I hate people cheering me on up hills and here’s some thoughts about why

hills4Lots of people think I’m really nice. And I know I seem nice most of the time. I work very hard at “nice.” But my thoughts aren’t always nice and sometimes they spill out in sporting contexts. I guess I’m tired then, and sometimes–hot, and hungry–I can kind of snap at people. What’s that word again? Right, “hangry.” I can be that way.

I did that on the first day of the bike rally when people cheered me on up a hill. I’m sorry. I really am. But I thought I’d sort out here some of my thoughts about what got me.

It was on the last hill, a substantial one, though really–and this depends on where you ride and what your perspective is–there aren’t any hills on the bike rally. Gentle inclines, yes. Actual hills, no.

We’d been sweeping all afternoon, that is, riding behind the slowest rider so that bike rally support vehicles can identify the back of the pack. We wore broom bristles attached to our helmets so the people in the van could spot us. It’s an important support role on the ride and team leaders took shifts, each pair sweeping a half day on the ride. We chose the first day to get it over with. Here we are with our broom helmets!

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It was hot. And we waited at lunch a very long time after the last rider left to give the slow people a good start. We knew things were going to be tough when we met the slowest rider just 5 km out of town. It felt liked we’d waited for hours. How on earth could it be that we caught them at 5 km from lunch? But caught up with them, we had.

It was a long afternoon but finally after waiting a lot and riding slowly a lot we were just 7 km from camp. We’d started riding at 9 am and it was now nearly 530 pm. Road safety had asked us to stop and wait because between us and camp were more than a dozen riders slowly climbing the last hills before camp.

So when we hit those last hills we were hungry and tired. But it mattered to me a lot that people knew that we were that slow because we were sweeping. My heart rate for the day barely left zone 1. This had been an exercise in patience. Riding slowly is super hard.

So when the bike rally volunteers started cheering, “You can do it!” on that last hill, I needed everyone to know that of course I could do it. Of course I could ride up those hills. I could ride up them, down them, and up again.

It’s ego, isn’t it?

Yes, I’m big. But there’s no question of me making it up the hills. I didn’t need cheering on. I was riding up them slowly for a reason, because I was sweeping. Grrrr!

I’m laughing now but I was grumpy that afternoon, hungry, hot and tired too. I don’t think of myself as having a lot of pride and ego invested in hills. Hills aren’t my friend, traditionally. But on that day, I saw that in some circumstances I didn’t want encouragement. I wanted acknowledgement. It had been a long day. “Thank for you sweeping,” was what I needed to hear.

I’ll think about that when a “you can do it!” is about to cross my lips. Because sometimes, of course you can do it. It’s just a hill after all.

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Fitbit, my sleep friend (Guest post)

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Guest blogger Michelle Lynne Goodfellow, who has written about her breast cancer and her love of aikido, is now in search of a better night’s sleep. 

I got a Fitbit Flex several weeks ago, mostly to track my daily steps, because I was concerned that I was sitting too much during the day. On the whole, I’ve been really happy with the basic model that I purchased – it does what I need it to do, which is track my steps.

But the nice thing about the Fitbit fitness tracker is that it can also track your sleeping patterns, spitting out reports like this one below. (As an aside, notice the time at the top of the screen shot. Yes, I started writing this blog post about insomnia…  while I had insomnia…)

The red areas indicate when you’re awake, and the light blue areas indicate when you’re restless. The device accurately plots both, and subtracts them from your total time in bed (as indicated by the time ranges beside each date).

I’m a bit of a numbers geek, so I’m fascinated by data like this. Over time, it helps explain a lot – like why I’m so exhausted, essentially.

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There are a few downsides to using Fitbit to track your sleep, though.

  • I’ve found it doesn’t do a super accurate job of knowing exactly when you’re awake. Some nights I when I know I’ve been awake for a while, it’s only registered that I’ve been restless (or conversely, it assumes I’m sleeping when I’m just motionless – like the nights when I used to watch movies on my phone!).
  • On the nights when I charge the Fitbit battery in the middle of the night, they only show up as nights when I’ve gotten a few hours of sleep (because I often put the charged device back on if I get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night). On the Tuesday night above, for example, I wasn’t wearing the device through the night, but put it back on to get one final bit of sleep before I got out of bed for the day.

On the whole, though, I love using the Fitbit to track my sleeping habits. I’m not sure I would be disciplined enough to keep such accurate records without the device automatically synching with my smartphone.

And as you can see from the report above, I still have a real sleep problem (although I’m convinced I’m finally on the right track with my current sleep program, which I’ll talk about in a couple of weeks). Most nights I’m getting between 6 – 6 1/2 hours of sleep, but some nights (like Thursday, above), I’m getting far less.

(Although you may also notice that I’m napping for 1 hour in the afternoon whenever I can – that’s actually an accepted part of my new sleep regime.)

This is the sixth in a series of posts about changing unhealthy sleep habits. Future posts will include:

  • White-knuckling the early morning hours without sleep aids
  • The sleep plan that finally worked

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Michelle Lynne Goodfellow works in nonprofit and small business communications by day, and also enjoys writing, taking photographs, making art and doing aikido. You can find more of her work at michellelynnegoodfellow.com. Michelle has also written about her breast cancer journey on her blog, Kitchen Sink Wisdom.

Bike dancing, or you know you’re happy to have reached the top of that hill when….

I’m not a big fan of hills, especially hills on very hot days. But I do like getting to the top and discovering the bike rally support van is there with dance music and cold water. Members of Team Switchin’ Gears made it to the top and then we might have even done some celebratory dancing.

This is me showing off dancing with my bike over my head. It’s not showing much though since it’s a super light carbon bike.

I challenged my teammate Joh to dance with her steel framed bike. No way, she said. So I had to show off and dance with the heavy bike too.

Oh summer and bike dancing, I miss you already!

Real life fitness, or why I’m dog jogging

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In an ideal world I break up my day. I take Cheddar out for a walk, I write for a bit, then maybe mid morning, I go for a run, shower, and then bike into my office. Oh, summer days. Walking, running, biking, and writing, all before noon.

But summer is soon ending. I’m a professor and my schedule is about to change radically. Soon there’ll be undergraduate students, and classes, and meetings, oh my. Today I had meetings starting at ten, not the earliest start to the work day, I know, but also a work dinner and reception that would go until 8 pm. That’s a long day to leave a dog, even with my mother next door.

So come 8 am I strapped on the waist leash and took Cheddar out for a run. It’s the busy professor’s perfect combo, the dog gets a walk and I get a run. But it’s not a perfect compromise.

This morning wasn’t perfect for sure. It was garbage day so there was some interval training involved. Run/stop/sniff/repeat. There was also some hopping and jumping and leash biting. (He does best if we run in the evening when he’s more tired or after we’ve romped in the backyard first to get the puppy stuff out of his system.)

But when I’m busy, in the real weekday world of late August and September, it does mean I get to move and so does he.

Does back to school mean a change in schedule for you? What do you do to fit movement in? Any compromises you’d like to share?

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Running and chasing away skinny dreams

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It’s a funny thing.  Running is the one sport that makes me wish I were thin. I don’t feel that way about cycling even though it would me get up hills faster. I guess it helps that I’m pretty speedy on my bike. I’m a slow runner. And as a slow, larger runner, I need cheering up some times and reminding that I belong. Sometimes I even say I am “jogging,” too scared to claim “running” as a thing that I do.

Thanks Not Your Average Runner! I like your images and your messages.

I know you.

You’re not a typical runner, but you run.

You’re not a fitness model. Heck, you might even call yourself Plus-Size. Curvy. Fat. Overweight. Sturdy. Chunky. Voluptuous.

But you are also Brave. Strong. Fierce. Determined. Fabulous.

You are not an average runner.

You are exceptional in every way.

The truth is, running is a sport for everyone – not just the super-fit. You can be a runner at any size, shape or age, and I want to show you how.

The Return of the Body Police…On bodies, sports performance, and fun

Caster Semenya ahead of the pack in the women's 800m, Rio 2016. Photo credit: Michael Sohn, AP

Caster Semenya ahead of the pack in the women’s 800m, Rio 2016. Photo credit: Michael Sohn, AP

“You know, it’s not about being muscular. It’s about sports. When you walk out of your apartment, you think about performing. You don’t think about how your opponents look. You just want to do better. I think the advice to everybody is to go out and have fun.” So said South African track star Caster Semenya upon winning the women’s 800m at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

Semenya came under scrutiny in 2012, her “status” as a woman called into question as controversy swirled around her hormones and whether they were “the right level” to make her a woman. She was then subjected to a battery of tests to prove her “legitimacy.”

This year in Rio,

 Seymena won in 1:55.28s – the fastest in the world this year and a personal best – with Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi and Margaret Nyairera Wambui of Kenya completing the podium.

Much like Semenya four years ago, when she shot to prominence after winning the 800m world championship, the silver and bronze medallists have been the subject of innuendo and suspicion about whether they are “intersex”.

We could write volumes about the indignities that these athletes are subjected to because of their stellar athletic performance. Many of their opponents are crying foul. Meanwhile, the IAAF has required some athletes with the “wrong” levels to take hormone-suppressing drugs.

When reporters started to question the silver and bronze medalists about whether they were taking such drugs, and the athletes attempted to stick to their race performance, Semenya interjected:

“My friend, tonight is all about performance,” she said. “We’re not here to talk about IAAF, we’re not here to talk about some speculations. Tonight is all about performance. This press conference is about the 800m that we saw here today. So, thank you.”

As a friend of mine pointed out on social media yesterday in the comment thread when I posted this very article, Usain Bolt is a foot taller than the rest of the field in his sport (short distance track running) but no one complains about an unfair advantage. No. He’s just “naturally gifted.”

We’ve blogged before about how the test for testosterone levels in women athletes relies on a very strict interpretation of the gender binary. But as long as we are going to rely on that binary, we need to recognize that simply having more testosterone is not on its own an advantage (not nearly as much as Bolt’s height is, for example, and yet we don’t question his right to his spot on the podium).

If you haven’t made the connection yet, this line of questioning (about someone’s womanhood) is yet further evidence of the constant scrutiny women’s bodies get subjected to. It’s nonstop. If it doesn’t come from one direction, it’ll come from another.

Women’s bodies are scrutinized for being too fat, too thin, too manly (that is, muscular), too fast, too strong. We are supposed to want to lose weight (even if we are supposed to pretend that’s not the goal) or change our body composition. But not too much.

And though it’s a topic of another post that I will not be able to get into here, things are even worse for trans women athletes, whose right to compete is frequently called into question.

Pumping Iron 2: The Women explored the issue of women’s physique in bodybuilding in 1985. There’s a fascinating conversation in the film about how standards of femininity should be enforced in competitions. Because of that,  the more muscular Bev Francis (a power lifter turned body builder) placed eighth, the more “feminine” Rachel McLish did better. Carla Dunlap, at neither extreme, placed first.

Lately on the blog we’ve seen quite a bit on food/diet and body image. Catherine’s post about food as beyond good and evil got the attention of WordPress, making it to the Editors’ Choice list.

No matter how much we wish we could bring the focus back to sport performance and body acceptance, the conversation always gravitates towards how our bodies look or should look (and whether we should care or use that as a motive). What about acceptance? What about body neutrality?

One of my favorite posts in the blog archives is Sam’s “Athletic versus Aesthetics Values in the Pursuit of Fitness.” There she says:

What’s different about athletes? Athletes care about competing and about winning, not about what you look like. It’s a very different world than mainstream culture in which looks play such an enormous role. Generally speaking, among people who view themselves as athletes, people respect you for what you can do.

This captures nicely the opening quote from Caster Semenya. It’s all about your performance on the track, in the pool, on the course, on the mat/balance beam/uneven bars…

And as our “Shape of an Athlete” post makes clear with its focus on Howard Schatz’s amazing photos of athletes from a wide range of sports, there is no one way for an athletic body to look anyway, so the whole idea of “the athletic body” is elusive at best.

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Here at the blog we like to challenge the idea of activity for the sake of weight loss and looking a certain way. We promote body positivity and diversity. We’re all for engaging in sport for fun, for the challenge, for the sense of energy and accomplishment, for health, for flexibility, to increase your quality of life, to spend time with friends and family, whatever your reasons.

That means we put body sculpting and weight loss pretty far down the list of good motivators. Why? Because (1) it’s about time people started taking body diversity seriously and recognizing how damaging the narrow ideal of the “normative body” can be socially, politically, and even physically, (2) isn’t everyone sick and tired of how the social imperative to achieve that body is used against people who don’t? and (3) it’s not an achievable goal for the majority of people anyway, and it would be a bad thing if everyone who didn’t reach their “goal weight” ditched their activities because they “didn’t work.”

I like that Semenya included “fun” in the list. For many of us, it’s not only or always about performance. The athlete who comes in last still did something amazing that she can feel good about. Our activities aren’t unsuccessful if they don’t result in weight loss and a “fit” physique. It’s not even the case that everyone who has that physique is healthy — see “She May Look Healthy But…Why Fitness Models Aren’t Models of Health.”

Body policing lurks in the background for most women, oftentimes it’s even self-imposed by internalized messages that are hard to shake. Even when we are attempting consciously to reverse years of conditioning, it’s difficult to do. Friends, relatives, strangers, doctors all feel entitled to comment on our bodies.  That’s why “‘You’ve lost weight, you look great!” isn’t a compliment.”

So it’s up to us to challenge the dominant messages.  That’s one reason why I will not engage in conversations about weight loss (in myself or others) and why I find it a combination of sad and disturbing when someone makes a public show of  their “weight loss journey,” as if the rest of the world should care.

That we are all expected to care (and lots actually do) is evidence in itself of the way the value of weight loss and body aesthetics permeates social attitudes in the West.  And when we make a public show of it, seeking congratulations and pats on the back, that reinforces the idea that body policing is okay.

Well, it’s not.

Have you been body-policed lately or witnessed it (or done it to someone?)? How do you respond when it happens?

Now skinny people can be obese too! (Wait, what?)

Turns out you don’t actually need to be fat to be fat-shamed by your doctor. Maybe you knew that. (Christine wrote about BMI this week. See On doctors, BMI, and other bullshit.)

But wait. It gets worse. Now it seems you can actually be skinny and obese, not just skinny fat but skinny-obese. Who knew?

See Skinny patients can show signs of obesity.

The article talks about skinny patients who have undiagnosed metabolic disorders.

At the heart of all these conditions and what is known as “metabolic syndrome,” or having at least three of the conditions associated with obesity, is an inadequate ability to store fat. (Dr. C. Ronald Kahn, chief academic officer of the Joslin Diabetes Clinic, said two German physicians called the syndrome “metabolic” nearly 40 years ago. Conditions such as elevated cholesterol, diabetes and even high blood pressure appear to be linked through disruptions in metabolism, in this case the abnormal storage of calories.)

The body turns excess food into fat and tries to store it in fat tissue. If there is not enough fat tissue, the fat is stuffed into other organs, like the liver and the heart, as well as the muscles and the pancreas. There it poisons the body, causing metabolic syndrome.

Fat people develop metabolic disorders because their brain is driving them to eat more food than their bodies can store as fat. Their fat tissue has reached its limit. People with lipodystrophy have so little fat tissue that they, too, cannot store the fat their body makes to store extra calories from the food they eat.

It’s a theme I’ve worried about before. While fat people may get too much unneeded medical attention from doctors who assume that fat=unhealthy, thin poeple often get too little attention. See How equating being fat with being out of shape hurts thin people too.

But I’m also worried, as a philosopher, that the words we use are starting to lose their meaning, if skinny people can be obese. What we really mean is that thin people can be metabolically unhealthy. So why not just say that?

In my post asking questions about weight loss I wrote, “Is all obesity alike? Catherine Womack and I have chatted about whether there are medically significant different kinds of obesity (her suggestion). You know that there’s conceptual cleaning up to be done, of the sorts philosophers love, when medical researchers start talking about “thin fat” people and metabolically healthy obese people. It seems clear that these weight categories aren’t doing the work we need them to do. “Thin fat person?” What the heck is that? Oh you mean a metabolically unhealthy thin person. Then why not say so and leave weight out of the picture?”

Also, I know there’s a larger critique here about the medicalization of body sizes. “You’re too skinny!” “You’re too fat!” “You’re the right weight of skinny but oh, no, it’s skinny fat!”

And suppose it were true that being a certain number on the scale meant you had a certain healthy risk, then that might be something you’d like to know when planning your life. My son has a pretty benign genetic condition but one upshot is that he might have arthritis early in life. He’s known that since he was a younger teen but the point is no one expects him to do anything about it.

That’s the issue with medical talk about body size, the assumption that you can fix it. Even if my weight poses certain health risks, sharing that information (if and when it’s right) isn’t the issue, it’s the assumption that it’s my fault, that I can fix it if I only I tried hard enough. (And believe me, I’ve tried. Not quite Oprah-tried, but close. I’m not as wealthy as Oprah.)

So lots of questions here about size and health, but I’m just asking for one simple thing, stop saying “thin-fat” or  “skinny-obese” when what you mean is thin and unhealthy. I hope for all of our sakes, that’s not too much to ask. Thanks!