fitness · training

Life Happens, Plans Change, and That’s Okay

Change of Plans Plan A Plan BI’ve done something uncharacteristic of me this summer: I signed up for two Olympic distance triathlons and then I withdrew.  Yep, Tracy of the “if I said I’d do it I’m doing it” mantra has bailed on Gravenhurst in July and Bracebridge in August.  Following my own gut feeling and my doctor’s gentle advice, I had to face up the facts: I just do not have it in me to train for these events.

Changes in my life of late have left me physically and emotionally depleted.  Renald moved away from London to pursue his dream of retiring on our sail boat. That’s great for him, and I’m in theory quite supportive of it because he’s 9 years older than I am and he’s worked really hard for many, many years.  Liveaboard cruising requires good health and physical energy.  Waiting at least five years until I can even think about retiring with him just seems ill-advised.  No one can know what five years out will bring.

So we bought a condo, sold most of our rental properties, purchased a St. Francis 50 catamaran (our dream boat, truly), and in May Renald went down to George Town, Bahamas and sailed the boat up to Annapolis, which is where I am as I write this post. It’s the starting point for my only extended summer vacation (just under two short weeks) and we’re heading up the coast towards Long Island Sound and Martha’s Vineyard and Newport in a few days. But for most of the summer (and the next few years) we will be a part and that is a huge change that is taking some adjustment. So there’s that.

Then there is the new job. As of July 1st I’m officially going to be the Associate Dean (Academic) in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities. I’m on vacation at the moment. My first day in the office is July 6th. I’ve had a few different administrative roles at the University so far, including serving as Chair of Women’s Studies and Feminist Research from 2007-2011 and most recently as Graduate Chair in Philosophy.

I admit that I enjoy admin work. It makes me feel as if I’m making a contribution to the University. And I like that it enables me to work with lots of others who care about making a contribution because usually those people have values that extend beyond caring only about themselves. I can respect that and it resonates with me. And at the same time starting a new job with a lot more responsibility is stressful.

And the book is due at the publisher on July 31st. A book contract with a good press that’s enthusiastic about your project is the most exciting and wonderful thing in the life of any writer. And as the deadline inches closer, my stress over it increases. It’s not that I don’t think we’re going to finish. I’m at the stage in the writing process where I feel as if every word I write is shit. This is normal. It’s as inevitable as the five (or is it four) stages of grief.
As if moving, starting to live apart from my partner, and beginning a new position at the University one month before our book is due at the publisher aren’t enough, I’ve also been feeling exhausted much of the time and sleeping badly. This got so bad that my coach recommended I get some blood work to see if anything was up.

Now, part of this is I think because I planned my spring events badly, doing too much too soon with not enough time in between events. I did the Around the Bay 30K on March 29th after a winter of training with a group. And then just 5 weeks later I ran my first marathon at the Mississauga Marathon on May 3rd. I survived ATB well enough even though I didn’t love it. But with the rest and recovery, I actually didn’t have enough time to feel super ready for the marathon.

I know that everyone says they don’t feel ready and it’s a normal thing to feel jitters before trying something new. But I still believe that, in fact, I wasn’t adequately prepared. I would have had a much better day if I’d down-graded to the half. I contemplated it and my coach even recommended it at one point (because I sounded so tentative and she said that’s not a great head-space to take into a new distance).

The marathon wiped me right out. Not just on race day. Not just for a week after. Or even two weeks. No, for a solid month after the marathon I felt exhausted. Getting out of bed for early morning swims, which used to be a routine thing that I enjoyed, became impossible. Even short runs challenged me.

And the bike? Forget it. My fear of the bike intensified and I looked upon it with dread. That may be a different issue altogether (see my recent thoughts on the bike here), but it factors into the result: I wasn’t doing the triathlon training required to prep myself for an Olympic distance in Gravenhurst in mid-July.

I got excited about the Niagara Women’s Half Marathon and had a fabulous time. But overall, I’m not feeling motivated to train for Olympic distance triathlon this year. The energy isn’t there and the desire has left me.

So when despite the bloodwork coming back all fine my doctor recommended that I ease up this summer so as not to let the stress of these big changes wear me down further by forcing myself to do activities that feel more depleting than energizing right now, I decided to follow her advice.

It’s been difficult for me to feel 100% okay about this since it makes me feel like a quitter in some ways, and I hate that feeling. But at the same time, I’m trying to learn a gentler approach.  I’m an advocate of doing less (see “On Doing Less”) but usually with the hidden motive of getting more done in the long run.  This summer, it’s about doing less, period. Not to ultimately achieve more, not to rest so I can throw myself back into things with a vengeance. No. This summer it’s about easing up because that’s what I need to do. Drop the big races, let up on training, get back to yoga, sleep more, all those good things.

The funny thing is that as soon as I decided to do that, my energy bounced back a bit. I got out for a track workout with the triathlon club last week and have also been doing 3K as fast as possible, since that is the distance of the run portion of the Kincardine Women’s Triathlon on July 11th.

Far from thinking about the KWT with dread, I’m really excited about it.  That is not how I was feeling about Gravenhurst and Bracebridge, both of which are exciting races in beautiful locations.

My new summer goal is as modest as they come: work on getting my 10K as close to 60 minutes as possible.  Other than that, I want to enjoy myself with the swim training, workout with weights, and get to the yoga studio at least once a week. I’ve got the hybrid bike out for commuting, and it’s a pleasant ride on the bike path from my condo to campus.

But this week, I’m on the sailboat. I’ve got my running shoes and my resistance bands, but I’m not forcing anything.  I’m sure that’s not the most inspiring attitude. Those who are into The Grind will be disappointed. I’ve had some grief for expressing this whole “doing less” idea because lots of people think they already do less and need to push themselves to do more. That may be. But if my spring is any indication, sometimes more can turn into too much. And when that happens, there’s nothing wrong with re-grouping and making some changes.

charity · competition · fitness · racing · running

Walking and Running with Pride!


This past week was a big week in my life. So big that I couldn’t fit it all in and had to cancel cycling holiday plans. No Manitoulin Island for me this year.

While my father’s illness, badly behaved teenagers (it’s the end of the high school year, we’re all running out of patience) and travel plans on the part of my sister-in-law who usually does back up parenting for us were part of the story of competing commitments, it wasn’t all bad.

Here’s some of the good stuff: My son graduated from the Triangle Program. It’s Canada’s only publicly funded secondary school classroom for LGBTIQ2S youth from grades 9 to 12. That’s exciting. I was thrilled to be there for his graduation ceremony and to get to spend time in Toronto for Pride. Mallory and I also got to do the Pride and Remembrance Run. Guest bloggers Alice and Susan and Stephanie were there for the run too.

Susan wrote about the Pride Run last year: “There is one race, however, that motivates me best, the Pride and Remembrance Run, held each year in Toronto on the last Saturday of Pride Week. It was founded in 1996, The Pride and Remembrance Run has become an annual tradition promoting and fostering community spirit, goodwill, volunteerism and sportsmanship in the LGBT community.” For the complete list of reasons she loves it, read on here.

Stephanie says about this year’s event, “This was my fourth year doing the Pride and Remembrance Run. I love it for so many reasons: it’s close to home, the course is familiar (I run around Queen’s Park all the time), and it starts at a very reasonable 10am. It’s also one of the most fun races to run: confetti at the start, the Pride festival on the surrounding streets, people dressed in costumes and bright colours. It’s become a bit of a traditional race for members of my department. This year, I think we had about 14 people running – what a great turnout!”


I think between us this community of bloggers had the full range of speeds and experiences! Susan got a personal best for 5 km and Stephanie broke 25 min for the first time in awhile. Alice and Amy had a terrific fundraising year. They arrived late, 14 min after the start due to “toddler issues” and pulled up the rear.



Mallory and I were in the middle. Mallory wanted to do the 3 km walk and I was originally going to run. But after walking 16 km the day before I had a sore knee and started to worry about running in the upcoming duathlon. In the end I walked all but the final kilometer and started to run only when Susan came past us.

I loved the event. It was probably the best organized run/walk event I’ve ever taken part in. The serious runners got to start first and they were coming back in as the walkers were leaving. The best times were in the 16 and 17 minute range. Speedy!

Here’s how they organized the waves:

I loved the glitter/confetti cannon.

Here’s the start/finish line:

I loved the closed roads in downtown Toronto.

Here’s the route:

I loved the marching band playing Sesame Street and Muppets tunes. I loved all the costumes, of course. These guys won for best costume:

Glenn Bell photography

But most of all I loved the sense of community and the full range of ages, abilities, and ambitions. I’ll definitely be back, next year I hope without a sore knee, and I hope to run the 5 km. See you there!


Mallory and me
Mallory and me!
Susan and me!
Susan and me!

Oh, and I also love that the Premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne, does the run with police escorts on bike!

cycling · soccer

Celebrating the athlete you are now!

Like many of my friends I’ve been taken with the idea of minimizing, of owning less. It’s a rich person’s task, I know. I’ve been reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. She dubs her technique the KonMarie method. If you’re interested in tidying, and in organizing, you’ve likely heard of it.

I have a house stuffed to the gills with belongings and I want to own less of it all. Mostly it’s not my stuff and it’s the teens and twenty something’s stuff that gets to me. I’ve tried to persuade them that our continued happiness all living together depends on them treating it more like a rooming house, where your stuff stays in your room, but in a three story house there’s a certain inertia to stuff staying on the first floor.

But I’m doing my bit. Most of my excess stuff falls into three categories: aspirational clothing (not too small, not aspirational in that sense, but aspirational for a lifestyle I don’t have, lots of party dresses, not enough parties), sporting goods, and books. I’m keeping the party dresses and asking for more parties, and the books? Well, I’m a professor and we’re a family of big readers so most of the books stay. But the sporting goods for sports I no longer do? They’re going.

Key to the KonMarie method is the idea that you should get rid of things that don’t bring you joy and that you should celebrate who you are today.

Here’s her advice about the clothes you should ditch:

“I’m not talking clothes that are a little tight, or things that you might be able to wear if you lost five pounds. I mean clothing that you’re hanging onto from years and years and years ago, that you would need a whole new body type to wear. Getting rid of old things is a part of making peace with who you are now.”

“Keeping only what sparks joy helps you realize who you are right now. As you’re saying no to certain clothes that don’t spark joy, you’re also often shedding what and who you were — or who you thought you wanted to be. You get a stronger sense of and appreciation for who you are. It’s a healthy exercise in self-reflection and a gentle but powerful letting go of the past.”

I warmed right away to the “joy test” and the idea of celebrating who you are now.

The athlete I am now doesn’t play soccer. I’ve said goodbye to soccer.

So bye bye soccer cleats and shin pads and socks. Bye bye soccer ball.

A friend who used to row competitively let go of some of her old lists of rowing contacts. She realized she was already still keeping in touch with the people who had remained friends.

I’ve got a full bureau of cycling stuff with my helmet, shoes, and Garmin on the top. That stuff brings me joy, though I did weed out some cycling jerseys, so it (mostly) stays.

Can you let go of the athlete you once were and celebrate the athlete you are now? If you did, what you let go of and what would you keep?

Weekends with Womack

Food Fighting—when we say no to “good” food and yes to “bad” food

This week I’ve been reading and writing about intuitive eating, and thinking more about the meanings food has for us—the humans. I’ve been blogging a bit about this lately here and here.  What we eat, why we eat what we do, and what food does for us are all really fascinating and complicated questions, with no easy or one-size-fits-all answers. Our families, our cultural, ethnic, racial, regional and national traditions, our cooking know-how, our incomes, our biological variations—all these contribute to what we eat and what it means to us.

Lately I’ve been thinking about food as resistance, food as anti-authoritarian means of control, food as a way of acting out against, well, whatever. This reminds me of a scene from 1953 movie The Wild One, with Marlon Brando. The scene is here and the quote is this:

Mildred: Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against?

Johnny: Whadda you got?


Maybe Brando didn’t have this in mind, but food is a prime way of rebelling against whatever they got.

Catrin Smith has a really interesting article on women prisoners’ attitudes about food in prison. They have two sources of food—the prison cafeteria, which serves institutional, non-tasty but supposedly nutritionally balanced food, and the prison store, which sells cookies, chips, and other snack foods, which are high in sugar, salt, and fat content. In nutritional terms, the cafeteria food is “good” and the store food is “bad”. However, Smith found in her interviews with the women prisoners that

“Prison food is frequently defined as ‘bad’, in that it remains symbolic, irrespective of its actual quality, of disciplinary control. Here, controlling a prisoner’s intake of food can be seen as an important means of exerting power in a context in which a woman is rendered a subject to the regulations of the institution. Women prisoners are relegated to a child-like state – told when and what to eat – and food becomes associated with penal authority and denial.

Not surprisingly, prison food and eating practices, in turn, become a powerful focus of frustration and anger. At the same time, ‘bad’ food, as defined in dominant nutritional discourses and the women’s own accounts, becomes a source of pleasure (hence ‘good’), not least because of its taste but also because of its very power and status as ‘forbidden’.

Attempts to control the diet of women prisoners so that they ‘conform’ to the imperatives of the institution, or even, for that matter, to the demands of ‘good health’, may therefore be resisted or ignored in favour of the release offered by ‘unhealthy’ food and dietary behaviour.”

This phenomenon is pretty common—we see “good” food resistance also in students who reject or throw away cafeteria food, resulting in lots of waste and also loss of nutritional intake. What are they eating instead? A la carte items like fries, burgers, pizza, chicken fingers, for one.

friesFor another, lots of schools get revenue from vending machine purchases of sodas, energy drinks, and all kinds of snack foods.

vendingPolicies vary a lot from school to school about student access to vending machines, but they are a part of student eating in many schools. Also, many high schools have policies allowing students to eat off-campus, at places like this.

mcdsI remember well that feeling (for me, starting in college) of freedom to go where I wanted, select my own meals, and control when I eat and how much. It was for me in some ways a vehicle for rebelling against parental authority. My mother denied my sister and me regular access to sugary cereals, snack cakes, chips, candy, etc. Of course this was for our own good, but when I got to college and went to a friend’s apartment, I remember seeing this in his kitchen cupboard.

debbieNow, I don’t actually LIKE this kind of food (probably because I didn’t develop a taste for it, courtesy of my mom’s oversight—thanks, Mom!). But the IDEA of it seemed transgressive, rebellious, bold.

One of the primary tenets of intuitive eating is that no food is prohibited, even Little Debbie cakes or this new burger, recently unveiled by Hardee’s in the US, which features a beef burger, hot dog and potato chips, all housed in a bun.


I know that for some situations in which I desire some nutritionally “bad” foods, I will want to exercise some external control, follow a rule or nutritional guideline, and not buy or eat those foods. An example of this (for me) would be when I pass by the chips aisle in the grocery store. However, for other situations, I know I will want to go ahead and eat some of the foods I consider to be “bad”. For instance, if I’m at a birthday party, I will always want some cake and ice cream. The difficulty is figuring out how to regulate those processes so to be able to exercise my judgment in accord with my own desires and values and health goals.

Bottom line: it seems to me that I need more strategies than those provided by intuitive eating in order to deal with the issue of when-to-eat-rebelliously and when-not-to-eat-rebelliously.

Readers, do you ever eat “rebelliously”? I’d love to hear any comments you have.

menstruation · Sat with Nat

Period Panties

So there I was, feeling crampy and ornery, when Sam sends me this link:
People Are Finally Talking About The Thing Nobody Wants To Talk About.

They were talking about blood, specifically menstrual blood, and how not having ways to effectively capture that blood is important to gender equality and the eradication of global poverty. A quick search and you can find a lot of articles about global women’s health and access to sanitary supplies.

Here in Canada on July 1st the luxury sales tax is being removed from menstruation supplies. That always irked me, that tampons and pads were considered luxuries instead of necessities. I certainly don’t feel like my period is a luxury.

So I was thinking about writing this post, while I’m on my period walking to work last week when a woman approached  me downtown asking to borrow a pad. I could see her pants were wadded with paper. I didn’t explain that I was wearing a diva cup and luna panties:



I didn’t tell her that next month pads will cost slightly less. I simply said I didn’t have a pad and kept walking. I remembered wadding paper towel many a time in my underwear, it chafes, leaks, stains your underwear and pants. In one morning I had heard about some of the great ways women are employing strategies to keep their periods from interfering with their lives and I ran into a woman in London, Ontario that knew exactly why this is so important.

When I was a teen I learned that you didn’t wear your best panties when you were on your period, you picked the ratty ones with the holes, stains and slack elastic. GAH. Period panties. Now my period panties are the nicest underwear I own, comfy, great cut and any colour I want. I’m excited to hear that women around the world are redefining period panties to be ones that work for them, that are affordable, accessible and use local materials. I won’t say “have a happy period” but I will wish you, if you menstruate, perfect period panties that are nice to your private parts and that you feel good about wearing. Talk about periods with people, make it a public conversation because these things matter. Let’s get over the ick factor and change the conversation.

fitness · Guest Post · racing · running

Back to running! (Guest post)

Only one year and a half ago I could not run. I had been injured in my right hip for a little more than one year causing me to limp from time to time. This limited the type of exercise I could do. If outdoors, I had to walk or cycle (which I love) and if indoors, I would use an elliptical or stairmaster. But I really missed running. I find it fun and meditative. I started running again in January 2014. I signed up as a client volunteer for a kinesiology class on personal training for people with injuries (I have blogged about my experiences before). My training team was big on interval training and they started me on a program in which we would alternate a few running laps on the 200m track with different types of exercises (core, weights, stability). The first time we did it, I ran and walked only 9 laps, i.e. 1.8km. But I made it and without pain the next day.

Before continuing on my progress, let me mention the shoes. At the beginning of the training sessions I bought myself a new pair of shoes. And this is where I realized what had caused my injury. I found that out when I went shopping in a proper store with someone who knew about the difference between supination, neutral pronation and over-pronation. It turns out that the shoes I had used before getting injured were for over-pronators while I have a neutral foot. I had no idea about such distinctions. I purchased the right kind of shoe: Asics Cumulus is my shoe. It is interesting because I had had that model a few years before and was entirely comfortable with them. Then I had decided to go for a cheaper and different brand for some reason and running with a shoe for over-pronator had injured me. Proper shoes are essential.

So with proper shoes and a patient approach to increasing my running capacity, I slowly brought myself to run 3.2 km. We did intervals up until April. Intervals were a mixture of walking, running slow and sprinting for each lap. I continued with this approach over the summer and fall, attempting long stretches a few times. The first time I was able to run 5km I was so happy with myself. I had been back to running for a little over 6 months. And I felt good about it and felt no pain whatsoever. In the fall, I attempted something new: running down and up the Niagara escarpment at Brock University. The total run was 6km. I was amazed at myself. This was accomplished a little less than a year back into running. Progress has continued over the fall and winter and I managed to run 8.5 km including the escarpment climb the other day. I have said this before: YAY me!

The things I have learned and that have allowed me to progress are really important:

Proper shoes: see above!

Proper breathing: in winter 2014 one of my trainers noted I was not breathing properly. I worked on correcting that by running on a threadmill and focusing on my breathing only for about 2 weeks. Now I do it right without a thought.

Puffer: I suffer from stress-induced asthma and stubbornness. This is a bad combination as it led me to want to run without using my puffer. I foolishly thought that the day I could go through a whole run without using my puffer would be the day I would be in shape. That was ignoring a physiological fact about breathing and my asthmatic lungs. I was unnecessarily putting myself in a situation of respiratory distress with the hope of accomplishing something my body could not. I refused to follow my physician’s advice and use my puffer before the run. This was stupid. Now that I do use it before, breathing is easy. And so is the running.

Patience: there is really no point to try to go back to running by overdoing it. The 1.8km initial runs may appear insignificant but they were not. They were what allowed me to slowly but surely get back into it. The gradual increase in distance and the interval training incorporating slower and faster running have increased my running capacity both in terms of endurance and speed.

One year and a half later, I am strong, fast, efficient and can go as long as 8.5 km. Wow! Patience paid out as did listening to my body’s needs. My goal for the summer is drawing nearer every time I go out, for a short or longer run: 10 km here I come!



Taking Care of Ourselves: It’s Not Selfish! #tbt

As I worked on the book chapter about developing an attitude for a sustainable routine this morning, I thought of this post from over a year ago. We’re allowed to do things for ourselves that don’t have a lot of benefit for others! What’s on your list of things you do for no one but yourself? How do you feel about it? How do the people in your life feel about it? If you can pursue your interests without any feelings of guilt, congratulations! #tbt


take_care_of_yourself_mediumMore than a few of my friends have told me that one of their commitments this year is to do better in the area of self-care.  It’s not news that women, especially women with families, are more likely to put others before themselves.  Anyone with an inkling of feminist awareness has long known that self-sacrifice is one of the feminine virtues. Sometimes we dress it up as “nurturing.”

Call it what you will, it means that many women need to actively assert themselves to draw lines around the time they protect for self-care. I consider this a significant feminist issue because it has an disproportionate impact on women.  And one area that goes by the wayside when we’re feeling pressed for time and pulled in lots of directions is physical activity.

I see this tendency towards guilt in myself sometimes when I’m trying to schedule my activities.  In the fall…

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