Dancing for your steps (and other ways to make up steps at the end of the day)

I’m on the sailboat visiting Renald this week and that means one of two things on any given day. Possibility 1: I’m out and about on land, covering lots of ground and hitting my step challenge target (if you’re wondering why I’ve got a target for daily steps, here’s the story of how FOMO got me to commit to another 100-day step challenge). Possibility 2: I’m boat bound (which is not always a bad thing in a general sense) and it’s tough even to get 5000 steps because everything I need is fewer than 20 steps away).

Sometimes there’s a mix of these two, where we go to shore but we park really close to where we plan to go. In any case, the upshot is this: it’s easy to get to the end of the day and fall short of my 13500 target (which I made a conscious choice to keep at this relatively low daily goal precisely because of the amount of time I spend on the boat each summer).

There are lots of ways to make up steps as the day comes to a close when you’re at home. You can go for a walk or a run later at night, for starters. I know quite a few people who do that. At the condo, I can even zip down to the treadmill if I like.

But my favourite way these days is to dance for those steps. It’s fun, easy to do anywhere (the other night I danced around my hotel room in Syracuse where I overnighted on my drive to Newport), and amazingly efficient at clocking up steps with the Pulse counter that I use (I’m not sure whether other gadgets count dancing).

Last night after Renald and I got back from the Jaws Summer Party (a live band followed by a screening of the original Jaws — so much fun), I was short a couple of thousand steps. “Let’s dance!” I said. And so for the next half an hour or so we took turns picking songs from Spotify and had a dance on board. It was a fun way to close out the night, dance with my partner who I don’t get to see all that often, and hit my step target.

At home I rarely have this issue. I’ve got my routines down and they include more than enough walking to surpass my daily goal, usually way before the end of the day. No last minute scrambles (or dances or walks around the block) needed.

As I said in response to Sam’s post yesterday about “Completism,” I lean in the “completist” direction. If I have a goal or target, I like to hit it. Like if we’re going running and we set out to do 10K, and we somehow get back to our starting point and we’re 0.3K short or something, I’ll drag you around the block. If my daily step target is 13500, I am not satisfied to go to bed with 13247.  So I like having ways of making up for missed steps before bedtime and dancing is a fabulous way.

How do you (or do you?) make up for shortfalls in your daily target at the end of the day?

You Ask, Fit Feminists Answer: How do I learn to use clipless pedals?

This is the third in a new series where we answer readers’ questions. If you have questions send them our way, using the “contact us” form on the left hand side of the blog. I’ll forward them to the appropriate blogger. We’re not experts by any means but we do have a wealth of real world experience with many, many physical activities.

How do you learn to ride with clipless pedals? What’s your advice for someone switching from toe clips to clipless pedals and who is scared of falling? How did you learn? What worked? What didn’t?

Catherine: For me it was a three-fold process: I had to get comfortable clipping in and out, and then I did a little trial and error with different brand pedals. Finally, I learned how to set my pedals so that I could adjust the tension for easier clipping out (or more tightness when clipped in– these are useful under different conditions). Oh, and I did fall over a few times. It was mainly embarrassing, not painful or dangerous. It happens, and then it stops happening. Now I really enjoy the feeling of being clipped in, as it makes me pay more attention to my pedal stroke and I feel more one with the bike. Give it a try!

Tracy: I wrote a whole post about the painful way and the easy way (the easy way is: Ask Sam to teach you!):
https://fitisafeministissue.com/2013/09/26/learning-to-ride-with-clipless-pedals-the-painful-way-and-the-easy-way/, p.s. the absolute key for me was learning to pedal with one foot and not to hurry. Once I had that, I could take my time and not panic. Note that after my first failed attempt to try it on my own I donned my armoured motorcycle jacket for my next attempt. Having the protection helped me not worry about falling. And in the end I didn’t fall anyway.

Kim: Like Tracy, I advocate the one foot approach. First, straddle your bike and practice clipping and unclipping with your dominant foot. Get the feel for the peddle: clipping in becomes muscle memory that way. Then roll along gently, getting purchase on the other pedal but not applying pressure; slow and steady is best. Don’t try to clip it in yet. When you feel comfortable, look down so you can see the peddle and clip. Push it right side up if needed with your foot, and feel around for the clip. Work on manoeuvring in, then out again. Repeat for a while. You will fall but you won’t hurt yourself if you are prepared! Long sleeves. Helmet. Move slowly, but not at a crawl.

Cate: Also ride someplace without a lot of traffic or stoplights while you practice so your stopping / starting is not filled with pressure. And make sure the bike isn’t too big or the seat set too high — my biggest crash was putting my own pedals that I was comfortable with on a rented bike and when I tried it out the seat was too high and I couldn’t easily unclip.

Sarah: As a notorious klutz and someone who usually takes much longer than the average person to learn new physical movements (dance? yoga? disaster!), I was really intimidated by “clipless” pedals – even the name seemed counterintuitive. So when I bought my sister’s old road bike during a knee-imposed hiatus from jogging, I knew I had to learn how to clip in and out before venturing onto Toronto’s busy streets. So, off I went to my apartment building’s parking garage.

First the DON’T. There is only one:

1) Don’t clip and unclip a couple of times on the flat, decide you’ve got the hang of it, and then try to bike up the super-steep parking garage ramp in high gear (more disaster!). Fortunately the only thing I hurt was my pride.

There a lots of DOs. They are more fun :

1) Figure out what kind of pedals you have and get the correct style of cleats installed on your bike shoes. Your local bike shop or knowledgeable friends should help with this! Look at your cleats : if they are a small metal thing (SPD), you clip in by stomping (on the correct side) of the pedal, if they are a larger plastic thing with a little tongue at the front (one of the “road bike” systems), that tongue hooks under the loop at the front of the pedal before you stomp down. Either way you twist your foot to the side to unclip.

2) Loosen the tension on the clipping mechanism on the pedals all the way, to make it as easy as possible to clip in and out. You can always tighten them later if you find that you are inadvertently popping out.

3) Find a flat paved space with few obstacles or traffic for your early attempts at clipping in and out.

4) While standing still, clip one foot onto a pedal. When I stop on my bike, my right foot is usually on the ground, so I clip in my left foot.

5) Practice pedalling with just one foot to get used to the push-pull motion that will get you moving and keep you moving.

6) Once you’ve mastered starting, keep rolling, and practice clipping your second foot in and out, in and out.

7) Next, practice starting, clipping in, peddling, coasting, unclipping, and then slowing to a stop. Over and over until it feels kinda automatic. Don’t forget to always lean toward your unclipped foot.

8) You’re ready to venture out onto the streets. Remember that any time you’re reaching for your brake to slow down, whether it’s for a stop sign or a squirrel running across the road, unclip. Even if you end up not stopping and just clip back in, it’s a good habit to get into.

9) Finally, go find some hills of increasing steepness. First, marvel at how that push-pull clipped in action powers you easily up challenging hills. Now, practice stopping on the hill. We naturally tend to turn across steep hills when we stop, to avoid the feeling of rolling backwards. We also tend to lean uphill. So it’s important to practice turning away from your unclipped foot so that it will be on the uphill side when you stop.

Beyond the language of injury and healing: Thinking about knees and aging

If there’s one thing that I have a hard time to coming to terms with that limits my fitness goals and aspirations you might think it would be my weight. But you’d be wrong. Instead it’s my knees.

I’ve blogged lots of about my knees. See On not having the bee’s knees and saying goodbye to soccer. See Physio promises and running dreams. See Injured but not out.

I was back in knee physio this spring and for the first half of summer. I chatted lots with the wonderful physio guy, Brian, about aging and exercise and “why doesn’t everyone over 50 just see a physiotherapist regularly?” It’s income of course, and benefits. But he says even among those with benefits and income, it’s also attitude. Lots of people think of pain as normal aging. If a thing hurts and you’re getting older, just stop doing that thing. And in some cases stopping doing that thing might be called for (me and soccer, too much twisting and turning and torque on joints with insufficient cartilage)

Athletes, by the way, don’t think that way. They’ve had a career of injuries and see physio as part of training. How do we get more people to think like everyday athletes?

Because the point is in lots of cases you don’t have to stop doing that thing. Running isn’t hurting my knees. I’m assured the kind of distances I run aren’t making things worse. I’m not wearing out my joints. I’ve learned a lot of stretches and exercises that help with knee pain.

There’s nothing that alarming or unusual going on with my knees, just boring old osteoarthritis. Severe grade cartilage degradation, the report from the MRI says. I have a knee surgeon. I have a physio dude. I’ve given up soccer. I worry about Aikido. All that kneeling.

So mostly I’m feeling good about physio but a friend posted something the other day that was like a slap on the face. It was a quote, a meme, a thing about not going back to activity X until you’ve fully healed an injury. Good advice, right? But I realized reading that that I’ve stopped thinking about my knees as “injured.” It’s more like, that’s how my knees are. They aren’t going to get better.

If I keep doing physio, all of the time for the rest of my life, I might be able to ward off knee replacement surgery. My knees are nowhere near that yet.

Watch this again. But it’s worse after 50 because multiple body parts!

And running, according to physio dude, as long as it doesn’t hurt, won’t make them worse.

So it’s not an injury so what is it, a chronic condition? Normal aging? It’s just the way my knees are. I can maintain a pain free state if I keep my running distances down, don’t play soccer, forgo kneeling at Aikido and do a half hour of physio a day. That feels like a lot. I’m going to go back to the list of things I can give up. I’ll see if there’s more there that I can ditch besides flossing!

My knees have got me thinking about what is possible, what’s normal, and getting used to what my body can and can’t do. It’s an issue connected to the how we think about the range of human abilities. It’s also connected to aging. Tracy blogged recently about aging as a choice. While it’s true that some aspects of aging are optional, I don’t feel I had much choice about my knees and cartiledge degradation.

But I’m still running, still riding my bike, and still pretty active even with my creaky knees.

Are you a completist? If so, you’ll wonder why Sam didn’t go for a short Sunday night bike ride!

Among my cycling friends there are those who are completists and those who aren’t.

What’s a completist? Among my friends, completists are those who cringe when they see me post Strava rides of 98 km. Says Cathy, “Would it have killed you to ride around the block a few times?”

Cate is a classic completist. We set out to ride 150 km to mark Canada’s 150th birthday. There was hail and thunderstorms. Sarah and David cut it short at about 120 km. I got a flat shortly after that and called home for a pick-up. I hate fixing flats in the rain. But Cate soldiered on. In thunder and lightning she rode up and down the bike path until her Garmin clicked over 150 km. I was happy to ride another 46 km the next day. I didn’t feel the need to finish what I’d set out to do. I was happy to mentally re-describe the task at hand as riding 150 km on the Canada Day weekend.

I smiled when I read on Cate’s blog about her decision to forgo the train on her travels in Estonia and Latvia. She wrote, “I had a fleeting thought that I could stay in Haapsalu an extra day and then take the train to Tallin. After all, 400 km on a loaded bike was nothing to sneeze at. But I’m a weird completist so I packed up, got on the bike and left.”

I thought about Cate when I decided to watch Game of Thrones Sunday night rather than ride my bike 7 km. Why 7 km? I set a weekly distance goal on Strava, 150 km. Usually during the summer, it’s pretty easy to meet. Bike commuting plus errands is 50 km or so. I often do a couple of short rides on weeknights, maybe another 40 km. And then there is a long ride on the weekend. I decided I’m happy to ride 157 km next week instead. That’ll be easy since the bike rally starts next Sunday and Day 1 is 110 km.

How about you? Are you a completist? Do you accomplish exactly, to the number, what you set out to do? Or are you like me, happy to redescribe and complete in spirit if not the letter? How much leeway do you give yourself?


Enough already with “yoga and…”

 Image description: Green marijuana leaf nestled inside a white lotus flower with a swirly blue, purple, and green background. Underneath it says "marijuanasana."

Photo credit: http://boston.eventful.com/events/marijuasana-cannabis-y-/E0-001-103938444-1@2017100115 Image description: Green marijuana leaf nestled inside a white lotus flower with a swirly blue, purple, and green background. Underneath it says “marijuanasana.”

I don’t like to rant (well maybe a little bit, sometimes). But the “yoga and” trend is starting to get to me. Regular readers may recall some recent posts about goat yoga – I wasn’t a fan (a judgment I formed without having to try it) and Sam thought it was fun when she went with her son Gavin.

Lately, there are so many different forms of yoga. I don’t mean Iyengar, Ashtanga, Moksha, Kundalini, and the many other styles of hatha yoga (the branch of yoga focusing on physical exercises) we practice in “the West.”

I’m referring to the abundance of trendy combinations of yoga and…

  • Yoga and goats
  • Yoga and beer
  • Yoga and wine
  • Weed yoga
  • Naked yoga
  • Yoga on paddle boards

No doubt this is not an exhaustive list.

I used to be a purist, having been enculturated into the precise and detail oriented practice of Iyengar yoga, that it took many years before I was even willing to try hot yoga. And when I did, I was critical of the level of instruction even though I enjoyed the hot room. See my post about that here.

I now love hot yoga, in part because at least at the studio I go to (Moksha), the approach is less rigid than what I’m used to. You can go at your pace. Lie down in savasana whenever you feel like it. The instruction is less intense – they just take you through a set sequence and focus on helping you know when to breath and when to release. Iyengar would be appalled!

But my willingness to step out of the rigid methods I grew used to through 14 years of dedicated practice through an Iyengar studio has its limits. Moksha? Okay. Yoga on the beach in the Bahamas? I’m there. I’ve even attended a yoga for runners class.

I felt my eye first start to twitch over “yoga and…” combinations when I read about beer yoga. I even blogged about it.

I teach in a Department of Women’s Studies and Feminist Research, and we are always resistant to the idea of “women and…” courses. These are courses like “Women and History,” “Women and the Novel,” “Women and the Law.” What’s wrong with them? From our perspective they don’t necessarily capture what women’s studies is all about. For example, they might lack a feminist approach, just highlighting women without actually embedding the course content in a broader narrative and theoretical framework that talks about oppressive social structures. You can’t just tack something onto “women” and think you’ve got it right.

Similarly, you can’t just combine yoga with whatever and think you’ve got it right. Now I’m no expert, and maybe if you can lure enough people into it for the beer or the goats, at least a few will stick around for a more authentic yoga experience.

I know it sounds judgmental of me to presume that beer yoga or weed yoga are not “authentic.” You never really know until you get there, I guess. Like, your “Women and History” course may actually turn out to be full-on feminist. But I’m just saying, to keep the analogy going, you have a much better chance of getting the real deal if you sign up for “Feminist approaches to History” than what the first admin assistant I worked with in Women’s Studies and Feminist Research used to call an “add women and stir” course.

I’m especially resistant to the attempts to combine yoga with mind-altering substances like beer, wine, and pot. It doesn’t just seem unnecessary. It seems counter to paying mindful attention to your body, which is surely one of the benefits of yoga. How about going for your beer or your joint when you’re done, instead (if you must)?

On the other side of it, maybe it’s time to lighten up. I get that I can be too serious. Gimmicky yoga can be fun, and why should my own puritanical insistence on “authenticity” (which, for all I know, is not even a yoga experience I’ve even been party to) be taken seriously by anyone? If you want to take a yoga class where you balance a beer bottle and take periodic swigs from it, go for it.

Then the small voice inside says: But is the yoga tent really that big? Can we add yoga and stir and still have the result be something we can call “yoga”? I just don’t know.

Here’s a great tongue in cheek overview of “yoga and chicken nuggets”:

What are your thoughts on the latest yoga trends and gimmicks? Harmless fun? Useful introductions? Misleading appropriations? Some better than others?

Sam has a good day and a bad day commuting to work wearing dresses

As you all know by now I commute these days in dresses, with spd sandals, and bike shorts underneath. I arrive at work, dressed for work, which I like. I can run errands in street clothes. I also like looking like a not-scary cyclist on the multi-use pathway.

I don’t quite look like this.

Or this,

More like this,

Or this,

There’s a speed limit of 20 km/hr and I work, most of the time, to stay beneath that. There’s also geese, and senior citizens, and moms with strollers doing baby and me fitness classes, not to mention long boards, kids learning to ride bikes, and off leash dogs.

So the dresses suit the mood of my commute. I’m low key, I’m enjoying the scenery, and I’m smiling. I have friends, fast cyclists, who don’t use the multi-use pathway because it’s too dangerous.

I’m happy to go slow and wish people a good morning. In the morning, wearing a dress, I’m that kind of rider. See My new cycling dress and Riding bikes in skirts and dresses.

And here’s what my ride to work looks like.

Note that when the multi use path ends, there’s a stretch of road through a neighborhood next to campus, across the university bridge and up the big hill to the center of campus. Having gone slow all the way to that point I’m usually rested and ready to climb that hill quickly.

So my good day of bike commuting involved shaking one rider’s perceptions of what women on commuter bikes, wearing dresses, are capable of doing. Here’s my Facebook status: “Nothing like a young thin guy on a road bike giving you the “yeah I’m faster than you look” and going ahead of you at the light to get your second best time up university hill. The first best time wasn’t my commuting bike and I wasn’t wearing a dress. Sorry for passing you. It isn’t a race I know. I just hate that look and the judgement.”


What surprised me was that I came within a second of my personal best on that hill, achieved on a road bike, in cycling kit. That day in a dress on my commuting bike, with stuffed panniers, it took me 45 seconds. My best time ever up the hill is 44 seconds. That’s my PR on that segment. I won’t ever beat Kim who holds the QOM at 29 seconds but that’s okay. It’s a hill.

That was a good day on my commuter bike, riding in a dress.

Here’s my commuter bike, at rest, after a bike ride home. I often enjoy a coffee on the front porch, in the quiet, watching the world go by.

Sam's at home, bike commute done!

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Now my bad day bike commuting in a dress happened when I was running errands after work. I had to go to the bank, to the glasses shop, and of course, the bike shop. Hi To Wheels!

While riding downtown this guy started yelling at me. “Hey, lady. Put on some pants!” Keep in mind I’m wearing bike shorts under my dress.

“You can’t ride a bike in a dress. Nobody wants to see that.”

See what? My bike shorts? I was confused. But not really. As a larger woman, an older woman, in cycling clothing there are always angry men ready to make it clear how much they hate seeing my body in cycling clothes. I’ve blogged about it here. My theory is that fat hate plus misogyny plus hatred of cyclists makes me a target for abuse. I push too many buttons.

But really, really, I don’t care. I love riding my bike to work and about town. And I especially love doing it in summer dresses. Screw them.

Here’s another picture of my very pretty and super sensible commuting bike.

Sam runs all the errands on bike!

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Cycling dreams and cycling hopes

4 cyclists riding along a flat country road on a sunny day, with trees overhanging in the foreground.

This week we’ve all been lucky enough to hitch a ride with Cate as she bikes through Latvia and Estonia.  If you’ve missed any of her posts about her magical (and windy, and tiring, and heart-filling) trip, you can find them here and here and here and here and here.

Like Sam, I’ve been reading Cate’s posts avidly.  These travel tales send me into a semi-dream state, strolling in my mind across those sunny brisk coastal towns, pedaling along quiet tree-lined lanes, munching on a purloined cheese sandwich during a break.  Being in a place at a moment in time, far away from the distractions of everyday life, riding a bike from here to there each day, enjoying one’s own company– that sounds like the perfect vacation.

Of course it’s not all mindfulness and cheese sandwiches.  Cate is honest about the boredom, the fatigue, the lack of good directions out of town, and the urge to 1) take the train; 2) set up shop in one of these small towns for the foreseeable future; 3) focus on life miles down the road rather than what’s here and now.  But she keeps pedaling.

The first multi-day bike trip I ever took was 12 years ago, in Florida during spring break.  I had just gotten back to cycling, and I rented a Lemond road bike for 5 days.  We (the Lemond and me) took to the rail trails in central and western Florida, including the Pinellas trail near St. Petersburg and the Withlacoochie trail near Inverness.  All in all, I rode almost 200 miles in 4 days, and then did 22 more miles the last day to make my goal of 200 and then some.  Although less scenic and exotic than the Baltics, I felt that same here-I-am-this-is-what-I’m-doing satisfaction.  It was me and the bike, all day each day, with whatever side trips and meals that came up in the course of our ramblings.

During those ramblings I dealt with heat, saddle soreness, boredom, snakes (saw nine dead ones, one mostly dead one, and one live one on my routes), some loneliness, and the knowledge that very soon it would all be over and I’d have to go back to work.  Such is the way of these experiences.

These days, my cycling has been suffused less with dreaminess and more with reality.

I’ve been working to get back in cycling shape and in the cycling state of mind after having far too long a hiatus.  It’s been tough, fun, scary, sweaty, and worth it.  Sunday July 30 I’m doing the PWA Friends for Life Bike Rally charity ride.  My sincere and fervent hope is that I’ll be able to make it all the way through the 110-km route.  We shall see.  I will do my best, and I will have friends with me.

Regardless of current my state of cycling reality, I am filled with hope:

  • I hope to ride strongly and safely and well on July 30.
  • I hope to have fun on the ride, making new friends with my riding group and others.
  • I hope to finish the 110km course.

I also have hopes for my cycling future.

  • I hope to ride (partly or all the way) around Lake Champlain with friends.
  • I hope to ride from my house in Boston to my mom’s house in South Carolina (985 miles).
  • During my next sabbatical (2022– never too early to plan!), I hope to do a long-distance ride with my friend Pata (destination and duration TBA), with other friends maybe joining in for part of the trip.
  • I hope to ride in southern Ontario again with Canadian friends (Sam and others– we will talk).
  • I hope to get into the habit of traveling with a bike when I fly places for work (now that I have my Brompton and its own special suitcase).
  • I hope I’m lucky enough to be able to ride for the rest of my life.

Readers, what are some of your midsummer hopes and dreams– for now, for the future?  I’d love to hear from you.

A cyclist riding on a gravel road in Africa, with two giraffes crossing the road (one in front of him!)