cycling · monthly check in · season transitions

Sam’s monthly check in: What went on in August (cw: brief mention of aspirational weight loss)

This is a very quick update. In early August I met with a knee surgeon at University Hospital. I’ve decided to go ahead with their recommendation which is total knee replacement. Even going through the intake questions it became clear how much I’ve lost. I won’t get running or martial arts back but I’m looking forward to some really long walks.

I don’t sleep through the night without pain. I get my knee in a good position with pillows but then I I wake up each time I need to move. It’s a good 3-4 times a night. I can’t stand, sit, or walk for very long.

Now it’s a 16 months countdown to knee surgery with a focus on leg strength, exercise, and weight loss. It’s not all fun but having a deadline gives me a new sense of focus and determination. Wish me luck.

Eventually I’ll need both knees done but I’m hoping to get a bit of a break between surgeries.

Happiness is a new knee.

Towards the middle of August I started to notice the earlier dark. I’m pining for lost morning and evening light. I love riding before and after work and I’ll lose the light for that long before I lose the heat. Boo hoo. I saw this the other day on Facebook. “Sunset is now before 8pm. We will not see it set after 8pm again until late April.” Sigh. For more, see here.

At the very end of August, the last day, today it’s my birthday. 55! We set out ride 55 km but in the end messed up with routes and got back after 53.6 km. Other people might have ridden around the block (Cate!) but I decided I’m 53.6 years of age at heart.

Hume Road. For the philosophers.
Susan, David, me, Sarah, and Stephanie
fitness

Top Posts of August, #ICYMI

I’m thrilled to report that the top spot of the month, the most read post, #1, is a guest post by our youngest blogger, Sage. Her post is based on original research and it’s called Are women, people of color, and kids more likely to get bumped when walking on the street? .

Cate is still menstruating and two of the top posts are on that very subject. In the #2 spot there’s her classic I’m 53 and a half and I’m still menstruating: is this a good thing? Her update on that post is #4.

The big news around here is that Tracy is stepping away from the blog. I like the “stepping away” language” because it’s not “saying goodbye.” She’ll be around from time to time, we hope, with a post or two. (No pressure!) Her Goodbye for now post part 1 is in the #3 spot.

Tracy made that decision after after a 10 day meditation course and her account of the course, which was definitely not a retreat, is our #5 post of the month.

#6 is my older post on crotch shots and upskirting. It’s always in the top 10 probably because of the words in the title. I still can’t believe that people who search for those words click on a link with “feminism” in the title. But they do. I hope they read my post.

I love Marjorie’s post on advice giving in the gym. It’s #7. Marjorie is the newest addition to our team of blog regulars.

Catherine is taking back fat phobic images. Her account of that process is #8.

Also, this month I had to not do a thing because I was sick (I’m 100% now so clearly that was the right choice) and my story about how tough adulting can be is #9.

Rounding out the top 10 was Nat’s post on loving her new cycling shorts. They’e beautiful. So bright and cheery. And here they are.

commute · cycling · gear

Am I a cyclist yet?

If you’re a regular reader, you might know I bought a new bike a little while ago. Its delayed arrival tested my patience, but since I finally got it, I’ve been enjoying it very, very much. Here it is:

Bettina’s light blue bike leaning attractively against a rather unattractive garage door.

Before I took the plunge on buying a bike, I did some fairly exhaustive research. I didn’t want to sink a lot of money into something I wouldn’t enjoy. (What can I say, I was raised in the Southwest of Germany, home to the (in)famously loath-to-spend “Swabian housewife“. An icky and sexist stereotype if there ever was one, but nevertheless, something must have stuck.) I asked my bike-savvy colleagues. I interrogated my equally bike-savvy co-bloggers. I interviewed a friend who purchased my bike’s predecessor model a few years ago. Eventually, I settled on a gravel bike: I wanted something versatile that could take on my pot hole-riddled commute as well as, potentially next season, a first stab at a triathlon. I’m extremely pleased with my decision. My Cucuma Casca is a joy to ride!

I’m so smitten with it, I want to ride it all day long, everyday, to the point where this is slightly endangering my half-marathon training (a topic for another post). It is so light and nimble, and so almost-effortlessly fast. It makes riding up the hill to work actually enjoyable. Luckily, once I had placed my order, my partner got a bit jealous and purchased a gravel bike of his own, so now we both have a joint new hobby and I have a partner in crime! Just this past Sunday, we went off on a nice long ride, making the most of the wonderful late summer we’ve been having. Here’s my partner, trundling along on our latest adventure:

A cyclist on a bike path alongside a river with his back turned to the camera. The sky is blue and the path is part awash with sunlight, part overshadowed by trees.

What I do now is a very different type of riding than what I’ve ever done before. Here’s my old pair of wheels, which I still use for city commuting when I know I’m going to leave my bike locked up somewhere unattended for a longish period of time, like at the train station:

A black commuter bike with a basket on the rear rack, snow in the background

As you can see, old bike is very much a city commuter. It has eight gears and is fairly heavy. It has taken me on some longer rides as well, but it certainly isn’t speedy or good at mountains. For my current commute, I need “good at mountains”, and I want (at least somewhat) “speedy” for longer rides and the aforementioned potential triathlon. So far, I’ve done several longish rides, the longest being last Sunday’s 67 kilometres, lots of commutes to work, 5.5km each way, and a couple of rides to the pool for swim practice, which at 12 km each way is further away than it sounds.

Does that make me a cyclist now?

If your definition of cyclist is “a person who rides a bike with some frequency”, I’ve actually been one for a long time, since I was a kid. But if your definition is “a person who rides a bike for the sake of riding a bike in a sporty fashion”, then I’m essentially a complete newbie. I don’t use clipless pedals (yet?). At 40mm, my tires are way too thick for a proper “roadie”. I put fenders on my bike first thing, although they are the easily removable kind, should I tire of them. I’ve learned to appreciate the padding in cycling shorts and the pockets and longer back of a cycling jersey, although I don’t always wear one. I’m planning to try my hand at basic bike care myself, rather than letting others (my partner or the shop) sort it out. I’m planning to try out thinner tires next season. I’m ridiculously excited about my new sport. It’s a new adventure and I’m keen to see where it goes!

Bettina wearing a pink top, black bike shorts, gloves, sunglasses, a small trail running/cycling backpack, and a helmet, with her blue bike in the shade of a tree in a park.

I’m a cyclist, but a different kind than I used to be.

blog · blogging · fitness

Happy 7th Anniversary to the Blog!

A dark photo of a chocolate cake with rainbow coloured stripey candles. The candles spell out “happy birthday.”
Photo by Marty Southwell, from Unsplash.

Happy 7th birthday to the blog! (Tomorrow is happy 55th birthday to me!)

That the blog’s birthday and my birthday line up so nicely is no coincidence. Tracy and I started the blog roughly two years before our 50th birthdays as part of our “fittest by 50” challenge. If you want the full story about that, buy the book. Or read the blog posts from the early days.

On August 30, 2012 we didn’t write blog posts but we did post a bit about ourselves.

We’re now explicitly a team blog and I’m excited to see what that brings. See our new schedule here.

For me, I’m also branching out, starting a new Dean’s blog. And as I enter the second half of my fifties I’m thinking about a big stretch goal for 60. Still mulling…

fitness

Body shaming and concern trolling as policy: the Taylor Townsend experience

By MarthaFitat55

Taylor Townsend defeated Simona Halep, the Wimbledon champion and No. 4 seeded tennis player at the US Open in tennis yesterday. She’s the first woman to have done so since Serena Williams in 2008.

Image shows Taylor Townsend, a black woman wearing blue active wear, celebrating her tennis win.

The 23-year-old has more tennis today and it will be interesting to see how she does. For now though, this win is not only a triumph in terms of tennis, but it is also a triumph in terms of overcoming body shaming.

Back in 2012, Townsend was the number one under-16 ranked player in the US and the world. You would think this would mean she would get all kinds of support to grow professionally and athletically.

You would be wrong. As I was.

Back in 2012, the US Tennis Association (USTA) refused to provide financial support for competition travel to Townsend until she lost weight. Sports Illustrated has a detailed piece here. Reporter Courtney Nguyen wrote:

Taylor Townsend, a charming young girl who still wears her braces proudly and plays with ribbons in her hair, is still just that: a young girl. She is not the future of American tennis, she is not a policy and she is not an example. She’s just a kid playing a sport she loves and she’s pretty darn good at it. Her body is still developing, her self-esteem still ebbing and flowing, and the last thing she needs, not as a tennis prodigy but as an adolescent, is her own tennis federation telling her she’s physically deficient.

We live in a world — we’ve always lived in a world — where body image, particularly among young girls, is a lightning rod for mockery or bullying. We should be better than that. And as the organization charged with growing tennis, encouraging kids to play and making this sport as welcoming as possible, the USTA should strive to be better than that.

Nguyen quotes the Wall Street Journal who quotes the UTSA official Patrick McEnroe as saying “Our concern is her long-term health, number one, and her long-term development as a player. We have one goal in mind: For her to be playing in [Arthur Ashe Stadium] in the main draw and competing for major titles when it’s time. That’s how we make every decision, based on that.”

This is a perfect example of concern trolling. Townsend was denied training opportunities based on the UTSA’s flawed assumptions on size, strength and skill. Losing weight doesn’t make anyone better at anything. It’s practice and competition experience that leads to increased skill, stamina and motivation to win.

Body policing isn’t new to girls and women. We have also seen a consistent pattern of how black women athletes are also derided for not fitting the white norm. The controversy earlier this summer with Caster Semenya continues to simmer and will have far reaching consequences on women’s achievements in sport.

Yesterday Twitter lit up with posts reminding readers of what happened to Townsend in 2012. When Simone Manuel won gold twice at the Rio Olympics, people shared how black people weren’t allowed to swim in pools with white people.

That body shape management is a driver for policy and practice in the ITSA is appalling. I wonder what Townsend could have achieved earlier had she been given the opportunities to compete without such restrictions.

— Martha gets her fit on in a number of ways, and occasionally indulges in opinion-making for cardio impact.

fitness

Big blog changes: We need a new image and we’d love your help

The big news around here is that Tracy has left the blog. You can see our new schedule here. It’s a work in progress and things are always changing. That’s life.

But we do need to change the way the blog is visually represented. On Facebook and Twitter and Instagram the blog is represented by photos of Tracy and me, and by banner images of our book. I’m okay leaving the book promotion there for now (the blog team can talk about what might replace that eventually) but the little headshot that goes with every FB, Instagram, and Twitter post needs to change.

But into what?

A group shot? We’re now an 11 person team and live across North America and Europe, so that won’t work. Someone suggested a collage of headshots but not all of us want our faces on social media. I’ve been thinking about feminist fitness symbols, like a women’s symbol flexing or lifting weights, but I’m not a person who has that skill set. it’s also challenging because we all do different sports and physical activities. Some of us lift heavy things, some of us ride bikes, some of us swim. But there might be some symbolic representation of the idea of feminist fitness.

What do you think?

Do you have suggestions? Send them our way! You can comment here, of course, but if it’a fully formed visual representation of the blog email me, samanthajbrennan@gmail.com.

And if yours is the one we choose, I’ll also mail you a copy of our book in thanks.

Photo by Ruth of Ruthless Images.
It’s a photo of Tracy and me outside an industrial warehouse space. I’m wearing a FEMINIST tank and she’s wearing a blue tank with a Nike Swoosh. We’re both wearing sunglasses. Oh and I’m leaning on my bike.
fitness · Guest Post · martial arts · motivation · planner

The Power of the Planner (Guest Post)

By Sarah Skwire

Today is 50 days until my second degree black belt test. I know this because after the previous test in June, I decided to see how long I had to get ready. On the day I happened to count, the total came out to the pleasantly even 130 days.

For a long time, I’d been saying to myself that the trick of fitness in general, and of my martial arts practice in particular, would be to do one thing every day to improve. It probably didn’t even matter too much what that one thing was, since there were so many things–cardio, strength, flexibility, core, balance, etc–that contribute to improving martial arts performance, SO MANY of which I needed to improve. I knew what I needed to do, but I was having trouble doing it. 

Although I was always dedicated about attending classes, I was sporadic about doing things outside of class to support that work. I’d go through streaks of regularly stretching while my youngest daughter took her bath, and then I’d get sidetracked one night and would drop it for weeks. I’d run consistently for two weeks, then have to skip a run or two because of meetings and would drop it. I had been on a very good schedule of weight lifting, but a shoulder injury sidelined that. Like everyone else, in other words, life kept getting in the way. 

But I knew that, life or not, in 130 days I’d be expected to perform at the top of my game. And more than that, I wanted to perform at the top of my game. I needed to find a simple way to stay consistent.

A friend of mine in college always used to say that you could solve any problem with office supplies, heavy artillery, or a large enough plastic bag.

So I bought a planner.

I got a really small one–it’s about 4×6–with a page spread for each month and a small box for each day. It didn’t have any dates in it, so I could start right where I was. (I hate starting planners in the middle. So much wasted paper flapping around. And I hate starting mid month because of that depressing white void at the top of the page..) 

I labelled it with months and dates. Then I put a countdown every 10 days of how many days were left until the test. On the front of it I wrote “130 Days” and a somewhat belligerent and accusatory “What did you do today?”

And then I started to fill it in.

I used it to track anything I did, any day, that would further my goal of performing well at the second dan test. I recorded class attendance, time spent assisting in instruction, stretching sessions (no matter how brief), runs, physical therapy, and so on. When I travelled and did lots of walking, I recorded that. When I spent hours doing yard work, I recorded that too. 

And when my body told me that I need to take a day doing nothing, I wrote down “rest” as well. (That was a big deal for me, acknowledging that sometimes even I need to take a break. Maybe that’s another blog post for another day.)

I’ve learned quite a bit from having a planner dedicated to a single goal. A few blank stretches remind me that I get knocked out of my routines easily, so it’s better for me to find time to fit things in than to say “I’ll get back to it tomorrow.” Travel throws me for a loop, so I need to have a plan before I go about how I can keep working toward my goal even when I’m not at home. It’s best when I don’t use this planner to schedule ahead (though sometimes I do). This is meant to be a record of what I have done–not of what I intended to do. I’ve learned that writing down what I’m doing helps me feel like I’m making progress, even when I’m feeling stuck on a plateau, or frustrated about not being able to make it to class one day, or just generally feeling old and creaky. I can look at my planner and see how much I’m doing and how hard I’ve been working. I’ve learned that I’m sufficiently nutty to be motivated to add new things to my routine just to be able to write them in my planner.

I know that the trend now is for bullet journals, where you track everything all in one book–daily calendar, shopping lists, work out schedule, movies to watch, favorite quotes, and so on. And I’m as seduced as anyone by the elegantly laid out bullet journals I see on Instagram and on my friends’ Facebook pages. But I don’t want to make earning my second degree black belt just another part of the daily run of stuff I do. It’s more important to me than remembering to stop by FedEx, or pick up more tea on the way home from work. I wanted to set it apart.

Having a dedicated space where I record my work towards this goal reminds me that it’s more important, and reminds me to treat it that way. Work and family and kids and illness and everything else still go one, and still call on my time, energy, and attention. But now there’s a little book in my bag or on my desk belligerently asking me, every day, “What did you do today?” and reminding me that it matters. 

Image description: The cover of a planner called ‘the small monthly planner.’
Image description: A monthly planner with days of the week at the top, filled in with handwritten notes about training

Sarah Skwire is a Senior Fellow at Liberty Fund and Senior Editor at AdamSmithWorks.com. Her academic research primarily considers the intersections between literature and economics, but ranges widely from early modern material to popular culture.

blog · blogging · feminism · fitness

Tracy’s good-bye for now series, part 4: This time she really means it

Image description: Head shot of Tracy, short wavy salt and pepper hair, silver earrings, smiling, abstract painting in background.

I come from a family of long good-byes. We’re a family who walks you to the car. We say good-bye with hugs and kisses before you get in the car (very occasionally weeping but only if we know it will be a really long time before we see one another and mostly only when someone is leaving the country). To the very end, we play a game called “last look” and “last touch” where we drag it out even more, the winner being the person who gets in the last look or the last quick touch before snatching their hand away through the car window so no one else can touch. We’re laughing the whole while. And then, as you pull away, despite the “last look,” we stand in the driveway and wave. We watch you drive down the street pretty much until we can’t see the car anymore. Then we go in and have a cup of tea or something.

That helps to explain why this is taking me so long (my two week good-bye). I’ve learned to savour last moments. They can be so sweet. Like, this series has breathed some life into my blogging again, renewing my enthusiasm. But that’s not to say I’m staying on. It’s not that I think it’s too late to backtrack and change my mind (I once called off a wedding six weeks before). It’s more that I need to trust my gut on this decision, and it’s telling me to make space for new projects, some as-yet undetermined possibilities, and more generally just to have some breathing room. New space doesn’t need to be a vacuum that sucks something else into it right away.

This blog has given me a lot over the years. Sam and I have often talked about how we stumbled into it without thinking it would go anywhere — it was a temporary project to document our Fittest by Fifty Challenge, and it was meant to end five years ago when we each turned 50. Her energy and efforts have always kept it going. By comparison to Sam’s hard work on the coordinating and organizing and motivating fronts, I have really been little more than co-founder and regular contributor. So I see it as one of those things in life where what I’ve received is so much more than what I’ve given, and I’m grateful beyond what I can express in words. Here are a few of the things the blog gave me (not necessarily in order of importance):

A regular writing practice

I have blogged at least twice a week for seven years. I never did master the art of the short, quick post. As a writer, having a regular writing commitment twice a week (well, maybe once, since #tbt became a regular thing for me in recent years) with an audience to answer to has kept the ink flowing. There has been no time for writer’s block or perfectionism. Almost all of my posts are still in the “first draft” stage, where the content is mostly there but the writing itself needs more metaphor, more precision, more concrete details–the sorts of things that make it more interesting for a reader. I can live with that. I am infinitely more relaxed about my writing since starting the blog. Sharing “good enough” writing with people is no longer a worry. Actually, it’s been fun developing a more casual writing style. Even if it’s not my “best” writing, it’s my most enjoyable. And people read it!

Communities

This idea of community keeps coming back to me. The blog itself drew in a community of like-minded folks who wanted to participate in conversations about fitness from a more inclusive feminist perspective. When Sam and I started to realize people actually read and commented and engaged in discussion about our content, we were well and truly chuffed. Going into it we genuinely thought only friends and family would read the blog.

In addition to the large community of readers and commenters and followers of our Facebook page and Twitter account and Instagram that has energized us and encouraged us, I’ve also gained a closer community in the regular contributors. Last Thursday I reflected on some of the wonderful posts that the other regulars have written. The other blog regulars are a supportive, helpful, motivating group of incredible women I’m fortunate to know.

The blog has also given me a fitness community. As noted the other day, where I used to train alone, I now love to train in groups. Not only, but for sure regularly. My Sunday long runs, which I’ve been missing because of my Achilles issues, are among the highlights of my weekend because I love getting together with my peeps (Anita and Julie) and I feel something is missing from my life when I can’t or when sustained periods of time go by when our schedules don’t collide.

I don’t know about you, but a sense of belonging matters a lot to me. And as a philosopher who works on collective responsibility and collective agency, I’m aware of the possibilities offered when we do things together that we can’t do alone. Communities have great power. Becoming a part of these inspiring communities has been an amazing gift.

A regular and consistent fitness practice

If you want to kickstart your fitness routines, blog about them regularly and let that accountability to an audience start to motivate you. If we hadn’t blogged about our fitness challenge, I don’t know that we would have finished it (maybe I should speak only for myself here — I doubt I would have had the focus to keep at it for two years). But the blog gave me a place and a reason to develop a consistent fitness practice, a reason to try new things (like triathlon), and a place to reflect explicitly about what was working for me (like running, which surprised me because at the beginning I didn’t even like it).

It also let me reflect on and write about what wasn’t working for me. It was through blogging openly about my discomfort with cycling that I finally came to see that it wasn’t worth it to me anymore because of my intense road phobia. See the culmination of my many painful ruminations and doubts about cycling: “When the rubber meets the road (or not): Tracy finally quits the bike and triathlon.” And then there was the 100-day step challenge, which I did twice despite not liking it the first time. I got to document the waning of my initial enthusiasm.

Blogging here helped me think ahead about strategies for working out while traveling, and made me feel more accountable to implement those strategies. As Sam likes to say about all sorts of things: “blog about it!” I honestly would never have even tried triathlon, let alone fallen in (temporary) love with it and made it the focus on my Fittest by 50 Challenge, unless Sam had said: “Hey let’s sign up for the Kincardine Women’s Triathlon. It’ll give us something to blog about.” It sure did. And it galvanized my training goals for the next two years.

Blogging has helped me get back on track when I’ve fallen out of routine. It has become clear to me that it’s as important to share openly and honestly about setbacks as about successes. I had setbacks shortly into the blog and I have had setbacks more recently. And many along the way. Everyone has both–that’s the way life is. We are not robots. It’s been motivating to me to take that seriously and to use the blog as a way of thinking through how to get back on track and then writing about my progress. I’ve gained advice from others by asking for help here. That’s how I ended up trying an osteopath.

Fitness activities are positive and self-nurturing part of my life, whether my routine is in an ebb or a flow. That’s from blogging. Putting it all in print has let me see that there is a constant flow of change: I hit my stride for awhile and glide along seemingly without effort, then a shift happens and it’s a bit harder (or even sometimes impossible), then I regroup and scale down to get back on track, and soon I’m skipping along again to my latest favourite playlist. That is my larger rhythm and it repeats. And repeats. And repeats.

A voice

Not to say I came to the blog without a voice. But the casual nature of blog posts let me develop my own conversational style and a way of expressing myself that feels true and honest. I used to think that my “voice” (such as it is) was kind of boring. And maybe to some it is. That’s fine. But that’s me — lowkey, to the point, a comfortable (for me) balance between self-disclosure and reserve, the occasional unleashing of anger about the world, a mild sense of humour, and feminist.

Regular blogging about fitness from a feminist perspective has done more to cement my own sense of what it means for me to be a feminist than anything else. My years of teaching feminist philosophy and women’s studies; a stint as chair of the Department of Women’s Studies and Feminist Research; writing academic papers about feminism; taking part in countless Take back the Night events…none of that has shaped my feminist voice or allowed me to express it and more importantly develop it as much as blogging at Fit Is a Feminist Issue.

Confidence

Back when I was an undergrad and I worked a summer job at Doubleday Publishing in Toronto, they had weekly sales for staff where books that had been returned were spread out on a table in the warehouse and we could buy them for super cheap. That’s where I picked up my copy of Hard Bodies by Gladys Portugues, my first foray into the world of women’s weight training. In it, she told a story of a woman at her gym who started a consistent routine of weight training and stuck with it. Over the course of that first year, the woman, once shy and reserved and even a bit fragile seeming, developed more and more confidence and strength. As it turned out, she had been going through a divorce throughout that time and the workouts transformed her from a broken woman trying to put her life back together into a confident role model for newer members. Or something like that.

Of all the information I read in that book, about split routines and super sets and how to do pec flies and squats and calf raises (all brand new to me at the time), the story of the woman who survived her divorce by going to the gym had the biggest impact. It suggested that developing physical strength, a comfort with my body, and a routine that made space for that could spill confidence into the rest of my life. And it could get me through the hard bits. And it has.

But blogging consistently about my fitness life and about feminist issues in fitness and sport has itself increased my confidence. I’m no authority on anything about fitness. But like millions of other women who have ventured into gyms, onto soccer fields, into swimming pools and yoga studios, who have climbed walls and boulders, ridden their bikes, run trails or sidewalks or tracks or multi-use pathways beside the river, pounded out timed sets at CrossFit, boxed and wrestled and done aerial silk routines, power walked or leisure walked, worked out with resistance bands or done body weight training in their hotel rooms, thrown axes, cross country skied, snowshoed, ice skated, snowboarded or skied downhill through moguls, roller skated, roller derbied, perfected parkour or played women’s rugby, learned karate, aikido, judo, tai chi, mixed martial arts….I have my experience. And it has built character. And this blog kept me getting back to it not to compete with others or boast about my achievements, but because it made me feel good and there was nothing at stake beyond doing something for me.

As I said in a post (I don’t know which post–it was awhile back), if I never lifted another weight or ran another kilometre or did another warrior pose, no one would care. But I would. And like that woman who hit the gym full force during her divorce, that sort of commitment to myself has built the sort of confidence that comes through tapping into an internal sense of self-worth. It’s interesting to me, if no one else, that it came to me so late in life. We were already 48, Sam and I, when we started this blog. I had a career and my health and good friends and family already. But I (again like so many others, even accomplished others) also had all sorts of insecurities — some of which I worked out through activities like running, triathlon, yoga, and weight training and then blogging about them. It was always a huge confidence boost, for example, when I was able to report progress — my speed workouts actually made me faster! I went from needing to use the gravitron machine for pull-ups to being able to do three sets of 13 without the machine or even elastic bands to take some of the weight. All. By. Myself! I got faster in the pool. Woo hoo!

The blog gave me confidence in fitness, in my feminism, and in life.

A Chronicle of Events

I don’t mean just my fitness event history, but there is that: I can look back and see my fitness history over the past seven years, from my very first 5K and my very first triathlon, through to my Olympic distance triathlons, my weight training successes, my first and subsequent half marathons, my one and only full marathon, Around the Bay 30K x2, various traveling adventures and how I stayed active along the way, bouts of injury and illness, the communities I became a part of, friendships developed. The blog really has offered something of a “web-log” for the past seven years.

But we have also been able to put a time stamp on certain moments, like #me-too and various iterations of the Summer and Winter Olympics, the evolution of Barbie (even if you might wonder, as I did here, whether she can actually be redeemed), the coming and going of various diets (Keto wasn’t even a thing when we started blogging), the repetitive annual cycle of media about “making it” through the holidays and then about new year’s diets and fitness regimes. The excitement about “power posing” and then the subsequent discrediting of the findings. The sway of public opinion about fruit (evil! good!). Daylight savings time, “beach body” season, gearing up for winter training. Even the moments when new team members came aboard, as the blog’s roster of regulars grew and grew. So much captured over these years.

A commitment and routine

My scheduled posting time has been Tuesday and Thursday, 6 a.m., for years. Every Monday and every Wednesday before bed I make sure I have something lined up to post automatically at 6 a.m. the next morning. It has felt good to have this commitment and routine, like a touchstone in my week, every week. Some weeks it’s harder than others to find the time, to find the material, to find the energy and inspiration (I don’t wait for inspiration!). But it’s a commitment, so mostly, except for a few occasions when I had to call in the team for help, I’ve been able to keep the commitment. It, and the workouts I stuck with to have something to say (or, when not posting about my own workouts, the credibility to say whatever I was saying about working and training), kept me going through some tough times.

This past year has been full of tumult and personal upheaval of the hardest kind. It’s quite easily been the most difficult year of my life. I hope I’m on the other side of the worst of it. Having the blog as part of my weekly rhythm, month in and month out, kept me grounded in something positive and affirming while not being at the same time overwhelming (like my job — it’s positive and affirming but also sometimes leaves me feeling drained and overextended). Despite that, the time feels right to step back. I’m sure I’ll visit from time to time, but I declined Sam’s offer for a regular once a month spot because I feel incapable of making any sort of commitment to anything right now.

Extra big shout-out and enormous (though inadequate) thanks to Sam.

[insert weeping here]

Last look! Last touch!

[standing in the driveway waving]

Now — a cup of tea and some T-time (my step-daughter, Ashley calls me “T,” so in my world “me-time” is “T-time”).

With love and gratitude,

Tracy

Image description: A fond blog memory. Samantha and Tracy on stage at the book launch in Guelph, book in the middle on a podium, front cover–FIT AT MID-LIFE A feminist fitness journey, facing the audience. Sam to the left of the podium, Tracy to the right, each at a mic on a stand, Sam standing arms akimbo and smiling, Tracy speaking, hands raised in a shrugging gesture, the back of two audience members’ heads in the foreground. Curtain and window to outside in the background.
feminism · fitness · Guest Post · research · walking

Are women, people of color, and kids more likely to get bumped when walking on the street? (Guest post)

By Sage Krishnamurthy McEneany

Introduction:

Women often complain about how they have to move out of the way for people walking on the street. Beth Breslaw did an experiment showing that this is exactly the case. She walked down the street while consciously not moving out of the way for people. People started slamming into her, specifically men. She began to call this ‘man-slamming’. I wanted to find out if this was true for kids, and women of color – members of other underrepresented groups – but I wanted things to be less confrontational. So, I decided to do my own experiment.

Method:

I gathered a group of four people: one white man, one white woman, one woman of color, and one kid (which happened to be me). We all took turns walking down one street, and counted how many times we each had to move out of the way of other people. We did our experiment two times.

Hypothesis:

The white man would have to move out of the way the least. The white woman next, and then the kid. The woman of color would have to move out of the way the most.

Materials:

A busy street and people willing to participate in your test (one white man, one white woman, one woman of color, and one kid. You could always add more.)

Participants:

Image description: four photos in a grid with descriptions underneath. Top left  "P.M. (white male)"; top right "M.F. (white female)"; bottom left "S.K.M. (child / white passing)"; bottom right "M.K. (brown female)
Image description: four photos in a grid with descriptions underneath. Top left “P.M. (white male)”; top right “M.F. (white female)”; bottom left “S.K.M. (child / white passing)”; bottom right “M.K. (brown female)
Image description: bar graph depicting how many times each person moved out of the way. Trial 1.
Image description: bar graph depicting how many times each person moved out of the way. Trial 2.

As the graphs show, PM has to move out of the way less than MF. MF has to move out of the way less than MK. MF and MK have to move out of the way less than SKM. PM has to move out of the way less than MF, MK, and SKM. This disproves my hypothesis that women of color had to move out of the way more than kids.

Discussion/Conclusion:

My experiment shows that women, no matter their age or race, have to move out of the way much more than men. But when you add race to gender, it turns out women of color have to move out of the way more than white women. If you add age, white (passing) kids that are girls have to move out of the way more than white women and women of color. Extra labor is placed on the shoulders of women, kids, and people of color.

Why would extra labour be placed on these individuals and especially on kids? They are the most underrepresented and their social status is the least. This is why they carry the biggest burden.

Although I have drawn a few conclusions on race and gender through my experiment, I still have many unanswered questions. What would my results be if I were a boy? What if I were less polite and didn’t care if I bumped into someone? What if a black man or a black woman participated in my experiment? What if a senior citizen did? 

I wanted to learn about the unobvious inequalities. This is my first step of what I hope will be many.

Sage McEneany is in grade six. She enjoys reading fantasy, science fiction and graphic novels. She intends to publish her own book when she is older, and to continue to work on the issues of race and other inequalities. She likes to play soccer and would like to do track this year.

fitness

Tracy’s good-bye for now series, part 3: reflections on posts Tracy is happy she wrote

Image description: upper body shot of Tracy, smiling, short salt and pepper hair with a little curl, dark eyes, smiling, wearing circle earrings and a t-shirt that says “EMPOWERED” and, under that “261” (Kathleen Switzer’s race # when she was the first woman in the Boston Marathon), abstract painting in the background.

Last week I reflected on some of the posts the other blog authors have written that had a lasting impact on me. Today, because I’ve written a lot here over the past seven years and I feel good about at least some of it, I’m going to talk about some of my own posts. I hope this doesn’t come off as overly self-indulgent but over these years some themes have emerged in my posts and a look back has helped me get perspective on what matters to me.

Anti-diet then, anti-diet now. When we first started blogging, I was really clear that I wanted to present an anti-diet message. To me, the most basic feature of a feminist approach is that we encourage body positivity and discourage punishing diet regimes, the sole purpose of which is to lose weight. One reason for that is that I myself had a history of chronic dieting and it usually resulted in misery, food obsession, body hatred, and all manner of bad feelings about myself. Within the first week of the blog, I wrote a post called “Tracking and the Panopticon,” in which I expressed my dislike of tracking because it feels like a tool of internalized oppression (to me)–where we self-regulate and monitor ourselves in order to keep ourselves under control. I still feel that way, though not quite as strongly as I did then. I can see how, if used for information, it can be a good way to collect data. But it does strike me as a type of food policing, where we appoint ourselves as our own police. I’ve also articulated why I never talk about weight or food choices (mine or others) and why “you’ve lost weight, you look great!” isn’t a compliment.

Food police have got to go. I have kept up that anti-dieting and anti-food policing theme throughout the years. I’ve talked more than once about why food is beyond good and evil. And about how to avoid another new year’s diet (with suggestions for alternatives to save ourselves grief). I had a good rant when someone issued a headline reporting that a study had said eating fried potatoes would shorten your life. I wrote about why every day is “eat what you want day” because, though it took me 27 years, I am fully committed to intuitive eating. That’s where you eat what you want, when you want, in the quantities you want. No, it’s not for everyone. But it works for me. And when I say “works,” I mean it makes me feel relaxed about food, in tune with my body, and good about myself.

Do less and start small. Another favourite theme of mine that emerged early on was the theme of doing less. My first post about that, “On doing less,” explained how in my fitness activities and in my life more generally, I can get overwhelmed with big goals. But then I can make them manageable and I can motivate myself to get into a rhythm of consistent effort if I scale back. Instead of an hour of yoga a day, how about 20 minutes (or, as Christine is doing, seven minutes)? Just something to say I showed up and did it, whatever it may be. Doing a little bit consistently is better than establishing overly ambitious goals and then abandoning them altogether.

Not too long ago I picked up that theme again in “Tracy’s winning formula: consistency and forgiveness.” I feel as if seven years of blogging about fitness and mining my life and the media for material has demonstrated to me that it’s an ebb and flow. Sometimes I’m really on task, training for a goal, hitting the workouts regularly. And other times I’m injured, or ill, or travelling, or busy, and I fall out of routine and need to forgive myself and then start again. I firmly believe that the best advice anyone can give anyone about fitness: start small. You cannot go wrong (I need to re-read that one because my Achilles injury has taken me out and I need to do something more than yoga or I will lose my cardio fitness even more than I did when I blogged about my lost cardio fitness a little while ago). My do less, start small approach also goes a long way to explaining “why I don’t resolve” on January 1st.

Sleep and rest. This is a thing I’ve come to value over the years. I have never been very good at permission to get the rest I need. I adore sleep and naps, but I don’t always get them. I’m a big fan of The Nap Ministry, promoting naps as political — a form of resistance (against capitalism, racism, “the grind”). I wrote about the Nap Ministry more than once this year, sending myself if no one else a clear message that burnout was on the horizon.

Community. Seven years ago when we were just starting out, I didn’t do fitness activities with people. I mean, I went to yoga classes and felt a sense of community around the studio, but I ran alone, more or less weight trained alone or with my partner, and swam alone if at all. Part of that was because I didn’t think I was athlete enough to be a part of any fitness community. I worried that I was the slowest runner in the world and I would never find my people. Well, that turned out to be false! Over the past seven years, I’ve ridden bikes with people (I hated that lol, but I liked the social parts), trained in the pool with a group (loved it), and discovered that there are others — wonderful wonderful others — who run at my pace. I talk about that shift from solo traveler to lover of community in “In praise of community.” Others can be great company and also motivating points of accountability. I loved it when the media people last year talked about the “pact” Sam and I made to be our fittest at 50. I had never thought of it as a pact, but that is exactly what it was. I blogged about that in “the power of the pact.”

The book. Last year in the spring and summer Sam and I were basking in the warm feelings of the book. It felt so good to see the book that we’d worked on together in actual print, getting attention from real people, and media not just in Canada but also in the US, the UK, and Australia. At the beginning of what would be an exciting time of interviews and podcasts and book launches and readings, I wrote about “Soaking up our 15 minutes.

Doing things I never thought I’d do. From completing not one but two Olympic distance triathlons (Bracebridge and Lakeside) to running a marathon (a whole one!), I have done things over the last seven years that I never imagined when Sam and I began our fitness challenge in 2012. Shortly after my 50th birthday, I wrote a post entitled, “I did it! Reflections on achieving what once seemed impossible”. I like reading this post again because it gets me back in touch with that feeling of amazing myself. It’s the sort of thing you want everyone to feel. I amazed myself again, last fall, when I hit my 10K personal best (see “have you amazed yourself lately? Tracy consistent effort and see where it takes you (aka Tracy’s epic 10K)“). I also amazed myself with my boudoir photo shoot late last year. It was fun and I liked the results. I don’t think that is something I’d have felt comfortable doing back in 2012 when we started the blog.

A time to rant. I’m not a big ranter, but I can rant when the time is right. Over the course of seven years, I’ve had some occasion to unleash some ranty opinions on this blog. Like, “Do you have to be active to wear active wear?” (do not get me started on the clothing police). And I’ve ranted (but in a low key and possibly even a bit constructive way) about vegan protein sources at restaurants (it’s getting better). And of course, there are a few rants about diets, such as “Newsflash (not): most meal replacement shakes aren’t meal replacements.” Sometimes it’s more fun to rant together, like last month when Cate and I went on about harmful messaging.

Blogging about the blog. We try to keep it open and welcoming here, but things aren’t always happy. We blog about difficult issues and on occasion we say things that hit the wrong note with some people. We aim to be inclusive, but not everyone always feels included. There have been times that I or others wrote posts that made readers angry. One such time was when I proposed that I might dump sugar. Oh wow. That didn’t go over well at all. But the response caused me to reflect and back track. And as I re-read my “dumping the sugar dump: critical follow-up” post, I could see that (1) I was still stinging, but also that (2) I was doing my very best to work through and take seriously why it was probably not a good idea for me to voice that thought on this blog.

It’s funny (not really funny, but odd) how much it hurts when we get attacked by our readers. It happened again a few months ago on the FB page (this time Sam was under fire, on the receiving end of vitriol) and when we tried to intervene to bring it back to a civil discussion, we were then accused of “tone policing.” In the end, it prompted me (and Cate in her beautiful post, “What are we making together?”) to reflect once again on the blog and the community around it and what we can and cannot promise. In the end, I realized that we cannot promise a safe space, and I reflected on why that is the case in “Why we can’t promise a feminist space will be a safe space.” It might be one of my favourite posts of my own because it is a layered reflection on feminism as I see it playing out in my life, on the blog, in the world.

This reflection on my own posts is kind of random and on a different day might be different. I haven’t mentioned the one that’s gotten the most hits of all, “She may look healthy but…why fitness models aren’t models of health.” That and “The Shape of an Athlete” are two of my posts from the early days that challenge our assumptions of what it means to “look fit.” That has been a major theme on the blog since the very beginning, not developed just in my posts but in the posts of the others as well. Posts on bodies and body image are consistently the most read content on the blog, and gave us early evidence that this blog contributed a welcome perspective on fitness.

I’m adding “being a part of this incredible blog” to my list of things I never could have imagined doing in my life.