Hiking and biking on the academic talk circuit

Academics travel a lot to give talks, share our work, attend conferences, discuss our ideas. It’s part of what we do.

(Conference travel is written about in the campus humour novel, Small World, by British author David Lodge, though it’s set several decades ago. The Guardian book club discusses it here. Norms of behavior while traveling an academic have changed since then.)

I’ve written before about exercising on the road. (See, for example, Finding my inner Arnold in Peterborough.) Mostly though these have been individual solutions. But lately a new thing has been happening. In part, thanks to the blog, I think, and our growing community.

I love that my reputation for physical activity now precedes me. The first inkling something was changing was last fall when I was invited to keynote a conference, with short notice. Perhaps the result of the gendered conference campaign, I don’t know. I couldn’t do it but the organizer tried to make it more attractive with the offer of a bike ride. I wouldn’t even have to miss my long weekend ride. And I needn’t bring my own bike on the plane. I could borrow his wife’s road bike. Tempting. (Though I did wonder what his wife might think of the offer. What bike would she ride?) A beautiful part of the world where I’d never ridden before. But still, I couldn’t do it. Bike ride possibilities didn’t make the conflicts in my schedule go away.

Last week I was in San Diego for the Pacific Division meeting of the American Philosophical Association and the conference bike ride idea finally worked out thanks to guest contributor Sharon Crasnow. See Guest Post-Cycling after 60.  Sharon generously arranged me for to borrow her daughter’s road bike. I packed cycling clothes and my helmet. Off we went! We had a lovely bike ride around Fiesta Island.

Great spot for riding and racing. You can do loops, which I love. Ocean view and no snow! Just perfect. Also, flat!

Last month I was in the Los Angeles area giving a talk and I was happy to be taken on a hike on the beach the day of my talk. Later that weekend I got to go hiking in the hills and canyons of LA. I hadn’t thought of LA as a great hiking city. But I was wrong.

Sharing physical activity, hiking and biking, with fellow philosophers is terrific. We can talk while moving. I get to see a new part of the world. And I don’t feel like I need to sneak off on my own to exercise.

I’m organizing bike rides for friends attending the Canadian Philosophical Association conference in May also for philosophers coming to the Canadian Society for Women in Philosophy conference in Waterloo in August.

I love my job!


Thigh chafing and the joys of summer

iz needs talc powder   mai thighs are chafing

Warmer weather is here. Spring! And soon, summer! I can put away my black tights and wear cotton dresses and mini-skirts. I can stop wearing running tights. But of course, much as I love all those things, there’s the problem of thigh chafing.

“At first thigh chafing is annoying, then it’s embarrassing, then it’s painful, then it’s ugly (all that friction causes little red bumps to pop up on my inner thighs–so not cute). My solution up to now has been to wear spandex shorts underneath all my dresses. This combats chafing and serves the secondary purpose of preventing me from flashing the whole neighborhood whenever I get out my car. Every time I pull on those shorts, though, I feel a little sad and a little resentful: for once I’d just like to throw on a sundress and some comfy undies and be done. This hot, binding extra layer kind of defeats the purpose of the easy, breezy summer outfit.” from the Horrors of Thigh Chafing, The Frisky.

For active women, out deliberately pursuing sweaty activities in the heat it can be especially difficult. While it’s ridiculous looking you can get the sense the lengths people will go to to avoid thigh chafing. It’s a serious problem. A blog reader sent me the link along with a note saying that people were mocking both the product and the problem If only you had a thigh gap, like reasonable, thin women, you wouldn’t have this problem. (For more on thigh gap, see Tracy’s post, Thigh Gap” Makes Me Sad.)

To that I have two things to say. First, for me, my thighs have always made contact and it’s been a summer issue no matter what I’ve weighed. Second, it in no way follows from something being a problem for fat women that the answer is shame. Oh right, they could diet and lose weight? And even if that did work, which it doesn’t mostly, surely we don’t deserve pain and suffering when we exercise?

For non-workout occasions I have friends who swear by bandelettes. They’re lacy thigh bands, sexy is the idea, with the added benefit of helping with chafing. Me? I’d never be quite sure where to put them and they aren’t quite in my everyday repertoire. Maybe for fancy nights out but fancy nights out don’t usually involve a lot of walking.

I’ve tried various lotions and creams but with no great success. Bodyglide works well for making it easy to get your wetsuit off but it’s not something I want to use for a run on a warm day. There is specific anti chafe cream for runners but again I haven’t had great luck with it. Baby powder works but never lasts long enough. For workouts I never wear traditional baggy running shorts. Instead, I wear tighter fitting reasonably long bicycle style shorts.

I discovered my answer for regular day to day skirt wearing when I started riding to work in dresses with bike shorts underneath. If I forgot undies I’d just keep the bike shorts on and that had the added benefit of no thigh chafing. It also meant I didn’t worry about modesty at all.

These days when I’m not riding I wear bike short style undies, like these by Jockey. Is this a summertime issue for you? Does it affect your exercise plans? What solutions have you found?

aging · athletes · fitness · Guest Post · injury · weight lifting

Pink Weights? (Guest Post)

pigeonsI’m fit, feminist, and almost 50, so naturally I’ve been following Samantha and Tracy with avid interest since this blog began. I’ve always been active, but became more fiercely fit in my 40s. I survived Zuzana’s burpee torture (100 burpees!), I was working up to full chin-ups and benching over 100 pounds. 50 didn’t scare me. OK, it did a little bit, but feeling strong really helped with that.

About a year and a half ago I started experiencing back pain that interfered with pretty much all activities. A visit to the doctor confirmed that the problem wasn’t skeletal, so off to the physiotherapist I went. She put me on a core-strengthening program that quickly made things a lot worse. I lucked out with the second physiotherapist because she happened to also specialize in pelvic floor dysfunction. Her hunch was confirmed by a specialist: I have a mild uterine prolapse, which is like a mild hernia with less reliable surgical options. This condition is quite common, but not talked about very much, perhaps because it involves female bits, or perhaps because it isn’t life threatening. It certainly was news to me. Now that I have it, I am to avoid impact, most core exercises including planks, and weights heavier than 3 pounds. The good news is that this may be temporary and I might be able to reverse it by exercising with care.

It turns out that despite my level of fitness, I hadn’t been exercising properly. I did not know what “activate your core before lifting” actually meant. I thought it meant bracing your abdominal and back muscles. But that’s not enough, and bracing could actually be doing more harm than good. If your waist expands when you brace, you might be doing it wrong. Safely lifting heavy means knowing (feeling) that your pelvic floor is actively supporting your organs the entire time you are lifting. Even if your arms or legs are strong enough, your pelvic floor might not be. I used to laugh at my Mom when she tried to stop me from lifting heavy weights: “That’s for boys, you’ll throw your womb out!” The 70s feminist in me found this weird and objectionable (I am woman!). As I’ve learned, lifting isn’t just for males, but people with uteri do need to take certain precautions (men can also develop prolapse, but it is considerably less common).

Once I learned this, the big challenge for me was to figure out how to regain my fitness level, and to do so in a way that I loved. I love sweating. I love exerting myself. Physio was great for relieving my back pain, but not enough for fitness. It’s quite difficult to exercise with care while exercising intensely. I initially tried doing my old workouts while modifying them. It turns out that the advice to modify and work your way up was spectacularly unhelpful in my case. Bicep curls with 3-pound weights are pretty useless if you are strong (fatigue takes forever!). Jump squats got modified to bodyweight squats, clean and presses became bodyweight squats, burpees became bodyweight squats, etc. Sigh. Well, you get the idea. I was starting to get a bit depressed. It didn’t help that we were having a terrible winter that made walking difficult, and I’ve never been a fan of cardio machines.

I started swimming, which was a joy, but I needed variety and home workouts as well. I also wasn’t sure what to do with the 3-pound pink weights I had purchased (the very ones I used to sneer at). Naturally I googled “3 pound weights exercises” and came across the various “bulk is unappealing” fitness gurus (Tracy Anderson and Ellen Barrett, I’m looking at you!). I tried the workouts anyways and found them surprisingly satisfying. They were different enough from what I usually did that I found them challenging, and they were designed to make the most out of light weights. I’m used to squats with heavy weights, and now I lift my leg in various ballet directions while maintaining my balance, holding my arms in an “elegant” position, and looking graceful. I even sweat. My posture has improved. My muscle tone is returning, which is great news after months of near inactivity. I do wish, however, that these workouts came without the marketing and comments about the ideal female physique.

One thing that has fascinated me about the Tracy Anderson phenomenon is just how angry the fitness world is at her. I agree completely when this anger is directed at her marketing strategies (offensive), her diet (extreme and unhealthy!), and her claim that women should only work out her way (ridiculous). But some people are also surprisingly furious at the very existence of workouts that only use 3 pound weights. They insist that the only way to get fit is to lift heavy. I, on the other hand, am grateful that these light weight workouts exist and are widely available on YouTube. Thankfully I did not accept the insistence on the necessity of heavy weights. That would have been demoralizing given my situation.

There doesn’t seem to be that much of a difference between the marketing of lifting light and lifting heavy. During my googling into using light weights I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across a site that starts with something like a picture of a sprinter and a marathoner, complete with a discussion of how unappealing the body of the marathoner is (here,  here, and here). They then conclude that their way of exercising, which usually involves heavy weights rather than actually sprinting, is the only way. The philosopher in me is fascinated by how they seem to be creating facts through repetition, and by how little evidence is actually offered other than cherry-picked photos. The feminist in me is deeply bothered by how shaming is used to generate a market.

What about a comparison on quality and safety? I think you already know that I think the advice to activate your core (common advice given by strength trainers) is insufficiently informative and can have potentially devastating consequences. Ellen Barrett, on the other hand, gives very good instruction and her programs are very safe. My only complaint about her is that I have to listen to her comments on the female physique while I’m working out. Tracy Anderson rarely says anything, which is a mixed blessing. She gives very few notes on form and expects you to play follow the leader and just get what she is doing. I have a background in various dance forms, so for the most part I can do that. Her routines have some creativity in them and have some use for me, especially since I don’t take her seriously when she claims that you must do her complete program and nothing but. But her routines range from useless to dangerous for those who don’t have a dance background. For example, in the unweighted arms section, the fact that I’ve taken flamenco dance helps a lot. I took flamenco after several years of cabaret and tribal belly dance, and was struck by how even though the arm patterns were very similar, the way the arms were held gave the moves a completely different look and feel. You put a lot of power and energy into your arms when you dance flamenco. My arms would burn and exhaust during flamenco arm drills in a way they never did during belly dance. So when Tracy talks about using your arms with a lot of power I know exactly what she means. I have done drills for this. They’d be pretty pointless otherwise and I can see why personal trainers find her arm routine baffling. But for me, the idea of using dance arm drills hadn’t occurred to me and was a revelation. It was something I could safely do to use my arms when I wasn’t in the pool. For another example, her standing abs routine contains a series of staccato belly dance moves. This is something you work up to in belly dance. You’d never start with these moves in a beginner class because the students would lack the control to execute the moves safely (if at all). I can do them, but I warm up first with the smoother belly dance moves.


My takeaway lessons from this experience are these. 1) We need a variety of permissible fitness philosophies. Fitness activities that would have been silly or pointless for one stage of life might be very beneficial for another. 2) Uniform fitness recommendations open the door for people like Tracy Anderson. She spotted a gap and marched through. But she isn’t a good fitness instructor. I’m guessing that if there were more competition and creativity in the light weights arena, Tracy wouldn’t be as popular as she is. 3) I found it depressing and boring to do modified versions of my usual workouts. Injuries can hold you back, or they can be an opportunity to focus on a different area and excel there. I’ve been working on perfecting my form rather than increasing my speed in the pool and on the ski trails. I’ve also been working on moving smoothly and with grace, rather than with explosive power.

I now feel quite good, and have learned to be active and fit again. I’m even a little grateful for this experience because I have learned enough from my physiotherapist to know how to exercise in a way that nurtures my body, and will probably age better for it. I was inspired to write this post in the hopes that some women will be able to avoid following in my footsteps. And if you are already, feel free to email me at wesleypresley1@live.com and I’ll tell you what has and hasn’t worked for me. It is also important that more fitness experts become aware of this common condition so that they can offer the appropriate cautions. A good resource on this topic can be found here.


Rhonda Martens is a philosopher who lives in Winnipeg with her husband and cat. She loves dancing and refuses to stop wearing mini skirts.

body image · Guest Post · running

Running Can Only Take Me So Far (Guest Post)

It is true that I’ve had breakthroughs on long runs. I have figured out many of the hardest problems in my life while running along the Charles River in Boston. That is where I decided to become a writer, a teacher, and a partner to the love of my life. Exercise is incredibly therapeutic, but it is not therapy. As Moira pointed out, this distinction matters, and much of the glorification of exercise as therapy comes from the stigma around actual therapy. So let me lay it on the line: I would not have made those breakthroughs without therapy. Therapy is hard, much harder than any run I’ve ever done. But it is in therapy that I’ve learned how to live a full, authentic, and deeply loving life. Running doesn’t do that.

Here’s the thing: running makes me feel great. So great, in fact, that it can (and did) act as anesthesia for a whole host of negative emotions. Whenever I questioned my self worth, it was easier to plan out my runs for the next four months in the most well color coordinated spreadsheet you can imagine. It was easier to run five tempo miles and come back exhausted than sit down and untangle the reasons why I hated myself.  When I say easier, I mean that it was actually neurologically easier for me to carve more deeply the grooves in my brain that erode my self worth. Those grooves say that my wellbeing is not and should not be a priority, and that I have no right to take up real space in my relationships or the world. That is how I felt for much of my twenties, and I thought that if I was just a little bit better (read: faster, thinner), it would be okay; I would be okay.

I loved running, and I ran myself into the ground. I was constantly injured and exhausted. In 2010 I trained for a marathon I never ran because I was overtrained and under-rested. Running was the most effective punishment ever because it felt amazing, and it never ended. I could always push myself to run more and faster. I set goals such that I was always falling short and then had more things to punish myself for. It was a beautiful, twisted, inescapable cycle.  What allowed me to escape was therapy. And yet, even now, I can’t help but be impressed by the efficiency of a punishment that feels amazing.

After a hiking trip where I came home unable to walk up stairs, I went to see a physical therapist. Not surprisingly both physically and psychologically, I had injured the same hamstring as when I was in high school and played whole varsity lacrosse games high on endorphins and took ibuprofen with most meals. The first time my PT told me I should take a week off, I laughed. Then he dared me to take a week off, and I’m not very good at backing down from a dare. PT helped me to appreciate my body and to treat myself like an athlete. I ate more protein, I stretched, I warmed up. I started having planned workouts and planned easy runs. It was revolutionary, but it was also all incredibly hard work because it meant pushing back against so much of what I’d been doing for years. I worked through those difficulties in actual therapy, curled tightly in the corner of a big purple couch trying to figure out if I was an athlete, if I looked like an athlete. If I was enough of anything.

A year ago at this time I was deciding not to complete my second stab at marathon training. I was two months in, and I felt exhausted. It was similar to the moment when I realized that I no longer had the capacity to make it through a day on a thousand calories. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel that pull, it was that I had lost the ability to ignore my body. I felt like a horrible failure for weeks.  But I also knew, because of long, awful therapy sessions, that I was listening to my body in an authentic way, and that it was telling me that the career shift, the job search, the financial stress, and the big move were plenty to deal with. Plenty. So I backed off on training, and told myself that running needed to be a release from stress instead of a way to punish myself. The line was not clear. Self care is an incredibly complex task made more so by years of creating static to block out the signals my body gives me.

I am still working on all of this hard. In therapy. I still untangle it on my runs. Last week my therapist asked if there was space for me to inhabit the body I have now. I couldn’t say yes, but I could say that I wanted for there to be, and that is a radical desire.

I am a different runner now, stronger and slower. Rusty from five months of winter and eight months of adjusting to an incredibly demanding job. My usual running route involves a thousand feet of elevation gain in two and half miles. When I get to the top of that hill, I feel amazing. My blood is pumping; my endorphins are flowing. I’m mentally writing a draft, planning class, or zoning out. Now I run with my whole self using the same physical, but entirely different psychological, muscles to make that climb. I never would have gotten to the top of that hill without therapy. And I probably never would have kept doing therapy if I didn’t have running. There was a period of time when I could run the five miles home from therapy, and I used those runs to filter through what we’d talked about and to anesthetize myself from the pain I felt. I needed anesthesia, we all do, but I also needed that growth and change even when it was painful.

Andra Hibbert is a queer writer, teacher, and runner in northern Vermont. Her fiction has been published in Five Points and Weave Magazine.



competition · health · motivation · training

How Do You Measure Your Fitness Success?

Beach with the word "success" written in the sand.What measures do you use to determine your success at becoming more fit?  How to determine whether we’re approaching our “fittest by 50” goals is one of the things Sam and I have pondered right from that first Facebook conversation that got us started on this challenge. The challenge, in case you’re a new reader, is to be the fittest we’ve ever been in our lives by the time we’re 50.

It’s not as if either of us was a varsity athlete back in our university days or anything, but we’re taking the challenge seriously.  How do we tell we’re approaching our goals?

There are all sorts of possibilities.  One way, easy for runners, is to go by race times.  This is easier for me, since I just started recording race times last year. Harder for Sam, whose 40-year old self ran 5K in 25 minutes. See her post, “Fittest by Fifty! Who’s the Competition? She Is!”  I’ve now got a baseline for my 10K. I did it in 70 minutes and 40 seconds last weekend. Aiming for under 70 minutes in my next race on April 26th.

And of course, it’s really the triathlons that I’m into.  So aside from times, there’s also distance.  I may not be able to go a lot faster, but I can go farther!  And I can do different things.  Swim-bike-run.  I’ve embraced the Olympic distance triathlon as my major fittest by 50 goal.

Time and endurance over distance are not the only measures, however.  What about resting heart rate? Lean body mass?  Strength (i.e. how much can you bench press? dead lift? squat?)?  My difficulty using these as comparisons over the course of my whole life is that I’ve not been tracking these stats for long.  I know that today I have a very low resting heart rate (59 beats per minute) and good blood pressure (I forget what it is, but my Dad took it for me when I was in Mexico and he was impressed).

I have no idea what my lean body mass is at the moment, but I do know that my clothes are fitting differently and better since I started the Precision Nutrition Lean Eating program back in January.  I have no doubt that if I keep up the workouts and follow the healthy habits, I’ll become leaner over the next few months.

I’m also stronger, though not necessarily stronger than I’ve ever been because I was very seriously obsessed with weight training as a graduate student back in the late 80s/early 90s.

I’ve started to include other measures of success, tailored to my struggles. It’s a big success for me that I am no longer obsessed with food and weight. These are huge wins, accomplished through my commitment to intuitive eating, starting in January 2013.  I was nervous that PN LE might mess with that a bit, but in fact it’s been an entirely positive complement because in effect, they promote intuitive eating (eat slowly to 80% full).  Bolstered by their nutritional habits, I feel as if I’m finally introducing the principle of “gentle nutrition” that is part of the Intuitive Eating approach recommended by Evelyn Tribole and Elise Resch. See their 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating, here.

This change in attitude and approach has had a dramatic impact on my sense of accomplishment and self-esteem.  I’m actually passionate about the physical activities I enjoy these days, and confident in the food choices I’m making, both in terms of quality and quantity.  I don’t obsess over what to eat and when. I’m much more in tune with what I need. And I’m even open to experimenting with different foods and different choices.  It’s been a positive experience and we’re just three months into it!

So for me, these kinds of measures of success figure prominently in my fittest by 50 challenge. If I can head into the next decade feeling confident, energetic, enthusiastic about what I’m doing, and motivated to push myself a bit without going overboard (see my post “On Doing Less” to understand why I’m cautious about going overboard), all without being obsessed about food, weight, and exercise, I will feel I’ve achieved a good measure of success.

Throw in respectable finishes in a couple of Olympic distance triathlons and a sub-70 minute 10K, and I will feel totally confident that, were I be able to travel back in time and challenge myself in my twenties, thirties, and early to mid forties, she’d have a tough time keeping up!

Upshot: there’s not just one measure, but many.

How do you measure your fitness success?

[photo credit: S.M.A.R.T. Fitness Training]


I don’t give a damn about wrinkly elbows! Geesh people

As the big 50 approaches, I’m getting a whole new genre of spam. “You’re getting older and worse but don’t worry we can fix it. Just hand over your credit card.”

I could get a knee lift, just like Demi Moore, Health magazine tells me in their How to Fix the 9 Worst Signs of Aging.

It’s a slide show of the usual litany of flaws that accompany aging bodies: droopy breasts, wrinkly necks, spotted hands, wimpy eyelashes, thinning hair, and sagging elbows. No need to follow the link. Nothing new except new to me, wrinkly elbows. Elbows?

Who knew that elbows could sag? I didn’t.

Who cares about sagging elbows? Not me.

Frankly, I’m not worried about any of these. You?

I even discovered a new word when I made the mistake of googling “wrinkly elbows.” See below. And don’t make my mistake.

See First thoughts on turning 50, On not growing old gracefully and Middle age bellies, body acceptance, and menopause for my views about some this aging stuff.

wenis def


racing · running

First 10K Race

Tracy after crossing the finish line at the 10K Run for Retina.  Big smile, medal, happy runner.
Tracy after crossing the finish line at the 10K Run for Retina. Big smile, medal, happy runner.

On the weekend I ran my first 10K race in London Ontario’s annual Run for Retina Research (which also has a 5K and a half marathon) and what a great time I had.  I’ve been working up to this race for months, sticking it out through the polar vortex of a winter we had.

But I hadn’t done much very recent training. Since the 13K long run more than a month ago when my left knee started giving me grief, I’ve taken it easy. I managed two slow 8Ks with the run club (hanging happily at the back with my running friend, Fatima) for the two Sundays before the race, but not without knee pain and not with a lot of other mileage each week. So I had reason to be uncertain (not exactly nervous) about how the race would go.

The weather cooperated, with some cloud cover and a warm-ish morning. It was mild enough for shorts and a light long sleeved T that I could wrap around my waist if I needed to go down to the tank top underneath. It was the first morning this season I could leave the house for a run without gloves.

The race started down in Harris Park at the Forks of the Thames (yes, our little London has a Thames, even a Covent Garden Market!). Sam was running the 5K at 9:45 and I ran into her about 10 minutes before my race began at 9:30. She too had concerns about her left knee.

Pre-race is such an exciting time. There’s always a palpable anticipation in the air and everyone is in a good mood. The half marathoners headed out at 8:30 and I would see some of them run past me a but later when they came back from the other direction and overlapped the 10K route.

I had a simple strategy and goal. Stick to the 10-1 run-walk system I’d learned and practiced in the 10K training clinic I did with the Running Room through the winter. My goal was a modest 70 minute 10K. If you’re not a runner, you can get an idea of just how modest by this: the announcer asked the people who were going to finish in 30-35 minutes to go to the front of the pack at the starting line!

I tuned to Fatima, ‘People actually finish in 30-35 minutes?!’ Seriously, that’s a good 5K time for me. These folks are twice as fast as I am. But they weren’t my competition.

I have a specific goal, which is to be able to do the 10K run of my Olympic distance triathlon in August in under 70 minutes. If I’m going to do that after swimming 1.5K and biking for 40K, I need to be able to do it by itself. Actually, the coach says I should be able to do 15K if I want to do a comfortable 10 in the triathlon.

At least 200 people crowded at the starting line, maybe more. I stayed near the back.  My timing chip would only start timing me once I crossed the inflated red arch over the start/finish line. Just seconds before the race began, I took off the long sleeved T-shirt and tied it around my waist. Good call — it got hot quickly.

After a slow start as everyone jostled for a position and before we all spread out, I found my rhythm.  I wanted to maintain a 6 minute 30-45 second/km pace for my 10s, and I didn’t pay much attention to the pace on my 1-minute walks (probably a mistake, in hindsight).

I ran with music this time, which turned out to be my undoing in the end. It kept me company, but the playlist needs refreshing. I skipped through too many songs and the music stopped just when I needed it most — in the last kilometre!

Overall, I had an energetic run at a comfortable pace.  I engaged in quite a bit of self talk to try pushing myself at times. I hate being out of breath, but I kept reminding myself that it’s not like it would kill me. And, as cliche as it is, learning to be uncomfortable will make me stronger.

The spring in my step gave way to a more labored and ambling effort at the turnaround.  Not once did I think I wouldn’t do it, I just questioned whether I would do it in under 70 minutes. My Garmin Forerunner told me that my pace had slowed in the second half. Everything I’ve ever learned about the benefits of negative splits came back to me, and I tried to pick up the pace.

The water stations didn’t help much.  I mean, I felt grateful to have the water, but I can’t run and drink. So every time I hit a water station and wanted to drink I had to walk through. I wasn’t with a crowd of people most of the time so I have no clue whether this is the same for everyone.  I found it awkward.

I have been experimenting with gels. After 20 minutes I popped a Vega sport endurance gel. I should have done the other one 20 minutes later but I opted against.

A little before the turnaround the half marathoners started to pass us. Every time one of them did, I thanked the Universe that I’d only signed up for 10K.

My legs began feeling heavy with about 2K to go (it was hard to tell because–and this is the one criticism I have this otherwise excellent race–all the markers after the turnaround gave the half marathon distances, not the 10K distances).  My mind started telling me the time didn’t matter that much.  I recalled a study that said the mind bails out long before the body needs to.  That helped me push a bit harder.

If I really pushed the last 1.5K, my watch said, I would make it in about 70 minutes.  But that would mean going all out for longer than I ever had before.  Then the music stopped.  It was a toss up. I could forget the music but I worried that it would slow my pace.  So I slowed to a walk, fiddled with the iPhone to get the music going again, and hoofed it as fast as I could through the final stretch.

Time: 70 minutes and 40 seconds. The 40 seconds longer than my goal was just about the time I spent messing around with my music. Silly, silly.  Next time I’ll be better prepared. Ideally, I should probably just leave the music alone altogether. I train without it most of the time anyway.

I met Sam at the finish line. She made her 5K but her knee had a rough time.  The sun came out. Fatima finished not far behind me despite her back pain. Our friend, Azar, who’d done the 5K, found us. We took a few photos.  Everyone felt good about their race.

What I’ll do differently next time:

1. Take my water belt. The bottles are easier to drink from than paper cups, and I can time my own water to coincide with my walk breaks rather than having to slow down at the water stations.

2. Run without music or have an extra long playlist with very zippy music the entire time. No ballads.

3. If I’m running with music and the playlist ends, keep going without it!

4. Do some hill training and more interval training to build speed and stamina (as well as comfort instead of dread on hills).

5.  Run the 10K in under 70 minutes. I know I can.

Next up: the Cambridge Triathlon (750m swim, 30km bike, 6km run), Sunday, June 15th.

P.S. No knee pain!




family · sports nutrition

On counting almonds, searching for Devil’s Claw, and remembering Avis

My mother-in-law died recently (see Rough times, tough choices for the background) and I’m spending lots of time thinking about her. We were pretty close, counter almost all the stereotypes of mother and daughter-in-law relationships.

Maybe it helps that I was friends first with her daughter–we were grade nine home economics partners–and so she’s been in my life for a very long while. (And yes, I married the annoying older brother. That’s a longer story for another time.)

Almost every time through the years when she would visit us she’d be on some oddball, stringent diet prescribed by this or that natural healer or written up in this or that life changing book, so it’s natural too that I think of her in the context of this blog. She was a feminist, concerned about health and wellness, spirituality and the good life, a searcher and a seeker, and we always had lots to talk about. I think she liked having a philosopher in the family.

Now my tolerance for alternative spirituality and medicine isn’t what it could be. I’m a philosopher who is all about logic, arguments, and reasons. Skepticism and science rule my world. In the Storm poem, see below, I’m with Tim Minchin all the way.

As you might imagine we usually disagreed about the underlying reasons for this diet or that restriction, but since mostly all of her diets involved eating lots of fresh fruit and vegetables we got along just fine at mealtime. She easily fit into our vegetarian family. We did gluten free when she visited but she died before trying the Paleo diet, at least at our house.

I would complain to friends about having to hear the theory behind these various diets and how each one made her feel “better than she’d ever felt in her whole life.” But as long as we stayed away from the reasons, we did okay. (Kind of like me and Waldorf School. When my kids went there I loved what they did and I learned just not to ask why they did it. Wonderful educational practise, bad metaphysics.)

“Must have Devil’s Claw.” I say that in Avis’s voice whenever I hear mention of Devil’s Claw because of a recent visit in which the purchasing of this dried herb was the first stop on her visit.


Many of her diets involved a precision that alarmed me. Last time I stayed with her it was 6 almonds for breakfast. Just six? Not eight?

“Life is too short to count almonds, ” I declared. I don’t mind tracking and eyeballing portion sizes but counting almonds has always seemed over the top to me.

But this infographic made me smile, Snake Oil Supplements?

It pictures the scientific evidence for popular health supplements. It’s very much worth having a look. See, dark chocolate. Told you.

Using bubbles that reflect the amount of evidence available for a particular supplement, ones that rise above the line show tangible human health benefits when taken orally by an adult with a healthy diet.

And look! There’s Devil’s Claw. Avis might have been right after all. Miss you so much, wacky diets and all.

athletes · body image · weight lifting

Big, bigger, and biggest: Three thoughts on living large

close up shot of weights on a barbell

Thought 1: Heavy lifting won’t make women big

See Can lifting heavy weights make you bulky? Not if you’re a woman

“We combine personal experience, three expert opinions, and a healthy dose of scientific research to explain why most women simply won’t get bulky from lifting weights.”

Thought 2: What’s wrong with being big anyway?

From Fit Villains,  http://fitvillains.tumblr.com/post/81725398587/no-you-wont-get-big-because-big-is-bad (I’ve excerpted a bit below but worth going and reading the whole thing.)

“No, you won’t get big!” (Because big is bad, right?)

“It won’t make you bulky!” (Because to be bulky is to break the rules of femininity, didn’t ya know)

“You won’t look like this (insert image of female body builder). You’ll look like this (insert image of crazy toned fitness model)” (because there are only good and bad bodies. Anything that doesn’t look like the model is bad, ya heard.)

“You’ll get lean, sexy muscle!” (because all other muscle is unsexy, and you only want the sexy. It’s all about being fuckable )

“You won’t look like a man” (because the WORST thing you can do as a woman is potentially confuse 2-3 stupid people about your gender. Peeps need their boxes & labels, or else…uh, chaos?).

Heard any of these phrases before?If not, you may have been living in a bubble, lol. At least, in fitness. But while they are common (and kinda true, at least in terms of women not being equipped for fast, large amounts of muscle gain), I’d argue that they do little to actually address the major concern of women who are scared about weight lifting. Because it isn’t actually about the muscle.”

See also Do girls get a bulking season? Silly question and Big women and strength.

Thought 3: They’re talking about muscles, any muscles, not “big at all.”

From a frequent commentator on our blog and Facebook page, Kimberly Van Orman,

The problem with articles like this, is there is a failure of definition. People talking about this don’t have a shared understanding of ‘bulky.’

For those of us who don’t believe in women can easily get bulky, we are referring to hypertrophy or something like gaining a significant amount of body weight in muscle (gaining muscle mass). We’re talking physiology.

But in the people who don’t like “bulk,” or who fear it, they tend to mean any visible signs of it. Any amount of recomposition or change of body shape at all is unacceptable to them. They’re talking aesthetics.

This is less a failure of women (and men) to understand physiology and more of social pressure. Many women have internalized the social pressure that the right kind of woman is petite. She doesn’t take up space because that’s masculine. To be feminine is to be small, and any threat to one’s size is a threat to one’s femininity.

I’ve been around online fitness communities for a few decades now. Discussions of “women don’t bulk” are great for those of us who get the science and value strength over a particular aesthetic view, but I’ve found that they do little to change anyone’s position, because we’re having different discussions.”

She might be right. See See How My Jacket Convinced Women to Try Weight Lifting by

“My co-worker Michael came into my office and said, “You’re going to want to put on your jacket for this one.” It was a sunny afternoon in Los Angeles, and as one of the head coaches at CrossFit LA, it was part of my job to meet with prospective students and conduct an introductory session. Despite the fact that it was warm out, Michael felt I ought to wear my jacket. Michael suggested my jacket because he figured I would scare off the prospect otherwise. You see, as it turns out, the state of your womanhood is directly related to the size of your biceps. At least that’s what I’ve discovered. Or rather, I’ve discovered that’s what other people decide when they meet me. And I know I’m not the only one dealing with this issue. In fact, it’s only called an “issue” because women at all locations on the masculine-feminine spectrum are struggling to identify themselves and muscle size seems to be one criterion.”


Guest Post

I can’t fight genetics? (Guest post)

I have done a lot to learn to love the lumpy, mushy and ample body I have. About 15 years ago a doctor had warned me that, given my family history, I needed to do everything I could to manage my blood pressure. I took that information to heart and had adopted a primarily plant-based diet, restricted red meat to one a week, cooked with olive oil and started eating whole grains.

The shift in my eating habits over the years has been remarkable. Cooking from scratch and using dried instead of canned foods ensures I have a low sodium diet. I stay away from dairy, it no longer tastes good to me.

I took a functional fitness approach to my workouts. I got away from the military styled training I was used to and strived to walk and lift heavy things. I started doing yoga to support my flexibility and learn to trigger a relation response. I also find stretching fun and do it all the time when I feel stressed.

I found meditation helpful. Most recently I’ve adopted a Buddhist practice of chanting that instantly relaxes me. I garden, walk to work, cuddle with my dogs and kids all in an effort to slow down my A type personality and live a long healthy life.

My biggest challenge was three years ago when my family doctor informed me that I would be getting a prescription for blood pressure medication for my 40th birthday. I was so angry. I felt betrayed by my body. He quipped that I couldn’t fight genetics. It was the same year I had done my first mini sprint triathlon with my sister.


I’m wearing number 480 and having a lot of fun!

My resting heart rate was below 60 beats per minute in the morning and at the doctor’s office was 75. He believed me that I worked out but was skeptical of the quality of my diet. Here’s the thing though, I do love food. So while I eat all the right things I eat way more than I need to. At my appointment on April 2 this year I had surpassed my previous weight and now sit at 268 lbs. Holy crap.

Sitting getting my blood pressure done I was in tears. I had stopped weighing myself as it was the one thing I could not directly influence, I had focused on steps taken, resting heart rate and new activities.


My average blood pressure was 158 over 118. I was devastated. I felt I was smarter than my genetics and even with over eating I should still be healthy. My doctor asked what my weakness was for my health and I agreed it was the volume of what I ate. He suggested gastric bypass surgery. My jaw dropped and I climbed backwards out of my chair. Gastric bypass?

In Ontario this surgery is covered by the ministry of health through the Ontario Bariatric Network. It is a highly invasive procedure and one at odds with my own low intervention principles.

I booked an appointment with my psychologist to work through all the feelings I’m having about this. I know it is only by putting all on the cards on the table will I live the long and active life I want for myself. I happen to think I’m pretty delightful so I’d like to be alive as long as possible.

My psychologist put it very bluntly, I was in denial of the severity of my over eating. I’m leery of using the term addiction around food (it is not like I can abstain from eating). As an atheist who believes in my own empowerment I struggle with 12 step programs that rely on surrender to a higher power. I’m reading “When the Body Says No” by Gabor Maté and referring to Tracy’s information about Intuitive Eating.

My partner and I talked about how I used food to sooth myself. He did not, as my friend said, co-sign on my denial bullcrap. I am fortunate that my entire family is onboard with making even more changes to our lifestyle. I don’t have all the answers yet, as I draft this post it’s only been seven days of being a hot mess.

I am grateful for a feminist community who help me frame my wellness in ways that are meaningful to me. My friends who have shared their diverse experiences of medication, overeaters anonymous and gastric bypass. I’m thankful to everyone who takes the time to see how I’m doing, to be part of the rich network of support. I’m thankful I went to see my doctor and my psychologist.

Maybe I can’t fight my genetics and will need to deploy every intervention available but I sure am going to give it a try.

Given the readership this may go without saying: please be gentle in your comments below. I’m feeling quite raw about this but I also think by sharing honestly where I’m at I help inform how we frame fitness/wellness.