athletes · competition · fitness · Guest Post · race report · racing · running

Grapes of Wrath – What did I do?!? (Guest Post)

Sunday was the Grapes of Wrath Niagara 2018 5K mud and obstacle run raising funds for the Canadian Cancer Society’s Wheels of Hope. I have posted before on my participation in the Merchant Ale House run club (here and here). We go out every Sunday morning and have been signing up for cool races. One Sunday the group talked about it as I was busy with someone and then when I came back they said: “Christine, we are doing this!” “Ok,” I said, “I will sign up!” And so I did, without realizing what I was getting into.

This may have been the toughest thing I ever did. We were a team of 8, 3 men and 5 women, of various ages and abilities. The point of the event is not to win but to “finish together.” Honestly, I do not know how I could have finished by myself. The first serious obstacle required hanging from a rope, quite a few feet up in the air, and crossing a certain distance (don’t ask, I don’t know, all I know is it was long) pulling yourself with your arms and legs to cross. I think I may have gone halfway only before I fell in the hay below. But I gave it my all to get as far as I could.

Giving it your all: that is what this run required and I tried my best to give it. Some obstacles were just plain fun (water slide landing in a pool of mud) and climbing over wood structures. Others, were unpleasant: crawling through mud under a tarp or crossing a pool of icy water with blocks of ice floating in it! The toughest one by far was the last: climb and cross a wall helping yourself with a rope, cross a massive puddle of mud and jump over 3 logs while holding for dear life on a rope (it felt like sinking in quick sand) and then climb the last mud hill. You can see us in the background climbing the mud hill in the picture below. The other two pictures are in the “before and after” spirit.

I barely made it up that mud hill. I slid two thirds of the way and held on to the rope and was trying to pry myself up under the cheers of my team and thought “this is it, can’t do it. I can’t!” But then I did. I managed to crawl with friends cheering and then grabbing me and pulling me up. I cried from exhaustion.

I was pulled, pushed, lifted, both physically and mentally through this run with friends. What an adventure. To say we were dirty is an understatement, as you can tell from the pictures. After two showers and a bath I still felt like I smelled of manure. We were all exhausted but proud and happy we did it and finished together!

Now I am told we are doing this again! I will have to work on my upper body strength for next year to help myself and others. I read about Tracy’s chin-ups and pull-ups the other day. Guess what I will be starting to do this week?

fitness

Christine’s 10 km trail race (Guest post)

I recently wrote about my Sunday running group of friends and how it has been such a great all-around booster (see here). Yesterday I finished a race with the group’s cheers at the Head for the Hills Trail Race. This was a great challenge for me as I am usually weary of trails.

When I was a teen, I tore an ankle tendon and while it heeled ok, it left me with a weakness in my ankle. Any uneven surface can be tricky. Add the concern for an easy sprain to my two bad falls and knee hurts from last summer: a trail was to be feared. But what have I said about the energy of group running? It carried me through that race again!

The 10 km was two 5 km loops taking one down through a wet muddy hill to start, then through some dry stretches up an down followed by a wet uneven marsh and then, at the very end, the steepest hill with a pool of water and mud at the bottom that one could not avoid stepping in.

I had a good pace for the first loop but that last hill hit me hard and the second loop was much slower. I finished last with Kate, both giggling and so happy to finish together, reminding each other “We got this!” And one of the best part: the cheers of the group of friends who had already finished and were waiting for us at the finish line right after that very steep and incredibly muddy hill, cheering us as we were climbing that last treacherous stretch. What great fun!

This running club is taking me to new adventures and I can’t wait to see what comes next. I am happy to have conquered the fear of the trail. I am also looking forward to seeing everyone again this morning at 10 as we go for our regular Sunday Funday run. That was one thing we all checked and cleared yesterday: this Saturday outing is not replacing our regular run, is it? No it isn’t! Would not miss it!

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Mud friends forever!
fitness · health · racing · running

On group running (Guest post)

In February 2017, I joined a running group. I had been thinking about something like that for a while but did not want to sign up for something official and pay fees. I did not want to join a group to find motivation or train for specific races and distances. I was just curious as to the dynamic of group running and perhaps, unconsciously, try to break out of my isolation. I live by myself and am a very independent person who can do pretty much everything on her own, including training. But I had started thinking this may not be good for me.

So when I saw a few posts on my Facebook feed about the Merchant Ale House Run Club I inquired. This was the perfect group for me to try: I was told all levels of running and walking were involved and it was very informal: show up at the Merch at 10am on Sunday and go out for a run. And so I did.

It was intimidating to join a group of people I did not know (as it turned out, I knew the one person I inquired from and found out when I showed up). Peter, a group member, saw it was my first time there and ran with me even if it slowed him down. That was really nice and made me feel welcome. After the run, I returned home not entirely convinced though that this was for me. So a few Sundays in a row I forced myself to go. A bit more than a year in: I would not miss Sunday morning run club unless I am out of town and even then I miss it.

As we like to say, this is a drinking group with a running problem. After the run, we gather at the pub for some pints and food. When I first joined, I did not know this was the pattern and on my first visit even left right away! Now? I would not miss the run or the gathering of friends. As I see it, the Sunday morning sessions are a great boost to my physical and my mental health. Now it is not just the pints, food, and merriment that boosts the latter, but also the encouragements and mutual support the group offers while out running and after.

I have blogged before about my return to running after a stretch of injury and how I had been amazed at running 8.5 km with a goal of eventually running 10km (see here). This past Sunday I ran 11.5 km with the group, including climbing the Hydro Hill by Brock which is a very steep escarpment hill. The fasties (Lisa, Tony, and Jordy who regularly run 2 digits distances at a fast pace) waited for us at the bottom of the hill. At first, my friend Alex and I thought we were going to run to the bottom of the hill and back. But once there, and with encouragement and enthusiasm, there we went! And we conquered it!

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Hydro Hill conquered! From left to right: Tony, Alex, Jordy, me, Lisa, Peter, Christine

3 weeks before, gently pushed by Peter and Christine I ran 10km at a pretty good pace for me without having planned for it. This is what run club has also done for me: lead me to unexpected achievements. Also, we have signed up for races – something I would never have done on my own – and I ran the Run for the Grapes 5km on the hottest day of the year on 24 September 2017 and then 10km on October 15, 2017 as part of the Niagara Falls marathon! Crossing the finish line with my run club friends cheering me from the side was such a great experience! On April 21st, we are running Head for the Hills Trail Race. Who have I become?

Running by myself is still great. I enjoy the meditative aspect of it. It also happens that run club is a solitary run as we spread out running at our individual paces. But gathering together after the run, cheering and celebrating each other’s accomplishments, is the mental health boost that can’t be beat!

 

injury

Falling apart… (Guest post)

This summer is turning out to be a bummer for exercise. On July 9, I fell on my left knee at the end of a 7km run. I was about to cross an intersection and rather than watch where I was stepping, I was looking at incoming traffic to see if it was safe to cross. I stumbled on an uneven sidewalk surface and off I went flying. This was a running group outing and I had taken a different last stretch than the group.

My return to the pub where we start and finish was bloody and painful (I stupidly ran the last stretch, an extra 500m). I made quite the impression with the dirty bloody knees. My right knee was a little scratched too but nothing really bad, it was my left knee that took the big hit. Since I bike to run club, I also had to bike back with my busted knee. It was an experience. But eh! I am a trooper! I can do this, no? Who cares about pain? That was stupid.

I went back to running rather quickly, namely after only 6 days. I did that despite the discomfort because I like running and because I need to exercise. Whenever I don’t, even if it is to nurse an injury, I feel lazy. I also miss the movement. I am not good with sitting on my bum all day. I went running a few times and complained about how my knee was still uncomfortable. That was stupid.

Now, on August 1, I went out for dinner and was cycling back home. The main street I usually take home was under construction and I took a side street to be safer. That did not go too well. A train track crosses that street at a weird angle. My front wheel got stuck between the track and the asphalt, bringing me down and falling on my right knee this time. I guess I like to live a balanced life and since I had busted my left knee, I needed to bust the right one. A little girl who was playing nearby came over and asked if I was ok and said with a sorry voice that it happened to her “a few times.” So cute.

Now this injury put a clear stop to the running and I have not gone out since then. I have only cycled a little bit and went for a walk or two. I did get the whole thing x-ray’d as well as my left thumb which has been severely sprained but, thankfully, not broken. My wrists are also ok. This is from the jerk to my handle bar when the front wheel got stuck.

Now I have said above that some of my actions were stupid. I certainly did not take enough time to heal my left knee and thanks to my second fall, it will now heal properly or one can hope. I had an ultra sound done to check if I had a clot or something because my lower left leg has felt funny (swollen sometimes, tingly, painful, constricted) since just before taking my second fall. Good news: no clot in sight. But perhaps something else is pinched and causing this.

The most annoying of all this is that it restricts my movements. I am left with some weightlifting and no impact exercising. The weightlifting is a challenge with my sprained thumb but I am told the best physio for it is to keep using it. Ok. I am not sure how long it will take me to be able to go back to running. I really do like running and I really miss it. I find it meditative in a way that cycling or other exercise is not. But I will have to be patient (not my forte) if I want to be able to go back to it and if I want to not fall apart for real.

Wish me luck with this but mostly, wish me patience. Lots of it!

Cleaned but ruised knee after bike fall
Guest Post

My Fit Prime Minister (Guest Post)

So Justin did it again and “photobombed” an event. This time, he was “caught” running through a group of teens taking prom pictures in Vancouver. Another time, and as referenced in that CBC article, he had “photobombed” wedding pictures, shirtless that time (why not in Vancouver Justin? Oh well).

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Why all the quotation marks you will ask? Well one line caught my eye in the CBC article. Adam Scotti, photographer to the prime minister, tweeted his pic of Justin running through the crowd, supposedly unnoticed by the teens.

So this was not as impromptu as it is meant to look. It is not as if Justin just decided to go for a run, on his own (which is what the earphones are meant to suggest), just like you and I leave the house and may run into a gathering of teens or a wedding photo shoot. The photographer to the prime minister was there and probably some security people, or one would hope. This is all part of an operation to make us swoon over Justin and how much of a people person he is. That he is that is not debatable especially if we contrast with many other politicians, including our previous prime minister. But there is a lot of fabrication that goes into these images.

However, that is not my point today. I have been meaning to write on how public figures, including politicians and country leaders, impact our perception of the importance of exercising and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. This article in my Twitter feed this morning made me do it. So here it is.

Yes I will continue to swoon over Justin, not because of his good looks and charm, but because he keeps healthy habits and does look fit. He exercises regularly and obviously values a healthy lifestyle. His yoga buff wife, Sophie Grégoire, also appears to hold the same values (why the shoes Justin?).

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Our prime minister runs, boxes (Guest blogger Rebecca Kukla even boxed with Justin as reported here), does yoga, planks on random counters or tables, etc. He is one active guy!

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I swoon over Justin for such things just like I did for Michelle and Barack Obama when I would come across pictures of them engaging in fitness activities. I certainly aspire to be as strong as the former First Lady.

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In Quebec, Dr. Gaétan Barrette, the minister of health, was quite heavily criticized and very badly mocked for his weight. The amount of fat shaming that occurred was simply appalling. Since 2012, Barrette has lost a lot of weight. He has explained that this was a challenge he took with his son who appeared to be following his path toward obesity and they both engaged in a radical lifestyle change involving changes to nutritional habits. The change is major as one can see.

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People have congratulated the minister of health over this change. He appears to be healthier and this may be even more important for him in a leadership role as minister of health. Now we know that size is no measure of health (many posts on this blog have discussed this).

But that a leader would appear to value a healthy lifestyle by adopting an exercise regimen and good nutritional habits seems to matter to people. When one does not, as Barrette presumably used to and especially in his role, he became a target of criticism. Now fat shaming is never right and he was the victim of a lot of that. I am happy to read that he did not engage in his lifestyle change in response to that. But this example can inspire others.

I use the word example with caution here. “Before and after” pictures often serve to shame individuals who appear more like the “before” picture and serve to point to their “failure” to achieve an “after” look. But I do think that active, fit looking and presumably healthy leaders can serve as role models to populations who are subjected to the flow of pictures of these leaders. It may inspire people to engage in a bit more activity, even just for the fun of it.

I would be interested to read a study that would look into the correlation between the level of physical activity engagement in the population and that of their political leaders and whether a fit leader directly impacts fitness choices by the population. Similarly, a study that would also correlate the pursuit of healthy nutritional habits between the population and its leaders would be interesting as well. This, in light of reports of Trump’s predilection for junk food, may be worrisome for a population that has been struggling with health issues for a long time.

Did things improve under the Obamas? I don’t know and 8 years might be too short a period to tell. Will a fit Justin make us all fitter and possibly healthier Canadians? Maybe. In the meantime, I will continue to swoon and be inspired.

body image · Guest Post

Free the bellies! (Guest post)

So I am just back from vacationing in Cuba (I know, there are worst things to do in April). And I did it! I bought 3 bikinis and actually packed them and wore them to the beach. My tankinis tried to come along. They were calling me from the closet where they are stored with an old one piece. They were trying to convince me I was making a mistake. I stood fast and refused to take them. What a great decision! This April I freed my belly!

Last summer Natalie published a really inspiring post on her bikini body. I commented back then that I was going to do the same for my next vacation. I failed at that because I went to Mexico in December and wore my tankinis. I convinced myself that I had lacked time to go bikini shopping. My options are limited to a specialty store because of my size which is not catered by regular stores so it is not like it would have taken me days to visit all the stores and choose from, oh so many options! So even though I told myself a tale of lacking time I really simply chickened out. Why? Body image issues!

The last time I exposed my belly in public was some 25 years ago. I enjoyed my day at the beach wearing my two piece and then pictures came. Those were the days when you actually had to take the roll to the pharmacy for processing and pay .99 cents for an extra set of your 24 pictures. So one week later, when I saw the pictures of myself enjoying myself in the water and with family I was unhappy with how I looked. Why? I did not look like a model wearing a two piece (who does? models do). The comment of my then spouse that maybe I was too old now to wear a bikini sank in and confirmed that as of then I was going to embrace one piece suits (another of many reasons why that person is an “ex” now). From then on I only wore those or sometimes even shorts and a t-shirt, perhaps even a long-sleeved t-shirt.

Never mind that I had had great fun that day wearing my bikini at the beach and that I am smiling and laughing on all pictures (I just looked at them again and I truly look like I was having a lot of fun). But the body issues took over and tainted the memories of that day and the perception of the pictures and the body on display. Reading Natalieh’s post last summer I went back to the pics and thought: heck (actually it was more something like: screw this bullshit!). I chickened out in December and regretted that. So this time, one week before leaving, I went to the store and bought myself what I needed and resisted my inner narrative that my body is not to be exposed.

That first day, I put on my favourite of the 3 to help myself. It also helped that I recently got a great ribcage tattoo that I want the world to see (I had actually shown my belly to many more people since I got it than I did in the last 25 years just to show off the tattoo!). I put on my beach cover up and went to the beach. And then there was that great, frightening but mostly great, moment of taking the cover up off. What I felt? Great! I felt free!

Freeing my belly also felt like freeing my mind. The feeling of wind and water caressing my belly skin was fantastic. I am never going back! Screw the tankinis and my one piece with them. Screw narratives that say bikinis are for the young, thin, and flawless. I am strong and healthy but not thin and flawless and that is perfectly alright! I never felt as sexy as embracing that. Not that that was the goal but rather a surprising outcome, surprising to me anyways.

So please, if you have not done so yet, free your belly! You will feel great in so many ways! And thanks again Natalieh for your great post that triggered this.

This is my fave red number. I am not in it because I suck at selfies and was by myself so no trusted photographer available.

PS: Don’t be surprised if you find me wearing my bikini top with my shorts working in my summer office when we experience Southern Ontario heat this summer. Once you have freed a belly, it remains free!

Guest Post

On doctors, BMI, and other bullshit (Guest post)

This week I had my annual visit with my doctor. I am doing great and really only need a renewal for my prescription of Ventolin for stress-induced asthma for when I run. I have never felt healthier in my life and have lost 35 lbs in the last two years thanks to a radical change in diet as well as workout intensity and regularity, including running (which I love).

I had a little smirk on my face when my doctor opened up by saying “You have lost weight”! What girl has not internalized this kind of discourse that requires of us that we be tiny and light and occupy as little space as we can?

So I was pretty happy with myself until the end of my exam where he asked how tall I was. I knew what was coming. I said: “Look, we are not going to get into BMI stuff because we both know it is bullshit!” He knows me and he knows I can be stubborn but also well-informed. So he asked: “How so?” My answer, of course: “Anyone who is muscular is going to bust the BMI and I am very muscular.” I thought this was going to be the end of it. No!

He pulled out a measuring tape and measured my waist and determined I have to lose 2 inches! On what basis I do not know. Now I am not going to claim there is no flab on my belly that I would not love to lose. But 2 inches? What he recommended? Doing abs! Ok, seriously! I went into how I strength train and run and do abs and can do 2 minutes of planking, no problemo! He said to try and asked: “You feel healthy?” Hell, yeah! Parting words.
I was really miffed by that whole thing because I am a very active person! I will not starve myself to lose 2 inches of waist measurement and I will not stop drinking, thank you very much. I probably do more exercise than most people, including my doctor, and I do feel the healthiest I have ever felt and the strongest! So what gives?

What I did when I got home? Ran to my closet to try all my pants to see if I had gained any unwanted weight and expanded in space. Because girls can’t, right? Of course everything still fits fine and no need for shopping (bummer). But I was still in the gym this morning busting my butt out with intervals and circuits because … that 2 inches gotta go.

With all of that being hyper conscious about all of these things and rejecting such fundamentally flawed discourses about women’s bodies, why can’t I just shake it off? The power of socio-cultural construction is indeed tremendous. And this is why we need to discuss such issues, be supportive of one another, and insist on being proud with feeling good.