- Women, sport and sex tests: Why Caster Semenya matters a great deal
- On vibrators as athletic trophies, or when a prize is not a prize
- Sam gets told “get off the road fat bitch”
- I’m 53 and a 1/2 and I’m still menstruating
- The Latest Weird Thing About a Stiff Neck
- Crotch shots, upskirts, sports reporting, and the objectification of female athletes’ bodies
- Harassment is not a compliment (Guest post)
- The humbling moment when you go back to lifting weights
- CrossFit and Women’s Bodies
- End Game strikes some wrong notes for size acceptance
I want to renew my running vows. I want me and Running to hold hands and skip through a flurry of confetti in great outfits; the way we did back at the beginning of our relationship 25-years ago.
As some of you know, I did a half-marathon in April (The Half Marathon I’m Dreading). I was not proud of my time. I self-sabotaged. My training was not exemplary. My head was not in the right place. Not the first time. The run made me realize—I love you, running, but I’ve let our relationship go stale. I love you more when we spend quality time together. When I pay more attention. When I push, even a little. When I commit. I have let the inevitable slowdown of age interfere with our joyful communion. Time to do something.
Early in May, a friend invited me to join her Hood to Coast team. Hood to Coast is a 199-mile (36-leg) relay with teams of between 6-12 members. My partner has done it four times. But with a men’s team. I prevaricated. I said I needed the weekend to decide. I went hiking in Joshua Tree National Park with my partner. Side note: the Mojave Desert is spectacular. I hemmed and hawed. I decided, no. Wednesday, I hit reply to my friend’s invite. Started to type, “I’ve thought about it and I’m not going to join.” Instead I typed, “Sure. Sign me up.”
What? Where did that come from? I’m a writer. My fingers often come up with words all on their own. But my fingers don’t usually take over decision-making. Sunday night, a few days after I signed up, I told a friend I was upping my game. The strategy of public commitment. My goal: To find the enthusiasm and focus of my years-past beginner’s mind. And at the same time, be mindful of not burdening that focus with performance pressure.
Monday, I went for the first run with my new Warrior Queen headspace. My IT band hurt so much. I had to abandon my run.
If you run and you have never had IT issues, you are extremely lucky. The iliotibial band is a big tendon running down the side of the leg from pelvic bone, over the hip to the knee. Pain usually manifest on the outside of the knee. In my case, pain is around the hip bone.
But I’m committed. The Internet of Things delivered recovery plans. There’s time. I dusted my exercise ball. I can cycle to stay strong. I replaced the exercise band I apparently threw out in a fit of optimism. I’m having fun doing short bursts of strengthening exercises throughout the day. I work at home, which makes that easy.
So far, I’ve done:
- single leg squats (a serious balance challenge),
- wall sits,
- abductor and adductor exercises with the band and ball,
- foot and arch strengthening exercises, and
- a hamstring exercise, which involves lying on the floor, putting my feet on the exercise ball, elevating my hips and then doing repeats of pulling the ball toward me with my heels and pushing it away. The ball is squirrely, so there’s a lot of readjustment in every set.
I’m also rolling on a trigger point tube. I can feel a big, painful bloop, halfway between my knee and my hip, as I roll over the muscle just behind my IT band. Plus stretching, but lightly. Plus acupuncture. Plus a Traumeel injection.
Fingers crossed; I heal with time to train. Patience. If I don’t heal, I still have my new WQ headspace for other sports and life in general. I feel a particular need for mental-emotional strength, because my new book, Run Like A Girl 365 Days a Year, is coming out in a month (featuring interview material with Samantha and Kim of this fabulous blog!). In one of those poetic convergences of life strands, the book is about the transformative impact of sports in women’s lives, just as I am living many of its questions with this latest injury. So, while I aim at WQ mind, I also know that if I don’t heal in time, I’ll probably be pretty disappointed. It will test my re-commitment. For now, I will ride the wave of renewed intention.
What’s your experience with renewing vows with a sport or other life activity or habit?
This week is sort of feeling like the first week of summer. I say “sort of” because today the high was 53F. Brrr… But the temperature on Monday was fantastic for cycling– mid 70s and sunny. My friend Pata and I met up and then headed to our favorite coffee place in Lexington, MA to snack and caffeinate. We rode in the afternoon, so both got forms of ice tea with lemonade, and she ordered banana bread.
I know from our many rides that Pata loves the right baked good to keep her going during a ride. Me, I generally prefer to stick to clif shot bloks, or clif bars, or luna bars (my favorites).
Of course, these specialized energy bar/block/gel/drink products can be pricey. I try to order in bulk, and often can get them through athlete friends who have pro deals or other discounts. But, in the end, they work for me on rides, so I don’t mess with what works.
However, I was reminded of how some of us (meaning me) can be overly fussy about how we refuel during breaks in activity. Sitting on a bench across from us were this nice woman and her two kids. She was roller blading and they were biking. On a break they indulged in a bag of multicolored jelly beans, bought from the local drug store. I am sure they cost less than one of my packages of clif shot bloks.
I never got their names, but she said it was okay to use their picture. These folks were eminently practical and economical about getting some energy snacks. In fact, my former sports nutritionist Nancy Clark (who has written several books about sports nutrition for runners and cyclists, including here and here) told me that I could put jelly beans in a bag with some salt, and they would be just as good as these tasty but expensive sport beans.
Last summer I really stocked up on energy chewables, so I’ve got plenty to start off an active cycling summer. But I’m giving some thought to trying out more modest fueling fare. Do the fancy products really help more than the plain snacks, or is it just placebo effect?
This is a hard question, and I’ve done a bit of digging and not gotten a clear answer. For endurance, high-octane performance, and recovery, we need different combos of sugars, proteins, minerals and generally not much fats, as they are harder to digest. On the other hand, some studies have shown that chocolate milk is one of the best recovery drinks ever (if you can tolerate milk and the fat content).
Yes, exercise science is complicated.
I’ll keep looking into this, and when I have something to say, you can read it here first.
What I can say with some certainty for now: don’t eat this:
In the meantime, I’m curious: what are your favorite during-ride and after-ride snacks? I recall that Cate swore by cheese sandwiches during her bike ride through the Baltics. Dear readers, what gets you through a ride, hike, sail, paddle, run, walk, etc.? Do you make your own concoction? Buy something from the convenience store? Order fancy food online? I’d love to hear from you.
We’ve written a lot on this blog about the Rules for people who ride bikes about the “right” number of bikes being “n+1 where n is the number of bikes you currently have.”
This little sweetie makes my current n 4. It’s been 4 before, but I don’t think it’s ever been more than 4, except for when I also had a refurbed spinning bike. The other three are my glorious, beloved road bike, an extremely sturdy city bike, and a vintage 1970s sky-blue single speed sweetie with a basket and a pretty bell and coaster brakes.
(It’s hard to take a selfie that also shows your bike, by the way. How does one do a bikie?)
She’s a Bombtrack Beyond, a steelframed all road lighter weight touring bike. Over the past several years, I’ve done multi-day trips in Australia, Germany, Laos, Vietnam, Latvia, Estonia, Bhutan and Sri Lanka, and I’ve always rented bikes. It’s convenient to step off a bike at the end of a trip and not have to think about it — but they never fit (I’m super short), they’re always heavy, and they’re usually too-bouncy mountain bikes.
I’ve been thinking about it since my trip in Australia in December, where I really didn’t like the bike I’d rented. But the idea took root when I went out on my road bike for the first (and only)) time about three weeks ago and encountered massively broken post-winter roads. It’s been a nasty, brutish spring with only a few warm, sunny days. (Note I’m wearing a jacket on May 29).
I’m going on an 8 day trip in Newfoundland in a month with Sam and Susan (and David and Sarah, who don’t blog here, but who make cameos), and Newfoundland weather is notoriously unforgiving. I have a vision of broken, gravelly, wet roads and General Unpleasantness. After deking around potholes with a lot of anxiety on my road bike, I realized it’s time for German engineering.
Yesterday I took it out for its first real ride, on the 30km (total) out and back from my house that includes the 2 km Brimley hill at the Scarborough bluffs.
It’s beautiful. I’m getting used to the gears (same shifters for up and down, with different clicks), and the handlebar height isn’t right yet. I sailed down the completely pitted, pot-holed, cracked Brimley road with impunity, almost cackling out loud at the way that the fat tires just absorbed the road.
In moments, I was 7 again, learning to ride a bike by being released over and over down a gravelly, hilly road in a German campground by my dad, no doubt holding a Rothman’s and a beer. By the end of that weekend, gravel in my knees, I’d learned how to ride, and my little blue german folding bike let 7 and 8 year old me sail away to free-range independence, disappearing down little roads in a country where I didn’t speak the language for hours at a time.
Bikes still do that for me, transform me into an explorer, navigating countries where I don’t speak the language with confidence.
This German bike isn’t blue — there were only two X-S in all of Canada, one blue and one green, and the blue one came in damaged. This one is a lovely forest green. And after only one 30km ride, she feels like a part of me.
Now if only I could get a leeetle more riding in so that first 90 km day in Gros Mourne doesn’t kill me.
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and rides in Toronto and blogs here twice a month.
It had been one of those days.
My university age son, home for the summer, has a summer job that has his alarm go off at 5 am. I get up with him and mostly that’s great for my summer schedule.
He rides his bike to work and packs his lunch. It’s a physically demanding job and there’s no food there.
Except this day he got part way to work and remembered that his lunch was on the kitchen counter. Return home, retrieve lunch. Then he got back on his bike but his chain fell off and it wouldn’t go back on. This time I just drove him.
I got to work later on my bike and remembered that I was almost out of Synthroid. I had thyroid cancer a few years back and take Synthroid everyday now. That’s okay, I think, the pharmacy is open until 6 and the last thing on my calendar ends at 4 and I can bike there.
Except it was one of those days. I checked the pharmacy hours. They close at 5 on Fridays and they’re not open all weekend. I checked my calendar and the last thing ended at 430. Yikes.
Needless to say it was a speedy bike ride through traffic. But I made it. Whee! Zoom! Yay! I left the pharmacist feeling fit and powerful.
But leaving the pharmacy there’s a four way stop. I’m great at four way stops. I don’t go straight through. I stop and wait and take my turn. I make eye contact with drivers. That’s easier at four way stops than it is at intersections with lights, less time for phone checking.
So two cars go and it’s my turn and the driver next up at the sign on the other corner signals for me to go. Nice. Clear communication! Except the guy in the oversized pick up truck behind him (why is it an oversized pick up truck every time?) starts honking. “Don’t wait for her! Go! Go!”
Nice guy waits anyway and I proceed through the four way stop. Next through is angry pick up man who continues honking, roars out of the intersection and yells some variant of”Get off the road fat bitch” at me. It’s always “fat bitch.” Okay, you can tell I’m fat but how do you know I’m a bitch, I wonder. I’m on a bike. Even though I’m smiling, I guess that’s enough to merit the bitch badge.
I’ve written about this before, this abuse hurled at cyclists, especially women, maybe especially larger women. I’m genuinely sad and puzzled.
I’m sad and puzzled a lot these days as I struggle to understand the world around me and our collective political choices. Things seem so mean and small minded. I understand wanting less government and a balanced budget. I don’t understand the right wing populist politics that’s around these days with its not so thinly veiled racism and transphobia. The anti-immigration stuff makes zero sense to me.
I try to get inside his head, the guy who bought the large pick up truck and is now driving through a neighbourhood full of speed bumps and four way stops. What’s his world like?
I also want to defend myself. I’m exercising. Surely that counts? Surely even if you think I’m awful to look at because fat, I’m out there exercising and that’s better than sitting at home or driving a car?
But I stop myself. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing. I deserve respect as a person. I don’t need to be a person exercising to merit non-abusive treatment.
Friends joke about making the small penis hand sign at him.
But the thing is I’ve always thought that was unfair and body shaming to men with small penises. I’ve got a thing about treating men’s bodies with respect too.
May 27 was Bike to Work Day here in Guelph and June is Bike Month. I’m pretty immune to drivers hurling abuse at me but I tried imagining if the insult did get beneath my skin what that would feel like. What would it feel like to be new to bike commuting? When the angry aggressor is driving a large heavy metal box that can go fast and hit hard, and you’re a woman who has been hit hard and yelled at by men before (that would be most of us) it’s especially frightening.
In the end I land on the usual line of “some people are just jerks”and move on. I’m angry though that male jerks in particular feel free to comment on women’s bodies and yell at us from their vehicles. Mostly though in sad and puzzled. And I think we need a signal for toxic masculinity that doesn’t rely on body shaming.
In the Good News Department, I came across a news post describing how many women’s basketball teams in the United States have practice teams composed of men for the sole purpose of making women’s teams better.
Even more wonderful is that getting on these teams is pretty competitive and the men look forward to trying out as it also improves their chances for coaching gigs and making a team elsewhere.
One of the players interviewed in the article says: “I’ll tell them, ‘Alright, you guys laugh, but one of these girls could come in here and beat every last one of you. (…) Any DI women’s player is extremely fundamentally sound, and that’s where you can get easy points and take advantage of people. You kind of have to humble yourself, put your pride aside and realize these are the most talented women basketball players in the world.”
This month, on May 18, at the 1st International Plank Training Conference with Guinness World Records officials on hand, Dana Glowacka took the women’s world plank record by holding the pose for four hours and 20 minutes.
That’s FOUR HOURS AND TWENTY MINUTES!
Read more here.
But how long should you plank for? Are you tempted to go for a plank personal record, if not a world record?
Personal trainers say, just don’t. While there’s a lot of debate among trainers about how long you should plank for the range seems to be between 10 seconds and a couple of minutes. No one mentions hours.
Here’s the case for 10 seconds, lots of reps of 10 seconds but still, just 10 seconds.
From another plank story:
Personal trainer Amanda Thebe told Global News. “By simply holding a plank position without creating adequate tension throughout the whole body, they are not getting the full plank benefits.”
“If you are doing a plank and can hang out there easily for a minute or more, then chances are you aren’t doing it correctly. You should be clenching your glutes, like you are trying to eat your shorts, your core should be braced like you are being punched in the gut and you should be squeezing all other muscles tightly so that there is a full body connection.
Men’s Health makes the case for three minutes here.
This plank workout looks pretty good to me. Lots of variety and 30 second planks.
How long does you hold planks for? What’s your record?
by Mavis Fenn
I joined a mainstream gym in August of 2006. I had been a gym member before but not for a long time. I was a ‘cardio’ woman. Faithfully, I mounted the treadmill and ran: warm-up, steady, peak, and cool down. That was me. Walking around on my way to and from the change room I would see these women lifting free weights. I didn’t know how to do that. I tried the machines. They were ok, a nice addition to my running. But, it seemed to me at the time, that they weren’t quite ‘it.’
There were a couple of women who were as regular with weights as I was with running. I was afraid, afraid I would injure myself or, in the case of kettle bells, others. Finally, I decided I wanted to try free weights and would ‘spring’ for some sessions with a trainer so I could learn how to use them properly and safely. My first trainer was nice but not happy where she was; most trainers don’t realize there are sales involved and there is always pressure to sell. She left for work in a factory.
They asked me to choose with whom I would like to work. I had seen a petite, well-muscled woman who always looked so serious and focused (at least to me). I pointed and said, “her.” The woman looked slightly puzzled, perhaps wondering why a mature woman like myself would choose an obviously serious trainer. “Alison, why?” she said. “Because I want to make her laugh,” I replied. For over a decade now, there has been lots of laughter along with lots of hard work. I learned that I was in control of the weights and the only limits were either genetic or self-imposed. Alison taught me how to overcome those self-imposed limits. When my, “no, I can’t” was based in fear, she pushed me to go outside of my comfort zone. I did because I trusted her to know me, emotionally, intellectually, and physically, aside from my insecurities. For me, training is a team sport.
Nothing has empowered me more than lifting weights. It has enhanced my self-esteem, made me more independent and adventurous, and in control. I have a sense of pride in my ability to manipulate heavy objects and my body to lift them. Make no mistake, I am not good at it but I am a certified “gym rat.” Others recognize my determination and acknowledge my efforts. I belong. I have learned through experience at several gyms Alison and I have trained in that it isn’t really about the size or shape of your body, it’s about your dedication.
A few years have passed since I began training, thirteen as a matter of fact. I am old now or older if you prefer. My training has changed too. It is still about challenging myself and doing the best and most I can. The focus though has shifted to building muscles to protect my arthritic knees, to allow me to get out of a chair gracefully, to be strong enough to stand upright and firm (and throttle a fantasy purse snatcher). I may be old but I refuse to be vulnerable.
I will continue to do as much as I can, as hard as I can, for as long as I can. And Alison will be right there beside me to keep me from toppling over. And occasionally, there will be Queen (We are the Champions) and 200 pound deadlifts.
Thanks to Alison for allowing me to use her name. If you are looking for her, she’s at https://www.facebook.com/pg/alison.push/posts/?ref=page_internal
Mavis Fenn is an independent scholar (retired). She loves lifting weights, Yin yoga, and Zumba Gold. She is mediocre at all of them.
This week I traveled to the University of Texas at Dallas for their annual conference on Values in Medicine, Science and Technology. Thanks, Matt and Magda, for continuing to host such a great event!
Since I live in Boston, attending the conference requires air travel.
Sometimes planes are not so appalling uncomfortable, but mostly they are. They are stuffed to the ceiling with people and baggage, with ergonomically disastrous seating for (almost) everyone. I wrote about it awhile back– Fat Flying: the Holiday Air Edition
Then there are the inevitable flight delays. According to some information I found online (what I got without clicking on a site, just asking “how many planes are delayed”), 11.74% of flights were delayed in November of last year. My 8:50pm flight to Boston was delayed about an hour (the departure time kept changing, which did not inspire confidence about ever leaving the airport).
Given that I had a lot of time at the airport, facing 4 hours of sitting on the plane and having sat at the conference that day, I decided to keep exploring (or at least cruising around) the airport. I made it to the end of terminal D, and spied this intriguing sign:
So left I went. The area was not your usual terminal scene, with shops and gates and people milling around. There wasn’t anything– just several people-moving motorized carts parked and waiting quietly along the wall. One was still on duty.
I kept going, and soon spied this sign:
Oh boy! Could this actually be a place to do yoga? Turns out it is!
This was perfect– it was set up in a practical and relatively low-cost way, while at the same time perfectly well-equipped for people who want to stretch or move a bit. Here’s what it looks like from the inside:
A woman was there when I arrived. I set up my mat and got on my hands and knees for some cat and cow stretching, then on to other gentle movement. They have wet wipes there for cleaning the mats before and after, and also a guest book to keep track of visitors and solicit feedback.
The other woman left after a few minutes. We spoke briefly– her flight had been canceled and she was stuck at the airport for 5 hours. Ugh. She was thrilled to find this place. So was I. Before I left, another woman showed up and started moving into warrior poses. I smiled to her, and she said don’t forget to sign the guest book. So I did, praising the place lavishly.
WHY DOESN’T EVERY AIRPORT HAVE A SPACE LIKE THIS?
I found an article about 5 airports that have yoga rooms. There’s one, for instance, in San Francisco, that I visited once.
A friend told me about a lovely yoga room at Chicago’s Midway airport that she visited. However, the sweet little Dallas yoga alcove, in a quiet hallway near the cart parking, shows that authorities can make a little effort and create quiet and happy spaces for people to move, to stretch, to rest and relax and endure the difficulties of modern travel.
I’m going to write/contact the folks at my local airport (Logan in Boston) to ask them to get moving on this. I encourage all of you to do the same.
Have any of you encountered yoga or movement spaces in airports? I bet there are more than 5 of these places around. Any outside the US? What about Canadian airports? Let us know, and I’ll compile a list and post it.
Last year, I wrote about how my neck gets stiff when I am anxious and about how I get anxious when my neck gets stiff so it’s hard to parse which came first.
A few weeks ago, I discovered that there is another factor to consider in the whole stiff neck issue.
For almost 30 years, I have been getting semi-regular headaches that start with pain and stiffness in my neck. I haven’t been tracking them per se but my estimate is that I have them at least once every two months but sometimes I will have several in a month.
I’ve been blaming it on ‘sitting funny’ or not stretching my neck properly or any of a myriad of things that make these headaches kind of my own fault* for not paying closer attention to my body.
However, I recently had some interesting information come my way that puts that stiff neck in a whole different context.
My dear friend M, a GP who has gone back to school to specialize in Neurology, has been preparing for her Royal College Exams and she was practicing for the part of the exam where she essentially demonstrates the results of her years of study by seeing practice patients. A couple of weeks ago, I was at her house for several days in a row to help her study and on the third day, I had one of these neck-based headaches so I decided to let her use me as a practice patient for the headache section of her studies.
She asked me when the headache came on, where it was localized, and so on. Then she connected my headache to my sleepiness from two days before and my lack of focus the previous day.
I was expecting her to respond with ‘Christine, you have a headache’ but instead, she said, ‘Christine, you’re having migraines.’**
I’ve always thought of migraines as ‘have to lie in a dark room with a cloth over your eyes’ type of headaches. My headaches are bad but I can (mostly) still function so I never considered that they were anything more complex than an elaborate neck ache.
M says that my neck pain is actually a symptom of the migraine, rather than the cause of my headache. (It’s no wonder that no amount of stretching seemed to get rid of it.)
Learning that I have migraines explained a lot of things, including a certain type of ‘out of phase’ feeling I have beforehand that I recognize as a regular occurrence but hadn’t connected to my headaches. It also explains two feelings I have after my headaches pass. One that I call a ‘headache ghost’ where it kind of haunts me, as if it could return at any second, but it doesn’t hurt any more. And a ‘headache hangover’ where I feel all wrung out, hungry, unsettled and regretful.
This is all interesting to me, of course, but the thing that really sticks is how different I felt about my headache once I called it a migraine.
With rare exceptions, I have always tried to just carry on with my normal tasks when I have a headache. Sometimes it has been awful – intense pain, nausea, disorientation – but I refused to give in to something as ‘small’ as a headache.***
Now that I know these things are migraines, I suddenly found myself giving them the respect they deserve. I’m not saying that I am going to take to my bed at the first twinge of impending migraine but I am planning to take it easier on myself and I may just head to bed instead of fighting through nausea and pain to complete the things on my list for the day.
So, what does all of this have to do with fitness as a Feminist issue?
Fitness, for me, is about learning to take good care of myself and respecting what my body tells me.
Acknowledging that trying to ignore my headaches was dismissing and disrespecting my body’s signals shows me that that is one area in which fitness has eluded me.
I was being hard on myself for not stretching enough (something that helps me feel fit) when that wasn’t the problem at all. I may or may not have been ‘working hard enough’ but I was too quick to decide that I was to blame and I didn’t see the big picture.
And, the fact that I automatically dismissed pain and illness as ‘not bad enough’ because it was ‘just a headache’ tells me a lot about how I have internalized our society’s ideas about rest, laziness, and the notion that you need to earn the right to rest, even when you are sick.
I don’t know if this expression is localized but here in Newfoundland and Labrador when something is awful we’ll say that it’s not ‘fit.’ As in, the weather’s not fit to go out in, or that clothes is not fit to wear to the party, or, that someone is not fit to talk to.
Even though I didn’t know I was having migraines, I knew I was having really bad headaches but because I thought I brought them on myself, I didn’t rest the way I needed to.
And that’s not fit.
For the record, over the next few months I will be doing some tracking to see what my triggers are and to see just how often my migraines actually occur. And I will be going VERY easy on myself every time one happens.
*Is blaming ourselves for our ailments wise or helpful? It hasn’t helped me so far, I tell ya. I mean, I get that recognizing behaviours that lead to issues can identify actions to take but I wish we could all detour past the blame and just get to the action part.
**NOTE: M is able to make this diagnosis, of course, but she is not my doctor so I have also brought this information to my own doctor for follow-up.
***Yes, I hear how ridiculous this is. Heaven forbid I take things down a notch when I am ill in any way. Yes, I get on my own nerves. SIGH.