Like Sam, who has written about her Athletic Hair, helmet head, and summer time curls I have short hair. But mine is straight, and I wear it longer in the winter (in part to keep my head warm). My main goal with my own athletic hair is pretty simple: keep the hair from my eyes, keep the sweat from my eyes. I also like to keep the hair from my ears (I don’t know why; it drives me crazy when I am exercising).
There’s an obvious solution: headbands. I’ve tried most of them, little strips of elastic that UnderArmour or Lululemon retails for $10, bits of lycra/cotton with a logo.
This summer, I whipped up a bunch of them for myself, and I handstamped them with my own version of fitspiration: Badass on the ball; plays hard; faster, stronger; karma … I was wearing “plays hard” when I took an elbow to the face and ended up with broken glasses, so I feel I can claim with some authority (*cough*) that they help with performance.
I wore the headband to a soccer game, and the orders started coming in from my teammates. Seems a lot of us fit feminists like to support each other’s creative outlets at the same time as dealing with those pesky tendrils that jump out of ponytails. A posted picture on facebook led to some custom requests, too – my favourite is Kim’s “Queen of the Mountain” which came after her epic ride here.
Sam asked me to write about the headbands in the summer, and I was reticent. I didn’t want to broadcast personal contact info on the blog (although it is easy enough to find me given public directories) and was unsure how people could go about ordering something without that kind of info. It’s a side amusement to make them, not a business – or at least not a formal one. But, if you too could use a little reminder about just how badass you are when you play a sport or workout, please let me know. You can message me on facebook (I’m in the Fit is a Feminist Issue group) or look me up at Western University. The handstamped, handmade headbands are $5 (shipping extra). They are one size fits most – even people with big heads and lots of hair. My long-haired nephews used headbands for fencing camp this summer (some with appropriate words for children!). I’m happy to customize your headband (within length limits).
In the last two days, I’ve had flashes of childhood fun that have made me really happy about moving more.
A last-minute invitation to go to family roller skating at a local arena led to me feeling like this:
Rollerskating is fun. Wobbly, old school fun. Family roller skating is a mix of ages and skill levels, and proof that “YMCA” by The Village People gets everyone skating at the same time. It hardly feels like exercise, but somehow two hours happens and you leave the rink with your legs wanting to skate instead of walk.
Then, yesterday, a last-minute change by the Bootcamp instructor to use weighted skipping ropes had me smiling for a full hour of interval training. I love skipping. Having the rope in my hand brought me back to being on the playground. I haven’t skipped that much in years – but the body remembers. Pretty soon, I was doing pretzel crosses (where you cross your arms in front of the body and jump through the space of the ropes) — eventually with my left (non-dominant) arm remembering what it was supposed to do in order to lead the cross. I was playing.
Santa threw a Health magazine in my stocking this year. In typical voracious reader fashion, I read the whole thing. I’ve got an intensely critical view of fitness and health magazines, but I still read them when they are put in my path. Two things stood out for me in this issue.
The editor’s message: “If I eat right and fit in at least 30 minutes of exercise, even an ordinary day at the office feels like a win.” The columnist’s (Tracy Anderson) message: “When the calendar is jam-packed, I know it’s tempting to push exercise to the back burner … to help you squeeze fitness into your crazy days, I’ve come up with a supereffective 10-minute head-to-toe toner.”
I know exactly why these two messages jumped out at me. I spent a very full fall squeezing in exercise in 10-, 20-, and 30-minute bursts, hoping my fitness would not suffer too much, hoping a less-is-more approach would allow me to find time for other things that mattered to me. I have an active life to begin with, I reasoned, so I just need to keep that up.
By the end of November, my exercise “routine” consisted of: walking the dog daily (sometimes for 45 minutes, usually for 25, to his detriment and mine), playing with my son, walking around campus with a filled backpack, taking the stairs, soccer once a week, the odd yoga class. It was the minimum possible, meeting the “get 30 minutes of exercise” a day guideline only by virtue of the speed at which I walk (my heart rate actually did go up).
It’s not enough for me.
After a fall of doing the bare minimum needed to maintain my sanity, I am back exercising more. It did not happen overnight, and it is requiring a pretty substantial reset only made possible by virtue of the holiday closure of the university at which I work. It started on December 1st. My son had a Lego advent calendar; I had a commitment to myself to get on the recumbent bike for 30 minutes each morning I was home, in addition to the “active” life. It was a start, a stop-gap plan until the rush of the fall term would end for me on December 19th. (It was also a way to deal with the work intensity of December, but that’s another story).
Since December 22, I’ve been back as a regular at the YMCA each morning (except for Dec 25, when it was closed). In my first class, Boot Camp, a mix of cardio intervals and weight sets, my legs were shaking so much in the final set of lunges that I needed to break my form. I spent Christmas day grimacing any time I had to use a gluteal muscle.
At some point in my run yesterday, I shifted from thinking about the productive soreness in my muscles, and started thinking about why less-is-more did not work for me in this instance. It’s worked elsewhere over the past year: I answer fewer emails, own fewer items of clothing, generally have a “try to declutter” attitude. I also thought about minimums and how, for me at least, there is a definite relationship between taking time and taking space. In my 15 weeks “off,” my best guess is that my weight fluctuated only slightly and if that’s what I cared about maybe there would be no issue for me; all of my clothes still fit. (I was actually kind of surprised by that, once I realized how much fitness I had relinquished). I noticed it in how I carried myself, though. How my shoulders no longer entered the room before me. How my legs were more often crossed than in power poses. How I felt small, not just petite. In that digressive way the mind works when running, I thought of the sign above my desk that reads “Go the extra mile. It’s never crowded.” Minimums have never worked for me, in anything I do – what on earth made me think that it would work when fitness was concerned?
I’ll keep reading about how less-is-more – and I might even apply some of it to my daily life – but when it comes to exercise, I’m pretty clearly in the more-is-more camp.
Muck MS Hamilton was great. Here’s my still very fresh impressions (in no special order and completely subjective):
Things I liked: the obstacles. This mud run had the most challenging obstacles of any of the ones I have done (Dirty Girl, Warrior Dash). The obstacles were all staffed with someone to tell you what was expected and to monitor the number of people hazarding the challenge. As a result, I had minimal worry about another participant falling into me or a stray leg whacking me in the head while going over a high challenge. There were a number of old-school playground-style challenges that I have not seen elsewhere: monkey bars, rope swings, rope climbs, tire walls. Of course, there were many pits of mud to jump in, thrash about in, and to almost lose shoes in. No bouncy obstacles.
Things I liked more than I thought while on the course: Unlike other races, where this is a good measure of hurry up and wait between obstacles, because the obstacles were staffed, each one also had bootcamp style exercises to complete while waiting. Yes, you have to wait while other people take their turn – but since you are here, drop and do fifteen burpees followed by fifteen mountain climbers. Still waiting? Do some sit ups. Oh, it’s taking longer than you thought? Jog in place with your arms held up. It’s no wonder I can barely lift my arms.
Things I missed (that other mud runs usually have): loud music and dancing. There was a man charged with building excitement in the crowd about to run and he did a decent job, but I missed the loud music that has been at other events. “Pumpy music,” my 8 year old calls it. I wanted some of that.
Things I was fine not to see but others might miss: the beer tent / free drink to all people who race.
Things I did not like: slippery rope.
Things that are signs of a beginning event (and that I hope continue): the parking situation was easy to navigate and the shuttles were on time and plentiful.
Things that made this event special for me: watching my friend giggle almost uncontrollably as she slid into the last trench of mud. She was positively gleeful. At the end of the course, she was given her medal by a man in a wheelchair who was so captured by her joy that he asked for a (very muddy) hug. I hope there are some on the course action shots of us together.
Things I have to remember to bring next time: gloves. Weight-lifting gloves would have protected my hands on the rope challenges.
Things I just need to point out: it is really hard to put in contacts without a mirror, but if you can do it using only a mobile phone, you get a lot of unsolicited positive comments.
Number of times we heard, via radio worn by staff, about need for a medic or an ambulance: at least three in one hour.
Obstacle I could not do: the last one. I was supposed to climb a rope that was roughly 8 metres in height. I did two pull ups with my arms and got no further. My arm strength was gone. There was a lot of climbing. I also could only do five rungs of the monkey bars (jump up, grab, then go between bars about a foot apart, over a pit of mud). Slippery rungs that were a bit large for my tiny hands (and no training!) were the culprit here.
My favourite obstacle: climb to the top of a parapet using a rope, swing your legs on to the top (no points for style here: everyone looked like a beached whale doing this manoeuvre), then descend on the other side, using another rope that you had to wrap around your leg, making a brake with your feet and using your arms to rappel down the side. I had forgotten that I know how to do this and it brought back memories of my childhood rope swing that I would use to descend from climbing trees.
It’s not a mud-run that any fitness level could do, unless you chose to go around all the obstacles. But there was no open fire, no potential for electrical shocks, no barbed wire. I felt there were lots of things that got me out of my comfort zone to the point of having to take a calculated risk – that’s good for me. I feel an influx of confidence, and I am grateful for that. Lots of team-building in my wave, but no bizarre costumes. The teams helped each other, giving “legs up” and pulling each other to the top of obstacles.
As I write this, I am six hours from finishing the race. My arms (all parts of them) started shaking about a half hour after the race. I just had trouble carrying a load of laundry to the basement. It’s not the cardio that is hard in this race. It’s the strength component. Next year, I’ll focus on my upper body strength a great deal more, whether I am busy or not. The goal? Climb that damn rope.
On Tuesday of this week, I received a text from a friend telling me that she was no longer able to run with us on Saturday. Nothing came to mind. I didn’t recall having plans to run with her. I checked my calendar. There it was: MUCK MS run, Hamilton.
I’d forgotten about it.
This year’s flood of fall was intense for me. September hit; my workload skyrocketed; personal and professional commitments collided. The sum total of my intentional exercise has been two yoga classes since August 29. I have not got the rhythm and routine of fall down yet. I’m still active (ish) – the dog and kid make sure of that, the labyrinthian building and third floor office help too – but I know I am not at my usual level of fitness. I am, however, also not at my usual level of stress…
So, let’s go do a 5 km mud obstacle run!
Because I am a big kid who likes to play.
Because I know I will do at least one obstacle that makes me feel that I can complete anything.
Because I like to see my friends taking on challenges too.
I saw Sam last night at an event where she was the featured speaker, and she reminded me that muscle memory is a wonderful thing, that I’d probably just be sore for longer after the run. I’ll let you know. Right now I have to go pull up my knee socks and get to Hamilton.
Growing up, my mother, who loves to watch sports, would laugh every single time she heard a commentator say a player had a “nagging groin.” There’d always be snickers and, if she was feeling particularly ribald that day, suggestions between her and my father about what and why the (almost inevitably male) groin was nagging. Until last May, these memories were the extent of my interest in the subject of nagging groins.
Then I played a soccer game in early May in -4 C weather and strained my groin, apparently badly straining the right adductor brevis muscle and “tweaking” my right adductor magnus muscle. The left side was equally displeased. The combination of an ineffective warm-up in cold weather, muscles that had not kicked a ball in some months, and age meant that for the first time ever in my personal history of playing sports I had to go down on the field of play. I managed to hobble off on my own, and I was smart enough to stay off the field for the rest of the game.
Long story short: I did those things one is supposed to do to treat a strained groin. I rested, I iced, I gently stretched. I was back exercising and playing relatively quickly, although I still had the odd twinge in the muscle for a long while. I got better at kicking with my left leg. By July I was hiking on Hadrian’s wall, playing soccer, and doing pretty well everything normally.
I say “pretty well everything” intentionally: I couldn’t sit cross-legged.
I could sprint, squat, and kick, with no pain. I could swing my leg across my body. I could lunge, twist, and push off. I just could not sit cross-legged.
Of course it infuriated me to no end. I went from being someone with flexibility in that area of her body to someone whose knees were up around her ears at every attempt to sit cross-legged. I needed to regain flexibility, and after a month, I knew it was going to be a long, slow process. I went back to yoga, telling the instructors that I needed help with modifying the poses, spending a lot of time being gentle with myself (even as I continued to play that aggressive sports that I love with good reason [see previous post, In Praise of Physically Aggressive Sports). Yoga helped a great deal, and I made incremental, but noticeable gains when I did it more regularly (which for me was three times a week.)
In the summer I could make it to two classes, but as the fall term got under way I had to accept that the class that I had been going to on Tuesdays at noon was not going to be possible. I couldn’t suspend the balls I had to juggle for the two hours it would take to get there, not in the middle of the day on a typically intense day of my work week. I noticed that I began to constantly agonize over when I could fit MORE of it in to an already full life in order to keep making progress on regaining my flexibility. Factoring all of the things that I have to factor in – costs, childcare, time, other commitments – I had to accept that if I believed that yoga was helping (it was) and if I knew I needed to do it more regularly (I did), that I would need to do it at home more than once a week. It meant confronting my inability to stick to a home yoga practice …
Here is the point in this blog post where, if you have not noticed it already, my own privileged position will be made entirely clear. Because my solution to what counts as a problem in my life was to find an app for my (new) phone, something that would help me do yoga more regularly, something that mimicked as closely as possible the experience of being in a class. This solution worked for me because I wanted the aural cues for the pose more than I wanted the visual cues (such as would be provided in a magazine), and I do not have a television in an area that would work for yoga (so a dvd was not an option). I wanted something that would work when I travel as well. I decided on the app called “Yogify” that allows you to select some or all of a series of classes. The classes range from 15 minutes to 60 minutes, and they offer “strength,” “flexibility,” or “balance” programs at three different levels. In total, I think I have 45 different options.
I can (and do) complete a 15 minute long class called “Great Groins” while my child is in the bath. I can (and do) complete a 30 minute long class called “Rock Star” in the early hours of the morning, after I am done meditating and before my house wakes up. I can (and do) complete the longer classes on nights when I am in a hotel. It works for me. Proof: On Dec 27th, for the first time in almost eight months, I managed to meditate with crossed legs. In other words, I held the static position for, in this instance, more than a half an hour. I still don’t have the same flexibility I used to, and I still have to be extremely patient with myself. But it is no longer an exercise in frustration to get on the floor to play with my son or to sit comfortably with my legs crossed.
Now if only the cat would stop attacking my wrists while I am in downward dog …
Preamble: Last year, on 8 September 12, my team “Filthy Lasses” ran Dirty Girl Buffalo. I brought along an old digital camera that was held together by duct tape in order to get on-course shots. By the end, it was covered in mud, of course. We don’t shy away from getting dirty, as the photos attest. At the end of it, we vowed we’d do it again. So we did. It is so much fun.
The Dirty Girl Mud Run is “a 5 k mud run for women of all ages and abilities.” I often describe Dirty Girl as the baby sibling of the mud run family. Warrior Dash, which Samantha blogged about here, is akin to Dirty Girl, although open to both men and women. The obstacles are more challenging at the Warrior Dash; Dirty Girl has no obstacles that require only your own strength to get over them. Tough Mudder or Spartan are more intense, both in physical demands and in the attitude that surrounds the event. There’s an attitude that surrounds Dirty Girl, for sure, but it’s more like “hen night meets inner six year old.” Want to feel better about what your body can do? Had rough first week of September? Run around a track with your girlfriends cheering you on then careen down a slide into some mud.
This year, for reasons that remain obscure, our team name was not allowed, too close to obscenity or some such. Many of the names of the teams referenced breast cancer awareness, the usual charity of choice for the run. (So, “lasses” was somehow frowned upon, but “titties” and “tatas” and “boobies” etc, were all acceptable.) Instead of our stencilled and spray painted tank tops, we opted for fringed fuschia t-shirts, assorted tights and shorts combos (to protect the legs), and bandanas. In the realm of Dirty Girl costumes, these are tame. We saw tiaras, tutus, lots of day-glo combos, and Wonder Women. Last year, I wore a tutu, but it gets really heavy, really fast. And then it falls down.
There is more makeup at this run than at any of the other races I have ever done combined: lots of glitter, press on rhinestones, bright pink lipstick. At least, that’s what it looks like at the race start.
By the end of the race, you look like this:
Unlike last year’s run that took place on a ski hill, which provides its own set of challenges in terms of making the event fun for all abilities, this year the run took place at a speedway, so it was flat. At the start, loud music and a Zumba instructor kept us moving. (We were grateful for this distraction: it began to rain and the temperatures began to drop just as our wave was starting). The first obstacle was about 750 m from the start, then obstacles followed every 400m to 750 m. My favourite of the obstacles involve climbing; the net wall is arguably the most challenging of the obstacles at Dirty Girl, because it involves both height, movement, and having to change directions at the top.
We got the dirtiest on the big slide (no surprises there — you slide into a pit of mud feet first). I also got my one and only bruise from the event on the slide too, because I hit the bottom of the pit with my left hip. Overall, for this event, I preferred the flat race with more obstacles to the ski hill race of last year.
Here’s the thing about a MUD run: you are meant to get dirty. I’m a fan for lots of reasons, including that it is really hard to be pretentious about, well, anything – including diet choices, exercise regimes, how one looks in spandex – when you are covered in mud. Mud is a great equalizer, as it turns out.
I’ll play football today for the first time. One of the women on my soccer team recruited me to play football. Until Sam suggested I write this post, I had not given much thought to my playing “physically aggressive” sports. (She suggested it after I noted that I would love it if she would buy an “Aggressive by Nature, Rugby by Choice” t-shirt for me if she ever found it again on her rugby travels.) When I stopped to think about it, however, I realized that there were all sorts of positive, feminist reasons for my choices of sport. Here are six of them with some commentary that is specific to my own personal experience as a former rugby playing, current soccer and football playing woman.
1. I can be loud; indeed, I am encouraged to be loud.
‘Talking’ on the pitch is a necessity. I am a player who talks constantly on the field of play: who is open, if there is space, when to shoot, the whole vocabulary of positioning and players. I’m confident talking on the field in part because I live and work in a space where my voice is heard, and I would argue that the reverse is just as true.
2. Aggression — in the sense of asserting one’s will, channeling one’s passion, and pursuing one’s aims forcefully — is typically rewarded .
I am on a first name basis with the cliché “work hard, play hard.” I do not want my team sports to be a romp in the park. I have legs that are often bruised (that’s what pantsuits are for, right?) and my osteopath on speed dial. I’m inclined to believe that toughness is a virtue (and I do yoga as often as soccer and football in recognition of this fact about myself).
3. I can take up space.
This is a big one for me, pun intended. I stand a rockin’ 154 cms tall. (That’s almost 5’2” … sounds more impressive in centimetres). I am a physically strong lightweight. I am now accustomed to being one of the smallest, if not the smallest, on any given pitch, and it is now part of my athletic identity that I can take on players who are bigger than me. (Tell me that does not translate into the non-sporting side of my life!) Also, since I might as well be truthful, I like the seeming contradictions of my size and choice of sports. People are genuinely shocked when I reveal I played rugby … unless they know the game, and therefore understand that the position of hooker (typically the smallest player on the field) is rather central to the whole business.
4. I am expected to hold my own and, often, to push back, as a normal part of the game.
I play Masters (+35) recreational soccer and touch football, so contact is not part of either game. But, both sports are physically aggressive, and there is a certain amount of “going toe to toe” in each of them. I like this. I like chasing down opposing players, and I like using my body to defend the ball. I’ve been known to chase down balls that were otherwise lost to possession, just to see if my speed could get me there (although I would never do this if it meant that my team would be compromised in some way). On corner kicks, I am the forward who stands in front of the keeper and does not move. My job is to prevent her from seeing the ball. It is legal for me to be in this position, and she has the option to push me away; I have the ability to get back into a similar position and continue to frustrate her.
5. Failure is an integral part of the game, therefore every game improves my resiliency and ability to bounce back from failures, the big and the small.
You’ll hear my team say “unlucky” frequently. I miss shots. Sometimes the net is wide open and I miss the shot. I flub passes. Sometimes the keeper makes a great save. Sometimes I can’t make the catch. Sometimes I get chased down. Sometimes I juggle the ball in the air and it gets intercepted. And sometimes I score. It’s the same for all of us. We aim for progress, not perfection. Note the active voice: it is a continual process of doing, and doing again, doing, and doing better.
6. I love my girlfriends.
My team sports are filled with other fantastic women who have also made a commitment to their own self-care through exercise and play. They are my role models, confidantes, and teammates. We all get joy from playing. Even if I am running hard for the whole game, getting knocked about, ending up bruised, I still look at the time I spend as self-care just as much as my meditative practice. In fact, when we used to play indoor soccer on Sundays, we’d joke that we went to “Church of Five a Side.” It’s some good therapy, sports.
So, I’ve got my gloves (Youth Medium!), cleats, and jersey ready to go for this afternoon. I’m about as excited as my almost-seven year old is for back to school. I’ll be learning as I go.
Jessica Schagerl is Fit, Feminist, and … well, almost Forty. But what’s a decade among friends? In a week, she’ll also be blogging about the Dirty Girl Run in Buffalo.