Sweeping in the rain, or is it mopping? Day 5 of the Bike Rally


Johnstown to Lancaster
108.8 km

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.





Just because “they” say it, doesn’t make it true: why I don’t always embrace the latest research

research-studies_000This 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.

I saw a thing this week that captured well the consequences of slavishly following the latest trends and recommendations. It’s called “Ten Steps to Eating Perfectly: The path to starvation.” It’s short enough to reprint here:

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?


Day 4 on the Friends for Life bike rally

Kingston to Johnstown
Distance: 110 km

Highlights: decorate your helmet day, talent night, ice cream, tailwind, sunshine, and new pavement

We left the dorms at Queen’s University in Kingston under threatening skies and light rain but by the first break the sun had won out. The roads and bike paths were in great shape–new pavement!

Thanks to team co-captains Jen and Stephanie for leading us in the talent show. We turned the tables and had the audience sing, leading them in a round. And we got to go first.



body image · men

Men, meet normative thinness

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.

See How to Flash the Flesh this Summer.

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.”

For years, we’ve been discussing the media’s role in distorting female body image. Dozens of studies and campaigns have fingered Photoshopped images in women’s emotional, mental, and physical health issues. Well boys, it seems your time has come. The pressure to look good, bulk up, and build a “six-pack,” the supposed stamp of ideal male form, is gnawing away at your happiness, too, and prompting Reddit-topping threads and five-figure play-count videos. The question is: What are you gonna do about it?

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.

If that sounds familiar, you might be thinking of this post on our blog,She May Look Healthy But…  Here Tracy writes:

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!

David Gandy
From the Guardian