Our blog: 2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 350,000 times in 2013. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 15 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

“Too Slow” for What?

slowisthenewfastLast night I was at a party and got to talking about running with a former runner. He said that he used to do 10K in about 30 minutes.  30 MINUTES!? My mind did the quick math — at his prime, he was more than twice as fast as I am.  If I can achieve my goal of a sub-65 minute 10K in 2014, I’ll be pretty darn thrilled.  Once again, the refrain ran in my head: “I’m so slow.” Nevermind that according to Wikipedia that fastest recorded times by elite women are between 30-32 minutes.

Sam always bugs me (or rather, interrogates me–in a friendly way, not with spotlights or anything like that) about my self-image as a “slow runner.” I’ve often cited this as my reason for hesitating to join a running group.

So it was kind of gratifying to read this article by running coach, Jeff Gaudette, who says I’m not alone:

When I first started working with age group and recreational runners in 2006, one of the biggest surprises to me was the amount of negative thinking and lack of self-confidence many runners exhibited. Almost every runner that joined the group introduced themselves to me by stating “I’m probably the slowest person you’ve ever coached” or “you probably don’t work with runners as slow as I am.”

It didn’t matter what their personal bests actually were, almost all conversations started in a similar manner.

Unfortunately, I’ve found that not much has changed in the last seven years. Many runners, both new and experienced, hesitate to join local running groups or participate in online communities. When asked why, most respond that they are embarrassed by how slow they are.

That’s strong–to feel embarrassed by how slow we are.  But it’s exactly how it feels. There is something like a feeling of shame that comes up when I think about being a slow poke.  I felt it when I was riding my bike with Sam and her friends–they were always waiting for me.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, of course–they’re seasoned riders. I was out on my second long-ish ride ever.  [ride report here in this post about suffering]

I think this is an important topic because it comes up in all sorts of areas where we track speed.  I felt the same thing when I started swimming with a group.  The feeling that I am slow — or too slow, to be precise — was so strong that the first time the coach suggested I train in the next fastest lane to the one I’d been training in I refused.

Gaudette makes a number of good points about the “I’m so slow” mindset. First off, it’s quite negative to the people who have it.  Very few people embrace it. Rather, they (like me) lament it and feel badly about it.  In some cases, it’s enough to dissuade them entirely.

Responding to this, I’ve seen a host of t-shirts and mugs and so on that say things like “No matter how slow you go, you’re still lapping everyone on the couch” and “There is no such thing as a slow runner. There are just runners and everyone else.”  I’m not totally convinced. It’s just a fact that some people are faster than others.

The question is: does this matter?

Having established that I’m not trying out for the Canadian Olympic team or anything like that, why should I care about how fast I am in comparison to other people?  So the idea of being “too slow” makes me wonder, “too slow for what?” I’ve written about participating even if you know you’re not going to win here.  And Sam has posted about age group medals here.

Of course, there are those naysayers who complain about the way age-group categories and more diverse participation has taken the mystique out of marathons. A New York Times headline asks: “Plodders have a place, but is it in a marathon?” The article reports that there is indeed a lot of judgment out there about slower runners. And that’s because there are lots of them:

Trends show that marathon finishers are getting slower and slower — and more prevalent — according to Running USA, a nonprofit organization that tracks trends in distance running. From 1980 to 2008, the number of marathon finishers in the United States increased to 425,000 from 143,000.

In 1980, the median finishing time for male runners in United States marathons was 3 hours 32 minutes 17 seconds, a pace of about eight minutes per mile. In 2008, the median finishing time was 4:16, a pace of 9:46. For women, that time in 1980 was 4:03:39. Last year, it was 4:43:32.

But back to Gaudette, who says that this fear of being slow plagues even faster runners:

Former professional runner Ryan Warrenburg recently discussed how he’s hesitant to call himself an “elite” runner. Ryan has run 13:43 for a 5k — I’d call that fast and worthy of elite status. Do you know where his time ranks him in the world? I don’t because it’s way outside the top 500 (sorry, Ryan).

One way around it is to do as, according to this article about “The Slowest Generation,” the younger generation does: thumb your nose at the whole idea that speed matters.

But instead of fighting back, the young increasingly are thumbing their nose at the very concept of racing. Among some, it simply isn’t cool, an idea hilariously illustrated in a 2007 YouTube Video called the Hipster Olympics. In those Games, contestants do anything to avoid crossing the finish line—drink beer, lounge in the grass, surf the Web.

Yet something remotely akin to that is happening. Perhaps the fastest-growing endurance event in the country, the Color Run, doesn’t time participants or post results. “Less about your 10-minute mile and more about having the time of your life, The Color Run is a five-kilometer, un-timed race,” says its website.

I think there is a happy medium between not caring about speed at all, and thinking that being among the average or slower runners is something to feel embarrassed about.  When I first started running, I really didn’t care about getting faster at all.  But now, I like to see increases in my average times as signs of progress.  I’m balancing increases in distance with increases in my various paces.  My slower runs aren’t quite as slow as they used to be. My faster intervals are stepping up compared to where they were a year ago.

In my swim training, over the 3 months of group training with a coach, I shaved 10 seconds from my 200 metre time. To me, that felt pretty good.  In fact, I felt great about it. Then one day we did a relay and I had other team members who are considerably faster.  For a moment, I allowed that to discount my accomplishment. But then one of them complained about her leg of the relay.  So yes, as Gaudette says, it’s all about your point of reference.

I like to keep my point of reference focused on me. I’m not too slow to do what I enjoy doing. And in fact, despite that I’m getting older, there’s still room for me to get faster and achieve new personal bests.

And as I said in my “Never Say Never” post, maybe I can lose the “I’m so slow” identity.  The best way for me to do that is to press myself on the question, “too slow for what?”  I remember last summer when I began running with a group. I thought for sure I would be the slowest in the pack.  I was shocked to discover I wasn’t. And did I judge anyone slower than me negatively for being slower?  Of course not.

If the worry that you’re “too slow” is holding you back from running with a group (or running at all), I recommend that you give it a try. Chances are very good that you won’t be alone at your pace.  And if you have any aspirations for running faster, training with a group is a good way to go.

Good luck meeting your 2014 goals!

The existentialial cyclist: Quotations and pictures

man on bike with child and bread

“To possess a bicycle is to be able first to look at it, then to touch it. But touching is revealing as insufficient; what is necessary is to be able to get on the bicycle and take a ride. But this gratuitous ride is likewise insufficient; it would be necessary to use the bicycle to go on some errands. And this refers us to longer uses . . . But these trips themselves disintegrate into a thousand appropriative behavior patterns, each one of which refers to others. Finally, as one could foresee, handing over a bank note is enough to make a bicycle belong to me, but my entire life is needed to realize this possession.” — Jean-Paul Sartre

Share this: http://gilhaney.wordpress.com/2013/07/18/on-owning-a-bike/

man with pipe on bike“The bicycle held special appeal for continental writers as well. Simone de Beauvoir described her companion Jean-Paul Sartre as a dedicated cyclist who preferred riding to the monotony of walking, and who “would amuse himself by sprinting on the hills,” while when sailing absentmindedly on flat terrain he often landed in a ditch. The French existentialist also writes about bicycles in his tome Being and Nothingness,using them to examine the nature of possessing an object. He concluded that “handing over a bank note is enough to make a bicycle belong to me, but my entire life is needed to realize this possession.” In her wartime diary, Beauvoir described, among details of the Occupation, how she learned to ride using the bicycle of her former student and then-lover, Nathalie Sorokine. “I really handled it with ease, except one time I crashed into a dog and another time I collided with two women, and I was very happy.” On one occasion, when the two lovers went out together, Sorokine ran along beside her. After a heated argument, Sorokine grabbed her bicycle and rode away, ending the affair. ” from Wheels on Fire: Writers on Bicycles

See also

Existential Cycling

Existentialism on a Bike, parts 1-4

In favour of play!

The New Year brings out the list makers. Here’s Huff Po’s “The Best And Worst Health Trends Of 2013.”

Tracy’s already taken their inclusion of vegan diets to task. They say, “Somewhere between PETA’s annual list of the sexiest vegan celebs and renowned food writer Mark Bittman’s VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health… for Good, 2013 became the year of the vegan. Vegans tend to be thinner and have lower cholesterol and blood pressure than omnivores and vegetarians alike, according to a 2009 review in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. If you want to try an animal-product-free lifestyle — even just part time — make sure you get enough protein daily, advises Martica Heaner Ph.D., a nutritionist and exercise physiologist based in New York City.”

But Tracy says, “Repeat after me: Going vegan isn’t a fitness trend.”

But here’s two of the best on their list, in my view: fun runs and playground workouts.

Fun runs

“Whether it involves running through foam-covered obstacles or getting splattered with colored powder, fun runs have it right: Fun is the ultimate motivator, according to Edward L. Deci, Ph.D., a motivational researcher and professor of psychology at the University of Rochester. People who work out for the pure joy of working out rather than for a result (think: lose those last five pounds) actually stick with workouts longer and reap better results, he says. So grab your friends and sign up!”

We’ve written lots about these too.

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Image: Me and my cousin, post warrior dash!

Playground workouts

“Girls (even grown ones) just want to have fun! And playground workouts — from adult playground fitness parks across California to the jungle gym-inspired Synrgy360 stations in gyms — are designed to help them have just that. “As adults, we just don’t play enough. Play is good for your body and mind. These workouts give us an opportunity to let loose and explore new ways of burning calories while having fun,” diLeonardo says. Plus, with bars for climbing, ropes for pulling, and platforms for jumping, playground workouts strengthen your entire body through natural, multi-joint exercises to improve your fitness both in and out of the gym.”

We’ve written about play before too:

But I’ve got lots more to say about thinking in terms of play, rather than in terms of exercise. See Is it time to ditch exercise? for a start. I think that’s especially true for children.

Blog posts on play in my future and maybe more actual play too!

Here’s some sample playground workouts to get us started:

Aging, entropy, and motivational sayings

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Tracy wrote about moderate fitspo, inspirational messages that are mildly, rather than outrageously, positive and moderately, rather than wildly, demanding.

You know, “It does get easier and you go faster” rather than “It doesn’t get easier, you just get faster.”

So we can make some motivational sayings better by moderating them. Nice.

But what if the truth is gloomy? How then to motivate?

I’ve been thinking about aging bodies and fitness, and physical activity as helping to stave off the inevitable decline. That might be true but it’s not a particularly rousing motivational saying.

The same is true for aging and weight loss.

Consider what Tom Caulfield has to say about women who exercise lots as they age. The truth doesn’t provide much fodder for catchy motivational slogans: Exercise intensely for long periods of time and you might just stay the same!

The study Caulfield cites shows that women who exercise a lot, and regularly, even running marathons, still gain weight as they age. They just gain less. That’s good health news but won’t exactly make for a very good poster at the gym.

I reviewed Caulfield’s book here .

My worry, as always, is that unrealistic expectations hurt us. You might think, given that you’re still gaining weight as you age, that exercise just isn’t worth it. But that’s wrong on at least three fronts.

First, you miss out on loads of other health benefits of exercise, most of which have nothing to do with weight.

Second, there are lots of other benefits, in terms of overall well being, that aren’t even health related.

Third, gaining less weight is still better than gaining more weight. It’s better than a slap in the belly with a wet fish, as my parents might jokingly say.

But it doesn’t make for a snappy saying on a poster.

Of course, not all of life’s truths do make for short zippy sayings.

But some of the facts about exercise and aging do.

My original favorite?

It’s never too late to start.

That’s especially true for senior citizens who see huge gains in health and fitness when they start a program of physical activity, especially weight training.

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Midlife, body image, and eating disorders: A better way

Fit Villians

First, the bad news. Eating disorders in midlife are on the rise.

“In her new book, Midlife Eating Disorders, Bulik reveals a hidden problem: the most common profile of someone suffering from an eating disorder is a woman or man in their 30s or 40s. Bulik believes that in the medical field, typecasting eating disorders as a teen issue poses a risk for adults seeking care. Due to this typecasting, primary care physicians, obstetricians and gynaecologists and other health care providers can overlook these disorders in adults. Countless people in mid-life from all ethnic backgrounds struggle with eating disorders, Bulik says. Some have suffered with a chronic eating disorder for their whole lives, others relapse mid-life. Some are experiencing an eating disorder for the first time.Common to all these groups are particular stressors often associated with events that occur mid-life: infidelity, divorce, parenting or the death of a loved-one are key triggers.

Bulik says a common scenario is when someone gets divorced and they view themselves as being ‘back on the market’.‘They go to extreme measures to change their physical appearance—usually an extreme diet. And that might be their first step down that slippery slope to an eating disorder’.Financial hardship can also trigger an eating disorder, as can the stress that often comes with retirement, illness, surgery or unemployment.Bulik also believes a ‘culture of discontent’ is a major cause of adult eating disorders—reinforced by the fashion, cosmetic, pharmaceutical and diet industries.‘What they do is plant worms of discontent in your mind—that you should be unhappy with your physical appearance, you should be unhappy with the process of ageing … then they sell you this product or present you with this surgery that somehow is going to miraculously remove that discontent. They make you feel badly about yourself and then they sell you something to make you feel better. And the problem is that engaging in some of those extreme behaviours can be the first step toward an eating disorder.'”

See Mid-life eating disorders: the divorcees and exercise junkies flying under the radar

Second, some slightly better news. Active women are more likely than inactive women to be happy with their bodies, even at the same size. See Few Middle-Aged Women Are Happy With Their Body Size: The ones most likely to be are highly active.

“A study of 1,789 women, age 50 and older, found that only 12.2% of the women said they were satisfied with their body size. Body satisfaction was defined as having a body size equal to their preferred body size.

Body satisfaction reflected considerable effort by the women to achieve and maintain rather than passive contentment, according to study authors. Satisfied women had lower BMI and exercised more than dissatisfied women, while weight monitoring and appearance-altering behaviors, such as cosmetic surgery, did not differ between the two groups.

Satisfaction with body size, however, did not mean that these women were totally satisfied with their appearance. Many reported that they were dissatisfied with other aspects of how they look, including their stomach (56.2%), face (53.8%), and skin (78.8%).”

See our other thoughts on menopause and bodies:

Accept your changing body

Understand that menopause affects metabolism

And it starts with perimenopause

Does heat make you fat? No wait, it’s cold…

Upfront confession: I have a high tolerance for headlines of the form “X makes you fat!” Posting these stories to social media. I’m often misunderstood. I’m never doing it to suggest that people stop doing X, for any value of X. Instead, I do because I like seeing that medical researchers agree that whatever causes fat, it’s more complicated, much more complicated than “calories in/calories out” or the simple formula for ending obesity that overweight people always get, “eat less and move more.”

Oh, I also hate sharing these stories because inevitably they are accompanied by a photo of a headless fat person. Oh, the shame! I lost my head. See No more headless fatties, why not use images of active fat people complete with heads instead? for my beef on that front.

Now, there are lots of proposed values of X, the list of things that cause obesity. In additional to the usual suspects (eating too much and moving too little) the list has included such things as street lighting (too much light at night disrupts our sleep rhythms), chemicals in plastics,  hanging out with fat friends, and my favourite, comfortable kitchens where people want to spend time. I just had my kitchen redone and now I think maybe I should go back to our one person-at-a-time galley thing that was falling off the back of the house.

“What a beautiful kitchen!” I hear my neighbour saying but I wonder if she’s also secretly thinking, “Too bad it’s making you fat!” Actually my kitchen isn’t that nice. Maybe just nice enough to make me pleasantly plump.

For the complete ridiculous list, see xojane’s list of 21 Things Making You Fat Right Now!

Here’s one such theory that I hear a lot. It’s central heating that’s to blame. Warm houses are making us fat.

Don’t turn up the heat! Put on a jumper! (That was the story of my youth.)

This story fits in well with my British heritage. “Jumper” should have been your first clue. I’m from the land of virtuous people living in cold houses. My family loves to retell the story of a great aunt who at the insistence of her children had central heating installed but reassured all visitors, with a smile, “I haven’t had it on yet.” I think she likely died without ever turning it on.

And truth be told, I’ve inherited a bit of that. I like cold rooms and lap blankets, warm kitchens with ovens on, and cold bedrooms with warm blankets. I even have a heated mattress pad. (My new fave feature of modern life is the smart phone app that allows me to get into bed and then turn down the heat and shut off lights. Brilliant.) I prefer hot spots in otherwise cold rooms. This makes sense as I also love old houses and these things go together.

Winters in Australia and New Zealand tested my tolerance for cold houses. I guess when the weather isn’t life threatening, you don’t see the same need for regular, reliable indoor heating.

And to add to the moralizing notes in this story, cold houses don’t just promote virtue (I think it’s because you’re not tempted to take off your clothes until after you’re under the blankets and sweaters on top of sweaters aren’t exactly the sexiest look around) they’re also better for the environment.

No surprise then that warm houses make you fat.

See Mark’s Daily Apple, Is central heating related to obesity?

See Readers Digest! 8 things that are making you fat

“Trying to lose weight? Turn down the thermostat. A cozy home could be contributing to making you fat, suggests research in the journal Obesity Reviews. When our bodies are cold, we shiver, causing our muscles to contract to generate heat—and burn calories.”

Even the New York Times weighed in Central Heating May Be Making Us Fat. And Time Magazine too, Why Indoor Heating May Make You Fat.

The authors of the new study, published in the journal Obesity Reviews, note that average indoor temperatures have risen steadily in the U.K. and U.S. over the last several decades, as central heating has become increasingly available — and rates of obesity have risen too. The average temperature in British living rooms went from 64.9 degrees F to 70.3 degrees F, from 1978 to 2008. Living rooms in the U.S. have long been heated to at least 70 degrees F. Indeed, average temperatures have gone up all throughout the house — and in the wintertime, people tend not to leave their homes much anymore, at least not unless it’s in a heated car.

“Increased time spent indoors, widespread access to central heating and air conditioning, and increased expectations of thermal comfort all contribute to restricting the range of temperatures we experience in daily life and reduce the time our bodies spend under mild thermal stress — meaning we’re burning less energy,” said lead author Fiona Johnson in a statement. “This could have an impact on energy balance and ultimately have an impact on body weight and obesity.”

Although humans are born with significant deposits of brown fat — the primary purpose of which is to regulate body temperature by burning energy for heat — those stores diminish over time. By adulthood our brown-fat stores have shrunk, having been replaced with the more familiar white fat, the stuff that hangs over belt buckles and swings from the backs of arms.

And I’d love to love this story. Yes, get out of your comfort zone, go play outside, stop burning fossil fuels. Live like our ancestors used to, etc etc.

But now, it’s cold, not hot, but cold, that makes you fat. That journal article was published in 2011, but new research published the same journal years two later says it’s cold, not heat, that packs on pounds.

See Study: turn up heating to fight fat this holiday season.

An interesting new study from the UK reveals that people who live in well-heated homes are not as likely to be obese or have a high body mass index, compared with individuals who keep their houses cooler.

The researchers, from the University of Stirling in Scotland, have shown a link between higher temperatures and lower levels of body fat by studying over 100,000 adults who rely on central heating from 1995 to 2007, in the nationally representative Health Survey for England.

Although the researchers note that scientists have recently suggested warmer indoor temperatures could be contributing to rising obesity levels in the US, Canada, the UK and Europe, this latest study suggests the opposite is true.

Back and forth, to and fro. This debate ought to be familiar. I’ve heard it before  about swimming in cold water (see here and here). And I’ve been bugging Tracy to blog about it. Swimming in cold water makes you fat! Wait, no, bathing in ice cubes makes you slim. Thank Tim Ferris for that suggestion. Read about his “ice diet” here. Um, no thanks, Tim.

Keep your house at a temperature you like that’s consistent with caring for the environment. Swim in cold water if that’s what you like.

Because we really don’t know what’s responsible for the increase in obesity rates and we’re even less certain when it comes individuals what factors are that make a difference.

If there’s something to be learned here, it’s something I got from Precision Nutrition’s lean eating program, you are your own expert. Try different things and see if they make a difference for you.

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