fitness · team sports · winter

We Do Us: A Fun Run in the Snow (Guest Post)

Previously I have blogged about the 2016 Mudmoiselle as an example of the “party run phenomenon” and how a completing a winter obstacle course helped me to “find my tribe”.

This year, wearing our red winter finest, Team Freezer Burn made its return to the Polar Rush obstacle challenge (and fundraiser for Sick Kids) at the Horseshoe Ski Resort North of Barrie, ON. Set up along a zipline and golf course adjacent to the resort, the event had participants run the 5km without disrupting the skiers and snowboarders on the hill. The untimed race had wall and hill climbs, slides, and balance activities that were completed individually, or cooperatively if someone needed encouragement or a hand.

Freezer Burn Team members, including the Spicy Chicken and I, Tonya.

Afterwards, our team celebrated with an evening of hot tub soaking, food, and games at the hotel, during which we recounted and laughed about the day’s events into the night.

Over breakfast at Timmie’s the next morning, my roomies and I discussed some of the reasons why we enjoyed this all-lady, team-based activity:

  • It made 2 hours of exercise more fun;
  • Some work (and exercise) indoors, so the outdoor activity was a welcome change;
  • Running as a team, everyone was supported, and no one was left behind;
  • Everyone’s comfort levels were accepted–“You do you,” as my roomie, Jordan, put it.

Together we reflected on how this winter fun run provided a situation-based activity that we felt were different other women-folk event. Jordan compared it to (the often but not exclusively male) relationships that develop while watching sporting events or poker nights, which don’t revolve around exclusively talking for its own sake. While complaining, gossiping, or other types of chit chat over coffee or wine have their place, such socializing often involves sharing about our own separate lives. In contrast, the chat following our obstacle course run involved enjoying memories made together–a life experience that friends, old and new, had shared.

This post is titled we do us because for me it describes our fun run in two ways. First, the team’s vibe was inclusive and supportive, but we also honoured our differences. Based on our various levels of fitness and interests, team members could opt in or out of any obstacle or social activity—with absolutely no judgement. Second, we weren’t just being together—we were doing together, which meant participating in a shared experience, even as we were each experiencing it differently.

This vibe may not be for everyone, but it allowed this particular group of women to have a lot of fun. And winning the team award for Best Costume—that was pretty fun too.

Elan “Red Cheat-Ah” Paulson of Team Freezer Burn, which won Best Costume at the Polar Rush!

Elan Paulson works at Western University, and she is a converted Fun Runner. She thanks Jordan P., Deb V., and Mary Lou G. for thoughts that contributed to this post.


Indoor Climbing: Reality vs The Web (Guest Post)

By Sarah Rayner and Elan Paulson

On the weekend, seven middle-aged women (ranging from 39-57) go rock/wall climbing at the Junction Climbing Centre. Virtually none of us have prior climbing experience. We walk in, get harnessed up, and with our two young but experienced instructors we get safety and climbing instructions. In no time, we have all had our first climb to the top under our belts and quite happy with ourselves. We continue climbing different walls with different levels of difficulty….We were doing this and looking good!

At first, we were all apprehensive of the climb up: finding finger and foot holds and letting go of the wall and repelling down. You were really aware of your space on the (high!!!) wall and problem-solving how you were going to continue the climb up to the top. The experience was scary, but thrilling at the same time.

After the climbing we went next door to the local craft brewery and had a couple of beers, chatted and laughed about the experience and the fears that some of had to overcome. We then started talking about our next adventures as a group…Polar Rush, Yurting in Tobermory, some personal adventures like Peru Machu Picchu, Nepal, Hawaii and Kilimanjaro.

Post climb, we looked at a random selection of web pages about climbing, which has become a multi-million dollar industry for men and women. Here are some of the online messages that, based on our experience, we say to women who are new to climbing, either Heck Yes or Look Away!

Heck Yes!

  • The physical benefits (fat-burning, muscle toning, etc.) of climbing. We concur: even with only one time out, we agreed it was a tiring but rewarding sport!
  • The equality of male and female climbers, as women’s “strength-to-weight” ratio offsets any lack of power and reach. The ratio of men to women at the Junction was easily 50/50, and we went just before “ladies night” started.
  • The fact that climbing is a form of “active meditation,” requiring focus but also heightened mindfulness. We found this is true, if for no other reason that if you aren’t paying attention you will literally fall off the wall.

Look Away!

  • The focus on climbing and women’s physiques: “If you’ve ever seen female rock climbers, you know exactly the effects climbing has on the body.” No. We saw greater climbers with body types of all shapes and sizes.
  • Over-expensive climbing clothes that seem only marginally related to the sport. Just wear light clothing that breathes.
  • Photo galleries of extreme climbing. They are often awe-inspiring photos, but for novices they can be intimidating or heighten your fear. These pics may not represent your goals, and that’s totally okay.

Here are a few “tips for new climbers” that we probably should have looked at before we climbed (and recommend to others interested in trying out this sport):

One thing we also strongly recommend–and this didn’t show up on many climbing advice web pages–is finding a group of people who will continually cheer and encourage each other on (in climbing, as well as in every aspect of life). In the climbing gym, we were (by far) the loudest group in the building, hooting and hollering as each of us climbed. Whether experts or novices, our climbing buddies gave us pride in our personal strength. We can’t wait for the next adventure!

Sarah Rayner is a hiking goddess. Elan Paulson is a defence soccer diva.


Attempting Bathroom Yoga (Guest Post)

I just returned from a fantastic yoga retreat weekend at Camp Queen Elizabeth up in Ontario’s Georgian Bay. I have some lower back/hip flexor muscle tightness (as does virtually everyone who works in an office job), and the time that I spent for a full hour each morning stretching and sending out blessings to the universe gave me a happier body and mind for the rest of the day.

But Monday I awoke NOT meditating at dawn near still waters as I felt the sun rise, but with an alarm buzzing about the day’s meetings, a partner already halfway out the door, and two cats meowing in my face for breakfast.

I have many excuses that prevent me from practicing my ideal version of slow, quiet, and private morning yoga at home. My place is small, and exercise requires moving furniture around. Getting up an hour earlier means going to bed an hour earlier, thus sacrificing other treasured bedtime rituals. Some days there are youths loudly preparing for school in common living areas. Considering these factors, I’ve convinced myself that I don’t have the space and time for morning practice, leading me to deprioritize stretching and meditation as an “inconvenience” in my typical busy life.

(And of course, I am aware that this “typical busy life” is also one of privilege, in which as a middle-class white cis-woman I can ponder the “inconveniences” of stretching and meditation, and have the means to afford a yoga weekend, in the first place. I also recognize the complex issue of cultural appropriation of Eastern belief systems and practices. Though both worthy of discussion, neither are discussed further here.)

So, as I stood in my bathroom the day after yoga camp, trying to calculate how I could incorporate meditation and stretching into all of my busy-ness, in front of the mirror I started focusing on my breathing and rehearsing a few of qi gong I liked the most from my weekend.

While I certainly didn’t recreate the serenity of a yoga weekend, after a few minutes of intentional stretching and breathing I did feel looser and more energized. Then I thought—hey, the bathroom is the first place I go in the morning, and the bathroom is a quiet, private place where I won’t be bothered (not even by cats if I shut the door quickly).

So, I have posted on my vanity a note with a few simple Qi Gong and yoga-inspired stretches and breathing meditations. I shall attempt to practice some morning “bathroom yoga” to see if this is a small but valued shift that I can make in my life.

We’ve seen some good posts on this blog about family yoga, office yoga, and goat yoga. Where and how else can we practice stretching and meditation to fit it into our busy lives?


I scored on my own goal (Guest post)

So, the other night I scored on my own soccer goal. Then we lost the game.

But more on that in a moment. First, I would like to point readers to a recent online article, Google Spent 2 Years Studying 180 Successful Teams. The Most Successful Ones Shared These 5 Traits.

A summary of a summary of a study conducted by the ubiquitous Google, this article looks like prime click bait. But after the game, when I was feeling pretty down on myself for contributing to our team’s loss, I clicked.

The article explains the most successful work team traits are dependability, structure and clarity, meaning, impact, and…the fifth (you first have to scroll past an advertisement on the page for added drama) is psychological safety. Apparently it’s superfun to work at Google, which strives to cultivate environments where workers feel safe enough to take risks and ask questions so they will be “less likely to leave, more likely to harness the power of diversity, and ultimately…more successful.”

This list of successful work team traits list was good for me to read that night. Everyone fights their own inner battles, and fear of letting the team down has always been mine.

It’s not a unique problem, I know. Nor might it seem like a big deal. A more confident player would say, “Who cares? It’s only a game. It’s only rec sports. Everyone makes mistakes. Just think positively for next time, and get over it.”

“Getting over it” may be a matter of perception, but when one has fear her perception can be all that matters. I don’t have another Google study to back up my thinking, but I believe that fitness gurus who promote a healthy lifestyle through physical activity insufficiently address the psychological component: there may be a large number of folks (like me) who avoid or leave exercise for fear of failure, inadequacy, and judgment. Easier not to show up than to risk letting others down.

Until recently, this fear of mine, irrational and silly as it may seem, had been strong enough to keep me from joining sports teams (which is already out of my comfort zone) well into my adult life.

So, when my very greatest sports-related fear had come to pass, I turned the corner when I realized that I did have “psychological safety.” I DO (or should) feel safe to fail around this group of amazing women, whom I blogged about previously when it came to “finding one’s tribe.”

And, later in the evening, when one team member checked in with me, and another texted to make yoga plans, my clearer thinking was reaffirmed. A non-soccer friend (with whom I was commiserating) suggested that being self-aware about our fears and inadequacies can help us to re-examine with greater clarity how we perceive the judgments of others.

Now here I am, showing no lack of awareness of my private fears as I blog about them publicly on a fitness site that has recently reached 10,000 Facebook likes.

So, to the anxious late-to-the-gamer like me: find a team that will make you feel safe, and stay aware of your feelings so that you can push through them to get yourself out to the next game.

And, to the other Confident Connies playing group sports: By making failure safe for others on your team, you also enable fearful folks to play at all. For me, that win is better than any scored goal (on one’s own net or otherwise).

More feminist than fit, Elan Paulson works at Western University and plays rec soccer in London, Ontario.

fitness · Guest Post

Athleticism and Fashion in Wonder Woman (Guest Post)

by Elan Paulson

Even the “god killer” Amazonians can still be slaves to fashion.

I am certain that the writers of the new Wonder Woman film made it a top narrative priority to get Diana Prince into a dress store in suffrage-era America. Her fellow shopper exclaims with that Diana has tried on over 200 dresses, but viewers know she is looking for the outfit that will enable her to blend in as well as fight. The film makes clear visual contrasts between the strapless gold dress that Diana kicks butt in on Themyscira and the dark, high-necked piece that is trying to “choke her” in 20th century Britain. On one island women do the killing, on the other women’s fashion does.

And yet, even in the outfit Diana settles for—a simple black dress with a white shirt resembling a masculine suit—Diana’s femininity/sexuality is still not covered up enough. Barely concealing his attraction to her, Steve Trevor decides she needs fake glasses to further obscure her distracting beauty. Shortly after, the camera fixes on Diana’s glasses, stomped on and broken in the street, following her first back-alley fight. There are a plethora of “gaze” metaphors that I won’t unpack here.

The film makes easy retrospective social commentary: the clothing designed by men for women that restricted their movement is an allegory for their oppression, whereas clothing designed for movement, presumably designed for women on an all-women island, symbolized liberation.

And yet, there are still other moments in Wonder Woman that complicate this easy distinction. When Diana needs a fancy dress to sneak into a Nazi gala, she finds an unattended female party-goer who has impatiently decided to walk to the gala (another fellow “empowered” 20th century women, though far overshadowed by Diana).

But rather than dragging her into the bushes to steal her clothes right away, for a full few seconds Diana walks alongside the woman, sizing her up to see if the dress fits. There are few men who take the time to size up soon-to-be stolen clothing for fit. It stands out as both reinforcing a female stereotype (something that men wouldn’t do) but also showing Diana as a discerning female shopper. Where will she hide the god-killer sword in such a form-fitting number? (Spoiler! She uses the sword’s hilt to accessorize the dress.)

In an interview, Director Patty Jenkyns writes that “To me, [Wonder Woman] shouldn’t be dressed in armor like men […] It should be different. It should be authentic and real – and appealing to women […] It’s total wish-fulfillment […] I, as a woman, want Wonder Woman to be hot as hell, fight badass, and look great at the same time.”

Wishes may be had in Wonder Woman, but what isn’t different between the experiences of the goddess Diana and regular mortal women is the need to continue to navigate the complicated relationship between athletic and fashionable clothing, to achieve the often culturally-imposed desire to fight badass and look great at the same time.

For me the two pieces of clothing that serve the most meaning do not serve fashion at all. First, Diana’s gauntlets (or as Wikipedia informs me are “bracelets,” which are apparently an allegory for emotional control) are activated early in the film, revealing the first hints to Diana that she is more than a regular warrior princess.

Second, Diana’s headband (which the internet also corrects me is a “tiara”) has a more complex comic book backstory that is either downplayed or rebooted in favour of representing not only Diana’s status as royalty but also a connection to her family, particularly her Amazonian mentor, aunt Antiope, who trained and sacrificed for Diana.

So, while even bracelets and tiaras may suggest that women’s power lies in accessorizing, I appreciate how the film embraces (rather than avoids) women’s ongoing negotiation of athleticism and fashion, the clothing that (literally and metaphorically) liberates and constricts. May the jewelry women inherit from their female family members be continued reminders of the challenges that fashionistas past—both real and fictional—have had to face.


Finding your tribe (guest post)


If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a blue-clad tribe** to uplift its new members.

This year my soccer team put together a group entry to the fun run, Polar Rush 2017. Now its third year, the Polar Rush takes place at Horseshoe Resort north of Barrie, Ontario. The event fundraises for Sick Kids, and this year raised $17,000. Individuals and teams complete a 5km run or walk, facing 12 obstacles, on the resort’s hilly terrain.

Dressed in blue running gear, and with “best before” freezer tags pasted to our chests, our 15-person Team Freezer Burn jogged, slogged, sledded, and climbed the obstacle course. Then, later that night, we potlucked, played games, and recounted our day out together.

I’ve written about the limitations and benefits of fun runs. However, for me the day was notable not because of the event’s athletic focus or charity fundraising. It was notable because it turned a group of individuals into a community. In our overnight adventure I saw many, many acts of caring—women helping each other by navigating the run’s obstacles, sure, but also by driving and navigating, booking rooms, bringing food, welcoming new friends and partners, teaching games, and sharing stuff. No matter who or what was needed, someone was there to support, arrange, organize, and help out.

In this group I’ve gone from a person who was terrified of joining team sports for fear of letting anyone down to feeling emboldened to try new activities. On one hand, it’s a small thing to run a 5K race, in the snow, with bright blue hair with 14 other people on a day in February. On the other hand, in our busy, isolating, and stressful 21st century life, this group of women will still take time to encourage and strengthen one another. We build community through camaraderie, or, as one team member put it, “Start together and finish together.”

For those of you who want to be more physically active, or even if you just need to be taken care of for a little while, then I encourage you to find or reconnect with your tribe. And if you are the tribe, then make the time to welcome new members in. You can lift the blue by bringing it to another person’s life.

**Note: I am aware of the colonial implications of the word “tribe.” I use the term “tribe” not to refer to a particular ethnic group or nation, but as defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “a social group comprising numerous families, clans, or generations […]having a common character, occupation, or interest.”

Elan Paulson is less fit than feminist but plays recreational team sports, tries any new form of exercise, and chases after her two cats when they jump the fence. She works at her stand-up desk as Director of the EdD Program at Western University’s Faculty of Education.

charity · clothing · competition · fitness · Guest Post · health · stereotypes

Party Run: 2016 Mudmoiselle London (Guest Post)

By Elan Paulson

(Shown above: Team “Slick Chicks” post-race)

This is a follow up to my previous blog post on party runs, which I published in anticipation of the 2016 Mudmoiselle London fundraiser for the Canadian Cancer Society. In my previous post I had signaled some concerns about party runs, highlighting examples of runs that are currently available in North America. So, here’s me reporting back on where the Mudmoiselle stands in relation to these concerning issues.

The corporate issue: The event was well-organized and fully stocked with smiling volunteers; cheerful music; and a series of tends for registration, bag check, and changing. The Mudmoiselle “template,” with standardized pink/yellow/teal colours, was used for signs and medals. Registered participants received modest draw string swag bags with a shirt, trial-sized protein bars, and assorted gift certificates. About the only noticeable corporate branding was a guy at the photography booth dressed up like a Best Buy ticket.

What I think I liked most about the run was the camaraderie it inspired. There were some cooperative obstacles, but it was the occasion itself that brought out our team’s support for each other. That’s something no amount of sponsorship could buy, and perhaps it was in part because there was little corporate presence that we could focus on motivating and having fun with each other.

The “dress up” issue: Our team chose “business slick” attire: white men’s dress shirts, ties, sunglasses, and lipstick. Our costume was determined less by gender norms and more by what was comfortable but also ironic for a mud run. At our after-run lunch back at the captain’s house, our team was already talking about next year’s costume. Most seemed to like the idea of formal gowns.

The health issue: The course was not competitive, or even timed. An announcer warmed up teams at the start line. The obstacles were challenging, but not insurmountable. And some were quite amusing. Our team particularly liked the diagonal pole we had to slide down (with the aid of applied lubricant) to avoid falling into a mud pit. We encountered encouraging signs (“It’s just a hill; get over it”), water stations, and cheers from by volunteers and medical staff. So, it was a healthy activity, but afterwards we chose to have pizza and beer.

The environment: On this well-marked course we ran up and down a local ski hill on a beautiful, sunny day. We pulled jeeps in neutral, flipped large tires, and navigated through strings pulled taut across woody bike paths. Other than the water and soap to make a “slip ‘n slide” down a larger part of a hill, most obstacles seemed to use existing spaces well, and did not seem environmentally damaging.

The fundraising issue: The London Mudmoiselle met its fundraising goal—nearly $80,000—and our team met its own goal as well. I took my fundraising seriously, and through asking friends and family for donations raised almost $900. While I may have ran the Mudmoiselle run, it’s those who donated to the charity who are the real champions of the day. So, I’m listing below those who donated for me to acknowledge their generosity.

I had only one family member refuse to donate to the CCS because he thinks they aren’t transparent about how they manage their funds compared to other charities. And while the day served the purpose of fundraising, at the starting line there was no explicit mention by run organizers of the charity or its efforts (at least none that I had heard).

Overall: As an event that emphasized fun, friends, and health, but without over-the-top competitiveness or a barrage of corporate gimmicks that undermined the run’s social purpose or personal benefits, Mudmoiselle’s pros and cons netted out pretty evenly for me. It was a party run, but it was fun and it promoted an inclusive type of “partying” that many would find to be a welcome alternative to a traditional booze bender on a Saturday (complete with ties around our heads).

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