Got five minutes on a Friday? Help a university student out!

My daughter, Mallory, who has blogged here about biking, canoe trips, and barefoot triathlons is a university student. She’s taking a course which requires her to come up with a business idea.

Unsurprisingly, it involves bicycles. The idea is for a program to teach children to ride. As part of her proposed plan, she needs data from parents. Would they find this useful? Would you?

She needs one hundred people to fill out her “children and cycling” survey. Please take five minutes and help her out.

Here we are together on our bikes after a nice 70 km ride!

(Guest Post by Abby E.) Disjointed: My Attempt To Be a Happy, Healthy Cripple

I’m a former philosophy major and a current editor. I’m an all-time geek, a sometime writer, and a long-time cripple.

Yup. You heard me. I said “cripple.”

This is the word I have appropriated for myself, and if you talk to a sample semi-ambulatory people, you’ll find others who have done the same. We think it’s funny.

Mind you, I wouldn’t use the word “invalid” because the word bears the connotation that the non-ambulatory are helpless and pathetic. And thanks to Gattaca, I still see “IN-valid” and hear “in-VA-lid,” the albatross that hung around the necks of the imperfect. Invalid. Not valid. Like a poorly developed argument: structurally unsound. (Actually, that analogy sort of fits. Dammit. Starting over.)

So … fifteen years ago, I was diagnosed at the age of nineteen with avascular necrosis in my right hip. At that time, symptoms only appeared after prolonged periods of weight bearing activities. I didn’t play sports, so this wasn’t a problem until I got a job that occasionally required me to be on my feet all day. I’d come home after a seven-hour shift and I’d be achy and angry.

I couldn’t ignore the problem anymore, and when two orthopaedic surgeons independently gave me the same diagnosis within seconds of seeing my x-rays, there was no denying it: the bone was dying and would eventually have to be replaced. The really weird part was that no one even knew why. I’ve never used steroids or fractured the bone, and I’ve never had a drinking problem. There was no family history of this sort of thing either, and with a family the size of mine, something like this should have appeared somewhere. And I was decades younger than most people who develop the disease. Apparently, I was a freak.

One surgeon presented me with a plethora of medieval treatments for my condition, but the only option I trusted was total replacement. However, surgeons don’t like replacing young joints because they will just need to be replaced again, which creates complications. So, while finishing my OAC (grade 13) year in high school, I started walking with a cane as a matter of habit.

But this disease has created fitness issues. Weight bearing activities aren’t exactly my best bet, although the stick allowed me to do a lot of walking. I still walk because I have to – I don’t have a car and I’m not going to pretend I can afford one in Toronto – but the pain flares up so fast now that the eight-minute walk to the nearest subway station can sometimes be excruciating. Just this year, I started to experience rare incidents where I’m stuck in my little apartment, barely able to walk a few metres from my desk to my kitchen and back.

While hobbling isn’t exactly great exercise, I don’t have many options. Swimming is ideal, but doing this year-round costs money and may still require me to walk just to get to the gym and back, and submersing myself in heavily chlorinated water between taking two or three showers per day will cause my eczema to erupt like Mount Vesuvius. After a few weeks of swimming in public pools, I’ll be able to strip naked and pretend I’m Smaug. (No, no, I don’t want to see that, either.)

I suppose I could head to the beach in the summer, but the water quality of Lake Ontario will probably mutate me to an early grave. On the bright side, I wouldn’t have to worry about not being able to save enough for my retirement. The pros and cons must be weighed carefully.

For me, biking is the best option … just not on the street. In Toronto, I would have as much to fear from aggressive cyclists as I would from all the motorized vehicle operators who are either road-raging uncontrollably or turning into drooling zombies while waiting for the chance to turn left. Sorry, but I don’t think that getting exercise should be a death-defying act.

Nope, ‘tis the stationary bike for me. And I love it. No traffic to contend with on the street, and no unruly children or off-leash dogs to run over in the park. Just me and a bike, my iPod, and Netflix.

I am starting to see results after the last few months of biking and modest weight training, and this makes me very happy. My goal is not to lose weight per se, but to drop fat and build muscle; I have even gained a couple of pounds since I started, which I believe/hope is due to increased muscle mass. You have no idea how excited I get when I flex my arm and a dimple appears that wasn’t there before – and it’s not cellulite! I can even see that the hamstring on my right leg is slowly recovering after years of limping have left it withered.

I expect to go under the knife this winter, but having my hip replaced won’t make everything perfect, because, despite the sound life lessons that Hollywood is so fond of passing on, bionic body parts are not better than the real thing – in fact, they’re nowhere near as good. I will always have some restrictions on my mobility, so my workouts now and forever will have to account for that. Still, I’m getting closer to my goal. And when I get there, I’m going to give those snotty little garden snails a run for their money.


Abby E. is a Toronto-based freelance editor who loves science, philosophy, and speculative fiction. She is not a crazy cat lady, just a crazy lady who has cats.

Tracy’s First Half Marathon: A Whole Lot of Fun

Biting into my medal at lunch after the race.

Biting into my medal at lunch after the race.

Everyone always says there is no point if it’s not fun.  But seriously, “fun” is an odd demand to make for endurance races. There are lots of great things about the challenge of endurance events. They’re satisfying. They create that adrenaline rush. They show us what we can do.

But fun?  I don’t know. Before Sunday I might have thought that to expect it to be fun might be, well, a bit unrealistic.

But fun it was. Here’s my race report for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon.

The Night before the Night before

Anita told me that her coach told her what apparently is a secret that escaped me until now: the night before the night before the race is more important than the night before.  Since this little gem fell into my possession in time enough for me to plan appropriately, Renald and I had a quiet night in on Friday, two days before the Sunday race.

I cooked an elaborate meal (Spaghetti Squash Mexicana with Pineapple-Avocado salsa) and baked a coconut-lemon cake (because I promised to bring a vegan to the family gathering in Toronto in celebration of my 50th birthday the night before the race and Veg Out was unable to cater it for me by the time I called them). Cooking complicated things from scratch is a thing I do when I want to relax and empty the mind.

By the time I took out the cake, the stress of the short week behind me had dissipated. I crawled into bed and pulled off one of the best sleep’s of the year–as challenging a feat at this time of life as a half marathon.

One Day until Race Day

Rob and Anita picked me up for the 2 hour drive to Toronto. Anita kept us occupied by reading the “Race Etiquette” sheet that she’d printed from the website. There were lots of rules, from things like “Run or walk no more than two abreast” to “Don’t put loose change in your jacket pocket — it is very distracting for other runners around you.”

There was a detailed account of how to approach hydration stations, for example, “Throw your used cup to the side of the road as close to the hydration station as possible. Drop your cup down by your waist so you don’t hit/splash another participant.”

Rob dropped us off at the Race Expo so we could pick up our kits.  With 20,000 participants in the race and mandatory pre-race day kit pick-up, the expo gave us a sense of what the starting line would feel like the next day: crowded.

The cake and I survived.

Onward to  meet my god-daughter who drove me to the family get together where I got to spend time with loved ones whom I see all too infrequently. After a few hours of fabulous company (I’ve got great relatives) and an abundance of excellent food, my cousin dropped me off at my hotel, where I arrived just at the same time that Rob and Anita were getting back from dinner.  I got my cookie (Doubletree), room-key, a late check-out, and by the time I was done at the front desk Rob had brought my suitcase up from the underground parking.

Anita and I made a plan to meet at 8:20 a.m. to get to the start line for 8:45.  I had the time etched into my mind when I got up to the 8th floor. When my room key failed to open up room 820, I checked for my room number again.  817.  Oops.

I like to lay out everything I will or might need the night before a race, from clothing to race bib to accessories to breakfast. I never ever rely on a hotel for breakfast on a race day.

I spent a little while after that obsessively checking the weather. The forecast was partly cloudy and a cold 3 degrees Celsius in the morning. I missed the memo about bringing throwaway clothes to toss to the side of the road (later to be picked up for charity) as conditions warmed up through the race.  So along with my capris I had a tank, two long-sleeved layers (to be tied around my waist, not thrown aside, if necessary), gloves, Buff for keeping my ears and head warm, and gloves. Other essentials: Garmin Forerunner to give us our 10-1s, water and fuel belt, new belt for phone so we could take some pictures, shot blocks and gels, sunglasses.

Some of my stuff -- in the end the cold temperatures determined that Buff would come with me and the hat wouldn't.

Some of my stuff — in the end the cold temperatures determined that Buff would come with me and the hat wouldn’t.

Bedtime.  Alarm set for 6:30 a.m.

Race Day

My stomach is the only way I can tell I’m nervous on race day. Even if I feel totally calm, I have to force down whatever food I need to eat and I need to spend a bit of time in the bathroom.  Sunday was no different.  I made up my cereal and even drank a real coffee (I only ever do this before races, and even then, only sometimes).

I kicked around the hotel room for about an hour and a half after my shower. It gave me enough time to eat, drink the coffee, journal, meditate, stretch, shower, and go into a state of frantic indecision about how many layers to wear, whether to wear the cap or the Buff.

Anita (in her throwaway hoodie) and I (in my Buff and not throwaway top) at the starting line. As someone remarked when they saw this pic, we are the only two who are smiling. Yes, it was COLD.

Anita (in her throwaway hoodie) and I (in my Buff and not throwaway top) at the starting line. As someone remarked when they saw this pic, we are the only two who are smiling. Yes, it was COLD.

At 8:20, with my three layers and the Buff, I met Anita in the lobby and off we went to find the purple corral. That was the corral we were assigned to based on our estimated finishing time of 2:30.  Yes, it’s not overly ambitious, but hey, running 21+ K is ambition enough for me.  The streets were teaming with people. Our corral was near the end, way back from the starting arch. You couldn’t even see it from where we were standing, shoulder to shoulder with others who planned to run a similar pace.

We knew we were in the right place because we were very near the 2:30 continuous pace bunny and the 2:30 run-walk (10-1) pace bunny. Though we didn’t choose to run alongside the run-walk pace bunny, we did keep her in view for the whole race.

It’s tough to wait around on a freezing morning when you know full well that you’ll be warm enough soon, but there’s nothing you can do to warm up right then.  Start time was 8:45 a.m., but the purple corral was far enough back that we wouldn’t hit the starting line for another 20 minutes after that.

We began to move forward, walking then stopping, walking then stopping. The red and white balloon arch came into view.  Walking, stopping, walking, stopping. And then we crossed over the timing mat, I hit start on the Garmin, and we began to run.

Anita and I had agreed to keep to a 10-1 system for most of the race, aiming for a 2:30 finish. That meant that we need to sustain slightly better than a 7 minute/kilometre pace to accommodate our walk-breaks.  She is a self-described pace dominatrix. I, on the other hand, get carried away by the moment.

Running through the streets of a major city with thousands of other people is just the sort of “moment” that gets my energy up. Enthusiastic spectators lined the side of the road. When we ran west on Bloor Street past Varsity Stadium, the University of Toronto cheerleaders waved their blue and white pom poms as runners sped by.  The crowds on the side of road thinned out a bit as we headed south, but there was never a quiet stretch with nothing. We passed reggae bands and showgirls, people holding up signs telling us (well, not us specifically) how awesome we were, and a few stunned pedestrians trapped on one side of a road that the constant stream of runners rendered impossible to cross (I guess they forgot about the race).

Anita and I chatted and checked with each other as we went.  We skipped the first walk break, still finding our stride and not quite yet settled into the right pace.  We passed by the first hydration station as well. The first 5K just whipped by, hardly even noticed we were running.  We passed by the Princess Gates at Exhibition Place (that’s where we saw the showgirls) and headed west along towards the waterfront. By the time we got there, people ahead of us were coming back the other way on the lake side of the boulevard.

Impatient runners shuffled from side to side as they withstood the long line-ups at the banks of port-o-potties at regular intervals on the course. You have to know that if someone is lining up in the middle of a race, they really need it. Anita and I ran on, thankfully neither needing a potty break at any point during the race.

I felt strong and happy.  Anita was also having a good run. The signs for each kilometre just kept on coming. No sooner had we passed 10 than, hey, there’s 11.  We stayed on pace.  The run-walk pace bunny had a crowd around her. We would pass them as they took their walk-breaks and then they would pass us as we took ours. After skipping the first two, we settled into 30 second breaks for a few rounds. From about 10-16 K we stayed fresh by taking the full minute.

It was in that stretch that I started reaching for the Gatorade when it was offered.  On our walk breaks I popped a couple of shot blocks.  But still, I felt strong. I can’t tell you what we were talking about, but Anita and I kept chatting. We sometimes ran into others from her running group who’d been training for about the same pace. With them, the spectators, the happy pace bunny and her crew, the perfect pace, the lake — you could feel the love.

And then we hit a bottleneck at about 18K where the marathoners split from the half marathoners and everyone seemed to get crunched into a lane that was too small.  The congested roadway was just one source of distress. I felt immediately exhausted when I thought of the marathoners who still had more than half their race to go.

The energy began to drain from my legs. At that point, I had to stop talking.  My smile was well and truly gone. I know this from the professional race photos that I have the option of purchasing if I want — no smiles.

Where earlier, the kilometers seemed to collapse into one another, now, the final stretch felt endless.  At about 2K to go, Anita said, “We don’t have to talk anymore,” which I’d already stopped doing anyway.

We had been opting for shortened walk-breaks for a while, reducing them to 30 seconds so we could keep to our pace. We still had the walk-run pace bunny in view, and when we dropped down to the 30 second intervals we passed her and she didn’t quite catch up.

Approaching Queen’s Park and City Hall, Rob called out from the side of the road. He waved and snapped some photos of us and urged us on.

Anita and I coming to the last few hundred metres. Okay, so I had a little smile  left. Photo credit: Rob Stainton.

Anita and I coming to the last few hundred metres. Okay, so I had a little smile left. Photo credit: Rob Stainton.

Just after we saw Rob, the sign said “500 metres to go.” Then 400, then 300, then 200 and 100. The last few kilometres my breathing got more labored. Anita said later that it wasn’t obvious that I was struggling, but I honestly had to talk myself through those final hundred metres.

And then we crossed the finish line in just under 2:30. We kept walking as we passed through the finishing chute (that was one of the rules–keep moving when you get to the end).  I had no idea we were getting medals from this race, but we did get the best finishing medal I’ve seen so far in my short racing career. We grabbed a foil blanket, a cup of Gatorade, and a bottle of water.

The temperature hadn’t got much warmer, so as soon as we stopped running we felt the chill. The foil blanket blocked the wind and made a remarkable difference. We kept following the crowd–and it was a crowd–to the food. We exchanged the voucher at the bottom of our race bibs for a plastic bag that contained a banana, a few pieces of flavored melba toast, some gummies, and a breakfast pita. Nom nom.

After the race, with foil blankets and food bags.

After the race, with foil blankets and food bags.

We tried to find Rob in the swarms of people but had no luck.  Rather than stand around and freeze, we pulled our foil blankets around us and walked back to the hotel.

Thank heavens for the late check-out and a hot shower.

Time: 2:29:13



Sleep, better alone or together?


While I was away at a conference this past weekend, I thought I’d try out the android sleep tracker. I confess I’ve been curious for awhile about how much deep sleep I got. With a king size bed all to myself, I slept like a rock star. Eight hours, eleven minutes. 75% of that in deep sleep. Woo hoo.

(By the way, I’m doing well on this week’s resolution. So far, no snoozing. It works well having the alarm go off in a light sleep period, I think, though it’s hard to get used to the random awakening times. Ah, 5:22. You again.)

On a regular weeknight, my sleep is not so luxurious. Usually I get seven hours and change. And I get less deep sleep.

I share my bed with my partner, when he’s not in Toronto, and with our cuddly labradoodle (that’s a guess, she’s a rescue puppy) Olivia. Sometimes, also, the cat.

Behind us are the days of multiple babies and toddlers in the bed. It was a futon then, king size, with lots of room for extras.

Sharing a bed isn’t just about sleep quality though. There’s also sex, conversation, cuddling, and companionship to consider.

Strictly from the sleep quality point of view, it turns too there’s no clear consensus on whether alone or together is better. I’d heard three of these arguments before, better alone, better together and in opposite sex couples, worse for women, better for men. The new one was worse for men, better for women.

Better for everyone
Sleeping together improves health

Couples sleeping on the same bed may live longer and be in better health that people who sleep by themselves, experts say.

In fact, some researchers believe that sleeping with a partner may be a major reason why people in intimate relationships tend to be in better health.

Worse for everyone
Why It Might Be Healthier to Sleep Alone
From the marriage sucks file: The couple that snoozes together, loses together. scientists say sleeping together ruins your health.

The study reports that if you’re shacked up and sharing a bed, you experience 50% more sleep troubles than singletons. Sleeping together is downright unhealthy. So weird – I’m not married for this exact reason! Strategic brilliance from Ost, yet again.

Better for women, worse for men:

Bed sharing ‘drains men’s brains’

Sharing a bed with someone could temporarily reduce your brain power – at least if you are a man – Austrian scientists suggest.
When men spend the night with a bed mate their sleep is disturbed, whether they make love or not, and this impairs their mental ability the next day.

The lack of sleep also increases a man’s stress hormone levels.

According to the New Scientist study, women who share a bed fare better because they sleep more deeply.

Better for men, worse for women

Taylor’s trouble getting a good night’s rest next to her husband isn’t unusual.Women sleep less soundly when they share a bed with a romantic partner, a study published this month in Sleep and Biological Rhythms found. Surprisingly, men actually sleep better when they sleep next to a woman.

There are a lot more couples sleeping separately than you might guess, says Mark Mahowald, director of the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center in Minneapolis and a professor of neurology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. An estimated 23 percent of American couples sleep apart, according to a survey by the National Sleep Foundation. A Canadian study reported that 34 percent of couples hit the sack separately.




Bike question from a reader

A blog reader asks,

Another bike question for y’all: What kind of bike (frame type, tire/tyre type, etc.) would you recommend for a commuting bike? I have a bike that I bought years ago for this purpose, but the dimensions are more towards an upright cruiser. What I gain in relief on my lower back I lose in stroke power and strain on my knees, so I’m looking for something else, but I don’t know where to start. I don’t think a long-distance road bike is what I want just yet, but I would like to be able to ride this comfortably for ~10 miles or so at a time.



Snoozing the snooze button, that’s my resolution for this week


As regular readers of this blog likely know, sleep is my super power. But despite my motto, start as you mean to continue, this term got off to a tough start.

I have no trouble at all getting to sleep and I can still nap anywhere at anytime. But getting up this semester is proving to be a challenge

I’m teaching until 9 p.m.on Mondays and that sets the whole week up wrong.  I’m up later than usual Friday night and Saturday night and now Monday nights too. Sometimes I even add Sunday to the list and do some late evening grocery shopping. Staying up too late and struggling to get up in the morning has been my Autumn bad habit.

I’ve been relying on the snooze button more than I like. My alarm goes off at 5 or 6 and instead of leaping out of bed, I snooze until twenty past and sometimes until 7. That’s when I absolutely have to get up to wake teens and get us all out the door by 815.

I know the snooze sleep isn’t good sleep. But somehow, I keep snoozing.

This week, no snoozing. I may need to pick a later time for the first alarm but this week it’ll be the first, last, and only alarm. My partner’s alarm only goes off when you solve a math problem. It’s set to the most difficult level. I know this because it sometimes goes off while he’s showering and my math skills, without glasses are limited.

I’m looking over my options. How to you wake up in the morning? Alarm or no alarm? easy off or challenging off? Snooze or no snooze?


Here’s the case against snoozing.

Snoozers are losers

It may seem like you’re giving yourself a few extra minutes to collect your thoughts. But what you’re actually doing is making the wake-up process more difficult and drawn out. If you manage to drift off again, you are likely plunging your brain back into the beginning of the sleep cycle, which is the worst point to be woken up—and the harder we feel it is for us to wake up, the worse we think we’ve slept. (

Why the snooze button is ruining your sleep

Weird but true: Relying on the alarm clock’s snooze button can actually make us more tired. Especially after a night of too little sleep, hitting snooze won’t make getting up any easier. Those five extra minutes in the morning are less restful than five minutes of REM sleep because they take place at the end of the cycle when sleep is lighter. And, although sleep is usually the time when the brain forms new memories, that process doesn’t happen while we’re sleeping in between alarms. Skipping that high-quality sleep can have serious consequences: A recent study found high school students with poor sleep habits (including using an alarm to wake up) didn’t do so well in school [2].

The secret to an easier wakeup is simple—get more sleep! Set the alarm for the time you actually get out of bed (i.e. the last snooze) and avoid the snooze button altogether. If keeping those paws off the alarm clock is just too difficult, try placing the alarm clock across the room. It’s much easier to resist the siren song of the snooze button if it’s not right next to the bed! Die-hard snoozers should try to minimize the damage by setting the alarm for 10 minutes earlier than usual and snoozing just once or twice. Ten minutes of disrupted sleep ain’t perfect, but it’s better than 30 or 60!

Hitting the snooze button is damaging your health

According to data collated from 136,000 people between 2003 to 2012, people felt best when they awoke naturally, but snoozing was alse seen as a pleasurable experience. “It feels like a blissful dream state because the closer you get to wakening, the more rapid-eye movement and dreams occur,” Dinges explained. However snoozing does not add to people’s total sleep quota, it simply prolongs the act of waking up, he said

Why the snooze button is evil

The reason I dislike the snooze button is that it represents a pernicious self-deception about how you plan to spend your mornings. There is nothing wrong with sleeping. Sleep is wonderful. If you’d like to spend your mornings sleeping, why not set the alarm for the time you actually intend to get out of bed? Your body would probably prefer 27 minutes of uninterrupted sleep to three 9-minute segments of snooze-button time.

Instead, the snooze button is a weapon in the battle between the selves we’d like to be and the selves we actually are. Research into the science of willpower finds that we wake up with a robust supply of self-discipline that is then depleted by decision-making during the day (see my related post, Can You Learn Willpower?). The snooze button turns the simple act of getting out of bed into a willpower-sapping episode of trench warfare. I’ll give you 9 minutes if you promise not to take so long in the shower. I’ll give you 9 more minutes if you don’t eat breakfast. Eventually, your ability to invest that willpower in meaningful tasks later on is shot.


Reblogged: Sleep is a feminist issue

Sam B:

I’m going to be blogging about sleep this week. Here’s an older post about the significance of sleep.
Cheers, Sam

Originally posted on Fit Is a Feminist Issue:


According to Kate Harding in Salon, sleep is the next big feminist issue.

From the reading I’ve done about women and sleep, I can see why. If you’re a woman you need more sleep than a man of the same age and chances are you’re getting less (that’s even more true if you share a bed with one of them) and chances are, you’re not happy about it.

Harding writes, “Americans are increasingly sleep-deprived, and the sleepiest people are, you guessed it, women. Single working women and working moms with young kids are especially drowsy: They tend to clock in an hour and a half shy of the roughly 7.5-hour minimum the human body needs to function happily and healthfully.” The negative effects of chronic sleep deprivation are well-documented, but that doesn’t inspire enough people to prioritize rest, and women often end up in a vicious cycle of sacrificing sleep…

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