When All Else Fails, Start Over

Riding on the south rim of the Grand Canyon, feeling like a kid again on my cheap cruising bike.

Riding on the south rim of the Grand Canyon, feeling like a kid again on my cheap cruising bike.

I’ve had an amazing experience this week. After feeling demoralized and discouraged about cycling, I’ve actually re-discovered that feeling of “whee!” on my bicycle.

It was a feeling I’d all but lost, as I approached cycling with a “go further, get faster” attitude this summer. Instead of liking it more, I faced the prospect of riding with dread. Basically, I lost the desire to ride my bike.

Thankfully, this didn’t extend to my commuter bike. I’m still enjoying the simplicity of hopping on the hybrid and riding the bike path to work. The hill at the end of the ride has gotten easier and easier to climb. I am pretty sure I’m getting there faster each week that goes by.

But this week I really started over. I’m on vacation in Nevada and Arizona, headed to Burning Man, and I bought a cheap cruiser bike. It’s got no gears and no handbrakes. There’s a cute little woven basket on the front.

It’s stylish and simple. And I love it. The other day I took it for a stunning ride along the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Renald and I slogged along on our $100 bicycles, up hills, down hills. We stopped at at least six different look-out points where we locked our bikes to the supplied racks so we could walk the paths to views so magnificent they seem unreal.  It was the perfect way to see the Canyon.

I had my bottle of water and a packed lunch stuffed into the little basket. And at the end of the day, when we were worn out from the sites and the climbs and the relentless sunshine, and feeling cautious of the approaching grey skies that might bring rain, we put our bikes on the front rack of a bus and it drove us back the 15 or so km to our parked vehicle.

What a brilliant day.

And that came one day after our bicycle adventure on the Las Vegas Strip, where we found a 24 hour restaurant serving an early-morning breakfast. After that the valets at Caesar’s Palace were so taken with our cruisers that they checked them for us and wheeled them into their storage room for safe keeping while we went inside to check out enormous aquarium behind the front desk.

What I’ve discovered is that I actually LOVE riding! It makes me feel free and fast and light and like I’m flying. If I can capture that feeling on a clunky cruiser, maybe I can find it when I’m riding my road bike.

I’m a firm believer in the idea that sometimes, doing less is more likely to get me where I need to go than trying to do more.

So for the rest of this vacation I’m going to enjoy my $100 cruiser. And when I get home, here’s hoping that I can sustain the joy when I get back on the road bike.

I’ve got another Olympic distance triathlon coming up on September 14 and I so desperately want to like the bike leg! But since I need to leave my cruiser in Nevada, the road bike will have to do.

Feeling just fine about 50!


I had a bit of a shock yesterday. I was away from the internet for 3 whole days in the wilds of Algonquin Park (see the official map here) with my friend Susan and her awesome ultralight canoe, the Catnoe. So beautiful and peaceful out there. We swam and we paddled and we made camp and we watched loons and salamanders and speculated about bears. How few women do this is the subject of a whole other blog post. Past the first few portages you see very few female faces and for the whole trip no women without men. It’s like there’s a rule. But I’ll blog about that another time

The shock was when I turned on my phone back at the cottage. Okay, 94 emails. I can deal. A few hundred Facebook and Twitter notifications for me and the blog. Fine too. But BIRTHDAY GREETINGS? Lots of them on Facebook. And yes, I checked my DOB on Facebook. It’s correct.

A week early. I have no idea why. But it made me realize that I’m not at all put off by turning 50. I was happy to see birthday greetings, even early ones. I’m ready to celebrate.

I’m alive! And well! I’m doing physical activities I love. Camping and canoeing to name two. But also, of course, cycling. The day before my actual birthday, on the last day of 49, I’m riding 50 km with friends. (On the days before that I’ll ride a few hundred more for good measure.) The next day I’ll eat cake and ice cream in the backyard.

I wasn’t sure I’d feel like celebrating. I wasn’t worried about the number or the significance of a new decade. Rather, after a year of sadness and struggle I wasn’t sure I’d feel like a party.

It’s been a rough year. See Rough times, tough choices and On counting almonds, searching for Devil’s Claw, and remembering Avis and Death changes everything.

Short story: I lost both of my partner’s parents and I’ve been close to them since I was a teenager. A friend in her early 40s died of melanoma, leaving two very young children behind. And over the winter our dog fell through the ice on the river and drowned. For awhile it felt like one horrible bad event another.

But even among the sad moments, we need opportunities to celebrate what’s good. Turning 50 is a good thing. I’m very happy with where I am in my life. I love my work and the people who surround me. My life is full of wonderful people and wild, active, outdoor adventures.

What’s not to celebrate? I’ll see you at the party! I’ll be the one in the pink party dress dancing barefoot to the music of my youth.

There’s a great line in the song Sailor, by Evalyn Parry, “every day I wake up on the right side of the grass is a good day, I reckon.”

I’m feeling a bit that way these days. Very happy to be here.

Returning to running, with a beat

I’m finally returning to running after a winter injury. Short story: Running on slush and ice can be hard on your knees.

It’s tough going. You can read about my complicated relationship with running here.

After a summer of physio, I’m back to a gradual program of running and walking. Weirdly, all this time on my bike seems to have made me a faster runner. What’s tough? Well, when you first start running walk breaks are your very best friend. You live for the breaks. But these days I’m breaking when I don’t need to from a cardio point of view. That takes discipline.

Also, my trusty neighborhood jogging companion, my dog Olivia, has gotten a bit rusty. I need a couch to 5 km app for the dog.

olivia, my black fuzzy dog, in bed

I’m also working on cadence. The physio folks think given my size I’m actually pretty light on my feet. I don’t have a heavy foot fall. They do think I could increase my cadence, the rate at which my feet turn over. I’m using a metronome app to help me with that.

See some of these apps reviewed here. Running Cadence is the simplest.

Running Cadence is a simple app for Android that allows runners to train and achieve a fast and steady running cadence. The app can automatically detect how many steps per minute you are running at and also gives real time voice feedback during your runs. This is useful for guiding you to keep running on your target cadence.

Apart from the auto-cadence detection and voice feedback, the app does not contain any other advanced features. The app is simple and easy to use, which most runners will probably appreciate and best of all, it’s completely free to download from the Google Play store.

But I like the ones that actually play a tempo beat to which you can match your run.

Why do I care about running?

Here’s a good list of 19 reasons to start running. My favourite reasons are that it’s the most portable fitness thing I do. My bike doesn’t easily travel with me for work. But running? Pack your running shoes and run anywhere. I also love running in the winter, even with the ice and slush. It’s also incredibly efficient, lots of bang for fitness buck. A good bike ride is at least 2 hours but 40 minutes of running feels pretty good to me.

Next up, I have some thoughts, all going well, of doing some duathlons next summer.

And then there’s soccer. That’s just for fun. I play rec league soccer with friends. But it’s probably the hardest thing I do on my knees. Winter/indoor is a bit worse for stopping, turning, and changing directions because the field is so small. So it might be awhile before I’m playing again.

Patience, patience, patience.


Fitness Possibilities at Burning Man

Scene from the 2013 Burning Man 50K.  Photography credit: Jeff Clark.  Photo from the website: http://www.burningman50k.com/

Scene from the 2013 Burning Man 50K. Photography credit: Jeff Clark. Photo from the website: http://www.burningman50k.com/

They say anything goes at Burning Man. You can do pretty much anything at any time and for however long you like. But for lots of us, fitness is about routine. And it’s easy to lose that routine when you’re off schedule.

And it’s hard to imagine being more off schedule than at Burning Man, where a good deal of people take long siestas to escape the blazing afternoon sun and stay up until the wee hours, maybe even catching a few sunrises.

If you’re not sure what Burning Man is, check out the website here.  I’m headed there with Renald next week. We’re meeting up with some friends who have been before. It’s our first time and we are super excited.

It’s a week off the grid, in the desert, with 60,000 other people, in the dusty environment of Black Rock City, Nevada, more fondly known as “The Playa.”  It’s a temporary community that springs up once a year. They have a “leave no trace” policy, meaning that once the event is over, people are expected to pack up and take everything with them, leaving no trace whatsoever that there was ever anything going on.

So what are some of the fitness options for me at Burning Man?

1. One thing that intrigued me but I decided, ultimately, I’m just not ready to do, is the Burning Man Ultramarathon called the Black Rock City 50K. For a few years now they’ve been running this 50K race, and this year it starts at 5 a.m. on Wednesday, August 27th. Race headquarters will be Pink Lightning. Competitors will run a few laps around the perimeter of Black Rock City until they reach 50K.

I was intrigued because the idea of running with a bunch of people on the cracked desert surface from the early hours of the morning sounds like fun.  I decided against because the furthest I’ve ever run is 14.5 km, and I figure it’s not wise to jump from that to 50 km, especially in the inhospitable setting of Burning Man.

Still, I might just go out and do 15K with them, then bail. It sounds like a fun time. They describe it as “the healthiest party on the Playa.”

2. Yoga. There are a few different yoga options at Burning Man this year, including an “Iyengar Style Yoga Practice” at Camp Armageddon on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 7:30-8:30 a.m.  Lots of other yoga classes too.

3. Dancing.  The night we arrive, one of the camps (Planet Earth) is hosting a 70s and 80s dance party from midnight to 4 a.m.  No yoga the next morning, so that’s a possibility. And there are other dance parties throughout the week. And really, you can just dance anywhere, anyway, and any time you like.

4. Other Running. There is a group run on three different mornings around the perimeter of Burning Man from 7 a.m.-9 a.m. That sounds more do-able to me than the 50K and might be a nice way to meet up with other runners. We’ll see. It competes with yoga a couple of times.

5. Tennis.  Not for us, because it’s the day we arrive, but on Monday, August 25th there’s tennis on a regulation clay court from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Camp Ganesh Oasis. Renald would have loved that.

6.  Bicycles!  Other than some approved art cars and “mutant vehicles,” there are no motorized vehicles at Burning Man. Bicycles are the main mode of transportation.  And they encourage you to have fun lighting up your bike to make it visible at night and decorating any way you like.

Renald and I ordered two very cheap cruising style bicycles from Wal Mart and picked them up in Las Vegas on Monday just after we got our rented RV. They’re single gear with coaster brakes and yes, they’re not the highest end bikes out there. We paid $100 each for them.

But you know what? This morning we rode up the Vegas strip and back on our cheap cruisers, and it was one of the funnest bike rides I have ever had in my life!

Renald and I in front of Caesar's Palace with our cheap cruisers on our pre-Burning Man vacation.  Fun times!

Renald and I in front of Caesar’s Palace with our cheap cruisers on our pre-Burning Man vacation. Fun times!

So we’re pretty excited about riding our bikes at Burning Man (and tomorrow at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon).

That’s just a sampling of what’s on offer fitness-wise at Burning Man this year. It’s not an exhaustive list. Want to learn to hulu hoop?  Sure thing. What about competing in the Hippie Hunger Games? Show up at Camp Orphan/Endorphin Monday to Saturday at 3 p.m.  Or you can learn some pole dancing.

So if you’re going to Burning Man and don’t want to let your fitness routine slide, or if you want to try something new, there’s lots to do!  I’ll report back about my Burning Man experience (at least the fitness part) when I get back.

See you on the Playa!


Women who care most about their looks have the toughest time aging

I love the photo of Lauren Bacall that was circulating among friends on various social media last week. It’s the on the right below. True, the mainstream media seemed to stick with the classic movie star Bacall of more than 50 years ago, like the one the left, but I liked this older image too. She looks to have character.


Bacall age 20 on the left, 88 on the right

Bacall: ‘Your whole life shows in your face, and you should be proud of that.’

It’s tough for women, aging in a society that equates youth and beauty and that values beauty in women so highly.

From Psychology Today: Aging presents a particular challenge for women’s appearance self-esteem because with each passing year, the media define their beauty as fading away. Cleopatra may have been able to avoid this fate, according to Shakespeare’s play, in which it was said, “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety.” For the rest of us, though, our seeming fate is to wither away steadily—at least according to our current representations of aging women. And women high on appearance-contingent self-worth will be particularly vulnerable to the effects of aging in a society that equates youth with attractiveness.

According to the Psychology Today piece it’s women who care the most about looks who have the hardest time coping with aging. That’s not a surprise.

In my blog post about body shame, Loving the body you’ve got: Body positivity and queer community, I speculated that aging is harder for those who’ve lived most of their lives successfully within mainstream beauty norms.

Being thin doesn’t seem to help with body shame either. Often it’s my thin friends who are the worst, especially as we age. It’s like they’ve never had to think about these things, to worry about how they look, until now. And I’ve been thinner too and I haven’t felt less anxious or less self conscious at a smaller size. In a weird way it’s worse. In the game of looks, I’m then ‘in.’ and it matters more. Better to be outside of those beauty norms all the way maybe.

That’s true for anxiety about weight. Most of the angsty hand wringing posts about body image are written by women who are actually within the normal weight range, it seems to me. My fat friends don’t agnst so much. The downside of being inside the borders of normative beauty/body size, is I think continual anxiety about status.

I have three thoughts about this stuff.

First, we should expand the boundaries of beauty. See, for example, some of the ideas in Ten ways to feel better about looks and aging.

“Throw away your conventional, media-defined ideals of beauty. You’re not going to change society’s definition of beauty, but you can change your own. Don’t focus on the beauty you see in ads but, instead, to the beauty you see in the real-life people you admire.”

I also like to remind myself that many of the people I find beautiful don’t match society’s standards of what counts. Find older people you find attractive and think of them when you need to push past the idea that beauty ends at 30, 40, 50 or whatever silly age you have in mind.

Second, we should care less than we do about beauty anyway. I know lots of women who seem more obsessed with clothes, hair, make up, etc as they age. They’re worried about “letting themselves go”–heaven forbid. But I think caring more sets you up on an anxious, downward spiral. It’s time to care about things that matter much more than looks, such as character and having happy, healthy relationships.

Define yourself in ways other than how you look. Make your self-esteem contingent on your inner, not outer qualities. Focus on what you like about your abilities, personality, relationships, and perspective on the world. These almost invariably show improvement over time and are often more changeable than facial or bodily features.”

This blog post, Not Everyone is Beautiful, made me smile and it made me think.

Nobody says, “Everybody has a pleasant laugh.” Nobody says, “Everyone is athletic to somebody.” Nobody says, “You are an amazing writer, whether you know it or not.” I keep waiting, but they never say it.

Beauty is the only trait that everyone gets free access to. Why?

Because we have created a culture that values beauty above all other innate traits…for women, at least. Men are generally valued by their success, which is seen as a result of talent and hard work, despite how much it depends on luck and knowing the right people.

But women are pretty much a one-note instrument. Society says, you’re hot, or you’re not. Your looks affect your choice of mate, the friends you have, and even your job. And this factor that will affect every part of your life is something you have next to no control over.

Third, caring less about beauty doesn’t mean caring less about looks. Really, what most of us care about is having people, particular people, find us attractive. But that’s not beauty.

Again in the post on body image, I wrote:

Think about it this way, it doesn’t make any sense to think about being attractive simpliciter.  What exactly would that mean? There’s only attractive to particular people.

Whatever you look like I can assure you there’s someone out there who thinks that thing that you have is THE thing to which they’re attracted. In the world of the internet there’s probably even a group for women with big breasts who like to wear neon green bras and the men and women who love them.

So when friends say. I don’t look attractive when I’m this size, my first response is to wonder to whose standards they’re appealing. Who is the person who would like them but doesn’t because they’re too fat?

Mostly when straight women say they just want to look attractive they mean to look attractive to men. But still I wonder, which men?

The desires of men who like women are far more diverse than the world of men’s magazines would ever have you believe. Men whose desires don’t fit-maybe they like hairy legs, or women with crooked teeth, or they’ve got a thing for women with glasses or women in their fifties on motorbikes –are hurt by gender role stereotyping and hetero conformity too.  Don’t believe me about the diversity of heterosexual male desire, read John DeVore‘s The Types Of Women That Really Turn Us On over at The Frisky.

There are men who like fat women, men who like muscles, women who like bald men, men who like men who are really hairy, women who think men wearing socks with sandals are the hottest (okay, maybe not that one) etc. My point is that it’s a wild weird world out there in terms of attraction.

Once you start thinking this way you realize that men who like skinny 18 year old blondes just have a particularly boring, mainstream fetish. You can kind of accept it, yawn, and move on. Oh, right, youth. Hmm. He likes thin women. That. That’s his thing. Ho hum. Too bad for him.

You can even work up to thinking, in an amended version of a common phrase, your thing is not my thing but your thing is okay, and move on.

And if that’s all he likes, you might even feel sorry for him for leading such a narrow, limited life in a world rich with possibility.

And yes, I know this is isn’t the whole story about body image and insecurity. Often it’s our own standards we don’t live up to. And queer people can struggle with body image as well. But to the extent that it’s about worrying that someone will find you attractive, I urge you to put that worry on the shelf, close the door, and say goodbye.

I hesitated when writing the above passage about using the word “fetish” but I did so because mainstream beauty standards are hard on men too. I’ve been writing a fair bit on this blog about men and the ways in which sexism limits their lives too. See here and here and here and here. There’s pretty strong indoctrination into what you’re supposed to like if you’re a guy. First, women. And then particular sorts of women. Not enough to be straight, to really meet the demands of normative masculinity you have to like the right sort of women. There’s lots of first person accounts of guys faking liking skinny young things around their friends, but having their fantasy lives run in another direction altogether.

So it’s normal to like young women and thin women and so on. Everything else gets labelled a fetish.

For all of our sakes, it’s time to move past it and revel in the rich diversity of human desire for all of our sakes.

Ronda Rousey can’t be all there is for women in the UFC (Guest post)

A few years ago Dana White, a man who apparently believes in absolutes, said that he would “never allow women in his octagon.” To his own financial delight, White gobbled down his own words when he not only started putting women headliners on his programs, but decided to have season 20 of “The Ultimate Fighter” be exclusively all-female.

While it would be exhilarating to say that the rise of women in the UFC has been heavily publicized, the truth is that it’s the rise of a particular woman that seems to have garnered the majority of the attention. Ronda Rousey’s name is synonymous, if not currently the autonomous representation of women fighters in the UFC.

Ronda Rousey retouch.jpg

See Audrey’s post to this blog, Can the UFC handle a Roy Nelson? Or is it all Rouseys?

It’s not difficult to see why Rousey would be the headliner for women in the MMA word; she is an Olympic medalist (Judo), remains undefeated in the octagon, and she’s an undeniably, easy on the eyes California girl. While her ascent of the UFC ladder is both respectable and inspiring, her monopoly on the sport creates an interesting dilemma. Ronda Rousey simply can’t be the peak of women’s presence in the ring.

Take Cristiane Justino (also based in California), for example. She is a lethally trained trained muay thai aficionado. She was 2013’s Featherweight of the Year, and is currently ranked as the #2 pound-for-pound female MMA fighter (right behind Rousey, of course).
A quick Google search for “women in the UFC,” however, will return a plethora of articles about Rousey, with only a few mentioning other women (like Justino).

Much of what arises details a feud between Rhonda Rousey (and subsequently Dana White) and Justino. White and Rousey both took shots at Cristiane Justino over Justino’s suspension as the result of a positive steroid test a few years ago. Interestingly enough, both White and Rousey took stabs at Justino’s physical appearance. White made the observation that Justino “…looked like Wanderlei Silva in a dress and heels.” However, numerous men in the UFC continue to also test positive for PED’s, without any sexist heckling from Mr. White. Justino made a mistake years ago–and paid the price. Shouldn’t she be allowed to move on with out being chastised for her physical appearance?

Cristiane Santos.jpg

Granted, there can only be one reigning champion; that’s the nature of the game. And since Rousey has had a clean, white-hot career, she deserves it. However, in order to foster the growth and development of women in the sport, there needs to be competition. If a woman looks less feminine than Rousey, but is a formidable competitor, she deserves to get the coverage and celebrity that Rousey does. If one lady is the sole face of the sport, what happens when she is gone? In order to promote women fighters in the UFC, there needs to be a continual output of up-and-coming contenders (looks NOT accounted for) that will carry the torch and perpetuate the tradition. Ronda Rousey can set the bar, but women fighters across the world can’t let her be all that there is for the sport.

Julia Randall is obsessed with fantasy football, any good Merlot, and the most recent season of American Horror Story. When she’s not singing (really well) you can find her writing for DraftStreet.