accessibility · family · Guest Post

Mommy and Me: Childcare as an Access Issue (Guest Post)

Sometime in the hazy overnight hours of my son’s first weeks of life, I decided to become a runner. I place the blame squarely on postpartum hormones that conjured up the words “role model” and sent me into a life-changing panic. I chose running because I bought into the dominant narrative of fitness that includes running as an Acceptable Aerobic Activity for Ladies. But that’s a post for another day.

Prior to this moment, my fitness experiences were limited to a few years trying to make a roller derby team, a handful of fitness videos, paying for gym memberships that I didn’t use, and a brief stint with a boot camp program. In other words, if I wanted to commit to lasting change in order to model a fit life for my son, I had to start from scratch. I Googled “exercise after pregnancy” and “fitness tips for new parents.” Advice ranged from “hire a personal trainer” to “take advantage of post-partum exercise videos.” One article suggested that I could walk up and down the stairs during “those precious 20-minute nap times.” Other articles suggested exercising with my baby by taking him out for a walk around the neighborhood or following along one of many “mommy and me” workout tutorials available on YouTube.

In the beginning, I considered this sound counsel and happily packed up the stroller for our daily walk around the neighborhood. I made a habit of wearing him in a sling while I did my powerwalking video to lull him into an afternoon nap. I congratulated myself for such efficient multitasking. When I was ready, I borrowed a jogging stroller and added running intervals to our walks. I joined a gym with complimentary childcare so I could add strength training to my routine. When I learned about a beginner’s running program sponsored by my local running club, I had to make sure my husband was free to mind the baby before I signed up. It was during one of my first training runs that I realized how privileged I was to have this time to myself, and that time alone to exercise should not be a privilege.

It is well documented that women bear an unfair burden when it comes to childcare responsibilities, and I definitely felt the pressure. None of the articles I read about exercise and new moms included advice like “find out if your gym offers childcare” or “schedule time to exercise when a family member or friend is available to care for your baby.” Consider the answer to the question “What are some ways to start exercising?” from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology: “When you are ready to start exercising, walking is a great way to get back in shape. Walking outside has an added bonus because you can push your baby in a stroller.” As pragmatic and useful as this advice might be, it assumes that mom is already caring for the baby, and that incorporating an infant into your (perhaps new) exercise routine is a desirable default.*

In some cases, including mine, taking a stroll with the baby in those first weeks can offer additional benefits (like battling boredom) and is likely less effort than finding a babysitter to take a walk. But as my son grew, it became more difficult to include him in my workout plans even though I was still responsible for coming up with a solution and making concessions. I felt frustrated with the few options I had. Do I take him with me on a training run even though it will slow me down? Should I try to organize a childcare co-op with other running moms? Which is worse—the logistical nightmare of taking a squirmy toddler to an early morning race, or the guilt of depriving him of time with me, the fresh spring morning air, and a chance to see a squirrel? Childcare became an issue of putting aside what I needed from a workout (focus, adult conversation, and/or SILENCE) or dealing with additional pressure rather than a choice between equitable solutions.

Certainly, modeling an active lifestyle by bringing my son to exercise events when I can has its benefits, but despite my best intentions, not all gyms have childcare, not all races are stroller-friendly, and weekday evening group training runs always conflict with bedtime. My son is now an active preschooler, which makes it more difficult to include him in my fitness plans. In part, this difficulty comes from his limited attention span and desire to do anything other than sit in the stroller for an hour. Still, it warms my heart when he gets excited about a kids’ fun run, or says he wants to “look for our running friends” when we drive near our familiar park trail route. It seems that my efforts have yielded some positive outcomes for his perception of how exercise contributes to our quality of life, but I wish the decisions on when and how to include him were easier to make.

There are no easy solutions given the wide range of variables that make exercise and childcare a complex personal issue, but I think that it is important to acknowledge that childcare can be a legitimate (and often unfairly gendered) access barrier in our fitness communities. Parents who want to incorporate exercise into their lives can benefit from being supported by having fair choices about if, how, and when to make fitness a family affair.


*The “walk outside” advice also makes a lot of other assumptions like, 1) you have a stroller, sling, etc., 2) you have access to a safe outdoor space with sidewalks or paved paths, 3) you are able to walk when another activity would be more suitable for your health needs, and 4) etc etc etc. There are many more intersectional access issues to consider when talking about childcare and exercise.

A child wearing sunglasses in a stroller with snacks, a water bottle, and a book.
How my son gets ready for a 5K

Kate Browne is less than 200 days away from defending her dissertation on Foucauldian notions of subjectivity in weight loss memoir. She runs slow, lifts heavy, and owns a tri singlet. You can find Kate at her online fitness home Ramp and Stair Exercise Club.

fitness · Guest Post

The Art of Small Steps (Guest Post)

One of my heroes is a Canadian playwright, mathematician and educator named John Mighton. While trying to make ends meet as a playwright, Mighton worked at a tutoring agency and found out that despite (or, more likely, because of) his prior struggles with math, he was good at tutoring the subject.

A little later, he started tutoring kids from a local elementary school and worked with some who were very far behind, including a sixth-grader who couldn’t count by twos. Teaching such students, Mighton hit on a method that focused on building confidence and breaking mathematical procedures down into tiny steps, sometimes starting with drawing a fraction bar in the right place.

As students progressed, it wasn’t necessary to make the steps so tiny anymore. Kids started figuring out more on their own and surpassing their traditionally-taught peers. By breaking initial learning into tiny steps and then gradually making the steps larger, Mighton’s program, called JUMP Math, both allows students to progress much faster than standard teaching methods and closes the gap between faster and slower learners.

I went through a similar experience with physical training and both it and my own struggles with math have informed my teaching. As a college freshman, I started going to the gym after more than two years of inactivity — and “inactivity” means something very different to a powerchair user than to someone who walks to get around. The rowing machines caught my eye because I could transfer to and from them without asking for help. Rowing it would be, then. I decided to start with five minutes and rowed three times that week, for five minutes each time.

The following week, I upped my game — to six minutes. The difference between five and six is barely detectable. If I could do five minutes, I could do six. And I did. The next week, I did seven minutes. Then eight. On reaching ten minutes, I was ready to increase my rowing time faster — by two minutes a week instead of one. By the end of ten weeks, just one academic quarter, I had worked my way up from almost nothing to a respectable twenty-minute workout. And I had done it all in barely detectable steps.

I went through the same process five years later, when I started weight training. Starting at whatever weight felt moderately challenging, I trained until that weight started to feel pretty easy and then went up five or ten pounds. Moving to a heavier weight made for a visible and objective measure of progress, which was a great motivator. A few months into this process, I noticed that when I got on many machines, I was moving the weight up instead of down. It felt amazing to realize that I could handle more weight than many people without disabilities. “I may be in a wheelchair, but I can leg press more than you,” may not be the most enlightened thought, but it sure is fun!

These days, when I describe training BJJ or doing a 50-mile cycling trip, many people say they could never do that, as if I’m some kind of natural athlete. But 10 or 15 years ago, I couldn’t have done it either. It took many small steps and a lot of support (described in an earlier post) to get to where I am. For a beginner, “start where you are, move up in barely detectable steps, and keep track of your progress” are practical and empowering principles. They open the door to fitness and much else.


person with shoulder length brown hair, black tshirt and blue pants, using the pull down weight machine in a power chair

Jane S. is an ecologist currently doing curriculum development in mathematical biology. She enjoys climbing, Brazilian jiu jitsu and any activity that involves thinking with your body. She also put way too much time into choosing the color of her most recent powerchair.


Sam tried Kombucha and she liked it!

BOOCH Organic Kombucha made in London Ontario

Cate inspired me. It’s her fault. Blame Cate. See her post What the hell is Kombucha? 

I’m not usually a friend of trendy super foods. I don’t like kale and I don’t like quinoa. I expected kombucha to be the same, that is, hip but ultimately unpalatable. 

It was because of Cate’s post that I walked up to the Booch Juice display at the Halton Epic Tour.  I tried their Watermelon Mint and loved it. Turns out they’re also local to me. Their store is in London and it’s even sold in our University Community Centre.

Next up: Lemon Lime.

I was worried at first that it was alcoholic since it’s fermented and I think of fermented beverages as booze. But it’s only a little bit. Not so much that they need to include it on the label. It’s got about the same amount of alcohol as organic orange juice or any other freshly pressed fruit juice. So that’s not something I’m going to worry about.


accessibility · fitness · yoga

Yoga as comedy! Yoga as pleasure!

I’ve been doing yoga for about 10 years now. I began, somewhat skeptical, because others I knew were doing it; I got serious when a great new studio opened in my neighbourhood. (The Yoga Shack is now a London, Ontario institution, but it’s almost exclusively devoted to hot yoga, which I do not love. See below…)

I then tried a lot of things. I did what we might call “conveyor belt” yoga – the kind sold by  chain studios that run a pre-planned, branded “flow”– until I realised that the goal of CBY was to pack as many supplicants into the room as possible, in order to turn a profit. As a result I was getting no individual coaching – as if the instructors at those particular studios were likely to be able to coach me effectively anyway, given my challenging, specific needs (Ankylosing Spondylitis, isolated muscle strain from cycling and rowing), and the limits of their training and experience.

(Do I sound bitter? Sorry if I sound bitter. I know some CBY instructors are amazing teachers stuck on the conveyor belt. I do. But many – MANY – are not.)

Then I began practicing at a studio in east-end Toronto. My teacher there was Terrill Maguire, and she taught me three things I won’t ever forget:

  1. Yoga is for all bodies, all ages, wearing all kinds of clothing. There were physically and cognitively disabled people in our class, as well as people wearing sweatpants and T-shirts (I was one of them). There were younger people and older people. There were elderly people. Everybody was included and all bodies were considered “normal” and treated with respect and specific care.
  2. Props are useful; use them! This is, admittedly, an Iyengar Thing; the practice involves the use of props to get form right. Doing yoga incorrectly can lead to injury, just like riding a bicycle badly can lead to crashing (or, less extremely, to wasting energy and not getting enough positive benefit). Props help form; if you can’t reach the floor, no big: use a block! The normalisation of props in Terrill’s class reminded me how ashamed I secretly felt in CBY classes when I decided *not* to strain to reach the floor. And how utterly wrong that entire scenario was…
  3. Yoga can be a place of laughter. It should be a place of joy! When stuff went wrong we giggled about it. We tried again, of course, but the laughter broke the tension, loosened our bodies, lifted our hearts.

I left Toronto (and Ontario) in 2012 to move to the UK. Once settled there, I joined a chain fitness club that had, remarkably, some really great, independent yoga instruction attached to it. I found a class that I can’t describe as anything other than challenging: it involved me learning to do Crow for real, and at one point I almost did a tripod headstand (the “almost” is the key bit here). There were no props in this class, and the instructor was neither funny nor forgiving; this wasn’t chain yoga of any kind, though, and I learned from the class to push my practice to a new level of challenge and start attempting inversions.

Last year, I took a fresh leap of faith and spent 10 days in an ashram in Kerala, practicing 4+ hours of yoga a day. I had never before been the kind of person who could imagine herself at an ashram, let alone at one in India; I soon realised, though, that the regimented  days married to an otherwise relaxed life-way suited me well. I quickly befriended my roommate, another woman unaccustomed to the ashram life (a lawyer from Mexico City), and we worked together on aspects of the house yoga practice we found difficult, supporting each other as yogi partners in the open-air main hall.

(It was moving, and spectacular, and peaceful, and the food was simple but incredible. I’d go back anytime – right now in fact.)

When I came home (which is now the OTHER London, in Ontario), I realised I needed my practice to continue growing, and growing in the right directions, but that the options in LonON were limited. There was CBY, which I’m never going back to, and there was a pretty good independent studio, the aforementioned Yoga Shack, but it was now committed to hot yoga serving a primarily student demographic, and I just do not agree with hot yoga as a practice.

It doesn’t suit my body type, for one. I sweat a lot when I work out, and hot yoga is designed as a workout above all. When I do hot yoga, I’m instantly uncomfortable; I find holding poses properly to be difficult because my body is slippery with moisture.

For another, well – I could (and may yet) write a whole other post on the ways hot yoga encourages the mirage of weight loss on the mat (thanks, sweat!), and the detriment that causes to both yoga and the humans (especially young, female humans) who practice it.

Where to go, then? I turned to Tracy, who has been doing yoga for ages, and ended up at Yoga Centre London, an Iyengar studio with all the features I remembered from Terrill, and more. This year, I’m in a regular Friday class taught by Sue Brimner, and Sue has reminded me of all of the things I learned from Terrill were true but underappreciated in North American yoga practice on the whole:

  • That it’s about many different bodies working in harmony toward their individual needs;
  • That there will be loads of props, and that is part of the pleasure of it;
  • That sometimes – in fact, OFTEN! – we’ll laugh at how hard it is, we’ll laugh at ourselves, and then we’ll try anyway. And then we’ll laugh some more.

My favourite thing about my new practice at YCL is the extent of the accommodation available. Anyone injured, or struggling with chronic pain, is accommodated instantly, and as a matter of course. There are bolsters and planks and trestles and blankets everywhere, and instructors begin each class making sure students in special need have everything required set up perfectly for them. I’ve lost a bit of skin on both elbows recently as a result of bike injuries, and I cannot do a traditional headstand without significant pain. But no problem! YCL has a rope wall, and so I just hang, fully supported, in the inversion instead, sparing my skin the ache and strain. Best of all, we ALL hang sometimes, during our restorative practice weeks, when it’s understood that all of our bodies need a break and a bit of R&R.

And did I mention how much we laugh together? Because bodies are funny old beasts: smelly and gangly and awkward and hard to bend to the will of the titans. Iyengar yoga gets that, and gets that every body deserves the benefits of stretching and strengthening as part of a community of imperfect, normal bodies.

I couldn’t have imagined such a thing when I did my first corporate “flow” 10 years ago – and I just hope the young women in those classes now snoop around a bit, and discover that yoga is so much more than expensive stretchy pants, competitive triangles, and awkward reaches. In fact, that’s not yoga at all.



fitness · Guest Post

Doing fun physical things I suck at (or, Cate learns to take instruction)

In a bizarre confluence of events, I found myself at two axe-throwing parties within 18 hours last weekend.  (“What kind of bizarre Canadian ritual is this?” asked an American facebook friend).  Sarah and Sam have both written about the experience of axe-throwing — yes, a little bizarre but quite satisfying in the throwing with your whole body, the thwack and thud of connection.

I liked it.  I posted this pic on FB on Sunday with the caption “This is what I do now.  I throw axes.”



But I totally sucked at it.  That bullseye was one of maybe 2 or 3 out of probably 100 throws.  Mostly I wound up, threw, and heard the clatter of the axe thunking off the target and falling to the ground. (My abs hurt Monday from all the bending over to pick up my axe). At the bachelor party on Saturday night, I came in 7th out of 7, with 18 points in the tournament compared to the winner’s 98.  I did better on Sunday, but I was no savant like Sabrina, who gracefully hit bullseye after bullseye her first time out.

I’ve written before about this theory I have about “undiscovered biathletes,” my secret belief that if I just tried to ski and shoot, I might be fantastic at it.  That we all have things that we would be amazing at if we just found them.

Turns out, I’m a mediocre cross-country skier, and not a great shot.  Or axe-thrower.

I was not an athletic kid or young adult in any way.  I’ve written about this before, about only finding my body and intentional movement when I was 30.  The only time I’ve ever played a single team-based game is in gym class.  And I was That Girl who tried to get out of it, obnoxiously reading Sartre on the bench while nursing “cramps.” I’ve never been on any team of any kind, unless the bike rally “team” counts, but that was really for social support — it had nothing to do with how we actually rode.  That suited me.

I’ve never learned how to learn to do physical things that don’t “come naturally.” I’m  a runner and a cyclist who likes hiking and mountaineering; these are just things we do as kids, but with fancier gear and plane tickets.  I’m really lousy at translating verbal instructions to physical actions — I remember trying to learn to golf when I was 12, and being super frustrated at not being able to feel in my body the “helpful” gibberish people were saying to me.

And I felt that with the axe-throwing, too.  As soon as the group I was with realized how terrible I was, they were full of advice.  “It’s like flow yoga.”  “Hold your wrists straight.” “Let go of the axe earlier.” “Try standing on the block. Beside the block. In front of the block.”

I was good-natured about it and let people move me around like a Fisher Price Little Person who came with a Post-Industrial Axe-Throwing Barn(TM).  But most of what they said was nonsense to me.  I don’t understand how people make sense of “let the power come from your back legs” or “soft hands, loose wrist.”  If I’d been in a grumpier mood, I would have wanted all these well meaning people to shut the eff up.  I just let it roll over me, enjoying the novelty of the experience.

But then, one of the instructors said something that made a tiny bit of sense:  start out in warrior three.  Suddenly, the notion of where power “comes from” made sense to me.  I have done enough yoga to have a felt sense memory of how to move in and out of that pose.  I didn’t focus on the axe as much as on centring my body.

I didn’t get much better at it, really, but my form was better. And when I thunked off the board, it was in the general vicinity of where I was aiming. And it was more fun. I felt it in my body instead of sort of fighting with the axe.


(This is me throwing “the big axe” to break a tie on Sunday. It was hard and I sunk it in the target. It felt GOOD).

In the past few years, I’ve let myself try to learn a few new things physically.  I learned to scuba dive about five years ago, and failed my certification the first time, until I got comfortable with feeling what was happening in my body. This summer, while canoe camping, Sarah taught me how to J-stroke, because after being the front-of-the-boat paddler for three decades, I had to stern. Again, I couldn’t get it when I thought about it, but when I let myself just feel it in my body, I sort of got it.


I realized something with the axes. Everyone has an idea about what will help. Which doesn’t help me much. My body doesn’t translate words to actions very well, and I’ve let this belief about myself dictate what I do physically most of my life. But if I let myself hear what’s *behind* the instruction — which is usually about focus and just centring yourself a bit — I can actually learn.

The instructor we had for the first axe episode was named Bowie, a loud, worked-up Gnome of Axes. At one point he sort of barked at us “if you are sucking, take a pause. Centre yourself . And Just. Try. To. Throw. Better.”

We all laughed. But actually, it turned out to be the words that worked for me.


Slow down, you’re going too fast–how to make your long runs work better for you

legs only front view of a runner, right foot hitting the road, left foot swinging back, with a red glow. Words on the photo say "are you sabotaging your long run by running at the wrong pace."Lately I’ve had lots of people in my life tell me I need to slow down. It’s true I’ve had lots going on and I haven’t had a weekend at home since Labor Day weekend. And away I go again tomorrow.

But the one area where I’m really good at going slow is running. Despite that, studies show that if I’m like most runners, I might not be training slow enough.

“Long slow distance runs” are called that for a reason. They’re supposed to be long and slow. The other day when I was out running with Morgan, she reminded me of what I already knew: that the majority of us do not take that seriously enough.

In the article “Are You Sabotaging Your Long Run by Running at the Wrong Pace,” Sarah Russell notes that a good training program is all about building a solid aerobic base. Even the elite Kenyan runners, known for their achievements at the marathon distance, “spend around 85% of their time running at an ‘easy’ or ‘recovery’ pace.”

Russell says:

Yet this is what most recreational runners get wrong. Running ‘easy’ doesn’t feel right (or hard enough), so they intuitively run at a ‘moderate’ pace, kidding themselves they’re running easy. Struggling to hold a conversation, a heavy sweat, and red face post run is a giveaway that you did not run ‘easy’!

What’s easy? It’s about 70% of your maximum heart rate. It may be “easy” but it’s not easy to do. Our bodies adapt and then we want to go faster.

It’s good to do some drills where we push ourselves — speed intervals, hills. It’s good to do shorter tempo runs. But the worst thing for training, long thought to be the most useless waste of time, is to train in the mid-zone where we’re pushing too hard to have a conversation but not as hard as we do when we’re doing speed work or climbing hills.

Russell says:

Regular aerobic training will train your body to utilize oxygen, preserve glycogen stores by using fat for fuel, and generally become more efficient.

However, I estimate that at least 75% of runners – of all abilities – run too fast too often, and end up in the ‘mid zone’; training neither the aerobic or anaerobic systems correctly.

Many coaches, myself included, recommend an overall balance of hard/easy training (whilst avoiding the moderate zone), a method now becoming known as ‘polarized training’. The avoidance of ‘moderate’ training is the key, and runners focus on ‘easy’ paced running for the majority of time, with a sprinkling of really hard work (where you really can’t chat!) mixed in for approx 20% of the weekly mileage.

Lazy Girl Running also advocates the slow run. How slow? Here’s her take on it:

Speed is relative, so while my ‘slow’ miles are around 10 mins/mile, to another runner this would be their goal 5k pace, but my 5k pace is probably a cool-down for faster athletes. As a rough guide though, I’d say that easy runs should be 1-2 mins slower per mile than marathon pace. For those targeting shorter races it’s a couple of minutes pre mile slower than race pace, you should feel comfortable holding a conversation while running and not out of breath.

This may be difficult for beginners to gauge, since pacing is a learned skill that takes time. I find that running with friends, especially on the long runs, forces a reasonable pace because we’re talking. As long as we’re able to talk, we’re probably doing okay.

The benefit of better fat burning is for efficiency, not weight loss. As Lazy Girl Running says:

Very simply, your body runs on both fat and glycogen (from carbs) – just like your house might be powered by both gas and electric. The percentage of fat and glycogen that are powering you at any given minute will depend on the intensity of your activity. So sitting down reading this, you’re powered more by fat, but stand up and jump up and down for a few seconds and more glycogen will come into play.

…Running at an easy pace teaches your body to burn fat over glycogen for fuel. Which is handy because even a slim person has enough body fat to power them through 500 miles of running, but running on glycogen alone they’d struggle to get much beyond a half marathon.

Besides building your aerobic base, running slower enables you to run longer and, yes, faster.  And when I say longer, I don’t just mean 15K instead of 10K. Running produces wear and tear on the body. Running hard puts us at greater risk.

I want to run into my seventies if I can (I’m about to turn 52 on Saturday). So if I want to keep going for another 20 or more years, I need to pace myself literally for the proverbial long run.

Like the Kenyan athletes, faster runners do most of their running at an easy pace. In “Train Slower, Run Faster,” Matt Fitzgerald explains that the only way to get faster is to run a lot. But you can’t run a lot at a high intensity without suffering burnout. Fitzgerald says “Research has shown that average weekly running mileage is the best training predictor of racing performance in runners. The more we run, the faster we race.”

So there you have it. If you want to run further, longer, for more years, and faster, the key is in the long slow distance run. It’s not just okay to slow down, it’s better.






competition · fitness · Guest Post

Guest Post: Canadian Duathlon Nationals – Race Report (Aug.24/16)

My primary goal for the 2016 duathlon season was to qualify for the 2017 age-group world championships to be held in Penticton, BC.    I had three opportunities to qualify – Gravenhurst, ON in July (2 spots per 5 year age group), the test event in Penticton, BC in August (10 spots) or Montreal, PQ in September (5 spots).  I knew with my recent weight gain and low level of fitness this summer, I would not be able to qualify on the hilly Gravenhurst course.   I was pretty confident I could qualify on the flat Montreal course to be held on the Formula 1 course at Parc Jean-Drapeau but with it being the last opportunity of the season, I didn’t want to delay until then.   I chose to compete at Penticton, both because I felt confident I could finish top 10 in the women’s 50-54, and because it would give me a chance to test out the 2017 Worlds course.

I reviewed the course profile online before registering.  It showed that the run course had a significant 400m hill at the 1.0km mark.   I assumed this meant we would go up it twice for the 10k and once for the 5k.  The bike course showed as completely flat, going along the west shore of Lake Okanagan.  A friend warned that this route could potentially be windy, so I was apprehensive about that.  Since I was so out of shape at the beginning of the season, I carried on with adding volume, speed and hills, and did four duathlons, five club time trials and three running races.   I completed the full distance of this race 17 days prior at MSC Bracebridge, which gave me confidence that at the very least, I had enough endurance to complete the full distance.  My time there was 3:18, which is about 40 minutes slower than the last time I did this distance duathlon.  I hoped to be able to improve on that time.

After Bracebridge, I had a few more long and hard workouts but then moved into my taper.  I ended up working a lot leading up to my trip, which meant I missed a couple of my lighter workouts.  In the last couple of days, I was worried that I may have tapered too much.  As well, my plantar fasciitis was flaring up and I had a nagging hamstring twinge.  Rather than get treatment, I participated in a 5 Beer-5km race five days prior to this race with my hamstring taped up.  Hey, life is too short to miss doing Stupid Human Tricks!

We arrived in Penticton two days prior to the race.  By this time a full race preview was available.  I learned that the run course was actually a 2.5km loop, meaning we would have to run up the large hill SIX times.  It was also far longer and steeper than I had anticipated.   The bike course however, was very flat and the wind at our 7am race time, was fairly calm, so that was a relief.

Going into the race, I knew I had the endurance to finish, and I knew I could get a decent time on the flat bike course.  I knew my challenge would be the hills on the run.  I spoke to some other competitors and they pointed out that the run turnaround was at the top of the steep hill.  Running up and immediately down a steep hill like that four times and then transitioning to a hard bike ride, would also be difficult.

Race day finally came.  I did about a 10 minute warm up with lots of stretching of my calves and hamstrings.  I didn’t feel anything worrisome during my warm up, especially with my hamstring taped up.  My legs actually felt fairly fresh, which made me relieved that I had tapered well.

Run 1 (goal 6:00/km, actual 5:50/km) –  When the gun went off, I settled into my pace and covered the first flat kilometre.  As we hit the uphill the first time, I was pleased to find that the hill actually flattened out in the middle so that we had a bit of a rest.  I decided that I would count the hill in pieces, ie my first run up was 2 hills done, second time up was 4 hills done, and so on.  With such a long race, I play games like this in my mind. The nice part was that the downhill was not as painful as we had thought.  As well, the downhill grade carried on for a fair bit past the visible end of the hill so I was able to carry my downhill speed.   Then with a final turn, the first 2.5 km loop was done.


I continued on and found that the short loop was easier psychologically than a big one loop 10km.  I got to see the same water station and cheering volunteers 4x and got to go through the start/finish area 4x.  I got a nice boost every time the announcer called out my name, especially on the second time through when he announced that this was my fourth time racing Nationals and that I was a consistently strong finisher.  Not sure where he got that information from but it sure was nice to hear.  By my third lap, I was being passed by the faster competitors, but even at their 35-40 minute 10k pace, they were good enough to cheer me on as they passed.  I tried to reciprocate before they were out of range.  Finally my four laps were over and I was thrilled to see that I had run under an hour in 58:30.

Bike (goal 27km/h, actual 28.7km/h) – The bike course travelled out of town along the south shore of Lake Okanagan, past the motel strip.  The road was quite rough here but then we turned right to travel north up the west shore of the lake on the highway, where the road surface was very smooth.  Highway 97 at this point is two lanes on either side, with traffic going at least 100km/h.  The course was set up so that we had a closed lane in each direction.  It was a bit unnerving to have traffic going at that speed so close to us, but I did not feel unsafe.   Our course was two out and back 20km loops.  I checked my speed at about the 5km mark and was surprised to see that I was already at about 28 km/h average speed.  I was in my big chain ring and a mid-gear at the back and rolling very well.   It felt like I had a slight headwind but I didn’t think this could be possible if I was going that speed.  I have been tricked by the wind before so I didn’t want to get my hopes up.

Sure enough though, when I came through the 10k turnaround, I got a tailwind and my speed went up even further, to about 30 km/h.  I started getting lapped by the faster riders, who were absolutely flying on their second bike lap.  Now I started to get excited.  If I could hold my speed, and do a decent final 5km run, I might be able to break 3 hours in total.  I got back into town for the 20km turnaround at about 41 minutes.   I headed back out and started to push my pace a bit more, now that I knew what the course felt like.


With the highway portion of the course being so flat, and only changing gears occasionally, I found myself getting mesmerized by the unchanging scenery and the traffic passing beside me.  Whenever my mind wandered to something other than focusing on going hard, I repeated in my brain, Stay In The Box.  What this meant to me, was to stay in the feeling of discomfort, of pushing harder than my body wanted and to empty my brain of anything other than that focus.

I knew that once I got to the turnaround at 30km, I could push as hard as possible and just shuffle my final 5km.   That is what I did for the final 10km of the bike.  My quads and hamstrings were getting very tired, but I just ignored them and pushed through to the end of the bike course.

Run 2 (goal 6:30/km, actual 6:28/km) – Due to pushing so hard on the bike, I had a rough transition to running. Whenever this happens, I focus on leg turnover speed, even if it means taking short, choppy strides.  At least it gets me moving forward.  I hit the base of the big hill and opted to power-stride it.  This is a positive way of saying, I was walking!  I was able to run through the flattened portion and then strided the top portion.  On the steep downhill, I was able to run again.  Once I came through the start/finish area, I was elated, knowing I only had one more 2.5km lap to go.  I did the mental math and saw that I would be able to go sub 3 hours, if I just kept moving.  Once more up and down the Vancouver Ave. hill, and then a short 500m to the finish.  Sure enough, I came across in 2:58 with a huge smile on my face!

Results – I needed to get a top 10 in the Women’s 50-54 in order to qualify for the Worlds race next year.  During the race, I became aware that there were not many women my age and over, so I was pretty much assured that there were fewer than ten in my age group, but I didn’t know how few.  When I saw the results, I found that I was 3rd W50-54…. out of 3.  This is the third time I have gotten a bronze medal at Nationals (also 2012 and 2013) but the first time that there were only 3 of us in total.


It is disappointing and awkward to explain this result when asked.  A standard distance duathlon is a difficult sport with the two runs and it will always be less popular than triathlon.  It is hard to interest people in participating in a race of 55km.    It even seems a bit mind-boggling to me that I can propel myself over 55km in less than 3 hours, at age 53, especially while carrying extra weight.

Where does the motivation come from, to participate in obscure competitions at middle age?   It has to come from within.  (Yes, I am paraphrasing Chariots of Fire’s Eric Liddell there!) I have regained the confidence in my body’s physical abilities.  Motivation also comes from friends who see my age, my size and my life responsibilities and tell me that they are now inspired to try activities that they once thought were impossible for them.  That is humbling and motivating for me.

Now that I am back to being a sub-3 hour duathlete, I am very excited to continue my training and see what 2017 brings!


Finally, a shout-out of gratitude to Girls Who Bike, 20 Minute Daily Groove, Runners Choice London, London Centennial Wheelers, Multisport Canada, and of course my FamJam.


Sam is Switching Gears for Fall, Are You?

Dark trees with bright yellow leaves against blue sky, found at

I work with a cycling coach. Actually, that sounds odd but maybe I wrote it that way because it just sounds better than saying more simply, I pay a cycling coach and he sends me a monthly training plan and checks in on my progress on a weekly basis. See I love having a cycling coach.

The reason that’s relevant is that I just looked at October and noticed some seasonal changes. I’m weight training again. And running. And cycling less often. In October it’s not the temperatures that put me off, it’s the lack of daylight. Australian cyclists train in the dark but not very many people here do and I hate to ride alone.

Also, I’m putting my canoe away soon. Sigh.

But on the plus side, I’m also hoping to make it regularly to Aikido this fall, though that’s not part of the official plan.

And then there’s the fun random stuff: boxing when I’m in Toronto, maybe more axe throwing, cyclocross riding…

I’m hoping the running goes well. I love running in the cooler weather.

How about you? Any seasonal changes in what you do for fun and fitness?


Why I don’t talk about food choices or weight (yours or mine) anymore

shhhhh-clipart-2It’s been a long time coming, my personal prohibition against talking to people about food, diet, weight loss or gain–yours, mine, or someone else’s. Several years ago, in the early days of the blog, I wrote, “‘You’ve lost weight, you look great!’ isn’t  a compliment.” I outlined a bunch of reasons, from the implicit insinuation that you used to look “not so great” to the association of losing weight and getting thinner with looking better to the reinforcement of the idea that it’s okay to police other people’s bodies.

I still believe all that, and along the way I’ve added a deeply aspirational commitment to body neutrality to the mix. It’s not only because loving my body is not a likely scenario for me, but also because, as I said in my post about body neutrality, “when I’m neutral I’m not passing judgement either way. It just is.”

So I’ve been pretty committed to cultivating a non-judgmental stance towards body/weight and food choice. And I’m realizing that it’s almost impossible to be non-judgmental and at the same time congratulate people on weight loss and “good” food choices. Praise about either makes it seem as if we’re keeping an eye on how the people around us look and monitoring their food choices.

But sometimes other people invite that kind of thing, right?  They’re vocally and publicly trying to lose weight (maybe even keeping a blog about it) or make the “right” food choices (maybe even sharing their choices on social media). In those cases, is it okay to jump in and tell them how great they are?

I feel like I’m in a minority, but I want to say “no.” It’s still not okay because it perpetuates two ideas that I just can’t abide. First, it perpetuates the pernicious idea that we should associate weight loss with looking better. This is something that is drilled into our psyches to such a degree that I can already hear some people saying, “but doesn’t losing weight make people look better?” or “I know I would look better if I lost weight.”

People, that’s a social ideology that we’ve been indoctrinated into through years of conditioning. Thin, lean bodies are still the dominant aesthetic ideal in this part of the world. And that ideal is as harmful and oppressive as ever.

Not only don’t I want to applaud my friends for their weight loss efforts–and any friend of mine will tell you I really offer no comment on their bodies. I hardly even notice, to be quite honest. A co-worker of mine told me last week that she’s 7 months pregnant and I didn’t even notice she had a bump until she pointed it out.

Now, what about food? I like talking about good food that you or I enjoyed, sharing recipes, and trying new things. Also, I’m vegan (for ethical reasons), so if someone wants to engage me a conversation about why I choose to live a vegan lifestyle, I’m there.  So it’s not that I will never talk about food.

But I do not talk about what I eat in relation to diet, weight loss, food restriction, and so forth. Awhile back I made the mistake of suggesting on the blog that I might experiment with sugar elimination. It was a mistake for all sorts of reasons and it opened me up to attack. Why? Because a feminist fitness blog has got to be the last place you expect to hear about food restriction or elimination, or any idea that hints of diet.

This came up in relation to the book Sam and I wrote (coming in Fall/Winter 2017). The publisher has mentioned a few times that they want me to include some detail about my food choices. But this feels seriously out of keeping with my values around this issue.

Not only that, I have come to see that when people talk about their diets as if following a specific way of eating is somehow virtuous, that attitude of self-righteousness annoys me. I’m probably not alone in that. Also, don’t we have better things to talk about than the fact that we ate a slice of pizza last night (gasp!) or that we declined a slice of key lime pie (so virtuous and strong!)?

Back when I was a graduate student, I spent a disproportionate amount of my time talking and thinking about diet, weight loss, weight gain, eating and cheating. I don’t know how I ever got my dissertation written considering how I obsessed about these things. And now I feel as if I’ve had my fill of it.

So if you want to talk about your diet or those pounds you want to lose, you’ll have to talk to someone else because I have chosen to “zip it” when those topics come up.

What about you? Do you engage in these conversations at all? Reluctantly? With relish?


cycling · fitness

Why 40 km is my magic distance

I realized this summer that 40 km is special to me. It’s the distance on a bike that no matter how tired I am, feels like “almost home.” No matter what, I can ride 40 km. It’s what? An hour and a half. I can do that. 
It happened a number of days on the bike rally. Just 40 km to go after lunch? Then we’re pretty much there.

And it’s funny because way back when, when I first started riding in my early forties, that was my long ride. 40 km was big for me. When I showed up to my first training ride with a local triathlon club, our ride was 40 km. I even drove my car to the start with my bike on the track because I didn’t want to add on the extra 18 km to get to and from my house. 

But I know how it happened. I ride 40 km every week with a local cycling coach and group of women he coaches. It’s always 40, never more, never less. Sometimes it’s a loop. Sometimes it’s out and back. But it’s always 40 km.

I think some of the duathlons I used to race had a 40 km bike ride. I’m good at 40 km.

How about you?  What’s your magic number?