racing · Rowing

The 5 Bridges Fall Classic: My first rowing regatta


My first race on the water!

Okay, technically my second. We had a London Rowing Club in house mini regatta at the end of summer so that some of the rec rowers who wanted to try racing could give it a go.

But that night the weather was bad and the lake was decidedly uncooperative. We had white caps right up to the dock and so while we did go out and race, we only did one 500 m race and in our double we focused on staying upright. So I’m not counting that.

Saturday was the opposite. Brilliant sun, clear skies, calm water and beautiful fall colours. 5000 + metres, not 500.

The Head of the Welland was held on Saturday at the Welland International Flatwater Centre.

Welland International Flatwater Centre is a significant water-based recreational area that combines international-standard competitive water sport facilities with recreational and social opportunities.Set in 411 acres of parkland and 272 acres of water, WIFC is the premiere calm water surface in the heart of the Niagara peninsula.In 1972, a new shipping channel for the Welland Canal was diverted east of the City and the remaining waterway, the Welland Recreational Waterway, was born. Known affectionately as the “Old Canal,” this beautifully landscaped water park area runs through the heart of the City of Welland.

It was a terrific day. The four of us, our quad, drove down together. I liked that. It gave me a chance to chat with more experienced rowers about racing and I didn’t have to worry about getting there in time, getting lost, parking, or any of those pesky details. Thanks Wendy!

An aside: I fear this is part of an inevitable trend, long rambling race reports written on the weekend.  See here and here. Professors usually spend a serious chunk of time on the weekend reading, writing, preparing for class. When you race on the weekend, that gets squeezed out and I’m afraid it’s tightly composed blog posts that are taking the hit. Given that I raced Saturday and I’m spending all of Sunday working at the Ontario University Fair and this post is being written on the train ride there, the time crunch is worse than usual. I’ll continue with more random race observations but you’ve been warned.

First, when you’re doing a 5.3 km head race and you have to row out to the start to race back that’s a lot of rowing. The way it works is that people row down one side of the canal to get to the start and race back on the other. It’s an awful lot of rowing for people doing multiple events. The two experienced rowers in our quad went back out and did a second race in a double. Phew.

What’s a head race?

From Wikipedia: “A head race is a time-trial competition in the sport of rowing, also known as crew to a few USA organizations. Head races are typically held in the fall and spring seasons. These events draw many athletes as well as observers. In this form of racing, rowers race against the clock where the crew or rower completing the course in the shortest time in their age, ability and boat-class category is deemed the winner.Common categories of age may be high school and college-aged rowers as well as adults. Those over the age of 27 are typically referred to as “masters”.”

On the way out to the start, I thought the 5 km seemed long but coming back it flew by. On the way out I looked at the birds, the other rowers, and the gorgeous colours. On the way back, I stared intently at the back of Jen’s hat and counted bridges.

Second, when your club’s trailer is the furthest away from the docks and you’re carrying a quad on your shoulders that’s a lot of work too. Thank you CrossFit for making this part of the event doable. One of the other master’s quads had male partners carry the boat but I’m glad we can do it on our own.

Third, I found the handicapping system a bit disconcerting. Racers in the master’s category have their time adjusted based on the average age of the rowers in the boat. We’re 49.5. One boat was 35 and another was 54. We beat the boat with the average age of 54 on time but not on age adjusted time. On age adjusted time they beat us by 3 seconds. The youngster in our boat, just 40, joked it was her fault.

In theory I approve of age based handicapping systems. I like age group medals. In practice I’m motivated by the boats around me and I like knowing that passing is really passing, for example. If we’re ahead of another boat I’d like to know if we’re really ahead, etc. You have to guess a bit anyway as the boats are sent off singly and you’re a bit ahead of some boats, and a bit behind others, from the start. The experienced people in our quad could keep track of that. Not me. More to learn…

Fourth, I liked the atmosphere at the event. Each club had an open tent for shade where you could leave your stuff and sit and watch rowers in other events come by.  Some clubs, notably the visiting Americans, had a pretty flash set up. There was music, as at most races, but because people were taking part in different events there was a good crowd around for most of the day. Lots of people and boats coming and going. The coloured oars and unisuits made sense now as it allowed me to tell the different clubs apart. There was a great mix of ages, young teens through to the masters rowers, and I liked that a lot. I also didn’t mind wearing my unisuit when I was surrounded by people wearing unisuits! ( See No Way Am I Wearing That! for my thoughts on body conscious athletic wear.) A pet peeve about all sorts of races, no vegetarian food. Only the Gran Fondo came through on that front. Along with my own wrenches, I’ll bring more food next time.

Fifth, I should have brought a bike! There’s a path that runs alongside the canal and you canride up and down the 5 km route and watch the boats go by.

Sixth, diner dinner after was terrific. Nice to have a chance to socialize with the other women in my quad. And the pie was amazing. Thank you all!

Oh, and seventh, I’ll definitely do it again.

welland1 welland2 welland3 welland4 welland5

cycling · family

Bike to school day is October 8th

From the London Cycle Group:

Get Out of the Car – Take the School Drop-Off Challenge!

If you normally drop your kids off at school, consider getting them back on their bikes. October is “Walk to School” month, and Wednesday, October 8 is “Walk to School” day. Find out more about Active and Safe Routes to School from the Middlesex London Health Unit.

If you don’t have kids but normally drive to work or school, take the challenge yourself! Try to ride your bike to work most days in October. Tell us on our Facebook page how you’re doing!

Bike and Gear

Kids always seem to grow over the summer!

  • Check to make sure their helmet fits well. This video from Schwinn offers a helpful guide to helmet fitting.
  • Check if the seat needs to be raised. The toes of both feet should be able to touch the ground comfortably.
  • Check the bike over at least once a week together with your child. Pump up the tires, make sure the brakes work, and oil the chain. Here are basic instructions for cleaning your chain.


School-age kids may be old enough to travel to school by bike, but your family’s comfort level will decide whether or not parents go, too. Some things to do with kids who want to ride their bike to school:

  • Review the route together.
  • Review turn signals.
  • Make sure their bell is working.


Dress for the weather and to be seen:

  • When kids’ clothing is bright, others will see them better.
  • Together check the weather each day so the kids learn to plan to wear weather-appropriate clothing.
  • Plan for layers – outer wind and rain-resistant shell, with a warmer layer underneath that can be easily taken off at school.


On School Property

When school is in, rules about bikes on school property are designed to make sure all kids are safe:

  • Students are expected to walk their bikes on school property during school hours.
  • Find out where bikes are stored during the school day.
  • Have a lock and practice locking the bike in the storage area.
  • You may want to advise your child’s teacher that your child will be riding to school.



Rowing as a metaphor for social change

Love this. I’m rowing in a quad, sculling, so two oars each, no cox. I’m in seat 2, just in front of bow seat. It really is about all working together. So much of life is like that.

Thanks Natalie for sharing this with me.


Wenches, wrenches, and tool phobia

File:2008-04-14 Chrome-Vanadium Wrenches.jpg“Show up at 5:30 pm and be sure to bring your wrench.” That was an email from someone I row with about getting the boats ready for transport for the regatta this weekend. My wrench? I don’t own a wrench. What kind of wrench? I actually do have a pedal wrench but that’s probably not what she means. Mild panic ensues.

I emailed back with wrench questions and got a reasonable reply.

“All rowers need to have two 7/16th wrenches for derigging. I can lend you a set.”

Note to self: buy wrenches.

I’m pretty okay with this wrench business. De-rigging boats isn’t entirely new to me. I’ve watched my partner get his laser ready for travel numerous times.

I regularly used a wrench at the velodrome when I didn’t have pedals on my track bike and I’d come with my own pedals from my road bike. Changing bike pedals is a skill worth knowing. It’s a five minute job and takes only one tool.  Read here or here for how.

I’ve also disassembled and helped reassemble my road bike for transport. Taking things apart and putting them back together again doesn’t scare me even though I’m not particularly talented at it.

I do know that many women, and some men too, find this aspect of “sports that require tools” daunting. Bike maintenance is daunting for some of us but if you own a road bike you need to know how to do some of it. You can’t go to the shop for everything.

If you didn’t grow up being taught how to take things apart and put them together again, or playing with toys that do this, it can be intimidating. My partner’s degree of comfort with this far outstrips my own. And my own skill, such as it is, largely comes from what he’s taught me.

He spent part of his childhood on a farm with a machine shop. They didn’t just fix things. Sometimes they even made their own parts to do so. He takes cars apart, ditto fridges, dishwashers, furnaces, you name it. He looks for the smallest broken piece to repair. Recently with our hot tub, “Would you believe, they wouldn’t sell me the valve. They only sell whole replacement jets but it’s just the valve that’s broken.” Next stop, ebay.

So I don’t even aspire to that level of skill and comfort with tools, though I’m happy, very happy, to have it around.

But I do like the idea of being responsible for my own things, knowing how to put wheels on my bike, swap pedals, and now how to derig and rerig a rowing shell.

Where’d the name “wenches with wrenches” come from? I first heard it as the name of women’s bike repair co-op in Toronto: *”Wenches with Wrenches is an original CBN program offering bike repairs for women by women in downtown Toronto. Launched in 2002, the objective is to make basic bicycle repair skills accessible to women who can then share their knowledge and their confidence with others in the community.”

There are also Wenches with Wrenches in rowing too.

This weekend I’ll be at the Head of the Welland Regatta. Wish us luck!


Skepchick Run for Choice: Help spread the word!

Upset that a pro life group was holding a charity event on a local running trail, a skep chicker takes action into her own hands and organized a run for choice.

“The September issue of a local running magazine ran a story promoting an anti-choice 5k happening next month on MY favorite running trail. I wouldn’t have even noticed if the event organizers had only taken out an ad, but the article appeared to endorse the event, and, coming from a journalism background, I was appalled to see it. Being staunchly pro-choice, I was deeply upset at the violation of my sacred (if you will) running space and also at my city’s hosting it.”

It’s in Plano, Texas (I had to use google maps) but we can still help out.

“Even if you’re not in the area, you can run or walk a virtual 5k with the group in solidarity. You can donate to Planned Parenthood, your local women’s health centers, or the Texas Equal Access Fund. If you’re feeling really ambitious, organize a local event with your friends! If you’re local, invite everyone you can think of!”

I’m going to run 5 km in solidarity and make a charitable donation to Planned Parenthood. Join me!

And help spread the word.

Read more:


Geeky workouts

My love of sci-fi rarely makes it on to this blog. (Okay, except maybe for the image here in this post, Fear of fat more dangerous than actual fat.)

But as geeky fandom makes it way into the mainstream there are some funny sci fi/fitness interactions.

Here’s some examples:

  1. There’s the Firefly fan group at Spark people discussing how the Serenity crew stayed so fit when they spent so much time of the space ship, here.
  2. Geek Fitness describes his Working Out Like An Avenger fitness program.
  3. Then there’s the Dr. Who Workout, to do while watching marathon episodes of the show. See The “Doctor Who” Workout Is Harder Than It Sounds.
  4. Geek Into Shape has The Walking Dead WOD. Enjoy!
  5. The Ultimate Geek Workout has this suggested cool down:

    “For a cardio cool-down, awkwardly dance anytime a Daft Punk song comes on.

    To tighten your abs, repeatedly sit up in bed at night because some great Doctor Who fan fiction came to you in a dream. Also, aggressively laugh at every reference on The Big Bang Theory.

    Live long and perspire.”

  6. Some people have a specific character as their fitness inspiration. See The Slave Leia Body Challenge: Even geeks need to get into shape. We blogged about it here, Do you want to look like Slave Leia?.
  7. There’s also the Light Saber workout. “The workouts are a mix of martial arts, fencing and play acting — complete with costumes and lightsabers.” Run by the New York Jedi, of course. It’s not just in New York though. The video below is from a California Star Wars workout class for Jedis in training.

Have I missed any?

Me, I like to keep my sci fi watching and exercise separate. I like physical activity best in the great outdoors (rowing, bike riding, cross country skiing).

But when I’m watching Red Dwarf/Stargate/Firefly/Dr Who/Torchwood/Eureka etc, I do like to foam roll tired muscles.

smartest man meme


Learning to Ride with Clipless Pedals the Painful Way and the Easy Way

Look pedalsI took the bold step last week of taking my road bike into the shop to change the pedals to clipless.  I practiced clipping in and out on the trainer in the shop, but the bike mechanic who was giving me some guidance didn’t disagree when I said I thought I should walk my bike home.

Clipping in and out with your bike stationary on a trainer in the shop is one thing.  Learning to go, clip in, clip out, and stop safely is entirely another. So for everyone who says practice on the trainer in the shop or find a doorframe to hang onto and practice clipping in and out, yes. But don’t think you’re home free after that. Not by a long shot.

It’s kind of like telling someone she’s all set to go snowboarding once she can click into her bindings.  I figured out the bindings on the snowboard and still came home with bruises and whiplash after my first lesson.  If I’d fallen onto my knees one more time that day, I’d have needed to call the ski patrol to rescue me on the bunny hill.

Clipless pedals are like that.  And no, they’re actually not clipless. You clip in and out. But here’s the scoop according to this primer:

In the old days, bike pedals either were plain (with no straps to hold your foot in place) or they had toe clips & straps. The toe clip was usually steel (most are now plastic) and formed a space, or box, at the front side of the pedal that you slid your foot into. Keeping your foot there is the responsibility of either a leather or nylon mesh strap, which you can pull tight when you wanted to make sure your foot stays in place, or loosen so you can get your foot out when you stop.

Toe clips & straps are still the norm for nearly all bikes between $350 and $1,000. They’re very inexpensive and don’t require the use of a special shoe. But when used with conventional shoes, they tend to focus pedal forces onto a small part of the bottom of your foot, creating fatigue & pain on longer rides as your foot tries to bend itself around the pedal.

So clipless pedals are so named in contrast to the toe clip pedals:

These days you’ll hear them being called clipless pedals and clipped pedals just to confuse you even more.  Originally they were called clipless to explain how they were different from the old fashioned “toe-clips” we described above.  Hence “clipless” meant “not-toe-clips” but something new and different.  The name has stayed with us and only recently are people calling them “clip pedals” now that toe clips aren’t seen as much.

The Painful Way

Even though it seems obvious that just knowing how to clip in and out is only the beginning, I didn’t really think that through.  So I made plans to go riding with Sam and our friend, Chris, last Saturday.  Sam offered to come by first to give me a lesson about how to use the new pedals.  Great!

But then it rained.  All day.  And then the weekend got away from us. And so on Sunday I ventured out to the laneway alone, thinking “how hard can this be?”  Turns out it can be plenty hard.  Hard like the asphalt in the laneway. Hard like, ouch, if I fall on that elbow one more time. Hard like, I think I’m going to faint before I can drag myself and my bike back to the shed.

You see, I clipped the one foot in, as directed. That seemed easy enough. But then I was confused about what to do next.  As my right foot flailed unclipped in the air, desperately trying to make contact with the pedal, I forgot about the forward motion a bike requires to stay upright.  Just a couple of days before I cavalierly said to Sam that I just didn’t understand how someone could fall the opposite way, away from the unclipped foot to the clipped foot side, when they had one foot free. Why wouldn’t you just put that foot down?

Well I get it now.  So the right foot’s flailing around and then, ever so slowly, I started to fall to the left. We’re talking slow motion.  And totally helpless.  I landed on my elbow.  Then I kind of lay there for a few seconds because my bottom foot was of course still clipped in.  I lifted the bike enough to unclip, picked myself and the bike up, and went to the shed to hold onto the wall and practice clipping in and out again.

But I was stationary.  That’s easy.  Back to the laneway (or rather the driveway – I didn’t feel ready to venture off the property).  This time I managed to get going, I even stopped successfully. But then when I tried again, same thing as before. Boom. That’s when I saw stars and felt like I was going to faint.

All told I think I was out there for five minutes, maybe ten.  I’m not usually one for drama, but I did consider that the solution to all of this was just to take the bike back to the shop and have the old pedals put on again.

The Easy Way

Not one to keep these things to myself, I posted to Facebook about the pain of learning to ride with clipless pedals.

Sam responded: I can help you. You won’t fall again.

The next morning I walked my bike over to the park. This time, I wore my Joe Rocket motorcycle jacket with armor and I thought we might practice on the grass.

When Sam arrived, she said, matter-of-factly, “not on the grass.”  She had a good reason:  “You’ve got to do this at speed, and you can’t get up to speed on the grass.”

Made sense. But no one, and I mean NO ONE, was going to take my Joe Rocket armored jacket away from me.  I ventured away from the picnic table to the paved path with my bike.

On her fancy red bike, Sam showed me lesson number one:  learn to coast with one foot clipped in and to put down your dominant foot when you stop.

“There’s never a rush — la, la, la, no rush, no rush, put your foot down as you stop. If you ever fall clipped in, it should be with both feet clipped in; never with just one foot clipped in.”  From now on, I guess, since that was my downfall (so to speak) on Sunday.

I coasted along, pulled the brakes, and put my right foot down. At this point, I wasn’t clipped in at all.

Next:  learn to pedal with one foot. This is the absolute KEY skill required for clipping confidence.  With one foot clipped in, it’s easy peasy to pedal around and around and keep the bike moving.  As Sam explained, knowing this makes clipping in the second foot a leisurely thing — no rush, no rush, no rush.  You can deal with intersections and not have to panic. Just pedal through with the one foot clipped in, and then when you’re ready and at your leisure, clip in the second foot.

I positioned my clipped in foot at the top of the pedal range so I could use it to give myself forward momentum from stopping. Sam taught me that too — I used to do running starts with the unclipped foot, but the shoes make it difficult and it looks fairly, well, amateurish for want of a better word. So, foot at the top of range and I pushed down, the bike started to move, I moved that foot round and round, the other foot just kind of hung out.  La, la, la, no rush, no rush.

Hey good,” Sam said. “You’re looking pretty balanced and confident.”

Next: clip in the second foot at speed.  Now that I could coast, pedal with one foot, knew which foot was going down when I stopped, and had my armor on just in case, clipping in the second foot just came easily. I’d already mastered the actual clipping part at the shop on the trainer.  Sam explained that if you’re having trouble finding the right spot on the pedal, just move your foot away and the pedal will fall into the right position.

Clipping out just requires a little twist of the heel to the side.  She had me practice moving forward, clipping in, clipping out, and stopping.  We went around and around a little portion of the path like that for about 15 maybe 20 minutes.  And I had it.  No falls, nothing.

Sam rode off to work. I practiced around the park a few more times.  Clipping in, clipping out, stopping, going. I actually had the hang of it.

And then I ventured out to the road and rode my road bike all the way home! Clipped. I stopped at an intersection without incident. Resumed the way Sam taught me, and conquered the laneway, whose asphalt my elbow is unlikely to encounter again.

One lesson from Sam and I can ride with clipless pedals!  Thank you, Sam!

And I can tell you this: it’s a LOT easier than learning to snow board.  I may have a few bruises, but no whiplash.

Let’s go for some autumn rides next month!