athletes · Guest Post · race report · running

Lessons learned from a first half marathon (Guest post)

Sunday morning, after five months of training. I ran the Ottawa Half Marathon, my very first timed race, ever. I had a fantastic time. Here are some things I learned during the race itself.

Cheering really does help. There were spectators nearly the whole route, in crowds in some places, or just standing on corners by themselves, cheering. Posters (“This looks like a lot of work for a free banana”), noise-makers, boom-boxes, families, cheer teams, and even children holding hoses and spraying runners who asked for it. It was noisy and cheerful and overwhelmingly supportive. I must have high-fived a hundred little kids and it felt great. It’s true that cheering made me run faster, hurt less, smile more. I thought it would be weird and that I would be really self-conscious. But it was awesome and I felt like a hero. I even mugged for the race photographers, at kilometer 17, which tells you how much fun I was having.

Looking silly

Go through the mister but maybe pass on the electrolytes. I know I tend to overheat, and undersweat. I hit every mister I could. I also poured water over my hair, grabbing cups at every station, and I poured them over my back, too. I grabbed an orange at kilometer 11. I grabbed a sponge at kilometre 14 and doused myself thoroughly again. Honestly, it made me feel like a superhero of running to grab water from outstretched hands at the aid stations. And it’s really fun to run through all the dropped paper cups, like runner confetti. Crunchy and happy and chaotic. I felt like a badass. I did not try any electrolyte drink (hadn’t trained with it) nor any of the energy bites offered (again, hadn’t trained with it)—I didn’t want to risk any tummy upsets. I feel like I got full use of the aid stations (soaking myself) but didn’t throw my plan out the window (new food and drink).

10-and-1s are some kind of miracle. I was initially skeptical about training for an endurance race but taking, like, 13 one-minute walk breaks along the way. It seemed to kind of miss the point. And yet: I pulled a 6:44 pace overall with the walk breaks which is faster than I could run a continuous 10k in the fall before I broke my foot. Somehow the walk breaks (and I walked FAST) gave me enough of a mental break that it was very easy to run all of my longer intervals between 6:15-6:30, which, again, is not a pace I used to be able to sustain at all. Another unexpected benefit of the 10-and-1s is that everyone passes you while you’re walking, so you cease very quickly to be precious about it. You’ll just catch ‘em later.

Trust the training. My run club program had 90 runs in the training schedule. I did 88 of them. My coaches said that 2:20 was and eminently doable half marathon goal for me. Naturally, I didn’t believe them. So I started the race following the 2:30 pace bunny. After about 1km, though, that just felt way too slow, and so I basically sped up the whole rest of the race and wound up finishing in 2:21:44. So my coaches were right, after all, even if I didn’t trust them. Next time I will trust the training.

Some of it is hard, but then that passes. There was a chunk of time around kilometre 14 where I was questioning my pace, my preparation, my endurance, and my motivation. (There was a gentle hill involved.) I slowed down a wee bit for about a minute, and the feeling passed. There was a bigger chunk of time around kilometre 19, where I could see the finish line … on the other side of the canal, and then I had to run past it, and had to keep running away from it for like another 750m before finally crossing the canal and doubling back. I suddenly became overwhelmed with the idea I couldn’t do it any more. I slowed down for about 30 seconds, and then told myself that I had done tempo runs faster and longer than what I had left. By the time I passed the 20km marker, I forgot that I didn’t think I was going to finish, and I sped up even more. It surprised me that I could feel weak, or tired, or scared, and that if I just kept going for even another minute, the feeling would just … dissipate. And that I could be even stronger after.

Live your dreams of athletic glory. I placed in the bottom 40% no matter which way you slice the results. I am literally, statistically, well below average among finishers overall, in my age group, and in my gender. Nevertheless, I ended my race feeling like a gold-medal Olympian because a) I started in the right corral, and b) I started at the very back of my corral. Since I was reasonably conservative about where I lined up at the start line, and since I ran fast enough to almost have run one corral faster, I actually spent most of the race … passing people. I’m not going to lie: that was really great. I never pass anyone, like ever, in real life. I even found the energy for a kick right at the finish. Look at the photo: it seems like many others are happily ambling in, but I’m in full sprint mode, hilariously.

Looking super serious

I started all this nervous about the distance, the training, the race, whether I was a “real athlete” and whether I would just somehow fail at the last moment. But it turned out great, better than I could have hoped. I’m glad I didn’t let all my fears stop me from trying. So I finished my first half marathon, and it for sure is not going to be my last.

Aimée Morrison is on sabbatical from professoring in new media studies in 2018 and trying to achieve some healthy ratio of words-written to miles-run.

fitness

Reflections on Hills, Size, and Confidence #tbt

Four years ago we were in St. Catharines, Ontario for our annual academic event (called “Congress”). Catherine, Christine, Sam and I went out for a morning bike ride and this got me posting about riding and hills. I don’t ride this type of riding anymore, but reading about the anguish of my former cycling self and seeing the determination to “get it” made me feel good. That last line got me, “I want that beautiful, pure look to come over me, the look that says: I thought this was impossible for me, but it’s not.” I did get that with cycling. I did get that with triathlon. And I’m still getting that with running. May you also get that look if you’ve not already. Happy #tbt!

FIT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE

Yelagiri Hills in India Yelagiri Hills in India

I’m just going to come right out and say it: when I’m riding my road bike, I’m terrified of having to go up hills. I imagine hitting my limit, with no gears left to downshift to, grinding to a halt, and toppling over.

This almost happened when I was out on that canal ride with Catherine, Christine, and Sam last weekend. On a really short and not even steep hill, Catherine tried to give me an impromptu lesson on hill climbing. She’s an experienced rider who has run clinics and workshops, so lucky me that she is so willing to share her wisdom. The trouble is, I’m the kind of learner who needs to know what I’m about to learn.

So a lesson on the fly doesn’t always work for me. I need an explicit account of what I’m trying to achieve.  Maybe that’s overthinking things…

View original post 1,201 more words

climbing

Survey on sexual harassment in climbing (Guest post)

A number of American climbing organizations & publications are running a survey on sexual harassment in climbing: http://www.alpinist.com/doc/web18s/newswire-sexual-harassment-survey

It’s worth filling out if you’re involved in climbing at all, or have been, or have thought about getting involved and been uncomfortable and left (or whatever your experience). It seems to have quite a limited lens on what harassment consists in and what its effects on you might be (it might cause you to climb more, climb less, climb the same), but there are open text fields you can use.

Climbing feels relatively egalitarian to me, but what do I know–I’m in philosophy! (Haha. Not.) I know accomplished female climbers who have to deal with a lot of questioning of their ability–e.g. people downgrading routes they have climbed. There has been a recent discussion around harassment among elite climbers.

One thing that I consider an interesting kind of sexual harassment is the way that the culture of adolescent sexual humour in climbing means that a lot of routes and peaks and problems have sexist or racist names–and in coded youth language (of whatever era) that I don’t know. I’m constantly wondering whether I’m saying something offensive in saying that I climbed x. There is a peak in Alberta with a name that would make you spit your coffee. Peakfinder says “Obviously very politically incorrect, the name will likely not be made official but is in common useage [sic].” It offers no alternative, despite its being 2018 and the name’s offensiveness having been more than apparent my entire life. (That’s 52 years and counting.)

I was very proud of the first thing I climbed on Le Salève outside Geneva—and then I figured out I was saying something pretty offensive in saying what I had climbed. I wanted to talk about that in the post I wrote, but I thought that having to write about it in my “proud I climbed this” post was part of the problem, not the solution. So I saved it for another time. (Now. The survey.)

 

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I know Sam likes climbing pictures along with my posts ( 😉 ), so here are pictures of some great climbing partners on Sorrow’s End, a cliff in my own neighbourhood that I finally got to climb this week. I was so excited that in Europe I found I can climb things that supposedly translate into a 5.9+ in North America! I’m ready for 5.10s, I thought! But here I am back to reality, and granite, and my local scene. The people here are on two 5.7s. I climbed them, one on the first attempt but with a lot of coaching and the other on the fourth or fifth attempt. I’d be flashing the European equivalent of a 5.7, no question. (Flashing means climbing on first attempt, with no coaching and without having seen someone else climb it.) 5.7 for 12 metres of layback! Google “layback” and you’ll see it’s described as an advanced climbing technique. Sigh.

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Soon I’ll be in Cambridge with nothing but railways bridges and old colleges to climb. So I’ll enjoy these 5.7s while I can.

 

fitness · holiday fitness · meditation · motivation

Exercising During Ramadhan (Guest Post)

Picture of dates, a sweet fruit used to traditionally break fasts.

I have steadily gained weight since having my two kids. It’s been so gradual that with each gain, I told myself that this was the new normal for my body. I have never dieted (that’s another story) but I have tried to exercise at various points in my life. Early last year (2017), I managed to get into a groove of walking/jogging on a treadmill for two miles, about three times a week. I don’t think I lost any weight during that time (but that wasn’t my goal), but I stopped gaining more. My purpose was to build stamina and strength and I developed a decent routine. Then, around end of May, Ramadhan came and I stopped exercising altogether. I thought to myself that I will pick it back up after, but I never did.

Ramadhan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Last year, it started around May 25th (each year, the month shifts by 10 -11 days). Muslims around the world observe this month by fasting from right before sunrise to right after sunset. During this period, Muslims abstain from all food, liquid, and from any sort of physical nourishment. We also abstain from (or are supposed to anyways) from any sort of bad behavior, such as telling white lies, being impatient, or rude, etc. Anyone who cannot fast because they are ill or pregnant, etc., can make up the fast later in the year. Ramadhan is also the month when we develop the habit of giving to folks less fortunate. It is considered a deeply spiritual month, when one is a guest of God’s hospitality and mercy.

By February 2018, I had gained another 10 pound from May 2017. I also had my blood work done and found out that I had high cholesterol level (the bad kind) and borderline A1C numbers (thing that measures if I am diabetic). I decided to get a personal trainer at my local YMCA and we began to meet once a week around Mid-March. She built a good steady plan with me, though there were weeks where I didn’t do the expected 30 mins, three times a week (I would think to myself: let me do a little bit more grading/work-related-emailing/course prepping because …. life ). Despite building a (more or less) good regimen, I was dreading what would happen to it all during Ramadhan. If I can’t eat or drink for almost 17 hours, I could not possibly workout.

Fortunately, my (non-Muslim) trainer had spent time in a Muslim country during Ramadhan and had some familiarity with the life style changes. She seemed convinced that I could work out during Ramadhan, though internally, I was rolling my eyes every time she would say that. I decided to schedule our last appointment during Ramadhan (I had bought two packages of five sessions and it was the last of the ten).

I was feeling quite lethargic when I went in to the gym. I didn’t want to be there. We began by her going over how I was feeling. Here what I learned in the rest of the session:

  • Since I haven’t eaten in a while before my workout, my metabolic rate slows down. Working out would speed it back up a bit and so I actually experienced a surge of energy by the end of the workout
  • Try and schedule my workout as close to iftari (breaking of the fast) as possible. This way, I can eat and drink within a couple of hours of workout. (This is a bit hard for my family because we open out fast at our local mosque. There is a lecture before our prayers and then we open our fasts together. If I work out around 5:45 pm, it gives me plenty time to get ready, and head to my center by 7:30 and open my fast by 8:55 pm).
  • Lay off hardcore cardio altogether – or anything that makes me thirstier.
  • Workout in a cool environment.
  • During Ramadhan, I should exercise to maintain the habit of exercising and maintain my strength and stamina. This may not be the best time for me to make any new gains.
  • Build in 30 seconds to 1 minute break between reps, be in control of my breath before starting the next rep.
  • Breathe through my nose, not through my mouth so that my throat doesn’t dry up.

Other things I have incorporated for myself:

  • I am trying to not consume too much oily food at iftari– it gives me heartburn, especially since I am eating so late
  • After breaking the fast with a date and/or salt (which is traditional), I have fruits and water first, before having other stuff.
  • I try not to fill up my plate with food. Once I have my first serving, I don’t feel hungry at all.
  • Don’t eat excessively at iftari

I cannot say that I have been super regular with my workouts, but I do physically feel a lot better now that I have been doing them somewhat regularly.

Ramadhan is a month of introspection. We are meant to develop our relationship with God, which requires us to inculcate kindness toward fellow creations, but also toward ourselves. It is one month of the year when we focus on our character weaknesses and improve ourselves, so that we can carry on our good habits through the year. It is a month that is meant to impact all aspects of life – mind, body, and spirit.

I do remember, after last summer I would experience frequent pangs of disappointment from time to time, thinking about how I had failed myself in Ramadhan. And I had, but not in the ways I had thought. I failed to reflect on how my body was part of the spiritual journey. This Ramadhan, I am trying to incorporate exercising and eating better as an integral part of my spiritual experience, part of living life in moderation, something that will hopefully improve the sort of person I am.

I cooked some desi (South Asian) food for our communal breaking of the fast.

Bio: I am an Associate Professor of Philosophy and the Religious Studies program coordinator at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. I am always in the process of getting/remaining physically active. I am also the mother of a 10 and 8 year old. I am concerned about social and political issues that Muslim Americans and other marginalized communities face and believe that our struggles have many commonalities. I am currently working on a book on an introduction to Shia Islam. You can find more about me at http://www.siue.edu/~sfatima/

fitness

“Newsflash” (not): most meal replacement shakes aren’t meal replacements

Image description: Three glasses with shakes and two straws in each, from left to right vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, against a plain background with cinnamon sticks, chocolate, and strawberries on the surface besides the shakes.
Image description: Three glasses with shakes and two straws in each, from left to right vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, against a plain background with cinnamon sticks, chocolate, and strawberries on the surface besides the shakes.

Did you see the headline, “Nearly 80% of weight-loss shakes sold in UK make claims that are ‘exaggerated or untrue,’ research finds”? If you did (or even if you didn’t), are you surprised?

When this came across my desk it was an eye-roll moment. Even at the time of my life when I was engaged in an obsessive and chronic relationship with dieting, as if dieting “success” was my path to life-long happiness, I had a skeptical view of weight loss shakes. I remember Oprah’s stint with Optifast, when she lost 67 pounds and wheeled the equivalent volume of fat onto the stage of her show.

And guess what? It was a longterm fail. I don’t mean this as a negative comment on Oprah. In fact, it was enough for me that even Oprah, a wealthy woman with a team of people supporting her (personal trainer, personal chef, deep pockets, success)You just can’t do a liquid diet and expect that when you get back to actual food you’ll keep the weight off. Oprah starting eating “normally” and within a week she was up ten pounds.

The latest research reported in the article linked to above examined labeling on the packaging of 50 meal-replacement shakes and found:

that just 10 of the brands provided enough information to meet all the requirements, with the majority of products failing to meet the basic criteria necessary to be called a “meal replacement for weight control” shake.

In fact, 79 per cent of claims made by these products were found to not be compliant with EU regulations.

They did a further survey of consumers who use the shakes and found that people are totally confused about what they’re getting. Over half had false perceptions of the products. This state of affairs led the researchers to conclude:

“This study highlights the need for better enforcement to ensure products for sale meet the legally required compositional and labelling criteria which will both protect consumers whilst ensuring fair market competition.”

More generally, apart from the poor labelling, the bottom line is that meal replacement shakes just aren’t meals. They don’t deliver the calories or nutrients that a decent meal delivers. Oprah’s experience shows that. When she started back to real meals, the weight crept back on. That’s known in some circles as the famine response, where the body clings to whatever it can get after a period of deprivation.

And remember the follow-up of Biggest Loser contestants from Season Eight demonstrated permanent metabolic damage. And they weren’t even on liquid diets.

And none of this speaks to the rebound effect of binge eating, that is a documented response to the end of a period of food deprivation (shown ages ago in Ancel Keys’ Minnesota Starvation Experiment shortly after WW II in 1944).

Conclusion: meal replacement shakes aren’t a sustainable and healthy way to lose weight. They don’t just fail to replace meals adequately, but they can result in metabolic damage, and the feeling of deprivation they ignite is more likely than not to result in binge eating and food obsession.

Are you surprised by these research findings concerning meal replacement shakes?

cycling · fitness

Happy #BikeToWorkDay from the bloggers at Fit is a Feminist Issue!

June is Bike to Work Month and we kick it off with Bike to Work Day. That’s Monday, May 28th. See here.

Tracy kicked if off early and blogged about it last week. She’s back in the saddle again!

I’ve signed up for the Guelph Bike to Work Monday and hope to win some prizes and meet some fellow cyclists.

Some of us at Fit is a Feminist Issue are celebrating Bike to Work Day on the blog by sharing photos of ourselves and our commuter bikes on the blog on Monday. (And we’re also biking to work of course!)

Want in? Send me a photo of you and your commuter bike. Include your name, kind of bike, where you live, how far you ride and one other fun fact about you and biking to work.

Email Sam at samanthajbrennan@gmail.com

Looking forward to seeing your bikes.

And you too, of course!

Tracy

Type of bike: Specialized Globe San Francisco
Lives and works in London, Ontario
Bike to work is about 9K round trip
Fun fact: Door to door it is faster for me to bike to work than drive, park, and walk to my office. And I love the bike path that I get to take beside the river almost all the way.

Sam

My commuter bike is a Giant AnyRoad. It’s not a cyclocross bike and it’s not a road bike. It’s a style called Adventure Road bike. See here for a description of why you might want to commute on this style of bike. It’s good on pavement, grass, and gravel. I’ve got it loaded down with German panniers. Usually they contain a change of clothes, a bike lock, lunch, my laptop, books…

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Cate

I’m traveling in Bhutan right now and have been riding a huge mountain bike in the actual mountains. But normally in Toronto I ride a sleek hybrid Opus to all of my work gigs. The distance varies from about 5 km to many of my client site to about 9 uphill if I go to Sunnybrook hospital. I have to psych myself up for that one. I also have to be thoughtful about what I’m wearing, since I don’t have an office and can’t usually change. There are a lot of shorts under dresses. It’s the best way to navigate Toronto traffic and actually know what time I’ll arrive — ttc is way less reliable. I do have a doubleb lock since my 7 year old mec bike was stolen while I was at a meeting a couple of years ago.

Jennifer

Jennifer Burns is a reader of the blog and the Executive Director of the Canadian Philosophical Association. I’m the President and we were meeting Friday to chat about our annual congress. She showed up at the coffee shop we like to work in on this gorgeous bike. It’s an Achielle, a classic Belgian bike that cost her a medium sized fortune but since she doesn’t have a car she decided it was okay to spend a lot of money on a bike.

Christine

I have discovered that the ride to my Mom’s house is far easier than the path to return to my own place. But, the path to Mom’s is downhill so, maybe that’s a whole different metaphor?
I work from home so when I ‘bike to work’, it’s actually me leaving my house, going for a ride and then returning to my house. But that’s good for creating a separation between home time and work time.

I didn’t have any specific criteria for choosing a helmet, so I picked one with similar swirls as the ones on my bike. I thought the connection between the helmet and the bike would help me move smoothly – like a kind of magic, you know?

Bettina

Bettina’s bike is an 8-gear Diamant 247. Diamant is a traditional German bike manufacturer from the East of the country and one of the few success stories of companies that thrived after the demise of communism, although it is now a subsidiary of Trek. Bettina bought her bike six years ago for bike commuting purposes in Hamburg, Germany, which is a very flat city. She now lives in hilly Heidelberg, where she works at the top of a particularly steep hill and no longer bike commutes to work (8 gears just won’t cut it), but she cycles pretty much everywhere else in the city.

accessibility · aging · disability · injury · motivation

An apology: A thing Sam thinks she needs to stop saying…

My life has changed a lot since we started the blog and the fitness challenge. There are things I say when we’re promoting the book that now strike me as wrong or at least not as simple as that, or maybe even naive.

Things feel a lot more complicated since osteoarthritis and advanced cartilage degradation made me a candidate for knee replacement.

It’s hard to get a more nuanced message across when you’ve just got four minutes on television so I’ve been sticking with the simple story but the truth is I know it’s not so simple. I’m not staking out a position here or defending a claim other than than claim that things are messier than I thought. I do know the blog can handle more complexities than the media buzz around the book can take. So you blog readers get the messier story.

Maybe after the book promotion I have to stop saying “if you don’t love it, don’t do it.” There are a lot of things in life that I do but I don’t love. These days a lot of exercise feels to me to fall into that category. Knee physio can be tedious and sometimes painful. And I do it most days. There’s no way to love it. You watch Netflix to distract. You give yourself rewards for finishing. I need to do it but there’s little joy in it.

Instead, I take pride in my grit and determination, in my resolve.

See When exercise isn’t fun.

Why am I doing it? Not love of the thing itself that’s for sure. Partly to be sure it’s instrumentally justified in terms of continuing to do things I love. Canoe camping, hiking, biking. I want to keep these things in my life.

But it’s also instrumentally justified in terms of basic movements, like walking to campus, between meetings, getting in and out of chairs.

To suggest that we approach all exercise from this “loving it” perspective comes from an incredible place of privilege. I had that privilege. I don’t anymore and I’m sorry if I sounded insufferable, naive, and smug.

I saw it again today, by the way, in an online body positive fitness community of which I’m part. Someone offered the advice to another community member to do whatever brings joy to your heart. And the thing is I too reject the imperative that we all have to do joyless exercise to tame or unruly, overweight bodies to keep them in line. I also know though that life is complicated.

Just as Tracy rejects body positivity as just one more demand, I’m coming to feel that way about “if you don’t love it, don’t do it.” No one loves knee physio. It’s okay not to like it and to do it anyway.

It’s okay to be angry and sad and roll your eyes at people who say they just don’t feel like running this morning. You don’t get to yell at them that at least they can run and tell them to just go do it because you can never run again. Just say it in your head. That’s what I do.

It’s okay to think, “I’m tough and I’ve got this” instead of I’m doing this because I love it . Because that’s what’s true: I’m tough and I’ve got this.

Maybe that’s true for you too. I’m sorry for saying you have to love exercise. You don’t. Right now, a lot of the time, I don’t. And that’s okay too.