fitness · Guest Post · hiking

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Volcano (Guest Post)

89583289_10157974504309356_8769320979223543808_n
Image description: A landscape shot of a section of the track. The earth is mostly rocky and is a light brown colour. Steam is coming from geothermal vents on the mountain. In the bottom right corner of the photo is a shadow of the photographer and the ridge she is standing on.

I recently had the opportunity to tramp (that’s what New Zealanders call hiking) the Tongariro Northern Circuit in the Central North Island of Aotearoa New Zealand. The TNC is a four-day, three-night 43.1 km loop that partially overlaps with the world-famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing. The TNC takes place in the shadows and volcanic fields of the mighty active volcanoes Ngāuruhoe (which you may recognise as Mount Doom in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies) and Tongariro. While I had done plenty of day hikes and a handful of overnight trips before, this was my first multi-day trip, and I decided to do it solo. Aotearoa New Zealand has several tramping tracks that are billed as Great Walks, which means they are well-maintained, monitored by rangers, and usually well-equipped as far as huts and campsites go. The TNC is one of those walks, and as such, is well-populated with trampers and rangers alike. That made me feel fine about going solo. I had previously spent a long time wishing I could do something like this, but it wasn’t until I saw these wise words of a kid from the hilarious blog Live From Snack Time that I decided it was time to go do it: “You can make a wish, but then you have to do the wish. It doesn’t just happen.” I decided it was time to do the wish.

75763913_10157974503709356_1080003641504432128_n
Image description: A 360-degree panorama of a section of the track. It is the very early morning and the sky is still dark. Large rocky formations stretch along the length of the photo and they are backlit by a small patch of sunlight peeking up on the left side of the photo.

Here’s the thing about tramping in Aotearoa New Zealand compared to other places: pretty much nothing here will kill you except the weather. There are no large predators like bears or mountain lions, there are no snakes, there are no particularly venomous spiders. The water is usually clean and plenty of trampers just go ahead and drink it without treatment and are usually fine. (Note: that’s risky. Don’t do it. Or do. But also, don’t.) What puts people at risk in the New Zealand backcountry is when weather closes in quickly—particularly common in alpine environments—and natural disasters like avalanches, earthquakes, or volcanic eruptions. (There are also risks like falling and breaking your leg and being unable to get to shelter.) Those are serious risks, and I don’t mean to be flippant about them. You must prepare for them as much as you are able. Now, admittedly, there’s not a whole lot you can do if a pyroclastic flow is headed your way, but I’m of the mind that life is inherently risky, and if the only thing that ever figured into your decisions was how risky an activity was, you’d never get off the couch. That’s not the life I want, so I’m prepared to accept some calculated risks. I went to an outdoor equipment shop and asked for advice from them and from experienced friends, rented and borrowed the gear that I could, bought what I couldn’t borrow, and set out.

89360386_10157974510829356_2886294542049345536_n
A closeup of small, white flowers growing between stones. Mount Ngāuruhoe, a symmetrical cone-shaped volcano, is visible in the background.

The track was absolutely incredible and the trip was well worth it. I can’t believe I waited as long as I did to make it happen. The photos don’t capture the scale and vastness of the landscape. They don’t capture that mixed-up feeling of achievement, relief, and “Well, that wasn’t so bad!” that rises up when you arrive at the hut. It’s hard to explain the introspection that goes on when it’s just you, your boots, your pack, and a volcano to keep you company. It was transformative. Really.

89619021_10157974503144356_1322609851381055488_n
Image description: a landscape shot of a part of the track. On the left of the photo is a 29-year-old white woman with short blonde hair. She is wearing grey shorts and a white shirt. In the distance is a cliff and a thin waterfall coming off it.

But a peculiar thing kept happening while I was tramping, and kept happening after I returned and told people about having gone. People seemed very concerned that I, a woman, was doing this tramp solo. At first, I thought it was a bit funny. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that it reflected some weird assumptions people have about women’s ability to manage risk. When I told others about the experience and wondered whether people would have said the same thing about a male soloist, a male friend was quick to tell me that “it wasn’t about gender” (a bold assessment from someone who wasn’t there) and that going solo was “potentially foolhardy.” He’s right, in some sense: the risks of tramping—things like avalanches and volcanic eruptions—aren’t about gender. The volcano does not care about the genders of the trampers walking on it when it erupts. Dehydration and hypothermia don’t care about your gender. Venomous snakes don’t care about your gender. Flash floods don’t care about your gender. I’m totally with him on this one: the risk is not about gender. But if that’s the case, then why were the comments? Why were so many of the comments of the scandalized “A woman, alone?” variety? What is it about being a woman that leads people to assume you can’t look after yourself? (If I sound annoyed, it’s because I am.)

89472879_10157974504849356_8296255431358021632_n
Image description: A photograph of two of the famous Emerald Lakes, one behind the other. The earth in the foreground is golden brown and rocky. The lakes have vivid green water. A slope rises up behind them. The sky is blue with wispy white clouds.

I want to be clear about something: I certainly don’t think I know everything about tramping. I’m still very much a novice and will be for a long time. But I’m a sensible novice: I consulted experts while planning my trip, followed their advice, and did every single thing I possibly could do to mitigate my risk. I left detailed trip and route plans with a trusted contact, and I carried a personal locator beacon, a first aid kit, emergency shelter, all-weather clothing, an extra day’s food, and so on. I also respect the power of nature and know that ultimately, sometimes things go wrong and no amount of preparation can save you from that. Nevertheless, I did what was, by any reasonable metric, a good job of making sure I was going to be okay, barring a volcanic eruption. (And let’s be real, having a buddy isn’t really going to help you much in that situation.) It struck me as odd that my friend immediately concluded that what I was doing was foolhardy, when he knew nothing about the precautions I’d taken, and made no effort to ask.

84878349_10157974507589356_3906594367158091776_n
Image description: A panorama of a volcanic landscape. The earth is reddish-grey. There are two lakes with green water on the left of the photo, and an uphill scree slope to the right. Three distant people are standing at the top of the slope. The sky is blue with a few long white clouds.

A couple of women tramper friends of mine say they’ve had similar experiences. One says she, too, finds that people are either amazed or concerned when they find out she’s tramping alone, and that something about it rubs her the wrong way. How about you, fellow women soloists? Have you had this kind of experience? How does it make you feel?

I’ll finish off with this photo of sunrise on the ascent to the Red Crater of Ngāuruhoe. I left my hut dark and early to catch this special sight, all by myself. It was glorious.

89375082_10157974504034356_3979052900688068608_o
Image description: A panorama of sunrise on the Tongariro Northern Circuit. The sun is peeking up on the left side of the photo. The lower section of the photograph is dark rocky earth, not yet lit by the morning sun. In the distance are two peaks (one is Ngāuruhoe) that are a deep rusty red in the sunlight.
fitness

Turquoise and berry and lime, oh my! (Guest Post)

A friend of mine and I like to joke that if you’re buying women’s athletic gear (that is, workout or sporting gear targeted toward women), your only colour options are turquoise and berry, a certain shade of sort-of-pink-and-sort-of-purple. On a good day, you might be able to find something in lime, too, but that’s it! Those are your options! Whenever we see any gear in these colours, we send photos of it to each other.

A screenshot of a Facebook message. One participant says, "I actually don't understand why EVERY brand seems to think women should only have these colours as options" with a crying-laughing emoji. The other participant says "Right???"
A screenshot of a Facebook message. One participant says, “I actually don’t understand why EVERY brand seems to think women should only have these colours as options” with a crying-laughing emoji. The other participant says “Right???”

Here are some ski helmets she showed me:

A photograph of an online shopping page. Two ski helmets are displayed in profile side-by-side. One is berry coloured with grey straps, and the other is turquoise with grey straps.
A photograph of an online shopping page. Two ski helmets are displayed in profile side-by-side. One is berry coloured with grey straps, and the other is turquoise with grey straps.

And some socks I got for free with a recent hiking boot purchase:

A pair of hiking socks still in the package. The socks have thick black, purple, dark pink, and turquoise stripes. The brand name "Bridgedale" is partially visible on the cuff of the socks. The tag is grey and reads "Bridgedale Special Edition Striped Hiker."
A pair of hiking socks still in the package. The socks have thick black, purple, dark pink, and turquoise stripes. The brand name “Bridgedale” is partially visible on the cuff of the socks. The tag is grey and reads “Bridgedale Special Edition Striped Hiker.”

And look at the huge range of options on these Vasque hiking boots. I would go for the turquoise, but there’s always berry if turquoise isn’t your thing. (Admittedly, the berry option here is more purple, but the colour is actually called “Blackberry,” so I think it technically counts.)

Two hiking boots displayed in profile. One is black, grey, and turquoise and the other is black, grey, and purple. The turquoise boot has three semicircular turquoise accents along the side of the sole. The brand name "Vasque" is visible next to the laces on each boot.
Two hiking boots displayed in profile. One is black, grey, and turquoise and the other is black, grey, and purple. The turquoise boot has three semicircular turquoise accents along the side of the sole. The brand name “Vasque” is visible next to the laces on each boot.

And some maximally lady-suitable Dachstein hiking boots, if you don’t want to decide between turquoise and berry:

A single hiking boot with black and berry-coloured uppers with black and turquoise laces. The sole of the boot is black with a turquoise stripe. The brand name "Dachstein" is displayed next to the laces.
A single hiking boot displayed in profile. It has black and berry-coloured uppers with black and turquoise laces. The sole of the boot is black with a turquoise stripe. The brand name “Dachstein” is displayed next to the laces.

And some ski jackets, available in both lady colours! (“Silver/teal” is highlighted in this photo, but the other option is called “Berry/coral”.)

A photograph of an online shopping page. Two ski jackets are displayed. One is light pink on the top half and one sleeve and dark pink on the bottom and on the other sleeve. The other jacket is turquoise on the top half and one sleeve and light grey on  the bottom and on the other sleeve. The turquoise and grey jacket is selected and above the images is text reading "Colour: Silver/Teal." A mouse pointer is displayed below the jackets.
A photograph of an online shopping page. Two ski jackets are displayed. One is light pink on the top half and one sleeve and dark pink on the bottom and on the other sleeve. The other jacket is turquoise on the top half and one sleeve and light grey on the bottom and on the other sleeve. The turquoise and grey jacket is selected and above the images is text reading “Colour: Silver/Teal.” A mouse pointer is displayed below the jackets.

As with most gendered things, the problem isn’t the options themselves. It’s the restrictions. With women’s athletic gear, the problem isn’t the colours themselves. If you like turquoise (which I do), great. If you like berry (which I do), great. If you like lime (which I do), great. The problem is in the limited range of options, as though all women (and only women, as it’s hard to find men’s gear in these colours) will only like these colours. Where is the burnt orange? Olive green? Smoky grey? Dark red? Of course, sizing and fit and assumptions about women’s bodies when it comes to clothing are another issue altogether!

Here I am in my most turquoise/berry workout outfit, complete with berry backpack and turquoise shoes, with socks that are berry and turquoise and lime. (I’ve also got a turquoise iPod for working out. But I did that to myself.)

A 29-year-old white woman taking a selfie in a mirror. She is wearing a pink tank top, blue knee-length leggings, a black knee brace, and turquoise, berry, and lime socks. She is holding a berry-coloured backpack and a pair of grey and turquoise runners.
A 29-year-old white woman taking a selfie in a mirror. She is wearing a pink tank top, blue knee-length leggings, a black knee brace, and turquoise, berry, and lime socks. She is holding a berry-coloured backpack and a pair of grey and turquoise runners.

And another of me on my turquoise mountain bike with berry shorts, with a grey helmet with turquoise and berry stripes, and a grey shirt with turquoise accents.

The same subject as above riding a turquoise mountain bike. The rider is wearing a black knee brace, berry-coloured shorts, and a grey shirt and helmet. She is rounding a bend on a gravel and dirt trail, and is surrounded by ferns.
The same subject as above riding a turquoise mountain bike. The rider is wearing a black knee brace, berry-coloured shorts, and a grey shirt and helmet. She is rounding a bend on a gravel and dirt trail, and is surrounded by ferns.

How about you, readers? What do you make of the colour options available for women’s gear?

 

competition · cycling · fitness · Guest Post · race report · racing

Race Report: Cyclocross (Guest Post)

This past weekend, I did my first ever bike race. This was sort of a big deal for me for a couple of reasons: the first one was that I was trying cyclocross, which was a totally unfamiliar race type for me. The second reason was that I was hit by a car while cycling to work a few months ago, and although the crash was nowhere near as bad as it could have been, it was still significant enough to have me out of commission for a few months. In addition to disrupting my PhD work and a lot of other parts of my life, the crash left me unable to cycle for a while, and unwilling to cycle for a while longer. It’s only been in the last couple of weeks that I’ve gotten back to commuting by bike.

A white and turquoise mountain bike leaning against a tree. A turquoise helmet hangs on the handlebars.
My mountain bike and partner in crime. Image description: A white and turquoise mountain bike leaning against a tree. A turquoise helmet hangs on the handlebars.

Wikipedia gives a better description of what a cyclocross race is than I can, so I’m going to steal it here.

Cyclocross (sometimes cyclo-crossCXcyclo-X or cross) is a form of bicycle racing. Races typically take place in the autumn and winter (the international or “World Cup” season is October–February), and consist of many laps of a short (2.5–3.5 km or 1.5–2 mile) course featuring pavement, wooded trails, grass, steep hills and obstacles requiring the rider to quickly dismount, carry the bike while navigating the obstruction and remount.

Wikipedia, “Cyclo-cross”

At the end of last season (I’m in Aotearoa New Zealand, so it’s winter for us right now and therefore cyclocross season), I promised a friend that I’d try a cyclocross race next season. This race was the second last of the season, so I decided to do it because I was running out of chances to keep my promise! To be honest, I didn’t really want to try it, but I do take my promises quite seriously, even when they’re about pretty low-stakes things. And the weather was perfect, to boot. So I loaded up my bike, grabbed my jersey and snazzy pink mountain biking shorts, and off I went!

A 27-year-old woman wearing a grey shirt and pink shorts, sitting on her bike on a dirt track, smiling at the camera.
Ready to go, just before the start of the race! Image description: A 27-year-old woman wearing a grey shirt and pink shorts, sitting on her bike on a dirt track, smiling at the camera.

In cyclocross races, you have a set time to complete as many laps as possible. For this race, we had fifty minutes. I don’t know exactly how long the course was, but there were several different kinds of terrain: packed dirt, mud, sand, grass, trail, pavement, and gravel. I completed five laps of the course, which I’m pretty happy with. The leaders completed ten! I came in basically dead last. I’m confident, although not certain, that the only riders behind me on the results list were people who dropped out due to mechanical failures.

I’m of two minds with the results. On the one hand, the main reason I went was because I wanted to fulfil my promise to my friend. I also wanted to go try something new, have a laugh, get a bit muddy, and burn up some energy. I’m proud of myself for not quitting, even though I had the opportunity to do so with every completed lap, and I’m proud that I actually got faster with each lap. That showed that I was getting a better handle on the course, I think, and getting into the groove for how it was supposed to work. So, I feel like I accomplished what I set out to do.

On the other hand, I felt a bit confused for a lot of it – I wasn’t always sure how to deal with faster people passing me, in that I didn’t know the etiquette, and I basically just tried to stay to the side as much as possible. But there were several bottlenecks in the course and inevitably, people who were significantly faster than me would get stuck behind me, unable to pass until the course opened up again. I felt bad about that, and worried that I was ruining someone else’s race, even though I was trying to do whatever I could to mitigate the problem. A friend, who is an experienced cyclocross racer, reassured me that the fastest people on the course are used to having to pass slower people, and that dealing with those bottlenecks is part of how cyclocross works. That made me feel a bit better, but I still worry that I got in front of the wrong person at a crucial moment in their race!

I wish I could sit here and say, “Yeah, that was super fun!” I can’t. It wasn’t that fun. I don’t really want to do it again. I probably will, because there’s one more race this season, and a friend who does these races will be in town for the next one. So, we’ll probably do it together, but I think that will be it for me. And yet, a friend who came to spectate told me that she and the spectators around her kept commenting on the fact that I had a huge smile the whole time! It’s odd – it didn’t feel fun. But I guess some part of me liked it nonetheless!

A 27-year-old woman wearing a grey shirt and pink shorts riding a bike on pavement.
Me completing a lap during the race. Image description: A 27-year-old woman wearing a grey shirt and pink shorts riding a bike on pavement.

cycling · fitness · Guest Post · health · traveling

N+1: A Love Story (Guest Post)

I know many of the contributors and readers of this blog are avid cyclists. I’ve only recently discovered the joys of cycling. Although, like most people, I learned to ride a bike when I was a child, it never captivated me until I moved to Aotearoa New Zealand and started commuting to university by bike. My officemate, who was leaving the country, sold me his bicycle (whom I christened Beatrice), and my love affair began. After a few months of commuting (plus an unexpected influx of cash), I decided to buy a new bicycle that fit me well and expressed my personality. Beatrice was lonely and needed a sister, after all! Plus, I am told that it is a well-known adage amongst cyclists that the number of bikes you need is n+1, where n is the number of bikes you currently have.

A side photo of a bright orange commuter bike leaning against a white house in the sunshine.
Image description: A side photo of a bright orange commuter bike leaning against a white house in the sunshine.

My new bike, Jezebel, is a commuter bike with a temperament to match her bright orange paint job. I’ll be the first to admit that I know almost nothing about bicycles—although I’m slowly learning a few basic maintenance things—but that hasn’t stopped me from falling hopelessly in love with my new bike. Even though I grew up with a triathlete mother, I never really understood how some cyclists could develop such deep emotional attachments to their bikes.

Now I do.

So, I present to you, dear readers, a love letter to my bicycle*:

Dear Jezebel,

How happy I am that you are in my life! Your blazing orange coat fills me with joy every time I lay eyes on you. I can’t wait to show you all around the great city where we live, and I’m looking forward to taking you up and down roads, over hill and dale, along rivers and around the harbour. You will accompany me everywhere I need to go: to friends’ houses, my office, the supermarket, the swimming pool. I’ll tuck you in, safe and sound in the garage, and dream of speeding off into the sunrise with you in the morning.

You push me to be stronger and more adventurous, facing wind and hill and black ice with courage and determination I didn’t have before. You’ve also made me notice the small details I never would have seen otherwise. The potholes, quirks of the traffic lights at different intersections, hidden driveways, and roads that look flat but are actually very gradual inclines would have escaped my notice if you hadn’t pointed them out to me.

In you, I found freedom I didn’t know I lacked. Before we met, it took me ages to get anywhere. Although I enjoyed walking, it took up a lot of time. I didn’t drive anywhere because I don’t know how, and driving is impractical anyway because traffic is slow and parking is scarce and expensive. And if I took the bus, I was always travelling on someone else’s schedule. Now, you and I can go anywhere whenever we want. While the roads are filled with trapped cars waiting for the procession ahead of them to make it through the next light, we gleefully zip past them down the bike lane. I create excuses to go places simply so I can spend more time with you. I can’t wait for the long and happy life we will spend together.

Love,
Chloe

P.S. Be nice to Beatrice. Having a younger sister has been an adjustment for her.

A 26-year old white woman with short blonde hair, wearing a red and grey plaid shirt and black glasses smiles while posing with her orange bicycle.
A 26-year old white woman with short blonde hair, wearing a red and grey plaid shirt and black glasses smiles while posing with her orange bicycle.

*Yep, I know my bike can’t read.

athletes · fitness · Guest Post · media · motivation · movies

How the Amazons got me to go to the gym (Guest Post)

Like seemingly everyone else, I went to see Wonder Woman this past weekend, and I’ve got to say, it is one of my new problematic faves. For a couple of reasons that it’s problematic, see here and here and here. For a couple of reasons that it’s my fave, see here and here and, most importantly:

Antiope (portrayed by Robin Wright), dressed in leather battle gear, prepares to punch a WWI German soldier, who is dressed in an olive green military uniform.
Antiope, Diana’s aunt and the greatest general in Amazon history, fighting a German soldier during a battle on a beach in Themyscira.

There are plenty of discussions to be had about this movie, ranging from the sharply critical to the “OH MY GOD THE AMAZONS THO.”

This post will be closer to the latter.

For the uninitiated, the Amazons are a group of women warriors. They are the inhabitants of Wonder Woman’s home, Themyscira, a hidden island where no men live (and is thus a queer culture). The first twenty-ish minutes of Wonder Woman are set in Themyscira, but I could have watched an entire movie set there. The society is peaceful and just. The scenery is beautiful and a complete departure from the gritty, bad-Instagram-filter bleakness we have come to expect from the DC cinematic universe. And we get to watch the Amazons fight a lot. The Amazons place a high value on training for combat; they are fierce and intense and their training is rigourous. I don’t know about you, but I’d be quite intimidated by the sight of a band of Amazons riding toward me at full speed. They are hardcore.

Five women warriors ride horses into battle on a beach. The warriors and horses are wearing metal and leather battle gear. They are led by Antiope, portrayed by Robin Wright.
Amazons riding into battle. Intense.

It is unusual and inspiring to see so many strong women depicted side by side in mainstream cinema. Muscular women are often characterized as being overly masculine and unattractive. Though it should be pointed out that most of the Amazons in the film are relatively slender, and it would have been cool to have more diverse body types portrayed, it’s nevertheless refreshing that their strength is glorified, not mocked. The performers are also genuinely strong; many of the Amazons were portrayed by professional athletes, making the group “look like the female version of 300.”

The Amazons (and indeed, the whole movie) made me go back to the gym. Obviously, I’m not a professional athlete. It often feels like an overstatement to call myself an athlete at all. I don’t really follow any fitness regimen to speak of, I tend to have more of a boom-and-bust cycle than anything regular, and I bounce from running to swimming to weightlifting to cycling to yoga and back again with no real structure or plan. This doesn’t really bother me—I just do what I like doing—and when I get bored, move on. Sometimes, I will get inspired to try something new or return to an old favourite (usually swimming, which is my one true love, but often weightlifting/strength training as well).

This time, what inspired me was the Amazons. I couldn’t believe how badly I wanted to hit the gym after seeing the film, and how truly excited I was to work out. I wanted to lift everything: myself, weights, tires. Heck, I would have lifted other people if they’d let me. Let me tell you, during this workout, I Wonder Woman’d HARD, including doubling my personal best for holding plank. (Yes, I’m bragging, and yes, I’m still sore.) Fitspiration, or “fitspo,” isn’t always a good thing, but in this case, Wonder Woman was the inspiration I needed. I wasn’t working out because I thought I deserved punishment, and I wasn’t working out because I wanted to look like an Amazon (although that would be cool). I was doing it because, even though I know the Amazons are fictional, I wanted to be one.

 

Now, if only I could figure out how to get to Themyscira…

blogging · fitness · food · Guest Post

Appearance vs. Reality (Guest Post)

In my high school English class, my teacher always told us to be on the lookout for clues that all was not what it seemed; to pay attention to characters whose inner thoughts were different from their actions, and to focus on the incongruity and what it might reveal about the characters, the story, or the world. I remember my teacher writing “Appearance vs. Reality” on the board over and over during the years I was lucky enough to be in her class. It has stuck with me, and I’m still attuned to it even when I’m watching movies or reading for pleasure.

Sometimes, I feel hypocritical even doing the occasional guest post on a fitness blog, because I feel like a total impostor; like the appearance I try to cultivate is hugely divergent from the reality. My relationship with exercise is on-again, off-again, I don’t excel at any sport (although I genuinely like a lot of them), and I’m not a nutrition expert. Some days, I feel like a total untouchable boss in the gym or in the pool, and others, I feel like an alien or a toddler who hasn’t quite gotten the hang of walking yet. I wish I could be someone who rode my bike everywhere (as it stands, I walk pretty much anywhere I can get in less than an hour and take the bus if I’m going any further). I’m a decent cook and like cooking healthy food, but have certainly been known to eat an entire pint of coconut ice cream* in a single sitting. I go through frequent cycles of “YAY I’M GOING TO EAT HEALTHY FOOD ALL THE TIME AND EXERCISE EVERY OTHER DAY” followed shortly by a crash where I eat takeout curry** every night for a week and forget what my running shoes look like.

received_10154772894064356
[Image description: A greeny-blue pint-sized carton of Mint Chocolate Chip coconut ice cream.] Seriously, you don’t understand how good this stuff is.
Conceptually, I know moderation is the key to avoiding these cycles, but I haven’t quite internalized that.

Because of this, I often feel like I have no business whatsoever in blogging—even guest blogging—for a fitness blog. It seems like the kind of thing that only people who really have their act together should do; people who have it all figured out and are here to impart some epic knowledge. Even though I’ve only done a handful of posts, I dread linking to them on my own Facebook page because I’m totally convinced that people who actually know me in real life will read them and go, “Pfft, what? Who is she to talk?” (I think this is my anxiety talking, but that doesn’t make the feeling any less real.) The impostor syndrome doesn’t end there; I’m convinced that someone will realize I’ve tricked my way into my PhD program, someone will notice that all the socks I knit are basically just variations on the same theme (so take no real talent to produce), someone will find out that I have no real competence in anything whatsoever. This is indeed a case where appearance does not align with reality, or so my brain tells me.

I try to manage my worries with an awful lot of private pep talks to myself (and a lot of support from family and friends). But there’s a Catch-22: I normally rely heavily on exercise to manage my anxiety and depression, but occasionally exercise turns into a source of anxiety. For the time being, I guess I’ll just keep rolling with the on-again, off-again cycle that I’ve come to know and love (?), but I sure wish I could shake the feeling that I’m not good enough and have managed to trick everyone else into thinking I’m something I’m not. Of course, things are further compounded by the fact that I do genuinely believe that it’s okay just to do things you like doing, regardless of whether you’re actually “good” at them. So then I worry that I’m being hypocritical, and I question why not being good enough is so troubling to me. If you truly believed that it was okay to do things you like doing, whether or not you’re good at them, the little voice says, you wouldn’t feel like such an impostor.

There isn’t any grand lesson or moral to be gained from this post. I just wanted to throw these ideas out there. How about you, readers? Does any of you ever feel like your appearance doesn’t match your reality?

 

*And let me tell you, this is one case where “vegan” is unequivocally not the same as “healthy.”

**Again, “vegan” ≠ “healthy.”

fitness · Guest Post

Do Things You Like Doing (Guest Post)

Recently, this blog shared a link on Facebook to an article about why pursuing joy is never a waste of time, and this line, near the very end, really stuck out to me:

“Remember to pursue more than success or accomplishment. Those are important, but so are the things that bring you meaning, connection, and engagement in your life.”

A few years ago, I realized that when I was using any kind of fitness equipment with a digital display (you know the kind: treadmills, ellipticals, rowing machines, stationary bikes, etc.), I became obsessed with the numbers on it. I was always pushing to burn a certain number of calories (are those even accurate, anyway?), go a certain distance, hit this or that resistance level. I stopped enjoying what I was doing and got lost in whether I was doing it well enough, whether I was worthy, whether others would approve of me.

Once I realized I didn’t actually owe achievement to anyone, it was like a light had dawned on me: I didn’t need the validation of the numbers to justify liking what I was doing, or tell me whether I had been successful. I didn’t need the end-of-workout stats to tell me whether I had gone far enough, hard enough, fast enough. I love swimming, for instance. It’s my favourite kind of exercise, no contest. I swam competitively for some years as a teenager, and while I’ve retained good technique, I’m not very fast in comparison to most former competitive swimmers. I’m probably slightly faster than your average lane swimmer, and can pass all the fitness requirements for lifeguarding certification without any trouble, but that’s about it. Once I stopped worrying about my times, though, I was able to reconnect with my love of swimming.

its-okay

Abandoning quantification has done a lot to liberate me from my own obsessions with being good enough (in an exercise context, at least). Pushing yourself can be a good thing, but for me, exercise is a way of escaping from all the other things that I feel I’m not doing well enough. So I started turning off the display, covering it with a magazine or towel, or entering wildly inaccurate numbers about my weight and age. Counting, tracking, and monitoring just took the joy out of it for me, because I was always worried about disappointing myself. So I stopped counting, and started enjoying.

But far be it from me to fall into the all-or-nothing camp. Sometimes quantifying things is necessary or useful. If you’re training for a long-distance race, for instance, you need to know how far you’ve gone so you can build up to the final distance in time for the race. And other people certainly seem to benefit from quantifying either to beat a personal best or compete with friends. If you’re one of them, good for you! I do go through tracking phases occasionally, but on the whole, it’s just not for me. I prefer to turn up the music and do some ugly, mindless lip-syncing while I do my thing, although I still keep track of how long I’ve been exercising, and I track my progress when it comes to strength training. And it doesn’t mean that I don’t push myself on the elliptical! But letting go of my obsession with some numbers has helped me let go of my obsession with all of them. It’s reframed my relationship to the numbers, allowed me to retain a healthy relationship to some numbers without assigning huge value to them, or hinging my self-worth on what they say. It doesn’t take stats to tell me whether I’ve had a successful workout. I already know the answer to that without the numbers. The joy is the success.