Through my years riding bikes, I’ve had lot of unavoidable glances at men’s bits and bottoms and heard lots of talk about blisters here, chafing there and of course, the inevitable saddle sores.
After races I’ve watched men change beside the trunk/boot of their cars into their regular shorts because it’s bad, and not very comfy, to sit around in sweaty bike shorts any longer than you have to.
I’ve also seen lots of my male riding companions stop for roadside pee breaks and spend a few minutes rearranging their boy bits before getting back on the bike.
(I know talk of “boy bits” and “girl bits” seems cute and coy but I’m actually stuck for terminology other than genitalia which seems a tad scientific and formal.)
And the conversations about genital comfort and bike seat and short choices never lets up. Add bike related concerns about impotence and infertility and you could manage a whole century ride on the subject.
I say this with lots of love, affection, and respect for my male riding companions.
If you’re a woman considering riding with men, you can’t say you haven’t been warned.
But in mixed groups women seem not to do any of these things. It’s as if we don’t have genitalia that might be affected by shorts, seats, riding position. We don’t talk about it around men. Certainly there’s no changing in public after races. And women will ride a long way to avoid peeing by the roadside. I once refused to add 10 km to a ride over a 100 km in order to find suitable shubbery.
In single sex training and social rides things are a bit different. We’ve had lively chats about whether shaving, waxing or opting for full grown pubic hair makes a difference in riding comfort.
Here in middle North America, corn fields help with the problem of road side urination although I’ve had some disappointments in the fall when all the ears have been cut down.
We women chat about bike seats and try out different seats for comfort.
We compare brands of bike shorts and chamois and chat about what works best for long rides, short jaunts, or triathlons.
I wish the women were as open in conversation as the men. Manly discussion of genitals seems to know no bounds.
My advice for women wondering about riding and comfort down there: Try different seats and find one that works (hint: it might not be a women’s specific saddle, see Why “women’s specific” anything is likely a bad idea), money on good bike shorts is very well spent and I find bib shirts work best, change and wash your bike shorts immediately after wearing them, of course don’t wear anything under bike shorts (that’s silly, read why here), don’t put off peeing if you need to go on the road, pull over and pee by the roadside, the world won’t end.
Sam just posted about her love-hate relationship with running. I also have a mixed relationship with running, but like her, the simplicity of it really draws me to it. Running is so … well … portable.
Unlike Sam, I don’t love running in the winter. It’s okay for a couple of months, but when the real cold sets in around mid-January to early March I can’t always nudge myself out the door. Snowflakes melting on my nose–maybe. But when I start running into that cold northwesterly wind on the days when there’s a windchill factor in the minus twenty Celcius or colder range–I just can’t handle that.
So I looked forward to the change of seasons as an opportunity to get into it again. But like a good Canadian, no sooner did I stop complaining about the cold and the wind, when the perfect temperatures and fleeting beauty of spring gave way to the hot, muggy, smoggy summer.
The utopian vision of summer running I had in late February — sunny days, running shorts and summer tops, sunglasses, a gentle breeze on a cool morning — just isn’t the way it is at all.
First, let’s take the weather and the air quality. Our summers in Southwestern Ontario are almost tropical with heat and humidity. Through the winter and spring I was in the habit of breaking up my day with a run just before lunch. But in the summer, if I’m not out there by 7 or 7:30 a.m. it’s too damn hot. Even at that time of day I need to seek out the shady stretches and stay out of the direct sunlight.
That was one of my biggest reservations about the triathlon start time of 9 a.m. Running in the sun on a hot day is about as fun as going through airport security.
Not only that, but we routinely have “smog advisories.” That means bad air quality that comes with a warning not to do vigorous outdoor activity. For me, running is a vigorous outdoor activity.
Besides the weather and air, you can usually count on sidewalk and road construction during the summer. So on my favourite shadiest route the sidewalks were all dug up for at least kilometre a couple of weeks ago. And when they’d filled those in, they moved on to the next kilometre.
Poor air quality, unbearable humidity, and construction are the urban challenges of summer running.
In the summer I spend a lot of time out of town, both on our sailboat and visiting family in more rural areas of the province.
I spent a weekend at my parents’ home on Lake Kashakawigamog in Haliburton County a few weeks ago. When I told my mother I was going running in the morning she handed me her bear alarm and pointed to the insect repellent. The prospect of encountering a bear pretty much cancelled out the possibility of running with any sort of music. I wanted to be alert to the sounds around me. But I was hardly relaxed. And what I heard the most wasn’t the wind rustling through the trees but the mosquitoes buzzing around my ears.
This past weekend we were visiting my brother-in-law near Blind River and Elliot Lake. We’re talking the north shore of Lake Huron. Same deal with the bears, though my brother-in-law is more relaxed about it and had no bear alarm to offer. He told me not to worry, the neighbours dogs have scared the bears away. Dogs are not my best friend either. I’ve been sailing around here long enough to have had my share of bear sightings. With dogs and bears on my mind, I worked myself up into that same state of panic I used to get in the ocean as a kid after I saw Jaws. Result: run cut short.
Right now, we are anchored in a beautiful natural harbour between two unpopulated and undeveloped islands in the North Channel (northern Lake Huron, north of Manitoulin Island). This morning when we were out in the kayak, we were scoping out the thick brush to see if there might be a walkable path for a good hike on shore. It’s rugged country, not easy even for hiking let alone running. This anchorage is typical of where we spend our time for our month on the boat.
So my vision of establishing a good, strong running routine in the summer isn’t even compatible with our month on the water. Kayaking, swimming, and hiking has replaced running as my routine forms of activity. Running, it seems, is only portable in a relative sense.
I think if my short running career has taught me anything it’s that establishing a good routine cannot be weather-dependent. Even on this trip with my limited opportunities, I’ve made a commitment to take them as they come. And when I get back, it’ll still be summer with all of the tropical conditions that August has to offer.
At least the sidewalks will be repaired by then. And I can start looking forward to fall (because it’s always beautiful in fall, with the colours and the cooler weather, and as I imagine it now, it never rains).
Running and I have a bit of a love-hate relationship. Or maybe it’s best described as unrequited love. The way it works is that I love running but it doesn’t always love me back.
Actually, if running and I had a relationship status on Facebook it would say “it’s complicated.” These days I’ve been running quite a bit, racing even, and loving it, but I need to watch out that I don’t love it too much. When you read these lists you’ll see why.
Here’s my list of what I love about running and what doesn’t work so well for me.
1. Simplicity: I love that all running requires is a good pair of running shoes. (And even that’s debatable, read To go barefoot or to wear “foot coffins”? Searching for a middle ground….) I mean I also have an iPod, some fancy winter running gear, a reflective coat, and running specific shorts and t-shirts and bras. But it’s easy when you’re traveling to bring that stuff along. Running works well with traveling, unlike swimming (finding pools in far away places is tough)and biking. While I have traveled with my bike a fair bit I never bring it along for work trips.
2. Seeing new cities when I travel: Walking is nice but it’s slow. I love arriving at a hotel in a new city asking the concierge for a good running route and then heading out to see some of the sights.
3. How friendly other runners are: Runners are really really nice to other beginners. Lots of smiling, waving, and encouragement. You’ve got to love that.
4. Accessibility: It’s also a form of physical activity whose practitioners go out of their way to make it easy. You can’t shake a stick in our small city without hitting a group of people out doing a “learn to run” clinic. The entry level for fitness is generally pretty easy, wonderfully easy I’d say. Walk one minute, run one minute? Count me in. I’ve taken 5 km and 10 km clinics and volunteered at a few of them too.
5. Winter running: I love running in the winter. I love snowflakes landing on my nose. I love the crisp crunchy feel of snow underfoot. I love the quiet. But most of all I love being able to be outdoors when it’s Canadian winter cold. This was a wonderful surprise to me. Over the years I’ve found the cold harder to bear but when I’m running I’m delightfully warm. Only Winnipeg was cold enough to put me off running. The hotel concierge was right. It was too cold to run out there even with all my cold weather gear. I went back to my hotel in a taxi, with frost bite. I had a really great Santa Shuffle run one year with a friend and philosophy colleague (Hi Rob! ) and we had deep snow up over our sneakers. Everyone thinks you’re so tough but really it’s the best kind of run that there is.
6. I love running with my dogs. I especially love running with dogs on trails through the woods. Actually I love these things independently too but then I’d be over six! Tracy, have you done any local trail running? Running through the woods is glorious. Remind me to take you to Komoka Park sometime.
So far so good, right? Running and I were made for each other. Clearly. Here are photos of me running through the years and a bit more of my running story. A dear friend, an avid cyclist, says he prefers riding to running because runners never look happy. Not me. I smile while I run.
But here’s the sad part of the story…
1. Running gives me evil stress fractures. Evil because they take two months of inactivity to heal, serious inactivity, not even walking is okay. I had a disabled parking permit even while they were healing. And it’s not bone density. They tested that and I’m a bone density rock star, the goddess of bone density. Both times it started out as shin pain that went away while running and hurt like hell after. I’ve had gait analysis done and no good advice there. So now I’m just committed to running short distances slowly.
2. Related to the above, I’m not a natural “take it easy” kind of person. Running short distances slowly is nice and all but I like being fast. I have fond memories of hill repeats and speed work at the track. I know how to get faster and it is very hard to hold back. Now “fast for me” isn’t fast really. At my fastest my speed work still equaled my best friend’s easy day, though he was a guy and a former competitive runner. I’ve tried to reconceptualize what I do as not running but rather “jogging with dogs” and that helps a bit. I’ve also stopped running with my heart rate monitor. That’s strictly now a biking thing.
3. As much as I love winter running, I’m not so keen on sweaty summer running. Heat stroke, sun burn, needing to carry lots of water, and sweat. Ugh. I’m not a fan. But I think that’s true for lots of larger runners.
4. Runners are an evangelical lot. Theirs is the one true way. I’ve met so many runners who only run, who fear lifting weights, and who hold other athletic pursuits in contempt. They’re such purists. Read Is there life after running?
5. Related to the above fear of weights and sports, there’s also the cult of distance. It’s hard to avoid. I’ve been there. If 5 km is good, 10 km must be better. Next, a half marathon. It’s the leap between ten and the half that resulted in stress fracture two summers in a row. So many runners have marathons as their goal and I’ve never really gotten it. Speed, yes, but long slow endurance running makes me yawn.
6. Running shoes: Debates about running shoes and proper running form drive me batty. So too does the cost of high end running shoes. You need two pairs if you’re running regularly. I’ve tried barefoot running and I like it on athletic fields. I’m not sure if I’ll ever run barefoot on pavement like my daughter but I’ve moved to more minimalist footwear for some of my dog jogging.
So that’s the ledger, the pros and the cons of my short running career. I can say for certain that my life holds no marathons but I’ve wondered about getting fast again at shorter distances in the 5 to 10 km range. The good thing having gone down the shin stress fracture road twice is that the feeling is familiar. I can stop before I get hurt. I might try it this winter when my outdoor options get limited, no rowing or biking in the snow!
I’ve written a series of posts about my favorite physical activities that all follow the same formula, “six things I love about x, and six things I’m not so sure about/wish were different.” I thought it might be handy to have them all in one place so here they are.
I just finished the Warrior Dash a combo mud run and obstacle course. I went with my active and adventurous cousin who’d done it the year before and guessed right that I’d love it.
It was 3.51 miles of hills, mud, and challenging obstacles.
Here’s a few brief post race thoughts:
When a race is held on a ski hill, one should realize that there would be hills, lots of them. Up and down, up and down. Wowsa. Reminded me of why I didn’t run much in New Zealand but maybe I should have, the hills were actually fun. Yes, I walked up the steepest bits but I think my running speed and walking speed would be the same at that gradient. Also, note to self, 3.51 miles of hills is much harder than 3.51 miles of flat though I love running through the woods.
What an incredible party atmosphere. There were thousands of people there, mostly young, in their twenties and there to have fun. Lots of teams in fancy costumes, including tutus, bow ties, glitter, bridal paraphernalia and body paint. There was live music, a beer tent, and some hooting and hollering and dancing. So many people…waves of up to 500 people started every half hour from 730 am to 530 pm, Saturday and Sunday. The people were very friendly and though I didn’t run with cousin (she’s a speedster) I quickly fell in with some fun women about my speed.
I discovered that I’m okay with slithering on my belly under barbed wire through mud. I got covered in mud and that was all just fine.
I also discovered less happily that my fear of heights gets in my way of climbing over very high obstacles. Yikes. That was where being a part of a team would have helped. Teams helped one another up and over the worst of the obstacles. I’m not ashamed to say I skipped two of them, one because it was busy being rebuilt because someone fell and broke her ankle. The presence of paramedics made running around it seem like the wise choice.
Like Tracy, I’m glad I got a medal even though I felt incredibly slow. I also like my fuzzy warrior helmet, see photo below!
It takes a long time to get mud off you even with a high powered hose and friends helping! I might be muddy still for days.
It was okay doing the race in glasses. I was worried about that. But not seeing would have been worse and they only got too muddy to see through a couple of times.
So in summary, hills, mud and people were great but the obstacles were a mixed bag. I’m good with rope, mud, barbed wire, slithering, sliding, and military crawling, much less good with heights and clambouring over high walls not knowing what’s on the other side. I think if I could more confidently do a pull up, that would be easier and less terrifying.
And yes, I’d do it again!
Update: Results just posted. At one hour and seven minutes I was 355th of 947 women in my age group. (We weren’t in waves according to age but results were posted that way.) On the one hand, I’m at the older end of my age group. Even my speedster cousin snuck in! On the other, I did skip two of the obstacles. But really it was hard to take that seriously as a race. I had to wait to scale over or slither through some of the obstacles. And some people were having so much fun with some obstacles they did them twice. Hello slip and slide!
Chatting with friends who’ve done the Spartan or the Tough Mudder, the Warrior Dash seems different. How? Well, more party less boot camp. Certainly it takes itself much less seriously. The costumed people helped maintain the light hearted party atmosphere. And no one screamed at me to run faster or climb higher. Live music helped too!
Yesterday was my one year anniversary at CrossFit London and I decided to renew my vows. In plain terms, I renewed my membership. My plan is two classes a week over the summer, three in the fall and winter. I’d do more but I like the outside too much.
CrossFit in New Zealand was a bit more outdoorsy. Hill running, stair repeats, and flipping giant tires.
This post is a bit different though. I want to evaluate the “me” side of the relationship, looking at where I might improve.
Here’s some things I pledge to do differently in year two:
1. I need to a better job figuring out where I can push myself harder, which modifications make sense and where I can level up. I’ve written a bit about this here, Leveling up at CrossFit: Rx versus modified workouts, and now it’s time to think it through and act.
3. I need to not be intimidated by CrossFit competitions. I like competitions! There’s no age categories in the cross fit open. Maybe that’s what scares me off. But I can do it. It’ll be good for me and I’ll enjoy it.
So bring it on.
This is the year I’ll manage double unders and pull ups!
One thing I forgot to mention when I blogged about our triathlon that became a duathlon was that everyone got a medal.
And you know what? I appreciated that medal and despite coming 30/36 in my age category (!!) I felt like a damn well deserved that medal!
I realize that there are some who would say that medals ought to be reserved for those who actually place. And I do believe in prizes for those fast athletes who are actually competing and do well. They deserve recognition.
But the trend towards rewarding effort and recognizing that, regardless of where you place, it’s an achievement to commit to the race and finish it strikes me as positive and affirming.
I remember reading that since marathons have become more popular and “accessible” the average time to complete has gone up. That’s because there are more people who are in it just to finish, not to win.
I didn’t do so great in the duathlon timewise. But I felt pretty awesome doing it. I have never been in an event before that had timing chips, so it was kind of cool to be able to get my own benchmarks for the future.
Everyone whom I interacted with worked hard that day and pushed themselves in ways they normally do not.
Few people went into it for the prizes and even fewer expected to get a medal. But everyone seemed as thrilled as I was to get theirs as they crossed the finish line.
Only a very small percentage of the people in the world are elite athletes. Recognizing non-elite athletic performance is a good thing because even those who don’t win accomplish something.
For me, it was the sheer sense of accomplishment from staying out there, constantly moving, for an hour and 22 minutes. I never do that. And I appreciated getting a medal for it.
It’s a term I first encountered on hill climbing workouts with the Canberra Vikings novice program. A favorite early morning workout for cyclists in Canberra, a flat city surrounded by mountains, is to ride to the base of Red Hill, Mount Stromlo, or God forbid, Black Mountain, and then ride repeatedly up and down whatever version of pain and beautiful scenery you’ve chosen. Throw in rogue kangaroos bouncing up and down with the bikes and it’s a wonderful morning cycling in Canberra.
I was often amused to hear fellow academics describe Canberra as an excellent place to ride bikes because it’s so flat. Yes, I guess, if you never actually leave the city proper it is.
Obviously when riding with a group we can’t all climb together. Some people climb much more quickly than others. And hill climbing is one of those things. It’s near impossible to match someone else’s speed. But if we’re doing a set number of repeats it’s good to do them as a group. As well, it’s no good for people to sit around, cooling down at the top waiting for stragglers (hello straggler Sam! )
So on some hills, where the geography makes sense, leaders would send the speedsters back down the hill to ride up again with the slow pokes. No rest for the wicked.
I felt bad that I was making people ride the hill again but they were so much fitter and faster than me and they were very nice about it.
It’s motivational in a variety of ways for the slow pokes and there was a certain pride the first time I had to ride back down and meet people slower than me.
My partner and I also used this as a way of riding with kids and making sure we each got a decent effort in. On biking holidays with young riders one person would drop the other parent and kids and bikes on a bike trail, drive to the end of the trail, take out his/her own bike, and zoom back to meet other parent and kids. The person riding faster got in more kilometres and still got time on the family ride back to the car. It worked well with our junior cyclists though only one has stuck with it into adulthood. (Hi Mallory! )
For the past few weeks I’ve been doing training rides with Team Western getting ready for the MS Bike Tour and our Monday after work rides of 35 km are easier for some than for others. It’s a matter of fitness, biking background, and style of bikes being ridden. We all go out for a drink after but finishing times vary. I’m thinking this calls for a “no rest for the wicked” version of the training ride. Those of us who finish first should ride back and meet the stragglers. I’ll let you know if I talk any of the others into this!
Let me begin by noting that I don’t ride a women’s bike. Gasp.
You mean I ride a men’s bike?
Adult bikes come in two flavours: unisex and women’s specific.
That’s odd and it might make you wonder what unisex really means.
When I was a kid the difference between a boy’s bike and a girl’s bike was the top tube. The one on a girl’s bike slanted down to allow modest access to the bike and ease of riding in skirts. This isn’t the issue with adult bikes. When it comes to road bikes they look pretty much the same. Sadly, that image accompanying this post is one of the dozens I found by searching for images of girl’s bikes!
Of course, it turns out that unisex adult bikes are proportioned to your typical male cyclist. So road bikes come in two flavours, unisex, which really isn’t, and women’s specific.
What’s the difference? Women’s bikes have typically “a shorter top tube, a more relaxed head tube angle, a taller head tube, and perhaps a slightly steeper seat tube angle.” Mostly it’s the ratio of the top tube to the leg length of the rider. Women’s bikes are made for people with long legs and short torsos.
I don’t have long legs and a short torso. Rather the reverse. I have a long torso and short legs. I am 5’7 (above average height for a women, my tall teens say “You keep telling yourself that mum”) but I have to wear petite pants to get the right fit in leg length. If I wear a one piece bathing suit it has to be the special long torso version but mostly I stick with bikinis. Men will be shocked that most women’s clothes don’t come in a variety of lengths. We just use heels to make it work. Unless you don’t like heels then you’re screwed and add $10 to the price of each pair of pants you buy for hemming.
So I have a regular unisex frame road bike not a women’s specific frame. Lots of women ride regular bikes and the geometry of women’s bikes is a great fit for some men.
Then there’s the packaging. Women’s bikes also often come with different women specific seats which might work great or not. It all depends on your anatomy. Choosing a bike seat is a tricky business. The bars are often narrower too because women, though not me, have narrow shoulders. Of course, some men have narrow shoulders but regular manly torso leg ratio.
Do you get where I am going with this?
Ditto bike shoes. Men’s shoes are wider. But some men have narrow feet so they wear women’s shoes. Some women wear men’s shoes and other than colour choices there is no other difference.
Can’t we just call them “wide” and “narrow”?
Can’t we just call the frames “long torso” and “short torso” and measure people?
How about just giving people choices about seats and bars etc? Why do we need gendered packaging?
I agree the addition of women’s frames is an improvement over the days when women had to struggle to fit bikes made for men but I’m not sure anyone is well served by the gendered labels.
Or so says the woman who rides a men’s bike. I think men riding women’s bikes would probably agree with me.
I actually like my son’s response best. At school he was teased for wearing “girl’s shoes.” The child of a philosopher he said very calmly, “I’m a boy. They’re my shoes. So they’re boy’s shoes.”
Proud moments in parenting….
Oh, and here’s my road bike for real in front of our cage of other bikes: