Hold my calls, CrossFit, but I’ll be back!

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Since my knee injury I’ve been reluctant to continue at CrossFit. It’s not them, it’s me.

The coaches at CrossFit are very good at modifying workouts to accommodate athletes’ particular injuries, abilities, and limitations.

But me? I’ve been told by a physiotherapist to stop the minute my knee hurts. I’m not sure that in the competitive CrossFit environment I’d be able to listen to my body in quite the way I need to. As many reps as possible? Sure. But then ouch? Not so sure I’d stop as needed.

Definitely no box jumps for me!

So I’m taking the summer off in hopes I’ll be well enough to go back in September. This will give me more time to focus on Aikido and cycling, neither of which seem to hurt my knee. I’ve had an x-ray, working with a physio, and an MRI is scheduled. Fingers crossed I can get back to running, CrossFit, and soccer soon.

If I’m not better in September my injured knee and me will report back to CrossFit London and learn to cope.

I’m missing you CrossFit! Even the burpees….but for the summer, I’ll be out on the road, keeping my injured knee happy.

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In defense of (some) white foods (some of the time)

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Photo of two things I love, baguettes and bikes, from the blog Lovely Objects.

I’ve been thinking about white bread this week in Spain. It’s a local staple. And as a vegetarian I’m relying on it more than I usually do for daily sustenance. Aside from wishing for more choice, it’s not all bad.

While there is nothing I like better (in the bread department) than thick dark bread, milled with nuts and seeds (maybe even some fruit too), I know that not everyone feels the same way. I’m a parent and so I know that most kids, mine included, prefer the white stuff. Sometimes I like it too.

I know for sure I did as I kid. I even wrote a piece about it for Philosophers on Holiday (back when they were a printed zine, mailed to your home or office ) called “Ode to Hotel Toast.”

When I was a kid I only encountered commercially prepared white bread in hotels, though I didn’t know that. I just thought hotels made exceptionally good toast. The piece talks about Wonder bread, and how someone I know from Newfoundland called it “fog bread.” All fluff, no substance. “But it makes a right good piece of toast.”

In recent years, those who aspire to healthy eating turned away from white bread as part of our anti carb, healthy lifestyles. Between the paleo people and the low carbers more generally, it can feel like you might as well just eat spoonfuls of sugar out of the jar as pick up a slice of white bread.

There are even no white food diets.

I’ve had my doubts. The French don’t get fat. (National stereotype, I know. They also don’t eat much and they smoke.) Look at those lovely crusty white baguettes and croissants they eat everyday. My kids loved to eat with the French family next door. “They don’t have to eat whole wheat bread,” they reported back.

These days I eat all kinds of bread but often I’ve felt guilty about the white stuff.

So I was happy to read this month that there are some health benefits to white bread

See White bread good for gut bacteria.

“When people try to eat healthier, they usually skip the white bread and go for whole grains. Yet it seems as if white bread may not be as bad for you as once thought. Scientists have found that white bread actually encourages the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, which could mean that choosing this type of bread isn’t completely unhealthy.”

That’s bread. But what about rice?

“Somewhere along the line, a terrible rumor began: White rice is bad, and brown rice is good. We’re not sure who started it, but Ryan Andrews, R.D., director of education for Precision Nutrition, is here to explain the confusion.”

See Is brown rice really the healthiest?

And then there’s the arsenic problem. See The New York Times, The Trouble with Rice. It turns out that there are high levels of arsenic in rice, ten times higher in brown rice than white.

Can’t we be white bread/white rice moderates? No food is evil, after all, not even white bread.

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Manning Up to Stage Race (Guest Post)

I recently participated in a 7-day, 220+ mile mountain bike stage race in the heart of Pennsylvania. It’s called the “Transylvania Epic” (TSE): epic because it’s rugged, rocky, and boasts almost 27,000’ of climbing for the week; Transylvania because you get to meet a few vampires and along the route, and Dracula himself may occasionally hand you up a beer.

Rachel and Leslie vmpire teeth

The week is hard, intense, and a lot of fun. I wrote a stage-by-stage report of the race here. But that was preaching to the choir. A more interesting question is: what are the benefits of doing a stage race at all?

The same could be asked of any extended endurance race. It isn’t obviously better for your health to train for and complete an event that breaks down your body brutally and repeatedly; in fact, some studies indicate that prolonged endurance training has deleterious health effects. It also isn’t obviously better psychologically to place yourself in a situation, as I did, where you are competing mainly with professional athletes you’ll probably never come close to even on your best day. So what are the incentives?

One thing is definitely challenge. Everyone has a different perspective on challenge, of course, but the TSE is something almost nobody could just show up and do. It requires a comfort level with mountain biking that may take years to develop, and it requires enough training to allow your body to tolerate back-to-back hard efforts. Because completion of this event is a little elusive, it is something to cherish, a physical triumph you can look back on with pride. This is probably all the more so if you complete these events as you get older and still kick some ass.

That’s all true, but for me there is another prize from stage racing: I get to treat my body as a specimen and a machine. And I love that.

Like many women, I have not always had an easy relationship with my body. I’ve spent a lot of time—far too much time—criticizing it, despairing over it, feeding it chaotically, depriving it, and generally neither cherishing nor rewarding it. My relationship with my body is not bad now, but I still find something satisfying in being literally forced to listen to and place the needs of my body first.

For example, there have been some posts here on workout fashion. I like the topic and read the posts with interests, but for stage racing it is not much of an issue. At very least by stages 3 or 4, I guarantee you will not wear a clothing item for any purpose other than function. You will avoid anything peripheral and you simply will not care if one jersey looks better on you than other: you will choose the one that best allows comfort and performance (at least provided it isn’t too stinky).

TSE kits

Then there is food. Before doing the TSE, my friend/coach recommended I try to consume 700 calories an hour during the races and also eat a decent size meal straight afterwards (followed, sometimes quite soon afterwards, by dinner). I wasn’t going to be able to do 700, but I aimed for 500, which is more than double what I usually consume per hour on a training ride. This meant careful calculation of drink mix and energy foods, and literal force-feeding when the race was done. That sounds unpleasant, and in some ways it definitely was, but it was also extremely interesting for me to be in the position of not being able to consume enough. Especially when my post-race meal was mac’ and cheese. I’m what they call a hearty eater, and the challenge has always been knowing when and how to stop. Finding that I needed to eat more (for performance) than I could manage was an unusual feeling. I found that I didn’t really like it: it made me feel weak and less powerful than optimal. This led me to appreciate, once again, that my body needs to be fueled, and sometimes it requires a whole lot of fuel to work well.

Finally, stage racing lends an overwhelming simplicity to life. Your focus is on riding and then how best to recover from riding, which mainly involves eating and resting. There is little additional drama. Nobody cares about your hair, your clothes, or the rapidly growing stubble on your legs. You generally do what is the most comfortable and productive for yourself, all week. In short, if you weren’t already, you get to be a man. By which I mean a stereotypically laid back, self-centered and unselfconscious man. Whether or not that person actually exists, you get to occupy his psyche. And it certainly is an agreeable place to hang out, at least for a while.

Endurance racing trims down some of the emotionally draining anxieties of life because your focus is on fighting physical depletion. I’ve found that other multi-day athletic events such as bike tours and backpacking trips bring a similar freedom. But for me racing is a little purer, because the exertion is that much greater. I still can’t really say whether it’s actually good for you. But I think the perspectives you’re forced into are valuable. And it certainly is addictive!

Addendum: we recently had a piece here on randonneurs and sleep deprivation. This isn’t quite that. The more sleep you can get during the TSE, the better! It is another way to nurture your body into giving its best performance. I have friends who enjoy 100 mile mountain bike races, and have not been tempted. Six or maybe seven hours is as long as I like to spend on a bike. But perhaps I should try it. Is everything I love about stage racing simply intensified by more and more hours of exertion?

Rachel is a plaintiffs’ class action lawyer in Boston, MA. She was formerly a philosophy professor, and likes to think she remains a philosophical thinker. She rides all sorts of bicycles, but her first love is mountain biking and she races regularly at the amateur level. She is also leader of Team LUNA Chix Boston Mountain Bike, which leads bike rides for women in the Boston area.

TSE finishers plaque

Bike Rally landmarks

I did it! Thanks to the generosity of the blog’s readers, Facebook community, friends, colleagues, and family I successfully raised, indeed overshot, the Friends for Life Bike Rally minimum fundraising goal of $2500. I donated $280 myself and we’re well on the way to $3000 for an excellent cause.You should still attend our fundraiser though. The midnight screening of Rocky Horror Picture Show is not to be missed. And it will help the younger team members—who probably don’t have blogs and/or employed friends–to reach their fundraising goals.

Next up is the double metric century benchmark. Before July 7 we need to each ride 100 km, two days,back to back. I’ll be doing that on my cycling holiday with my partner. We’re riding around Manitoulin Island from B & B to B &B. He doesn’t know about the double century bit. I’ll spring it on him when we’re there. Nothing says romantic holiday quite like mileage commitments on the bike. (Joke. We do lots of riding together!)

After that I’ve got my 200 km Randonneur ride with Dave and David. It’s in Halton. It’s hilly and I think it will be a long day. (Though nothing like the kind of distances Dave usually does.)

Then a week of rest and gentle riding and the Bike Rally begins. I’ll be sure to post lots of pictures along the way, especially on Red Dress day. I have my red dress picked out, which I’ll wear with bike shorts underneath of course.

Once back from the rally, it’s my plan to switch from training for distance to training for speed as I get ready for the Halton Gran Fondo. Whee!

Confidence Is a Feminist Issue

I had a great post all written on why confidence is a feminist issue, and then I did one of those things where I deleted the entire flipping thing and couldn’t get it back. I am afraid that I don’t have it in me to write the same again, so I’ll just give some of the highlights.

I’ve been reading and thinking about confidence lately in relation to my sport performance. Especially I’m aware that I convince myself of all sorts of negative things — I’m slow, I’ll always be last on the bike, I’ll never get any better…etc.

Confidence is a feminist issue because, as it turns out, there is a confidence gap.  Men are way more confident than women in all sorts of ways, and in a world where confidence takes people further than competence, that cashes out into all sorts of systemic advantages for men.

An article, “The Confidence Gap,” appeared in The Atlantic Monthly back in April. The authors point out that:

there is a particular crisis for women—a vast confidence gap that separates the sexes. Compared with men, women don’t consider themselves as ready for promotions, they predict they’ll do worse on tests, and they generally underestimate their abilities. This disparity stems from factors ranging from upbringing to biology.

A growing body of evidence shows just how devastating this lack of confidence can be. Success, it turns out, correlates just as closely with confidence as it does with competence. No wonder that women, despite all our progress, are still woefully underrepresented at the highest levels. All of that is the bad news. The good news is that with work, confidence can be acquired. Which means that the confidence gap, in turn, can be closed.

So the bad news is, women haven’t got as much confidence as men and that has a negative impact on where women get to in life. The good news is that there are things that can change this.

But it’s not so simple as it might seem. Men gain status by being overconfident. But women who are overconfident aren’t perceived in as positive a light. They are more likely to be thought badly of:

Which is why any discussion of this subject requires a major caveat. Yes, women suffer consequences for their lack of confidence—but when they do behave assertively, they may suffer a whole other set of consequences, ones that men don’t typically experience. Attitudes toward women are changing, and for the better, but a host of troubling research shows that they can still pay a heavier social and even professional penalty than men do for acting in a way that’s seen as aggressive. If a woman walks into her boss’s office with unsolicited opinions, speaks up first at meetings, or gives business advice above her pay grade, she risks being disliked or even—let’s be blunt—being labeled a bitch. The more a woman succeeds, the worse the vitriol seems to get. It’s not just her competence that’s called into question; it’s her very character.

But what about in sport performance? And what about confidence as that internal resource, not necessarily external bravado, that says, “I can do this”?

The Atlantic article says that participation in sport alone has a positive impact on confidence.  But girls tend to drop out of sports in high school:

Studies evaluating the impact of the 1972 Title IX legislation, which made it illegal for public schools to spend more on boys’ athletics than on girls’, have found that girls who play team sports are more likely to graduate from college, find a job, and be employed in male-dominated industries. There’s even a direct link between playing sports in high school and earning a bigger salary as an adult. Learning to own victory and survive defeat in sports is apparently good training for owning triumphs and surviving setbacks at work. And yet, despite Title IX, fewer girls than boys participate in athletics, and many who do quit early. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, girls are still six times as likely as boys to drop off sports teams, with the steepest decline in participation coming during adolescence. This is probably because girls suffer a larger decrease in self-esteem during that time than do boys.

What a vicious circle: girls lose confidence, so they quit competing, thereby depriving themselves of one of the best ways to regain it.

It makes me wonder whether, had I had a different experience in sports as a girl, I might just be a more confident athlete today (and more confident in general, but right now my self-perception as a slow poke is the thing that is holding me back the most).

According to this article, confidence is one of the four Cs of good sport performance. The others are commitment, control, and concentration.  The author says of confidence:

Confidence is a positive state of mind and a belief that you can meet the challenge ahead – a feeling of being in control. It is not the situation that directly affects confidence; thoughts, assumptions and expectations can build or destroy confidence.

High self confidence

  • Thoughts – positive thoughts of success
  • Feelings – excited, anticipation, calm, elation, prepared
  • Focus – on self, on the task
  • Behaviour – give maximum effort and commitment, willing to take chances, positive reaction to set backs, open to learning, take responsibility for outcomes

Low self confidence

  • Thoughts – negative, defeat or failure, doubt
  • Feelings – tense, dread, fear. not wanting to take part
  • Focus – on others, on less relevant factors (coach, umpire, conditions)
  • Behaviour – lack of effort, likely to give up, unwilling to take risks (rather play safe), blame others or conditions for outcome

So it’s something I can work on. Meanwhile, I’m encouraged by Amy Cuddy’s research on power-posing, discussed by Sam on the blog way back in 2012.  See her post “Power Poses, Feminism, and Taking Up Space.”  There she talks about the results of Cuddy’s research that show that you can develop and exude confidence with a few minutes of power posing when you most need it. I myself find the wonder woman pose really helps when I’m feeling insecure about how I’m about to perform. But I haven’t yet applied it much with respect to sports performance.

That is something for this summer. I’ll report back about how it’s going. If you hear me complaining that I’m too slow or whining that I’m never going to get faster, feel free to call me out on it.

Meanwhile, for those who missed it the first time, here’s Amy Cuddy on power-posing.

 

 

Sleep is my superpower!

summer sunset over water

I was at a conference in California last week and I’m at another in Spain this week. Lots of work travel in the summer, non undergraduate teaching months. (Not teaching free though. I do a lot of graduate thesis supervision in the summer.) I’ve written about academic conference travel here.

Over coffee in California there was much complaining about jet lag. I’m not immune. But it rarely results in me getting less sleep. I slept on the plane on the way to LA and I got a good night’s sleep my first night there. I joked that sleep was my super power.

Tracy blogged about the Lean Eating habit of setting a sleep ritual here, That ever elusive good night’s sleep! and about her struggles settling into bed in time. She used to be a “good sleeper” too, pre-menopause so I know what I have might not last.

I’m lucky about sleep. I know that.

I once shared a room with a senior, feminist philosopher, back when I was an untenured beginner. Come night time I brushed my teeth, put on pj’s, and turned out my light.

She said, “That’s it?”

Turns out she had a complicated pre sleep ritual that involved meditation, yoga, reading and often all for naught. Sleep eluded her many nights.

At the time I had young children and l had learned to sleep whenever the opportunity arose: trains, planes, my office if need be.

So far my excellent ability to sleep anywhere, anytime has stuck with me. My partner reports that I fall asleep within minutes of my head hitting the pillow and saying goodnight.

Do I do anything special about sleep? Not really. It helps, I think, that I rarely watch TV or use computers after dinner. I rarely even open my laptop in the evening. I do use my phone but my phone also runs an app called twilight that starts blocking blue light as day runs down. I like my room dark dark dark. Ideally, I like a cold room with lots of blankets. There’s never been a television in our room and if the watching of series on phones, tablets, whatever happens, it’s after I’m asleep, with headphones.

Right now we’re in the one season I find challenging for sleep. Early summer means long summer evenings. Biking until after nine at night! Wide awake teenagers prowling the hallways.

Luckily it’s also the season that’s most forgiving in terms of work schedule. So summer naps are definitely a thing.

It takes all kinds: Riding with people who are fitter, faster, slower, smaller, bigger, stronger

frogsI think this year might be the year when I’ve ridden with people with the widest range of cycling background, speed, and ability. One day, I’m first up the hill. (Yes, me! First up a hill. I would have won the chocolate frog if this were Australia and there was a novice training ride leader giving out chocolate frogs at the top of the hill. I miss chocolate frogs.)  The next, I’m the one everyone is waiting for.

I recommend riding with other people. You learn a lot. You should always ride with the fastest people willing to have you along. And to pay it back, you should be willing to ride with beginning cyclists some of the time. People come in lots of different speeds and sizes. Get to know them all.

For more on this theme, read Things you learn from working out with others.

So from the point of view of being the fastest and the slowest, here’s some advice on riding well with the others:

Dear slower riders: If people up ahead are waiting for you, look like you are working hard to catch up. What does this mean? Don’t sit up, head into the wind, pedaling slowly. It should be apparent to the people who are coasting ahead of you, or soft pedaling patiently, that you are putting effort into closing the gap. Assume an aggressive posture, pedal fast, and try to bridge the distance between you and them. It’s okay to fake it a little bit so you don’t arrive on the back of the group so toasted you can’t keep up again. The main thing is to look like you’re trying to go fast.

Also, draft! The easiest way for faster and slower riders to ride together is for the slower riders to draft. Not drafting means the speed gap between you and your fast friend just got even wider. If you are drafting and you feel good, don’t get all frisky and come out from behind and blast by the lead rider. That’s rude as they’ve been moderating their speed for you. You don’t want to play a “see who can go faster” game with friends who are clearly faster than you. Also, if you feel yourself losing the draft, dropping off the back, let the person know. “Ease up,” works well in that context.

Dear faster riders: When the person catches up and gasps “I’m on” or “Here” don’t blast off at the same pace that resulted them being dropped in the first place. You’ve been resting, chatting, recovering and they’ve been working hard, see above. The slower person winded and the faster people rested isn’t usually the best combination. Though you’re happy we can start riding again, get back to speed gradually. Stop worrying that your Garmin isn’t stopped while you’re waiting and that lollygagging around waiting is counting towards your average speed for the ride. Relax and enjoy the ride.

Also, when slower riders are drafting, keep an eye on them, and moderate your speed as needed.

Some advice for faster downhill riders who like to assume an aero position, like pedaling in a big gear, and love blasting down hills (okay, that’s me): Get to the front of the group early. Don’t zoom by all the other riders and frighten new people. It’s hard to hear cars behind you when you’re whistling down the hill. Best to be as far right (or left, depending on where you live) as possible.

Some advice for slower downhill riders: If you’re at the front, pedal. No one wants to be braking behind you.

Uphill for everyone: If you’re going to weave around to avoid stopping and unclipping, shoulder check. For God’s sake, shoulder check. If you’re going to switch to standing and there are people right behind you, be sure to shift to a harder gear before you stand.

Here’s the drill on why:

Remember that if you are in a group, you need to consciously protect those behind you when you stand to climb. How you stand on a hill is very important – do it wrong and the guy behind might suddenly be on the pavement. The issue is the brief deceleration that can occur as you change from sitting to standing incorrectly, which, relative to other riders has the effect of sending your bike backwards and can cause the following rider’s front wheel to hit your rear wheel.

On short, rolling hills, the trick is to click to the next higher gear (smaller cog), then stand and pedal over the top with a slightly slower cadence. This keeps quads from loading up with lactate because it helps you pedal with body weight. In fact, it can actually feel like you’re stretching and refreshing your legs.

The correct way to stand:

  • It is good etiquette to announce “Standing!” a couple of pedal strokes before you do so.
  • Stand smoothly as one foot begins its downward power stroke – don’t lunge, keep your effort constant.
  • As you come off the saddle, push your hands forward a bit. This helps to ensure that the bike won’t lose ground.
  • When returning to the saddle, continue pedaling evenly and again push your hands forward to counteract any tendency to decelerate. This will gain several inches and put the seat right under you.

You can practice your technique with a friend during a training ride. They can ride behind and let you know when you’ve got the hang to it. That’s when the gap between their front wheel and your rear wheel doesn’t narrow each time you stand or sit.”

from Hills/Climbing Tips

Our speeds, experience, and backgrounds vary a lot. I loved this article on how Tour de France cyclists differ from the average club level riding/racing enthusiast. Check out those speeds uphill.

But I love the idea that at least some of the time we can all ride together.