clothing · running

The Sports Bra Dilemma

Under Armor Sports bra.

Lately I’ve been looking for something very specific in a sports bra: something that fits comfortably without chafing, provides adequate support, and dries quickly.  I have been fortunate in the first two categories, probably because I’m not all that busty anyway.  I find the under armor sports bras I’ve been wearing are just about right for me.  They come in different cup sizes and they have three different hook settings.

They have padding, which some of us object to. See Sam’s post on nipple phobia and padded sports bras. But I don’t object to a bit of padding. Except that it doesn’t dry really quickly. And after the triathlon swim, it’s not all that comfortable to do the bike then the run with a wet bra.

So I tried my other favourite, the Champion compression-style sports bra, in my last triathlon. I got a two-pack of these at Costco for under $20, and I I have found them surprisingly comfortable for my home workouts. They don’t have padding, but the compression gives enough support for me.  But when I swam with it in Kincardine, it didn’t even come close to drying.  In fact, I think the Under Armor bra does better on that front except for the padding.

But my bra woes are just a fraction of the complaints that are out there, and minor by comparison. An article this week says that 75% of women marathoners report problems with sports bra fit!  The top complaints are about chafing and discomfort from shoulder straps.

According to the article:

In a survey of women at the 2012 London Marathon, three-quarters said they have issues with how their sports bra fit.

In the new data from the survey, of the 1,285 women who responded, three-quarters reported problems with how their sports bras fit. Chafing and shoulder straps digging in were the most common complaints, with larger-breasted women more likely to report problems.

In the previous study, which we reported on last April, lead researcher Nicola Brown, Ph.D., and colleagues found that the incidence of breast pain among the women marathoners was high even though 91% of them regularly ran in a sports bra. Brown told Runner’s World Newswire that sport bras don’t offer enough options in shape and construction to match the variety of everyday bras.

“Bra manufacturers need to do more research and work closely with scientists and women to design bras which allow women of all shapes and sizes to lead active and healthy lifestyles,” Brown said.

This is a really demoralizing report.  As Sam asks on our FB page, do you think if 75% of men had a complaint about some basic piece of running gear there would not be a solution yet?

Someone commented on our FB page that it’s not surprising, given that most women wear poorly fitting bras most of the time. There just are limits to how comfortable a bra can be.  And when you want comfort in an everyday bra, you need to pay for it.

But for the most part, sports bras are not cheap. Though the Champion two-pack was a bargain for sure, the Under Armor bras that I use most of the time when I run are almost $70 each. If you look at what’s on offer in most running stores, you’ll find that most sports bras that come in cup sizes and are good quality are at least $60 and often more than that.

It’s sad to think that lack of adequate breast support could be something that drives women away from pursuing the activities they enjoy.  When 75% of marathoners are reporting problems, this signals that manufacturers of sports clothing need to pay more attention to the needs of women athletes.

If you have found a sports bra that is excellent and comfortable, especially for women who need more support, please share about it in the comments. Also, if it has these features and dries quickly, even better!

Guest Post

Last Flight of the Murder – a Roller Derby Love Story (Guest Post)

On Saturday, July 19, 2014, at the ripe old age of 43, I skated my last game as a roller derby competitor.

Rainbow Dragon and Wicked Pissah team up to slow down, Photo courtesy of Joe Mac, Midnight Matinee Photography.
JoeMac-RainbowWicked caption: Rainbow Dragon and Wicked Pissah team up to slow down Highland Dames jammer Viola Streak. Photo courtesy of Joe Mac, Midnight Matinee Photography.

I blogged last year about my early experiences with roller derby, from lacing up my skates and donning protective gear for my first practice to working with my league mates at Crow City Roller Girls to present the first ever roller derby game in Chatham, Ontario. These were good times in my life. I loved skating with Crow City, and my life was enriched greatly by the experience. But alas, the old adage proved to be true of my favourite sport: roller derby is a harsh mistress.

Training to play this sport is a huge commitment. Add to this the large amount of work—all of it voluntary—required to run a successful league and many skaters are forced to conclude there is not room enough in their life for roller derby. In a league the size of Crow City, with so few shoulders available to carry the load, this problem is magnified.

As other skaters left us, I took on more and more of the work of running the league. Nobody forced me to do this. I accepted every new responsibility willingly because I loved the sport and loved my league and wanted it to succeed. I took on too much. I soon discovered I was sacrificing far, far too much of the rest of my life to play roller derby. And I could not continue to make those sacrifices. I needed to make a change.

That change came on October 31, 2013 when I resigned my membership in Crow City Roller Girls. It was a difficult, painful step to take, knowing that in walking away I was hurting people I loved and exacerbating the very problem which had driven me out. It was a step I took with a heavy heart and only because it was my only viable choice.

Not wanting to give up roller derby entirely, I then transferred my membership to a much larger league in London, Ontario: Forest City Derby Girls.

I loved training with Forest City. I loved being able to simply show up to practice and participate in drills prepared by other people, no longer required to plan and lead the practices myself. I loved training with a league so large we were able to scrimmage in practice almost every week. And I loved training under the guidance of Forest City’s excellent trainers who gave freely of their own time and expertise to help me improve my game.

I remained diligent in my efforts to keep my participation in the work of running my new league under control. Many hands make light work, and the size of Forest City enabled me to succeed in this regard. Commuting over 100km to attend twice weekly practices, however, proved to be too costly for me in both money and time (and this before I factored in the costs of travelling to away games). Six months after my transfer to Forest City Derby Girls I once again found myself searching for a new way to keep my involvement in roller derby alive.

Several members of the derby community had suggested refereeing to me in the past. They thought I would make a good “zebra” because I’ve always had a strong understanding of the many and often complex rules of our sport and I certainly possess the endurance required for the role. (Referees skate every jam.) I’d rejected these suggestions in the past because I was under no delusions that the role of roller derby referee is easy. It’s one thing to know the rules. It’s another entirely to be able to see them in action and read points and penalties on the fly as a fast-moving pack of skaters jockey for position on the track. I was already giving everything I could to the task of learning to be a better roller derby player. I knew I could not excel at both playing and reffing. But if I gave up playing roller derby? Could I develop the skills necessary to become a great referee then? Once again I needed to make a change. So I exchanged my rainbow stripes for black & white and decided to give it a try.

Southern Ontario is a great place to be a roller derby referee. We have many leagues who need officials for their games and many experienced and talented refs already in the area, willing and able to help train the next generation of zebras. I made the decision to join the zebra dazzle on May 3rd and reffed my first game on the 24th of the same month. Since that date, my officiating schedule quickly filled up, giving me opportunities to skate with many fine ref crews while still maintaining a travel schedule I could afford. My decision to join team zebra enabled me to keep skating, remain involved in a sport I love, and find that elusive but much-needed derby/life balance. It also sent me back to The Fresh and the Furious.

The Fresh and the Furious is a tournament for new skaters hosted by the GTA Rollergirls in Toronto, Ontario. I competed in The Fresh and the Furious IV in 2013 as part of Crow City Roller Girls’ tiny team of seven skaters. People thought we were crazy to skate with such a small roster, but my first year at Fresh was a wonderful experience I will always cherish.

Skaters may only compete in The Fresh and the Furious once, but my switch to team zebra enabled me to return to the tournament this year, skating once again on a crew of seven but this time as part of the much larger team of skating and non-skating officials required to oversee a full-day, two-track tournament.

Fresh V took place on July 12, 2014—2 years to the day since I participated in my first ever roller derby practice. I could not have hoped for a better “derbyversary” gift. It was a privilege to be chosen to officiate this tournament and a joy to work with such a talented crew, skating six games together over the course of the day.

Rainbow Dragon celebrates her 2-year derbyversary with The Meatgrinders officiating crew at The Fresh and the Furious V.
Rainbow Dragon celebrates her 2-year derbyversary with The Meatgrinders officiating crew at The Fresh and the Furious V.

The Fresh and the Furious is designed primarily to provide tournament play experience and learning opportunities to first year skaters, but I learned a lot my second year at Fresh, both about my new role in roller derby and about myself. Most importantly: I learned that I love refereeing every bit as much as I loved playing roller derby. Two years into my roller derby career the zebra’s stripes are feeling comfortable on this dragon’s skin and my future looks bright. Roller derby may be a harsh mistress, but I love her still.

Which brings us back to this past weekend and my final game as a roller derby competitor.

When I made the decision to become a referee I contacted the roller derby leagues closest to me to let them know I am reffing now and to ask them to keep me in mind when staffing their skating official crews. Of course my contact list included the league which birthed me into the world of roller derby: Crow City Roller Girls.

Alas, when I contacted Crow City they informed me that I would not have the opportunity to ref any CCRG home games. The remaining members of the league had been forced into the same decision I’d had to make last October: they could no longer sustain such a tiny league. Crow City would have no more home games. The league was folding. They did, however, have one final away game to play. Crow City Roller Girls invited me to join them for that final game, not as an official, but for one final time as a member of the team.

The location was far away. The timing was bad for some very big reasons. And I’d given up playing roller derby. I was a ref now. But how could I refuse to skate in the last flight of the murder?

Crow City’s final game would feature my former teammates Wicked Pissah and Abstract LabRat—derby sisters who’d gone through fresh meat training with me—as well as, of course, Greta Garbage—Crow City’s founder and the woman who introduced us all to roller derby. Skating alongside them would be Kara Scene—my own fresh meat who I’d helped train back when I was still leading practices for CCRG—and guest skater Ginsane Bruiser—the woman responsible for introducing Greta to roller derby. Four generations of skaters all on the track together, and I’d been invited to be a part of it!

Of course I said yes. Of course I, once again, asked everything else in my life to make sacrifices so I could play roller derby. Of course I joined additional guest skaters from Tri-City and Los Coños: Stacie Jones, REZISTA, Lalie Deadman, Reckless Rabbit and Amy Feral Foul-Her in filling out the Crow City ranks. Of course I made the trek to Alliston with this team, our bench staff Sweet Mother of Quad and Cruella DeKill—another freshie I’d helped to train—and Kozmic Khaos—yet another of my freshies, passed her minimums but sadly sidelined with a (non-derby) injury—who came to cheer us on from the suicide seats.

As much as Fresh V was a wonderful derbyversary gift, Crow City’s final game was an even greater retirement party. Everything about this game, from the coming together of our own team to the skill and sportswomanship of our opponents, Grey Bruce Roller Derby’s Highland Dames, from the hospitality of our hosts, Misfit Militia to the dedication of the referees, NSO’s, paramedics, announcers, photographers and bout production volunteers who worked a long night to make our game possible epitomized the very best of what roller derby can be.

Last Flight of the Murder: Crow City Roller Girls vs. Grey Bruce Highland Dames, Alliston Memorial Arena.  Photo courtesy of Joe Mac, Mignight Matinee Photography.
Last Flight of the Murder: Crow City Roller Girls vs. Grey Bruce Highland Dames, Alliston Memorial Arena. Photo courtesy of Joe Mac, Midnight Matinee Photography.

We had so much fun Saturday night, even the rain decided to get in on the action. By halftime the roof was leaking—right over the jammer line—forcing our NSO’s to run out onto the track before every jam to mop up the water and keep the track safe for us. It seemed a fitting send off for a league which trained outside in a parking lot.

I am so thankful for the opportunity to have been a part of Crow City Roller Girls’ final game. I skated every other jam, slapped the old star target on my helmet several times, and yet made it through the game without injury and (my new zebra teammates will be glad to know) without a penalty. I think, however, my proudest moment in the game came when I was blocking for rookie jammer Kara Scene. I managed to make a hole for her right at the jam start whistle, and Kara saw it, took it and earned a fast lead. Watch out derby world. You’ll be seeing a lot of Kara Scene’s backside as she blazes through your packs in the years ahead.

Alas, all things must come to an end, and the final whistle blew on the last flight of the murder all too soon. I weep at having to say goodbye a second and now final time to a league which gave so much to me and to which I gave so much of myself. But my sorrow is tempered with pride for everything the league accomplished in its two short years and comfort in the knowledge that Crow City’s legacy lives on. It lives on in every game I officiate. It lives on in the future derby careers of former league-mates who will move on to skate for new leagues. I think too it lives on in the lives of those who flew with us for a short while but ultimately decided there was not room in their lives, at least for now, for roller derby. This sport affects everyone it touches in ways big and small, and there are many—including myself—who might never have known the wonders of roller derby if not for Crow City Roller Girls.

All my love, respect and gratitude to the best murder of crows ever. We did good my friends. We did damned good.

The very best murder of crows: Crow City Roller Girls.
The very best murder of crows: Crow City Roller Girls.

Laura Rainbow Dragon writes, dances, cooks, runs, and makes wine–amongst other pursuits–in a way-too-small town in Southwestern Ontario. She skates with the zebra dazzle and officiates roller derby games throughout Southern Ontario. Laura has moved house far too often but found a home she loves in the roller derby community.


Man oh Man! Niagara “Barrelman” Misses an Opportunity

Logo for the Niagara Falls Barrelman Triathlon 2014. Image credit:
Logo for the Niagara Falls Barrelman Triathlon 2014.
Image credit:

Last year, the Niagara Triathlon ran afoul of strict legal rules surrounding the word “iron” and the numbers “70.3” by calling itself  a “Half Ironman.” “Ironman” and “Ironman 70.3” are tightly guarded trademark names, the most recognized race name in triathlon. As Niagara, and this year Welland, have found out, you can’t just use these as generic designations.

And so Niagara held a contest.  This sounds like an exciting way to get a new name. You invite people to participate and generate some buzz, all the while getting submissions so you have a whole array of possibilities to choose from.

And the winner is … drum roll please…

The Niagara Barrelman.  Yes, really.

This clearly picks up on the history of daredevils going over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

What bothers me most about this name is the missed opportunity to get away from a name that contains the word “man”. I get that the first “Ironman” was way back in the late 70s when people didn’t give much thought to things like the gendered impact of language.  Back then, it was pretty normal to think that there were legitimate generic, gender neutral uses of things like “man” and pronouns like “he,” “his”, and “him.”

But we’ve come a long way since then, baby.  In 1986, the American Philosophical Association acted on the growing body of research that suggested that in fact there is no generic use of these terms.  The APA published a set of “Guidelines for the Use of Non-Sexist Language” and the guidelines were adopted by the memberships of all three of its regional divisions.

From the Guidelines:

The generic use of ‘man’ and ‘he’ (and ‘his’, ‘him’, ‘himself’) is commonly considered gender-neutral. The case against the generic use of these terms does not rest on rare instances in which they refer ambiguously to ‘male’ or ‘human being’. Rather, every occurrence of their generic use is problematic.

First, Janice Moulton persuasively argues, in “The Myth of the Neutral ‘Man'” (in Vetterling-Braggin, 1981, pp. 100-115; revised from Vetterling-Braggin, et al, 1977, pp. 124-37), that ‘he’ and ‘man’ used generically are really not gender-neutral terms at all. (‘Person’ and ‘human’ are genuinely gender-neutral.) As evidence, Moulton offers many examples of statements in which ‘man’ and ‘he’ unambiguously refer to all humanity, rather than to males alone, yet are false, funny, or insulting. For example, “Some men are female” is irredeemably odd, while “Some human beings are female” is fine. Similarly, “Each applicant is to list the name of his husband or wife” is odd; and even using “his spouse” disquiets more than using “his or her spouse.”

Second, empirical evidence supports Moulton’s claim that <span “=”” italic;”=””>regardless of the author’s intention the generic ‘man’ is not interpreted gender neutrally.2 Casey Miller and Kate Swift (1976) cite a study in which college students chose pictures to illustrate chapters of a sociology textbook. Those with chapters entitled “Society,” “Industrial Life,” and “Political Behavior” tended to select pictures of both females and males. However, when the same chapters were named “Social Man,” “Industrial Man,” and “Political Man,” students of both sexes tended to select pictures of males only. With some chapters the differences [between the two groups] reached magnitudes of 30 to 40 percent. The authors concluded, “This is rather convincing evidence that when you use the word man generically, people do tend to think male, and tend not to think female” (Miller and Swift, 1976, p. 21). This study also finds that the generic ‘man’ leaves out more than women: “As the image of capitalist, playboy, and hard hat are called forth by the word ‘man’, so is the other side of the coin called forth by ‘behavior’ or ‘life’–women, children, minorities, dissent and protest” (Miller and Swift, 1976, p. 23).

Third, using the generic ‘he’ and ‘man’ is problematic because it often leads us to omit the distinctive elements of female experience and behavior. For example, a sentence beginning, “If a student is conscientious, he is probably a good . . . ,” will likely be ended with “son”–even though “good son,” “good daughter,” and “good child” connote different things. If the sentence had begun, “A conscientious student is probably a good . . . ,” a likely finale would be “son or daughter” or “child.”

In sum, there are convincing reasons, both empirical and conceptual, for avoiding the generic ‘he’ and ‘man’ and for specifically including females. Hence, it is inadequate to state in an opening footnote that, for the remainder of the letter, article or book, ‘he’ shall stand for ‘he or she’ and ‘man’ for all humanity. What authors intend is not the issue. Good intentions not carried through are not good enough.

Not that I expect everyone to be familiar with the APA guidelines, of course. But the point is that was almost 30 years ago.  The idea of non-sexist or inclusive language has become quite mainstream.  So it’s kind of shocking to me that the people in charge of selecting a new name for the Niagara Triathlon would completely overlook the gendered implications of a name like “Barrelman.”

This is not to say, of course, that it is an event for which only men may register.  Nevertheless, a more inclusive name that sounds less dated would have been most welcome.

Welland did much better. They launched their renamed event this summer: The Rose City Triathlon.  Nice and gender neutral. Nothing exclusive about it.  Now was that so difficult?

Last time I posted about the gendered implications of language was when I wrote about “Why Putting Ladies on the Locker Room Door Does a Disservice to Women.”  That post resulted in the biggest hate-on this blog has ever seen.  So I have no doubt that there will be many naysayers who think that if we are worrying about silly things like “Barrelman,” feminism’s work has surely been done!

But language is a powerful, powerful tool that contains and perpetuates all sorts of embedded attitudes and assumptions.  Insisting that there are no alternatives to “man” words when we are attempting to create an inclusive opportunity where everyone is welcome, regardless of gender (as I assume the Barrelman organizers, in good faith, wish to do), is just bad practice.

And here’s something for history books:  On October 24, 1901 Annie Edson Taylor went over the falls in a barrel. She was mostly unharmed, but exited the barrel bleeding. I don’t think we’d call her a “barrelman,” would we?



Can you undo the health effects of years spent sitting?

Outside Online lists “Sitting is killing us” as one of the top fitness stories of 2014.

“In perhaps one of the most talked-about studies from this journal, scientists linked time spent sitting to mortality and found that the longer people sit every day, the higher their mortality rate. The revelation brought on a wave of stand-up desk articles and an urge to at least get up every 15 minutes to take a lap around the office.”

And maybe we’re all sick of hearing it but the bad news about sitting seems to be getting worse. Although the slogan “sitting is the new smoking” is new and the “sitting kills” headlines are new, the research about the health effects of sitting at work is quite old.

See Sitting shortens your life.

In fact, occupational sitting time is where the epidemiology of physical activity first began, writes one researcher in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Jeremy Morris found in the 1950s that London’s double-decker bus drivers were more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than the bus conductors, and that government clerks were more likely to die than mail carriers. In both cases, the more sedentary job carried greater health risks than the more active job, even though they were in a similar line of work.
In the decades that followed, researchers and policy makers focused on the health benefits of getting exercise. But according to the latest research, even when people do significant and regular exercise, they still increase their risks of serious illness from hours of physical inactivity.
These findings are also consistent with lifestyles in so-called “Blue Zones,” places such as Okinawa, Japan, and Sardinia, Italy, where people live much longer on average than the rest of the developed world. In addition to plant-based diets and strong communities, near-constant moderate physical activity is the norm in these areas.

And the news about sitting just keeps pouring in. First, we read about a connection between sitting and diabetes and other metabolic disorders, now research connects sitting to various forms of cancer. This isn’t all cause morality we’re talking about. After all, something has to kill you. There are reasons to be skeptical of all cause morality statistics.

Dr Skeptic on All Cause Mortality

Which is more important: how you die, or if you die? Research in medicine often uses mortality (death) as an important outcome. Death (from any cause, so called ‘all-cause’ mortality) is easy to measure, it is not subject to misclassification, and it is the most important outcome for many conditions and treatments. Many researchers, however, favour ‘disease-specific’ mortality (only counting the deaths from the disease being studied) rather than all-cause mortality. The argument is that this measurement is more sensitive to changes in treatments that specifically target that condition (as there is less ‘noise’ from deaths from other causes). For example, it makes sense to measure deaths from heart disease if you are testing the effect of a treatment for heart disease. However, the use of disease-specific mortality can be misleading, it is arguably less important, and it results in an overestimation of the benefits and underestimation of the harms from many interventions.

But sitting isn’t just about all cause mortality. It’s been linked to two very specific things, metabolic disorders and diabetes, not so much a surprise, and more surprising, to me at least, some specific forms of cancer. See More time spent sitting down linked to heightened cancer risk.

Risk increased more with TV-viewing time than work-related or total sitting time. “TV viewing is often accompanied by unhealthy food consumption and smoking, which pose risks of cancer,” Schmid said.

Colon- and endometrial-cancer risk seemed to be most strongly related to sedentary time, but overall sitting time was related to lung-cancer risk as well.

Sitting time was not related to other cancers, including breast, rectal, ovarian, prostate, esophageal and testicular cancers.

Too much sitting may lead to health problems through several mechanisms, Schmid said. Obesity may partly explain the connection, but there might also be disease-specific reasons that sitting would be linked to cancer, she said.

Three more nails in sitting’s coffin hit the press recently

1. Binge TV watching also turns out to be very very bad. Why? Because of sitting. See Is Binge Watching TV Killing You? New Study Suggests Risks.

“According to a new study, all your hours in front of the TV watching several episodes at a time may increase the risk of early death. New research published in the Journal of American Heart Association found that adults who watch TV for three or more hours a day may double their risk of early death compared to viewers who watch less TV.”

2. Sitting might even undo the good effects of exercise. See How Much Does Sitting Negate Your Workout Benefits? in Runners World.

“According to a research team from the University of Texas Southwest Medical Center, each time unit of sitting cancels out 8 percent of your gain from the same amount of running. In other words, if you run for an hour in the morning, and then sit for 10 hours during the day, you lose roughly 80 percent of the health benefit from your morning workout.

People who engage in an hour of moderate-intensity exercise–running is considered vigorous exercise–fare much worse. They lose 16 percent of their workout gain from each hour of sitting.”

3. You might think that young people do better on the not sitting front but you’d be wrong. Here’s a link to an article about young people and sitting, according to which young women sit or lie down for 19 hours a day. See

A 2011 study by the university found that teenager girls lie down or sit for up to 19 hours a day, including long bouts of inactivity during school time.

Researchers suggested that although they might be doing enough exercise, “if you sit for the rest of the day, it will still have health consequences”.

“There is no doubt that performing moderate or vigorous physical activity is good for the long term health of adolescents,” Professor Alan Donnelly from the Centre for Physical Activity and Health Research said.

However, we believe that long periods of sitting might be a separate risk factor in this group.


Tracy and I were chatting about sitting recently, of course while sitting, at an airport  drinking tea and coffee, waiting for our flight to board. Soon we’d be moving locations and sitting on a plane for seven hours. We’d just been sitting for days on end at a conference. Tracy was then off on a long car trip as part of a holiday. Two more days of sitting.

Tracy asked a question which I hadn’t heard addressed before, can you undo the ill health effects of sitting? Or if you’ve already been sitting your while academic career are you basically doomed? She didn’t put it that way but I thought about my own history and read between the lines. I will say that as the parent of three very wild and active children, especially in the early years, that I’ve spent a lot less time sitting than your average academic. But still…

I googled Tracy’s question and couldn’t find an answer. Anyone got any decent studies to refer us to on undoing the ill effects of sitting?

I’ll end on a happier note with some suggestions about avoiding sitting:

First, I love my standing desk–Celebrating my standing desks–and Emma loves her treadmill desk–she calls it “a miracle.”

Second, there’s also the less drastic, “getting up and stretching every 20 minutes” method. researchers say that undoes lots of the ill effects of sitting. It’s not just total time that matters. It seems to matter most how long at a time you sit without a break. I sat next to a medical researcher on a plane recently who set a timer. We took turns walking and stretching in the aisle every half hour. I also do this at conferences. (See Academic conferences as sitting marathons.)

Third, my partner’s workplace, though not mine, has taken to having standing meetings. Apparently they are shorter and more productive. No settling in for the duration. A few philosophy departments I know have breaks in their meetings.

Fourth, you can also exercise at work. Here’s some exercises to try. “The Twinkle Toe Tap into your inner Fred Astaire by speedily tapping those toes on the floor under your desk. Or graduate to a harder (and less conspicuous) move: Stand in front of a small trashcan and lift up those legs to tap the toes on its edge, alternating feet, in soccer-drill fashion.”

Fifth, I don’t watch a lot of TV. There’s a show on Netflix I’m currently watching, The 100, but I try to get up and stretch, foam roll, or do my physio exercises while indulging. “Set 97 years after a nuclear war has destroyed civilization, when a spaceship housing humanity’s lone survivors sends 100 juvenile delinquents back to Earth…” Teenagers? They sent teenagers?




How do Regular Cyclists Compare to Tour de France Competitors?

I love this handy comparison chat from Bicycling Magazine: you versus the peloton.

Of course the speeds astound me (look at their average uphill speed! ) as do the distances, hours on the bike, and all that.

But I’m also amazed at how how they sleep! Since sleep is my super power that might be the only measure which I could compare with a Tour rider.

When they’re riding fast on the flats, they make it look so effortless, no matter how fast they’re going. I appreciate the occasional glimpse of the back of the pack where you can see some grimacing as they struggle to stay with the other riders.

I like the metrics the comparison charts use even though I’m a world away from their numbers. Do I find the comparison demoralizing? Not really. Between them and me, there’s age and sex and children and academic and career achievement. What I like is that the comparison measures are mostly things that I track and care about and they remind me that even though I’d be well off the back of that group and I’d never make it up those mountains, that there’s a place for me in cycling world. Whippersnappers, wait up!


Guest Post · overeating

Off the blood pressure meds (Guest Post)

I was pretty pumped on Tuesday this week when my doctor turned to me and said my blood pressure was great and I should stop taking meds altogether. If you missed all the excitement you can read about my initial high blood pressure diagnosis and my follow-up ponderings only four short months ago.

So how does one go from 156/118 to this sweet, sweet moment?

I’d love to tell you it was a radical shift in my eating or a renewed sense of focus on working out. It wasn’t those things, although I’m sure it has helped. It was me feeling actually quite unwell and I had given up hope. On some level I was pretty sure I was going to die of a heart attack or stroke and part of me was ok with having that happen.

So, pure, unadultered terror is what finally got me to confront my overeating. I don’t recommend this approach, it is, as the cool kids say, like way no fun. My beloved was scared, we fought for about 2 months about seemingly everything. We purged the house of alcohol because I  knew if I stumbled on the overeating the next choice on the list of external self soothing was booze. I constantly questioned my ability to be able to address this longstanding problem.

If I think carefully I can remember disordered eating as young as 10 years old, hiding food, eating until I could burst and always needing more. I’m 39, that’s a long time of behaving one way so this newfound sense of clarity about how I have used food to cope is a bit strange. My therapist pointed out that by choosing to volunteer at the Kincardine Race I was perhaps, for the first time, honestly participating. I wasn’t pretending I could do it all, that I was fat and fit. For some folks that may be the case but my body was telling me I needed to change, my blood pressure was off and I wasn’t feeling well.

My first goal was to simply be mindful when eating and that has had a tremendous impact. This one choice lead to a 18 pound weight loss over 4 months, just a little more than 6% change in mass, as I try to come to terms with the underlying causes of my overeating. My physician tells me this has taken the pressure off my system. I will stay mindful and see where I level off weight and blood pressure wise.

Feminism has served me well for many years and it continues to help me frame my experiences in meaningful ways. It’s not lost on me that part of my overeating is to keep straight, cys-gendered men away from me. There isn’t a single year I can think of where I wasn’t at least once sexually harassed by men since I hit puberty, not one year free of this in 30 years. While I know, intellectually, I do nothing to warrant this my emotions turn this inward in awful ways and I have deep shame around my body and my sexuality.

So I keep going to my therapist, as she guides me through this journey to know myself, my most undiscovered country, because I am worth knowing and I want to live. I really do and that is kind of amazing, to have rediscovered hope, to be empowered to end the war with myself.

A new thought repeats itself when as I gain insight “when the sleeper awakens”. I remember H.G. Well’s character awakens to the horror and the awesomeness around him. His quest to cure insomnia causes him to drug himself asleep  for 203 years. I have missed out on fully appreciating what is great in my life by not addressing what isn’t working for me, I was asleep and now I am awakening to what others have always told me, I’m smart, capable and worth the effort of changing.

Good thing I have another 60 years or so to go because it feels like I’m ready for a great leap forward.

Natalie is a quirky woman who is learning to revel in her eccentricities and celebrating the uniqueness in others. She does some caregiving to her teenage minions, some paid work and tries to remember what a gift her beloved of 19 years is even if he is a lean, fast responder type with a high baseline. She’s trying to be a better cyclist and insists that the contact between her saddle and her bits is consensual. She may have to invest in something other than her 1960s bike but she is awful stingy.



Death changes everything

Life changes in an instant. Joan Didion.You make plans. I make plans. People make plans. That’s what we do. Arguably planning is pretty central to human life.

In a paper of mine called, “Feminist Philosophers Turn Their Thoughts to Death” I discuss the impact of certain ways of living on the matter of death’s badness. Do certain ways of life fare worse in terms of death’s badness for the person whose death it is? There I worry a bit about the emphasis on planning and on control in the contemporary Western lives we lead.

I draw on the ideas of Margaret Walker who in her paper, “Getting Out of Line: Alternatives to Life as a Career” discusses the career self. A career self, she writes, sees his life as a unified field in which particular enterprises, values, and relationships are coordinated in the form of a “rational life plan.” This conception of a human life puts a great deal of emphasis on agency,  narrative unity, and planning.

Walker is concerned with the image of life as a career as a normative ideal.  She writes:“The image of the fit, energetic, and productive individual who sets himself a course of progressive achievement within the boundaries of society’s rules and institutions, and whose orderly life testifies to his self-discipline and individual effort, remains an icon of our culture.”

I’m a feminist and a philosopher but I also can’t resist the lure of the plan. I’m a big time plan maker.

I made plans to celebrate my 50th birthday with a big kick ass party. I planned to focus on fitness, to give fifty a swift kick in the pants, to run away really fast from fifty, to lift fifty up over head a dozen times, and keep on moving. Bring on life after the big 5-0!

Instead, 2014 had other plans. It’s been a really rough year. Truth be told if this year were be defined by a singular focus it’s been Family, not Fitness. And by Death, rather than Athletic Achievement.

When my mother in law, was diagnosed with ALS and moved here so we could care for her in final months, I wrote a blog post called Rough Times, Tough Choices.

The focus of that post was my decision to sit out rowing. In light of her illness, I couldn’t be a reliable team member.

I’ve turned down a lot of research travel, cancelling plans when I’m able. And I’m making athletic choices too. That’s the “tough choices” part of the title. But to be absolutely clear, these are choices that I’m making. Given the lot we’ve collectively been dealt I wouldn’t have it any other way. I know lots of women who take on martyrdom for their family but that’s never been me. I’m part of a large, active family of contributing adults now but even when the kids were little, I never parented alone. If any family is prepared to take on a crisis, we are, and for the most part, I manage to feel very lucky with the people with whom I’m surrounded. (Chatting recently about this and I thought that this is a good, light way to put it, “In the event of a zombie apocalypse, I’m really grateful that this is my team.”)

Now just months after that death, my father in law died. His death was the opposite sort of death. It was sudden and peaceful, and came out of the blue. He died of a stroke. You can read his obituary here.

Again, we’re making plans to travel, thinking about memorial services, sorting through belongings, making calls, crying, hugging, looking at old photos, telling stories. I’ll miss him. I’m still shocked.

What I don’t want this blog post to sound is whiny or like I’m trivializing death by focusing on its impact on my plans. I’m not complaining that death was an inconvenience. That’s not the point I’m trying to make.

There are no truly convenient deaths. Death reminds us how fruitless plans are really. Everything changes, and nothing stays the same.

“Death is real, it comes without warning, and it cannot be escaped,” begins narrator Leonard Cohen, in the documentary, Tibetan book of the dead Part 1.

I’m comfortable talking about death. With my philosopher’s hat on, I’ve edited a book about death. I’m teaching a course on philosophy and death this fall, on Monday evenings. It’s a night class. Of course. The course has its own blog and a Facebook page.

So I’m saying goodbye to my 200 km ride on Sunday, I’m canceling my registration in the August duathlon with my daughter. We’re cancelling camping reservations, cancelling conference travel, and saying no to some research and writing commitments where previously I’d said yes. Sorry everyone. But plans change.

(I’m keeping the Friends for Life Bike Rally but that’s it.)

Luckily, for me, and the “fittest by fifty” project, fifty isn’t an end. My fitness story is about the journey.

I’ve tried to avoid making my fitness plans “bucket list” like. I don’t like bucket lists. And I don’t think they help us deal with death.

The psychologist Linda Blair, interviewed in the Guardian, says she thinks they are a bad way to approach human mortality.

“It’s a way of denying the idea of death, not coping with it at all … People usually do this to ensure that there are things to look forward to, which means there are things that are still going to happen … My experience warns me that it’s probably done in order to prevent thinking about death.” Perry sees it as a way of dealing “with how to pass the time. I think it’s a way of trying to generate some excitement.”What we should be doing in our bucket lists,” Perry says, “is learning how to be open with our own vulnerabilities so that we can form connections with other human beings … I think, for me, what’s wrong with the bucket list is that it’s individualistic – the idea of the isolated self goes very deep in Western society – and I think it’s a red herring … It’s a distraction from the business of being human. We don’t all like swimming with dolphins but we are all made to connect to each other. That’s the really fun thing to do before you die.”

So fittest in my fifties, rather than fittest by fifty, perhaps. We’ll see. What’s clear is that my journey includes friends and family. It’s not an individual thing.

For now, I’m grieving and caring for the people I love and hoping the rest of 2014 is rather dull and ordinary. Ordinary sounds awfully good right about now.


From the sidelines: Kincardine Race Report (Guest Post)


I had committed to travelling and racing with my dear friend Kristen Loblaw (who also happens to be a blogger that lives in London, Ontario) for the 2014 Kincardine Women’s Triathlon. I couldn’t race this year so decided to volunteer. I went with Kristen to the Friday night race orientation. I met the volunteer coordinator and gave her a promised hug. Organizing event volunteers is pretty demanding work and she was doing a great job.

I was surprised at the orientation that most technical information was given by men. I was actually taken aback when we were referred to as “ladies” and when they made comments about how when cycling it was a race and not a chance to talk about outfits and hair. Kristen and I chatted about that later, I hadn’t expected low grade sexism at a women’s event and I had thought it would be a women run for women type thing. It’s clear long time participants and organizers know each other. It was the 14th year for the race and their level of comfort might have contributed to assuming we’d all be in on the reparté.

That evening I was pretty pumped that one of the vendors actually had XXL tri suits and shorts and they were a pretty amazing price. I totally charged those bad boys (sorry budget).

Finding out we had adjoining room back at the hotel with Tracy was a big bonus and it helped me wind down from the excitement of getting to town and situated.

The morning of the race it hit really hard that I wasn’t racing. It was a beautiful route and the weather was perfect. Transition was the perfect absorbing volunteer role as I helped newbies rack their bike. My round shape was an asset as I was approached by nervous women who were also curvy and I encouraged them. I shared that when I feel nervous I know it is my body getting ready to release a lot of energy I need for the race.

I helped rack all sorts of bicycles and it was interesting seeing the wide range of gear and pre-race rituals. I saw the race from a new perspective and got to meet a lot of women who were volunteering and participating. Since most folks arrive quite early they had time to chat and I look forward to seeing them next year.

I think every spectator and volunteer should be cheering and clapping every participant through the gate, it adds to the encouraging atmosphere, this is hard after all. With a duathlon and triathlon there were lots of women to celebrate. I was happily hoarse by the end of my 4 hour shift.

The Triathlon Ontario Official was very interesting to talk to and I gained a new perspective on race safety, that was his one and only goal, all rules fed this purpose. He used his authority swiftly, gently, and with unwavering conviction. Before the race started all basins, large bags and trays were placed away from the rack (much to the chagrin of participants who want to bathe their feet after the swim before rolling on socks). While the cycling was happening he told us to remove all wetsuits and other items from the rack. It was a hustle I didn’t expect.

The busiest time in transition is when the cycling ends and people are tired and slightly confused as they start the final leg. I had worn a blue long sleeve shirt under the red volunteer shirt so my arms were visible as I waved and directed participants out the running gate. You could see some women questioning if they could do the run so another volunteer and I decided we would tell everyone they were “looking good”, “doing great”, “looking strong” and “you got this, go, go, go!”. I tried to match the words to the face and smile, I like that when I race, that people care and I think others like that too.

Overall it was a great experience and motivated me to map out my training plan so I can be sure to be ready next year for what will likely be a great event. Would I volunteer again? Absolutely. Would I pay for race registration, hotel and meals away to do it? Probably not.

I’ve been thinking about my obligations to volunteer a lot though. If I want triathlons and women’s sports to thrive they need day of event volunteers and folks committed year round to planning and executing the race. So when a race is in town that I’m not registered for I best step forward, it’s in my self interest to make sure the kind of events I want to participate in are working well.


Natalie raises money for a not for profit to keep a roof over her head, eat great food and do fun things. She is trying to be more zen and less heart-attack-waiting-to-happen but that is hard for A-types so she will also be kind to herself when she’s a bit wound up.


Canadian London is having a Tweed Ride: Hold the date!

On October 4th London, Ontario will be having a Tweed Ride.

What’s a Tweed Ride? It’s a group bicycle ride in which the cyclists are expected to dress in traditional British cycling attire, particularly tweed suits. Any bicycle is acceptable but classic vintage bicycles are encouraged. The other London’s Tweed Ride says, “Some effort to recreate the spirit of a bygone era is always appreciated.The ride dubs itself “A Metropolitan Cycle Ride With a Bit of Style.””

I love tweed rides because they make it very clear that you can ride bicycles for pleasure and for transportation in everyday clothes, no bike shorts or jerseys required. Also, I’ve got to say that the aesthetic appeals to me even though I haven’t got an appropriate bike.

There’s some great fashion inspiration here,

And there’s great photos here of a tweed ride in nearby Windsor, Ontario.

See also Best Tweed Rides | Bicycling Magazine.

To find out more (such as time and location) and to stay in touch with cycling advocacy in London, Ontario, like the London Cycle Link on Facebook.

Here’s some photos from Tweed Rides around the world:




cycling · Uncategorized

Epic Ride and Some Reflections on Learning to Like the Bike

Regular readers of the blog will know that I LOVE triathlon. I find challenge in the variety offered by swim, bike, run events.  But I don’t like all parts equally. I’m strongest in the swim and I always feel good in the water.  My running has shown steady improvement and I like the feeling of exertion I get from running.

The bike. Not so much. I’m over the whole fear of clipless pedals thing.  That was last year. This year, it’s different. First, I’m much slower than average on the bike. Despite my riding friends telling me I’ll one day be fast (because I’m so small, apparently), I’m not getting any faster.

To be fair, this is because I’m not getting out a lot on the road bike.  And I’m not getting out a lot on the road bike because…well…I really don’t enjoy it all that much. Take this past Sunday as an example.

Sam rides with a group of close friends a lot and often invites me to join the on rides. For this or that reason, I haven’t been able to go very often this summer.  But when she said they were riding to Port Stanley on Sunday, I reluctantly accepted.

I felt reluctant because (1) I had just raced on Saturday, (2) Port Stanley is a long way from London and (3) all of the people going are very experienced cyclists.  I decided to go because (1) the race on Saturday was short — I finished in just over an hour, (2) Samantha estimated 45 km in each direction and her friend, David, said that he’d worried the same on his first trip to PS and after they stopped there for lunch he felt fresh as a daisy, ready for the ride back, and (3) who better to learn from than experienced cyclists.

But the fourth reason I accepted is that I felt I should.  What that means is that in fact I didn’t really want to.  The morning of the ride I hoped for rain.  At breakfast, I told Renald that I wished I hadn’t agreed to go.  The furthest I’d ever ridden in one day before was 55 km and it just about did me in. See my post about suffering for an account of that November ride. 90 km seemed awfully ambitious.

But I jumped on the bike and rode down to Sam’s place for our 11 a.m. meeting time (pushed from 10 to 11 because of the weather forecast). We were riding with her partner Jeff (fresh off of their cycling vacation around Manitoulin), randonneur extraordanaire Dave (who just recently completed Devil’s Week), and her touring friend David (who is doing the Friends for Life rally from Toronto to Montreal with Sam later this month).  And me–furthest ride ever: 55 km and hated 30 km of it.

So off we went. The weather stayed warm and dry all day, so at least we didn’t have rain to contend with. It’s windy around here as a rule, so there were some headwinds, cross breezes, and tailwinds, but nothing too dramatic.

Jeff was most committed to getting me to ride close to them and learn to take advantage of drafting.  I managed to find the zone a few times that day, especially on the way home when we did the ‘chariot’ thing, where two of them rode in front with me just behind them, Jeff just to my one side, and Sam just behind. For about half an hour, or maybe an hour, on the way home, with that arrangement, I got a sense of what might be attractive about road biking in groups as we talked and rode and the time passed effortlessly.

The way to Port Stanley takes us through lots of rural areas with good roads and almost no traffic.  At one point, we rounded a corner into a tail wind and they all encouraged me to go into the big gear on the front and back and try to hit 40 km per hour. My first attempt I made it to 36 and then pulled back, saying “I can’t!” Then (and I guess this is what it means to ride with the boys) they sort of shamed me into trying again.  I did, and I did it! Yes, it felt good.

At one point, about 45 km into the trip, Sam said we were just about 3 km from Port Stanley. This was good because I felt tired, ready to rest, tired of holding everyone up, unable to keep up with the group. I had been told to holler “ease up” when I felt myself falling  behind. But since that feeling was more or less constant, I didn’t do it every single time.

Shortly after everyone said we were “almost there,” I saw a sign saying “Port Stanley 9 km.”  At that point my heart kind of sank and I felt totally demoralized.  But what are you going to do when you’re out on the road and not there yet? I kept pedaling. Never had I been so happy to see the town of Port Stanley, a lovely little place on the shore of Lake Erie. In the end, the way there was 55 km.

We stopped at Roxy’s for lunch, taking about an hour to eat and regroup.  I truly wished I had a car waiting for me to take me back home.  The thought of riding 55 km back to London was sort of emotionally crushing already at that point, but I didn’t see the merits of sharing that attitude with anyone at the time.

The more immediate thing to deal with was a steep winding hill that we needed to climb to get out of town. They all shot up it and disappeared over the crest while I bottomed out to my lowest gear and then recited “you can do it, you can do it” over and over again, grinding my way to the top at 5 km per hour.  Made it.

The way home was hard. The chariot, when it held, was excellent. But for the most part I had difficulty keeping up with the group. By the halfway point I could hardly keep pedaling. I just wanted to stop at the side of the road and crawl into a field of corn and rest. Later, Sam said that everyone has felt like that at some point — like they wished for a support van to swoop them up and take them home.

Dave told me the next day of a story (legend?) where a guy stopped in a used car lot, bought a vehicle, and threw his bike in the back and drove off.

A few times on the way home we stopped under the shade of trees at the side of the road to rest and drink water and eat some food.  But they all seemed so refreshed after that! And I could hardly face the bike.

Anyway, as both Davids reminded me throughout the day: after this you’ll be able to say “I did it!”

Though it’s true there is no one better to learn from than experienced cyclists, it’s also true that there is no way to feel more inadequate than to be the one everyone is waiting for for the entire day.  I was last up every hill (though I did make it up all of them). I didn’t want to reach for water because it would slow me down. While everyone else seemed to be a on a leisurely ride, biking alongside each other and chatting away about all sorts of things, I had to keep all my energy on the riding itself. On the way home, there were those times when I absolutely had to stop and they could have kept going, no problem.

As Sam said, there are no perfect groups. Jeff wanted us to ride closer together. Dave of Devil’s Week would have liked to go further. David would have liked to ride faster. Sam is the most flexible, and also the one who cares the most (no offence against the guys) that I start to enjoy riding.

I’m going to train with the triathlon group for the rest of the summer and see how that goes. Triathletes don’t ride as close together (because you’re not allowed to draft) and the strategy might be different (I’m not sure–haven’t trained with them yet).  So the contrast will be interesting.

Meanwhile, I think I can safely say that I’m not in love with road biking.  It stresses me out and makes me feel as if I’d rather be doing something else.  I agree that I need to log the kilometres to gain comfort and speed.  And at the same time, I feel as if perhaps increasing my mileage too dramatically at once (by double) might not be the best approach.  I would rather enjoy what I’m doing while I’m doing it than enjoy “having done” it.

But, Port Stanley and back (110 km):  I did it!  I have surpassed the “metric century” milestone.