Weekends with Womack

Fit is a Feminist Issue: the Sunday Boo-Boo edition

Some of you who read this blog often may know that I write a regular Sunday column, called Weekends with Womack. But this week, my column appeared on Saturday instead.



I hit the wrong button (publish instead of preview), and sent it out on its way to the cyber-feminist-fitness community. And I couldn’t figure out how to get it back.


So in honor of my mistake, here are some pics of bike-related boo-boos. To err is human, but please don’t ride with these.

A (somewhat) common mistake is a bike constructed with the front fork facing backwards. Here’s what it SHOULD look like:


In this picture, however, the front fork was installed backwards. This is not good.


By the way, most of the pictures come from this website; many of them are only funny to serious bike geeks, but check it out and see what you think.

This bike is fine, except that the handlebars were installed upside down. This means you can’t really use the brakes. Uh, oh.


Someone brought this bike into a bike shop, complaining about how the brakes didn’t work. The mechanic had to explain gently that wedged between the brake levers was a suboptimal storage place for the giant kryptonite lock.


Sometimes people accidentally put their helmets on backwards; I’ve seen this in nature, and it’s well documented online. There’s this guy:


This picture below is actually from a website that is supposed to explain proper helmet use. Unfortunately, what the site says is that her helmet is improperly adjusted.   If by that they mean “the parents totally put the kid’s helmet on backwards”, then I guess that’s right.


In case you were wondering, here’s a diagram illustrating both correct and incorrect helmet configurations.


Yes—in the real world, errors abound. But it doesn’t mean we can’t have fun with them, too.


See y’all next week!


Easy does it: not so easy after all, but maybe worth it

The other day I went out on my road bike for a longish ride on one of my favorite familiar routes. I had no agenda and no time constraints, and the weather was ideal—temperature in the low 70s, with blue skies, plus a few puffy clouds for decoration. All the components of a perfect day were in place.

Except for one thing: me. I noticed that I kept struggling to maintain my pace. My right knee was hurting a bit, my left calf was intermittently crampy, I was breathing hard and feeling like just turning the cranks was a major act of human labor. I tried easing off, but then the feelings of discomfort and energy depletion would creep back. I even stopped once just to check that my brakes weren’t rubbing. They weren’t. Sigh.

So I took a break at Fern’s, a local country store that’s a magnet for road cyclists. They have a variety of delicious foods that run the gamut from sweet to salty, and there’s seating space outside near a bunch of bike racks—this means you can leave your fancy carbon road bike outside without worrying about it. I opted for a sweet-salty combo: coke plus crackers. I had bars and clif shot blocks too, so was well prepared, but was feeling in need of an extra little pick-me-up.

Having refueled, I resumed my ride, pedaling along country roads that went through woods and wetlands. Surely it doesn’t get any better than this, right?

Well, within 20 minutes I was laboring and feeling like I was working hard just to maintain forward motion. I made it home, feeling unsatisfied with myself. What happened? What was wrong with me?

Background info: I don’t have a bike computer on my road bike. I blogged about why here. So I didn’t have any idea how fast I was going during the ride. But I did keep track of time and mileage, so when I got home I calculated my average speed. Turns out, I was riding about 1—1.5 miles per hour FASTER than my usual pace. AHA! So that was the problem: I was hurting on the ride because I kept going too fast (for me).

I’m sharing this story because I’ve been thinking and reading and writing about health behavior change. A cardinal rule of most behavior change theories is this: Don’t try to do too much at one time. It’s better to lay down sustainable habits of small change than to try to leap into a new or different state in one fell swoop. We see evidence of these theories in slogans everywhere:


Unfortunately, we are also besieged by messages like these, too:

go-big2go-big1Going hard is something I often like to do on the bike. Interval workouts (when I get around to them) are really satisfying—I go hard, rest, go hard, rest, ride home and flop. However, it’s always been hard for me to go slowly enough when I need a comfortable, mellow long ride. One reason is that I get enthusiastic about pushing myself and testing my limits. We all like to do this sometimes. Another reason is I get self-conscious about being seen on the road, going slow. This is supremely silly. When I ride with faster cycling friends, they don’t care; in fact they’d prefer I go slow enough to sustain a comfortable, non-grumpy demeanor over the course of the ride. And when I’m riding alone, I’m, well, alone. There’s no one else to worry about.  Its. My. Ride.

So why is it is so hard to go easy?

Partly this is about fear of being seen as I am. Seen as slower. Seen as older. Seen as bigger. If I go as hard as I can, I can outrun, outpedal that image, and instead chase some ideal in my head of what a cyclist should be like. Something like this:

Screen Shot 2015-07-25 at 10.57.45 AM

But there’s some good news to report. This week Tracy blogged here about Mirna Valerio, who is a an ultra-distance runner who writes the Fat-Girl-Running blog. She was also profiled in Runner’s World here.

If you didn’t see this, or didn’t get a chance to read it, do it now (well, once you finish reading this post!). Mirna is an incredible role model in a bunch of ways, but the one that really spoke to me was this: she runs slowly (relative to serious runners), and she can go all day long (she’s an ultra-endurance runner).

That’s right. Mirna runs an 11—13 minute mile (6:50—8 minute kilometer) She can also run 20—30 miles (32—50K) at one time. This is really something. Mirna represents one great way to be an athlete—she runs at a pace that makes it possible and sustainable (and fun!) for her to be an ultra-long-distance runner. Maintaining this identity isn’t always easy; she says she has worried about being too slow for some events she’s entered, but she reports that the race organizers have been supportive. Tracy has blogged about this issue as well, noting that the later finishers in distance running events are sometimes greeted with a depleted snack table, no big cheering crowd, or even race volunteers packing up to leave.

Mirna runs through all of this, leaving the complications and expectations behind. She trains religiously, running at 6am many days of the week, and she sweeps up her students and others in the wake of her enthusiasm.

This story may not totally transform my approach to cycling; I still tend to go too hard too often. But it does remind me there are other goals I can pursue. By going easy, I can go longer. Longer in distance, longer in habits, longer in my life, and longer in satisfaction.

Now if only I could get up really early in the morning like Mirna does. Some goals, however, may have to wait…

bras · clothing · fitness · Guest Post · running · Sat with Nat

Sure you can run in your bra!

Sam shared this article and knew I’d love to chime in about running in a bra.

Is It ok to run in a Sports Bra?

Well of course it is! Actually I live in Ontario and you can run topless if you want to here, perfectly legal. I wouldn’t, but not for modesty’s sake, my breasts are long, wide and floppy so topless anything isn’t terribly comfortable. it’s the flapping and slapping.

This came up recently at the Kincardine Women’s Triathlon where, in recent years, they’ve actively discouraged women from racing in their bras. the race rules state “Shirts or tanks must always be worn” (note the bold).

I thought that was really weird. The announcers framed it as a wanting to keep it a family friendly event. (As though families don’t have people in their bras.) What really blew my mind was at the pre-race briefing the night before the race director, who is a woman that participates, said she would personally be more comfortable if we kept our shirts on. Really? Why? Men swim in their trunks topless all the time, they race topless. The bras women wear for racing are, well, down right functional, opaque and completely appropriate FOR RACING.

On my bike on a hot day I’m much more comfortable in my bra and shorts. I’m sweaty and shirt off cools my dimply tummy. When I have my druthers I wear little if any clothes. I’ve recently discovered these ballerina tank top thingies (Called Teggings Tank Tops) that mean I can stroll around bra-less and non-floppy. Yes, people stare, MY GOD A FAT WOMAN NOT WEARING A BRA as though it’s the worse thing ever. Whatever!

Run in a bra, don’t wear a bra at all, you get to decide. Not only are you the boss of your own pants. YOU ARE THE BOSS OF YOUR BOOBIES.

Oh and wearing a bra and a tri suit at a triathlon doesn’t mean folks won’t see your nipples. Mine stick out all the time. I wonder if next year they’ll ask us to tape our nipples under our shirts.


charity · cycling

On the road with #F4LBR17

Me on Red Dress Day 2014. I haven’t decided yet whether I’ll wear this dress again or something else. Decisions, decisions!

I’m on the road all next week with Friends for Life Bike Rally, riding from Toronto to Montreal to raise money for the Toronto People With AIDS Foundation.

Saturday, July 25th  is Packing Day and Sunday, July 26th is Departure Day. On July 30th, 600 km later, we arrive in Montreal, with lots of fun, friendship, and adventures in between.

Last year I rode with my friend David. This year I’m riding with my friend and guest blogger Susan.

I’ll blog a little bit from the road, maybe, but it will depend on fussy things like the elements, mostly rain and a strength of the cellular signal.

It’s not too late to sponsor me here!

And you can read about last year’s ride:

Bike Rally Route

PWA’s Friends for Life Bike Rally

On July 26, 2015, more than 300 Riders and Crew will embark on a six-day, 600 km journey from Toronto to Montréal to support the Toronto People With AIDS Foundation’s (PWA) ability to provide critical services and support to individuals living with HIV and AIDS in Toronto. Now in its 17th year, the Bike Rally is the sustaining fundraiser of the PWA.

Bike Rally Participants of all ages and levels of experience share a common passion in supporting their friends, family and neighbours living with HIV/AIDS. Join PWA’s Friends For Life Bike Rally for the experience of a lifetime and help make a positive difference. Dreaming Bigger … Celebrating Friendships … Strengthening Communities … one kilometre at a time

fitness · Guest Post

What’s in a (Women’s Team) Name?


Recently I saw the everydayfeminism.com cartoon, How Society Polices Women’s Clothing (No Matter What We Wear), in which illustrated female figures engaging in various life activities (i.e. working-with-clipboard, relaxing-with-guitar, clubbing-with-clutch purse) are each critiqued for what clothing is worn. I had noticed, however, that none of the women were depicted wearing sports clothing.

This is not to say that women’s athletic apparel escapes cultural policing. For instance, women’s clothing for tennis and beach volleyball seem increasingly revealing and sexy, while already revealing women’s clothing has become athletic apparel, such as in the lingerie football league. In the 21st century, women athletes (particularly those who have achieved celebrity status) are tasked with demonstrating excellence in both athletic performance and sexual attractiveness.

In direct contrast, my current rec league soccer team jersey is far from sexy, especially after I have totally soaked it in the heat of an outdoor summer game. My jersey has white accents, but is mostly Wizard-of-Oz-Emerald-City green. On the jersey is printed the league’s insignia and the number 12 (not even my favourite number). Its style is almost totally generic. Aside from my rainbow socks and matching headband, I’m sure I must blend in almost entirely with the grassy green soccer pitch.

But I have come to identify profoundly with my jersey. On Sunday nights, number 12 green is me. An hour before game time you will find me frantically looking for my jersey like it’s a (well-hidden) treasure. When I arrive at the field, my heart begins to race when I see my Emerald City green-wearing teammates already warming up on the sidelines. (There’s no place like home!)

My only other soccer jersey (purple, number 18) is equally un-sexy with me in it, but on this jersey our fun and slightly sexy team name is on the front of it: “Chicks with Kicks.” My green team name, by the way, is “Femmes of Fury.” So while as sports clothing my jerseys aren’t explicitly gendered or sexualized, the team names still manage to adhere to the formula of suggesting both (aggressive) athletic performance and (sexy, objectified) femininity.

In fact, there are websites dedicated to listing such team names for women. On one site, top-rated women’s team names include the “Pink Fluffy Monsters” and the “Mighty Morphin Flower Arrangers.” Cute, right? But the performance-attractiveness formula emerges again, suggesting that women must be rough-aggressive and passive-feminine. Of course, this is not the case for every women’s sports team. Samantha has reflected in another FIAFI post on soccer team names bearing gender neutrality in favour of referencing activities like drinking and middle-age onset.

I tend to regard my team names and sports apparel as emblematic of 21st century mainstream feminism: the “radical” feminist power of our all-women team uniform, a liberal “girls are as tough as boys” attitude, and 3rd wave “fierce-but-still-fashionable” accessorizing (i.e. the afore-mentioned colourful socks and headbands) that expresses our individuality amidst our uniform-ity.

It’s not that I dislike “Femmes of Fury” and “Chicks with Kicks,” per se. But do I wonder about how these team names risk re-inscribing feminine-otherness, even as they invoke girl-power assertiveness. Do men feel the need to ensure their sports team names follow such a similarly gendered formula?

My questions for FIAFI readers: What do your team jerseys look like, and your team names sound like, and what do they mean to you? Do these “fearless feminine” team names still suggest that feminine attractiveness still matters as much as athletic performance? How might such team names resonate (or not) with non-cisgender or gender-queer players?


On becoming a student again: ten days at the Sivananda Ashram in Kerala, South India (Part One)

Frequent guest blogger Kim Solga takes to her own blog to write about becoming a student again at an ashram in India.

The Activist Classroom

Note: this post was horrifically long, so I’ve divided it into two. The concluding post will follow next Thursday.

In the high summer, full-time academics often get asked what it is we are up to. Or, more accurately, we get knowing, slightly envious looks from people who ask us when we will be going back to work. Although I always gently correct in these situations, letting acquaintances know that we are in our research-intensive term and then explaining a bit about my current writing project, the truth is that most of us are enormously privileged to have large swaths of unscheduled time in July and August (and sometimes May and June, depending on where you work). Of course, such freedom bears with it responsibility: I need to mind my deadlines, and plan work days accordingly. But I’m also fortunate to be free in summer to experiment, try new things…

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running · training

Fit and fat revisited (ultra running doesn’t make everyone thin and lean)

One of Mirna Valerio's selfies, used to prove that she showed up and did it! From http://fatgirlrunning-fatrunner.blogspot.ca/2015/07/thoughts-of-fatultrarunner.html
One of Mirna Valerio’s selfies, used to prove that she showed up and did it! From http://fatgirlrunning-fatrunner.blogspot.ca/2015/07/thoughts-of-fatultrarunner.html
You’ve heard it, I’ve heard it.  Running is supposed to be the “best cardio” for weight loss. Have you seen the people who win marathons? They’re lean sometimes to the point of being barely there.

If marathoners are that thin, ultra runners must be even more so. Except that, no, it doesn’t work that way.  I’ve already talked about how endurance training won’t make you lean any more than basketball will make you tall and lanky. I found this out first hand when I trained for Olympic distance triathlons and then a half marathon and then a 30K and then a marathon. I lost no weight at all. Not one gram. My weight fluctuated by about 2 pounds over the entire 2 year period.

And so what? Here at Fit Is a Feminist Issue, we like to challenge the idea that fit and fat don’t go together, and also that being thin is a sign of fitness. It’s not. There are plenty of thin people who could use a regular fitness routine. Sam has a great post that muddies the waters around the so-called connection between inactivity and obesity.

This week, Runner’s World profiled a 250 pound ultra distance runner named Mirna Valerio. Valerio blogs about her running at Fat Girl Running. Mirna runs about 25 miles a week unless she’s training for an event, in which case she ups it to 35. Right now, she’s training for a 50K trail race.

Here’s what people say to her:

“People always say to me, ‘Anyone who runs as much as you do deserves to be skinny.’ Of course, what they’re really saying: ‘If you do all this running, why are you still so fat?’”

Mirna provides a powerful counterexample to the idea that being “overweight” by the lights of the charts is automatically a negative comment on your fitness and health. Recent science bears this out. The RW article states:

“The scientific evidence has become quite powerful to suggest that a healthful lifestyle dramatically mitigates the risks associated with mild levels of obesity,” says Yoni Freedhoff, M.D., author of The Diet Fix and a professor at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Medicine in Canada. “Scales don’t measure the presence or absence of health. A woman with obesity running marathons makes a superb role model.”

Mirna’s training is a huge source of enjoyment in her life too. Part of her regular ritual is that each time she goes out she takes a selfie.

Every run, every race, every traverse of a mountain trail, every gym workout, Valerio begins by taking a photo. “To prove that I was out here,” she explains. “To document the fact that I achieved something today.”

She makes it fun. And she keeps it light. On her blog, she has a page “how to be a fat runner.” She explains it in ten simple steps, including “embrace the name” and “look in the mirror and smile even if it doesn’t feel genuine” and “look in the mirror again and admire yourself for being a fatrunner.”

So here we have an ultra runner who is not thin and lean. But we’re not going to challenge her fitness, right? Imagine how much joy she would have robbed herself of if, after running for a few weeks or months without losing weight, she decided it wasn’t “worth it”?

This is what happens when we focus on one goal only: the goal of weight loss.  When our activities are a means to that sole end, and we don’t achieve that end, we sometimes forgo perfectly good, health-promoting, and enjoyable forms of activity because they don’t “work.” But there are so many other ways that getting more active does “work.”

What an impoverished idea of any kind of training we would have if its only function was to help us drop fat and lose weight. If that’s the only reason I ran, I would have given it up long ago. And so would Mirna Valerio and countless others who found that actually, they didn’t end up looking like elite marathoners when they took up endurance training.

Check out the entire RW article about Mirna Valerio here.  And visit her Fat Girl Running blog here.