I’ve often thought that 20 km would be perfect commute distance. For me, that’s in that happy sweet spot. I’ve never lived that far away from work. My real life commutes have been between 15 and 30 minutes.
Maybe I’ll look for a house in the countryside….
What’s your favorite weekday distance?
(Weekends I love 60-100 km, preferably with sunshine, rolling hills, good friends, and breakfast.)
Have you ever believed a thing about yourself, just fervently believed and adamantly defended it, and then one day you’ve woken up and realized that perhaps what you’ve believed and defended has… changed? Or perhaps was never quite true – not in the way you had imagined, anyway – in the first place?
An image of six boys running on a school track; it looks like nearly the end of the race. The boy in the foreground is racing to win; the image is in sepia tone. What does this have to do with my post? Read on.
This story begins back in spring, when I hopped back into the scull at Leander, my new boat club in Hamilton, Ontario, full of keen interest. My bum was not even on the slide yet when I realized that the women I was now training with were experienced, serious, committed, and out to win.
Not that they are not completely amazing humans, balanced and sane and gorgeous, and not that they are not fun, or out to have fun. They are all these things too. And, OF COURSE, not that there is anything whatsoever wrong with wanting to race to win. On the contrary: I love winning. I LOVE WINNING!
Or so I thought.
Rowing with these women started to freak me out pretty much immediately. I was painfully aware that, while I’m strong as hell, my technique in a scull is not honed enough yet to be easy or natural; this is another way of saying that I kept yanking our boats off course because I’m strong enough physically, but still weak enough technically, to be something of a liability. I was hugely embarrassed about this from the get-go, because I knew these women needed an able and consistent teammate. I wanted to be that teammate. I did.
Or I thought I did.
I told myself: I’ll improve over the summer. It will come in time. There’s time! Training consistently will help! I will do the training required.
Then summer rose high, and I had (as usual) lots of work travel. (This is why I rowed much more casually back in London, Ontario, with my delightful and equally casual and fun teammate Jen. For us, the water was pure joy. PURE JOY. More on this later.)
So: despite my best self-talk, I got out to Leander’s regular masters practices much less over the summer months than I’d hoped. Or that I had told myself I had hoped, anyway.
I wasn’t in the boat enough to be improving, and I realized that; I chose not to sign up for regattas in the expectation that I would not be ready.
It all seemed sensible and logical enough in my head: just not quite ready, not yet.
After a while, and a chat with Cate, it dawned on me that something else might be going on – other than me being super busy.
A large “Duh!”. Because, Kim, come on. DUH.
I realized I might be finding lots of excuses not to go to rowing practice, because actually I was scared of going to practice.
I was scared of letting my teammates down. The pressure to improve was destroying the pleasure, the pure joy, rowing held for me.
When I thought about it more, as the summer passed, I realized that I actually hadn’t been all that busy, not really. Actually, I had chosen not to go to many practices, or sign up for regattas, because the thought of racing was making me crazy nervous. The idea of getting to the race was making me nervous. The idea of spending a day at the race was making me nervous. The idea of driving back from the race was making me nervous.
Not because I didn’t want to win a race; don’t be silly. I LOVE TO WIN. But because … well, I didn’t actually want to race.
I realized: I. Did. Not. Want. To. Race. Not like this, anyway. Not now, anyway. Maybe not… ever.
Surprise, self. Surprise.
Autumn arrived, and then my teaching schedule and family commitments meant I could only reasonably commit to one practice a week. And then family health problems arose and made me so tired, so exhausted from the thought of even trying to row, that I just emailed my head coach and stopped. I should have done this long before, of course, but finally I had an excuse that was legit. Or that I thought was legit. “Family crisis!” sounds so much better than “Really just not enjoying it!”
But the truth is, crisis or none, after I emailed Greg I felt immeasurably better, lighter.
I want to be clear here that I’m not suggesting that racing is bad – hells no! If it is your cuppa, please head straight for the starting line! I also want to be clear that I’ve thought a lot about the mixed and complex feelings I was having around rowing practice over the last few months, and I’ve concluded that the cloud of expectation I felt around me about racing was really, powerfully, hampering both my love of the sport (which is real) and my desire to be better at it (which is real, too). I started out telling myself that of course I was going to race, and of course I was going to commit to all the things in order to make that happen. No excuses! But it turns out that hyper-motivator of a phrase was the opposite of motivating for me.
Early in the autumn, the head of the women’s crew and I found ourselves in calm water in the double one Sunday morning. She knew I was struggling but I doubt she knew the depth – almost certainly not, since I had only just begun to admit it to myself. We started talking about the club, its culture, and then I asked her about the Rec program: was it super loosey-goosey and frustratingly disorganized like Rec rowing often can be?
No! She told me. She sang the praises of the coaches and the structure and the fun of it. She told me it was how she had gotten interested in racing, inspired to leap up to masters. I suddenly realized that maybe I could grasp again the joy and fun of the learning that goes into rowing by dropping down to a low-pressure, no-stakes, but still structured and technically focused environment next season. Maybe I could actually develop a true, heart-felt, joy-filled desire to race one day.
Soon, we spotted a heron on the shore and stopped hard for a look. We commiserated about the heat building and the sweat beginning to ripple on our arms. Greg came by in the coach boat to chat about his new super-wicking shorts; we had a laugh and took away a pro sartorial tip. And I remembered the pleasures I take from the boat, when the pressure to perform eases off.
A young woman half-sit in her single scull along a lakeshore, looking into a cloud-filled, orange sunrise. She is wearing a white sport top, blue sport shorts, and looks to have her hair in a braid across her right shoulder. This is not me! But maybe, next season, it might be.
See you next season,
*This will be my last regularly post for a while. That family health crisis I speak about above is actually, really, a crisis, and I’ll be turning my attention there for now. I hope to write again before too long, though. Thanks for reading.
Sam and I have been super pleased with the professional photos Ruth Kivilahti of Ruthless Images took for our book promotion. We have gotten a ton of mileage out of them and I would recommend Ruth in a heartbeat for anyone in the London area who needs high quality images to help promote a project. Here’s one of our faves:
I loved working with Ruth on this. She has a knack not just for taking fantastic portraits that feel fun and informal, but also for making the entire experience enjoyable. I knew too that both Nat and Sam had had great experiences with Ruth in a boudoir photo shoot a few years ago. You can read Nat’s story here. And Sam’s here.
Boudoir photography is a genre of photography that captures intimate moments–sexy, romantic, private, possibly but not necessarily erotic.
Last week Ruth posted a call for volunteers. She is rebranding and rebooting her boudoir business and wanted some new material for her marketing. I have been interested in doing this for some time but it so far hadn’t happened. So I volunteered. And Ruth said you’re in!
I showed up at a loft space she had rented. Ruth asked me to bring a few outfits that made me feel sexy. Reflecting on what makes you feel sexy, not necessarily what you think someone else might find sexy, is in itself a challenge. To me, that is one of the things that makes boudoir photography intimate from the start — its focus on an internal sense of sexy, where the best of it manages to depict that in the images. I selected a few different “moods” and threw them into a suitcase, along with some accessories, jewelry, shoes, and boots.
The first order of business was make-up. It turns out that in the end, the make-up was the thing that I struggled with the most. Not the revealing outfits or worries about my how my aging body might photograph, but the make-up (I’ll say more on that in a moment).
The loft was a cool two-story space downtown, with lots of exposed brick and spare, simple contemporary furnishings and decor. As I was getting my make-up done (by Amanda, of Beauty Bomb Glam), Ruth was doing a shoot with Angela. I wasn’t exactly nervous but I did start to wonder, as I tend to do, whether this would work “for me.” Ruth showed me some of Angela’s shots and wow, she looked absolutely stunning. I began to doubt whether, no matter how much talent I knew Ruth had, she would be able to take pictures of me that would capture a sense of “sexy” that was true to who I am (the way it appeared she had done in Angela’s pics).
Anyway, nevermind. I set out my various outfits and we decided to start with a classic slip-style sheer nightgown. Ruth got me into all sorts of awkward poses that she assured me would look natural in the photos. Here’s one from that series, which she offered as a “sneak preview” a couple of days after the shoot:
Of the sneak previews I like this one the best because it seems natural and I actually think I look amazing (Ruth is so good with the camera).
After that, I went to some of the more racy outfits, and we had fun with those too. We went all over the loft, taking shots in window sills, against brick posts, on beds and chairs and couches, against walls. Every so often Ruth showed me what she was shooting, and I have to say, they made me feel good.
Ruth’s concept is that boudoir is for everyone. Not just young, thin, conventionally beautiful women. Up after me, in fact, were a couple of guys who were just so incredibly adorable I almost wanted to stay and watch their shoot.
When she posted the sneak previews of my session on her Facebook page, Ruth mentioned that I was 54 and doing my first boudoir shoot. She said:
At 54 she came in to honour her body, to find empowerment and to experience the power of boudoir… and I am SO incredibly glad she did.
Boudoir isnt just for the 20 or 30 somethings…
Boudoir isnt just for women…
Boudoir isnt for when you reach that goal weight or milestone…
BOUDOIR IS FOR EVERY HUMAN, EVERY DIFFERENT BODY!
Ask yourself, what are YOU waiting for?
I too am incredibly glad I did it. I honestly felt strong doing the shoot and so far, based on the three pics I’ve seen, I like what Ruth captured.
I concur with ‘what are you waiting for.’ I think this type of photography can go a long way to helping create a sense of sensual energy and even power and agency. As I was doing the shoot, Ruth mentioned a couple of times that the men in my life would enjoy them. But to be quite honest, I wasn’t even thinking of that as I did the shoot. I really went quite inward, which is an odd thing to say about photography, which obviously captures an outward image. But anything that is going to have resonance has to depict something deeper, and I do feel Ruth succeeded in that.
If I have one reservation, it is that the make-up, while absolutely gorgeous, is not me. I am a real minimalist when it comes to make-up. I get that it makes sense to have a proper make-up job for professional pictures. But I do wish I had asked for a slight tone-down, more reflective of my natural look. I’m just not a glamourous woman in my self-conception, and the make-up is glam all the way. I had to remove it before I left the loft because I honestly couldn’t imagine going out into the world with that amount of make-up on. So while the clothes were mine and felt like me, the make-up not as much (this is not a criticism of Amanda who did my make-up, by the way).
Make-up aside, I get that some people might think that boudoir photography is just for straight women who want to please their man or men. That is the furthest thing from my experience. As I said above, though I was happy to share the pics and get lots of positive feedback from men and women alike, the biggest deal for me was how the session and what I’ve seen so far of the pictures has made me feel. At 54, this helped me to feel like an attractive woman who still has a bit of sexy left in her. Considering my long history of body image issues, which I have slowly but surely resolved through the new level of fitness and athleticism I’m experiencing since Sam and I embarked on our fittest by 50 challenge, I’m happy about anything that makes me feel good in my body. This experience has certainly had that affect.
Here’s one more shot, where you can get a sense of the make-up, which is appropriate for the setting, but is more than I would normally wear in my boudoir! There’s one more that has a great view of my legs (which I didn’t realize had visible muscles til I saw that picture) but it’s a bit too much for the blog (in my view). If you’re curious you can go to Ruth’s Facebook page. You can also scroll down a bit further and see the sweet guys I mentioned.
Sunday was a big day for Sarah and me. “Big” not just in terms of how much we packed in, though that was certainly true, also big in terms of it feeling like the end of one season and the beginning of another. The day began with brunch with the members of the feminist fitness challenge group that Tracy, Cate, and Christine run on Facebook. I don’t have time to really participate but I’m loving the community that’s developing there. So great to meet everyone!
Sunday ended with lasagne with friends. In the middle it snowed.
Last week it was 27 degrees. Sunday it snowed and we moved some boats around.
I put my summer clothes into basement storage. Sarah found my hats, mitts, and scarves.
More dramatically we braved the cold and the wind and put away our small sailboat. Bye bye Snipe! We had help from our friends Harri and Molly who somehow talked us into trying ice boating this winter. Don’t worry. We’ll blog about it!
Have you ever found an issue that brings out all the views?
Mine this week is girls’ school uniforms and exercise. New research shows that girls’ clothing is part of the story about the play gap, why even young girls move less than boys. Their clothes are more restrictive and there are modesty concerns about young girls getting their rough and tumble on in skirts and dresses.
Here’s this explanation of girls’ lack of movement from Australia news:
“When they get to high school it’s becomes harder to get girls active during recess and lunch than it is for the boys. It’s not surprising then that girls participation rates in physical activity drop off significantly in their early teenage years.
People talk a lot about how girls behave in schools as though it’s providing vital evidence for a genetic-like inability to be naturally active and into sport. “Girls simply aren’t interested in sport” we’re told, “boys just naturally want to run around whereas girls don’t”.
But it’s the girls’ uniforms that are acting like physical shackles. The majority of school uniforms still see girls wear dresses that fly up, blouses that allow little arm movement, stockings that sweat and ladder and long skirts that don’t permit the freedom of mobility needed to run and kick without tripping over in painful schoolyard shame.”
So some of the debate is about relaxing dress codes that require girls to wear skirts and dresses. Fine.
It’s still telling girls what to wear, say our Facebook readers. That’s the overwhelming response there. There’s also the worry, given the cultural context, that there is some Islamaphobia going on. But the school says they’ve done it to encourage girls to move more.
Of course, in schools with school uniforms they’re already in the business of telling girls and boys what to wear. Boys can’t choose dresses either. I’m not a big fan (okay, I hate) gender binary school uniforms. What about kids with non-binary gender identities?
So there’s that issue too, I think.
Then there are the other routes that people have taken to either let girls move more in skirts or protect their modesty. What’s their motivation? It’s hard to tell.
Anita and I did the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon on Sunday and we’ve each written a little recap of the race, which was epic and awesome!
I am still coming down from an amazing high after Sunday’s Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon with Anita. It’s our first event together since she got back from her year in the UK. I can’t even remember when or why we signed up. But I am so glad we did. I’ve been training mostly for 10K all year, and amping things up for a half after my 10K PB back in September felt good and right.
It’s been a hectic time so it didn’t sink in until I was on my way to pick Anita up for the drive to Toronto that “Yay! Road trip!” We made our way to Toronto, stopping at the race expo on the way to pick up our kits. Then we checked in to our hotel just about an hour before our reservation at Planta, my favourite fancy vegan restaurant in Toronto (my favourite not fancy vegan restaurant in Toronto is Fresh). Our plan was to have an ample dinner and then go relax in the room with a plan for lights out at 10:30.
Because we had different race strategies — Anita claimed to be wedded to 10 and 1 intervals (10 minutes running, 1 minute walking) and I’ve been training to run continuously with no walk breaks — I knew I needed to have a good playlist for the tough bits. I was up a bit past 11 slapping a new playlist together. Then I slept reasonably well, with about 45 minutes at 3:00 of obsessing over our timing in the morning. We needed to be in our purple corral by 8:35 for a 9:05 start (they started in waves beginning at 8:45, and we were in the final wave). That meant leaving the hotel by around 8:15. By the time we got close to the start line, there was a crush of people. 25,000 runners trying to get into position at the same time can create a bottle neck.
It was also kind of chilly, but I would rather be cold for a few minutes than too hot for the entire half marathon, so I kept it light, with capris, a thin t-shirt layer and then a long sleeved light top with sleeves that pulled down over my hands to keep them warm. I chose a ballcap instead of my buff because the weather report said it might rain (or even snow!) and I like having the brim if that happens.
The energy at the start of an event of that magnitude is seriously electrifying. I felt happy and strong. Both Anita and I were in a super positive head space that morning, and we agreed that we would run at least the first 30 minutes together continuously and then consider whether to separate. We each chose our respective 2:30 pace bunnies (hers 10-1, mine continuous).
Here we are in the starting corral:
Image description: the backs of crowd of people in running gear, tall buildings in the distance, and a sign that says “PACER 2:30 Half Marathon Continuous.”
Image description: Tracy on left in ballcap and sunglasses, Anita on right in cap and hoodie, leaning in towards each other smiling, people and buildings in the background.
The wave start is kind of exciting because as each wave ahead leaves, the waves behing them move forward until they are in position at the start line. They have an incredible sound system so announcer who does the countdown for each start can be heard clearly throughout all the corrals.
Soon, we were off and running. We were slightly ahead of our pace bunnies and I didn’t see mine again until I passed her with about 2K to go. But Anita’s 10-1 guy seemed to be running really fast. Anyway, we kept him in view, and played tag team with him every time his group slowed down for their walk break because we kept running. I felt strong and I could tell Anita did too.
The only issue I had very early on was that my hands were freezing. Pulling them into my sleeves didn’t help at all. This race has a system whereby a charity comes and collects discarded clothing from the side of the road after the race. So there were lots of throwaway shirts and, more importantly, gloves. by about the 3K mark my hands were cold enough that I picked up someone’s discarded gloves to warm them up.
The next issue after that was we both had to pee. I can usually run through that if it’s just a short distance. But we still had a good 16K to go, so at the 6K mark, still ahead of both of our pace bunnies and still running together, we paused at the port-o-potties. Each of them had a line-up of 2-3 people. That break cost us 5 minutes. But it was a necessary pit-stop and it gave us a new focus: where were those pace bunnies? They’d passed us about a minute or so into our break.
By the time the course approached the waterfront, we could see some people already running back the other way (there’s a bit of an out and back along the lake that cycles back at around the 11K mark). We knew that at some point we would see our pace bunnies on the other side of the street. But it wasn’t for quite some time until we saw them. But each time a pacer ran by holding a sign, we read it out loud — there’s the 3:45 marathon pace bunny! There’s the 1:45 half marathon pace bunny! There’s the 4:00 marathon pace bunny! [kind of amazing!]
My race strategy of continuous running had built into it that I would walk quickly through the water stations if I was taking water or gatorade. That meant that slowing down for about 15 seconds or so, and it was never long enough to break my rhythm. When we reached the 10K mark, Anita was still running continuous, with no walk breaks. I said to her, “Hey, this is the first time you’ve ever run 10K without a walk break.” She was doing amazing.
By then we were listening to our music, and I was happy about the new playlist, because it kept surprising me (unlike the old playlist, which would have bored me). I’m not sure what music Anita has on her playlist, but she turned on the turbo at about 11K and shot up ahead of me. I didn’t amp it up at that time, but simply decided that I would do my best to keep her in sight and then, as we got to about the last 3-4 K, I would speed up and catch up to her. I was super impressed with her decision to do continuous running when she basically had expressed a strong attachment to 10-1 intervals and had in fact said she didn’t see the point of continuous running. Seeing her up ahead churning out step after step really kept me going.
My training with Linda also started to kick in. Instead of letting my mind get the better of me, I reminded myself of the amazing things I had done in speed work and interval training. I knew I had it in me to turn on the jets for bursts of anywhere from 200m to 2K if I needed to. I reminded myself that I didn’t need to end the race with any fuel left in the tank. I was also enjoying the atmosphere. There is an undeniable sense of exhilaration running amidst so many others, not to mention the people on the sidelines cheering us on. And all the while I kept my eye on Anita, on the next kilometre marker, on the next water station, fueling myself with Gatorade and water (I also had some energy chews in my belt and ate three of them through the race).
When we came onto the part of the Lakeshore that goes under the Gardiner Expressway, just past 18K, I started to think about when I should kick into higher gear. It was right around then that I caught sight of the 2:30 pace bunnies up ahead! Well, that was enough to get me going. I picked up my pace and I could see that Anita had done the same. Finally, I had a tangible goal — to catch up with and pass those 2:30 pace bunnies. If I could do that, then I knew that I would come in under 2:30 (obviously). The most epic moment of the race was the minute or so when the gap was closing and I passed them.
It wasn’t too long after that that the marathoners separated from the half marathoners as our course veered north and the marathoners continued east. I could still see Anita up ahead and it was at that point that I decided it was time to catch up so we could run the final K together. We both smiled huge smiles about having passed the pace bunnies, but other than Anita saying something along the lines of “we got this!” we just focused on those last few hundred metres into Nathan Phillips Square. The last part they have markers indicating distance to go: 500m, 400m, 300m, 200m, 100m….finish line!
We crossed the line and high-fived, totally beaming. We picked up water, Gatorade, got our medals and our foil blankets and then followed the crowds of runners to where they were handing out bags of post-race food. It’s an incredibly well-organized operation and we didn’t have to line up for any of it.
2:29:11 may not seem epic to those of you who complete half marathons in under 2:20 or under 2:00 or under 1:45. But this is my best half marathon time ever, and I feel as if it was well-earned. Not only that, if we hadn’t had that frustrating lineup at the pee-break, we would have broken 2:25, which is almost unfathomable to me. And I can set that as a realistic next goal.
It was also a real gift to be able to do the entire 21K with Anita, even when she was up ahead, and to cross the finish line together. It reminded me of everything I love about running with her.
Next up: the Around the Bay 30K on March 31, 2019!
This is the story of how our running plan fell apart, only to result in something better. We approached the race slightly differently than previous ones, where Tracy and I had run side-by-side throughout the whole course. This time we came at it from different perspectives. I was still running 10 and 1s (run ten minutes, walk one minute) while Tracy had just come from a year of training that featured no walk breaks. We had a frank talk about wanting to pursue our individual running strategies this time.
I was prepared to run this race alone in a sea of 25,000 people. For the first time, I carefully curated my playlist because this time it was so important to reaching that finishing line. Mentally, I adapted to the idea of running alone for a long time in contrast to my usual chatty Sunday group training runs. I did some long runs alone to remind myself what they felt like.
The fun part started as we drove to Toronto together the day before the race, allowing us to chat, have a relaxing dinner and share the cost of a hotel room. We talked about how we felt so strong leading up to this race because of our individual weekly training regimes. Neither of us had any injuries or aches to manage on this race – and that was a first! We were both starting from a good place.
On the day of the race the weather was perfectly cool. We got ourselves ready with some time to spare and made our way to the starting corral. We chatted with the other runners around us as we slowly made our way to the start line. Behind me I discovered a former student and her friend who were gearing up for their first half marathon. Soon enough it was time for us to cross the starting line. Tracy and I agreed that we’d run together, without a break, for the first half hour or so before moving into our separate strategies. Part of that involved keeping an eye on the 2.30 pace bunny. All of a sudden I realized that I needed to go to the bathroom….shortly after, Tracy mentioned the same thing. It wasn’t dire but once it was said, it stayed on our minds. We beelined for some portapotties at about the 5 K mark. Relieved, yes, but we lost 5 minutes in the bathroom line! The pace bunny was far ahead.
No matter. In my head I figured that I had already ‘saved’ a couple of minutes by not walking them in the first 30 minutes. I just needed to ‘save’ another few minutes by not walking. Soon I’d have made up the 5 minute toilet break, right? On this basis I started running with Tracy without a break. I’d hoped we would catch up with the pace bunny. Tracy rightly pointed out though that the pace bunny was now 5 minutes ahead of us. So we ran. AND I DIDN’T STOP. Ok, I stopped for a few steps at about three water stations. BUT I FORGOT ABOUT 10 AND 1S. I RAN CONTINUOUSLY. WTF WAS HAPPENING TO ME? I don’t really know except I wanted to catch the pace bunny. I remembered tall John, from our running club, asking me on a previous training run if he could run out his last 3 K with me – I had to speed up a bit to run with him, and this proved to me that I could go a little faster at the end of a long run. And I remembered Tracy and my friend Kaylan talking about getting into the zone without the regular walk breaks. AND SO I KEPT RUNNING WITH TRACY….at about the 13K mark we put our music on for added propane. At about the 18K mark, I think, we passed the pace bunny. That was my cue to stop. I didn’t.
I was on automatic pilot, and lost Tracy for a bit. Luckily, I found her again when I was losing steam at about the 20K mark. I needed her energy at that point.
I’ve never run continuously for more than 5 K. On this day I ran continuously, apart from the bathroom break, for 21 K. And that’s all that mattered, really. Our high fives and smiles at the finish line said it all. Best. Race. Ever.