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.