When is a race not a race?


Here’s one answer: When it’s the bike ride home on the multi use bike path.

Let’s start there.

But let me begin with a confession. While I don’t actually race other cyclists on the path, I have treated it as a personal time trial and I do know my best time on that route, 13 min and change, door of my house to door of my building on campus. Note though that was at six am and there was no traffic at the one stop sign and the one light was green.

And it’s easy for me not to race since on my road bike I’m top of the food chain in terms of bike speed. Yes there are road cyclists who go faster but mostly they, like me, are going slowly on purpose. I’m aware of consciously going slow around children, roller bladers, and joggers with ear buds in.

Occasionally though I seem to attract the attention of young men who want to race. Usually they’re on mountain bikes or hybrids and they’re convinced they can pass the middle aged lady in lyrca.
(There aren’t as many of us as there are middle aged men in lycra, or mamils for short. Read The Rise of the Mamilson BBC or in the Guardian In Praise of Mamils.) I can hear the mountain bikers behind me breathing heavily with effort. I want to tell them, yes, it is all about the bike, and on pavement, where it’s flat, mine is an awful lot faster. Sometimes they get by and think they’ve won but they don’t realize that I was never racing.

It seems to me, based on my bike path experience, that there is tremendous untapped interest in bicycle racing.

In Australia and New Zealand where I’ve spent sabbaticals in recent years it seems to me that local bike clubs do a much better job recruiting young riders and getting people into the sport. They have learn to ride and learn to race programs, geared at novice cyclists, much the same way that running stores offer learn to run clinics.

Bike racing is lots of fun, just not on the bike path with kids, geese, dogs, and seniors on scooters.

So officially I disapprove of racing on the bike path, in the city at least. There are long stretches, in other places, between towns where the distance means you lose the children, the roller bladers, and the everyday commuters. But my usual piece of bike path doesn’t have these bits.

Cyclists joke about this kind of racing all the time. Here’s Bike Radar’s guide to silly commuting racing..

And if you just want the the rules and point scoring scheme, here’s It’s Not a Race.

And I’d love to hear your story of racing, or not, on your ride to work.

Enjoy! But remember, on the bike path at least, I’m not racing.

accessibility · aging · body image · disability · fitness · inclusiveness · injury

Fitness, Inclusion, and Intersectionality

20130530-172659.jpgI’ve been thinking a lot lately about fitness, exclusion, and inclusion as I prepare my part of a symposium Sam and I have organized. It’s a joint session of the Canadian Society for Women in Philosophy (CSWIP) and the Canadian Philosophical Association (CPA), held at the annual Congress of the Federation of Social Sciences and Humanities (CFSSH), this year in Victoria BC.

The topic of the symposium is fitness and feminism. Besides my contribution on inclusive fitness, Sam will be presenting on the role of gender norms in sports, and we have two colleagues from other universities presenting, one on a feminist analysis of “strippercize” as a fitness trend, the other on women marital artists, self-confidence, and femininity.

When we first began to blog, I wrote about inclusive fitness and noted that if we were to count on media representations to tell us who gets to be active, go to the gym, and so forth, we would think only folks who work out are young people, mostly white, and all with strong, youthful bodies.

My main concern at that time was the preoccupation with youth and with a particular lean aesthetic–muscular for men, slender or even thin for women. But I now believe the issue runs deeper than that.

In feminist discourse we talk a lot about intersectional analyses. The intersectional approach recognizes the obvious fact that people have multiple features. Gender and age are just two of them. People, whatever their gender or age, are also disabled or non-disabled, members of racial and ethnic groups, have different incomes, sexualities, and social status, and all of these combine to create unique experiences and unique forms of oppression.

Talking about intersectional identities is one thing, but actually representing them adequately at the level of theory is not as easy. We often falsely contrast the categories, for example, we might refer to women and people with disabilities, as if no women have disabilities or no disabled people are also women.

Many feminist theorists have pointed out that this kind of talk leads to exclusion. It is the perceived lack of an intersectional approach that has led people to criticize feminist theory and practice for being concerned almost exclusively with the so-called problems of privileged, well-to-do white women in the Western world. That’s hardly representative of “women” as a group. And there has been a lot of feminist theoretical work done to try to develop more inclusive approaches and analyses.

Inclusiveness and intersectionality go hand in hand. An inclusive approach to fitness would therefore represent a broad range of people rather than focusing only on non-disabled young people who have the kinds of bodies that we think of as “fit.”

When media does represent athletes with disabilities, they usually draw attention only to elite Olympians. When they represent older people engaging in fitness activities, it’s usually a special interest article that is specifically about working out and ageing.

Lately, I’ve been amazed and pleased to see some of the fitness slideshows on the Livestrong website becoming more inclusive with respect to older people. For example, in a recent article on 20 Ways to Instantly Improve Your Life, they present a much more inclusive representation of people in the photos.

They include black and white people, as well as one woman visibly over 55 who looks likes she’s just finished working really hard. None of the slides specifically draws attention to race or age. It’s just assumed, as rightly it ought to be, that all sorts of people are interested in improving their health and fitness. The diversity is offered as a matter of course, rather than as tokenizing or fulfilling a quota.

What I was unable to find despite extensive internet searches were representations of disabled people. I will be blogging more about this in a future post, but I am increasingly concerned with the level to which fitness discourse is ableist in ways that remain completely overlooked and invisible to most of us (myself included).

And yet surely at least some people with physical disabilities of various kinds (just as at least some without disabilities) are interested in remaining active in the capacity that they are able to do so? A truly inclusive account of fitness would not always be premised on the assumption that only non-disabled folks are interested in using the gym or the pool or the basketball court or the track.

And it would not assume that only elite disabled athletes engage in sports.  And it wouldn’t assume that everyone can run or even that everyone can walk and would acknowledge that some people do not have the option not to sit.

There is an enormous variety of physical ability in the general population, and yet representations of fitness activities in the media pretty much never reflect that variety.

One of the most inclusive physical pursuits I participate in is Iyengar yoga. In an Iyengar yoga class, it is assumed from the start that not everyone is able to achieve the “final pose.” The method introduces props such as blocks and ropes, straps and bolsters, blankets and chairs, among other things, to make up for what people are unable to do.

Moreover, for people who are either permanently or temporarily (due to injury or illness) unable to take a regular class, many Iyengar yoga studios offer special needs classes where individual programs are designed for students and they receive careful attention from the instructor.

It’s a good model for an inclusive, intersectional approach where every effort is made to provide an accessible experience to people with a range of abilities, and of different ages, shapes, and sizes. No assumption that you have a thin, flexible “yoga body.” No assumption that you can reach the floor in a forward bend. And what’s more, they pay careful attention to what you can and cannot reasonably be expected to do.

The Y is another inclusive fitness space where a variety of abilities, shapes, sizes, socio-economic groups, ages, races, ethnicities, and sexual orientations are welcomed and appreciated.  This is one of the reasons I love going there more than any other gym in the city.

These are just some of the thoughts that have been going through my head as I prepare for my presentation next week on inclusive fitness.  I’m painfully aware that I myself do not present a thoroughly intersectional and inclusive analysis in all of my blog posts. But this is something that I am becoming more conscious of and I am doing my best to do better.

body image · fashion · weight loss

Hot pants, wobbly toning shoes, and the latest in skinny making fashion

My father taught me an important life lesson: If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Okay, that’s an exaggeration. He said it a lot but I likely didn’t learn the lesson for real until I spent my own money on something which claimed to do something it couldn’t. Can’t recall just what that might have been, sea monkeys perhaps? I did buy some. They didn’t look at all like the picture above. I could barely tell if they were alive or dead and I spent a whole week’s allowance on them. I never did get to use the training manual that came with them. But I did learn something. I imagine that’s why my parents first tried to talk me out of mail order sea monkeys from the back of a comic book and then later helped me do it. It was a cheap life lesson at the price of just one week’s allowance.

And now I try to pass the same lesson along to my own kids. Yet, I’m still surprised that products with these larger than life claims exist especially when they are targeted at adults.

No one is more vulnerable than someone who believes she needs to change herself to be worthy and so the worst of these products aim to sell thinned, toned bodies to people who don’t currently have them.

First, it was the wobbly toning shoes. I laughed when they were first on the market, quietly, since a friend had bought some. Since then of course we’ve learned that the miraculous wobbly toning shoes are a scam. They do nothing for toning your legs. You just look silly and feel wobbly.

Sketchers just paid $40 million in damages over its toning running shoes. Read more here. You can also read the Runners Works story here. Similar suits are now underway against Reebok and Vimbram five finger shoes for claims they make about the health benefits of their footwear.

Now, the wobbly shoes didn’t just make false claims. It looks like they also actually hurt people.

Consumer Reports says this:

“Most of the reported injuries were minor, including tendonitis and foot, leg, and hip pain. But 15 complaints reported broken bones, some of which required surgery. Our medical experts say that those types of shoes have rocker-style bottoms that are designed to cause instability, forcing users to engage muscles that are not normally used while walking. But that instability might also lead to turned ankles, falls, and other injuries if the user is not careful. The rocker design is not unique to Skechers, which was cited in most of the reports. Other brands with similar designs include Avia, Champion, Danskin Now, and New Balance, and shoes sold at Sears and Kmart. Reebok has a toning shoe that’s designed differently, but it also causes instability. The above-mentioned brands were also named in injury reports filed with the CPSC.” Read more here.

I’m hoping this sends the wobbly shoe trend to its grave. I have noticed that the thrift stores are full of them.

But like weeds that won’t die, another trend in weight loss clothing has popped up. This time it’s skinny hot pants. The claim is that they burn 11 percent more calories while you exercise and 13 percent more calories even after you stop. I first came across them as a sponsored ad in my Facebook newsfeed.

It seems like a recycled idea to me. In the 1970s you could buy plastic ‘sauna suits’ to do your housework in while losing weight through sweat. Body builders used to use saran wrap to accomplish this effect even though experts say it doesn’t work. You can wrap plastic around your waist, sweat, and lose some water weight but the minute you have a drink it’ll be back.

The new hot pants seem like the same old idea to me. But then maybe much of the target audience weren’t alive through the 1970s.

Fox News asks, Can fat-melting ‘hot pants’ help you lose weight? ABC news also evaluates them here.

Note there’s no research backing up the manufacturer’s claims that has been published in refereed scientific journals and all the obesity researchers interviewed expressed skepticism.

Surprise, surprise.

Oh, and the hot pants also claim to help with trouble areas. You’re supposed to lose more inches in the areas where the special heat panels are located. That sounds a tad unlikely too.  Potential buyers ought to read Newsflash: Spot Reduction/Spot Training Does NOT Work.

When will the first lawsuit begin?

Now I’ve already gone on record as being a bit of a grump about pricey exercise clothing (see Just walk slowly away from that rack of $100 yoga pants) because I think it’s a dangerous myth that fitness requires specialized expensive clothing and pricey personal trainers.  However, at least Lululemon claims only to make your butt look good. It doesn’t make any claims about helping to shrink it. Oh wait, there was the Lululemon seaweed scandal. Yoga pants were supposed to contain seaweed which would release amino acids and marine vitamins and minerals into your skin while you worked out. However, tests showed the pants contained no actual seaweed. Smells like sea monkeys to me.


health · men

Should we be more concerned about the health of men?

Let me start by saying that this is a blog about feminism and fitness. Tracy and I are both interested in the question, as we put in our “about this blog” section: “From a feminist perspective, in what way(s) does women’s quest for fitness and health contribute to empowerment and/or oppression?”

But what about the men? Are we leaving them out?

Bear with me for a moment. I’ll provide some context for this remark.

I’ve just finished reading (in anticipation of meeting the author again as he’s a speaker at a conference I’m organizing on the ethics of bearing and raising children) David Benatar’s Second Sexism: Discrimination against Men and Boys.  See reviews here and here. While it’s an annoying book (it doesn’t engage with feminist scholarship and it really needs to) it’s made me think about the ways in which men, as a group, are worse off than women, as a group.

Here’s a quick summary of some of the relevant facts: “Not only are men more likely to be conscripted into military service, to be the victims of violence, and to lose custody of their children in the event of a divorce, but tests conducted in 2009 by the programme for international student assessment, carried out by the OECD thinktank, showed that boys lag a year behind girls at reading in every industrialised country. They work longer hours, too: in 2010 the Office for National Statistics found that men in the UK work an average of 39 hours a week, compared with 34 for women. Healthwise, men develop heart disease 10 years earlier than women, on average, and young men are three times more likely to commit suicide.” (from here)

There’s work stress and work hours at one end of the economic spectrum, and at the other (in the “glass cellar” as some call it) men are overrepresented in the prison population, receive less education, and are more likely to be the victim of violence.

Does recognizing this mean we all need to start putting aside our feminism and start carrying the torch for men’s rights?  Not at all. What’s been bothering me about Benatar’s book is its lack of feminist analysis. I think feminists are best placed to give an analysis of the social structures that hurt both women and men.

I’ve been thinking this for awhile in terms family, well-being, and the good life. Feminists have criticized traditional accounts of ethics for not recognizing the importance of family and relationships both in accounts of justice and in accounts of the good life. Caring relationships tend to be a pink collar ghetto, ignored by theorists and not shared by men in real life. But if children, family, and relationships are important aspects of leading a good life, aren’t men also made worse off by this arrangement?

I think that’s right. Men work too much and don’t spend nearly enough time with friends and family. And I think a feminist analysis of men’s lives and the ways in which they fall short is key to understanding the ways in which patriarchy damages men too.

So my ears perked up when this came across my Facebook newsfeed from National Public Radio: The Unsafe Sex: Should The World Invest More In Men’s Health?

“On average, men aren’t as healthy as women. Men don’t live as long, and they’re more likely to engage in risky behaviors, like smoking and drinking. But in the past decade, global health funding has focused heavily on women. Programs and policies for men have been “notably absent,” says Sarah Hawkes from the University of London’s Institute of Global Health.”

“It’s cool to be a man that smokes and drinks — who drives a fast motorbike, or fast cars,” she says. “If you were really serious about saving lives, you would spend money tackling unhealthy gender norms” that promote these risky behaviors.”

See also 10 bad health habits of men. The list includes the usual: smoking, drinking, fast food, not seeing a doctor regularly, stress, keeping everything bottled in.  Just think of the TV show Mad Men from which the photo below comes.

There is one piece of good news. For people born after 2005, the life span gap between men and women has closed to a mere five years. Boys born after 2005 can expect to live to 78 years, girls 83. Reports the Globe and Mail: “As a growing number of men shun smoking, turn to healthy diets, and exercise and make regular trips to the doctor, they are starting to close the long-standing life expectancy gap with women.” See Life expectancy gap closing between men and women.

But back to our blog. We can admit that the social structures in which we live aren’t healthy for men either. But this particular piece of the landscape, our blog, is about the ways in which norms about fitness affect women’s lives. Insofar as we’re writing from personal experience it’s inevitable that we’ll offer a certain gendered perspective on fitness.

I’d love to read a blog about men and fitness that talks about gender norms. True, men are encouraged to play sports but then that encouragement can feel like coercion and bullying to boys and men who aren’t sports inclined. They’re told to “man up” when injured and play on through the pain.  These days men are expected to eat and drink with the best of them but still, somehow, maintain six pack abs. Dieting is for girls.

I think there’s a lot to be said but it’s not our story to tell.

For more of my work on inequality see the following:

1. “Feminist Ethics and Everyday Inequalities,” Hypatia, Special Issue, Oppression and Moral Agency: Essays in Honor of Claudia Card, Winter 2009, 24 (1): 141-159.

2. “Rethinking the Moral Significance of Micro-Inequities: The Case of Women in Philosophy,” in Women in Philosophy: What Needs to Change?, Fiona Jenkins and Katrina Hutchison (editors), Oxford University Press, forthcoming.

3. “Sexual Equality,” International Encyclopedia of Ethics, Hugh LaFolette (editor), Wiley.

athletes · stereotypes · training

Why Putting “Ladies” on the Locker Room Door Is a Disservice to Women

Women-Bathroom-SignIn 1992 when I moved to London, Ontario, I took a membership at Gold’s Gym so I could continue with the demanding weight-training routine I had established as a graduate student in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Gold’s was close to home and had all the free weights I needed.  I liked the atmosphere in the gym and felt, for the most part, that they took the women who trained there as seriously as they took the men.

But there was one thing that nagged at me each time I went.  Where the sign on the door of the men’s locker room said “Men,” the sign on the door of the women’s locker room said “Ladies.”

This may seem like a minor thing to some people, but it really bothered me for a few reasons.

For one thing, if you’re going to go with the old-fashioned nomenclature for the widely accepted gender binary, then “Gentlemen” would be the contrast category beside “Ladies.”

But we don’t see “Gentlemen” in the gym (or anywhere much, for that matter, besides “gentlemen’s clubs,” which, last I checked, were a fancy name for strip clubs).

More than involving an asymmetry in the application of categories, we should be concerned about locker rooms for “Ladies” because the word “ladies” has a disempowering effect.  It calls to mind “ladies who lunch” or ladies who need gentlemen to throw down coats over the mud so they (the ladies) can ladies room signhave a clear, mudless path to the horse-drawn carriage and not dirty their fine silk shoes.

It sort of has the same impact as the color pink (see my discussion of pink here). Harmless in itself, but heavy with social meaning and a fairly Victorian ideal of femininity.

This isn’t the message or image we need as we enter the gym to do things that make us healthy, strong, and capable.

Sam has blogged about ladylike values before. She talks about the mismatch between ladylike values and athletic values. She lists a few clashes:

  • Performance clothes aren’t “ladylike” (tight and no petticoats).
  • Acting confident and commanding, as most sports require, isn’t especially ladylike either.  Ladies are quiet (unless gossiping) and should really just sit politely and look pretty.
  • Lots of sports require physical contact with others, and that’s definitely not ladylike. Where is our modesty, for goodness sake?
  • And what about spitting and so forth? You can read Sam’s blog post if you want the details of bodily excretions and how they figure in some sports

I agree with Sam when she says: “I think we women athletes may need to say goodbye to our inner ‘ladies’ and channel our inner ‘bad girls.’”

But a locker room for “Ladies” doesn’t encourage us to do this at all.

Back in 1992, I wrote a letter to the gym that outlined something along these lines, about how “Ladies” was disempowering and “Women” was empowering, and how on the list of all the places in my life that I would appreciate a default attitude towards me that takes my power seriously, the gym is definitely up there.

I was reminded of that letter recently by a friend whose summer tennis club still has “Ladies” and “Men’s” categories.  She was going to suggest to the board that the asymmetry be removed so they would have the “Women’s” category and the “Men’s”.  It astonished me that this would still be an issue anywhere in 2013.

My friend wondered whether I still had a copy of the letter so she could reference it.  I do not. It was so long ago that it probably went out with a stack of floppy disks that require MS-dos to open the files.

I’m happy to say that my gym actually took my letter seriously and changed the sign.  And my friend reported to me yesterday that her club found her argument for the change to “women” convincing.

Language has subtle and covert power over our social attitudes towards all sorts of things. Seemingly small changes that help to re-shape social messages about who is dainty and who is strong can have a positive impact on everyone.

For many (may I say “most”?) of us, when we engage in our athletic pursuits, we aren’t interested in being ladies.


Six Things I Love about Rowing and Six Things I’m Finding Challenging

Two very different perspectives on rowing, both from Rowing Quotes:

“Nice? It’s the ONLY thing, said the Water Rat solemnly, as he leant forward for his stroke. Believe me, my young friend, there is NOTHING – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing… he went on dreamily: messing about… in… boats; messing..” — Kenneth Grahame from The Wind in the Willows

“Marathon runners talk about hitting ‘the wall’ at the twenty-third mile of the race. What rowers confront isn’t a wall; it’s a hole – an abyss of pain, which opens up in the second minute of the race. Large needles are being driven into your thigh muscles, while your forearms seem to be splitting. Then the pain becomes confused and disorganized, not like the windedness of the runner or the leg burn of the biker but an all-over, savage unpleasantness. As you pass the five-hundred-meter mark, with three-quarters of the race still to row, you realize with dread that you are not going to make it to the finish, but at the same time the idea of letting your teammates down by not rowing your hardest is unthinkable…Therefore, you are going to die. Welcome to this life.” — Ashleigh Teitel


I was originally going to call this post “Bruised egos, bruised bellies, bruised hands: On learning to row” but I decided to stick with my “six things” theme. See Six Things I Love about Crossfit and Six Things I’m Not So Sure About and Six Things I Love about Aikido and Six Things I Struggle With.

A few of you have asked how rowing is going.  On our Facebook page for the blog a couple of people asked if I was going to blog about rowing.

I was reluctant to write about rowing because I’m such a beginner. But here’s some first thoughts. First, rowing is harder than it looks! And it had never looked easy to me. It’s pretty technical and demanding. The rowers reading all know this.  Second, I’m really enjoying it.  I like a challenge. Third, my adventures in something new (Row, row, row your boat! Trying something new) took a turn for the more difficult this month when my masters rowing group moved to the lake.

I’ve been out on the water five times now and I’m more comfortable each time. The boat is no longer shaking with nervous newbies. Every bit of rowing is tricky and complicated, from getting the boat off the rack and into the water to docking and getting out gracefully when we’re done. I settle for the walrus flop onto the dock.

We’re still indoors sometimes though as cold water safety rules apply in the spring and the coach boat needs to stay nearby novices in the lake. There’s only so many coach boats to go around. We also have to wear safety whistles in case we tip the boat but I’m hoping to avoid that.  And we’ve missed some days due to wind and waves. I’ve been concentrating hard on not tipping, mostly by  following the direct order, “Never let go of your oars!” (There are a lot of direct orders in rowing: Quick hands. Square your oars earlier. Keep your eyes in the boat. Go slowly up the slide. Hard port. Etc etc.)

We had originally hoped to be out in an eight person boat but instead we’re in a four. It’s relatively stable as these things go but it’s still the tippiest boat I’ve spent time in and I’ve sailed small dinghies before and I’ve spent time in kayaks and canoes.

What do I love?

1. The water! I love being outside. But you know that. You’ve read Green exercise and the health benefits of the great outdoors. Though ‘keeping my eyes in the boat’ limits my appreciation of birds, fish, flowers somewhat. That’s sort of like riding a road bike as part of fast paceline. The surrounding countryside might be gorgeous but you don’t really get to look up much and notice it while riding. I focus on the arms and backs of the women in front of me, kind of like in cycling where I spent a lot of time looking at the backs of other peoples’ bike jerseys and only see through the pack with my peripheral vision.

2. The people!  I love being part of a team. You know that too from Indoor Soccer, Team Sports, and Childhood Regrets. I like the women I’m rowing with, a mix of first and second season novices and some more experienced rowers who’ve come back after time away.We also have a wonderful and attentive coach who manages to yell in a way that sounds supportive. The larger club community seems pretty friendly and supportive too.

3.  Not everything is new. Some of the beginner lessons I’ve already learned from cycling. Mistakes move backward down the line and get amplified, for example. Going slower is harder than going fast. Rowing at a very slow pace into the dock is tricky. “Anybody can row fast.” Ditto slow biking races which I’ve done as training drills–last to the line wins. Yay for track stands. Balance really matters. It’s easier to balance on bikes and boats at speed.

4. In the water there’s pretty direct feedback when you get something right or wrong. We have a good stroke and all of sudden feel the boat respond. So nice. Our goal is to increase the ratio of good to bad strokes. I think right now we’re up to three or four in a row.

5. Someone else is in charge. You need to like being yelled at! Direct orders FTW.

6. It’s also fun learning something new. Making gains quickly from week to week is exciting. And this seems like a great place to learn. London is home to a high performance rowing centre and rowing seems to be a big deal in London. There are high school teams and university teams as well as social rowers.

What are the challenges?

1. Coordination! There’s no rowing at your pace. You follow the person in stroke seat. More than anything else I’ve done–even team trials on the bike–working in time with others matters. There’s no slowing down when you want to or taking a rest. You follow the person in the front of the boat, always. It doesn’t matter how strong you are if your oars don’t go into the water at the same time.

2. It’s technically difficult and so many different parts of the stroke matter. I’m at the stage where I just get one bit right and then everything else falls apart. I was working on bending at the waist and not breaking my knees too soon but I’d also been previously working on making sure my oars were square going into the water. Turns out, for now, I can do one or the other, but not both.

3.  Rowing is hard on your hands. I’ve written a bit about this here: On the wearing (or not) of gloves and the care and feeding of calluses. But now the top of my right hand is bashed to bits too because it’s the left hand that crosses over the right and you want the oars at the same height. Pretty much by the end of a practice we’ve all nicked ourselves somewhere and have blood on our hands. Don’t ever google image search “rowing hands.” Just don’t.

4. Keep your eyes in the boat. That’s tough. But I have some experience of this with cycling. Good concentration helps.

5. Port and starboard keep throwing me off after years in sailboats. What’s the problem? Well, you’re sitting backwards in a rowing shell and so your right hand is on port side. As a teenager I remember learning this by thinking that “port” and “left’ each have four letters but that doesn’t work when rowing when you’re facing the wrong way.

6. Despite what many people think–that rowing uses your arms and back–in fact it uses many of the same muscles as cycling. You push the boat away with your legs. I have strong legs, so that’s good, but riding home can be a bit tiring.

Anyway, this is all new to me. Fun. Do you row? Do you row and cycle? What’s your best bit and your hardest challenge?


athletes · running · triathalon

I May Run but Am I a Runner?

WomensRunningShoeLanding_1Recently Sam asked me for an update on how things are going with my quest to become a runner.  I do run, but I don’t yet consider myself a runner. This may be the same sort of hesitance that keeps me from calling myself an athlete. I posted about that quite some time ago.

I laced up my running shoes in spring 2012 after a hiatus that lasted a couple of decades. It was at the urging of my trainer who, at that time, was trying to help me with my (then) stated goals of losing fat, gaining muscle, and “toning up.”  I hated running in my twenties and saw no reason to think I would like it in my forties.

But I stuck with it, doing various combinations of walk-run, gradually increasing my time and distance.  Last fall I hit a milestone when I ran for twenty minutes in a row without having to stop. I even liked it. Oh, and it rained that time but I ran anyway.

Bolstered by my success, I kept at it more or less regularly, running three times a week through late fall and early winter, even completing a 5K race.  I used the “Ease into 5K” then “Ease into 10K” apps to keep myself progressing in time and distance.

Then real winter hit with its wind chill factors and icy roads and sidewalks. At first I kept at it, but when the cold became too cold, I said “forget this,” despite having written a guest post for Spry about how to get yourself out the door when you don’t want to go.  Eventually I switched over to swimming at the indoor pool at the Y. I have to train for the triathlon anyway, so swimming is a good thing to include.

But I gave up on running between about February and mid-April. I only got out there a handful of times and when I did, the app informed me that my run pace was slower each time than the time before.  How do you spell D-E-M-O-R-A-L-I-Z-A-T-I-O-N?

I’m big on moderation, and I do believe that a little is better than nothing at all, especially when enthusiasm is waning. But I also have some goals where running is concerned.

And somewhere along the way, those goals stopped being about losing fat and toning up and started being about running further and faster.  Not being one to rest in disappointment and negativity for too long (see my post on setbacks here), I decided (at Sam’s urging) to try something new: the running clinic. 

I’ve been at it for almost a month now and it has injected new energy my running.  I chose level two of the “Learn to Run” program. Each week we do a five-minute warm-up walk, then run for an appointed time, followed by a five-minute cool-down walk.

The run time increases each week: ten minutes in week one, fourteen minutes in week two, sixteen minutes in week three, twenty minutes in week four, and this week, in week five, we’ll be doing twenty-three minutes.

Between weekly meetings we commit to getting out at least twice to do the same again. In other words, I’m in week four right now so I need to get in two additional twenty-minute runs before our next group run on Thursday.

So here is my report:

The only week I have felt totally easy with is week one because in my “ease into 10K” app I was at four sets of nine minutes of running/one minute of walking.

I’ve had no difficulty getting in my other runs in between. Now that the weather is better I’m pretty good about getting out the door and three times a week has always been my goal.

In each of the weeks following week one, the planned run exceeded what I have been doing lately (remember, my big day of running for twenty minutes without stopping was way back in September).  But here is where running with a group really kicked in to help me.  I found that keeping a conversational pace alongside others, with the timer set to a prescribed time, made it possible for me to complete the assigned time.

That made the two runs during the week between do-able because I had already done that time at least once. I’m up to twenty minutes and having no trouble completing the time.  My pace is even improving — on the weekend, I successfully managed to do a negative split, where the second half of my run was at a faster pace than the first half.

I’ve also discovered something amazing:  audio books!  I know lots of people are keen on music when they run. I listen to it sometimes but it’s not my favourite thing. It passes the time, but not much more than the sound of my own breath. And I get tired of the same old playlist and am not all that enthusiastic about updating my playlists all the time.

But audio books!  Now that’s something I can wrap my head around.  I don’t have tons of time to read for pleasure, so it’s nice to be able to double it up with my running.  This is my latest tool for getting myself out door.

What else?  Between running clinics last week I made a date to run with a friend. This was a first for me. Other than the clinic and the 5K race, I have not run with anyone.  We met up for an early morning, easy run. My friend just ran a half marathon, so I felt kind of nervous about running with her, worried I’d be slowing her down too much compared to her regular pace. I’m not sure if I did, but she did speed me up a little bit.  And I enjoyed catching up with her while also getting in a run.

I’ve been able to fulfill the commitment to the prescribed time each week without stopping. I feel pretty good about that.  I am still motivated to train for a 10K and eventually a half marathon.  The thing I feel best about is that fat loss and “toning” are no longer my goals. I just want to be able to run continuously for at least 30 minutes, sometimes longer, without needing to take a walk break.  Given how the clinic has been going, that strikes me as a totally realistic goal.

Then I’ll work on speeding it up a bit, increasing my pace with some hill work and sprint intervals.

So there’s the report of where things stand with my running.  I am running, that’s for sure, even if I’m multi-tasking while I do it, using it as a way to read novels.  I still don’t feel like “a runner.”  It’s interesting that I feel more like a swimmer than a runner, even though I run more often than I swim.

Maybe in time I’ll start to think of myself as a runner. I feel as if I’m well on my way. And I’m pretty comfortable with where I am right now.

aging · body image · diets · eating · fat

Middle age bellies, body acceptance, and menopause

As a result of the blog and our posts about body acceptance lots of friends have been sharing with me their thoughts about women’s bodies, shame, aging, all sorts of interesting stuff. Given the range of fitness activities I do–CrossFit, rowing, cycling, Aikido–I hang with some amazingly fit, strong, confident women.

It’s interesting to hear them chat about their bodies changing with age. They’re a very fit bunch, aging athletes all, and they have a lot of respect for what their bodies can do. Mostly I’d say their attitudes about their bodies and appearance are better and healthier than those of the less active women I know.  But the one thing that universally seems to irritate  is the change in the distribution of body fat that comes with age, with menopause to be precise. All of sudden, wham, everyone has a belly and no one likes it!

We all know that the changes in hormones associated with menopause leads to change in fat distribution. Lower estrogen levels post menopause move fat storage from hips and thighs to the midsection. And it’s the chubby bellies that bug people who’ve been on the thin side for most of their adult lives.

Here’s a recent piece, May 2013, from the Star Tribune on the science of it:

“A groundbreaking study, co-authored by the Mayo Clinic, has determined why fat storage shifts from a woman’s hips and thighs to the abdomen after menopause: Proteins, revved up by the estrogen drop, cause fat cells to store more fat. The study also revealed a double whammy: These cellular changes also slow down fat-burning by the body.Even though the research doesn’t provide weight-loss solutions, it may bring a sense of relief to millions of middle-aged women who have been fighting an often losing battle against the dreaded “post-meno belly.””

If the research doesn’t provide solutions, why might it be thought to provide relief? There’s a principle in ethics that’s relevant here–ought implies can. Blackwell’s dictionary in Western philosophy puts the principle this way: A formula in Kant ‘s ethics, meaning that correctly judging that a given agent is morally obliged to perform a certain action logically presupposes that the agent can perform it.

So there’s no point in saying you ought to get rid of your belly fat, if you can’t do that. You can aim to be at a healthy weight but beyond that there is little you can do about where the fat our bodies have chooses to hang out. That’s largely the fault of hormones and hereditary. (Newsflash: Spot Reduction/Spot Training Does NOT Work.) So the best you can do is learn to love your new body and treat it well. (Love is a better motivator than hate)

What works for acceptance? Look at your body and the bodies of other women lovingly. Look at imagery of sexy women with larger bellies. (Belly dancing and burlesque for example.) Shift your focus from sexy young bodies to the bodies of those older than you. And for God’s sake, please give up on the goal of visible abs. Down that path leads misery.  Watch Go Kaleo on visible abs.

Interestingly, Amber from Go Kaleo, is like me naturally gaining weight in the legs, thighs, hips and lean through the middle. It’s how I can weigh significantly more than the normal weight for my height and still wear clothes in the usual range of sizes. I gather that will change as I age and I’m hoping I cope well. Life is all about change. It’s either that, or death, I remind myself with my philosopher’s hat on.