boats · fitness

Seasons change: Putting the snipe away and hello ice boating?!

Sarah and me, with boats behind us, wearing glasses, toques, and hoodies. Looking cold. Brrrr!

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!

Snipe mast on the roof of the car, view from the passenger’s seat
Red flag at the end of the mast, as the law requires
Boats, car, and trees losing their leaves. Some yellow leaves remain.
Picnic table at the boat club. Surrounded by leaves. Almost none remain on the trees..
Trees, no leaves, in front of Guelph Lake
Snipe, with blue cover, ready to be towed to its winter spot in the yard
Mast on the roof of Sarah’s car
clothing · fitness · gender policing

Girls, skirts, shorts, modesty, and movement

Bright pink girls’ running skirt with blue waistband

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.

But some schools have gone further. A school in Melbourne has made shorts and pants mandatory for everyone.

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.

We’ve written about this before here on the blog, about schools that require girls to wear shorts under skirts and dresses. See How clothing rules and modesty obsession limit girls movements.

Other people have views too. See Please don’t slut shame my toddler.

What do you think? About what? Well school uniforms, for one. Telling girls and boys what to wear. Being active in skirts and dresses. There’s a lot going on here. How do you think it through?

Blue and White checked school uniform skirt

Anita and Tracy’s Excellent Scotiabank Toronto Half Marathon Adventure

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:

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.

Image description: Tracy on left and Anita on right, both wrapped in foil blankets that say 'Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon', standing in front of a background that says the same.
Image description: Tracy on left and Anita on right, both wrapped in foil blankets that say ‘Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon’, standing in front of a background that says the same.
body image · fitness

But what if I need to brush my hair? Sam encounters #mirrorlessmonday

It’s #mirrorlessmonday at the University of Guelph.

What’s that?

Mirrorless Mondays: A campaign to promote and educate the University of Guelph community about positive body image, self-love, and Health At Every Size.”

Some, but not all, of the mirrors in our university centre washrooms are covered over with paper featuring body positive messages.

I like it! Does your school or workplace take part in mirrorless Mondays?

boats · canoe · Dancing · nature

Mallory Goes Thanksgiving Canoeing (Guest Post)

Several weeks ago for (Canadian) Thanksgiving I spent the weekend in Algonquin with the Western Outdoors Club. This is an annual trip which I have gone on several times. This year was the largest group I’ve been part of: 62 university students in 21 canoes!

Approximately 12 green canoes sitting on a hill on a island in Algonquin
A bunch (too many to count) of tents and people with a campfire nearby

There are several things I love about this trip (and about Western Outdoors Club in general):

  • the variety in skill level and equipment
  • the number of international students
  • how accessible the club makes trips like this
  • the cost
  • beautiful scenery
Scenic shot of a lake with fall coloured trees on islands on either side. It is raining quite heavily.

However, this year there was one thing I DIDN’T ENJOY and that was the weather: cold and wet. Weather forecast was for highs of 8 and lows of 2 with rain on and off most of the weekend. I’ve camped in much colder weather (-27 winter camping!) but I find fall weather much colder. I’m not sure why, possibly the damp but also possibly because I’m not mentally prepared for it and/or never seem to pack enough warm gear. That being said, I was not cold at night even though I was sleeping in my hammock tent.

Despite the cold it was a fun trip! If you don’t believe me, watch a video here

cycling · weight loss · weight stigma

Not all cyclists are thin, not all drivers are fat

This image is said to be from

I put it that way–“said to be from”–not because I like that feed, though I very much do, but because although a number of people have shared it and attributed it to them, I couldn’t find it there when I looked. (Update: Found. But they just retweeted it from someone else. I’m glad.) This contrast between fat drivers and thin cyclists drives me up the wall.

Modacity life is about this: “In the summer of 2010, our family made the conscious decision to sell the family car, embarking on a new and enlightening adventure. Forced to move to a multi-modal commute, relying on public transit, walking and a great deal of cycling, we quickly realized the benefits of living a ‘car-lite’ lifestyle, not the least of which was the increased human interaction with the city we call home. Using writing, photography, film, and the power of social media, we used this revelation to communicate a more human image of multi-modal transportation. Together, we now strive to educate people and cities about the inherent benefits of moving away from a car-centric transportation model, to a more inclusive one that is accessible to people of all ages, abilities, and economic means.Promoting the public health, environmental, and social benefits of walking, cycling, and public transit, our goal is to improve on the great strides already made in many cities, creating a more open and welcoming environment for residents and visitors alike.”

The Brunlett’s had a book launch in Guelph and I loved the launch. I’ve enjoyed reading the book. 

Anyway, anyway, there are lots of wonderful reasons to ride bikes. It’s great for the environment. It’s great for your mood and for your physical health. Just so many reasons…

But on behalf of larger cyclists everywhere, I just want to say IT WON’T NECESSARILY MAKE YOU THIN.

Also, cycling is for everyone!

See Big women on bikes.

Want an example of how to talk about public policy and bike advocacy without false promises and fat shaming? Look here.

From that interview, ““I got started working on transportation issues, which came about mostly because I love the fun and freedom that comes with being able to ride my bike and walk around my neighborhood.  But when I talk about bicycling from a public-health perspective, it’s easier to emphasize the health and financial benefits of obesity reduction. Which is just plain silly; I don’t want someone to take up bicycling just because it will help them lose weight. That’s a recipe for disappointment and frustration and doesn’t support sustainable healthy choices.”

Just ride and enjoy!


accessibility · aging · fitness

We don’t need a war on walkers

But a fitness class for those who use them might be a good idea anyway. Just don’t call it the “war on walkers” class. Why not? Well, it’s not a war and some people need walkers. for someone with balance issues using a walker can be the difference between independence and getting out and about safely. A walker with wheels, a seat and storage makes it possible for someone fragile to be far more active. It’s needlessly pejorative to call it a “war”. That said, maintaining core and leg strength to stand up out of a chair is huge and is a big indicator for fall avoidance. I like the starting where you are approach and not writing older people off. It can be a tough balance to get right.

Here’s this from a promo for the class called “War on Walkers”:

“War against the Walker class is starting to show real results. Getting up on her own is almost a reality. Introduced the modified push-up this morning. This entire assisted living population has been written off as either a lost cause or too much work. We totally disagree with this sentiment. We will train anyone in any condition, that’s what we do.”

diets · fitness

What’s in a name? More profits, according to Weight Watchers (now WW)

How many of you readers have been to a Weight Watchers meeting? I’m guessing at least this many:

A large group of people with hands raised.
A large group of people with hands raised.

You can count me among this group. My first visit was in my mid-20s, during graduate school.  I went out of anxiety about weight gain, but without any plans or optimism, lasting only about 3 or 4 meetings. The second time I went, I lasted two meetings.  What sent me running for the exit was the leader of the meeting, explaining why we should drink a lot of water: “it washes away the fat”. Argh.  I’m outta here.

Stick person exiting...
Stick person exiting…

Times have changed since those days, 30 years ago. We all know that diets don’t work, and in fact have harmful effects– they reduce our resting metabolic rate, encourage disordered eating, and are often associated with disordered mood.

Weight Watchers has been paying attention to these developments– both in the science of body weight and in public opinion.  And they responded by changing their… name.  To this:

The new name of Weight Watchers, which is WW-- two Ws, one on top of the other, in a circle. Then the words "weight watchers reimagined." I can't make this stuff up.
The new name of Weight Watchers, which is WW– two Ws, one on top of the other, in a circle. Then the words “weight watchers reimagined.” I can’t make this stuff up.

Oprah, who owns a 10% stake in the company, assures us that the new WW is no longer about dieting– it’s about wellness.


Oprah's head with the quote "WW freestyle (their newest plan) is not a diet. It's a way of living."
Oprah’s head with the quote “WW freestyle (their newest plan) is not a diet. It’s a way of living.”


However, looking on the same web page, just above her head (so maybe she couldn’t see it), was this:


The simplest, most flexible WW program is based on science-- you'll lose weight and have freedom with your food choices.
The simplest, most flexible WW program is based on science– you’ll lose weight and have freedom with your food choices.


That sounds exactly like a diet program to me.


And then, looking to the right (on the same page), we see what their updated smartphone app looks like:

A smartphone view, showing food points for the day and week, and allotments for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack. The points plan, a longtime Weight Watchers method.
A smartphone view, showing food points for the day and week, and allotments for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack. The points plan, a longtime Weight Watchers method.


This looks exactly like their standard diet plan, with daily and weekly and meal-ly points assigned for total food consumption and restriction.  My friends, this is a diet. Full stop.

There’s been a lot of media coverage of Weight Watchers’ attempt to rebrand themselves. Even the fancy international economics magazine The Economist noticed.  The article is definitely worth reading, for its archness and detail. Here’s how they summarized some of the changes in the company:

… it has rebranded and adopted the tagline “Wellness that works”. It has stopped promoting before and after pictures, announced a partnership with Headspace, a meditation app, and encourages “beyond the scale” goals. Much of this is to show that the programme is not just meant for your mum.

… the firm is becoming less rigid about its system of points. Previously, members were given a strict daily allowance for anything they put in their mouths. In the early days avocados, yogurt and peanut butter were “illegal” and the banana-allowance was one a week. The new “Freestyle programme” is more flexible. “FitPoints” can be earned for exercise.

However, not everyone is applauding the shift.  The Canadian women’s health blog Chatelaine, said this about the new WW:

One of the dangers of this rebrand is that it makes certain behaviours, like counting points and tracking food and exercise, seem benign. However, Toronto-based nutritionist Emily Tam says they’re anything but. “The repackaging is problematic to me because I think it will propagate the idea that carefully tracking what you eat and how much physical activity you do are normal wellness behaviours,” she explains. “It’s still a dieting program.”

…Their WellnessWins program still counts losing weight as a positive lifestyle habit. “What they’re telling us with this is that weight management is an important aspect of wellness, so to me, Weight Watchers and WW aren’t all that different,” Tam says. “Because the notion that ‘overweight’ and ‘obesity’ are ‘health problems’ that need to be fixed is so prevalent, weight loss or management is widely seen as a part of wellness.”

Here’s what I think:

  • Calling a diet plan a “wellness plan” doesn’t make it so.
  • Calling a diet plan a “wellness plan” messes with peoples’ senses of reality.
  • Calling a diet plan a “wellness plan” when it is so clearly a diet plan is lying.
  • Calling a diet plan a “wellness plan” makes it seem like dieting promotes wellness– but we all know it doesn’t.
  • Changing its name from “Weight Watchers” to “WW” is a bald-faced move to prey on people who suffer from body dissatisfaction, for whom dieting will make them feel worse.
  • I liked Weight Watchers better when they were Weight Watchers– at least it was clear what they were.
  • What’s in a name?  A lot.


Hello-- my name is... IMPORTANT
Hello– my name is… IMPORTANT


Readers, have you had any experiences with Weight Watchers?  With WW?  What do you think about the change?  I’d love to hear from you.






fitness · traveling

The World Nomad Games: headless goat polo for the win

These bright, quilt-like images are from cloth decorating the outside of yurts in Kyrgyzstan

Now I’ve seen everything.

I mean, I really have.

I have been privileged enough to travel a lot — closing in on 60 countries, with some truly amazing and magical and rare experiences.  I’ve seen wild jaguars and polar bears and the Sahara and the himalayas.  I’ve kissed a wild grey whale on the head.  But one place I’d never been was Central Asia. And when two of my good friends moved to Kyrgyzstan for a year, I thought it was a great chance to see it.  And then Bo said “come for the world nomad games!”

“Okay!” I said.  Then:  “what the heck are the world nomad games?”

Basically, the world nomad games were started about six years ago (the one this September was the third event) to revive some of the traditional sports of nomadic peoples, especially in Central Asia.  The NYT did a great piece with some fantastic photos on its history last month:

The sports are the sort of things that whisper around the edges of your dreams — familiar events like wrestling and arm wrestling and archery, but then veering into the mythic, like hunting with eagles and dogs, on horseback and on feet, a sort of bocce-like game involving tossing bones and — most spectacularly — kok boru.  Kok boru can be looked at as the “hockey” of the world nomad games — but this is hockey that includes these rules:

The teams will play semi-final and final games. If there is a draw during the regular time, the teams will play an extra period. During the extra period there is a golden carcass rule. If the teams play with an even score, they have a shoot-out.

According to the results of Kok Boru, the Great Kok Boru Player and the Great Kok Boru Horse will be determined. The Great Kok Boru Player will be determined based on the largest number of carcasses. 

Yes, that says carcasses.  Kok boru is basically polo on horseback, where the “ball” is a headless sheep or goat carcass.  The field is big, and there is a lot of tugging and wrestling and yanking the carcass by the legs, culminating — for the skilled — in hurling an obviously heavy, unwieldy carcass into a “well” that looks like a huge dog dish.

It’s riveting.

There’s a reason the World Nomad Games immediately became a hit six years ago:  this is primal, numinous competition — written on the souls of centuries of life where people are entwined with the land, with horses, with other creatures.

The games were on the banks of Lake Issyk Kul in northern Kyrgyzstan, a pilgrimage from Bishkek in itself — we stayed in a yurt camp on the way, and I slept better than I ever have.

The opening ceremonies were in Kyrgyz without translation, but the narrative was clear:  first there was the land, and then there were people, and then there were horses, and then people forged metal and they became one with the horses, and the world as we know it began.


Even without words, the opening ceremonies were incredibly moving.  And I didn’t expect that the parade of nations would include more than 80 countries — including a Hungarian team in full medieval battle armour, a kok-boru team from Wyoming, and a small contingent from Canada.


The Canadians walked under the Canadian flag in the opening ceremonies, but when they showed up on the archery field, they waved a Mohawk flag.  Which made sense to me.  But when I talked to them, they seemed to be perhaps one indigenous person from Canada and a collection of Hungarian-Canadians, supported by private funds from another European country).  Somehow all of this seemed very… Canadian.

The people in the hotel room next to us — a French couple now running a hotel in Uzbekistan — told me later that during the opening ceremonies, they were moved by the adjacency of the Iranians and Israelis, the Syrians and the Russians, the possibilities of human connection that surpasses the idiocies of politics that always seem to open up on a sports field.  I had my own moment of that watching an Iranian woman and an American woman arm wrestling.

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My photos aren’t great — I only had my phone — but that one illustrates the best part about these games — the intimacy.  Apart from the opening ceremonies, there were no tickets for the games — you just show up and if there is room, you have a seat.  With the arm wrestling, I was able to worm my way right to the front of stage.  (And, by the way — arm wrestling is shockingly compelling — the women try to psych each other out and defeats are quick, within 20 seconds usually; the men can get locked in mutual battle for long, intense minutes, the victor often falling to the ground with the effort).

Half of the events were at the hippodrome on the shores of the lake, and the rest were in a valley about an hour away.   It was transporting — half broad open plain, archery and hunting with dogs and eagles, and on the other side, a cultural village filled with people demonstrating the crafts and food and dance and openness of centuries.

That intimacy showed up again — we were able to scootch right in between the people throwing bones and the hunters, close enough to touch eagles, catch the breath of the hunting dogs as they ran off from their handlers, meet the only female eagle hunter, who put down her big heavy purse for five minutes to compete, then picked it up again.  She’s not the same one as the subject of the documentary people have told me about — that woman is younger — and I don’t know this woman’s story, but I do know her face, and I know her confidence in this field of men.


My friend J loved the cultural village most of all, incredibly drawn to the women.  It was in this village that I danced the dance of the land I was in that I wrote about a few weeks ago, and where we got to see people truly, deeply revelling in cultural practices that could have been blotted out by centuries of occupation.

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We only had three days at the actual games — I had to come back to Canada and my friend I was traveling with went on to India and other adventures.  But we all wanted to spend days watching kokboru, wandering among the women in the cultural pavilion, watching the archers dozing between their sets.  Everything felt timeless, like time was stretched, like the earth had opened up to offer us a time when everything seemed possible.

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Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who blogs here two or three times a month. Here she is after breakfast in a yurt camp in northern Kyrgyzstan.


Cheryl’s First 5K (Guest Post)

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(Photo: A medal that says “Toronto Women’s 8K/5K 2018” above a yellow race bib that says “2203 Cheryl”)

In September I decided that I wanted to participate in an organized race in the fall as the culmination of my couch to 5K program. A google search turned up the Toronto Women’s Run series and I signed up for their 5K on Saturday October 13th as my first official race.

I found it highly motivating to have this race to look forward to and it kept me focused on reaching my goal of being able to run 5K by a specific date. The week before the race I completed my first 30 minute run – according to the couch to 5K app this equals 5K, but the reality is that I’m slower than what the app expects so it was a bit less than 5K. Nonetheless I felt ready!

A friend was registered to run the 8K race that day and we had planned to drive there together, but unfortunately she got sick and couldn’t make it. So it was just me heading up to Wilket Creek Park early on Saturday morning, which I actually felt fine about as I’ve been getting much more comfortable with solo activities in the last couple of years.

I had a good tip on parking from when I picked up my race kit the night before, so after parking I walked 15 minutes to the race site and oriented myself to the key points – port-a-potties, bag check, and starting line. Everything was well-organized and easy to navigate, and the vibe was warm and friendly.

The race was intended primarily for women, which was part of the appeal for me.  As a Toronto Women’s Run event, men could participate but were asked not to cross the finish line first and weren’t eligible for awards. There was no mention of how non-binary people might participate, which is something that I’ll be giving the race organizers feedback on.

I was in wave 2 of the 5K, which was the last wave of the morning. After cheering on the 8K runners and the 1st wave of the 5K, I got myself into the middle of the pack in the starting area. Right on time at 9:18am, wave 2 was off.

The start of the race was exciting, with so many people moving forward together in a big burst of energy. Gradually we spread out over the course according to our speed, and although many runners passed me, I also passed some people – much to my surprise.

The course through the park was lovely, and it was good weather for running – sunny, very little wind, and around 8 degrees Celsius. I kept a slow and steady pace so I could run the whole way without having to stop to walk. The time went by quickly as I passed the kilometre markers and the course marshals and supporters cheering us on. In the last 100 metres I pushed myself to sprint to the finish line, and ended with a chip time of 36:42, placing 29th out of 46 runners in the 45-49 age category. Not bad for a first timer!

Some of my favourite moments during the race were:

  • The times I was passed by older women – I admired them and I also felt like this could be my future if I keep training
  • Reaching the halfway point and feeling confident that I could keep running the whole way
  • Getting high fives after crossing the finish line – I appreciated this support from others as someone who was there on my own

The thing I liked least about the event was that the announcer kept referring to us as “ladies” and “gals”, which I found patronizing and irritating.

Other than that, I loved it. I felt strong, confident, and proud at having achieved my 5K goal. I will definitely be running more 5Ks in the future.

What was your first 5K like? Or your first time reaching another fitness goal?