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.

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[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.


fitness · Guest Post · health

Mood Swings (Guest Post)

I’ve written before about how I use exercise to manage my mild anxiety and depression. I know I’m not alone in using exercise to manage not only my mental health, but also regular emotions. After all, if I were, rage yoga and countless motivational posters telling you to work out your anger wouldn’t exist.

Often, I use more “conventional” types of exercise – running, swimming, weightlifting…even just taking the dog for a walk and breathing some fresh air for a bit. I’ve also written before that I often struggle to motivate myself to actually go do these things.

And yes, I do take pride in being able to push myself to go put on my shoes, to hit the pavement, to jump into the deep end. But I’m also an advocate for the idea that you should do the exercise you want to do. If running isn’t your thing, don’t run. Find something else you like, and do that. And whatever that thing is, it doesn’t matter whether it’s conventional or not – just go do it. Haters gonna hate.

All this brings me to what has been my saving grace over the last couple of weeks: the humble swing set.

Every day, on my walk home from my university, I pass through my city’s botanical gardens, where a simple two-seater swing set stands by the gate. Rather impulsively, after a long and annoying day filled with interpersonal drama, thesis-writing woes, and the (then still-unfolding) election of Donald Trump, I threw my bag on the grass, plunked down in the seat, and started to swing. I hadn’t swung in a long time, and was surprised at how quickly a few pumps of my legs got me as high as the swing would go.

Something I never realized as a kid was that swinging is actually pretty physically engaging. Pumping your legs back and forth, hanging onto the chains so you don’t fall out of your seat, that slight lean back as you swing forward, pressing your chest forward as you swing back: my arms, legs, back, and abs could all feel it. Sure, it’s not weightlifting or triathlon training, and it may be a sign that I need to exercise more than I do, but I was surprised at how demanding swinging turned out to be.

It often happens to me that I don’t realize how I’m feeling until I’m moving. Exercise helps me think through problems and channel my energy into something productive. I’ve always been drawn to repetitive pursuits: knitting, swimming, running. These activities offer me a chance to tune out for a little bit. I find comfort in the repetition, which quiets the part of my brain that would normally dart around from one thought to the next, and lets me sink into more focused, calmer reflection. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that swinging back and forth does exactly the same thing. The gentle rise and fall, the rush as you swing through the lowest part of the pendulum. Easy, predictable acceleration and deceleration. I’ve returned to the swing set a few times in the last few weeks because I find it calming and cathartic. When I’m angry, a few minutes of going all-out on the swing set is a surefire way to tone down the anger and start reflecting in a way that really gets to the heart of why I’m angry, think about what I can do about a situation, or work my way through a philosophical problem I’ve encountered while working on my thesis.

But there’s another benefit to swinging that keeps me coming back to that swing set, and it’s probably the most important aspect: swinging is really, really fun. Pushing harder, seeing how high you can make the swing go, falling through the air without fear of getting hurt. Is it any wonder that children flock to swing sets? They’re exhilarating! The physical activity helps me control my emotions, surely. But doing something just for fun is pretty great, too, and I think that part of swinging is at least as beneficial as the physical activity.

One of the swing sets I visit occasionally.
One of the swing sets I visit occasionally.

Chloe is presently completing her PhD in philosophy. When she’s not busy writing, she can usually be found knitting, gardening, cooking, sewing, stargazing, or lifting heavy objects.

fitness · Guest Post · health · motivation · running · training

Act Now, Think Later (Guest Post)

I’ve had an on-again, off-again relationship with depression and anxiety for a few years now, which really emerged in a big way while I was pursuing my MA in philosophy. Of course, this isn’t the case for everyone, but I’ve found myself able to manage my depression and anxiety through therapy and exercise. I’ve also had longstanding issues with procrastination, which contributes to the endless cycle of self-talk with “You’re not doing enough,” “You don’t belong here,” “If you were really serious about philosophy, you wouldn’t have to push yourself to work,” and other things like that.

While doing my MA, I sought therapy through Student Services and worked with a therapist there, who was herself a PhD student, and our sessions were extremely helpful to me. There are lots of really great lessons I took from the sessions, but two in particular have really stuck out: 1) I need to set significantly lower expectations for myself, and 2) action precedes motivation. As far as low expectations go, the way I think of it is this: if I tell myself that today I’m going to accomplish Things A, B, C, and D, but only end up accomplishing Things A and B, I’ll feel disappointed in myself, and that fires up the cycle of negative self-talk. But if I set out to accomplish Thing A, find that that fires me up a bit, and then also get Things B and C done, then I can feel good about what I’ve accomplished (even if it wasn’t Things A through D). As for action preceding motivation, it’s almost exactly what it sounds like: sometimes, you simply don’t want to do things until you’ve started doing them, but once you get going, it actually feels okay or even fun, and you find yourself motivated to do it.

So, what does all of this have to do with fitness?

Since starting my PhD study in a new country, the depression and anxiety have re-emerged. Thanks largely to this blog, I’ve managed to abandon the idea that exercise is for aesthetic reasons, and I now think of exercise’s role in my life as being one of maintaining general health, be it physical or mental. It’s not just anxiety that I’ve had this on-again, off-again relationship with, but also running. It’s not my favourite form of exercise (I’m much more in the swimming, weightlifting, and TRX camps), but there’s a lot about running it that draws me to it, like the relative lack of expense, and pretty minimal gear requirements. In my case, there’s also no travel time: I just put on my shoes, step outside, and start running. No need to get myself to a gym or pool first. One thing that often keeps me from running, though, is the idea that I’m just not good at it. I know, I know: how will I ever get good at it if I don’t do it? But what I’ve taken from my therapy sessions is largely applicable to running: like my work in philosophy, I need to remember to set lower expectations for myself, and remember that action precedes motivation. Now, I’m not a fast runner, and although I’m fairly tall, I don’t have that long graceful gazelle-like stride that seems to come so naturally to so many other tall runners. I get red in the face quite quickly and find myself huffing and puffing much sooner than I’d like to admit. But setting lower expectations for myself means deciding that some days, five minutes of red-faced, huffy puffy running is good enough. (Yeah, I know it’s significantly less than experts recommend. But if I try to convince myself to run for twenty minutes, I often don’t wind up going at all. Low expectations, remember?) And the other thing is, sometimes that five minutes turns into ten. And then the ten turns into twenty. And sometimes twenty even becomes thirty. Action precedes motivation.

Admittedly, when it comes to running, I don’t have much of a routine. Often, it’s just a matter of thinking, “A run might be nice,” for whatever reason (I’m cold and want to warm up, I feel like I haven’t accomplished anything that day, I want to feel strong, or I want to work through a philosophical problem that’s bothering me, for instance), and heading out the door five minutes later. I tend not to time myself or map out any particular route, because I know from my own experience that quantifying things is the fast track to taking the fun out of it. I’ll have to develop some kind of a routine over the next few months, since I spontaneously signed up for a half marathon just earlier today, but that’s quite a ways off and I still have time to enjoy the lack of structure. Again, low expectations are where I need to start.

Running is helpful in managing my depression and anxiety in two ways. There’s the obvious one: that exercise is simply good for your mental health. The second one, though, in my case, is that working at implementing those two lessons when I run is that I get that much better at implementing them in other areas of my life, notably my grad school work. Convincing myself to write just one paragraph or read just one article sometimes takes more effort than I wish it did, but the point is to start.

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Plus, it’s a little easier to enjoy running when you get scenery like this to look forward to.