Thanks for taking your Christine out for a walk, KP, she really needed it.
*Last night, in separate dreams, I was searching for a piece of paper that doesn’t exist in real life, I was trying to remind my husband of things that aren’t happening in real life, and I was trying to teach a sewing class over Zoom (also not happening in real life- which is best for all concerned.)
I went for an early morning walk yesterday. Morning walks are not my normal thing, but I had time to kill between dropping my daughter at her job and a doctor’s appointment before work. It was my second walk doing something a little different in the last week, and both highlighted three revelations that aren’t totally new, but bear repeating and highlighting.
Walking, for me, shrinks distances. I get into habits of believing that things are further away than they really are, so I take my car. I hate using my car for short distances, so I organize “great circle routes” to do all the errands at once. When I break down some of those errands into single chores, I can easily get in some physical activity at the same time.
When I walk, I notice things. Yesterday morning’s walk included three kids gleefully stomping in a big puddle to smash the melting ice (one of my favourite late winter activities). I also spotted a window with a row of flowering potted plants, and chatted for a moment with a friendly crossing guard. These were all small moments of joy that I would never get in a moving vehicle.
Walking is a way for me to take action. I care a lot about the environment, so by using my own steam I am not contributing to climate change. I acknowledge that being able to walk places is something not available to everyone, especially in winter. I had to navigate icy stretches and some small snowbanks blocking the sidewalks. In summer, I would be able to note where sidewalks are broken or too high for someone with impaired mobility. I won’t notice them as much as someone in a wheelchair or using a walker, but I can at least report what I do see to the folks who maintain our streets and sidewalks so that fixes can be made.
It’s been a week of proper cold winter weather in London, Ontario. I live on the little southern bit of Canada wedged between the Great Lakes. It rarely drops below-20C here but when it does it tends to be because the Arctic airmass slips south into the jet stream and it stays that way for a week or two.
Some Canadians lean into the weather quipping “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just not dressing for the weather,” That supposes everyone has both the means to acquire the right clothing & equipment as well as the knowledge to know what to buy, how to wear it and when to stay indoors.
My partner and I are fairly committed to walking to work as part of our fitness and reducing our carbon footprint. I’m also terribly cheap and hate paying $8-12 a day to park my clunker.
Some days we just bundled up with hats, mitts, good boots and faces covered.
We did walk 2/5 days this week but we also chose to drive when the “feels like” temperature hit -39C. It was a week of driving in a cold car, working in a cold office and wearing layers of clothes in the house & in bed.
This type of cold weather wrecks havoc on batteries so for folks using electric mobility devices like scooters it was a week of being home. Waiting for buses became so hazardous school transportation was cancelled Thursday.
I think one way we can debunk toxic masculinity is calling out ideas of being able to “tough out” the weather. Sure, there are times to dig deep into your resolve to overcome obstacles. And yes, making our lives consciously more physically challenging can be a way to enhance our fitness. But those ideas must also be balanced against safety and wellbeing.
So I’m ok getting the lift offered by a friend on a snowy afternoon as I walk home. I’m ok driving when I might otherwise risk frostbite. I have been looking for rain pants and insulated snow pants that fit for about 5 years to no avail.
I would like some though so if you know where a woman can find women’s size 20 or XXXL I’d love to hear about it!