Today was our team’s day to sweep. The sweep cyclists ride behind the slowest rider and serve as a marker to the bike rally support vehicles that there are no riders behind us. The actual responsibility just falls on the team’s co-captains (they wear the funky helmet decorations) but we decided it would be nicer and more social to do it together.
Our team co-captain thought that we shouldn’t pressure the slower riders. It would be best if they didn’t even know we were there. People feel bad about being swept. Instead, we decided to wait for quite awhile before we left in the morning. We set our pace at 20 km/hr and set off.
Within the first half hour it started pouring rain. And it didn’t let up.
At the morning break we were soaking wet and shivering cold. Rally organizers stuck us in heated vans so we could warm up. Again, we waited for the last rider to leave.
Luckily the rain did the active part of the sweeping job for us. No one wants to ride slowly in the rain. We got to the lunch stop on the Thousand Islands in pretty good time.
It was an interesting exercise in patience for me. While I like to ride slow and fast, this was slow enough I found myself braking. My heart rate didn’t go over 100 for awhile. I think it was a solid zone 1 day.
While I can’t say I enjoyed the rain, the time to chat with people and get to know team members better was pretty nice. The scenery was also pretty spectacular and it was good to have time to appreciate it. Thanks Jen for the hand signal for scenic vista. I loved the ride along the Thousand Islands Parkway.
This week a post showed up that showed how the same data could show that running is good for you and that too much of it may shorten your life. Here. The author, Alex Hutchinson, points to a study making the rounds in the media. It says that even 5 minutes of running a day can reduce the risk of cardio-vascular disease-related death.
Two years ago, the same data-set was presented with a very different message: “that running more than about 20 miles a week would actually negate any health benefits associated with running.”
Here’s my question: how many people would change their behavior based on the media reports of this study? And if anyone would, are there good grounds for doing so?
I’m all for science. I’m an academic, after all, so research matters to me. But today I need a lot more than one study before I’m going to change a single thing about what I do.
I wasn’t always this way. My saddest story is about the time, as a graduate student, I actually stopped swimming because I read in Shape magazine that it created a layer of fat. Readers of the blog will know that I love swimming. But I didn’t really have a smart sense then of how to respond to the latest findings about things.
The fact is, one study does not a solid finding make. So when I read anything these days about how this or that will lengthen your life or shorten your life, I’m just not all that moved. I need to know that there is a large body of solid evidence behind the claim. Multiple studies published in reputable journals.
For example, I’m totally sold on the negative health impact of smoking.
They said that fast food executives were turning fat profits by making us fat, so I stopped eating fast food.
They said that killing animals was wrong, so I became a vegetarian.
They said that fertilizer run-off from industrial farming is killing the Gulf of Mexico, the pesticides are killing honeybees, so I started only eating organic.
They said that shipped food is too carbon intensive and not as fresh, so I started eating only local, in-season food.
They said that it was wrong to punish a cow by milking it twice a day, or to steal a chicken’s eggs, so I became a vegan.
They said that the paleo diet would restore my body and make my teeth healthy, so I stopped eating anything cultivated.
They said that cooking food destroys its nutrients, so I starting eating only raw food.
They said that following a macrobiotic regimen would prevent cancer, so I followed it.
They said that I should follow a zero-waste diet, so I stopped buying anything with packaging.
And when I showed up at the farmers market in December with my reusable bag looking for local, certified-organic, vegan, unprocessed, uncooked, uncultivated, whole foods, without packaging, that would fit into my macrobiotic diet, I realized that the best thing for the planet, the animals, and my health would be to just stop eating altogether.
What I like about this is that it shows what can happen if we follow everything “they” say.
This week, the nutrition program I’m doing (that I’ve decided to stop naming because I feel as if they get enough publicity) is asking us to experiment for one day with the Paleo diet. I’m experiencing serious resistance to this experiment. Why? Because I think of Paleo as a fad diet, just another spin on high protein low carb. And also, almost all of my vegan protein sources other than nuts and seeds are off limits. And finally, from what I’ve read, the science just doesn’t measure up.
So why experiment with an approach to eating that I know I will never adopt? Just because “they” say it’s a great way to eat?
I’m not a scientist, so at some level I do have to rely on the expertise of others. Over the years I have learned to be cautious about embracing the latest reports and following the trends. I’m not a big fan of doing things because “they” say I should be doing them.
What about you? How do you respond to news reports about eating, health, and fitness that might suggest you’re not doing something you should be or you are doing something that you should avoid?
Forget the “thigh gap,” one of this summer’s new hot, new body parts is found on men. Men with a very low percent body fat, that is. The rest of you have it but we can’t see it. It’s not a body part you train, a muscle you work to get bigger, instead it’s a ligament you reveal through thinness.
How weird is that? For men, that is. I blogged here about men and body comfort and my fear that men and women now both face considerable pressure to conform to a certain body type and size. The days when men could care or not care without paying a price are over.
Along with the “under bum” and “hipster” and the “upper crop top abdomen” for the women, there’s the “inguinal crease” to aspire to for the men.
“Popeye biceps and Chippendale pecs are so very over. The trophy body part for the 2014 male is the inguinal crease: the v-shaped dip between the waist and groin. This is nothing new – Michelangelo’s David had it going on – but after a slow buildup (think D’Angelo, and Brad Pitt in Fight Club, and David Gandy modelling Dolce & Gabbana), this year they are everywhere. (See: David Beckham’s underwear adverts.) What’s interesting is that this is not a muscle, but a ligament – in other words, to expose it requires not building muscle, but losing fat. Men’s Health magazine reports that for an optimal inguinal crease, you need to get down to between 5% and 8% body fat. The inguinal crease craze is, in other words, the size zero scandal reinvented for men.”
See Men’s Health, Building a Bigger Action Hero: “A mere six-pack doesn’t cut it in Hollywood anymore. Today’s male stars need 5 percent body fat, massive pecs, and the much-coveted inguinal crease – regardless of what it takes to get there. ”
“For much of Hollywood history, only women’s bodies were objectified to such absurd degrees. Now objectification makes no gender distinctions: Male actors’ bare asses are more likely to be shot in sex scenes; their vacation guts and poolside man boobs are as likely to command a sneering full-page photo in a celebrity weekly’s worst-bodies feature, or go viral as a source of Web ridicule. A sharply defined inguinal crease – the twin ligaments hovering above the hips that point toward a man’s junk – is as coveted as double-D cleavage. Muscle matters more than ever, as comic-book franchises swallow up the box office, in the increasingly critical global market. (Hot bodies and explosions don’t need subtitles.) Thor-like biceps and Captain America pecs are simply a job requirement; even “serious” actors who never aspired to mega-stardom are being told they need a global franchise to prove their bankability and land Oscar-caliber parts.”
There’s long been pressure on men to get bigger, build muscle, and bulk up–see my post Do girls get a bulking season?. I know this firsthand from parenting a teenage athlete who lifts weights, worries about protein intake, and looks at the numbers going up on the scale with pride.
But now men are both supposed to build a ton muscle and lose a lot of body fat. How healthy is that? I think around here we know the answer, “not at all.” Magazines that seemed geared to male audiences, here’s looking at you Outside Online–are sounding the alarm bells. See Victory V’s Don’t always Mean Victory. The piece starts with a message familiar to many women, “There’s more to life than chasing definition in certain muscle groups. Maintaining a healthy weight, for instance.”
The article features John Haubenstricker, a Research Associate in the Department of Sports Medicine and Nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh, also a dietitian, coach, and bodybuilding competitor.
The images you see in the media of men with six-pack abs and “victory-v’s,” Haubenstricker says, are often shot when those guys are at their absolute leanest. “Maintaining that level of leanness [around four to five percent bodyfat] isn’t typically recommended for very long,” Haubenstricker says. “You’re not getting enough energy to do all of the things you want to do and improve” your fitness. “You’re also increasing your risk of injury.”
As Scientific American explains, “fat is crucial for normal physiology—it helps support the skin and keep it lubricated, cushions feet, sheaths neurons, stores vitamins, and is a building block of hormones.”
In other words, that “ideal” you constantly see splashed across magazine covers is bullshit. It’s an ephemeral state of being even for the people in the photos.
One less well known fact is that fitness models and people who compete in the figure category in fitness competitions aren’t actually at the height of healthy when they compete. By the time “game day” comes, they’ve followed a regime that no one recommending a healthy approach to fitness and diet would recommend. They’ve eaten too few calories for the intensity of workouts they’ve been doing. And they’ve reached a weight that they have no intention of maintaining.
In short, their bodies, admired as models of fitness by so many, are unrealistic even for them!
My friend David, who I’m riding with, and I had a speedy ride to the halfway mark with a zippy paceline. There we met up with our rally team members for a team photo. Then we had a chatty social ride with our team to Kingston. I like both sorts of riding so it was a good day for me.
Here we are in our red dresses, or dressed in red depending, when we hit Kingston city limits.
Also, tonight we get to sleep in beds and there are hot showers for everyone in the dorms at Queen’s University where we’re staying.
We’re not talking about that day except to say it involved serious thunderstorms, not much sleep, a delayed start, rain, headwinds, for a brief period of time the horror of no coffee due to the generator going out, our longest distance, and a broken derailleur (not mine). It’s behind us now. We’re moving on. But I’m not blogging about it.
I’m new to the bike, as regular readers will know. Being less than a year into it, I haven’t really settled into any particular ‘culture’ yet. So I need to qualify my comments a bit. I’ve only done a little bit of riding with road cyclists and a little bit of bike training with triathletes.
And lately it’s been the demoralizing feeling that I’ll never get faster. And I’ve also got some toe numbness that sets in at about 20km.
And I should add that I’ve got persistent fears of my safety on the road. I don’t fully trust drivers. And though convinced riding in groups is safer than riding alone, I also know that one of the worst bike accidents in our community involved a very experienced cycling group getting taken out by a pick-up truck on a Sunday ride. See the CBC coverage of the death of London artist Greg Curnoe in 1992. Two of my colleagues in the philosophy department were also involved in this accident.
I never feel fully relaxed only bike except when I’m on a bike path (which is a rare occurrence on the road bike) or in a race with closed off or carefully controlled roads. And even on the bike path, there is a high level of unpredictability from pedestrians, skateboarders, other cyclists, dogs, and even geese. See this news report: “Goose attack leaves Ottawa cyclist shaken and scarred.”
And finally, my commuter bike makes me feel like a happy kid all over again. I take it at a leisurely pace and enjoy the scenery. The road bike brings out a different kid in me.
On the road bike I often feel like a whiney, difficult child who cannot be reasoned with. I sulk, curse silently to myself, wish I were doing something else , and feel generally inadequate to the task. I have to remind myself that mummy and daddy are not making me do this. It’s not like those blasted tennis lessons when I was twelve. No. I chose this.
Okay. That having been said…
Sam is part of an informal group of road cyclists who go out regularly. She always invites me along. When I do accept, I’m never all that keen. But I know that the only way to get comfortable with something is to do it.
Road cycling culture is all about the group ride, as far as I can tell. Riding as a group is safer because mostly you’re more visible to drivers. You’re also safer because if anything does happen, you’re not out there all by yourself. It’s more fun because you can chat with the others as you ride along. I haven’t much gotten into the spirit of this because I’m usually too focused on keeping up, but I have had brief moments of seeing how it could be a thing.
Road cycling also makes it possible to go faster because of drafting. Drafting is that thing where the people in front block the wind for the people in back. See this Wiki How page. When you’re riding as a group, drafting makes it easier on the people at the back, harder on those at the front. Other things being equal, you rotate responsibilities–people take turns being in front or behind.
I’ve had mixed success being the draftee because in order to really benefit from it, you need to ride quite close to the rear wheel of the person ahead of you. And that scares me. You also need to be able to keep up or feel comfortable telling them when to ease up. I find both hard to do. I struggle to keep up, and that means I would almost constantly need to ask people to ease up. This frustrates me.
Road cyclists are more than happy to share their experience and tips. I’ve learned lots about gear-changing, safety, hill-climbing, even drafting, from riding with Sam and friends. And they LOVE going out on the bike. This is what they live for, it seems. It’s hard not to get a little bit caught up in their passion for riding, even if I’m not equally passionate about it.
They want you to love it too. And so generally I’ve found road cyclists to be understanding and encouraging. Sam is the best at this. She is quick to remind me that someone always has to be at the back of the pack. And it used to be her. And it won’t be me forever. She likes to ask me what would make me like it more. And she consistently offers to ride with me. She is a big believer that it’s not always necessary to go all out. See her post about fast and slow riding. And her other post It Takes All Kinds. Thank you, Sam.
But road cyclists are also an in-group, and they have a legendary list of rules that, if not followed, signal you as an outsider. Here are The Rules. They cover the gamut, from whether the arms of your glasses should go on the outside or inside of your helmet straps (on the outside) to the proper cultivation of tan lines (keep them sharp) to the proper color of bike shorts (black). There are 100 rules.
So that’s road cycling culture as far as I know it. My experience of it is kind of mixed, largely because I am riding with a much more experienced group and I am the only new rider. So I feel extremely aware of my newbie-ness. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it has pushed me well outside of my comfort zone. Again, that’s not always a bad thing, but there is a happy medium, I’m sure.
After the epic ride to Port Stanley a few weeks ago, I was ready to pack in these group rides with road cyclists for awhile because they felt demoralizing to me. This is when Sam started to talk to me about safety. Try riding with the triathletes, she said, then report back. Her main complaint is that she doesn’t think they train safely.
I’ve trained with the triathletes three times now, and I tend to agree. The main reason is that they don’t ride together.
I showed up for my first swim-bike-run training session with the triathlon group a couple of weeks ago. We swam together with the coach telling us what to do. Since I’m training for the Olympic distance, I was with the group who had to do some extra swimming. By the time I got to my bike, almost everyone was gone. They weren’t gone together. They were gone separately.
Triathletes ride alone. I was new to the course, so a very kind Iron distance triathlete named Sarah offered to ride with me. And she did. For the first 25 or so km she rode alongside me or just a little ahead of me. But this isn’t the way they usually ride. We were on rural roads that had very little traffic. But not NO traffic. And the traffic there was traveled swiftly, at between 80-100km per hour.
For a lot of the last part of the 40 km route, including one harrowing stretch along a busier road where, in Sarah’s words, “drivers along here are stupid,” she rode well ahead of me, waiting for me at the marked route turns. There is no paved shoulder and very little asphalt to the right of the white line. So whenever a car or transport (!!) whizzed past I just held on.
For these training rides, a support car does drive around the route for the whole time we’re out there, making sure everyone is okay. But other than Sarah, the only other people I saw from the group were just blurs as they sped past me on their tri-bikes.
The same thing happened to me on the Thursday, when I went for bike-run repeats. I totally get that this is the type of training required for triathlon and the group ride is a different kind of thing. But again I didn’t feel especially safe on the bike course. The country roads are not heavily trafficked, but the cars on them travel fast.
If for some reason they lost sight of you because the sun was in their eyes, or they swerved over a bit because they were texting or fiddling with the radio, you’d have little chance of surviving the collision. Being alone just increases the probability of not being seen.
But the triathletes I’ve ridden “with” are in training mode. They’re training to get faster. Road cyclists aren’t always trying to be as fast as they can and are not always “training.”
In fact, I’ve heard not one but two different road cyclists tell me they don’t train, they “just ride.”
Not just that they’re in training mode, and not just that they don’t ride together. In fact they kind of can’t ride together. Drafting is not allowed in race day. And tri bikes are best when going straight and fast. They don’t handle well in tight corners or situations that call for a sudden turn. Most road cyclist groups won’t let people ride with them on tri bikes because of safety concerns. The aero position is kind of like being on cruise control with your hands off the wheel. Just not the best position from which to respond.
On my third outing with the triathletes, I started out with someone and then, again because she was always waiting for me and it seemed pointless since we weren’t riding together in any way that would make me feel safer and more visible, I released her from that obligation. There was less traffic than before and, being more familiar with the route, I relaxed into it (which I guess isn’t really the point — it’s not a leisure ride!).
Remember I started out the season with a fear of hills? Well, riding with the roadies has helped a lot with this. My first time on the bike course with the triathletes, a few people mentioned a “nasty hill near the end.” Because of my bike computer, I knew when I was approaching the last 5 km of the ride. Whenever I came to the top of a hill, I said to myself, “is this the nasty hill they were talking about?” None of the hills seemed particularly nasty to me.
And when I went to a different location for the bike-run repeats, I took a total wrong turn for two reasons. One, I was not riding with anyone, so no one familiar with the course was there to guide me. And two, the coach said that I was supposed to turn “at the top of the hill.” I saw no hill at all. Like I mean nothing I would call a hill.
This made me think back to that other horrible ride in November, when I looked at a hill and said to one of the guys, “I don’t think I can make it up that hill.” And he said, “sure you can. In fact, in time you’ll see that it’s not even a hill.” Well, that non-hill did defeat me that day. But it’s kind of exciting to be at a place where I can’t tell the nasty hill because none seem nasty, and I miss a turn because I missed the hill that preceded it.
I’ll do some training rides with the triathletes (I now own a reflective vest to wear if I feel unsafe with them). But I’ve decided that I do want to keep riding with the road cyclists. They have lots to offer, even if I’m not sure I’ll ever truly be “one of them.”
Here’s a primer for triathletes who want to venture out for group rides with road cyclists.
I’m an idealist. But I strongly suspect the egalitarian world of which I’d dreamed is not the world we’re getting. I wanted a world in which young women got an equal share of the body comfort I’ve observed in the men of my generation. Instead I fear we are getting a world in which we’re levelling down. It’s more equal in some ways but that’s because young men are facing pressures to conform to standards of body normativity and are feeling the kind of shame I’d thought mostly belonged to young women.
My first taste of this came when my own sons were very young. I had started swimming with the UWO triathlon club and got to spend time with young men, in their speedos, on the pool deck. They weren’t a happy lot. They worked hard on their bodies and viewed them as works in progress. They all wanted well defined abs. They also all removed lots of body hair, better to display the muscle definition. Gone were the forgiving furry male bellies of my generation. And don’t get me started on hairless backs. My point here is that the young men’s attitudes to very fit athletic bodies was much closer to that of the women I know, all of ages, than it was to my generation of men.
But the thing is that almost everyone who shared the link did so with disapproving commentary, usually with some snarky comment about “who wants to see that?”
Then “maybe if they’re young and fit.” Then story after story about some old, fat guy who happily parades around the beach or pool in their Speedo. “You can’t unsee that.” Or, “it burns, it burns.”
I hear this from women who I know are sensitive to criticism of women’s bodies. They would speak up if someone said that about an older woman in a bikini. What is it about men’s bodies that makes some people so uncomfortable? Is it so wrong to like a diverse range of male bodies?
And what is it with those knee length baggy swim shorts that lots of men of all ages wear? I miss Australia where men wear “budgie smugglers” (as they say) and New Zealand where men wear short shorts.
And you know what? I love those old fat wrinkly guys in their speedos. Why? I feel completely free to wear my bikini. If they can do it, so can I.
My least favourite expression comes from men themselves. “Who wants to see some guy’s junk?” Stop calling it “junk.” Please.