cycling · fitness

Cycling dreams and cycling hopes

This week we’ve all been lucky enough to hitch a ride with Cate as she bikes through Latvia and Estonia.  If you’ve missed any of her posts about her magical (and windy, and tiring, and heart-filling) trip, you can find them here and here and here and here and here.

Like Sam, I’ve been reading Cate’s posts avidly.  These travel tales send me into a semi-dream state, strolling in my mind across those sunny brisk coastal towns, pedaling along quiet tree-lined lanes, munching on a purloined cheese sandwich during a break.  Being in a place at a moment in time, far away from the distractions of everyday life, riding a bike from here to there each day, enjoying one’s own company– that sounds like the perfect vacation.

Of course it’s not all mindfulness and cheese sandwiches.  Cate is honest about the boredom, the fatigue, the lack of good directions out of town, and the urge to 1) take the train; 2) set up shop in one of these small towns for the foreseeable future; 3) focus on life miles down the road rather than what’s here and now.  But she keeps pedaling.

The first multi-day bike trip I ever took was 12 years ago, in Florida during spring break.  I had just gotten back to cycling, and I rented a Lemond road bike for 5 days.  We (the Lemond and me) took to the rail trails in central and western Florida, including the Pinellas trail near St. Petersburg and the Withlacoochie trail near Inverness.  All in all, I rode almost 200 miles in 4 days, and then did 22 more miles the last day to make my goal of 200 and then some.  Although less scenic and exotic than the Baltics, I felt that same here-I-am-this-is-what-I’m-doing satisfaction.  It was me and the bike, all day each day, with whatever side trips and meals that came up in the course of our ramblings.

During those ramblings I dealt with heat, saddle soreness, boredom, snakes (saw nine dead ones, one mostly dead one, and one live one on my routes), some loneliness, and the knowledge that very soon it would all be over and I’d have to go back to work.  Such is the way of these experiences.

These days, my cycling has been suffused less with dreaminess and more with reality.

I’ve been working to get back in cycling shape and in the cycling state of mind after having far too long a hiatus.  It’s been tough, fun, scary, sweaty, and worth it.  Sunday July 30 I’m doing the PWA Friends for Life Bike Rally charity ride.  My sincere and fervent hope is that I’ll be able to make it all the way through the 110-km route.  We shall see.  I will do my best, and I will have friends with me.

Regardless of current my state of cycling reality, I am filled with hope:

  • I hope to ride strongly and safely and well on July 30.
  • I hope to have fun on the ride, making new friends with my riding group and others.
  • I hope to finish the 110km course.

I also have hopes for my cycling future.

  • I hope to ride (partly or all the way) around Lake Champlain with friends.
  • I hope to ride from my house in Boston to my mom’s house in South Carolina (985 miles).
  • During my next sabbatical (2022– never too early to plan!), I hope to do a long-distance ride with my friend Pata (destination and duration TBA), with other friends maybe joining in for part of the trip.
  • I hope to ride in southern Ontario again with Canadian friends (Sam and others– we will talk).
  • I hope to get into the habit of traveling with a bike when I fly places for work (now that I have my Brompton and its own special suitcase).
  • I hope I’m lucky enough to be able to ride for the rest of my life.

Readers, what are some of your midsummer hopes and dreams– for now, for the future?  I’d love to hear from you.

A cyclist riding on a gravel road in Africa, with two giraffes crossing the road (one in front of him!)



I scored on my own goal (Guest post)

So, the other night I scored on my own soccer goal. Then we lost the game.

But more on that in a moment. First, I would like to point readers to a recent online article, Google Spent 2 Years Studying 180 Successful Teams. The Most Successful Ones Shared These 5 Traits.

A summary of a summary of a study conducted by the ubiquitous Google, this article looks like prime click bait. But after the game, when I was feeling pretty down on myself for contributing to our team’s loss, I clicked.

The article explains the most successful work team traits are dependability, structure and clarity, meaning, impact, and…the fifth (you first have to scroll past an advertisement on the page for added drama) is psychological safety. Apparently it’s superfun to work at Google, which strives to cultivate environments where workers feel safe enough to take risks and ask questions so they will be “less likely to leave, more likely to harness the power of diversity, and ultimately…more successful.”

This list of successful work team traits list was good for me to read that night. Everyone fights their own inner battles, and fear of letting the team down has always been mine.

It’s not a unique problem, I know. Nor might it seem like a big deal. A more confident player would say, “Who cares? It’s only a game. It’s only rec sports. Everyone makes mistakes. Just think positively for next time, and get over it.”

“Getting over it” may be a matter of perception, but when one has fear her perception can be all that matters. I don’t have another Google study to back up my thinking, but I believe that fitness gurus who promote a healthy lifestyle through physical activity insufficiently address the psychological component: there may be a large number of folks (like me) who avoid or leave exercise for fear of failure, inadequacy, and judgment. Easier not to show up than to risk letting others down.

Until recently, this fear of mine, irrational and silly as it may seem, had been strong enough to keep me from joining sports teams (which is already out of my comfort zone) well into my adult life.

So, when my very greatest sports-related fear had come to pass, I turned the corner when I realized that I did have “psychological safety.” I DO (or should) feel safe to fail around this group of amazing women, whom I blogged about previously when it came to “finding one’s tribe.”

And, later in the evening, when one team member checked in with me, and another texted to make yoga plans, my clearer thinking was reaffirmed. A non-soccer friend (with whom I was commiserating) suggested that being self-aware about our fears and inadequacies can help us to re-examine with greater clarity how we perceive the judgments of others.

Now here I am, showing no lack of awareness of my private fears as I blog about them publicly on a fitness site that has recently reached 10,000 Facebook likes.

So, to the anxious late-to-the-gamer like me: find a team that will make you feel safe, and stay aware of your feelings so that you can push through them to get yourself out to the next game.

And, to the other Confident Connies playing group sports: By making failure safe for others on your team, you also enable fearful folks to play at all. For me, that win is better than any scored goal (on one’s own net or otherwise).

More feminist than fit, Elan Paulson works at Western University and plays rec soccer in London, Ontario.

diets · fitness · food · health · nutrition

Why I’m glad I stopped worrying about sugar and other weird food obsessions

I had a funny exchange the other day on Facebook. There was a link about the dangers of the cheese powder in boxed mac and cheese. I commented on my friend’s post that when we can, we should rely on whole foods to make mac and cheese. Being an American, my friend thought I meant the food chain Whole Foods, which is not so cheekily known as Whole PayCheque for the high cost of it items.

Image: White bowl with pasta noodles, red tomatoes, and green basil.
Not macaroni and cheese, but my favourite feta, basil and tomato pasta supper.

Nonetheless we had a good chat about how expensive it can be to eat whole, unprocessed foods, and that led us to a whole other thread about clean eating, healthy eating, good foods, bad foods, cheat meals, etc. We weren’t actually talking about our approach to nutrition but the way the words we use to talk about food get co-opted by all kinds of agendas. It’s quite easy to have all sorts of “isms” and attitudes creep in, altering our meaning and twisting our understanding of food as fuel in our lives and how we relate to it in different contexts.

That same day SamB brought my attention to this article about Anthony Warner, described by the Guardian as “(the Angry Chef) who is on a mission to confront the ‘alternative facts’ surrounding nutritional fads and myths.”  Warner writes a blog on food fads, and he doesn’t hold back. He’s now written a book called The Angry Chef: Bad Science and the Truth About Healthy Eating, and I ‘m adding it to my reading list.

That’s because when you start a fitness program, there’s all manner of advice on how to eat, what to eat, and why the one true way (insert your favourite fad — howsoever you define it —  diet here) will be all that you need. Even if your goal is not weight loss, there’s all kinds of recommendations (cough, cough, rules!) on how to eat to train.

Heck, you don’t even have to be training to get food advice. I’m convinced all you have to be is female and not meet someone’s pre-conceived notion of how female should look, for the advice to come pouring in, accompanied by a generous helping of side eye finished with a soupcon of shade, if the advisor deems your food choices not to meet their definition of “healthy” eating.

What appealed to me about Warner is his evidence-based approach. In the article he says: “A lot of the clean-eating people, I just think they have a broken relationship with the truth. (…) They’re selling something that is impossible to justify in the context of evidence-based medicine.” I like science and research and critical thinking. Sadly, there’s too little of it when it comes to talking about food and part of it goes back to the agendas behind the particular terms used.

Warner says our fascination with fads or trends in food and eating is connected with our innate need for certainty. He explains it this way: “We really want to be able to say: ‘Is coffee good or bad for us?’ Well, it’s not good or bad for you, it just is. And we have to accept that; that’s what science says. So your brain goes, ‘I don’t like that level of uncertainty.’ Certainty is really appealing for a lot of people and that’s what a lot of these people are selling – certainly at the darker end.”

And he’s right. The people who have preached to me about gluten free diets when they aren’t celiac are utterly convinced of the rightness of their belief that going gluten-free cured their ills. Equally certain are the people who now look upon sugar with the same fear and revulsion we bring to edible oil masquerading as coffee creamer.

As I survey the speciality food shelves in my local shops, I’m enchanted by all of the interesting food stuffs and yet, truthfully, I am also challenged by how these same items are elevated in social media, on Instagram, and by celebrities to miracle food status. Warner, who lives in the UK and works for a food manufacturer is clear about the limitations food makers face when it comes to making claims about food: “If I made a food product and I wanted to say ‘it detoxes you’, I absolutely couldn’t. There are really clear laws: I can’t say it in the advertising, I can’t say it on the pack, I can’t make any sort of claim that isn’t hugely backed in evidence. But if I wrote a recipe book, I can say what I want.”

If you have been wondering how Gwyneth Paltrow can make pots of money selling her fans coconut oil as a mouthwash and wasp’s nests as a vaginal cleanser, there’s your answer. The trick is to stop engaging in magical thinking when it comes to food and applying some common sense. Warner’s advice: “eat a sensible and varied diet, not too much nor too little. If you have junk food every so often, don’t feel guilty; if you’re going full Morgan Spurlock, you’re probably overdoing it. Eat fish, especially oily ones such as salmon and mackerel, when you can. Don’t consume too much sugar, but equally don’t believe people who tell you it’s “toxic” and has “no nutritional value.”

Or you can go the Reader’s Digest version and follow Michael Pollan’s advice: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Excuse me now, as I forage in the fridge for the leftover maple syrup glazed salmon.

— Martha is a writer and powerlifter in training exploring a whole new world of food as fuel.





Drinking Kombucha and Living Up to My Plastic Free Challenge

First, you might be wondering What the hell is kombucha? (Go read Cate’s post.)

Second, why is Sam trying to go without single use plastics and what’s that got to do with fitness? (Go read Sam’s plastic free July and the fitness challenge part of it)

Third, okay Cate likes Kombucha but does Sam? After all she hates trendy healthy foods. She even jokes that kale is her safeword. (See Goodbye kale! Goodbye quinoa!) Here’s the answer to that question: Sam tried Kombucha and she liked it!

Okay but how are all these things connected? It turns out that not only does locally made Kombucha come in glass bottles, they’re refillable. Pay $5 for the large one and then next time you can refill the bottle for a discount. Reuse is better than recycle. And to boot, she rode her bike to the retail shop to do it. Win, win, win.

Happy Thursday!


Tracy’s Summer 2017 Running Playlist. What’s on yours?

Image description: Tracy in the foreground with a blue running cap, neon pink t-shirt, big smile on her face, and white ear buds. In the background a sloped hill with wild flower garden on it.
Tracy running in Edinburgh with her Summer 2017 running playlist. Image description: Tracy in the foreground with a blue running cap, neon pink t-shirt, big smile on her face, and white ear buds. In the background a sloped hill with wild flower garden on it.

When I’m not running with people I sometimes choose to run to music. This is a really personal choice. I know runners who never run to music and I know runners who almost can’t fathom the idea of running without it.

But beyond the decision whether to listen to music or not, there’s a whole other question: what do you put on your playlist?  I’ve read stuff about recommended beats per minute and how it can boost your running performance by as much as 15% if you choose right. I don’t doubt that there is something to that. Articles abound listing songs that are guaranteed to make you run faster. See here and here and here.

That’s never been my main goal with my running music. I just want to like it.

I had my old playlist for years (I know). It started with “Stairway to Heaven” (I still think it’s a good start, but that’s not how my Summer 2017 playlist begins), followed by “Happy” and later on, just when needed, “Gonna Fly Now” from the movie Rocky. I’ve been wanting to change it up for over a year (I move slow on some things lol).

So I put it out there to my friends one day on social media: What are the top three song on your current running playlist? I didn’t define the sense in which they had to be “top.” I just wanted some suggestions to get me started. And the suggestions came!

One thing is for sure: people love chiming in on requests like that because everyone has their favourite tunes that they like to run with. I am not really “up” on the latest music. I like music and often have it running in the background, but I don’t keep up with trends and it sometimes takes me a long time to figure out the names of songs I hear being played. Getting recommendations from friends helped a lot. I discovered some new music that has made its way onto some of my other playlists (the ones not just for running).

My approach in putting together the playlist was to listen to all the suggestions and drop each one I liked into a Spotify playlist I called “Tracy Running Summer 2017.” It’s public, so feel free to follow it. It’s not static, in that I’m still working with it and I have shifted things around a bit and it’s still evolving in content and the order of the content.

It starts off slow and steady, with Emmylou Harris singing “Wandering Stranger” followed by Elle King, “Ain’t Gonna Drown.” These are easy going songs that aren’t going to work for you if you’re out the gate super quickly. I’m into a gentle start, and I love both of these songs, and they sort of lull me into my run (which may not be everyone’s preferred approach!).  The pace picks up from there, and by the time you get to Katie Herzig, “Best Day of Your Life,” you’ll be trotting along at a good pace I promise you, and you’ll feel a surge of joy (maybe, if you’re like me and can’t help but feel joyful when listening to “Best Day of Your Life.”

My playlist has two followers so far: Sam and Anita (such loyal friends). Sam says she likes it. Anita said her family got a kick out of it on a road trip a couple of weeks ago and her girls wanted to know if I was aware of what some of the rap songs were actually saying (I’ll have to listen more closely to that Eminem). There’s not a whole lot of rap or hip hop (I’m sorry I don’t quite know how they differ) on the playlist.

Here’s what it looks like:

So that’s my running playlist. Like I said, it’s ever evolving and I’m going to be making a new one in the Fall. I’d love to hear new suggestions either to add to this one or to file away for later.

What’s on your current playlist? I’d love to hear about three of your favourites and any strategies you use for selecting tunes.


Fixed it! (Guest Post)

So I spend lots of time around people who work in the fitness industry. My partner runs his own kickboxing program that he has worked really hard to make an inclusive place for people who might not feel comfortable at other gyms. And I teach taekwondo several days a week, mostly to kids, where I can only hope that some of the positive stuff we say to them about being strong and kind and not putting down other people sinks in.

And I’m not oblivious to all the fitspiration that’s out there which I’m happy to see is being more academically studied and shown to be quite counterproductive. So when a friend of mine who works at the same gym as my partner posted this picture (with annoyance) on social media, I was pretty annoyed too.

A sandwich board on the sidewalk: the top part says "Suck it up" then an "OR", and on the bottom part, someone has partially erased the words "Suck it in"
Someone was not impressed by this message.

And ok, sure, maybe there are some people out there who are motivated to exercise by some generalized feeling of shame for their bodies, but I feel pretty strongly that we can do better than telling people that if they don’t have fit-looking bodies they should hide them. Or exercise until they change them. Or should feel obligated to change the way they look at all.

So… that meant that upon seeing the sign reinstated on Monday afternoon, someone *ahem* decided it might need a little light fixing.

A sandwich board on the sidewalk. The top part says "Suck it up" then an "Or" and the bottom part where it says "Suck it in" is covered up by a piece of paper taped to the sign saying "You might not achieve your goals, but don't be ashamed of your body."
Fixed it!

Your body does not exist to please other people. You are under no obligation to diet-and-exercise it into whatever shape the cultural norm dictates. Your body should not be an enemy to be tamed. Exercise should not be punishment. And don’t let any sandwich board or Internet meme tell you otherwise.