My first lesson clipping in’n’out in the great outdoors

Say hello to my little friend

Say hello to my little friend

Tracy had tried to warn me, that clipping in and out of my road bike while bracketed in a trainer would not adequately prepare me for doing the same thing outside. You can read her experience of learning to clip in with Sam here. I didn’t listen, I was certain I could effortlessly clip in but when I went for my first longer ride this season outside I simply couldn’t go. I clipped one foot in and my knees locked. I was too afraid to get up into the saddle.

This was in stark contrast to my partner who simply clipped in the first time outside and never looked back. He thinks that being on rollers instead of a trainer helped a lot with that transition.

Samantha, in her no-pressure-let’s-just-hang kind of way, had offered to teach me the drills she used with kids using track bikes for the first time in Australia. I had read Steph Keating’s Clipless in the City so I was pretty sure this would involve some falling.

It was a gorgeous day and I debated whether to bike down to Sam’s and switch out my pedals there or just throw my bike on the rack and drive down. I thought if I was pretty shakey after or injured I might not be able to bike back so went with the car option.

When I got to Sam’s Mallory and Rob were there, more kind, knowledgeable friends. Rob had a slice of lemon cake for me, this is why we are friends, I’m basically like a stray cat, feed me and I’ll love you forever!

We walked to a nearby parking lot and playground area and Sam demo’d one foot clipped in and coasting, spinning one foot clipped in and your free leg dangling then placing the free foot on the pedal without clipping in. This is the first series of drills to try and I really found it helpful. I was having a deep animal brain “my foot is in a trap!” response so just clipping one foot in and imparting a bit of momentum really helped get used to the sensation of motion for me.

So we alternated me trying each side and Sam demonstrating different drills. I fell once on each side but it didn’t hurt. Mallory assured me that they had bandaids at the house, turns out my calf was bleeding a bit from the sprocket. Oh I’m so butch. Mallory also learned to use clipless pedals but basically got on her bike and went to camp!

I think the whole session didn’t take very long but because it required a high degree of focus I was wiped out. I did have some bruising on both hips but I’m a fairly squishy person so nothing got sprained, strained or broke. Falling is not that bad on these drills as it is more a sad crumple to the side than the truly scary and dangerous flying over the handlebars at speed.

So I’m still at the coast, pedal, place the second foot on the pedal stage. Sam assures me no one ever has gotten stuck at that phase. i have a nice parking lot near my house so I’m heading out this morning for more practice, next step is getting both feet clipped in then clipping out my dominant side at the top of each rotation.

Before I had my lesson I couldn’t wrap my head around what my body needed to do. Part of that is my thick, short legs and the hoisting up onto the saddle, there’s a lot of flesh and bike to coordinate. Sam and I commiserated on the need to think about that as long, lean legged humans seem to not grapple with this.

Certainly part of this is my bike is fitted for a touring posture as opposed to a more upright, say, communting posture. I’m certainly glad I’m not in an agressive racing posture or on a track bike where the seat seems way up.

So, my advice, if you are considering trying clipless pedals:

-get an experienced tutor friend


-accept you will at some point fall and that likely won’t leave you with an agregious injury

-learning new things as an adult feels weird but that weird is ok

Strong is the New Pretty (Guest Post)

By Sage Krishnamurthy McEneany 

For a long time, I have been thinking about what I want to look like and be like. Girls are often told that they must be pretty, that they should wear frilly dresses, high heels, and pink. I want to argue today that real prettiness is strength and power and that all girls should strive for this.

When I was 5, I thought I knew what prettiness was. I thought it was about princesses and makeup, and beautiful frilly dresses and big big ball gowns. But now, I have changed my mind.

The princes always save princesses. Disney makes it seem like girls can’t save themselves, like they just have to worry about how pretty they are. But, princesses aren’t really pretty. True prettiness is power and strength.

Someone who is really pretty might not wear makeup or dresses. She solves problems and tries to make the world better.  She might be afraid of things, but she faces her fears. She might break the rules, if that is what’s needed. She might even get a bit dirty.

When I was 6, I realized, I am not a Disney princess or a Barbie and I don’t want to be. Inside, I am a strong powerful girl, powerful with my words, and my voice. I am stronger than anyone. I am someone who wants to make the world a better place and who wants to help others. I think other girls should be like this and are already like this.

All girls should be strong and powerful. This is true beauty. I hope that everyone will spread the word and live by it: strong is the new pretty.


Sage is almost 7.  She loves art and creating.  She wants to play basketball, but she doesn’t know how to do it yet.  She is inspired by Sarah Kay’s spoken word poetry, especially her piece “If I should have a daughter . . .”.  This post is titled after a series of photographs by Kate T. Parker.

Maybe I Like CrossFit (Guest Post)

11134277_10152813312708157_1498054266_nIn May 2014, emboldened by my successful adventures in cycling – embarking on a new physical activity after 60 (see my Guest Post on this)– I decided that I should try CrossFit. Now CrossFit has many detractors, as well as possibly fanatical supporters, and I have to say I was skeptical. My life’s partner had been coming home looking very beat up after his workout sessions and I couldn’t help wondering why someone would do that to themselves. But he was telling me it was fun and I had read Samantha’s post on CrossFit and in April while cycling round Fiesta Island in San Diego during the Pacific APA, she cautiously – that is, non-fanatically – recommended it as well. She also suggested I blog about it and, as you can see, it has taken me a year to do that. Why?

Well let’s just say that CrossFit and I didn’t hit it off right away.

My first two sessions seemed all right. My trainer (the awesome Brandy Adams at LA Jolla CrossFit) and I were getting to know each other. I did some squats, lunges, relatively light weights, some things with the BOSU, but then in the third session we moved to things I had never done before – kettle bell swings and wall balls. I think it was the I kettle bell that did it. I was afraid that I would swing it up over my head and it would come crashing down on me – a completely irrational fear that would require defying the laws of physics to be realized. To prevent this horrible calamity, I gripped my back in some way that sent it into spasm and I experienced my first serious sports injury. I’m over 60 so I suppose I’d been pretty lucky up till then. The result was more than six months of bad back pain.


I am not sure why I didn’t just give up at that point.  But instead, I read the injury as revealing a weakness that I was determined to correct and so I kept training – at first, around my back, focusing on my core, and finally not only did my back return to pre-injury pain-free status, but I am a hell of lot stronger than I have ever been.

The whole process has been weird though because I actually couldn’t figure out why I was persisting, since I was very sore a lot of the time and tweaked quite a few other parts of my body in the process – none as badly as my back – but still hurting myself has never been one of my favorite things to do. Consequently, I have thought a lot about why I work out. People would say to me “You’ll lose weight.” That would have been okay with me I guess, but I didn’t and if fact, I found I didn’t really care very much about that. They would say “You’ll look great!” Well, I guess that’s nice, but again, that wasn’t really what was motivating me. I was going in part because of the relationship with my trainer – but I was traveling a lot this academic year for stretches of several months at a time and I was working out pretty hard on my own, so it wasn’t just Brandy. Again, I found my behavior puzzling – why was I doing things that were so hard? Like Burpees and workouts called “Fight Gone Bad” – I mean, with a name like that you know it can’t be pleasant.

So here’s my considered conclusion. I keep doing it because it feels good. Not the actual workouts – but being strong – doing things like throwing my luggage in the overhead bin with hardly any effort. Feeling good is not only enough to motivate me to continue, but I actually really look forward to working out – I even get excited about it.

After consideration, I offer this list of things that I particularly like about CrossFit:

1) Strength – I don’t do heavy weights yet but today I bench pressed a PR of 65 lbs and that felt pretty cool

2) Balance – when I walk I feel powerful – never tentative – it’s hard to describe exactly how this is different but it really is

3)Transportability – while having a place with equipment is nice, I have done pretty great workouts without any equipment, even in small hotel rooms. All I need is enough space to do lunges, squats, push ups and sit ups. I can put them together into a routine that feels like a total work out

4) Sweat – particularly sweating with my guy.

I’m having fun, I’ve learned new things, and I think I’m starting to like this CrossFit thing.


Ditching My Fear of the Marathon (or at least sending it to the corner)

Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 6.02.55 PM

The Mississauga Marathon is on May 3rd. That’s just a few weeks from now. I have been very negative about it — fear, regret that I signed up, a general sense of “why did I do this?”  That attitude has cast a pall on the whole thing for me. It’s not the most motivating way to approach 42. 2 km.

Now, I may not be the most positive person in the whole world, but I’m not usually the most negative either.  A few days ago, I caught myself in another negative spiral about the upcoming marathon. I talked to Gabbi after my swim, and asked whether I should change to the half.  She hesitated.  It’s not that you can’t do the full, she said. But it’s better if you feel confident about it, and you don’t.

That prompted me to spend the next few weeks changing my attitude about it. I hereby swear to face the reality of my commitment and stop being such a whiney baby, living in fear of a thing that’s supposed to be a fun challenge.

It’s a big deal, there’s no doubt about it. My Around the Bay training has given me a solid base. Marathons aren’t supposed to be super easy anyway.  And new things like this can be exciting.  Instead of being all fearful and down on it, I’m working up some enthusiasm.

This is not “the power of positive thinking.” I think positive thinking has its limitations. Positive self-talk can get me over a hurdle some of the time, but in general I don’t think everything’s always amazing and that we need to tell ourselves that all the time. Some things suck. I’m sure I will have moments in the marathon where I will doubt everything good about the world.

But that’s part of the reality of doing a thing like that.  The mental game isn’t won simply by denying that there will be struggle and pretending that everything’s amazing. No. For me, the mental game is about awareness.  When I’m aware of my mind trying to tell me I should downgrade to a half marathon, I make a mental note and then kind of laugh it off.  I don’t need to let it get its hooks into me and throw me into a fearful tizzy.

My mind isn’t going to stop messing with me, but I can stop engaging.  I found this really great piece on the Rockland Road Runners website talking about the mental challenge of the marathon. The author, Ernst Joseph, says you need to train your mind before race day just the way you need to train your body.

First thing’s first: stick with the goal. I’ve already looked up the process for changing from the full to a half. That’s not sticking with the goal!  I need to wrap my head around this one key fact: on May 3rd, I’m doing the marathon. All 42.2 km of it. That’s the mental toughness:

Sticking with the goal – If you have decided to run a marathon, then run it. Barring injury, there is no plan B as far as to run or not to run. This commitment not only motivates the runners out of the bed for training during cold winter and hot-humid summer days, but also trains their minds to believe that the decision to run the upcoming marathon is non-negotiable. If the training was not good enough to achieve the goal that was set up at the beginning of the training program, then run within the limitation. This is the fundamental step to the mental training. This develops a positive attitude throughout training period and when the going gets tough in the race, the mind will be focused on how to finish and not on whether to finish.

Another thing you can do is work adversity into your training. It might be hot, rainy, or cold on race day. I know for me, training for Around the Bay through this brutal winter made race day seem like a picnic weatherwise, even though it was kind of chilly. Here’s what Joseph says is essential:

Sticking with the training schedule – If today is the training day of the week, then train. If the weather is extreme, modify the training but do not modify the schedule. This commitment to training will train the runner’s mind to run with confidence if the marathon day brings rain, cold, hot or humid weather.

You train the mind by knowing there will be pain:

Understanding and accepting the marathon associated pain– 2:08:00 or 8:02:00 marathoners will be left with common phenomenon of fatigue and inflammation of the joints at the end of a marathon. This is a normal physiological phenomenon associated with prolonged exercise such as marathon, so accept it. It is the ability to overcome or deal with the pain at this point in the race that will be the difference between peak and mediocre performance. Pain is part of the marathon. Deal with it in the training and get it out of the system.

I like that he talks about a huge range of race times (from 2:08 to 8:02). I’m estimating that the marathon is going to take me at least 5 hours, possibly a little longer. That’s a long time to be out there but I can do it. Pain or no pain. Since we started the blog, my ability to suffer has taken a dramatic upswing.

Finally, last on the list of suggestions, he recommends staying positive:

Once relaxed and accepting of the situation, find ways to stay positive. Draw positive energy from the surrounding. During training, take the mind off the fatigue and pain by talking with the running partner about positive things. If going solo, visualize positive and inspirational thoughts. But the important thing is; during the training run when the going gets tough, keep going because this is the most valuable mental training you will ever receive on the pain management. During the race, feed on the crowd’s support. Get involved with the crowd. Read those inspirational signs on the course. And if you ever encounter the wall, please remember that walls do have windows.

Walls have windows! I love that. I’m actually excited about my long run this weekend. Gabbi suggested 3.5 hours of running on Sunday morning. I figure that will be about 30K.  I’m leaving the house just after 7, doing the first part on my own and then meeting up with Anita at 9 so I can have some support for the last stretch. She may need to do all the talking.

So my new approach to the Mississauga Marathon is to keep the fear at bay and not let it dominate the mental narrative. It’s an exciting thing and I’ve been working hard through a rough winter to get ready for the Around the Bay and the Mississauga Marathon. Around the Bay is now behind me.

Mississauga here I come!





Fit Fatties Challenge is Starting Soon

As regular readers of this blog know I have an ambivalent relationship with the word “fat” as a descriptor of me. In the post Fat or big: What’s in a name?, I say I often feel that “big” better suits me. I’m the female equivalent (does it need a female equivalent?) of “brawny.”

But I’m 100% in favour of other people using the term as a neutral descriptor. It’s just a fact. And I think we ought to reclaim the word. Why? See Reclaiming the ‘F’ Word: It’s For the Children, or Reclaiming the word FAT, or Cutting Fatphobic Language Out of Your Life and many more.

And while I don’t think we’re under any obligation to pursue health as a goal whatever our size (see Healthism, fitness, and the politics of respectability) I am a strong supporter of making space for exercise for people of all shapes and sizes. We ought to be able to pursue fitness, without doing so as a way of chasing away fatness. There are lots and lots of benefits of exercise that have nothing to do with weight loss. In fact, I think linking weight loss and exercise is a dangerous move for both fat and thin people and everybody in the middle too.

See How equating being fat with being out of shape hurts the thin and Fit, Fat, and What’s Wrong with BMI .

It can be hard to find a supportive place to workout if you’re fat, especially if you’re fat and not so much interested in weight loss. See Working Out While Fat for more on that theme.

With me so far?

Then let me introduce you to the Fit Fatties.

Who are the Fit Fatties?

Jeanette DePatie writes, “A few years back, Ragen Chastain and I created the Fit Fatties Forum, a place where exercisers of all ages, sizes and abilities could get together, talk about exercise and help each other in an environment free from weight-loss talk. The forum has grown organically from just three members to over 2,400 from six continents around the world. And while Ragen and I drop in from time to time and offer advice and encouragement, the Fit Fatties Forum is run for and by its members. And this group has expertise about, well, everything! Need to find out about buying a wetsuit and what kind of weight belt you need for deep sea diving? Check! Need to know about what is the best sort of flaming hula hoop? Fit Fatties have your back!” See more here.

The forum is here.

Welcome to the Fit Fatties Forum – a place for anyone who wants to discuss fitness from a weight neutral perspective. You can join the conversation here, and on our Facebook page at

What’s the virtual challenge?

It’s time for the next Fit Fatties Virtual Event Challenge! We’ve changed things up a little bit this time around, in addition to participant prizes, and a medal for completing a quintathlon (5 events), decathlon (10 events), or double decathlon (20 events), this time around you can also earn Fit Fatties Flair (online badges and real world buttons!) for completing specific combinations of events.  This Challenge will start May 1, 2015 and finish August 31, 2015

You can register here.

On “special weather,” bike commuting, and missing certain people

There was yet another “special weather” forecast for this Monday–heavy rain, high winds.

Strong and gusty winds possible late this afternoon and evening.

A sharp and fast moving cold front will bring a sudden end to the warm air and sunshine being experienced across Southern Ontario today. This front is moving across Southwestern Ontario and will reach the Golden Horseshoe area including Toronto by early this evening, then into Eastern Ontario later this evening.

Strong and gusty winds along with showers and isolated thunderstorms will begin suddenly as the front goes through. Wind gusts of 80 to 85 km/h are quite possible in a few locales, with 90 km/h gusts not completely out of the question. These winds may be strong enough to cause some tree damage and associated local power outages in exposed areas.

There is also some potential for isolated thunderstorms to briefly reach severe limits with wind gusts of 90 km/h during brief very heavy downpours late this afternoon into early this evening as the cold front blasts through.

I followed my usual policy of riding in to campus Monday morning because it was warm and sunny at 8:30 am. My rule is that I’ll happily ride home in the rain but I won’t ride in in really wet weather. Why? Things don’t dry well in my office and I arrive looking like a drowned rat. But home? That’s different. I can get the wet stuff off quickly, hop in the shower or the hot tub, and change into yoga pants and a t-shirt. My family loves me even when I look like a drowned rat.

Rainy, stormy afternoons also remind me of someone special who died in recent months. Last year I lost both of my parents-in-law. I blogged about remembering Avis in the post On counting almonds, searching for Devil’s Claw, and remembering Avis. Tom died of a stroke just a few months later. Now they’ve been divorced the entire duration of my marriage and so I don’t know them well as a couple though I know lots of family stories. It’s been a very rough year. I have lots of fond memories of them both and we all take comfort in a close connection to Tom’s partner, Norma. Here’s the two of them together.

Tom and Norma

Why do rainy afternoons remind of Tom? My father-in-law Tom was my personal storm tracker extraordinaire. He loved information. He had a ham radio license and listened a lot. He had weather tracking gear at his house. And he kept a keen eye on Environment Canada’s weather radar. The Canadian Navy background was part of the story and so too were his years as a recreational sailor in Nova Scotia.

At first I found the weather bulletins a bit over the top. I told him I wasn’t a fairweather commuter and that I was still going to ride to school even if it was set to rain at 3 pm. But he knew my departure time was often flexible so then I started getting more detailed emails. “Samantha, if you leave between 3:10 pm and 4:00 pm you’ll miss the worst of it. But whatever you do, don’t leave at 7 pm. Another bad round of rain is expected through right about then.” At the time, I did tease him just a little bit. But it was also incredibly useful, dead accurate, and offered with true love and affection.

So now on rainy afternoons, with threatening storms, I think of Tom. I look at the radar and make my own judgements. Today, for example, I missed the worst of the bad weather. I just got some light rain in the last five minutes of my bike commute. It was enough to garner me some sympathy at home but not enough to actually require changing my clothes.

I miss you Tom.


My house, the rain, sticker courtesy of Facebook. What’s your policy about bike commuting in wet weather?

Brief Race Recap and My Summer Plans

Tracy in a victory pose with hands high in the air, red t-shirt, post run for retinaSunday was the first really beautiful, perfect weekend day we’ve had so far this spring. I went out for my first local 10K race of the season, The Run for Retina, intent on getting a personal best.  But alas, it was not to be.

When I ran the Halloween Haunting last October, I managed a personal record 10K time of 1:05:56.  I could almost taste a sub-65 10K.  A winter of careful running in ice and snow helped my endurance but not my speed.

Instead of besting that, I ended up with 1:07:27.5. But lest you think I’m super-disappointed, let me assure you I’m not.  For one thing, it’s the beginning of the season whereas the Halloween Haunting was at the end of the season. Not only that, as Sam pointed out, I did pretty well age-group wise, placing 17/33. I think that’s better than I’ve ever done.

And not only that, but I beat my last year’s Run for Retina 10K time of 1:10:40 by quite a bit. So there’s that.

I also got to see the woman who won the half marathon just kick it.  Louidmila Kortchaguina finished the half marathon in 1:18:29.3 with a pace of 3:44 per km.  Their race was two loops of the 10K course plus a bit, so I got to see her blast past a couple of times. What a rush!

It was the first time I’ve done a race all by myself–no friends watching, no friends running.  I didn’t mind that but it’s not nearly as fun even if it’s a gorgeous day with lots of other people.

I’d added a few songs to my playlist to pick up the beat.  On the downside, I think “In Your Hands” by Charlie Winston took me out too quickly off the start. I paid for that later.  My race strategy on Sunday was to minimize my walk breaks, keeping them to the water stations and as short as possible. But that was probably ill-advised since I’ve been working pretty consistently with 10-1 intervals for months now.  If I’m going to mess around with that timing then I need to do it in training first.

I also now understand my friends who have been running for awhile and why they no longer do local races. Last year when a couple of people said they were bored of them, I didn’t get it. But the Run for Retina was on exactly the same pathway that we trained on all last summer and all through the winter. The same Thames River. The same Canada geese honking at us as we run by. The same everything.  Great for training but perhaps a bit of a yawn on race day.

Anyway, the whole point of the run for Retina this year was to set my 10K baseline for the season so I would know what I’m trying to improve upon. And I do: I want to do better than 1:07:27.5.

Here are the rest of my summer race plans:

1.  Mississauga Marathon on May 3rd. This will be my first marathon ever. I feel extremely nervous and a little bit unhinged whenever I think of it.  I have considered scaling back to the half. But then I think whatever. Why not give it a try? The other voice in my head answers this question with “because it will take you over 5 hours and that’s a long time to be running.” I guess I’ll see.

2. Niagara Women’s Half Marathon on June 7th. I signed up for this with Anita, whom I did my first half with back in October. I’m excited about this one — all women and we get to run past the Falls twice. And we’re going down the day before. It’ll be a fun getaway and I’m comfortable with the half marathon distance now.

3. Kincardine Women’s Triathlon on July 13th.  This is a very short sprint triathlon (400m swim, 12K bike, 3K run) and there is a whole group of us going: Anita, Sam, Mallory, and Natalie, as well as my friend Leslie and at least three other women from Balance Point Triathlon, my club.  It’s also the first triathlon I’ve ever done, and it will be my third time doing it.  Kincardine is what made me fall in love with multi-sport. I’m excited.

4. Bracebridge Olympic distance on August 9th (or something on the East coast of the USA).  Last year, Bracebridge tested my endurance as my first Olympic distance triathlon. It’s tough but I liked it a lot. I’m not committing yet though because I might have a reason to be in Maine around that time. If so, I’ll try to find something in the neighborhood. But I want to do an Olympic triathlon in August.

5. Scotiabank Toronto Half Marathon on October 18th. Lots of fun last year and I’d love to do it again.

It’s not a busy schedule because (a) I’m starting a new position at work and I can’t travel as much as I might usually in the summer and (b) Renald is about to go live on our sailboat on the east coast of the USA for a few months and I want to be available to visit him, so that means making fewer race commitments or finding stuff near where he is.

I have one main training goal for the summer: to improve my 10K time so I’m able to hit 60 minutes or less at race pace. This will mean learning to push myself harder for longer. 10K gives me a manageable distance to build up to.  I will want to do a 10K event again at some point, maybe in September and another in October.

I’m also going to keep at my swim training through the summer because I’m enjoying it a lot and I’m getting faster.

Still deliberating about the bike training.  Likely I will do spin classes just enough that I don’t actually lose what I’ve got so far. But I’m not aspiring for much there and with my enthuasiasm for running at an all-time high, I’m good with that.

So those are my summer plans. You?