Catherine learns to support swimmers in Sharkfest (reblog)

Hi everyone– Sharkfest Swim is a series of open-water swims hosted mostly by US big cities. Participants get to swim in places they usually can’t, like busy working harbors. Local officials close areas to boat traffic and the event organizers provide a lot of support, both in and out of the water. In 2015, My friends Janet and Steph and I provided kayak support for hundreds of swimmers doing a 1500-meter open-water course. I had signed up to do it this September, now that I have my own kayak. But, along with many other events since COVID hit, it’s been postponed to Sept 2023. Well, I can wait.

While we’re all waiting, here’s my blog post from the 2015 Sharkfest event. Take a look. Readers, are you doing any open-water events this year? I’d love to hear about them.


fall · fitness · fun · paddling · running

Wacky Wednesday: Pumpkin kayakers, T. Rex racers, and beer can marathoners

Fall is here- well, almost. According to the online Farmer’s Almanac, the astronomical start of fall is Thursday Sept 22, 9:04pm, EDT. But it’s never too early to start planning your fall novelty races. Costume races can be fun– I did a short for-fun cyclocross race in 2016, dressed as a banana.

But that’s child’s play compared to the level of commitment and willingness to exhibit publicly that these folks have. Consider the annual pumpkin regatta, held in Windsor N.S., moved to Shelbourne N.S. this year (because of low water levels in Windsor). Here are some details:

Kean said the race will take place [on Oct. 8] in Shelburne’s harbour, between the waterfront and Islands Provincial Park. “We’re pretty confident we can make it work. I mean, Shelburne has a world-class harbour so we want to make use of that,” she said.

Danny Dill, the owner of the Dill Family Farm in Windsor, will supply five oversized pumpkins for the race. His family has been providing the giant gourds since the regatta’s inception in 1999. Dill said he feels good about Shelburne taking on the regatta. “It’s like we’ve passed the torch, so to speak,” he said.

Maura Macumber, paddling her craft at the 2019 Windsor Pumpkin Regatta.

Racing in costume might seem much easier than racing in an enormous pumpkin. Well, consider this recent T. Rex event at a horse racing track.

T. Rex competitors cross the finish line by any means necessary.

If you’re feeling down about having missed your chance to channel your inner theropod in sneakers, there’s still time. If you’re in the Richmond, VA area, you can register for this T. Rex race.

Then there’s running a marathon in a human-sized beer can. Ultramarathoner Glen Sutton decided to make a beer can suit to wear while running a marathon. The rest is youtube history:

Two marathon runners flanking a human-sized beer can, also running. Don’t blame me, I just work here.

Speaking from experience, it’s so much fun to let go of everything but a commitment to fun and a modicum of large/small motor skills, and just get out there, laughing and moving in equal measure. Readers, do you have plans for any costume races or active events this fall? We’d love to hear all about them.

fitness · meditation

Streaking through meditation

Who remembers streaking? Not the hair-kind, but the running around naked kind. It was a thing in the mid-late 70s on college campuses that appeared, had its moment, and faded out. Before Weird Al Yankovic was old enough to drive, singer-songwriter Ray Stevens was on the case, releasing the novelty song “The Streak” in 1974. It was a huge hit, and then disappeared (as these novelty songs are wont to do).

Many of us have written about streaks, in meditation and in our physical activities. Mina wrote about her experiences at day 999 of her meditation streak. I’ve blogged about what happens when I get a 200-day streak going in meditation. I’ve also written about what to do when, for whatever reason, I miss a day of meditation. Most recently Christine wrote about her experience of 22 days of meditation.

It happened again a week and a half ago: I missed a day. I’ve finally gotten used to this– it’s not cause for feeling like a failure. Starting again is another (and very important) step in developing stable habits over time. Starting over. Picking up where I left off.

Looking at the Ten Percent Happier app on my phone, it faithfully notes and keeps track of every session. I really like how it shows my sessions over time. It sees all and tells all. Here it shows where I missed a recent session.

The last 4 weeks of meditation sessions, with one sad gray circle where I got too busy.
The last 4 weeks of meditation sessions, with one sad gray circle where I missed a day. The checked circle is today when I’m writing this.

But that gray circle is only one element of a larger picture. When we pan out and look at my sessions over time– also faithfully recorded by the app– we see two patterns emerging. Here’s pattern one, showing my streaks of consecutive sessions.

A collage of my 3, 5, 10, and on up to 200-day streaks, showing how many of them I've done.
A record of my 3, 5, 10, and on up to 200-day streaks, showing how many of them I’ve done.

You can see that I’ve started and restarted many times– 35 to date in the past two and a half years. There’s a serious drop off at the 10-day mark– only 11 of those. And there’s a further drop-off at the 20-day mark– I’m at 6 of those. As you all know, it’s hard to do most things (apart from teeth brushing, maybe) 150 days in a row. I’ve only hit that mark once. And oh, was I bummed when I missed a day after reaching the 200-day mark!

But hey, life happens. And, life (plus the app) reveals another way to frame my meditation habit. Take a look at pattern two.

My weekly progress. 70 weeks is missing on this slide, but it’s there on the app. I’m at 109 weeks today.

For me, maintaining enough continuity to keep the weekly streak going is something I’m focusing on. Yes, it too could get interrupted, so I would do what one does: pick myself up, dust myself off, and start all over again.

Hey, does that sound like a song? If so, that’s because it is a song by Nat “King” Cole. Here’s the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald’s version, whose streak of magnificent performances is impressive no matter how you frame it.

Readers, how do you feel about streaks? Aiming for them, being in the middle of them, getting interrupted, resuming? I’d love to hear from you.

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.

fitness · tennis

Serena: what we’ve said about her over the years and what we believe now

Maybe you’ve been on a remote retreat somewhere without internet access. Maybe you’ve been on a no-electronics challenge. Those are the only reasons I can imagine you not knowing that Serena Williams, 23-time Grand Slam singles tennis champion and one of the world’s great athletes of all time, has played her final tournament matches. Here she is, in action this week.

The news and social media are filled with odes to Serena– what she means to tennis, to women’s tennis, to black women in tennis, to black women athletes– everyone, it seems, has something to say about how Serena Williams has touched their lives.

That includes us at Fit is a Feminist Issue. We’ve written a lot about Serena and the countless ways she’s a role model for us. We’ve spoken out fiercely about those who have policed her body, her clothing on and off the court, and tried to deny her the right to adequate health care, and the right to protest calls made during competitions in the way that men protest. Among other things.

Here are some posts we’ve written over the years:

While you’re here, you might also enjoy Kim’s post on Naomi Osaka, another woman of color and tennis powerhouse: Naomi Osaka vs The Patriarchy (OR: That time a talented female athlete asked reporters to shut up and it didn’t go her way. Quel Surprise.)

And for some resources on black women in sports, see Nat’s post: Black History, Black Present and Black Futures

As Serena Williams moves on to other business and family ventures, we wish her all the luck in the world. Of course she won’t need it: she’s the GOAT!

Readers, what are you memories or favorite associations with Serena Williams? If you have a story you’d like to share, we’d love to hear it.

fitness · health

Teetering on the edge: more misleading news on balancing and mortality risk

Once again, news outlets are booming out warnings about the life-or-death-level importance of balancing.

Balance training is an important but often-neglected skill, one that impacts both our longevity and our quality of life, beginning around age 40.

Every news article about balance will remind us of the World Health Organization grim stats on the effects of falls on health and life globally. However you manage it, having good balance is super-important, especially as we age. There are loads of tips in this article about ways to improve our balance through various exercises. You all undoubtedly know a lot about this already.

How can we know how good our balance is? Maybe they should devise some sort of test.

Luckily for most of us, what researchers have in mind is a 10-second balance test. But what sort of balancing should I be doing? Where does the other leg go– to the side, bent or straight, lifted or near the standing leg, what?

The internet fails to offer a consensus opinion.

You might be thinking, this isn’t that big a deal. Well, the media outlets beg to differ. Based on this article that was published recently in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, news outlets are saying that passing the 10-second balance test is linked to living longer. Then they follow up with ways to improve your balance, in hopes that, by balancing longer, you’ll also live longer.

Sigh. No, just no.

As we know, science is complicated. As an illustration of that fact, the researchers came up with this graph to show the role of balance in longevity. I hope this clears things up.

Star-shaped network graph of factors contributing to health, with 10-second one legged stand being one of them.
Oh yeah, that helps a lot. Thanks!

Okay, enough idle snarking. Here are my two takeaway points:

Takeaway point one: medical science researchers are always looking for easy, simple and inexpensive-to-implement predictors of future health status. Checking to see how someone performs on a 10-second balance test is easy to do and can be done in pretty much any indoor setting in well, 10 seconds. And it costs nothing.

But, it’s just *one* metric among a lot of others, some of which are *much* more salient to a person’s health status. And it’s partly predictive, not causal. Yes, problems with balance can contribute to falls, which contribute to complicated health problems throughout the life trajectory. But, the results from this study are simply offering some statistical evidence that this cheap ‘n’ easy test might be useful information for clinicians and patients. Performance on the test doesn’t determine how long you’ll live, and cramming to do better on the test won’t affect your longevity (not really).

Takeaway point two: what about those people who, for loads of reasons, the 10-second balance test isn’t appropriate or doesn’t apply? We come in all sorts of bodies, with all sorts of structures and limitations and conditions and medical histories. Using metrics from the 10-second balance test excludes lots of otherwise healthy and functioning people, as predictive health algorithms or processes won’t be applied to them.

Also, relying on the 10-second balance test alone ignores ways in which lots of people navigate, balance and manage their environments within whatever constraints or limitations or different structures they live with. And if those ways are ignored, then clinicians won’t detect changes, so patients won’t get help they might need to maintain their ways of life.

It’s important to remind ourselves, researchers, patients and the media that cover such stories that good medical care doesn’t always come in a cheap, easy and quick packages. That’s because we (the humans) come in a variety of packages ourselves. So we need some variety in the ways we take care of ourselves and the ways others take care of us.


Catherine worries about group rides: some things don’t change

As many of you may know, Fit is a Feminist Issue is about to celebrate its 10th year in existence. And this pretty much sums up my feelings about it.

10 years of being awesome!
Still awesome after all these years, imho.

I looked to see what was my first post for the blog. It was August 2, 2013. I wrote about some group bike rides I took with friends and my worries about them. You can read it below.

9 years and a bunch of bikes later, I still worry about group rides; some things never change. But it’s nice to know now that these worries are just part of the background scene in my head. It was true then and it’s true now that group rides with friends can be easy, hard, fun, tiring, exhilarating, soggy, triumphant or just fine. I look forward to more of them.

Here’s what I had to say then. Hope you enjoy.


advice · fitness · goals

Catherine’s 2022 Stop-Doing list

Note: this post is shamelessly stolen from Nat’s Stop Doing list posts (here and here). In just about everything (as far as I can tell), Nat is a role model for us all. In case clicking those links is just too much for you, here are her lists:

2017, Stop:

  • glorifying being busy
  • beating yourself up over missed workouts
  • apologizing for being a hot mess

What wise and prescient advice this is. But wait, there’s more.

2021, Stop:

  • letting expectations get away with yourself
  • comparing yourself to others
  • …and think before taking a new thing on
  • limiting yourself

Why yes, Nat, these are very fine things to stop doing as soon as possible. These lists are great in that they are self-caring, non-self-shaming, aspirational but also doable in everyday ways. Reading her lists made me think about what’s going on in my life right now. What would a positive (as it were), useful, inspiring and practical Stop Doing list look like for me? Well, here goes nothing…


Apologizing so much: I’ve already started this project, but old habits die hard. Apologizing, for me, is all about insecurity about my own judgment, needs and boundaries. Getting clearer with myself about what I’m doing and what I’m taking responsibility for helps me feel less in need for forgiveness (or permission) from outside sources.

Maybe I should try having a "saying I'm sorry too many times" coin jar.
Maybe I should try this.

Buying clothes that don’t fit: It still surprises me how hard this is. Having spent years, nay decades, wearing clothes that were too close-fitting or not wearing things I bought that were too close-fitting, I am finally done. This year I’ve ordered XXL, 1X and 2X items because they feel comfortable and fit me. I even bought a pair of white jeans, in my size, that I actually wear. Imagine that.

Mind is in diagnostic reset mode over this.
Mind is in diagnostic reset mode over this.

Saying yes or maybe to things I don’t want to/am definitely not going to do: This one’s on all of our lists all the time, but it bears repeating. Even in cases where I *know* that I’m not going to do X, I’m not always clear to others or myself about my never doing X.

Mowing the lawn is a good example. Every summer, I tell my neighbors in our 3-condo house that I’ll do the lawn. Which I almost never do. I end up feeling foolish and embarrassed and beholden when my upstairs neighbor ends up doing it. Or I do it half-heartedly, late and poorly. Enough already. I can come up with other solutions when I share responsibility, or just say “no” when it’s not my responsibility. This is obviously a work in progress.

My new favorite way of saying no-- that sounds like fun, but I am going to be extremely busy not doing that.
My new favorite way of saying no.

Suffering and fretting over things in isolation instead of *asking someone for help*: I help other people all the time. Doing favors or lending a hand is fun for me. I like being around others and feeling good about accomplishing goals together. Perhaps, just perhaps, other people might not mind helping me out with stuff that’s hard to do by myself, or just flat-out hard to do. One thing, though: they won’t necessarily know what I need unless I ask them. Okay. Working on that.

Maybe put this in my living room window? A help wanted sign.
Maybe put this in my living room window?

I’m going to stop here, because I think this list is enough for now. See, I’m stopping doing something… 🙂

Readers, what’s something you want to stop doing that you’re working on or thinking about? I’d love to hear from you. Please don’t stop commenting– we love to know what’s going on with all of you!

fitness · goals

Halfway through 222 workouts in 2022: thoughts about pushing through and why

A bunch of the FIFI bloggers are in 222 workouts in 2022 FB groups. I’ve been doing this for several years now, and I’ve really enjoyed the support, workout ideas and role modeling my fellow members provide. Each year I’ve squeaked out my final workouts during Christmas vacation. Hey, just in time delivery is still delivery, right?

This is me, backing up the workout truck on December 31. It gets done, but not prettily.

I tell you, this year–2022– has been a tough one. For a number of reasons (some serious, others minor but persistent), it’s been hard to move consistently and very much. Summer is always a time of increased active fun for me, and I’ve enjoyed kayaking, cycling, swimming, dog walking, and yoga. It’s still August, so the party’s not over yet. I’m also on sabbatical this fall (YAY!), so I’ll be traveling and doing more activities (mainly cycling and kayaking, but I’m flexible) through the rest of the year.

Right. Even though as of today, I’m at 113 workouts (of 222), it’s possible to make it across that finish line, even if I have to enlist my family to do a micro-triathlon with me on December 31…

But should I push through? If so, why?

A week or so ago, I wrote a blog post about the idea of “pointless goals”, and applying them to fitness goals and physical practice. There’s nothing magical about 10,000 steps, running 26.2 miles or cycling 100 miles or swimming or meditating 365 days in a row, bench pressing your body weight (or twice that, or more), or any other physical activity goal we set. But, as one of the bloggers pointed out (thanks, Mina!), these goals may provide structure for helping us attain or maintain practices for our well-being. That makes a lot of sense to me.

I meditate every day and use the Ten Percent Happier App for guided meditations *and* to keep track of my current streak. When I miss a day (which happens occasionally), it resets me to day one. But then I get a little electronic phone confetti with days three, five, ten, and so on. So I get rewards for starting over even after I’ve lost my streak. I love the phone confetti.

Stop action shot of phone confetti celebrating my 700th session (which doesn’t require continuity– yay!)

The fact that I am now 109 workouts (whatever that means to me) short of my 222 for the year is helping me focus on scheduling and squeezing in some extra walks (with dogs or humans), yoga mat time, bike rides, swims, etc. The 222 goal is not *why* I do them, but 222 being in the mix adds a little push. For me. YMMV.

So, will I or won’t I (finish up my 222 workout goals in 2022)? I think I will. It means I’ve got to get a wiggle on, but I’m feeling like some wiggling is what I want to do. Because, when it comes down to it…

I like to move it move it.

How about you, dear readers? Are you in the throes of some process which may or may not be approaching one of your fitness or practice goals? Did you see the movie Madagascar? I’d like to know…

fitness · meditation

Moments of joy and joy in moments

This week I’ve had a big treat: my 19-year-old niece Gracie is visiting me. This is also the first time she’s visited me on her own; usually the whole family (sister, niece and two nephews) come together. We have a regular slate of favorite activities: dim sum lunch, Halibut Point State Park, Mount Auburn Cemetery (the bird watching there is great), Walden Pond. Often, we visit a museum or two: the Peabody Essex in Salem is one of their favorites. I love it when they visit– the feeling of being ensconced in family, the silliness and chaos of moving from place to place in a five-person group, the enjoyment of showing them familiar places and exploring new ones together.

This time, it’s been just Gracie and me. We’ve slowed down a bit and experienced our fun in different ways. Gracie helped me with dog sitting, and we cooked together. We went to Walden and to the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum. We also did some meditation.

One morning, we did a Ten Percent Happier app meditation with my favorite teacher Jeff Warren. This one is called Practicing Joy. He guided us through an exercise of thinking about moments when we noticed someone else seeming happy or joyful. It could be very simple, like kids playing and laughing. Or noticing someone reading a book in a park and smiling.

At the end of the meditation, I was left with the feeling that the world was full of joyful moments. It certainly doesn’t seem that way when we look at the big picture, but there is respite to be found by focusing in on small bits of life experience. Here are some moments of joy from this week with Gracie:

  • Following Gracie through the zen garden outside the Gardner museum.
  • Hanging onto and playing together with my swim buoy in the middle of Walden Pond.
  • Playing a game with rocks in the same pond.
  • Walking Dixie the dog at all hours of the day and night.
  • Helping Dixie stalk the neighborhood bunnies (none of whom were harmed in the course of the game).
  • Walking around the neighborhood together without the dog one evening after a particularly large dinner.
  • Watching Gracie try to do yoga with a dog in the same room.

She leaves today. I’ll miss her. And, I’ll try to remember and look for my own moments of joy, in walking, cycling, doing dishes, yoga, swimming, playing.

Readers, do you remember a moment of joy from this week? They’re not profound, just a momentary influx of good feeling from something in your world. If you have one to share, please do. If you don’t remember one, do some noticing this week. I think you’ll see them.