health · illness · yoga

Bettina’s yoga mini-streak (inspired by Sam)

When Sam posted about her bike streak, I was inspired. In her second post, she wrote about her “back at it” attitude to interrupted streaks. You see, I’m ordinarily more of a “I’ve interrupted my streak, that’s it” sort of person, or even the sort of person who doesn’t join a “30 days of” or whatever challenge because I just know life will get in the way. External accountability works very well for me as a motivator most of the time,  so you’d think the group aspect of some of these challenges would make me a fan. But if I know in advance I won’t be able to commit for instance to a full 30 days of something, it becomes more of a deterrent. And that is normally the case – something will always come up during 30 days that will prevent me from doing the whole thing “properly”, and the perfectionist in me is against that.

But since last Sunday, I’ve decided to do my own private yoga mini-streak: yoga every day until Christmas, or at least until my last day of work (21 December), before I interrupt my daily routine for the end of year festivities. No external accountability. No hard feelings.

I’ve recently had a bit of health stuff going on, so I’m technically forbidden from hard exercise until at least Thursday next week (medical advice differs on just how long I should avoid swimming and running, but that is a topic for another post). Since I feel fine and need some movement in my life, I decided to test the waters last Sunday with an hour of moderate-intensity yoga. It was thoroughly enjoyable, so I decided that this would be my go-to daily workout until I can resume normal activities.

A woman rolling up a teal yoga mat. My mat is red, but looks very similar. 
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

So here are my “rules”. They’re not very rule-y at all:

  • Do yoga every day for 10-15 minutes in the morning, or longer on weekends. 10-15 minutes isn’t much, but at least it’s something. And when I have time, I can do more. This morning, for example, I did a 40-minute flow for strength. 
  • I’m allowed to replace yoga by another activity if I want. For instance, tomorrow I plan to reintroduce some gentle bouldering into my routine, so I probably won’t do yoga on that day, except for maybe some cool-down asanas after bouldering.
  • But of course I can also do my yoga in the morning and swim in the evening or run in the afternoon, once I’m cleared to return to the pool and the road!
  • If life gets in the way of yoga on a couple of days, so be it. I’m not going to beat myself up about it. It could very well happen, with all the pre-holiday commitments that are going on.

This week has worked out great so far. I’ve been trying to listen to my body to make sure I don’t overdo it.  For example, on Thursday I got my flu shot, and so on Friday morning I did a hands-free flow to avoid irritating my arm. Youtube is truly amazing; you can find flows for essentially any life situation on there. 

To be honest, I’m starting to go a little stir-crazy from the lack of the sort of regular movement I’m used to, but the yoga is helping. So here’s to my mini-streak!

fashion · feminism · fitness · gear · running · swimming

Bettina’s quest for a multi-sport watch – small wrists and designing with women in mind

Following the untimely demise of my wristwatch, I’m currently in the market for a multi-sport watch. Tracking can be problematic in a variety of ways (see posts e.g. here and here), but I like data, and I like tracking my exercise performance over time. So I’ve wanted a multi-sport watch for quite a while, but could never quite justify the expense because I had a functioning watch. There was also a second problem that persists and is currently thwarting my watch acquisition project. I have small wrists.  Very small wrists.

So I can’t find a watch that fits me. With some models, the body is literally wider than my wrist (I’m looking at you, Samsung Gear Fit Pro 2). It’s uncomfortable and looks ridiculous, but also has the potential to become dangerous since it increases the risk of getting caught on something, say a pool line. In the past I’ve owned a Garmin Swim that I wore exclusively in the pool. Tracking swimming was literally all it did, and even though it was chunky, it was just about ok. It did a good job at recognising strokes and provided other analyses I was keen on having, like stroke efficiency and such like. Later, I started looking into multi-sports watches more seriously, since I’d also gotten into running and wanted something that could track that too. This was the start of my sizing troubles. In the end, I settled for an activity tracker that counts lanes very reliably and does a reasonable job at estimating distance when running, although this is inaccurate enough to be annoying.

Bettina’s current fitness tracking setup: a Misfit Ray. Not bad, but there is room for improvement. Also exhibit (a): small wrist.

One would think that over time, manufacturers would catch on to the fact that there are people with small wrists around, but no. I still can’t find anything that suits me, and I’m starting to get quite angry. I’d really like a Garmin Forerunner 645 or Vívoactive 3, but even these smaller models are really too big. I might just about be able make the Forerunner 645 work – but it would be a big compromise practically and aesthetically.

I wonder why there are no suitable watches around. Yes, my wrists are small, but I wouldn’t say they’re extraordinarily tiny. One possible explanation for the lack of options is that manufacturers can’t currently fit all the functionalities one would want into a smaller watch. If someone can convincingly demonstrate to me this is true, I’ll rest my case. Another reason could be that you need a certain display size for the watch to be functional. I get that point. Still, I have trouble buying those arguments. The Apple Watch has loads of functionalities and is still relatively small. The difference: it is very clearly aimed at men and women. My hunch is that this isn’t exactly the case with multi-sport watches.

Yes, there are multi-sport watches out there with a more “female look”, usually rose gold and white. But they’re still massive! Even for instance the Garmin Fenix 5S, supposedly designed with women in mind. Not to mention that not all women are keen on the rose gold/white colour combo. My theory is that it still has something to do with “designing with women in mind”. I’m not talking about “shrink it and pink it”. That would probably actually imply a loss of functionalities. In fact, many activity trackers seem to fit exactly that purpose, and there are plenty available that are explicitly aimed at women. Fitbit even launched a “female health tracking” functionality earlier this year that attracted some excellent snark among our blog contributors (Would the messages come in shades of pink? Would it do emotional labour for you on the variance in your numbers? – It ended up reducing “female health” to “menstrual cycles”, which has a whole other load of problems, but that’s not under discussion here).

So is it carelessness? Or laziness? Are the people who design these watches a bunch of men whose effort to think about potential female customers stops at “oh, let’s slap some women-y colours on it and be done already”, combined with a dose of “women aren’t interested in a serious multi-sport watch anyway”? Is the number of women with small wrists and a desire for detailed sports tracking too small to make it worth the effort? Maybe. But I’d still like one. With swimming analytics beyond lane counting. With GPS. With music streaming integration. Yes, the full deal. Really.

If any of you have tips for a device that might fit the bill for me, please shout. I’d really appreciate it! Or are you running into the same problems?

body image · eating · fitness · food · inclusiveness · media

Samin Nosrat’s “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” redefines cooking shows in the best way

Cooking shows… some are great and some less so, but many of them – at least until recently – have had one thing in common: if they were about high-level cuisine, they were mostly male (and white). If they were about everyday home cooking, they were mostly female (and also white). In the past couple of years or so, this has slowly begun to change. Netflix has been at the forefront of this development with its original productions. Ugly Delicious was still mostly male, but at least less white. Chef’s Table still explores a lot of male, Western white chefs, but also really interesting women and people from countries outside of the traditional Michelin star circuit (Ana Roš from Slovenia, for instance, Musa Dağdeviren from Turkey, or Cristina Martínez, a Mexican chef living in the US undocumented).

But BAM, up shows Samin Nosrat, author of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, and with her Netflix-produced show of the same name, changes everything we know to be true about cooking shows. Nosrat, an American of Iranian descent, explores these four key elements of great cooking through the lenses of different countries. The Salt episode takes place mostly in Japan. For Fat, she goes to Italy. Acid is set in Mexico, and finally Heat focuses on her own kitchen. She is genuinely curious and appreciative of everything the locals she interviews for her show tell her, and constantly relates it back to her own culinary upbringing, but without overpowering the stories of her interview partners.

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No direct connection to Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, this is a meal that’s been a favourite in our household lately: Mussakhan, a Middle Eastern dish that involves chicken marinated with red onions, lemon juice, and sumac. In Samin Nosrat’s words: “It’s so good!”. Make it, you won’t be sorry (recipe here).

She’s unapologetic about her own enjoyment of food. Samin Nosrat’s relationship to eating seems so healthy and natural. It’s so good! she exclaims again and again, and you can’t not start salivating as you watch. I mean, imagine – a whole episode about fat without one single remark along the lines of ‘guilty pleasures’, ‘I shouldn’t really’, ‘just this once’…?! In a cooking show presented by a woman? This is unheard of. She even asks for more. This is how it should be, but too many times sadly it’s not.

In a world where women are constantly shamed for enjoying food, where exercise is frequently framed in terms of dieting and weight loss (women must work out so they can eat), and where talking about food in public is still defined by gender and racial stereotypes, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is huge. It’s refreshing, genuine, and heartwarming. Highly recommended! Also, you can get some of the recipes from the show on its website. A-ma-zing.

(Other people have written much more eloquently than I ever could about the impact of this show, see e.g. here, and here.)

feminism · fitness

Fitness and Activism in this Political Climate

The other day I woke up late (it was a bank holiday) and idly scrolled through the news while still in bed.  The first three news items I happened upon were the following: Donald Trump had mocked Dr Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony. The US was going to start to denying visa to the same-sex partners of UN diplomats unless they were married (but some can’t get married and would face prosecution in their home countries if they did). And the Nobel prize winner in Physics, Donna Strickland, first woman to win it in 55 years, had been denied a Wikipedia entry last May because she hadn’t been considered famous enough. I just wanted to roll over and stay in bed all day. And the bad news just keep coming, from all parts of the world. We live in darkening times.

What room is there, in such a world, for me to worry about exercising? Instead of spending my free time in the pool or out running, shouldn’t I be more of a political activist? Or at least, like Natalie, combine the two? Yes, we need self care in these rough times, and exercise definitely helps me disconnect and recharge. It gives me the strength to deal, including with the political situation. But how much of it is really necessary? I swim two nights a week and try to go bouldering and running at least once. That’s quite a lot of my spare time that I could theoretically expend on more “worthwhile” things. Joining, and being active in, a political party. Joining the local LGBTQ+ community. Going to protests… you name it.

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Is getting out there to run ever a political act? Picture of a woman in running gear on a park path, green grass in the fore- and background (Photo by Arek Adeoye on Unsplash).

I try to tell myself that in itself, practising sports as a woman (and thinking and writing about it here) is at least somewhat political, as long as women are harassed, followed, and killed while running, a strong reaction from a female tennis player to an umpire’s decisions causes an international outcry (shortly after her choice of clothing on the court was the subject of international discussion too), and so on. But I’m not going to lie, it feels much less valid than the options outlined above. Also because, even as a woman practising sports, as a cis-gendered, White woman from a developed country, who has the resources and the time to do all that exercise, I’m aware that I hold a massive amount of privilege, and doing these things is just not a huge deal.

I also try to tell myself that I actually do things in other parts of my life. I work for an organisation promoting scientific endeavour and international exchange, two things that are important right now. I volunteer for United World Colleges, an educational organisation that runs schools around the world to promote international understanding. I vote. But I often feel like that’s not enough, and I should be doing more. Yet doing more of one thing (activism), for me, would have to mean doing less of another (sports) – less of a thing that I enjoy immensely, that keeps me strong mentally and physically, and during which I do some of my best thinking about politics and feminism, if I do say so myself (especially while running).

This isn’t going to be a very conclusive, satisfying post, I’m afraid, because I haven’t reached any conclusion at all. So I wanted to put that question out to you, dear community: do you struggle with this dilemma? Have you resolved it? How?

 

fitness · motivation · season transitions

It’s getting dark out there… transitioning into autumn without losing momentum

As Sam mentioned earlier this week, autumn is fast approaching in the northern hemisphere. And with it comes the challenge of shorter, darker days and worse weather for those of us who like to exercise outdoors. To be honest, at this point I’m actually grateful it’s getting cooler. The Central European heatwave that lasted from… basically June through August and made it nearly impossible to exercise without melting is finally showing signs of abating, even though it’s still unseasonably warm. We’re getting a wonderful late summer here this year (picture proof below).

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Late summer in Bettina’s neck of the woods: blue evening sky with some clouds reflected in the river, hills, trees and the buildings of a small town in the background. This was taken during a recent bike ride with some colleagues after work.

But we’re also getting less and less light and eventually the temperatures will drop to less pleasant weathers. I’ve definitely struggled in the past to keep my outdoor momentum up during the autumn and winter months. I don’t mind it so much if it’s cold, or even snowing. I also don’t mind running in the rain in the summer, but the combination of cold and wet is my kryptonite. And the lack of daylight is definitely an issue: no more run commutes (the latest addition to my routine anyway) because it’ll be too dark in the forest, and even in the city I don’t enjoy running at night that much. Lots of people have a gym subscription, but I don’t. So what is an aspiring fit feminist to do? Here some ideas, based mostly on my own personal experience:

  • Take it inside. It may not be as enjoyable as the outdoors, but some sports don’t suffer too much. Of course I prefer the 50m outdoor pool, but the indoor pool isn’t too bad in comparison. And, if that’s up your alley, you could consider adding a sauna visit afterwards, or sit in the hot tub after training, if there’s such a thing at your pool. I’ll admit that swimming is a sport where this is singularly easy, unless you’re an open water swimmer. Switching out your favourite running trail for a treadmill is much less appealing…
  • Switch it up. I’ll definitely be doing more indoor yoga when it’s too wet for me to want to set foot outside. Also, strength training. There’s some good apps that guide you through a workout, or Youtube videos if that’s your jam. In our household, we recently invested in one of those sling things (whatever they’re called, the ones used in TRX training) that you can hang on your door to do core and strength exercises. You could even try something totally new to you that’s geared more towards indoor practice.
  • Team up. I’m much more likely to go running in the rain if I’ve made a commitment to others. That works well for me in general – if I tell someone I’m going to do something, I usually will. External accountability does a lot for me.
  • Time change. For weeks, it was too hot for lunchtime runs here. But now they’re staging a strong comeback! If you have the option of showering at work, going for a run at lunchtime is a great option if, like me, you don’t like running in the dark. Plus, lunchtime runs are in a group (see above). If you can’t shower at work, even a walk is good to get some movement in.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself. Just as it’s ok not to exercise when it’s too hot, it’s ok not to exercise when it’s too cold, or too wet, or you’re just not feeling it that day. Yes, a routine is important, and some days it’s important to push through and get a move on. But not always. Everyone’s allowed a rain (literally! ha!) check every once in a while. Cosying up on the couch can be just as worth it.

So, what are your tips for keeping up a strong sports routine in the colder weather? Curious to hear about your strategies, so please share them in the comments!

femalestrength · fitness · running

Facing the enemy: Bettina tries run commuting… uphill!

I have talked here before about how badly I do running uphill. I could run downhill, I could run on a flat course, but uphill – no, no, and no. But since I was told that the only way to improve my uphill endurance was to… run uphill, I’ve been working on my hills, and while I still haven’t been enjoying them, things have been looking a bit better of late.

I had previously entertained the thought of running to work on several occasions. The problem was: I work up a very steep hill, and I never thought I could actually do it. It was the sort of idea that would float into my head only to be immediately dismissed as completely unrealistic. I had visions of myself arriving at the office completely exhausted (if at all) and being essentially useless for the rest of the day. Check out the elevation profile of my commute to get an idea of what I was up against:

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Graph of the elevation profile of my run to work, showing an overall elevation of 285 metres with a very steep uphill slope at the beginning.

Then, a month ago, I tried trail running at a mountain sports festival and unexpectedly enjoyed it a lot more than I ever thought I would. I had been quite nervous about even attending the workshop because I was afraid I’d be “that person” holding back the entire group and making a sad spectacle out of herself. This was decidedly outside of my comfort zone, so I was very relieved when it turned out the others had similar concerns (and, I will admit, also because I realised that I wasn’t the slowest group member).

But I think what helped the most was the instructor’s explanation of trail running as “basically a mixture of running and walking – you run when you can and you walk when you can’t or the terrain gets too difficult”. It made me feel much better about slowing down for a particularly steep climbs. Part of my problem with hills before was that I would beat myself up about having to walk when the going got too tough. Walking was “not allowed” in my mind. But all of a sudden, walking was allowed, nay, encouraged. I felt more at ease about those hills immediately.

Trailrunning with gear
Bettina, looking a bit nervous in anticipation of her first run commute, equipped with a trail running backpack complete with a water bladder.

After that first positive experience with trail running, it was only a question of time until I attempted my first run commute – the time it took for my little trail running backpack to be delivered. When it finally arrived (I wanted a very particular one and it took a while to get here), I decided to try it out right away. The day before, I took an extra outfit to work and left it in the closet in my office for the next day, and the following morning I suited up in my running outfit and backpack. I carried some water, my glasses, keys, and a small makeup bag with the bare necessities to make myself look presentable for a day at the office. Luckily we have showers at work, so that wasn’t going to be a problem.

And the only thing I regret about it was not having run commuted before. It was fantastic! I’ve done it twice now, and the first time I only stopped for a few breaks when I had to check the map on my phone to make sure I was still on course. On the second run, I found a slightly less steep route (actually the one shown in the elevation chart above) and only stopped once to briefly check the map! Granted, the uphill bit is very slow going, but I actually found I could do it without walking. And I was rewarded for it all with a beautiful route along little paths through the woods and gorgeous sunrise views over the river valley.

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Gorgeous sunrise view over the valley with Heidelberg castle in the foreground and the river Neckar in the back, framed by trees. 

I’m still optimising the route and my equipment (I ditched the water the second time because I found I didn’t need it), but it feels great to arrive at work with 5k already under my belt and the prospect of breakfast and a coffee while I do early morning emails. Unfortunately, because of the days getting shorter, I anticipate being able to do this maybe another two times this year before it gets too dark in the mornings to run in the woods. I won’t be doing it every day either, since I do other sports on other days, so at the moment once a week seems like a good routine.

I’m really pleased with my new adventure! Sometimes pushing one’s boundaries is just so worth it. I’m curious to hear from you how you’ve pushed your comfort zone when doing exercise. What was holding you back? How did you overcome that? And did you like it when you did?

 

accessibility · climbing · fitness · hiking · holidays · inclusiveness · nature · running · traveling · yoga

Women, mountain sports, and privilege – thoughts on an all-female sports festival in Austria

Two weeks ago, I attended the Women’s Summer Festival in Ischgl, Austria. It’s basically a three-day summer camp for female adults. You can sign up for lots of different sports workshops, including yoga, mountain biking, climbing, hiking, the full works. All of it women-only, set very scenically in the Austrian Alps. I’d read about last year’s edition and it sounded like a ton of fun: a chance to try out new things, meet people and spend a few days frolicking in the mountains? Sign me up.

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View over a lush green alpine valley, from the beginning of our via ferrata.

I agonised for a while about my choice of workshops – there’s no way you can do them all – and finally put myself down for a via ferrata (complete novices), trail running (beginners), morning yoga (all levels), and an all-day hike (experts). Aside from yoga and hiking, I decided to do things I hadn’t done before, so for instance bouldering fell by the wayside in favour of the via ferrata. And I was too much of a chicken for mountain biking. Somehow, the thought of hurtling down a mountain on two wheels terrifies me a lot more than the thought of being suspended above a precipice secured by nothing but a fixed steel cable and two carabiners attached to my harness through a via ferrata set.

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Bettina in full gear, taking a well-deserved sip of water after completing her first ever via ferrata.

The classification of levels, I later learned from fellow participants, stumped not only me. How do you know you’re an “expert” hiker, rather than an “advanced” one? As I’ve mentioned before, I have my share of athletic impostor syndrome, so I was mildly terrified of both the trail running (should I have signed up for the “complete novices” one?) and the hiking tour (what on earth had made me think I was an expert? The hubris!). If anyone still needed proof that women tend to underestimate themselves, they only had to attend this festival. Nearly everyone rocked up with the same self-doubts.

But these shared concerns actually ended up making for an incredibly supportive environment. Everyone cheered each other on and kept encouraging others. It had been a long time since I’d seen two people as happy as two women with vertigo after crossing an incredibly scary suspension bridge on our trail run, fuelled by gentle coaxing from our guide and the supportive cheers of the other participants. It was wonderful to watch.

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The really quite scary suspension bridge we had to cross during our trail run, complete with some runners from our group approaching in the distance.

The other thing I’d been a bit wary of is going by myself. I wasn’t organised enough to enlist anyone else to come with me, and I’m not exactly a social butterfly – my small talk is limited and I tend to get incredibly intimidated by people I think are cooler than me, which is pretty much everyone. I ended up really, really enjoying myself, both in terms of the activities and the company. I met some very nice people, and the activities were great. In fact, both the via ferrata and trail running (who would have thought, considering how badly I do running uphill!) left me hungry for more.

The morning yoga was beautiful, and the hike was out of this world stunning – three three thousand-metre summits in one day! With bright sunshine! And incredible views! If I were to do this again, and I’m definitely keeping this option open, there are plenty of things I didn’t get around to doing: a more challenging via ferrata, bouldering, more hiking, and maybe, just maybe, even some mountain biking?

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Bettina in a red t-shirt and hiking gear, beaming widely with one of the summits she climbed during her all-day hike in the background.

There was a framework programme too, to keep yourself occupied while not attending a workshop, with ad-hoc activities such as TRX training, massages, pilates, etc., and you could even get your nails and your hair done if you wanted (I opted for the nails, which I usually never do or get done, and also because there’s not much you can do with my hair). In the evenings, one night there was dinner at a local hut, which ordinarily is a hip après-ski joint, and another night there was a concert with a local band in the festival tent. And as these things are wont to go, there were exhibitors peddling the latest trail running shoes, hiking poles, outdoor and yoga clothing, etc. You could also try all these things in action, which was fun, though it didn’t motivate any purchases for me.

The whole thing was a very enjoyable affair, but I wouldn’t be a good feminist killjoy if I didn’t have some issues with it. This was obviously not a free event. The all-in festival pass set me back just under 280 Euros, and I treated myself to a nice hotel in addition. There was the option of booking just individual workshops, but they also weren’t super cheap. There was a goodie bag for those who’d booked the festival package that contained some ecologically very dubious plasticky giveaways (although in fairness, there were some great quality ones too that I’ll definitely be using). And diversity at the event was limited to cis-gendered almost exclusively white, almost exclusively able-bodied, relatively fit women who could afford to be there, and a bunch of invited press, bloggers and social media influencers who were there for free (disclaimer: I wasn’t one of them).

In other words, we spent three days oozing privilege from all pores. Is this inherently a bad thing? Probably not. We had a lot of fun and it was great to completely disconnect from the news and the heat wave gripping the rest of Europe for a few days, being active among a bunch of very nice, like-minded women and pushing our comfort zones in a highly supportive environment. The event is absolutely fantastic in that it lets you test the waters with new activities that might otherwise be quite intimidating, which I think is very important in getting women to be more active. But it’s important to be aware of that privilege – and of the fact that if you were insecure about doing any sort of exercise, you probably wouldn’t sign up for a three-day mountain sports festival in the first place, so a substantial threshold is still there.

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Enjoying these views was part of our privilege: panorama of the Alps with some flecks of snow in the sunshine.

And things could be done to make the event more inclusive. One could think of travel stipends, marketing the event a bit differently to attract a more diverse crowd, and so on. Again, the organisers are a for-profit company that makes money with this, so it’s not surprising that it’s all a bit commercial, and all things considered, the commercialness is very low key – you’re not forced to buy anything or partake in any activities that aren’t your jam. And yet. A bit more of an effort in making the event more diverse and accessible would be very welcome.

Will I go back? Maybe. I had too much fun not to contemplate a return next year. I’ll keep you posted – and if I do, perhaps it will be in some fit feminist company? Would be fun.