Not Such A Nice Girl (Guest Post)

I have an unusual way of measuring my progress with sparring in Taekwondo. It’s not counting strikes or kicks, nor is it about my reaction time or about whether I win a round. It’s about how much I apologize.

When I first started in sparring, I would apologize a lot, especially if I was fighting another woman. However, I’ve noticed that over the last couple of years, I have stopped apologizing so frequently. Obviously, if I hurt someone, or if I don’t have good control for a particular strike, I will apologize, but I don’t wince or say ‘sorry’ nearly as often as I did when I first started.

It’s intimidating to fight in a ring. It’s even intimidating to do drills that require hitting someone over and over. I have never been one for consciously buying into the notion that women are supposed to be ‘nice’ but that sort of social training is insidious and it is hard to shake. I saw it in myself, and I still see it in some of the women I spar with now.

Play fighting is something that is accepted in boys. It’s seen as a ‘natural’ sort of behaviour and is almost encouraged, or, at least, not particularly discouraged. Girls, on the other hand, are strongly discouraged from that sort of physical play. That can leave us at a disadvantage should we ever end up in a physical confrontation – our bodies don’t get much practice at dealing with the stress of a fight.

That social correction against women fighting can even happen in Taekwondo class, where we are supposed to be training to fight, I sometimes get called ‘vicious’ for perfectly acceptable strikes that don’t even hurt my opponent. This isn’t a situation where anger gets the better of me in the heat of the moment or anything like that, it’s just regular sparring practice. I’m focused and determined, and looking for an opportunity to score a point, and I get behaviour-checked for not being a ‘nice girl.’ I don’t think they do it on purpose. If you were to ask them, I’m sure they would say that they are just kidding, and that my strikes were perfectly fine. Still, though, some subconscious part of them is saying that I ‘shouldn’t’ do this and that subconscious part has to speak up.

I do my best not to have that sort of ‘nice girl’ expectation of my opponents, though. I even have a prepared response for when one of them apologizes in the ring – ‘I’m at Taekwondo, not cake decorating class. I’m expecting to get hit.’ (No disrespect intended to cake decorators, it’s just not a context where you expect to get into a fist fight.) That usually puts them at ease, at least for the moment, our practice continues and we both keep improving.

Learning to be a good martial artist is tough. There are a lot of skills involved and it takes a long time to put them together effectively. Those skills have to be tested or you won’t be able to apply them to defend yourself in the real world if you need to. Ring sparring is a key part of that testing – even if it is just to get over the unfamiliarity of being in a fight.

It’s unfair that many women have the extra challenge of unearthing and dismissing the social conditioning of being a ‘nice girl’ before they can really improve their fighting skills. It’s worth the effort though, I can feel the difference in my abilities since I have been working to let that social expectation go, and it is a lot easier to be in the ring. I still have a lot of work to do – especially on my reaction time- but now that I have cleared that one obstacle, I can focus on developing my skills instead of getting distracted by trying to be ‘nice.’


Tracking as a way of life? No thanks

Six different fitness trackers--3 with black wrist bands, one light blue, one yellow, and one darker blue, all against a green background.

Six different fitness trackers–3 with black wrist bands, one light blue, one yellow, and one darker blue, all against a green background.

Yesterday Sam asked people to weigh in about whether she should replace her FitBit. It’s not working properly and she still has some time to go in the summer step challenge. The thing is, Sam likes tracking. And I can appreciate that. She said she knew what I would say (meaning, she knew I’d say, “Noooooooooooo!”).

But I would only say no to the question, “Should, I, Tracy, get a FitBit and start tracking everything all the time?”  For Sam, my answer is different. In fact, if she likes tracking (and she does; she’s a data hound) and it doesn’t have a negative impact on her attitude about herself (and she’s so darn well-adjusted that it doesn’t), then yes she should. Why suffer along with broken gadgets when you can get a new one? Also, she’s about to make a very cool and upward career-move, so she can reward her accomplishments with a new shiny toy.

I’m the opposite. I lamented last week about how the 100 day step challenge is about a month too long. I find it interesting at first to get a read on my activity level. But after that I’m more like: are we there yet?

Sam said, “I think you take it all more seriously than me.” That’s very likely. It’s not that I take it super super seriously. Part of me knows that in the grand scheme it doesn’t really matter. I mean, it’s not like the teams actually win anything. And come September we’ll just move on and I’ll do what I do without counting my steps.  I’ll know when I have a “good activity” day, but I kind of know that anyway. How does being able to say “I hit 36,000 steps today” change anything?

If, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter, I don’t really need to know. So that’s kind of where I end up if I take things to their logical conclusion.

For me there is something insidious about monitoring and tracking. I have compared it to the panopticon before (an 18th Century prison design that forces inmates to engage in self-surveillance because they never know when they’re being watched). In that first early blog post, I was talking about food tracking (that’s got to be the worst type of tracking I’ve ever experienced). Sam chimed in about how she likes it in “Another Perspective on Tracking.”

We go back and forth with this issue a lot. And we’re both of the “you do you” variety. And I would never begrudge anyone their simple pleasures (like tracking gadgets).

I’ve gone even more in the other direction lately. This summer, I’ve gone out a few times without my Garmin! Just running freestyle. I didn’t even take it with me to Scotland in July and I had some amazing runs where I felt satisfied and free, not checking my pace and instead doing what felt right at the time. That pleases me and more importantly, feeds my soul in ways that external measures never do.

I blogged last week about intuitive eating and how much I like it. This is another place where Sam and I go in different directions. But the appeal of intuitive eating is consistent with my affinity for becoming aware of and following internal cues. I realize that my inner cues might sometimes be off (if I’m sick, if I’m tired, or what have you). But personally I do better when I try to live with that sort of mindful awareness for the most part.

And that’s why the idea of tracking as a way of life doesn’t agree with me. But if it agrees with you, that’s okay and I encourage you to venture out and find the right gadget for you.

So to answer your question, Sam: yes, get yourself a new one!

Does tracking as a way of life appeal to you or leave you cold (or somewhere in between?)?

Should Sam buy a new FitBit? What’s your two cents?

We know what Tracy would say! So I haven’t asked her.

But I kind of like counting things. (“Kind of?!”, asks Sarah)

The issue is this. Mine is broken, falling apart, and we’re a few weeks away from the end of the workplace fitness challenge. My choice is struggle along with the broken one and chuck it at the end of the challenge. I could let those who hate fitness trackers stomp on it for fun! Or buy a new one. If I’m going to buy a new one I’d like to do it now since this one is a pain. I’ll explain in a minute.

An aside: I live in a product testing sort of household. We’re tough on stuff. If it survives my family, buy it. Seriously. Car door handles have come off in my hand. Don’t get me started on the kids. We all break things. So the FitBit tragedy is no big surprise.

What happened? Well, it got wet a lot. I don’t come in when it rains and I do lots of physically hard things. The strap started to fall apart. I bought a new strap. But that never quite worked. Now my FitBit won’t even sync with my the app on my phone and in order to charge it I have to hold the whole thing together with a clothes pin. It looks silly and the not syncing kind of tips the scale. The new strap is purple and while I like purple for the strap it also makes the screen purple and I can’t easily read the numbers.

I’m trying to decide if I should think of the FitBit as an interesting experiment or something I want to continue.

What do I like? I like the heart rate data. I like the social aspects. (Hi mom!) I like tracking sleep.

Steps are easy for me I’ve discovered because I don’t drive to work and I live in a large house and there are dogs in the world. I like hitting the extra big numbers when I travel. But my regular everyday steps are pretty good too. So the step counting is mostly just an exercise in self-congratulation. Go me!

It’s also sort of cool having the time on my wrist again after all these years of not. I like the syncing and I like seeing trends over time. In an ideal world, I’d get a scale that also synced with the FitBit app on my phone and count all the things.

What don’t I like? The aesthetics. It’s ugly. Also, it’s not even ugly and durable. See remarks above. It covers up my beautiful wrist ink, sort of. It’s also expensive. The FitBits with heart rate data are in the $200 range.

So, what’s your two cents? Do you have a fitness tracker? Do you recommend it?

My optimal number of bikes right now is (N+1)-N

What in the world is this title about?  And why am I asking readers to do math on a Sunday morning?

Some of you readers, especially those of you who like cycling, may remember posts about The Rules.  My title refers to the correct number of bikes to own; see below.

rule 12, saying that the minimum number of bikes to own is 3, but the correct number is n+1, where n is the number of bikes you already own.

I happen to prefer this version, found on a bike forum:

N = your current number of bicycles. +1 = the number you need to have a happy fulfilled life.

For me, N = 6.  That’s right, I have 6 bikes.  Here’s a list:

  1. road bike
  2. cyclocross bike
  3. mountain bike
  4. commuter bike (25-year-old rigid Trek mountain bike, bombproof)
  5. Brompton foldable bike
  6. old cyclocross bike that lives at my mother’s house in South Carolina

For cyclists, bikes are kind of like shoes– you need different ones for different occasions.  You wouldn’t wear sneakers for the opera, would you?  (Well, in Boston, people wear hiking boots everywhere, but I digress…)

But back to my title– it looks like I’m saying that, for me, my optimal number of bikes is 1. How can that be?

This summer I’ve been riding a lot more and love love loving it.  It’s been hard to get back into shape for the kind of riding, frequency of riding, length of riding, and speed of riding that I want.  And I’m not there yet– I’m still moving up the fitness curve, looking for my new normal.

In uncertain times, we tend to gravitate toward the familiar.  For me, this has meant spending my saddle time on my road bike.  Here it is, resting in my dining room:

My old but adored road bike-- silver with orange decals, a little scratched up but always ready to ride.

My old but adored road bike– silver with orange decals, a little scratched up but always ready to ride.

Behold my 2003 LeMond Alpe D’Huez.  It’s been completely redone– the only original parts are the frame, fork and brakes.  It’s the bike of Theseus (this is a silly philosophy joke; read here for info).  It fits me like a glove.  I’ve had two bike fits done and it’s perfectly dialed in (I highly recommend this for anyone looking to spend a lot of time on a road bike).

So, I’ve found myself riding this bike around town: doing errands, going to the dentist, cycling to yoga, etc.  All the other bikes have been sitting in the basement, unused.  Well, I have used the new Brompton some for grocery shopping, but even it’s been a bit neglected.

Is this is a problem?  No.  I have a super-good lock when I need to leave it somewhere briefly (usually I can take it inside), and I wear cycling shorts underneath a skirt or some cute city biking shorts.  And did I mention how comfortable it is?

I bring this up because I want to say that, when we’re comfortable, we are happier doing the activities we like and want to do.  This works for clothing, this works for footwear, and it also works for bikes and other equipment we use in our activity-filled lives.

Fall is coming, which means that the cyclocross and mountain bike will get out there with me in the woods soon.  And the Brompton has some trips coming up.  But I’ll still be road cycling.  And I’m grateful to my old road bike for seeing me through a summer of transition back to regular cycling.

Readers, do you have any old or familiar gear or clothing or something that you turn to for familiarity or comfort in some physical activity?  I’d love to hear about it.


Family Yoga (Guest Post)

IMG_0787I’ve posted on this blog about discovering cycling after 60, taking up CrossFit, and the pleasure of knowing that I can still run – an activity that was my main exercise in my 50s. As you can probably tell I like to experiment with different types of movement.

Although I have done yoga from time to time throughout my life, it has always been for very brief periods and as something thrown in among other activities when it was convenient, which was hardly ever. In short, I have not been a practitioner of yoga. Still when my daughter, Sascha, finished her yoga teacher training and started teaching classes I wanted to support her and so I have added yoga into my weekly activities – just one class a week at first but now I’m planning to add more.

Why? Well, for one thing there are obvious physical benefits. The first couple of classes that I took were classes that she was teaching in the park in the early evening. I had done a vicious CrossFit workout in the morning of the first class and was dreading the soreness that usually follows such sessions. Although I was tired by late afternoon I managed to drag myself to the park for class motivated primarily by maternal affection. The hour provided a number of challenges – balances and stretches that felt fairly intense and not always comfortable – but at the end of class I felt fantastic, relaxed, and energized. I had forgotten that’s what yoga will do for you. But most surprising was that the next day I had almost no muscle soreness from the CrossFit. That was pretty amazing and it was the main reason I went back the following week.

Bird Park 4Another benefit was the class location. San Diego is a beautiful city and little Bird Park — a corner of Balboa Park — provides glimpses of downtown from an island of serenity. It is a lovely spot to be at the end of the day.

But the real treat for me has been the experience of learning from my daughter. This has been one of the unexpected pleasures of parenthood. We play the role of guide and teacher to our children for so long, it is truly lovely to reverse roles and surrender to being the student. I did not anticipate this part of my relationship with my children – perhaps because it is so hard to project beyond those busy days when they are babies, toddlers, and teenagers to a time when they will be adult selves with so much to offer. This new phase of our relationship feels like a gift.

She is a good teacher and I am getting better. And when you can see you are getting better at something it is encouraging and you want to do more. I anticipate that yoga will now be a regular part of fitness regimen. I doubt that I will be doing this anytime soon, but that’s all right. I am just happy to be able to continue to learn in so many different ways.



Sharon Crasnow is a retired philosophy professor who writes on feminist philosophy of science and lives in San Diego.


You can follow Sascha on Instagram at @phdyogi Her webpage is

Falling apart… (Guest post)

This summer is turning out to be a bummer for exercise. On July 9, I fell on my left knee at the end of a 7km run. I was about to cross an intersection and rather than watch where I was stepping, I was looking at incoming traffic to see if it was safe to cross. I stumbled on an uneven sidewalk surface and off I went flying. This was a running group outing and I had taken a different last stretch than the group.

My return to the pub where we start and finish was bloody and painful (I stupidly ran the last stretch, an extra 500m). I made quite the impression with the dirty bloody knees. My right knee was a little scratched too but nothing really bad, it was my left knee that took the big hit. Since I bike to run club, I also had to bike back with my busted knee. It was an experience. But eh! I am a trooper! I can do this, no? Who cares about pain? That was stupid.

I went back to running rather quickly, namely after only 6 days. I did that despite the discomfort because I like running and because I need to exercise. Whenever I don’t, even if it is to nurse an injury, I feel lazy. I also miss the movement. I am not good with sitting on my bum all day. I went running a few times and complained about how my knee was still uncomfortable. That was stupid.

Now, on August 1, I went out for dinner and was cycling back home. The main street I usually take home was under construction and I took a side street to be safer. That did not go too well. A train track crosses that street at a weird angle. My front wheel got stuck between the track and the asphalt, bringing me down and falling on my right knee this time. I guess I like to live a balanced life and since I had busted my left knee, I needed to bust the right one. A little girl who was playing nearby came over and asked if I was ok and said with a sorry voice that it happened to her “a few times.” So cute.

Now this injury put a clear stop to the running and I have not gone out since then. I have only cycled a little bit and went for a walk or two. I did get the whole thing x-ray’d as well as my left thumb which has been severely sprained but, thankfully, not broken. My wrists are also ok. This is from the jerk to my handle bar when the front wheel got stuck.

Now I have said above that some of my actions were stupid. I certainly did not take enough time to heal my left knee and thanks to my second fall, it will now heal properly or one can hope. I had an ultra sound done to check if I had a clot or something because my lower left leg has felt funny (swollen sometimes, tingly, painful, constricted) since just before taking my second fall. Good news: no clot in sight. But perhaps something else is pinched and causing this.

The most annoying of all this is that it restricts my movements. I am left with some weightlifting and no impact exercising. The weightlifting is a challenge with my sprained thumb but I am told the best physio for it is to keep using it. Ok. I am not sure how long it will take me to be able to go back to running. I really do like running and I really miss it. I find it meditative in a way that cycling or other exercise is not. But I will have to be patient (not my forte) if I want to be able to go back to it and if I want to not fall apart for real.

Wish me luck with this but mostly, wish me patience. Lots of it!

Cleaned but ruised knee after bike fall

Making fitness spaces functional and friendly

By MarthaFitAt55

I started swimming again last week. The new recreation centre finally opened in my neighbourhood and after three swims, I’m hooked.

I like swimming and was lucky to have a mom who believed we should all know how to swim, given we live on an island and have inland areas dotted extensively with ponds and lakes.

So I can swim and like it, but I didn’t always get to a pool because it was not a simple thing for me to manage.

Most of the time it was because the change rooms were poorly designed. There was no space to hang your towels while you showered so everything got wet. Or the lockers were too far away and you dripped water coming and going post swim.

Or the spaces were too small and there was too many people to manage the washing, dressing, drying etc. Or the spaces catered too much to people who fit more culturally accepted norms for body types and sizes.

The new pool is a dream come true. Surrounded by windows, the pool centre is bright and airy and features a splash pad, a physio area, and a hot tub and water walking combo.

But what really makes this place special for me is that it’s obvious people put thought into the planning the change areas and the details to make the space functional.

Each area has a dedicated change cubicle and a shower cubicle that is wheel chair accessible. Regardless of the label, the showers in all the cubicles work on a push button mechanism. No twisting and no turning. The soap dispensers have a lever you push. The temperature is also set so you neither freeze nor boil.

As you approach the pool area, the pre-swim showers also operate with a simple push button. You can either use a set of wide steps or a ramp to get in the pool. If you use a wheelchair, there’s also a lift.

So it’s obvious that universal design principles have been built in. But there are other things here that make the space accessible in ways other places do not.

The pool centre has made the women’s change area three times larger than the men’s. There are gender neutral bathrooms on the outside of the gender defined change areas.

Unlike other pool centres I have been to, everyone has space they can use as they need. The private cubicles can hold at least two people so if you had a child, you could manage to corral child(ren), wash and dress all in a contained area.

In fact, the only open areas are for hair drying/combing.. Whatever your reason, if you needed a private space to change, wash, and get dressed, you have one. Some people, regardless of gender, are comfortable in open change spaces. Others are not. The new pool centre meets those needs and then some.

What I can tell you is that I have seen more senior women and more women with diverse body shapes/ sizes, etc in the pool than anywhere else I have been. By building in functionality, privacy and comfort, more doors are open for accessibility and for inclusion.

I’m interested in hearing if these sorts of things matter for you and what does it look like. And not just pools. I know gyms are also looking at how they can be inclusive and respectful of all kinds of needs. My training space for example has wide doors, a street level entrance and extra large bathrooms that can hold a wheel chair or a walker. Please share in the comments. I look forward to hearing from you!

— Martha is delighted to be back in the water and her hips and knees love it too.