Plogging your way to health and fitness

By MarthaFitat55

It started slowly last spring. I kept seeing references to plogging, a made up word that means picking up trash while jogging. Then a couple of friends talked about how much trash they picked up on their walks during their holidays.

By the time I saw a company video about a employee who adopted a stretch of road near his house that was part of his daily walk, I was starting to understand there was a bigger idea happening here than just trash clean up.

Community clean up is not new. Scouts, companies, schools and so on often organize group clean ups. One year my son’s scout group retrieved an office chair, a computer monitor and a bicycle from the waterway near his school along with multiple, well-filled garbage bags.

Nor is the idea of linking physical activity with a community goal. After all, we have multiple rides for AIDS, sight, and MS; we have walks for cancers of all kinds, and we have other things like charity golf tournaments that link doing good with being active.

As with any new idea, there are those who don’t want to get involved. There are many, many comments on this one piece where the author indicates her complete lack of desire to plogg, but I admit I am more than a little horrified by her privilege and her class assumptions.

Still, maybe we should ask why plogg at all?

I quite like the idea myself. Where I live, we have quite beautiful trails, wild countryside, nice parks, and pretty decent roadways except for the garbage which covers the ground in all directions.

The fact that I live in a place where high winds are pretty much an every day occurrence means stuff gets around. If we all carried a small bag to collect garbage, that would make a big job easier to manage.

I often approach exercise by chunking up my activities into smaller bits. Taken all together I have a workout, and some parts don’t seem at all daunting split up in this fashion. Similarly, my gym often organizes fundraisers for non-sponsored athletes heading to competitions and every year, trainers and their clients chip in to support a family for the holidays. All of us giving what we can adds up to a big thing.

I see plogging in the same way. If everyone picks up a bit (or a lot!) of garbage, it doesn’t seem like a burden.  When we do it as a group, the impact is more obvious.

We also know doing something every day outside that requires an effort is better for our health. Lots of fitness advice recommends engaging in at least a 150 minutes a week. That’s 2.5 hours. At first blush we might ask, where can I find that amount of time. If we chunk it up throughout the seven days, it becomes more achievable, realistic, and possible.

The beauty of plogging is if we fall into the camp of not seeing oneself as a gym person, a pool person, or even a running-the-trail-person, maybe joining with a friend or a group of friends to adopt a trail will help us get used to the idea of physical activity as an every day thing. Perhaps it will even lead some of us to become an environmentally aware person who does their bit for the planet.

fashion · feminism · fitness · gear · running · swimming

Bettina’s quest for a multi-sport watch – small wrists and designing with women in mind

Following the untimely demise of my wristwatch, I’m currently in the market for a multi-sport watch. Tracking can be problematic in a variety of ways (see posts e.g. here and here), but I like data, and I like tracking my exercise performance over time. So I’ve wanted a multi-sport watch for quite a while, but could never quite justify the expense because I had a functioning watch. There was also a second problem that persists and is currently thwarting my watch acquisition project. I have small wrists.  Very small wrists.

So I can’t find a watch that fits me. With some models, the body is literally wider than my wrist (I’m looking at you, Samsung Gear Fit Pro 2). It’s uncomfortable and looks ridiculous, but also has the potential to become dangerous since it increases the risk of getting caught on something, say a pool line. In the past I’ve owned a Garmin Swim that I wore exclusively in the pool. Tracking swimming was literally all it did, and even though it was chunky, it was just about ok. It did a good job at recognising strokes and provided other analyses I was keen on having, like stroke efficiency and such like. Later, I started looking into multi-sports watches more seriously, since I’d also gotten into running and wanted something that could track that too. This was the start of my sizing troubles. In the end, I settled for an activity tracker that counts lanes very reliably and does a reasonable job at estimating distance when running, although this is inaccurate enough to be annoying.

Bettina’s current fitness tracking setup: a Misfit Ray. Not bad, but there is room for improvement. Also exhibit (a): small wrist.

One would think that over time, manufacturers would catch on to the fact that there are people with small wrists around, but no. I still can’t find anything that suits me, and I’m starting to get quite angry. I’d really like a Garmin Forerunner 645 or Vívoactive 3, but even these smaller models are really too big. I might just about be able make the Forerunner 645 work – but it would be a big compromise practically and aesthetically.

I wonder why there are no suitable watches around. Yes, my wrists are small, but I wouldn’t say they’re extraordinarily tiny. One possible explanation for the lack of options is that manufacturers can’t currently fit all the functionalities one would want into a smaller watch. If someone can convincingly demonstrate to me this is true, I’ll rest my case. Another reason could be that you need a certain display size for the watch to be functional. I get that point. Still, I have trouble buying those arguments. The Apple Watch has loads of functionalities and is still relatively small. The difference: it is very clearly aimed at men and women. My hunch is that this isn’t exactly the case with multi-sport watches.

Yes, there are multi-sport watches out there with a more “female look”, usually rose gold and white. But they’re still massive! Even for instance the Garmin Fenix 5S, supposedly designed with women in mind. Not to mention that not all women are keen on the rose gold/white colour combo. My theory is that it still has something to do with “designing with women in mind”. I’m not talking about “shrink it and pink it”. That would probably actually imply a loss of functionalities. In fact, many activity trackers seem to fit exactly that purpose, and there are plenty available that are explicitly aimed at women. Fitbit even launched a “female health tracking” functionality earlier this year that attracted some excellent snark among our blog contributors (Would the messages come in shades of pink? Would it do emotional labour for you on the variance in your numbers? – It ended up reducing “female health” to “menstrual cycles”, which has a whole other load of problems, but that’s not under discussion here).

So is it carelessness? Or laziness? Are the people who design these watches a bunch of men whose effort to think about potential female customers stops at “oh, let’s slap some women-y colours on it and be done already”, combined with a dose of “women aren’t interested in a serious multi-sport watch anyway”? Is the number of women with small wrists and a desire for detailed sports tracking too small to make it worth the effort? Maybe. But I’d still like one. With swimming analytics beyond lane counting. With GPS. With music streaming integration. Yes, the full deal. Really.

If any of you have tips for a device that might fit the bill for me, please shout. I’d really appreciate it! Or are you running into the same problems?

fitness · tbt

The Shape of an Athlete #tbt

For today’s #tbt I’m reposting an oldie but goodie from the early days of the blog (when I wasn’t even yet into photography!). Howard Schatz’s amazing work debunking the idea of “one look” for athletes has helped us in countless ways as we do our best to be a voice for fit bodies of all shapes and sizes. If anyone doubts that athletic capacity is not all about being tall, thin and lean (though some of these athletes are that, yes), you need look no further than Schatz’s work in The Shape of an Athlete. Enjoy!


HS 1These photos by Howard Schatz, from his 2002 book, Athlete, have been making the rounds lately. Sam gave a shout-out to Schatz’s photos in her popular post, “Fit, Fat, and What’s Wrong with BMI?”

People–myself included–can’t stop looking at them.  They are all pictures of professional athletes ready for game day, that is, they’re in peak physical condition.

What’s so absorbing about them is the range of body sizes and shapes depicted?  The human body is for sure a thing of fascination and beauty.  And there’s something awe-inspiring about a body that can perform the way the bodies of professional athletes can. So that’s one reason these images catch our attention.

Their real power, I think, is in the impact of the group shot. We know there’s diversity among human bodies–different shapes, sizes, proportions, colors and abilities.  But though it’s obvious that a gymnast will, for obvious reasons, have…

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fitness · Guest Post · race report · racing · running

Left and Right (Guest Post)

by Amy Kaler

The road is never neutral. You are always moving towards something or away from something, bearing dread, hope, anticipation, longing, as you go. No one is the same at the beginning of the road as at the end.

Roads are also risky. “Highwayman” was once a synonym for the worst sort of thieves, a “roadhouse” is a place where bad things can happen, and when someone titles a novel “The Road”, you know it’s not going to end well. By now, there may be nothing new that can be said about a road – the metaphor itself as exhausted as the travellers.

Speaking of exhausted –

In mid-September, I was running on a road near Banff, Alberta, and I was exhausted. It was my first official road race – Melissa’s Race, 10KM – and along with several thousand other people, I was pushing through rain, snow, sleet, freezing mud, and cold water in all its forms. The weather was not just bad, it was apocalyptic. At the end of the race I ran into a friend who regularly runs Death Marathons and the like, and he used words like “gruelling” and “excruciating”. So now you know I did make it to the end of the road. But I am getting ahead of myself.

By the second kilometre I wanted to give up. My knees hurt, my chest hurt, I could not run uphill in slush and breathe at the same time. I wondered desperately if somewhat dramatically whether it was possible that I would actually die, just fall over and die, in mid-race, and whether that would be better or worse than giving up and revealing myself as a quitter who couldn’t handle the road. This run is supposed to be visually spectacular, circling upward through mountains, but all I could see was the metre right in front of my wet shoes, and the peripheral view of other runners moving steadily past me. My MP3 player with its curated inspirational running music had given up on me a few hundred meters in, so I jammed the cord into my phone and listened to the same six Fleetwood Mac songs over and over. I had to stop. But I had to continue.

After a while I became aware of my feet. At first I noticed my feet because they were not cold, unlike most of the rest of me. Then I became aware of my feet running, side to side, right and left and right, like a pendulum swinging fast while moving forward. The oscillation started to weave into my monotonous survival-focused thoughts. I’m overwhelmed, I can’t keep going. I can do another hundred steps. I can’t do another hundred steps, I’m going to die. I can do another fifty steps. I can’t breathe any more. But I AM still breathing because I’m having this thought which I couldn’t have without oxygen in my brain. I have to stop before we get to the hill. I can keep going up the hill.

Eventually the thoughts narrowed down to I can’t run/I can run. I have to stop/I won’t stop. Left, right, left-and-right. Breathe in, breathe out. I can’t/I can. I have to/I won’t.

Many things invaded my mind, my imagination skittering around a wealth of images because linear thought was not really happening. I was bouncing amongst all the times when we say yes and no, real and unreal, what is and what isn’t, known and unknown. I was Vladimir and Estragon, who can’t go on/ will go on. I was a fresh Marine recruit at boot camp (when I first typed that, I wrote “boot can’t”) marching in cadence: I don’t know/But I’ve been told. I was a hundred therapists and yogis and spiritual teachers breathing: in with the good air, out with the bad.

Am I the only runner in the history of Melissa’s Race to fantasize that I was a yoga teacher? Left, right, left-and-right.

Every step was a question and a choice. Can I? I can. Left side, right side. I did not have the clean precision of a metronome. I was irreducibly organic and visceral, not mechanical. I tripped over roots, skidded on a Dixie cup discarded at one of the water stations and doubled-over a couple of times when I truly couldn’t breathe any more. I kept falling out of rhythm and then falling back into it. Left, right, sideways, then left-and-right again.

I have read that neurologists use diverse forms of bilateral stimulation, alternating sounds or pulses or light on the left side and right side of the body in order to calm erratic nerves and to help people integrate traumatic or awful memories into their present selves. I met no trauma ghosts as I was running, and even now as I write this, the awfulness of the cold and wet has moved away from me, become something I describe rather than something that I feel. But I can easily believe that the left-and-right, one-side-the-other-side, movement helped to draw me through a physically pretty intense experience.

I also believe that this back-and-forth of running opens into a bigger experience of ambivalence and contradiction. I’m in danger/I’m okay. I can/I can’t. I am/I am not. And all the while I am moving forward while I’m tiring out. I am not enjoying this road, but I’m not getting off it either.

You never know how far you can go until you stop, and at last I did stop, with ten kilometres behind me. In the final kilometre, my glasses fogged up so I was running through a fuzzy translucence in which I had to trust that there was an actual road in front of me, which is probably a metaphor for something. At the end of the road, I was indeed not the same person who began it. When I started, I didn’t know if I was the person who could run ten kilometres in terrible weather. I thought I was the person who would give in to the road, who might be humiliated by weakness and failure.

But I did get to the end of the road. I did it one step at a time, but more vividly, I did it step by step by step by step. I have to stop/I can keep going. I can’t breathe/I’m still breathing. I can’t/I did.

Amy Kaler is a professor and associate chair in the department of sociology at the University of Alberta. Her academic work can be found here: Her nonacademic writing about Edmonton can be found here:


Two arguments for biking. Also, Sam finds one obstacle removed at her new university

Argument 1: It’s faster to bike. 

According to all of the data on our smartphones–here’s looking at you Google Fit!–in urban environments biking time beats car travel time hands down

Argument 2: It can also help you get enough movement in your day. This week there were many headlines proclaiming that fewer than 20 percent of Americans meet the recommended advice for amount of physical activity.

From the NPR version of this story: “With a few exceptions, the advice in the new guidelines is not so different from what we were told in the 2008 guidelines. But, here’s the trouble: Only about 20 percent of Americans meet them. This lack of physical activity is linked to $117 billion in annual health care costs, according to a report published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association that lays out the new guidelines. The new guidelines marshal a growing body of evidence that documents immediate benefits of exercise such as reduced anxiety, improved sleep and improved blood sugar control, and long-term benefits (of regular physical activity), including cognitive benefits, and significantly lower risks of heart disease and certain cancers.So, how much physical activity do we need? On this point, the new guidelines haven’t changed: Adults need a minimum of 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity physical activity.”

For me, even if I do nothing else I meet these goals through bike commuting. 

What are your barriers to biking? One of mine has always been that I don’t like coming out at the end of the day to a wet, snowy bike. Once things get slushy I’m less likely to bring my bike into my office. Besides my workday often starts at other buildings and I’m arriving just in time for meetings.

I love that Guelph has abundant (like the one pictured here, centrally located, isn’t the only one) covered bike storage.

Covered outdoor bike storage at Guelph. Thanks Google for the black and white image.

OMG November

I’m not the first person to complain about November. I’m not even the first person on this blog to complain about November. Sam did it just the other week. It’s her toughest fitness month. I don’t usually have a lot of trouble with November. I mean, it’s still kind of nice for running. Not snowy and icy yet.

But even I complained about it last week. Mostly about the dark mornings. Because last week was SO DARK in the morning, even after the end of Daylight Savings Time. It was also incredibly rainy last week. It seemed relentless, like in that movie Seven with Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman, when it rained all the time. And that just seems wrong. Incredibly and unfairly wrong.

Then on Friday I drove to my parents place. They live northeast of Toronto.  It was a harrowing drive on slick roads, the first snow of the season — of course I do have a winter tire appointment scheduled…for this afternoon. I had a couple of winter driving “episodes” on my way. The usually 4.5 to 5 hour trip took almost 7 hours.

Down here in Southwestern Ontario, the first snow doesn’t stay. Up there, where my parents live, the snow stays. It’s pretty and all, but when Saturday came, I just couldn’t deal with it. I was planning to run 10K on Saturday, which is what I’ve limited my long runs to since the half marathon last month.

When I woke up Saturday, the wind was howling outside. Later, I said to myself. You can do that run later. And then I sort of settled in for the day. It’s so cozy at my parents place. Even though it’s not the house I grew up in, it feels like home. So I reached a point when I decided to be okay with staying inside, not running at all. I mean, it’s November. So whatever.

But then yesterday reminded me that November isn’t all bad. Although the mornings have been challenging, and the snowy and blowy weekend kept me inside, I’ve incorporated some lunch time running into my work week and I just love it. Even if it’s cloudy and even if it’s raining, it’s been a welcome break. Like yesterday. After a couple of hours of working, I got up from my desk, changed into my running gear, put on my fall playlist, and ran for half an hour. We’ve got great pathways close to campus. And fall running has the merit of perfect temperatures and clear pathways, roads, and sidewalks. It’s also still beautiful.

Image description: lower half of Tracy's legs in the bottom left corner of frame, running shoes, short socks, and capri tights, standing amongst a thick ground covering of fallen maple leaves.
Image description: lower half of Tracy’s legs in the bottom left corner of frame, running shoes, short socks, and capri tights, standing amongst a thick ground covering of fallen maple leaves.

Between that and my commitment to do at least seven minutes of yoga a day (I’m not even making sure that equals seven poses), I’ve made November so far a little bit bearable.

What do you do to make November tolerable (assuming hibernating isn’t a live option)?


Tights, leggings, and unladylike postures

Being “ladylike” has never been a strength of mine. Let me begin with a story from my youth.  My early years of school were spent with nuns as teachers in Newfoundland. Mostly I have fond memories of those nuns but not so much when it comes to judgements about clothing, decorum, etc.

We were in grade one and girls had to line up to get into the cloakroom to change into snow pants. “Change into” meant pulling them up over our tights and skirts. I saw no need for the cloak room. Just pull them up quickly. Zoom. But the nuns strongly disapproved. I was sent to the corner.

No modesty.

Another time I got into trouble for sitting astraddle my chair. You know, backwards with the back of the chair between my legs. Again, let me stress, I was wearing tights. Again, to the corner. This time for unladylike behavior.

I wish I could report that I’d reformed, that their lessons worked and that I was now only ever sitting in a ladylike fashion. Not so. The truth is, I’ve gotten worse.

The problem is that I’m wearing leggings a lot these days because of my knee brace. So even with skirts and dresses that would normally go with tights I’m often wearing leggings. The brace inevitably rips tights and then starts to cut my legs. So, if I’m wearing the brace, leggings it is.

When I’m wearing leggings I don’t worry about modesty. I stretch my legs a lot. I feel a bit like an injured super hero. But then these postures and positions begin to feel comfortable and I forget what I’m wearing. I’m in my fifties now, still worrying just a little bit what the nuns in my head might think.

Maybe I need to become friends with these nuns instead.