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A cycling question from a blog reader

AC asks us,

Cycling question for you, if you don’t mind.

I’ve always enjoyed riding my bike, but I’ve never had a real road bike nor tried any long-distance stuff. My favorite spin class at the gym tends to approach the whole thing more like a bike ride, with hill climbs and flat sprints, so I think of it a bit like indoor training for the someday I get back outside on a real bike.

However, I always adjust the handlebars so that I can sit as much upright as possible, which also helps when we’re standing up and “jogging,” since my arms barely reach at that point. Whenever I’ve tried to lower the handlebars, I really feel it in my lower back after a short period of time.

My question to you is, how did you get used to leaning over all the time? What can I do to get comfortable with it?

I replied: “Probably the gym spin bikes aren’t a good fit. You shouldn’t have to stretch at all to reach. Can you move the seat forward?”

But what do the rest of you have to add? Tracy, Catherine, Sharon, Eaton? Blog readers? We’re a big group. I figure together we can help!

Uncategorized

Celebrating my standing desks

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Image: Hearts, love, and snow flakes

Last summer I swapped my regular desk at home for a standing desk in anticipation working more at home during my sabbatical.

For non academics reading this, sabbatical leave isn’t time off work, it’s time to focus on writing and research rather than teaching and administration. Our usual workload is 40-40-20, teaching, research, and administration. But during a sabbatical it switches to 90-10, research and teaching. The 10% teaching =graduate student supervision. No matter what PhD supervision continues apace. You can read about my PhD students here. In past years I’ve traveled for my research leaves. Here’s looking at you University of Otago! Miss you Australian National University!

But this time I promised the kids we’d stay at home. A workload of 90% research and writing usually means lots of time sitting. But that’s not for me, and in particular not good for my back, hence the standing desk. I’ve done a fair bit of physio over the years and my sitting posture stinks. I’m a great walker, stander, rider, jogger and sitting isn’t healthy anyway. See the infographic below with apologies for the obesity link. 

Infographic removed and replaced with a waving photo of me. See Tracy’s concerns below about ableist messaging…

Early into this “fittest by fifty” project I also read Drop Dead Healthy. (Here’s my brief review.) The standing (or walking) to write is one of the recommendations AJ Jacobs keeps after a year of trying out lots of different fitness advice.

My standing desk is nothing fancy. I followed the instructions on one of the very many “how make your standing desk out readily available materials” websites. I loved it.  If I ever decide to do the “treadmill desk” thing I ‘ll also be going the DIY route. You don’t need a good treadmill, with fancy controls and bells and whistles. After all, you’re not gong to run on it. You’re going to turn it into a desk so buy one of the very many treadmills for sale in thrift stores or on online used goods venues.

I put in a request for a standing desk at work and that’s even better. It’s fancy and moves up and down so I can sit some the time and stand when I feel like it. The moving up and down proves useful at work because I wear heels of different heights and I don’t always like to write barefoot. At home I write in barefeet and I have a very comfy mat that I stand. It’s designed for chefs who work long hours standing on hard floors. I found it a fancy kitchen store and I love it.

So do I still love my standing desks? Yes.

My back certainly does.

I also love the energy and feeling of being alive and on task that comes with standing. It reminds me of a lesson I learned doing radio. Stand to talk. You sound better. I think I write better standing too. Posture matters and standing makes me feel engaged and in touch with the ground. Like I have something to say. It’s true also that when I give research talks I have to stand. Sitting is pretty much a guarantee that I won’t feel as good about it.

I tend not aimlessly web browse when standing. I’m much more focused. The joke is that I save that for my smart phone. I once joked on Facebook that if sitting is the new smoking, then flopping on your bed using your smart phone must the new heroin.

It’s also been a very active year (lots of running, biking, lifting and throwing and being thrown) and it’s been a year without back problems! That’s exciting for me. Typically all of my back problems have come from sitting after riding. Now I’ve started standing in meetings too and standing at talks. I haven’t quite worked up to walking and talking with grad students but I’m almost there.

I love my standing desks.

See also:

Short answer to the last question: NO!

Image: Me waving from my standing desk, learning to use the timer on my phone camera
Image: Me waving from my standing desk, learning to use the timer on my phone camera
cycling · Guest Post

Guest Post-Cycling after 60

sharon2I feel a bit like an interloper here. I don’t think of myself as particularly fit – though I am not really sure how to judge that. And then there is the fact that I am more than a decade past 50. But I am a feminist and I do read this blog and when I saw Samantha’s question How Does It Make You Feel? I really wanted to answer it, partly as a way of saying “thank you” to her.

I started cycling about a year and a half ago. My first bike (see How Many Bikes is Too Many? ) was a mountain bike. I didn’t intend to use it for mountain biking exactly but a mountain bike seemed like it would be comfortable because of the suspension and those big tires made me feel safe. I’m an old lady after all. What I didn’t know is that I would want to go fast – faster than I seemed to be able to get the mountain bike to go –it’s just too heavy. It took a lot to get it moving and even when I thought I was flying along everyone was passing me!

The solution? A road bike. But getting a road bike meant that I would have to ride all hunched over with my feet attached to the pedals! Terrifying – and some little voice was saying to me that it was not something for sixty-one year old woman to do. I was faced with a dilemma – if this was something that couldn’t be done at sixty-one it was something that I would never do – and I really wanted to do it.

It was not the easiest of transitions. I fell more than once. There is nothing quite like feeling yourself falling over while your feet are immobilized. It happens in slow motion, like a felled tree going down, and all you can do is watch and anticipate the pain. I have a piece of road in one elbow as a permanent reminder of the learning process. But I haven’t fallen (not like that at any rate) in a while now and it is such a high to have learned something new and to get better each time I ride.

One of the big benefits of starting a new physical activity when older is that I have no point of comparison with a younger me – no regrets for lost strength, speed, or skill. Right now I can only get better – and I do! I started out struggling with 10 mile rides and I now routinely do 20-25 several times a week. I never used to ride where there were hills. I was afraid I would slow down too much and just fall over – does that even happen? This morning I did my best time so far up Torrey Pines (400 foot climb)  – 14 minutes at 6.2 mph compared with my first climb 17 minutes at 5 mph.  Okay, that’s not really very fast and I still get passed but I feel powerful going up and I feel like I am flying when I’m going down those same 400 feet. And, let’s not forget, I am 62 years old after all.

So this blog post has several messages. First, get a (at least one) bicycle. Second, don’t think you are too old to start something like this (I also started running at 50 – and there were similar pleasures in that experience). Third, if you are (almost) 50 there are good times ahead. Finally, a big thank you to Samantha – her Facebook status updates on cycling may have been the final nudge that I needed to get me out on a bike.

sharon

Biography: Sharon Crasnow teaches philosophy at Norco, College in Riverside County California and lives in San Diego. Fortunately these are both excellent places for cycling. Her philosophy research interests are methodology in the social science with an emphasis on feminist methodology, and feminist epistemology and philosophy of science. She is the co-editor with Anita Superson of Out from the Shadows: Analytical Feminist Contributions to Traditional Philosophy and with Joanne Waugh of Philosophy Feminism and Popular Culture. She has two daughters, a stepdaughter, and stepson and is married to a pretty incredible political scientist who also is an avid cyclist.

Uncategorized

CFP: Decolonizing Fitness | An anthology on Women of Color, Feminism, and the Politics of “Fit” Bodies

Decolonizing Fitness: Women of Color, Feminism, and the Politics of “Fit” Bodies

Deadline for Abstracts: May 1, 2014

Notifications: May 30, 2014

First Draft Due: October 1, 2014

Editor: Larissa M. Mercado-López, Ph.D., Women’s Studies, California State University, Fresno

For more information see,
http://decolonizingfitness.wordpress.com/

running

I like it in the dark: Winter and the joys of night time riding and running

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Photo from Get Out There magazine

Caitlin from the wonderful blog Fit and Feminist posted on Facebook recently about enjoying running in the dark.

I’m also a fan of running in the dark but only the early morning, not night. I’m pretty wired to early morning exercise though I did a fair bit of night time running the year I took a 10 km clinic over the winter.

When I first started running on my own I confess I liked the dark because no one could see me! I didn’t look like a runner and I felt stealthy about it all. In the dark it didn’t matter that I was a much larger than average runner, that I wasn’t going that fast, and that I didn’t have all the right clothes and gear. It gave me the protective nudge I needed to get started though now I’ve left that cocoon behind.

In general I don’t like the reduced daylight hours that come with living nearer the poles than the equator. I thrive on sun and I’m a creature of the day. That sounds much less sexy and exciting than being  a creature of the night, but there it is. I tried going goth in the 80s but it never quite took. I liked punk but I liked bright colours too, usually in my hair. I was a “cotton candy punk” as one friend teasingly called me.

However, there is something very special about the dark. It’s powerful. And there is something that feels mysterious and secretive about it. The dark hours of the morning feel like stolen time, extra hours of dark before the day really begins.

And soon enough, it will all turn round. The worst of the lost daylight happens just about the time real winter begins. Soon, in just a few weeks, the days will be getting longer and the sun will getting stronger again, as they say. December 21st marks the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. If what you fear most about winter is cold and snow, the worst is still ahead. But if it’s light you crave, we’re almost at the low point, that halfway mark on a race to the sun.

I like riding at night too and I have super dooper headlights. They don’t just made me visible. They’re bright enough so that I can use bike paths in the dark. You feel so much faster at night, the world just whooshes by.

There are safety concerns about running in the dark and I wear lots of reflective gear so that I’m visible. I’ve been thinking of getting the dogs flashing collars to add to the disco party effect. I was going to include ‘running in the dark’ safety links but most of them are about personal security. If that’s an issue where you live, have a look. One of my best safety running stories concerns Sweden. I asked the young man at my hotel in Gothenberg if it was safe to go out for a run. I’d been traveling for awhile and staying in large American cities where people worry about that sort of thing. He looked at me quizzically and then said, “Oh, no there are no wild animals in the city.” Different cultures, different concerns.

These days I like running in the dark because I feel like a speedy ninja! And I’m a fan of all things ninja.

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diets · eating · weight loss

Let’s Talk about the Myth of the Skinny Vegan Bitch

vegan-food-cc-300x400Here’s how the first installment in the Skinny Bitch series (authors Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin) starts:

Are you sick and tired of being fat?  Good. If you can’t take one more day of self-loathing, you’re ready to get skinny...

This is not a diet. This is a way of life. A way to enjoy food. A way to feel healthy, clean, energized and pure. It’s time to reclaim your mind and body. It’s time to strut your skinny ass down the street liek you’re in an episode of Charlie’s Angels with some really cool song playing in the background. It’s time to prance around in a thong like you rule the world. It’s time to get skinny.

It sounds almost empowering.  Almost.

The first red flag?  If you’re full of self-loathing then…wait for it…getting skinny is the answer!  If that’s not clear from the introduction, it is made super-clear on the first page of chapter one where it says: “Healthy = skinny. Unhealthy = fat.”  I’m sorry, but I think that simple equation has been firmly established as utterly false.

Getting healthy is a lot more complicated and is absolutely not correlated to being skinny.  Some of the least healthy people I know are really skinny.  The authors seem to maintain a distinction between a “skinny bitch” and a “scrawny bitch.” That’s when they recommend against over-exercising. Despite warning against over-exercising, they promise that “you’ll soon become addicted to exercising.”

And the mixed messages don’t stop there. They are opposed to fad diets, like low-carb diets (and especially Atkins). They encourage people to eat bread and fruit.  This makes it seem like a not very restrictive way of eating (a lifestyle, remember, not a diet).  But they have a whole chapter that explains why “Sugar is the Devil.”  That would make it thoroughly evil.  I’ve posted about why food is beyond good and evil here.

On the pro side (for me, anyway) they promote a vegan diet for lots of the right reasons too. They quote Linda McCartney, who said that “if slaughterhouses had glass walls, we’d all be vegetarians.”  They remind you that if you adopt a vegan diet, “you’re sparing the lives of at least ninety animals a year.” They even talk about the environmental impact of livestock farming (methane from livestock contributes a lot to global warming).

But I want to take issue with two of their fundamentals.

First, the whole bitch thing.  People are annoyed enough with vegans.  We are inconvenient, not just as dinner guests (“what will we feed you!?”) but as in-your-face reminders that your food choices have moral implications for other animals and for the planet.  So associating veganism with being a bitch. It’s just not the kind of PR we need.

Second, the idea that being vegan will make you skinny.  No. It’s just as easy not to be skinny as  a vegan as it is not to be skinny as a non-vegan.  There’s all sorts of vegan crap out there.

Now of course, the skinny bitch “philosophy” does not include vegan crap.  Nope. A skinny bitch will embark on a regimen of “pure eating.”  Remember: this is not a diet:

Never feel like or say you are “giving up” your favorite foods.  Those words have a negative connotation.  You are simply empowered now and able to make educated, controlled choices about what you will and won’t put into your body, your temple.  Be grateful that you know the truth about the foods you used to poison yourself with…Be excited about feeling clean, pure, healthy, energized, happy, and skinny.

So let me say this.  I’m vegan. Have been for over two years now.  I eat a fairly “clean” diet, in the sense that I choose lots of whole foods, no animal products, I don’t drink alcohol or take any drugs, I’m more active than my peer group.  But I am not skinny. I’m kind of average, really. And I was kind of average *before* I became vegan.  So the magical transformation won’t come simply by becoming vegan.

That’s not to say there aren’t all sorts of good reasons.  But becoming vegan is not to be approached as another diet that will get you thin.  And all this “pure and cleansing” talk–getting rid of toxins and so forth–it’s just not borne out by science. See this about juicing.

That’s my myth-busting message today:  Go for it! Become vegan (which is not just about food, by the way). But you don’t have to be a bitch and don’t listen to the people who promise you’ll be skinny.

Skinny isn’t even a great goal.  It’s not empowering.  And if you are experiencing self-loathing, try loving the body you have and treating yourself with compassion and care.  We have lots of that to go around on this blog!

Crossfit · cycling · racing · Rowing · running

Puke worthy workouts

I’ve written lots about pain and physical exertion. See here, here and here.

But now it’s time to tackle that other fun aspect of tough workouts, throwing up.

It’s a feature of almost every sport that I like that people sometimes barf. (I have teenagers at home, including teen athletes, so I know all sorts of good euphemisms but I’ll stick with “barf,” “vomit,” and “throw up.”)

CrossFit has a metal puke bucket in the corner, mostly as a joke. So too does the rowing club. And of course, the velodrome. Of course.

It’s sort of a joke but also sort of not. Vomiting does happen. It’s certainly happened to me on the bike.

“Intense exercise has a number of effects on the body. As well as raising metabolism and burning fat, it can also cause dehydration, dizziness and nausea. Whether you do cardiovascular exercise or strength training, it is not uncommon to throw up during or after a workout.” Read How to Prevent Throwing up when Exercising

I was reminded of all this this morning doing 200 m sprints x 10 on the erg, aka rowing machine, at CrossFit.

I was busy paying attention to how I felt about pain in response to commentators who think you really can’t say truthfully you enjoy painful intervals. And I’m right. At the fifth sprint, I had that silly smile on my face that makes other people question my sanity. Yay endorphins. I also had done a great job of keeping my times constant through the first five efforts.

Times ranged quite a bit, from the high 30s to the low 50s. For my first five 200 m intervals I was around 42 seconds.

But after five, my times started to go up. I stopped smiling. And by seven I was starting to think I might throw up. I didn’t. But I didn’t manage to eat again until lunch.

So, what happens to make your body feel that way? Read Why Do We Vomit After Strenuous Exercise?

High intensity interval training, in particular, brings about a bad combo. Lactic acid on the one hand, and blood going to your limbs rather than your digestion system, on the other. There are are reasons to skirt the edge of pukiness. In part, your body learns how to cope and recover and that’s important.

I’m not sure about the gallows humour around throwing up after a workout. But like the issue of peeing during workouts, I think it helps to know you’re not alone. Going hard, whether cycling, rowing, running, or swimming can bring it on and there’s no reason to be ashamed or proud about it.

“A 1992 study in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition found that 93 percent of  endurance athletes experienced some type of GI symptom (e.g., acid reflux, nausea, and vomiting) during their races.” See Techniques to Prevent Nausea and Vomiting Before, During, and After Racing.

It’s an issue with any form of High Intensity Interval Training but your body does adjust. From Precision Nutrition’s All About High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT):

“Most every high intensity physical activity is a state of “crisis” in the body. It endangers oxygen supply to tissues, increases body temperature, reduces body fluids and fuel stores, and causes tissue damage.

Intense exercise creates endocrine and defense reactions that are similar to those elicited by low blood oxygen, high blood carbon dioxide, acidosis, high body temperature, dehydration, low blood sugar, physical injury and psychological stresses.

Hormonally, your body basically freaks out. Then it brings out the big guns to deal with the problem. High intensity exercise stresses the body so much that it’s forced to adapt.

As Nietzsche gasped during a 20-rep squat set, “That which does not kill me makes my quads bodacious.” (It makes more sense in German.)”

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Image description: puke bucket