Weekly goals, California convertibles, and sand between my toes at Dog Beach

Do you set weekly goals? On my Garmin I’ve set a weekly running goal of 10 km. I’m aiming for two short speedy (for me) runs during the week and a longer run of 5 km on the weekend.

My riding goals are a bit more ambitious. I aim for 150 km a week. If I ride with Coach Chris Tuesday and Thursday that’s 90 km. My commute is about 50 km a week. And then I do a long ride on the weekend either witha bike club or with friends and family. So on good weeks I’m well over.

This week not so much! Thanks to work travel I’m 100 km shy of my cycling goal. And 4.4 km short of my running goal.

I’m in San Diego for work and my hotel is just 2 miles from Ocean Beach, aka the Dog Beach. My friend Lori drove me there today from the University of San Diego campus in her snazzy BMW convertible.

The Original Dog Beach in San Diego, CA is nationally famous and one of the first official leash-free beaches in the United States. It is a landmark in the community of Ocean Beach at the end of I-8 at the mouth of the San Diego River. Dog Beach is a special place where people and pets, beach lovers and surfers celebrate the spirit of Ocean Beach, one of Southern California’s last true beach towns.


It was the perfect break from meeting rooms, new people, and hard ideas. Instead we got our feet wet, met lots of friendly dogs, and walked through the warm sand.

I’m not a car person but the drive in the convertible was fun too. I found out that I’m a convertible novice. I tried to leave my jacket on the back seat. Thanks Lori for rescuing it.

Next time, I think I’ll run there. Because beautiful city and lovely smart philosophers, I’ll definitely be back.

50.1 / 150 km

  • 1h 58m
  • 168 m


5.6 / 10 km

  • 0h 45 m
  • 0 m



Aikido · martial arts · training

A 21st century woman’s take on the sensei / student relationship in martial arts (Guest post)

Aikido by Kesara Rathnayake. Licensed under CC-by-sa 2.0
Aikido by Kesara Rathnayake. Licensed under CC-by-sa 2.0

What does a typical student / sensei relationship look like in a 21st century dojo?

Lori O’Connell suggests three forms it can take:

  1. Exalted Guru (very formal – student submits completely to their teacher)
  2. Affable Mentor (less formal – students are more actively encouraged to ask questions)
  3. Professional Trainer (the most informal – the focus is mainly on physical skills and fitness).

But for me, these are all kind of similar in the end. They’re all based on a one-way flow of learning – from the expert sensei to the receptive student.

And I struggle with this. Now I’m in my forties, I don’t want just a simple one-way power dynamic with my sensei.

In aikido we practise two roles equally, and in harmony with our partner – both leading (tori or nage) and following (uke). It’s pure yin / yang in action.

So rightly or wrongly, I want to relate to my sensei (and to other important people in my life) both ways – and practise both following and leading with him.

On the mat, a more traditional relationship is appropriate. Sensei’s martial arts knowledge is outstanding; I respect that, and soak up all the learning I can from him.

But off the mat, I crave ways in which I can balance this dynamic back out – by leading, and having him learn from me. You could think of it like a satisfying counter-stretch for the spirit.

I’m aware that my views on the sensei-student relationship might sound disrespectful to some, or even downright weird.

But I believe I’m learning aikido to develop and equalise my so-called yin / yang energies – not just to practise constant following and submitting to someone else’s lead.

At first I didn’t know how to get what I wanted. I just knew that the one-way role of student was too narrow and restrictive, and longed to shake it up a bit – but had no idea how to achieve this.

Then late last year, I set out to create a martial arts blog, with a focus on women’s participation and experience. It was a scary prospect, and I literally didn’t know where to start. Sensei in all his kindness wanted to help; and started to share everything he knew about training women in the martial arts. And I slipped into the familiar role of student; and was grateful for his help, as I am during class.

But as I started to research and reflect – and grow in confidence on the topic – I started to go places which were completely new for both of us . . .

And before I knew it, I’d become his teacher in this area.

To give him full credit, he’s absolutely thrown himself into absorbing and reflecting on all the new information and ideas. And over the last few months, he’s genuinely started to change as an instructor.

He’s been into the women’s toilets, and understood with a shock how nasty they were for us to change in. (The building only has one side room; and it does make sense for the men to use it to change, being in the vast majority). And thanks to him now, the ladies’ toilet is suddenly clean, mould and cobweb-free, freshly painted and has neat shelving on the wall – so that we no longer have to use the toilet lid (or floor) to place our clothes on.

He’s stopped teasing the boys and men for “kicking like a girl”.

Really importantly, he now gets the fact that many boys grow up learning to use their bodies in a way that many girls don’t, and so we often need far more granularity and repetition in the teaching. I’ve watched him totally get and engage with this; and literally master the art of breaking punching and kicking down into tiny components.

He is becoming startlingly successful at teaching timid, uncoordinated women and girls to punch right through a target with their whole body.

Because he now fully gets in a new way that women’s starting point in the martial arts is often (although not always) that we’ve never punched or kicked anyone in our life. As opposed to many of our dojo brothers who’ve often (although again not always) grown up playfighting and rough-housing.

A real turning point for me, was a lovely conversation we had, where he was very excited about a new teenage female student who’d arrived at the dojo clearly lacking confidence. He was teaching her to punch, and her punches were starting to get really strong; and she was literally bubbling over with excitement by the end of the lesson.

He said to me after the lesson: before I would just have thought she was happy because she was having fun. Now I see something else going on; and I can see that she’s happy and excited, because she feels empowered in a really new and astounding way.

I appreciate this unconventional sensei / student relationship so much.

He is basically helping me to practise the role of tori (the one who leads) – off the mat as well as on. I am getting to experiment and train on him; and grow into the role of thought leader – albeit on a very small, safe and comfortable scale.

It’s a strange and magical dynamic. If you watch aikido in action, you might just think that tori is the one doing everything – and uke is just being thrown around passively.

But in fact the opposite can be true. At its highest level, ukemi is an extremely skilled art. A good uke can actually be the one who leads tori, using the technique often called backleading in dancing. Indeed, in classical Japanese budo, the uchitachi (uke) is the more senior practitioner who helps the shitachi (tori) to understand the techniques.

So to be honest, I sometimes wonder where the roles of student and teacher start and end between us.

He teaches me aiki.

I teach him how to teach women; and so he teaches me better than he did before.

He teaches me how to teach him about teaching women, by being such a strong, receptive student (backleading).

The yin / yang energy flows in an endless, dynamic circle . . .

This may not be a model of instruction my sensei ever envisaged; and I probably never clearly foresaw it either. But for a woman wanting to learn martial arts from a man in the 21st Century, without perpetuating some kind of old-fashioned “Exalted Guru” relationship, I think it’s awesome – and would highly recommend it!

Picture credit: Aikido by Kesara Rathnayake. Licensed under CC-by-sa 2.0


Kai Morgan is a martial arts blogger. You can read more of her stories and articles at . . .



aging · Dancing · fitness · fitness classes · Guest Post · health · training

I like to kick, stretch, and kick and I’m 30

Sally O’Malley

A couple of moments have stood out to me lately – fitness-wise. One was during the cool down in my Zumba class (to the tune of R. Kelly’s “The Greatest.” I didn’t pick the song, and Mr. Kelly’s past indiscretions can be discussed another day) surrounded by women 10-20+ years older than me, and the other was this past Monday night – finishing up a dance class, surrounded by women 10-15+ years younger than me. And I was good with all of it. If this is fitness at 30, I’ll happily take it.

When I actually turned 30 in March, I was surprised by the reactions of those in my peer group. Some noted how excited I seemed about turning 30, almost relieved (maybe they had nothing to fear!), others blatantly informed me that they didn’t want to turn 30 and were absolutely terrified. What that tells me is that we’re all still dealing with a lot of fears around life milestone “shoulds” and other delightful expectations.

However, the journey I did not expect to really appreciate at this age was the fitness one. I think back to when I was in my mid-to-late teens, seeing adults in the gym or in dance classes, and wondering what my body would be doing at their ages. I am grateful to say I’m in much better shape than that mid-to-late teenage Jess and that is cool!

I am also grateful that for the most part my life has embraced physical fitness in a body-positive way. It’s become my outlet, my way of getting back to myself, and my way of letting off steam. And in the past 3-5 years, my way of showing appreciation to my body.

Watching my grandma, who loved to dance and was mobile until her 80s, lose her ability to walk made me realize that I wanted nothing more than to move as much as I could, while I could. I sprinted, I danced, I punched, kicked, grappled, and lately, I have even come to love jump lunges. Yes, that’s right! JUMP. LUNGES. Give me a HIIT class any day, I eat that stuff right up now. My body is eating it up. It actually wants it.

I stretch every morning, and I say thank you. I sweat every day (even just 15 minutes if that’s all I have free) and I say thank you. I enjoy food immensely and I refuse to beat myself up, and I say thank you. I rest more than I ever did, I say thank you, and I still kill my work outs! (Because burning out is what will truly make you feel “old.”)

Someone told me once that as you get older, you give fewer fucks. And it’s true! But you give more fucks around what matters. I will give a fuck about my health. But not about looking a certain way, or choosing not to do the advanced yoga move this class, or being around people who are better than me, younger than me, or older than me. Instead, I smile to myself a lot more when I’m moving my body because I can say I’m here, bring it on, I’m ready. And then I jump lunge the shit out of it.

Excited to see where the next decade takes me, and I hope I can encourage others to get excited too.

JESSICA IRELAND-4In addition to jump lunges, Jess has been dancing for the past 20+ years of her life, the last few years as part of the Breath in Mvmt. dance company in London, Ontario (involving some of the most amazing humans in the city). She’s also been MMA-ing for four, and doing whatever else she can to keep moving, including axe-throwing, indoor rock climbing, interval training and more. She is a practicing (but not perfect) vegan, a full-on vegetarian, and generally an open book. She is a feminist (and sometimes an angry one). She loves crystals, astrology and is a bit of a peace-loving unicorn, unless you piss her off. She sometimes has a bit of a trucker mouth. But generally, Jess feels pretty lucky to be spinning around on this big blue ball with everyone else

Guest Post · running

A Non-Athletic Person’s Guide to Running 5k (Guest Post)

A photo update on my progress - it looks like I was making a peace sign, but I was actually trying to indicate that I had finished my second run of that week.
A photo update on my progress – it looks like I was making a peace sign, but I was actually trying to indicate that I had finished my second run of that week.

I have never considered myself (nor have I been considered by others) to be an athletic person. As a child, sports were never my thing, and my goal at any Track and Field event was primarily not to embarrass myself. It seemed as though, despite coming from a family of ballerinas, the genes for physical prowess, coordination, endurance, and strength had simply passed me by. This was compounded by the fact that until last year, I had undiagnosed exercised-induced asthma – a fact I discovered only after my partner insisted I see a doctor (he refused to believe me when I claimed that regularly breaking into uncontrollable coughing fits after physical exertion was ‘just the way I was’).

So, it was a pretty big feat for me when I ran 5k for the first time last week! My time was not very fast (around 42 minutes), and I definitely still had to break up my running with spurts of brisk walking, but it was still a lot more success than I’d ever though I’d have with running. My decision to try running was the product of a few factors. First, I was studying abroad in Sydney for 3 months. This meant that I wouldn’t have access to my usual elliptical machine in my apartment building’s gym, and I wasn’t so sure I’d actually make use of a gym membership in Sydney. Being alone and far away from home was not doing great things for my anxiety, and exercise really helps me feel better, so I figured I’d better find some form of exercise I could do regularly and easily. Second, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to put more effort into being healthy. I had been documenting my progress towards my resolutions to hold myself accountable, and running seemed like a good activity that I could track as part of this process. Using a Couch to 5k (c25K) app and a pedometer app, I could easily track my progress on my phone. Finally, I had been sleeping in a very uncomfortable bed since I’m staying in a residential college while abroad. I suffer from lower back pain even when I sleep on a good mattress, so I knew I needed to do something extra to compensate. Doing more regular exercise seemed like it would help (this JAMA review about exercise and lower back pain is pretty convincing).


I’ve now been running for just over 8 weeks, and I really did go from being able to run very little to being able to run 5k (as the C25K program promises). That said, although I can run 5k, it still really takes it out of me. So, to make running more sustainable for me beyond C25K, I’m focusing now on running for 30 minutes and trying to increase the distance I can cover in that time, and reduce the number of walking breaks I need. Hopefully, I’ll eventually get to the point where I can do 5k in 30 minutes! Here are my tips for anyone like me who is non-athletic but wants to try running:

  1. Use apps! They are great. C25K apps are awesome because they have set programs, they build up your stamina in increments, and they make you feel like you are actually accomplishing something. My usual MO in the gym was to go on the elliptical until I was tired, which wasn’t really conducive to noticeable speed or endurance gains.Having incremental goals really helped me push myself. Pedometer apps are great for once you are done the 8 week C25k program and want to just do your own runs. Also, most of these apps are free!
  2. Don’t worry about doing everything perfectly. The app I was using gave me this motivational quote that, unlike most motivational quotes, I actually found motivating: “No matter how fast you’re running, you’re still lapping everybody on the couch”. Doing something is better than doing nothing! As long as you aren’t running in a way that’s going to cause yourself harm (see point 3 below), don’t stress out too much about whether you are hitting the pace set by the app (my app was set out with the expectation that users would be running 10 minute miles by the end, which I certainly wasn’t). Also, don’t worry about looking stupid. I spent a lot of time running in big circles around an empty parking lot, and I definitely got some weird looks. But who cares! I’m running for me, not for random people on the street!
  3. Do worry about running with reasonably good form. I hadn’t considered this at first (because, as aforementioned, I knew nothing about running), so I didn’t realize I wasn’t really protecting my knees until they starting hurting a lot! The internet was my best resource for this – I found this guide particularly helpful.
  4. Be prepared for your calves to hurt a lot if you decide one day to change things up and run up and down hills. This is probably obvious to most people familiar with exercise, but it was not obvious to me! Level ground is your best friend when you are new to running outside.
  5. Try to remember to remove your makeup before you run. Again, this is probably obvious to most make-up-wearing athletes, but I was not prepared for how much my face would sweat (and how much it would hurt for that sweat to mix with my mascara and then trickle into my eyes). It’s also much better for your skin not to sweat makeup into it (duh).
  6. Most importantly, don’t give up. There were days (ok, most days) when I didn’t want to go for a run. But I did. And then I felt really good! Like I had achieved something! Also, endorphins! I used to think endorphins were either a lie or just didn’t work for me, but I was wrong. Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. (And happy people just don’t shoot their husbands. They just don’t.)

So, if running is something you never thought you could do – I say, give it a go! Seriously, if I can do it, anybody can.

Just documenting my face sweat.
Just documenting my face sweat.
Emma Ryman is a PhD candidate in the Department of Philosophy at Western University. She is into feminist philosophy, bioethics, and taking selfies of her sweaty face. 

The Dark Side of the Sun (Guest Post)

I was running at Leslie Spit on Sunday, just reveling in the sunshine and mudluscious sense of Spring, and ran into Sarah from our Bike Rally Team zipping like the wind on her bike.  I made it to the lighthouse — I’m so HAPPY! I said.  And ran off.IMG_1927

I don’t think there’s a more elevated moment for people in Toronto than that first day when we trust that the sun is nesting in to stay for a while. We feel warm outside for the first time after grey months of clenching ourselves tight.  We’re practically giddy, and suddenly everything seems possible.

I have always been a half-assed winter runner, even when I was a serious marathoner, but I love running in the heat. Some of the most indelible runs I’ve had were completely elemental, me and the sun and my feet and that moment where you fix on a brief pop of shade ahead and feel utter relief as you flick through it, stop for a moment underneath it.

I’ve had the privilege of sun-running all over the world — the flat August cornfields near my family’s Southwestern Ontario cottage where I dodged surprised dogs and had to ask farmers for water… a dirt road in the Pantanal in Brazil, surrounded by capybaras, dozens of species of waterbirds and — literally — a dozen caimans sprawled in the road (think: large alligators!)… along the ocean in Capetown, where my sunscreen burnt off halfway out and I started asking the few strangers I met if they had sunscreen (they didn’t)… through the white hot plains of the ancient temples of Bagan in Myanmar, where I was chased by a pack of wild dogs… an infusion of much needed sun mid-January along the beach in Santa Barbara.

Being with myself and the sun and heat and my body is my set point of happiness.  I feel empty of anything but how I am calibrating my pace, my water, my movements…. flooded with well-being, with absolute presence and joy.  It’s about Vitamin D, I’m sure, but it’s also about something much more spiritual for me — I’m outside, moving my body, taking in the power of the sun, as fully me as I can be.

Last year, the week of my 50th birthday, I was hiking with my friend L in Big Sur, California.  L grew up in Southern California and feels the same way I do about sun. And then a few years ago, she had several squamous cell lesions, the second most common skin cancer.  Treatments were miserable, and she’s had to learn to wear big hats, makeup instead of a tan.  On our hike, we stopped halfway up a hill to bask and meditate for a while.  She sat in the shade, I gloried in the sun.


When we got back to her house, I mentioned a bump on my nose I’d had for about a year, off and on..  “You should get that looked at,” she said.  “Looks like it might be a basal cell.”

I had noticed that there was a lump on the side of my nose that basically looked like a zit under the skin. It became more noticeable when I was in the sun, and seemed to fade when I went back to grey winter Toronto.

It turned out that L was right, and I had a textbook basal cell on the left side of my nose.  This is the most common kind of skin cancer (about 56,000 cases per year in Canada), and almost never metastasizes.  Basal cell and squamous cell are considered “nonmelanoma” skin cancers — they usually don’t spread to other parts of your body, but they can grow and cause serious disfigurement.  And, it’s still cancer, and a kind of indicator of how your body responds to Things that Go Wrong; women who have nonmelanoma skin cancers are 26% more likely to develop another form of cancer.

Skin cancer is on the rise in Canada (and everywhere), as Sam eloquently wrote about here.  We kind of joke about it — a friend said last week “I got a tan this weekend, my dermatologist would hate me.”  But we should be paying attention when we hurl ourselves outside to move our bodies.

My basal cell treatment was more invasive than I expected. On your nose, the preferred treatment is IMG_4313something called Mohs, a micro-surgery where the surgeon removes several layers of skin, tests the edges in a lab on site to make sure all the cancer cells are gone, then continues to remove layers to minimize the incision while making sure all the cancerous cells are gone.  Then they rebuild the site.

IMG_4437I ended up with 18 sutures in my nose by the end of the procedure, and I felt invaded.  It was the first time in my life I took serious painkillers.  And it made me super self-conscious for months as the actual site and the two repair flaps healed.

The photo on the left is about 3 weeks after the surgery — after removal of the sewed on cotton ball and the sutures. In a nutshell, it was painful and gross — and made me feel very NotLovely and very vulnerable.

I walked out of the my last consultation with the dermatologist with a pile of sunscreen and some clear direction to avoid mid-day sun.  But I’m still struggling with both trying to look after myself and trying to be in the joy I take in lifting my face to the light, moving my body until sweat glistens off me.  IMG_6850

Since my basal cell experience, I’ve been sunlit in Uganda, Istanbul, Spain, Vietnam and on long rides and runs in the Ontario summer. I can work up quite a tan when it’s 39 C, even when I’m wearing a hat and three layers of sunscreen, equivalent to 90spf. I just really like to be outside.

When people say ‘were you away? you look tan,’ I now feel anxious.  People keep telling me that they can’t see the scar from my surgery, but I can feel the little bump, and it gets darker in the sun — and more than that, I now see all of the other sun damage on my hands and my cheekbones, and my freckled, wrinkled chest, which looks 10 years older than the rest of me. (I’ve taken to calling it Aunt Shirley).

My answer is to  keep running — to love the sun and the way it heals — AND protect myself.  And I’m a bit of evangelist now to tell you to do the same.  There’s a perception that most of the sun damage that shows up in our 40s is from burns as kids, but sun damage is cumulative, and only 23% of our exposure is before the age of 18.  Start where you are, love the sun, and look after your skin:

If you’re tempted to forget, post a selfie of yourself running in the sun on Facebook, and my mom will remind you to wear sunscreen.








Congratulations, Caitlin! #bostonmarathon #fitandfeminist

Caitlin, post race (p.s. Caitlin, I hope you don’t mind that I cribbed this pic from your FB page).

I’m kind of on a Facebook fast from Monday to Friday but I broke it because I just had to find out how Caitlin from Fit and Feminist did in her first Boston Marathon.

The answer: 3:44:38.


Why, you wonder, would I be interested in a random person’s Boston Marathon debut when over 30,000 people officially ran the race?

Caitlin is not just some random person. As I said to Sam, she’s our younger, faster sister feminist fitness blogger. And if you’ve been following her blog for awhile, as I have, it’s been amazing to watch her develop as an endurance athlete through consistent training and effort.

Every year she’s challenged herself a little bit more, pushed a little harder, done something she’s never done–half marathon, marathon, the Keys 50 mile ultra, BQ, all sorts of triathlons, master’s swim meet…And the realization that she’s actually fast.

Caitlin didn’t always run marathons in under 4 hours. She started off at 4:49 (which, I’ll add, is a time I would aspire to if I ever thought I’d do a marathon again, but I will not). You can catch up on the details on her blog. Because besides being an inspiring athlete, she’s a fantastic writer.

So today, I just want to say “Congratulations, Caitlin!” Qualifying for the Boston Marathon is, in itself, something awesome. And finishing with your second best marathon time ever…wow.

And did you know that you beat ultra-runner Scott Jurek?  According to this article about celebrities in the 2016 Boston Marathon, he finished in 4:09:27 (and he set the Appalachian Trail thru-hike speed record last year).

Kudos to you Caitlin. Looking forward to the race report! And to your next adventure.




Thinking about food and privilege

This article, Check your food privilege, came across my newsfeed recently and it got me thinking about food and privilege and my own history of food choices.

Carrie Salum writes, “I believe eating consciously and according to your own convictions is important. But also, eating “clean” is a unique privilege only a few specific groups of people can subscribe to.

So, can we acknowledge that the way we want to eat is not always the way we are able to eat? And before we start spouting the science behind it or quoting from the latest Netflix documentary/TED Talk, can we just acknowledge that eating according to your convictions is a privilege?”

When I meet with nutritionists to talk about making better food choices (now that’s privilege) I often announce proudly that I don’t eat fast food. But really it’s not something I should be proud about. I’ve never really liked the standard drive thru fare. Pizza? Now that’s a different matter.

I suspect my own dislike of fast food isn’t about healthy eating, really. It’s that I didn’t grow up eating fast food. My parents are British and we emigrated to Canada in the late 60s when I was very young. While meals may have been dull there wasn’t much fast food around. My parents were also bakers and they were dismissive and disdainful of North American food. I learned to say “artificial preservatives” at the age of four. My father taught me to say it to explain why I didn’t like ketchup. Precocious brat.

I did like commercial white bread and packaged baked goods. (The Canadian equivalent of the Twinkie was the Vachon cake, forbidden in my house.) My love of puffy white bread stayed with me. I even wrote about it here in a piece called An Ode to Hotel Toast in Philosophers on Holiday. POH was an actual, paper, pre-internet zine that was mailed around.

When I was in Grade Five  MacDonalds opened in Saint John, New Brunswick I begged to be taken for a burger. But they came with ketchup and pickles (no “you choose” then) and I thought they were awful. Because teenagers ate there on Friday nights after the teen skate (I was such a Canadian youth) I learned to like the fries, the milkshakes and the fried fish sandwiches instead.


Luckily my home town of Bedford, Nova Scotia had a less commercial, more local, alternative, The Chickenburger. For a few years after becoming a vegetarian chicken burgers from the Chicken burger remained a guilty pleasure.

For 70 years, The Chickenburger has been a destination for families and friends alike. Today, the historical landmark remains a community icon. It is also heralded as a Canadian gem, being the oldest drive-in diner in Canada.

From the beginning, The Chickenburger was built on quality and little has changed since its humble beginnings. The same chicken recipe crafted in 1940 is still used to ensure customers keep coming back for the same great taste. The commitment to quality products complimented by excellent customer service is the foundation on which The Chickenburger was built and still maintains. The founder and matriarch, Mrs. Innes, affectionately known to locals as, ‘The Chickenburger Lady’ was an integral part of quality control and her high standards will always be upheld.

Now I’m a vegetarian so there’s little at the standard fast food restaurant I can eat anyway. I’ll blog more later about other ways that my upbringing affected my food choices, about why growing up with less means there is always milk in my fridge now. It’s a real mark of privilege to never run out of milk, or if you do, to have it not be for reasons of how much money you have at hand.

And I’m not endorsing the sentiment in the image below–that all hate of fast food is really hate of poor people masked as virtuous eating–but I do think our attitudes to food are complicated than they seem at first blush.

What’s your attitude to fast food? Where did that attitude come from? What’s your story?



The challenge of (30-day and other) challenges

I’m a big skeptic of the 30-day (or other length) challenge.  First of all, they often get marketed to women NOT as goals for greater fitness of behavior change, but as a means to become more attractive fast– there’s the little black dress challenge, the wedding dress challenge, and of course all kinds of swimsuit season challenges.  All of you readers know this, but it bears repeating:  this sort of challenge presupposes that, sans challenge completion, we are not fit (in more ways than one) to appear in public in little black or big white dresses, bikinis, etc.  We need to shape up, whittle off pounds (what a horrible verb), tone those muscles, and fast!

So just say no to those sorts of challenges, I say.

Screen Shot 2016-04-17 at 8.46.14 AM.png

But what about challenging ourselves to complete a goal that we care about?  I have in mind training for an event (like the Friends for Life Bike Rally that some of us are doing in July) or a triathlon, or for an active vacation with friends or family.  These are motivated by what we want for ourselves and our bodies– to be fitter, to be up to the task of exertion, motion, endurance.  To me, these sorts of challenges make sense.

But I’ve been finding challenges challenging lately.  For a bunch of reasons, I’ve been in a slump, and not able to be consistent about movement or eating that feels healthy to me.  In my head I’ve devised dozens of 30-day challenges for myself, in the interests of restarting some good exercise and eating habits for me.  But all to no avail.

My numerous attempts have felt pretty much like this:

Screen Shot 2016-04-17 at 8.57.27 AM

So what’s a frustrated fitness-seeking fifty-something feminist to do?  Well, I picked a challenge that (to me) is not very challenging, but I hope will help me regain some confidence in myself to take on more challenging challenges in the weeks and months to come.  I started 1) tracking all my food intake; and 2) absolutely turning off my light and going to bed in time to get 8.5 hours of sleep (I need a lot of sleep to be a happy person).  I’ve been doing it for a week.  Yay!

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In the course of the week, I’ve added in some daily yoga (from my collection of yoga videos– I love me some Rodney Yee), and it’s feeling good.

Putting together a challenge for myself at this moment in time has meant finding a not-so-challenging-to-me challenge that allows me to add on other not-so-challenging-to-me bits, feeling a sense of accomplishment, starting to yearn for more challenging challenges, and taking them on.  Out bloggers have written about kaizen, or continuous incremental improvement.  I think that’s what I’m doing.

So here’s to the not-so-challenging challenge. At least for me, for now, that seems to be the way to go.

Readers, what have your experiences been like with 30-day or other challenges?  We would love to hear from you.



Let there be merchandise! And for a good cause

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Exciting new blog development!  We have some very cool merchandise and if you buy it, you’ll be supporting our fitisafeministissue team in the Friends for Life Bike Rally this summer in support of People with AIDS (PWA) Toronto.

To get your t-shirt and/or mug, check out our Shopify site.

Huge thanks to Jenn Lion, who got the site going, to Pam Sloan for her terrific design, and to Susan Tarshis, team lead with Sam, for helping to get the idea off the ground.

You can also donate directly to the cause.


cycling · equality · fitness · Guest Post · racing · traveling

Bicycle Racing is Expensive! (Guest Post)

Valerie Leggett (Instagram: @valeriedleggett)
Valerie Leggett (Instagram: @valeriedleggett)

Hi there! This is my first fitisafeministissue post, so let me introduce myself. My name’s Rachel. I’m also a Canadian philosopher (who lives and works in the US), a feminist, and a life-long competitive athlete. My primary competitive sport used to be badminton, but since moving to Charleston, South Carolina, I’ve taken to bike racing. In my first season, I won the NC/SC combined state championship, along with a bunch of other regional races. I took to bike racing like a fish to water, one could say.

I have a few big goals. First, I’m aspiring to a professional cycling contract. Now, I won’t quit my day job! Hardly! Women’s professional cycling doesn’t pay well—if it pays at all!  Second, I want to win the 2017 Canadian Road and Criterium Championships (I’ll happily substitute an ‘or’ for the ‘and’). Third, I want to represent Canada at the 2020 Olympics.

But here’s the rub: bike racing ain’t cheap. I don’t think that’s really a surprise to anyone, but the costs don’t stop at our bikes. There’s maintenance costs (tires, tubes, chains, brake pads—although, as someone who likes to go fast, I try not to brake much!), race entry fees, travel costs (food, gas, rental cars, hotels—if one is lucky, one can arrange a ‘homestay’ where a family graciously offers room and board, or at least a couch to surf), clothing, and replacement costs for broken equipment when (not if, when) we crash. And that’s just for racing: there are also training costs, such as monthly coaching fees, training camps, and so on. These costs add up, and that’s after the ‘start up’ costs of a race-quality bike, helmet, shoes, wheels, and so on. I added it up my annual costs for a full race schedule, it’s $6000-9000 (USD). Per year.

Like I said, it ain’t cheap. As an amateur cyclist, nearly all of those costs fall on my shoulders. Sure, I’m on a local racing team, but that involves only a partial reimbursement of clothing costs (up to $265, which doesn’t go very far) and race entry fees (up to $400, where a single week-long series costs that much). We receive free or reduced-cost maintenance, as well as equipment discounts, by the local bike shop that sponsors us. But there’s no cash. There’s no free gear (except four team water bottles—don’t get me wrong, I enjoy them!). So it’s hard to get by.

You might wonder: Rachel, you win lots of races, can’t you just pay for your trips from the race payouts? Well, women certainly can’t. Payouts for women’s fields are typically a tiny fraction of men’s races—quite often 10-20%. We are a long way from equality. There’s a great documentary by Kathryn Bertine on this: Half the Road. Also, since our fields are often much smaller, we may not make the ‘field minimum’ for a full payout, and they may cut our payouts in half. And we don’t know whether the field will meet the minimum generally until we toe the line for the start. In some cases, I’ve been in big races where we didn’t meet the field minimum, so they cut our payouts by 50%. OK, I think that sucks (because if you want to grow women’s cycling, then offering good payouts is a great way to attract more racers next time), but at least that was on the race flyer. But they went one step further: they also cut the number of places paid out by half, which effectively reduced the total race payouts for the women field by 75%. If a race costs ~$40 to enter, women’s payouts are often only 2-3x the race entry fee: $80-120. And that’s if you win. Payouts for second or worse often barely cover the race entry fee (usually payouts off the podium don’t cover the entry fee).

Valerie Leggett (Instagram: @valeriedleggett)A
Valerie Leggett (Instagram: @valeriedleggett)A

In the top fields, populated by the best pro teams, the winner might make $1000, but it’s extremely difficult to win those races as a solo amateur (I’m generally the only women from my team in any given race). The race I won last weekend, for example, was an exception in that for a $30 race entry, the women’s payout was $100. I don’t own a car, so I have to arrange rides (which is extremely difficult when I’m the only woman racing from my team, because that means arranging with guys who might race at radically different times from me), or rent a car. The average rental costs about $35 (by going through a discount site), plus $40-60 in gas (depending on how far the race is), and the race entry fee. My expenses for that race were $27 in gas, $33 in race entry, $35 for the rental car: $95. Winning the race brought in $100. So include post-race lunch, and it’s a wash.

That’s a GOOD race situation. It was a close race (3hr drive), with a relatively decent payout, and I won. Most races don’t even come close to covering expenses, especially the bigger races, farther away. For example, I’m trying to plan to do the Northstar Grand Prix stage race in Minnesota in June. Renting a car and driving the 20hrs, doing the week of races, and driving back (including gas, stopping somewhere to sleep once each way) is a minimum of $500. The entry fee is $145, and I either need to find a homestay, or a week worth of hotels. Expensive trip! The alternative is to fly, which requires purchasing a sturdy bike box (upwards of $350) and a return ticket (probably in the $500 range).

So why this post? Well. Being an amateur bike racer is AWESOME. But it’s also very expensive. I was bemoaning this fact on Facebook, and reached out for suggestions on how possibly to raise money to help with reaching my goals. Someone suggested some crowdsourcing platforms, but ultimately it seemed best just to make a account and start asking people to consider contributing to it. I haven’t quite planned out how to make this most effective. I post race videos on YouTube, and I’m active on Instagram and Twitter, particularly with an eye towards service towards my sponsors. One thought is to start including ‘Special Thank Yous to…’ additions to my posts for anyone who contributes and helps me fund a racing trip. Sam graciously asked me to write this post, explain a bit what costs are involved in committing to being an elite bike racer, and possibly get some traffic to my paypal. So…here it is: I would certainly appreciate any help y’all would be willing to give.

I do want to give a little love to those who support women’s cycling. Often our events don’t get the prime time slot, we don’t get media coverage, and we often don’t even have professional photographers covering our races. And not having good photos makes it hard to make sponsors happy, or to show people just how cool women who race are! So first a special thank you to Valerie Leggett (and Bruce Fuller!), who took me into her (their) home for a homestay for some recent races in the Tampa area, but she also took some kick-ass photos of the women’s races. You can find her on instagram at Special people like her make women’s racing possible. I also want to give a shout-out to Weldon Weaver (I’ve included a couple of his photos from this past weekend). He takes professional photos of the women’s field (and the men’s, of course). He also clearly cares about supporting women’s cycling.

Weldon Weaver (Instagram: @fotowvr; Website: