First 10K Race

Tracy after crossing the finish line at the 10K Run for Retina.  Big smile, medal, happy runner.

Tracy after crossing the finish line at the 10K Run for Retina. Big smile, medal, happy runner.

On the weekend I ran my first 10K race in London Ontario’s annual Run for Retina Research (which also has a 5K and a half marathon) and what a great time I had.  I’ve been working up to this race for months, sticking it out through the polar vortex of a winter we had.

But I hadn’t done much very recent training. Since the 13K long run more than a month ago when my left knee started giving me grief, I’ve taken it easy. I managed two slow 8Ks with the run club (hanging happily at the back with my running friend, Fatima) for the two Sundays before the race, but not without knee pain and not with a lot of other mileage each week. So I had reason to be uncertain (not exactly nervous) about how the race would go.

The weather cooperated, with some cloud cover and a warm-ish morning. It was mild enough for shorts and a light long sleeved T that I could wrap around my waist if I needed to go down to the tank top underneath. It was the first morning this season I could leave the house for a run without gloves.

The race started down in Harris Park at the Forks of the Thames (yes, our little London has a Thames, even a Covent Garden Market!). Sam was running the 5K at 9:45 and I ran into her about 10 minutes before my race began at 9:30. She too had concerns about her left knee.

Pre-race is such an exciting time. There’s always a palpable anticipation in the air and everyone is in a good mood. The half marathoners headed out at 8:30 and I would see some of them run past me a but later when they came back from the other direction and overlapped the 10K route.

I had a simple strategy and goal. Stick to the 10-1 run-walk system I’d learned and practiced in the 10K training clinic I did with the Running Room through the winter. My goal was a modest 70 minute 10K. If you’re not a runner, you can get an idea of just how modest by this: the announcer asked the people who were going to finish in 30-35 minutes to go to the front of the pack at the starting line!

I tuned to Fatima, ‘People actually finish in 30-35 minutes?!’ Seriously, that’s a good 5K time for me. These folks are twice as fast as I am. But they weren’t my competition.

I have a specific goal, which is to be able to do the 10K run of my Olympic distance triathlon in August in under 70 minutes. If I’m going to do that after swimming 1.5K and biking for 40K, I need to be able to do it by itself. Actually, the coach says I should be able to do 15K if I want to do a comfortable 10 in the triathlon.

At least 200 people crowded at the starting line, maybe more. I stayed near the back.  My timing chip would only start timing me once I crossed the inflated red arch over the start/finish line. Just seconds before the race began, I took off the long sleeved T-shirt and tied it around my waist. Good call — it got hot quickly.

After a slow start as everyone jostled for a position and before we all spread out, I found my rhythm.  I wanted to maintain a 6 minute 30-45 second/km pace for my 10s, and I didn’t pay much attention to the pace on my 1-minute walks (probably a mistake, in hindsight).

I ran with music this time, which turned out to be my undoing in the end. It kept me company, but the playlist needs refreshing. I skipped through too many songs and the music stopped just when I needed it most — in the last kilometre!

Overall, I had an energetic run at a comfortable pace.  I engaged in quite a bit of self talk to try pushing myself at times. I hate being out of breath, but I kept reminding myself that it’s not like it would kill me. And, as cliche as it is, learning to be uncomfortable will make me stronger.

The spring in my step gave way to a more labored and ambling effort at the turnaround.  Not once did I think I wouldn’t do it, I just questioned whether I would do it in under 70 minutes. My Garmin Forerunner told me that my pace had slowed in the second half. Everything I’ve ever learned about the benefits of negative splits came back to me, and I tried to pick up the pace.

The water stations didn’t help much.  I mean, I felt grateful to have the water, but I can’t run and drink. So every time I hit a water station and wanted to drink I had to walk through. I wasn’t with a crowd of people most of the time so I have no clue whether this is the same for everyone.  I found it awkward.

I have been experimenting with gels. After 20 minutes I popped a Vega sport endurance gel. I should have done the other one 20 minutes later but I opted against.

A little before the turnaround the half marathoners started to pass us. Every time one of them did, I thanked the Universe that I’d only signed up for 10K.

My legs began feeling heavy with about 2K to go (it was hard to tell because–and this is the one criticism I have this otherwise excellent race–all the markers after the turnaround gave the half marathon distances, not the 10K distances).  My mind started telling me the time didn’t matter that much.  I recalled a study that said the mind bails out long before the body needs to.  That helped me push a bit harder.

If I really pushed the last 1.5K, my watch said, I would make it in about 70 minutes.  But that would mean going all out for longer than I ever had before.  Then the music stopped.  It was a toss up. I could forget the music but I worried that it would slow my pace.  So I slowed to a walk, fiddled with the iPhone to get the music going again, and hoofed it as fast as I could through the final stretch.

Time: 70 minutes and 40 seconds. The 40 seconds longer than my goal was just about the time I spent messing around with my music. Silly, silly.  Next time I’ll be better prepared. Ideally, I should probably just leave the music alone altogether. I train without it most of the time anyway.

I met Sam at the finish line. She made her 5K but her knee had a rough time.  The sun came out. Fatima finished not far behind me despite her back pain. Our friend, Azar, who’d done the 5K, found us. We took a few photos.  Everyone felt good about their race.

What I’ll do differently next time:

1. Take my water belt. The bottles are easier to drink from than paper cups, and I can time my own water to coincide with my walk breaks rather than having to slow down at the water stations.

2. Run without music or have an extra long playlist with very zippy music the entire time. No ballads.

3. If I’m running with music and the playlist ends, keep going without it!

4. Do some hill training and more interval training to build speed and stamina (as well as comfort instead of dread on hills).

5.  Run the 10K in under 70 minutes. I know I can.

Next up: the Cambridge Triathlon (750m swim, 30km bike, 6km run), Sunday, June 15th.

P.S. No knee pain!




On counting almonds, searching for Devil’s Claw, and remembering Avis

My mother-in-law died recently (see Rough times, tough choices for the background) and I’m spending lots of time thinking about her. We were pretty close, counter almost all the stereotypes of mother and daughter-in-law relationships.

Maybe it helps that I was friends first with her daughter–we were grade nine home economics partners–and so she’s been in my life for a very long while. (And yes, I married the annoying older brother. That’s a longer story for another time.)

Almost every time through the years when she would visit us she’d be on some oddball, stringent diet prescribed by this or that natural healer or written up in this or that life changing book, so it’s natural too that I think of her in the context of this blog. She was a feminist, concerned about health and wellness, spirituality and the good life, a searcher and a seeker, and we always had lots to talk about. I think she liked having a philosopher in the family.

Now my tolerance for alternative spirituality and medicine isn’t what it could be. I’m a philosopher who is all about logic, arguments, and reasons. Skepticism and science rule my world. In the Storm poem, see below, I’m with Tim Minchin all the way.

As you might imagine we usually disagreed about the underlying reasons for this diet or that restriction, but since mostly all of her diets involved eating lots of fresh fruit and vegetables we got along just fine at mealtime. She easily fit into our vegetarian family. We did gluten free when she visited but she died before trying the Paleo diet, at least at our house.

I would complain to friends about having to hear the theory behind these various diets and how each one made her feel “better than she’d ever felt in her whole life.” But as long as we stayed away from the reasons, we did okay. (Kind of like me and Waldorf School. When my kids went there I loved what they did and I learned just not to ask why they did it. Wonderful educational practise, bad metaphysics.)

“Must have Devil’s Claw.” I say that in Avis’s voice whenever I hear mention of Devil’s Claw because of a recent visit in which the purchasing of this dried herb was the first stop on her visit.


Many of her diets involved a precision that alarmed me. Last time I stayed with her it was 6 almonds for breakfast. Just six? Not eight?

“Life is too short to count almonds, ” I declared. I don’t mind tracking and eyeballing portion sizes but counting almonds has always seemed over the top to me.

But this infographic made me smile, Snake Oil Supplements?

It pictures the scientific evidence for popular health supplements. It’s very much worth having a look. See, dark chocolate. Told you.

Using bubbles that reflect the amount of evidence available for a particular supplement, ones that rise above the line show tangible human health benefits when taken orally by an adult with a healthy diet.

And look! There’s Devil’s Claw. Avis might have been right after all. Miss you so much, wacky diets and all.

Big, bigger, and biggest: Three thoughts on living large

close up shot of weights on a barbell

Thought 1: Heavy lifting won’t make women big

See Can lifting heavy weights make you bulky? Not if you’re a woman

“We combine personal experience, three expert opinions, and a healthy dose of scientific research to explain why most women simply won’t get bulky from lifting weights.”

Thought 2: What’s wrong with being big anyway?

From Fit Villains, (I’ve excerpted a bit below but worth going and reading the whole thing.)

“No, you won’t get big!” (Because big is bad, right?)

“It won’t make you bulky!” (Because to be bulky is to break the rules of femininity, didn’t ya know)

“You won’t look like this (insert image of female body builder). You’ll look like this (insert image of crazy toned fitness model)” (because there are only good and bad bodies. Anything that doesn’t look like the model is bad, ya heard.)

“You’ll get lean, sexy muscle!” (because all other muscle is unsexy, and you only want the sexy. It’s all about being fuckable )

“You won’t look like a man” (because the WORST thing you can do as a woman is potentially confuse 2-3 stupid people about your gender. Peeps need their boxes & labels, or else…uh, chaos?).

Heard any of these phrases before?If not, you may have been living in a bubble, lol. At least, in fitness. But while they are common (and kinda true, at least in terms of women not being equipped for fast, large amounts of muscle gain), I’d argue that they do little to actually address the major concern of women who are scared about weight lifting. Because it isn’t actually about the muscle.”

See also Do girls get a bulking season? Silly question and Big women and strength.

Thought 3: They’re talking about muscles, any muscles, not “big at all.”

From a frequent commentator on our blog and Facebook page, Kimberly Van Orman,

The problem with articles like this, is there is a failure of definition. People talking about this don’t have a shared understanding of ‘bulky.’

For those of us who don’t believe in women can easily get bulky, we are referring to hypertrophy or something like gaining a significant amount of body weight in muscle (gaining muscle mass). We’re talking physiology.

But in the people who don’t like “bulk,” or who fear it, they tend to mean any visible signs of it. Any amount of recomposition or change of body shape at all is unacceptable to them. They’re talking aesthetics.

This is less a failure of women (and men) to understand physiology and more of social pressure. Many women have internalized the social pressure that the right kind of woman is petite. She doesn’t take up space because that’s masculine. To be feminine is to be small, and any threat to one’s size is a threat to one’s femininity.

I’ve been around online fitness communities for a few decades now. Discussions of “women don’t bulk” are great for those of us who get the science and value strength over a particular aesthetic view, but I’ve found that they do little to change anyone’s position, because we’re having different discussions.”

She might be right. See See How My Jacket Convinced Women to Try Weight Lifting by

“My co-worker Michael came into my office and said, “You’re going to want to put on your jacket for this one.” It was a sunny afternoon in Los Angeles, and as one of the head coaches at CrossFit LA, it was part of my job to meet with prospective students and conduct an introductory session. Despite the fact that it was warm out, Michael felt I ought to wear my jacket. Michael suggested my jacket because he figured I would scare off the prospect otherwise. You see, as it turns out, the state of your womanhood is directly related to the size of your biceps. At least that’s what I’ve discovered. Or rather, I’ve discovered that’s what other people decide when they meet me. And I know I’m not the only one dealing with this issue. In fact, it’s only called an “issue” because women at all locations on the masculine-feminine spectrum are struggling to identify themselves and muscle size seems to be one criterion.”


I can’t fight genetics? (Guest post)

I have done a lot to learn to love the lumpy, mushy and ample body I have. About 15 years ago a doctor had warned me that, given my family history, I needed to do everything I could to manage my blood pressure. I took that information to heart and had adopted a primarily plant-based diet, restricted red meat to one a week, cooked with olive oil and started eating whole grains.

The shift in my eating habits over the years has been remarkable. Cooking from scratch and using dried instead of canned foods ensures I have a low sodium diet. I stay away from dairy, it no longer tastes good to me.

I took a functional fitness approach to my workouts. I got away from the military styled training I was used to and strived to walk and lift heavy things. I started doing yoga to support my flexibility and learn to trigger a relation response. I also find stretching fun and do it all the time when I feel stressed.

I found meditation helpful. Most recently I’ve adopted a Buddhist practice of chanting that instantly relaxes me. I garden, walk to work, cuddle with my dogs and kids all in an effort to slow down my A type personality and live a long healthy life.

My biggest challenge was three years ago when my family doctor informed me that I would be getting a prescription for blood pressure medication for my 40th birthday. I was so angry. I felt betrayed by my body. He quipped that I couldn’t fight genetics. It was the same year I had done my first mini sprint triathlon with my sister.


I’m wearing number 480 and having a lot of fun!

My resting heart rate was below 60 beats per minute in the morning and at the doctor’s office was 75. He believed me that I worked out but was skeptical of the quality of my diet. Here’s the thing though, I do love food. So while I eat all the right things I eat way more than I need to. At my appointment on April 2 this year I had surpassed my previous weight and now sit at 268 lbs. Holy crap.

Sitting getting my blood pressure done I was in tears. I had stopped weighing myself as it was the one thing I could not directly influence, I had focused on steps taken, resting heart rate and new activities.


My average blood pressure was 158 over 118. I was devastated. I felt I was smarter than my genetics and even with over eating I should still be healthy. My doctor asked what my weakness was for my health and I agreed it was the volume of what I ate. He suggested gastric bypass surgery. My jaw dropped and I climbed backwards out of my chair. Gastric bypass?

In Ontario this surgery is covered by the ministry of health through the Ontario Bariatric Network. It is a highly invasive procedure and one at odds with my own low intervention principles.

I booked an appointment with my psychologist to work through all the feelings I’m having about this. I know it is only by putting all on the cards on the table will I live the long and active life I want for myself. I happen to think I’m pretty delightful so I’d like to be alive as long as possible.

My psychologist put it very bluntly, I was in denial of the severity of my over eating. I’m leery of using the term addiction around food (it is not like I can abstain from eating). As an atheist who believes in my own empowerment I struggle with 12 step programs that rely on surrender to a higher power. I’m reading “When the Body Says No” by Gabor Maté and referring to Tracy’s information about Intuitive Eating.

My partner and I talked about how I used food to sooth myself. He did not, as my friend said, co-sign on my denial bullcrap. I am fortunate that my entire family is onboard with making even more changes to our lifestyle. I don’t have all the answers yet, as I draft this post it’s only been seven days of being a hot mess.

I am grateful for a feminist community who help me frame my wellness in ways that are meaningful to me. My friends who have shared their diverse experiences of medication, overeaters anonymous and gastric bypass. I’m thankful to everyone who takes the time to see how I’m doing, to be part of the rich network of support. I’m thankful I went to see my doctor and my psychologist.

Maybe I can’t fight my genetics and will need to deploy every intervention available but I sure am going to give it a try.

Given the readership this may go without saying: please be gentle in your comments below. I’m feeling quite raw about this but I also think by sharing honestly where I’m at I help inform how we frame fitness/wellness.

I survived Jiyu Waza Wednesday

A friend has been nicknaming Wednesdays nights at our Aikido dojo, “Jiyu Waza Wednesday.” That’s because the instructor likes ending the class with Jiyu Waza.

What’s Jiyu Waza? It’s one of the few times in Aikido when you defend yourself freestyle against a series of attacks–say, for example, as in this Wednesday, front strikes–using a variety of techniques. Which defense techniques you use is up to you.  It’s okay even just to use evasions. There is no need, as part of the exercise, to do anything particularly complicated. The hard part is not getting flustered or panicked at repeated attacks that begin when the Sensei says “Hajame” (Start) and ends when the Sensei says “Yame” (Stop).

Even though Jiyu Waza isn’t on any of the beginning or intermediate belt tests, Sensei Jon likes giving all levels a shot at it to get everyone used to it. Being comfortable and relaxed is half the battle. Part of the trick for me is also not feeling self conscious. The rest of the club kneels and watches while you get attacked!

Here’s a video clip of of Jiyu Waza that I love. Classical music and slow motion. Aikido is a very beautiful martial art,

I’ve also been working on a longer post–I’m worried it’s turning into an academic paper actually–on things Aikido has taught me. Thinking about that I was reminded of a great post on the Aiki-Doh!-ka website called Life is Jiyu Waza.

It’s about what Jiya Waza can teach us.

Often we feel like we’re under attack in day to day life – the myriad demands of work, family and fun can sometimes feel like a swarm of angry bees. Let’s take what we learn on the mat in jiyu waza and apply it in our world:

Hold a good kamae.  

Facing our problems head on, with all our focus and commitment, is powerful, and many issues dissolve readily under such intense scrutiny. It also puts into practice the old adage “Divide and Conquer”, making the ‘portions’ on our ‘plate’ seem smaller and more manageable.

Attack the attack.

Take the initiative, and you’ll maintain control of yourself, and by extension, the situation.

Enter in.

Get in there! As Sensei Jamie says, get a good, big mouthful of your problem (metaphorically speaking – don’t bite uke!) ; chances are it won’t taste as bad as you thought it might.

Let Go.

Once you’ve taken action, let go and face the next problem. If you get stuck wondering if you did the right thing, you’re wasting energy; it’s already done. You’ll find out soon enough if further attention is required.

Keep moving forward.

Anyone who’s done jiyu waza knows that if you stand still, you get clobbered. Moving forward brings the future, and its solutions, closer, whether or not you can see them now.

Back to kamae

Repeat as necessary…

From  Aiki-Doh!-ka: “Welcome to, the home Aiki-Doh!-ka. He’s the embodiment of the earnest and somewhat whimsical aspiration that imbues all Aikidoka. You might say he is the Don Quixote of Aikido – he has the best intentions, but is somewhat lacking in his execution.” Lots of fun. Go have a look!


Three Reasons Why My Dogs Are My Fitness Heroes (Guest Post)

two dogs on a rock overlooking a lake

I’ve mostly written posts on this blog about martial arts, one of the great influences in my life. So now I’m going to write about one of the other great influences in my life, namely my dogs. I currently live with a border collie, an Australian shepherd, and a boxer/doberman mix. And to indulge my additional love of lists, let me give you three reasons why these dogs are my fitness heroes.

3) They are motivated every day.

When you live with three healthy and active adult dogs, some form of outdoor physical activity is a non-negotiable part of the day. Taking a walk is just part of what you do. It’s admittedly not so fun when you’re sick or when the weather’s bad, and was pretty tricky when I was on crutches for a couple of months. But I really don’t often regret getting some fresh air and neither do they.

2) They exercise because they love it.

Sam has already blogged about dogs being intuitive exercisers. The reason why I love the way my dogs exercise is because they really don’t care about how many calories they’re burning, or which muscle groups they’re working. They exercise because they love to run around in the woods and play and chase things. And that matches my personal feelings about exercise, which is that it should ideally just be a consequence of doing things that you enjoy. I love kicking things, climbing rocks, and riding my bike to work, and I’m lucky that those things also help me stay in decent shape.

Another consequence of dogs’ exercising for the joy of it, is that they don’t feel as though they always need to work themselves to exhaustion to be satisfied. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever really tired out my border collie. (Though I’m also not sure whether it’s actually possible to tire out a border collie.) Regardless, he can still be happy and satisfied with a good hike even though he would surely be willing and able to do the entire thing all over again. Because they exercise for the joy of it, they don’t feel guilty (or even think) about whether they’ve worked hard enough.

1) They are unambiguously body-positive.

I came up with the idea for this post this morning when I was getting dressed and (as usual) poking at various parts of my body and inspecting them in the mirror to evaluate just how dissatisfied I ought to be with them. This part of my morning routine was (as usual) interrupted by my border collie nosing me in the leg, partly because he wanted me to hurry up and partly because he thought I should pet him instead. Both of these being eminently reasonable requests, I petted him, then hurried up. But it also occurred to me just how puzzled he must be by the fact that I delay our walk more or less every day by doing the same pointless thing.

I don’t know if you’ve had a dog. But if so, you know they love you no matter what you weigh or where you carry (or don’t carry) your body fat. Or how your hair, nose, or any other features look. In fact, I’m pretty sure they don’t even have a concept of human beauty ideals, much less the capacity to care about them. So really, dogs are more body-positive than pretty much any of us. But what we can at least take away from them is a concept of body-positivity that goes beyond “every body is beautiful.” This is a nice message, but sometimes I just want us to let go of this valuing of beauty altogether. That means instead of saying that we’re all beautiful, saying beauty doesn’t really matter. And some days I’d really like that. Instead of trying to come to terms with myself and convince myself I actually am beautiful, some days I’d rather just forget that the whole thing is even an issue. And that’s what I get when I hang out with my dogs.

So I’ll end this post with the message that I think my border collie was trying to send me this morning.

Wouldn’t you be happier if you took all that time you spend dwelling on your imperfections and just petted a dog instead?

Yeah. I thought so.


Audrey and a dog walking on a path

Too Skinny to Go to Yale?

yale1-1384341473Can a university really threaten suspension because of how much (or how little) someone weighs?  If they’re an IV league school like Yale, apparently the answer is “yes.”  The school told student Frances Chan she had to gain weight if she wanted to stay, says this report.  She tells her own story in a Huffington Post article entitled, “Yale University Thinks I Have an Eating Disorder.”

Frances Chan comes from a long line of naturally thin people.  The 5’2″ student weighed 92 pounds when medical professionals at Yale put her on notice.  She was subjected to regular weigh-ins to monitor her weight.  This drove her to do everything she could to gain. She says in the Huff Post piece:

Finally, I decided to start a weight-gain diet. If I only had to gain two pounds, it was worth a shot to stop the trouble. I asked my health-conscious friends what they do to remain slim and did the exact opposite. In addition to loading up on carbs for each meal, I’ve eaten 3-4 scoops of ice cream twice a day with chocolate, cookies, or Cheetos at bedtime. I take elevators instead of stairs wherever possible.

We’ve blogged before about the way fit and fat can come apart.  We’ve also talked about why thin-shaming is as unacceptable as fat-shaming.  It’s not that eating disorders aren’t something we should care about. But not everyone who is thin necessarily has an eating disorder. And in any case, eating disorders are not grounds for suspension from university!

It’s not even clear that people can be forced to address their eating disorders without compromising their autonomy. See my post “Ana, Mia, and the Health Imperative: Do We Have to Eat for Our Health?”  The approach they took was intrusive and in violation of Chan’s right to bodily autonomy.  Imagine if they’d gone after her for being overweight?  For all we know, Yale does that, too.

The problem, claims Chan, is not that Yale is concerned about students with eating disorders. Rather, it’s that they use BMI as their primary diagnostic tool. BMI is not a good measure of individual health.  In fact, as Sam outlines in “Fit, Fat, and What’s Wrong with BMI,” it was designed as a way of measuring health across populations.

The good news story (because remember, I have made a commitment to blog about happy and empowering things this month)?   Chan used it as an opportunity to tell her story to a wider audience and to raise awareness about eating disorders. The  Huffington Post article ends with this notice:

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.

And in an epilogue to the story, Chan reports on her Facebook page that Yale has backed down and one of the medical staff apologized:

“Positive updates from Yale Health :) “Just visited Yale Health with my parents and met with a new doctor. She apologized repeatedly for the ‘months of anguish’ I went through and admitted that BMI is not the end all be all. She also looked at my medical records since freshman year (which the previous clinician had not done) and noted that she saw that my weight had remained around the same. So she trusts that I do not have an eating disorder and admitted that ‘we made a mistake.’ She also does not want me to feel uncomfortable coming to Yale Health if I get a flu or something. I do still have to see them, but at most once a semester. And I’ll be away for the coming year, so….LET TIME BE A MIGHTY RIVER!!!”