fitness · habits

It’s International Starting-Over Day! (well, it ought to be)

I’ve noticed something lately: I’m finding myself having to start over with several patterns that I hoped had turned into perfect habits. Why is this happening? What should I make of it? And what should I do? Let’s see if we can answer some of these questions. This is why I’m declaring today International Starting-Over Day.

First up: Meditation. I’ve been doing it on and off for decades, but made it a sort-of daily habit about three years ago. I’ve had some phenomenal streaks. And then, I’d miss a day. So I’d start over, only for it to happen again, a while later. My Ten Percent Happier App keeps faithful (and ruthless) track of my activity.

I’ve started over a lot, from the looks of this data. 43 times I’ve had to start over after 3 days.

So: 1) why has this happened; 2) what should I think about it; and 3) what should I do? I think my answers here are:

  1. It’s happened because life happens.
  2. This is what life is like– imperfect, filled with gaps.
  3. When this happens, I can just start over.

Second starting-over habit: my no-buying clothes/shoes/accessories plan, January 1–July 1 2023, has been blown to smithereens. Last July, along with Samantha and some of the other bloggers, I embarked on a no-buying-clothing-and-such, and it worked very well through 2022.

But when I re-upped in January 2023, I lost resolve right away. It started in mid-January with the purchase of a teal pair of chaco sandals (my sister and niece have them, which I borrowed during the winter holidays, so I wanted a pair) Then in March I felt like I needed a pair of Dansko shoes for work. April brought a late-night order of two cute shirts and a jacket (they were on sale, but that is hardly exculpatory). May? Another jacket, purchased at a friend’s Cabi clothing party. And now, just before June, courtesy of REI, I’m the guilty owner of incredibly cute summer sandals that I don’t need, but really want.

What should I do now? I get to choose, including starting over. If I want to restart a no-buying plan, I can. The fact that I bought stuff doesn’t mean I can’t slow down or stop or rethink or make plans to curb buying. Whatever I decide to do, I starting over is always an option.

Here’s a tough one: Cycling. For years, I’ve considered myself a cyclist. I rode a lot, under a lot of conditions, on and off-road. Over the past seven years, I found I was riding less. This was distressing, but didn’t help me with reestablishing a regular cycling habit. Last summer I bought a beautiful fancy e-bike, but I haven’t ridden it much. What can I do?

If I want to resume riding, I can start over. It is hard to ride or run or walk or swim when I used to do it regularly, and now I don’t. But that’s the beauty of starting over. I can just… resume.

Of course life isn’t that simple. Habit formation and re-formation aren’t that simple. But they’re important, and they’re always available to us. I’m beginning to think that if we want to live interesting and fulfilling and relatively happy lives, getting more comfortable with starting over will help.

I should say here that I’ve been inspired by Tracy’s blog Vegan. Practically. Her post on Ways to Be Imperfect has made me think of what my options are in the face of my own imperfections. So thanks, Tracy.

What about you, dear readers? Are you avoiding starting over with something? Did you start over recently? How is it going? I’d love to hear from you.

Book Club · fitness · weight stigma

FIFI book club: “You just need to lose weight” and 19 other myths about fat people

CW: in-depth discussion of anti-fatness myths and people’s experiences around body shaming.

If you haven’t heard about Aubrey Gordon, then now’s a very good time to meet her. Gordon is a writer, podcaster and activist. She co-hosts the podcast Maintenance Phase, which we’ve blogged about here. Her newest book, “You just need to lose weight”, and 19 other myths about fat people, has been covered by just about every media outlet, from the Washington Post to Glamour UK to Literary Hub.

I’ll just come out and say it right now: this is a book that a) really needed to be written; b) really needs to be read by everyone (especially everyone who works in health care); and c) is brilliantly done by Aubrey Gordon.

If you decide to read/listen to this book, don’t skip over the introduction. Here are some of my favorite bits:

Many of these myths center around treating fat people as failed thin people, implying that thin people are superior to fat people.

This is one of the best sentences I’ve ever read explaining fat stigma.

Gordon also addresses the question, “why give these anti-fat myths any airtime?” Her answer is:

We may talk about diets differently today, but social mandates to become thin are as strong as ever.


Engaging with these myths, as thin people or as fat people, provides us with opportunities “to interrupt moments of anti-fatness in our daily lives”. Staring down the myths and reducing them to the factually inaccurate and blatantly bigoted views that they are is long overdue.

We’ll be reading and posting on each of the four sections of the book, starting with section one today. We encourage you to read along with us and post comments. We’ll be reading them and responding.

For each section, I’ll list the myths that are covered, and then a few responses by our bloggers. Here are the myths Gordon discusses in section one:

  1. Being fat is a choice; if fat people don’t like how they’re treated, they should just lose weight.
  2. Any fat person can become thin if they try hard enough; it’s just a matter of calories in, calories out.
  3. Parents are responsible for their child’s weight; only bad parents let their children get fat.
  4. Thin people should help fat people lose weight.
  5. Weight loss is the result of healthy choices and should be celebrated.

Here’s Amy’s overview:

I really enjoyed reading this book. As a regular listener to Maintenance Phase I could almost hear this entire book in Aubrey’s voice as I was reading it. There was so much that resonated with me, as a person in a bigger body, in this first section. Like Aubrey, I’ve been stopped by thin people who have suggestions on how I can lose weight. I had a co-worker tell me I looked like I had “had a healthful sabbatical” because I returned in a smaller body than when I left, and received countless lectures on “calories in/calories out.”

The excellent writing and easy style of offering facts without judgment is refreshing in the realm of books about bodies and how much they weigh. I was excited to read this book and I’m thrilled to say it did not disappoint.

Here’s Tracy, focusing on myths about parents, children and body weight:

First, to be clear, Aubrey is preaching to the converted — I already am completely on board with the message and love Aubrey Gordon and Michael Hobbes’s blog, The Maintenance Phase, where they debunk diet myths left, right, and centre. Nonetheless, listening to her book I discovered that I can still be shocked and outraged, and I still have a lot to learn. Part 1 presents five myths that fall under the “Being fat is a choice” theme.

There is room to be outraged at every turn, but the chapter on children (Myth: Parents are responsible for their child’s weight. Only bad parents let their children get fat), really made me despair about how far we have to go. I learned that children have literally been removed from homes and put into foster care. I didn’t know this. Also, in some places, including several US States, there is no lower age limit on gastric bypass surgery and as a result it has been performed on children. I think I heard right that the youngest person to have it was two and a half years old.

Besides horrific stories representing these extremes, the whole chapter made me keenly aware (again, as a sad reminder) of how entrenched ant-fat bias is in our culture, such that children are shamed for being fat. Indeed, it brought me back to the beginning of when I was ushered into the world of dieting at the age of 16 after I gained 15 pounds in five weeks on a trip to Europe. After that, my grandfather had one more story to add to the family repertoire, and that was that when he saw me at the airport he didn’t at first recognize me because [here he would blow out both of his cheeks like a balloon to demonstrate how fat I looked, and then everyone would laugh – or at least this is how I remember that story going every time it was hauled out for fun]. I remember not thinking it was particularly funny, and feeling for the first time that I had to “do something” about my body. So the children chapter resonated and took me back to the beginning of my struggle with food, weight, and body image.

And one more thing I noted: she talked about why anti-fat bias is not “fat-phobia” and that referring to it as such doesn’t capture its far-ranging oppressive impact.

Next up is Diane:

What I loved most was the end section with all the notes. So much is said about the need for low body weight without evidence to back up the claims. I’m an evidence nerd, so perusing the sources made me very happy.

Like Tracy, the chapter on children was also shocking for me. It was also the one where I had to think hard about my own anti-fat biases. I have learned to be much more accepting of all body shapes, but a little part of me still falls for this myth if I’m not careful.

The last myth (Anti-fatness is the last socially acceptable form of discrimination) really made me think because Aubrey pointed out that words without actions are meaningless. Anti-fatness often targets women, Black people, people of colour, poor people, queer and 2SLGBTQI people, disabled people, who also face discrimination that is supposed to be illegal. But discrimination against those groups, regardless of body size, it remains socially acceptable as long as we collectively allow it to happen.

I’m wrapping up, again pointing out some of my favorite Gordon smack-down passages:

When someone tells me to just lose weight, it teaches me that I can never expect their advocacy on behalf of fat people. The best I can hope for is their indifference.

As a person who identifies as fat (and whose weight has gone up and down throughout my life), I’m very familiar with the anger and heartache and sadness that comes with knowing that I’m being judged as less professional, smart, attractive or worthy of respect than the thinner people in every environment. I’m also familiar with unsolicited advice about diets or weight loss from others. To paraphrase Gordon, it’s as if we owe thinness to others, that our very fatness is an embarrassment to them, an offense against them.

But, but… what about your health? I’m just concerned about you.

Yeah, no. I”m not falling for that again.

Health-concern trolling is a bad thing. If you want to read a bunch of reasons why, check out this easy-to-scan-if-slightly-salty article.

Honestly, I could go on all day just about section one, but I’ll leave you with a few comments about the idea that weight loss should always be celebrated (part of myth five). Gordon says this:

Ultimately, weight-loss compliments don’t function without a hierarchy of bodies. Thinness is only worth celebrating if it is an accomplishment, and thinness is only an accomplishment if fatness is a failure.

“Healthiness” compliments work very similarly, which Gordon notes, revealing bodily hierarchies that mirror our other power hierarchies, enfolding racism, misogyny, ableism, etc. to exclude and disparage bodies of those who aren’t in favor. If you’re interested in another great read on this topic, check out Sabrina Strings’ Fearing the Black Body: the Racial Origins of Fat Phobia. Gordon cites it, I’ve read it and it’s really worth checking out.

We’d love to hear from you. Feel free to comment about experiences or views or suggested reading.

fitness · meditation

Six things to do to celebrate World Meditation Day

Yes, it’s finally arrived. We’ve all been waiting impatiently– hankering to put up our meditation house decorations, buy enlightenment-directed presents, draw names at the office for the annual Secret Bodhisattva event, you name it. Well, knock yourself out (or rather, sit yourself down on your zafu cushion), because it’s happening today: that’s right, it’s World Meditation Day 2023!

World Meditation day slide template with graphics of candles, chimes, a mandala, and a person meditating wth very big flowy hair.
There’s apparently a dedicated World Meditation Day slide template. Hit me up if you want a copy.

Lest you think this is just a niche event, I saw that LinkedIn is planning its own workplace meditation activities. Here are some of their graphics, as proof.

People meditating in workplace casual attire, against that blue LinkedIn background.
People meditating in workplace casual attire, against that blue LinkedIn background.

You may be having trouble narrowing down what to do in honor of this very auspicious day. Don’t worry– I’ve put together a handy list of things that I might do; feel free to follow my lead, or create your own list (which I’d love to hear about in the comments, if writing comments ends up on your list…)

Number one: Nothing. I mean, spend some time doing nothing. Sit or stand or walk or lie down and just be for a bit. Let things get a little quieter. No multitasking for now. Oh, and either close your eyes or not; if not, maybe look softly slightly ahead of you and down a little bit so your head is comfortable.

Number two: Notice. What’s happening as I’m standing, sitting, walking, lying down or whatever? Are there sounds? Smells? Sensations? Feelings? Thoughts? All of the above? None of the above? Okay.

Number three: Breathe. In. Out. If you want to notice that, do so. You’ll likely get distracted (as you are one of the sentient humans), and then you’ll notice you’re distracted, so you’ll go back to noticing your breathing. Or the sensations, or sounds. Or whatever.

Number four: Maybe set a timer before starting (this should’ve been number zero– sorry about that) if you feel uncomfortable with something open-ended, if you’re busy, if you are a timer fan (I’m one of them– I almost never meditate without one, which is… totally fine. Up to you), or whatever. If want a timer specific to meditation, there are a zillion of them. Insight Timer is free and one of the many you might like.

Number five: Stop. You’ve probably got other things to do today (World Meditation Day block party or BBQ?). More likely those things include laundry, work, play, socializing, or dealing with any number of the things in our rich and complicated lives. So, go on and do those things now.

Number six: Consider starting over again at number one tomorrow. It won’t be World Meditation Day 2023. But, it will be a day in which the world might benefit from some meditation. Just a thought.

Hey readers– what did you end up doing on World Meditation Day? Lemme know.

Book Reviews · fitness

Catherine’s summer reading: a partial list

School’s out for summer! Take it, Alice…

It’s a classic, isn’t it? Alice Cooper, singing “School’s Out”,

One of the pleasures of the end of my semester is looking over the vast number of books I have (hello, pandemic online shopping!) that I haven’t read yet, and teeing up those for close-to-immediate consumption. You might like some of them, and you might also have recommendations for us, so please feel free to post any suggestions in the comments.

First up is our next FIFI book club selection, “‘You just need to lose weight’ and 19 other myths about fat people”, by Aubrey Gordon. We’ll be reviewing it in the next few weeks, so stay tuned, and maybe even read along with us.

A book I just got in the mail is called Fat Girls Hiking, by Summer Michaud-Skog. It’s got tips and advice and stories and pictures. As a person who doesn’t love hiking but loves nature, I thought it might be useful. Will report back.

How the Other Half Eats: the untold story of food and inequality in America, by Priya Fielding-Singh, came out in 2021, when many of us were a bit preoccupied with other matters. But now is a good time for me to turn to this book. I’m teaching a freshman seminar in Philosophy of Food, and getting myself caught up on recent research is important. I was catching up on podcasts the other week and heard Fielding-Singh on the podcast Code Switch talking about the book. Definitely worth checking out.

Even though this is an academic book, Why Wellness Sells: natural health in a pharmaceutical culture, by Colleen Derkatch, is another book I’m looking forward to reading and report on to all you FIFI readers. Here are some excerpts from the description of the book:

Public interest in wellness is driven by two opposing philosophies of health that cycle into and amplify each other: restoration, where people use natural health products to restore themselves to prior states of wellness; and enhancement, where people strive for maximum wellness by optimizing their body’s systems and functions.

Oh yes. Please go on…

The concept of wellness entrenches an individualist model of health as a personal responsibility, when collectivist approaches would more readily serve the health and well-being of whole populations.

My thoughts exactly! I love it when I agree with a book before even reading it… 🙂 Seriously, though, the so-called wellness culture is pervasive and often suspect. I’m looking forward to reading what Derkatch has to say.

Climate change is most definitely a Feminist Issue. The book All We Can Save: truth, courage and solutions for the climate crisis is an anthology of hopeful essays, stories and poems, edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katherine K. Wilkinson. It also came out n 2021, and I bought it then. Now seems like high time to crack it open and see what it has to say. I can use both some good news and also nudges to become more active in helping take care of/save the planet.

These are now at the top of the (very big) pile of books I want to read. Yes, there’s fun fiction in there, too. I just finished Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus, which was darkly comic and a satisfying read. I’m just starting The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E Harrow. Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, by Gabrielle Zevin, is on my bedside table and next up.

Dear Readers, what are you reading this summer? Audio/kindle/paperback/first edition/graphic novel/something new? I’d love to hear what you’re starting, what you’re finishing, what you liked, and what you didn’t.

fitness · running

From vibrators to food processors: weird prizes for women’s athletic competitions

Today is Mother’s Day in the US, Canada and lots of (but not all) other countries. If you’re curious, here’s a list of when Mother’s Day is celebrated during the year. To honor mothers, we phone them (according to this site, Mother’s Day is the busiest calling day of the year), take them out to dinner, buy them cards, and of course send flowers.

There are lots of running races held on Mother’s Day. The weather is often warm, and it’s almost summer, which is perfect for an outdoor athletic activity. And, of course, there’s the chance for a nice prize if you win. In Madrid on Spain’s Mother’s Day, there was a 7km race– Carrera de a Mujer– and the grand prize was a food processor.

Yep, you read that right. A food processor.

Hmmm. Women’s Race. Mother’s Day. Food Processor. Am I sensing a gendered pattern here?

Absolutamente no, say the race promoters. Okay– what did they say?

“We apologize but we consider this a product with no sexist character and ideal for any athlete who wants to improve their nutritional habits,” the statement said. “We regret if any woman felt offended.”

The organizers promised to “take measures” to avoid similar incidents in the future.

Yeah, that is 1) pretty unconvincing; 2) one of those irritating non-apology apologies; and 3) avoids responsibility by saying they’ll “take measure” to avoid the problem. The measures they need to take next time are simply to provide the same prizes for for women that they provide for men’s races.

Let me add that the other prizes were 0% fat food products. Oh, and the race in the past featured T shirts with the slogan “Today, the girls win!”

Yeah, my feelings exactly. Thanks for the photo, Tabitha Turner from Unsplash.
Yeah, my feelings exactly. Thanks for the photo, Tabitha Turner from Unsplash.

This isn’t the first time your FIFI reporter has spotted sexist prizes for women who win athletic competitions. Oh, no. In 2019, a regional Spanish squash tournament featured regular sorts of prizes for the men’s categories. But for the women’s division, the top prize was a vibrator. Yep, it’s true. The other prizes including a body hair removal kit and an electric foot file (which I’ve never heard of and am a little worried about). I wrote a post about it, which you can read below.

Clearly, there needs to be some sort of national sports promoter training (in Spain, and elsewhere, too) about avoiding blatant sexism in managing athletic competitions that include women. Seriously, what about cash or general sports-related swag do they not understand?

Not that there’s anything wrong with either food processors or vibrators. They’re both fine gifts for anyone, for any occasion. If you’re giving one or the other (or both) to Mom this year, just make sure to put a lovely bow on them. Happy Mother’s Day!


‘Tis the season– for coffee rides!

Just when I thought it would never end, my semester is (almost) over. My last exam is Tuesday, and grades are due soon after. The weather has turned gorgeous (for now), which means my fancy has turned to: coffee rides!

My friend Pata and I have been cycling together since 2007, when we met at the NEBC (Northeast Bike Club) Women’s Ride. One of my favorite types of rides with her is the coffee ride. It is what it sounds like– we meet up and ride to our favorite local coffee place (Peet’s in Lexingon, MA) for coffee and possible baked goods, depending on when we arrive and what’s left. It’s one of my favorite summer pleasures.

This summer we’ll have to be intentional about planning them, as Pata’s work schedule is much busier. But our love for 1) cycling; 2) coffee; and 3) each other will, no doubt, prevail.

Here’s a post from 2017 about the bliss of coffee rides. Enjoy reading, riding, and sipping!


fitness · WOTY

Catherine’s 2023 word of the year: an update

It’s almost May 1. For me, this date signals a shift in my work, in my schedule, in my life cadence. May 1 is the last day of classes (although not the last day of meetings, or grading or exams). But still. It holds out the promise of summer– of beaches and lakes and forests and backyards and decks.

Four months into 2023, it occurred to me to check out my WOTY– word of the year. We at Fit is a Feminist Issue have been posting them for some years now. Here are a few of our posts:

What’s your Word of the Year? Here are ours (2021)

It’s word-of-the-year time again (2022)

Fit Feminists’ 2023 Words of the Year

Mine for the past three years have been these:

  • awake in 2021
  • creativity in 2022
  • allow in 2023

I’m not sure how these words of the year are working out for me. Maybe it’s not my fault, but 2021 now seems like a haze, with transitioning from life and work entirely online to venturing into work and other people’s homes in person. I don’t remember how awake or alert I was.

Creativity is a good word for any year for me, certainly as an aspiration, a reminder of the joys (for me) of making, making new, opening up avenues for novel activity. I love me some novel activity; if you missed last Sunday’s post on my visits to an alpaca farm, float tank and the wackiest massage chair ever, check it out here. I’m not taking issue with my 2022 word, but rather it’s kind of a primary word for me every year. Does that count? I’m not sure how the word-of-the-year authorities would rule on this one.

Which brings us to 2023: Allow. Yeah, no. What possessed me to pick ALLOW as my word? I am sooo not an allowing kind of person. Letting things be, going with the flow, keeping cool– all these are most definitely not descriptors of me. And they also don’t describe how my year has gone so far.

Work life has been turbulent– coming back from sabbatical to a new department chair, hiring a new colleague, and adjusting to the loss of my dear friend and colleague Laura, who died last year. Home life has been fun but busier, with two out-of-town friends staying with me once a week while working in Boston. Active life has been opportunistic and not systematic, which is not an unfamiliar pattern but one that I’m not happy with. All of this points to one thing: I need a new Word of the Year.

Luckily, the internet has lots of suggestions. I checked out this site, and from all the ads, it seemed like her WoTY was Vrbo. Not helpful. This one had 244 options, which is just too many for me.

But you gotta pick sooner or later, so here’s my adjusted Word of the Year: Friend.

Of all the things I do, being friends with people is one of my favorites. Doing things with them, talking with them, helping out from time to time, and even allowing (yeah, I guess that word is somewhat useful) them to help me– all these things are what I consider my life to be about.

Yesterday I had friends over for brunch and then we went to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts for their annual Art in Bloom exhibit. Garden clubs around the area are assigned a work of art, and they construct a flowery companion for it. I go often, and it’s always fun. Here’s a selfie of us from yesterday:

Melanie, me, Deb, and Mari at the museum.
Melanie, me, Deb, and Mari at the museum.

Yeah– Friend. That works. I’m shifting words, but I think this is much better.

What about you, friends? Did you pick a word for 2023? Do you remember what it is? How’s it working for you? I’d love to hear how things are going for you and your word.

fitness · running

If running a marathon is too much trouble, how about catching a ride instead?

It’s happened again. Someone who had signed up for a long-distance running race decided to pursue alternative modes of transportation in order to finish more quickly. In this most recent case, Scottish ultrarunner Joasia Zakrzewski competed in her own custom version of a duathlon– combining running with riding in a car.

I don’t think that’s a thing.

Frog agrees with me: nope, that's not a thing.
Frog agrees: nope, that’s not a thing.

During the 2023 GB Ultras Manchester to Liverpool 50-mile race on 7 April, Zakrzewski reportedly was limping and got in a friend’s car to go to the next checkpoint to tell course marshals she was withdrawing. She says,

“When I got to the checkpoint I told them I was pulling out and that I had been in the car, and they said ‘you will hate yourself if you stop’,” Dr Zakrzewski said. “I agreed to carry on in a non-competitive way. I made sure I didn’t overtake the runner in front when I saw her as I didn’t want to interfere with her race.”

However, that’s not how the race ended. In fact, when she crossed the line– in third place– she was given a medal and a trophy and posed for pictures. At no point did she tell the race officials that her finish time was aided by a 2.5 mile car ride.

Young Keanu is correct: that's just so not right, man.
Young Keanu is correct: that’s just so not right, man.

Race director Wayne Drinkwater was completely in the dark about this, too.

…At no point at the finish were the event team informed by Joasia that she was ‘not running the race competitively’.” … None of our event team in question, with written statements to confirm this, were aware that Joasia had vehicle transport at any time during the race until we received information after the race from another competitor.

It wasn’t until they received information from another competitor that they investigated.

Drinkwater said the organization received information that a runner had gained an “unsporting, competitive advantage during a section of the event.” Mapping data showed Zakrzewski covering a mile of the race in just 1 minute 40 seconds. Organizers learned she had traveled by car for 2.5 miles before continuing to complete the race on foot.

Of course, once all this came out, Joasia was iconsolable:

Joasia Zakrzewski said her actions were “not malicious” and the incident was caused by miscommunication… She said she was “devastated” by what had happened and extremely upset to see “haters” on social media calling for her to have a lifetime ban. “I’ve given so much to the running world so I am devastated this has happened,” she said.

Hmm… She’s “devastated” by what “happened”. It’s not like this was some geopolitical event occurring at the time of the race. She did this. These comments don’t acknowledge that she knowingly let the race officials put the medal on her, not the rightful 3rd-place winner, Mel Sykes. She even uploaded a photo and data from her running app on Twitter. All this suggests that she intended to hang onto her ill-gotten third-place finish. But when some folks looked at the Strava data, they found anomalies, and soon all was revealed.

Mel Sykes’ twitter post (@nuddypants–love this handle) about the race, where she was belatedly awarded 3rd place.

This race wasn’t a special qualifying one, and there wasn’t even prize money for the winners. Not that such conditions would justify cheating, but they might explain it. There’s no real explanation here.

Cheating happens in athletic events, and it happens in running races. One of the most infamous cases happened in my town (Boston) in 1980 when Rosie Ruiz, an unknown runner, crossed the finish line, winning the women’s race. Canadian runner Jacqueline Gareau crossed the finish line for real in 2:34:28, but was denied her rightful glory. It took a week to suss out that Rosie Ruiz didn’t run the whole course. In fact, she took the T (the Boston subway) and popped out a mile or so from the finish. Taking public transport, while more ecologically conscientious than driving, is not an approved method for marathons.

Like Mel Sykes, Jacqueline Garneau did get recognition for her Boston finish. In 2005, she was the grand marshal for the Boston Marathon, and she was hailed and cheered while crossed the winner’s tape, albeit 25 years after she finished.

Jacqueline Garneau, Canadian marathon runner, crossing the tape in Boston, 25 years after her win.

What’s the message here? It’s not that cheaters never win– sometimes they do. But here are some cases where a cheater’s win is fleeting, because a bunch of people are paying attention and care about fairness and fun in sport. Mel Sykes, in her Twitter feed, is looking ahead to more fun races, runs, walks and cafe stops along the way. Jacqueline Garneau looks happy in her picture at the Boston finish line. She looks happy here, too, posing with men’s winner Bill Rogers, both wearing the winners’ olive wreaths and medals.

Jacqueline Garneau in 1980 with Bill Rogers-- both winners of the Boston Marathon.
Jacqueline Garneau in 1980 with Bill Rogers– both winners of the Boston Marathon.

If you want to read more about Garneau– what she’s doing now, how she feels about that day in Boston, look here. Tidbit: she forgave Rosie Ruiz. Joasia Zakrzewski may be forgiven as well. Once she learns how to apologize properly.

Readers, did you hear about this latest example of very bad athlete behavior? What do you think? I’d love to hear from you.

season transitions · self care

In pursuit of… something peaceful: rural and urban options

For those of us who live in northern climes, it’s both spring and not-yet-spring. Here in the Boston area, the daffodils and a number of ambitious tulips are up and running. But the bright sun and blue skies and delightful warmth we crave are only available on a spotty basis. Yes, April really is the cruelest month, at least in my view.

In addition to the swing-set and merry-go-round gyrations of the weather, there’s also the roller-coaster ride which is the academic year to finish and disembark from. This is a fact of life for all who teach for a living, and all of us who harbor students in our midst. It’s not easy, I’m telling you. So, no one can fault me for looking to squeeze in a little time-out or peacefulness break during last few weekends before May arrives. Spoiler: I’ve found two so far. Hope you might find some of it useful in your own search for the strength to make it through until May.

First, the rural experience: my friend, acupuncturist and fellow book club member Lisa scoped out a local alpaca farm (located conveniently near another club member’s home) and organized a pre-book-club visit last Sunday afternoon. You could tell right away this was a fun place:

The owner led us into the barn, where the female alpacas were hanging out. They were as adorable as their reputations led me to believe, even though they somehow didn’t make this list of the eight cutest animals ever. Hmphf.

We were allowed to pet them, provided that they were amenable. We were told not to stick our hands out in front of their faces– I mean, that’s just rude, right? If they were close enough, we could pet their soft wooly necks. Since we were the last tour of the weekend, the owner said that the alpacas were kind of over the tourists (who can blame them), so we should probably respect their desires to keep a bit of distance. Fair enough. I feel that way by the end of my workweek too. And, this is sensible advice when visiting anyone.

Moving through the small barn, we exited to the yard to meet the male alpacas.

As if all this wasn’t enough to soothe the savage breast (yes, it’s breast, not beast; see here), there was also a gift shop. Oh yeah.

We all left for our book club meeting with heads and hearts full of alpaca love. In case you (like me) are now giving serious thought to throwing it all in and becoming an alpaca farmer, look no further than here. We discussed the idea in great detail during book club, but no one has given notice at their job yet. Yet.

Before I move on, one more thing: if these pictures of 30 times people captured alpacas being adorable don’t convince you to move alpacas up into the top ten most adorable animals of all time, then I just don’t know what to say.

Now, let’s move to more urban time-outs and the search for the brief wellness break, perhaps on the way home from the grocery store.

In a fit of late-night FaceBook buying imprudence, I purchased a “special deal” on a combo massage chair and salt-water-pod float experience. No, they don’t put the massage chair in the water; they are two separate experiences. The establishment is called The Indoor Oasis, about a 25-minute drive from my house. It was tucked away in the back corner of a quaint office park (this IS New England, people, so such things are possible), so not easy to find. But find it I did, and up the stairs I went, to find these nice people waiting for me.

The entrance to The Indoor Oases, with a lovely blue wall, wood registration desk, and friendly folks behind the desk.

I was greeted warmly, offered water and then seated in front of a safety video, which was hard to pay attention to, because I was curiously looking around. I did manage to catch the part about taking a shower– either before or after, or both (I did both to be on the safe side).

Intro and safety video for my float experience. Showering plays an important role, so is covered here.

Then it was time for my massage chair massage. Honestly, I didn’t have very high expectations. I’ve tried a few of these in the past, and my impression was pretty meh. Well, apparently I had never met the Kyota Kokoro M488 4D Massage Chair. Then, on Friday afternoon at 3:36pm, everything changed.

Hello, lover... The ridiculous brown and black leather massage chair. looks like something out of star trek.
Hello, lover…

Oh, my new massage chair soulmate may not look so pretty, with its brownish/bronze and black naugahyde upholstery. But you can’t judge a chair by its covering. The nice guy from the front desk got me set up in the chair, which involved shoving my legs and feet into the front slots, sticking my arms below the arm rests in a little chamber surrounded by soft polyester material, and nestling my shoulders and head in between pads designed to hold me in place, too.

Was I about to blast off somewhere? Well, yeah– to the land of sublime chair massage nirvana!

Oh. My. God. What followed was a 20-minute wild multi-sensory ride in what I can only describe as a Dr. Seuss-like steampunk hilarious full-body pleasure machine. The chair made all sorts of noises– huffs and puffs and wheezes of air filling up chambers and squeezing out of them like bellows (if bellows were incorporated into a living room set). It groaned and clicked and clacked, thumped (there was a lot of thumping) rolled, grumbled, hissed and knocked. All in service of giving me a variety of strong sensations consonant with being massaged by, well, an animate Dr. Seuss-like chair creature.

My arms and legs and hands and feet were pressed and squeezed. The bottoms of my feet were massaged by knobby rollers. My back and butt were manipulated by, uh, I don’t know– thumpy stick-like rotating things under the naugahyde seat. I didn’t laugh out loud, although I think no one would’ve heard me through all the racket the chair was making. I was equal parts amused and relaxed by the end of the 20 minutes.

At this point, I was pretty maximally blissful. But wait– I still had to do the float. Well, here we go– once more into the breach…

The same guy showed me my Float room– instead of a smallish pod, they have a whole room you can stand up in, so there’s less worry about feeling claustrophobic. Here’s what the setup looks like:

Anyone will float in this water– it’s super duper salty. There’s a spray bottle in there to spray your face if you get salt water in your eyes. The foam ring on the left is for under your head if you want it more out of the water, but I found it unnecessary. I tried all sensory options– with and without music, and with and without lights. All of them were nice. Here’s what the light show looks like:

I was supposed to float and relax and transcend my earthly burdens for 90 minutes. I have to admit, I started getting a little antsy before the hour was up. So I got out, showered (a necessity because of all the salt), took pictures and got dressed. Don’t get me wrong: it was very nice, floating there– warm and woozy and peaceful and colorful. But honestly, I’ve done a fair bit of floating in my time, and this was not so different. Of course, your mileage may vary.

I’m glad I tried both the float and the massage chair experiences. In the end, I am definitely Team Massage Chair. I’ll definitely be back for that, and I’m bringing friends.

And if I have to choose between the alpaca farm and the steampunk huffing and puffing massage chair, I’d say: why choose? We can have both! What a world we live in, huh?

So, friends, have you tried out of these sorts of escapes? Have you petted any particularly charming animals lately? Taken a ride on a magical La-Z-boy? Let me know– I want in on the fun.

fitness · running

The Boston Marathon and Catherine, 10 years on

Every year, the third Monday in April is a holiday in Boston. Schools and state offices are closed, as well as public libraries. My university is also closed, giving us a little breather before the last push to finish out the spring semester. You might be wondering, “what holiday is celebrated this time of year?” There are two answers.

Answer 1: Patriot’s Day! It commemorates some of the first battles in 1775 of the American Revolutionary War, (battles of Lexington and Concord) and also the rides by Paul Revere and William Dawes to alert the American colonial militia that the British were coming.

Answer 2: The Boston Marathon! Here’s some info about it from their Wikipedia page:

 [The Boston Marathon] is traditionally held on Patriots’ Day, the third Monday of April. Begun in 1897, the event was inspired by the success of the first marathon competition in the 1896 Summer Olympics. The Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest annual marathon and ranks as one of the world’s best-known road racing events. It is one of six World Marathon Majors. Its course runs from Hopkinton in southern Middlesex County to Copley Square in Boston.

April weather in New England is always a question mark. It’s been unseasonably hot, seasonably cold, and there were fog and rain and gray skies this year.

I love watching the Boston Marathon. Unlike the thousands of folks who throng to the course, holding up signs and cheering on the runners, I take the easy route and watch it on TV, where it’s broadcast live all day on a local station. But it’s always thrilling and dramatic and so emotional. I always turn on the TV in time for the last 30 minutes of the men’s race and 50 minutes of the women’s race; the pro men leave the start line 8 minutes before the pro women, and all other runners leave in waves after that.

Why do I watch every year? I mean, I am not a runner, and I don’t follow marathons or professional running events in general. What I can say is this: in my town, on our local holiday, the local TV station (and now, ESPN too) runs coverage of the whole event until 4pm. This means there’s time to watch humans progressing along a 26.2 mile/42km course– a serious athletic feat, no matter what the pace. Seeing the elite women, running under 6-minute miles (this year’s winning pace was avg 5:40/mile) provokes in me all sorts of emotions : awe, thrill, incredulity, pride, worry (hoping they’ll finish without injury) and appreciation of their dedication, skill and talent.

Here’s a look at Helen Obiri, who won the women’s marathon this year.

This year is also the 10th anniversary of a bombing that happened at the finish line of the marathon, killing three people and injuring hundreds, including 17 people who lost limbs. It was a horrible day and a horrible time. There have been many memorials erected and services held to remember and honor all those who were affected by the attack. One of the nicest ones was a 100-golden-retriever one-mile walk to the marathon finish line to honor the late Spencer, a golden retriever who came to be known as the official Boston marathon race dog. Here’s Spencer in 2018, not minding the rain and cold, urging the runners on.

Here are the retrievers who came out to honor Spencer, the day before the race.

Sometimes, you don’t have to be an active participant in an athletic event to feel and in fact be a part of it. This is how the Boston Marathon feels to me. It does inspire to get outside and explore the spring (once the rain stops…) and reminds me of how wonderful and astoundingly resilient human bodies can be. And this year, it reminds me that dogs can help us in processing our pasts and comfort and amuse us in our present. Not such a bad message for a Wednesday, huh?

Readers, are you attached to any athletic events (big or small) in your town? How do you feel about them? How do you participate? I’d love to hear from you. m