In favour of shorter distances

Bringing back the mile

10 reasons the 5 km is freaking awesome

Running five minutes a day has lasting health benefits

I’ve been enjoying all these articles lately in praise of shorter distances. They remind of my friend and cousin-in-law T who wanted to get out and run in the morning but was finding with two small children, she didn’t have time for her usual 5 km. And then a light bulb went off over her head. Why 5 km? Why not 3 km? Who doesn’t have 20 minutes to run in the morning?

And so her morning speedy 3 km was born.

A terrific habit. And in keeping with our theme around here, do what works for you.



Fit is a feminist issue, link round up #2

All the posts we couldn’t share on our Facebook page because well, breasts…

See the back story on our new Saturday feature here.

  • Why I want my sons to see me naked

    “Ours is not a modest household. I don’t lounge around in the buff like my boys do (and I spend more time saying, “Put on some pants!” than anything else) — but I’ve never refrained from changing clothes in front of them, or leaving the door open when I shower, or nursing babies without a cover. Because I want them to see what a real female body looks like. Because if I don’t — and their first images of a naked woman are the impossibly perfect physiques in those magazines or those movies — what kind of expectations will they have? And what woman could ever live up to them?”

  • 30 Unphotoshopped Butts

    Here at R29, we support and cherish all butts — from the au courant round booty to the pancake-ier shape that has fallen by the cultural wayside. From cellulite, stretch marks, and age spots to the perkiest of young butts, we believe they all deserve to have an “official era.” And, that era should be all the time.

    To that end, we photographed the butts of 30 women. And, we asked how they feel about their backsides — what they love, what they think is funny, and whether or not Vogue’s “radical” acceptance of bodies larger than a sample size has affected their lives. Ahead, 30 butts of all shapes and sizes, both bare and festively adorned. No photoshop.

  • Is the bike lane a boys’ club?

    “Elizabeth Plank, senior editor at Mic, reveals a significant gender gap, with far fewer women cycling than men, for a number of reasons: “Women’s aversion to risk, women’s clothing, economic and time poverty, as well as sexual harassment,” she writes.

    German, Danish and Dutch women cycle as often as men but the numbers are much different in North America. In Canada, just 29 per cent of daily bike commuters were women, according to 2006 census data, although that number did rise in Canadian cities: women made up 35 per cent of bicycle commuters in Toronto and Montreal and 37 per cent in Vancouver.”

  • Sit less and live longer: This New York Times piece spreads the now very familiar message, sitting kills. What’s new? A new study that shows sitting time affects the length of your telomeres and a study that shows standing, even if you don’t move much, is still a lot better than sitting.
  • 23 Female Cartoonists On Drawing Their Bodies:

“So what happens when women draw their own bodies in a medium that has represented them so poorly? While graphic books published by men each year still outnumber those by women, the exclusionary landscape of American comics has been called into question. From blockbuster successes like Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, to rising indie artists and vibrant online communities, female cartoonists are producing some of the most exciting work in the genre. Here, 23 successful graphic artists share their illustrations and discuss how women are reshaping a form that has marginalized them nearly since its inception.

Nicole J Georges / Via

Unsolicited advice to triathletes who are reluctant cyclists

I’m thinking here of Caitlin, from Fit and Feminist (though it sounds like she’s learned to love the bike a bit at least) and this blog’s Tracy. But they’re not alone. I’ve met a few triathletes, even some very fast ones, who are at best reluctant cyclists.

I met a half iron triathlete out on the bike last week and I was doing my usual thing of raving about how much I love fall riding. In short: I’m fit, it’s cooler, no races, and pretty colours.

She whispered, “I have a secret. I kind of hate cycling.”

Uh oh.

Here are my two cents for the triathlete who is a reluctant cyclist.

Want to get faster? Want to learn to love your bike?


Ride lots.

Ride as late into the fall as your gear and temperament allows. Ride as early in the spring as you can manage. Buy cold weather cycling clothes and in the polite version of the standard cycling saying, toughen up.

Find your inner Jens.

More Jens.

And more.

(Sorry. I have a bit of a Jens crush, like most other women in the world who ride road bikes. Actually like most other people in the world with road bikes. Men love Jens too.)

Ride long and easy some of the time. Ride hard and fast other times. Learn to suffer and like it.

Ride hills, ride intervals, ride into the countryside and drink coffee with friends.

Ride with slow friends. Best of all, ride with the fastest people you know willing to have you along.

Ride your bike.

It’s that simple and that hard.

Time spent running/training volume is the biggest single predictor of marathon success , so too cycling is all about time on the bike.

Nothing beats it.

I know triathletes aren’t just cyclists. You also run and swim. I get that.

But if you’re already a fast swimmer or a fast runner, go into maintenance mode with swimming and/or running. The biggest place you can make gains and improve your overall time is on the bike.

And yes, over the worst of the winter, you can ride a trainer. You can take spin classes. You can use rollers. You can crosstrain. Here’s seven options.

But, in my experience, the best you can manage over the winter is maintaining bike fitness, not building it.

You want to end the fall on a high note. It’s downhill from there.

Just like running on a treadmill doesn’t compare to road miles, so too the trainer is always second best to riding. Yes, it’s good for intervals. Just like the treadmill. But that might be its only advantage.

I know. It’s not what you want to hear. But to get faster on your bike, you have to ride your bike. Lots.

Maybe you’ll even come to love it. I hope so.

See you out there on the road!


A Breakup Letter (Guest Post)

It’s over. There, I said it.

You might call me selfish. That after more than eight years together almost every day, I would move on so easily to find new love elsewhere. That I would leave you when you’re falling apart – when perhaps you need me the most. But I just can’t do it any more. And did we really know what we were doing committing to each other eight years ago? We were both so different then.

So I guess I am selfish. But I’d like to think that this breakup is better for you too. That maybe we were both holding each other back by not supporting each other properly. I know there were times over the past few years when you needed attention and I was busy doing other things, unfairly expecting you to be there for me regardless. After the car accident we were in, I forgot that you might have needs as well, because I was so focused on healing. So it was probably my fault too that I just expected you to be able to pick up where we left off once I was back on my feet.

But today was such a different day without you. And a better day. I’d gotten so used to your scenes, your little tantrums, that I’d forgotten there could be a better life. Did you know that when we met my dad the other week, he privately told me it might be time to move on? After you went inside, he said that he’d heard you coming all the way down the block. Did you even know you were making so much noise?

So today I was with with someone else, and we spent much of the time in peaceful, companionable silence. It was easy. I’d almost forgotten how easy things could be, and how smooth. Boring, you might say. But after the emotional roller coaster of our relationship, maybe boring isn’t such a bad thing.  And no, before you remind me that things won’t be perfect with anybody, let me just say that I realise that. I know that there will still be hard work, and some moments where I will be let down. Maybe even let down hard.

But now I have a taste of what life is like with a partner that’s strong enough to support me. And now that I know, I don’t think I can go back to you ever again. It’s not that I regret our time together. Just that you’re no longer the one I need. I’m sorry.

Goodbye, old Giant. Goodbye.


And hello, Rocky Mountain!

The new bike!

The new bike!

Race Report: Because Doing the Olympic Distance Once before I Turn 50 Just Wasn’t Good Enough!

Starting the 10K run after the swim and bike on Sunday.

Starting the 10K run after the swim and bike on Sunday. Photo credit: Sam.

Last Sunday at Lakeside I did it again. Right up to the day before it was one of those “if I hadn’t signed up I wouldn’t be doing this” kind of things. But I did sign up and I said I would do and Lakeside is where my club trains.

And now I have one more Olympic distance triathlon to my name: 1.5 km swim, 40 km bike ride, and 10 km run. Bam!

You may recall (or not, but I do!) that I struggled through the Bracebridge course after the swim–a hilly bike ride and a hot run. But I finished and that felt good.

Lakeside is flatter and the weather was cooler. The organizers changed the start time to an hour later because of the temperatures. And they waited until about thirty minutes before the race to announce that it wasn’t going to be wetsuit mandatory (but they strongly recommended everyone wear a wetsuit). My coach brought me some arm warmers so I wouldn’t get cold on the bike ride. So yeah.

A couple of days before the race I told Sam I was dreading it. She said, “it’s flatter and cooler–you’ll do better!”

I can honestly report that I did do better. Kind of. I improved my time in all three things. I shaved just over 2 minutes off of the 1.5 km swim. I managed to finish the bike 6 minutes faster. And I cut my run time by 2 and half minutes. T1 was ridiculously long as I struggled to pull the arm warmers over wet skin and took some extra time to towel off so I wouldn’t be cold. 4 minutes and 50 seconds for T1 (as compared to 3:23 in Bracebridge).

It was all enough to get me to the finish line third last of those who finished (there were also three DNFs and I wasn’t among them!).

I’m going to do something a bit more random than a detailed race report, because, let’s face it, a race report from the person who finished third last just isn’t all that exciting. So here are some reflections:

1. I was so thankful that my friend and colleague, Chris, was racing with me that day.  We travelled together and gave each other pep talks. Sunday was Chris’ actual birthday (52 and she totally rocks!), so the mood was kind of celebratory.

2. Thankful too that I joined Balance Point Triathlon Club this summer and decided to race on our home course. We train there and it makes a difference to be in a familiar place. I was totally relaxed even though I experienced some resistance about wanting to do the race. Being a member of the club meant that I knew lots of people who were there. Club members who weren’t racing had volunteered to help out, so I encountered encouraging words from people I train with all along the course.  And of course, Gabbi the coach reminded me that I could do it, and brought those cool arm warmers that made a huge difference on the bike ride.

3. The Swim. I can’t say enough about how much I am enjoying swimming. Whereas last year when I did the Give-It-A-Tri at Lakeside I had something like a panic attack at the beginning of the swim that made me totally short of breath, gasping for the entire time, this year I felt relaxed and I fell into a nice rhythm almost immediately.  Training with a coach has helped me develop techniques to go into various swim “gears.” These have a lot to do with different breathing patterns.

My favourite race day breathing pattern is to breath two in a row on one side, then on the third stroke, then two in row to that side, then on the third stroke again. I don’t know what it’s called but I like it a lot. When I really want to kick into high gear I breath every two strokes. Training in the open water through the summer has also improved my sighting on the swim. Not having the blue line on the bottom of the pool makes it really easy to go off course.  Learning to sight without breaking speed and rhythm have really improved my swim times.

4. The Bike. Still not loving this part of the race, and of course it’s the longest bit of the course. Though I sometimes see 40 km an hour on my bike computer, I’m usually somewhere between 20-30, and in the end my average speed on the bike for this race came out at 21.8 km/hour. It’s clear to me that the bike is my nemesis. I pass no one on the bike and pretty much everyone in the race, even those well behind me after the swim, blast past me. It’s demoralizing to see zero improvement and I get that I am starting to sound like a whiny child whenever I talk about the bike. Sam has been encouraging me to ride with a women’s intermediate group on Thursday evenings through the fall, but their pace is usually about 28 km/hour. Though the coach says they will slow down if a slower rider joins them, there is no way I’m going to be the one to slow a group down by that much.

Anyway, on race day, I hauled on those arm warmers and jumped on the bike. Knowing that I wouldn’t be making any big progress on the bike that day, I used it to practice different techniques, play with the gears, work on my confidence on hills, and even commune with the natural world (it’s a nice rural course and by mid-morning, the weather was kind of pleasant).

I probably need to learn to suffer more on the bike.

5. It was great when I got back from the bike because Sam and Kim and our friend David were all there at the dismount line, along with Chris’ kids and her partner, Emma, cheering me on. That bolstered me a bit for the run, though truth be told the idea of running 10K after that bike ride seemed incredible to me.

6. The run. Well, as incredible as it seemed, I did it. By the time the run started the weather was actually perfect running weather. Not too hot, but not cold at all. I took the arm warmers off shortly into the run. The course at Lakeside is two 5K loops.  I suffered serious quad cramps over the first 2 km.  At the first water station, one of the speedsters I train with encouraged me to “push through the pain.”

When I finished the first 5K loop, there was a guy there directing people to the finish line.  I said, “Not me, I have another loop to do.”  He said, “Really?” He seriously looked flabbergasted. By this time the people in the next race (a Give-It-a-Tri that started three hours later) had already begun the run.  The last 5K was a psychological battle, not to finish — I knew I would finish — but to keep running. By this time, I just wanted it to be over. My quads cramped up again at about 6K, and I felt like I was hitting a wall. I tried some Heed at the water stations and sucked down a gel, but I was well and truly out of steam.

I got to the finish line and choked back some sobs as I approached. When I crossed, I saw no one I knew and that felt kind of good, actually, because I had nothing left for anyone. Sam et al. had long since gotten back on their bikes for the long ride home.  Chris was still there with the family and I caught up with them a bit later.

I found the food tent and filled a plate with banana pieces and pretzels and then sat myself down at a picnic table.

7.  I don’t know when it happened. I think it was some time during the last leg of the run.  People were encouraging me by name — this is why I love the fact that they have first names in HUGE letters on our race bibs — and I was chugging along.  And I had a surge of pride and satisfaction in what I was accomplishing.  If I look back at two years ago when Sam and I started our fittest by 50 challenge, I never for a minute would have thought I could complete an Olympic distance triathlon (or even a sprint distance, really) before my 50th birthday!  And here I was, doing it, just 10 days before the big day. Look at me!

Lakeside finish

Time: 3:44.28.5

Next up:  Toronto half marathon with my friend Anita on Sunday, October 19th.

Miss Australia but not the snakes

snakes of AustraliaIt’s Autumn here, Spring there. It’s the season when I miss Australia the most. I watch my cycling friends in Australia and New Zealand ramp up their mileage on Strava. I get invited to various racing weekends and training camps I can’t make. I look at the speed and altitude of the rides my friends are doing in New Zealand and remember why I like track riding.

Yes, I could leave those groups on Facebook but I’m too attached. I even love my annual automated birthday greeting from the Canberra Vikings cycling forum.

Fine, fine. It’s getting close to my next sabbatical and I’m scheming about another trip to that part of the world, another winter missed, another year in a part of the world with a robust women’s cycling community.

So obviously I love it there. With a few exceptions. One of the exceptions is snakes. I blogged recently about animal hazards to cyclists but it occurs to me I didn’t say enough about snakes.

Snakes were new to me. Yes, we have garter snakes here and even the massasauga rattler. I’ve actually seen one, though I heard it first. That was reassuring to know. Thanks for the warning rattler on the hiking trail. We’ll give you room.

Australia was the first place I’ve lived where school field trips involved needing a parent to carry the snake bite kit. “Good God, don’t ask the Canadian.”

The facts about Australian snakes are both terrifying and reassuring. Here’s this from Australian Geographic:

WHEN IT COMES TO self-defence, Australia’s snakes have got things pretty well covered. We share our continent with about 140 species of land snakes, some equipped with venom more toxic than any other snakes in the world.

But bites are actually quite rare in Australia and, since the development of anti-venom, fatalities have been low – between four to six deaths a year.

Bicycling Australia has a snake safety page. That should give you some idea that it’s an issue. The safety page is also kind of reassuring.

The same long, hot days that encourage you to get on your bike also make the Australian snake population far more active. So, what about cyclist-snake encounters? Popular literature is full of scary stories about the many dangerous snakes in Australia. Yes, there are numerous species of snake in Oz. Yes, many of them are venomous and a dozen or so of 170+ species could probably kill a human. However, very few people actually die from snakebite in Australia each year. This is in stark contrast to other places in the world where thousands of people die from snakebite (e.g. South America, South Asia and North Africa). – See more at:

But still, the presence of snakes in places I ride my bike scared me. The piece goes on to warn about Brown snakes in the Canberra velodrome infield.

Living in Canberra I do have some extensive experience with one particular family of Brown snakes—the ones that live in the infield of the Narrabundah Velodrome! Saturday afternoon training in summer is frequently interrupted by one or more Browns trying to cross the front straight after feeding. When the same snake is subjected to bicycles zooming past for some time, it can become a bit testy and aggressive, yet most days these snakes hide in the grass until the cyclists have departed for the day. My main concern at the velodrome is also my only real concern for a snake encounter when on the dirt; falling on top of a snake could be a good way to get bitten!

Here’s an interview with Catherine Culvenor  now a member of Cycling Australia’s High Performance Unit about her time training at the track in Canberra.

Training at the “Bundahdome” had both its good sides and its bad sides. In winter, one end of the track stays wet almost all day meaning it is too slippery to ride on, and the freezing temperatures of Canberra aren’t great either – I remember leaving school one day to train in 4°C fog. Trying to warm up your muscles under those conditions is not easy! In summer, the brown snakes that inhabit the velodrome’s grassy centre like to give people a bit of a surprise. I became used to them playing peekaboo during efforts, but having to watch out for one of the world’s most venomous snakes is not really something you want to have to focus on during a flying 200m.

bike path


Brown snakes also seemed to love to hang out on the warm pavement of the bike path. I once got an email from  the ANU campus cyclists group  warning of an “angry brown snake” on the path on my  way home. I suggested that they might just move it. But not Australians are also proud and protective of their local wildlife. There’s a sign at the Australian National Botanic Gardens which advises visitors not to leave the paths and to wear closed toed shoes. Why? Snakes. The sign goes on to say, “The Brown Snake is a valued member of our habitat.” So am I, right?

Riding to the crit course one night for our weekly race, an oncoming cyclist yelled at me: “Snake up ahead on the path mate.”

This got me worrying about two things actually. Snake? So what do I do about that? Turn around and go home? Ride by cautiously? Go super fast? And “mate”? Did he think I’m male or is “mate” used gender neutrally? Turns out “mate” is gender neutral. I like that. And I should just pass the snake cautiously which is what I did.

My best Canberra snake story concerns a snake I didn’t see. I finished a time trial race one night and people came over and clapped me on the back saying how brave I was. It was like I’d grown up there. The way I held my line and passed right by the snake. I hadn’t even seen a snake. Stick in  the road? Snake? took me quite a few months to tell the difference.

So yes, I miss cycling in Australia, in Canberra, a lot. But I don’t miss looking out for snakes.



Bad knee news

Phrases you don’t want to read about your knees: high grade cartilage degradation.

Sigh. I was hoping the MRI would give me good news.

But hoping doesn’t make it so.

On the other side of things, my knee actually feels fine, which is a little weird. My doctor said, given the MRI results, and how bad they were that she expected to see me in pain, unable to do my usual activities. I told her I rode my bike 1300 kms in July and that I’d been back to running (slowly, not far) for a couple of months. She was surprised.

Thanks physio!

Part of me wishes I didn’t have this information. My knee feels great so I nearly cancelled the scheduled MRI. But I work near the university hospital so I’m on their short call list, the list of people who can get there in under 15 minutes to take any unexpectedly available time slots. The other day they called and now I know. Poor knee, poor me.

Now off to sports medicine specialists to see what the long term prognosis is and whether running is advised at all.

And on the bright side, biking is just fine.