race report · running

Bettina doesn’t run a half marathon, part 2: “downgrade” race report

This is part two of my report on how I didn’t run a half marathon. Read part 1 here!

Once I had realised there was no way I was running 21k, I decided to downgrade to the shorter distance of the race. A friend of mine had signed up for the half marathon too, but had injured his knee a couple of weeks before, so he also decided to switch. What a pair! At least we were in the same boat. But as I resigned myself to the shorter option, I also made a crucial mistake: in my memory, there was something about a distance of 9, but this being Europe, my mind somehow turned this into a 10k option. It wasn’t until the Friday evening, after a more than 3k swim practice with speed work to boot, that I exhaustedly realised we were talking about 9 miles, i.e. 14.5k! Yikes.

I turned up on Sunday morning, still tired from the 10k test run the previous Thursday and swim practice on the Friday, and with my stomach still not at 100% after whatever bug it was I had picked up the week before. This was going to be… interesting. Luckily, my friend and I had a good support crew: our partners came along to chauffeur and cheer us on. And there was the prospect of burgers at an excellent diner close to the race venue afterwards.

The conditions were perfect: around 20C and sunnier than expected – the rain that had been forecast decided to hold off until later that day, so weather-wise the only downside was a slightly-too-strong wind. I was a bit nervous because of my stomach, but also determined. If I wasn’t going to do the half marathon, I was at least going to give it my all for the 14.5k.

Bettina during her final sprint with a determined look and unwittingly colour-coordinated blue shirt and blue shoes, in front of several onlookers (anonymised with yellow stars to cover their faces).

I set off at quite a good pace. My stomach wasn’t very happy though – you know that feeling when you want to burp, but you can’t? That was me for about the first half of the race. Not too pleasant. Because I wasn’t very comfortable, I had trouble settling into my rhythm. I was keeping a decent speed, but it constantly felt like I was pushing myself. There was also the wind, which was coming from the side or the front. But the course was nice, it took us through a park with two small lakes and then out into the fields.

At the first water station, I took electrolytes and water. Mistake. My stomach hated the electrolytes, there was too much liquid, but on the other hand I was thirsty, so something had to give. I pressed on as the course turned onto a long, straight stretch through the fields. The wind was now coming from the back, which was technically an improvement, but it also meant that the sun was now in my back and it got really, really warm. I really struggled to keep my pace at this point and wished I’d worn shorts instead of capris.

The second water station came around the 10k mark; I’d learned from my earlier mistake and only took water. My stomach had now settled down and I was able to focus more on my stride, which was also becoming necessary because I was getting quite tired. I could still feel Thursday’s training run and Friday’s swim practice in my legs and my splits were constantly getting slower. Up until then, the Spotify 170bpm playlist I had on really helped, but at this stage it became about continuing to run rather than speed.

If I had hated the part of the course with the sun in my back, the course setters had something “better” in stock at around 12k: over 1 kilometre along a sandy path. My friend and I agreed after the race that this was by far the toughest bit physically. Since this was a combined 9-mile and half-marathon course, as we came up to the 19k sign I knew we had about 2k left and the going was getting really tough. I’d long decided to disregard the mile signs: being used to counting kilometres, the miles didn’t tell me much and I found them more confusing than helpful.

As I slogged along, my friend, who is known for taking his time to settle into a race, finally overtook me about 1 kilometre before the end. Mentally, the first half of the last kilometre was the hardest for me: the course looped down a random street for about 200m before coming back in the opposite direction to make the distance fit. I was exhausted, and the way into the loop was ever-so-slightly uphill. Plodding along as I saw other runners coming towards me was really discouraging somehow.

But once I had finished that horrible part, I knew I was out of the woods. There was a guy right in front of me who was going at the same pace I was, so I made it my goal to overtake him before the finish line and mobilised my reserves to speed up. Turns out, he had the same idea and we basically raced each other to the finish. I got so caught up in the competition I ran straight past my finisher medal and had to go back for it later!

I was completely spent, but elated. I’d finished! I hadn’t died! I hadn’t thrown up! I’d run 14.5k with far less-than-ideal training and while not being perfectly healthy! I was also really thirsty, but for the first 15 minutes I didn’t feel like I could drink anything but water. Then I had some coke, which I don’t usually love but suddenly craved. Later, we ate burgers as promised – I couldn’t quite finish mine (still that pesky stomach), but I’ve never had a veggie burger that tasted of victory quite as much as this one!

Reading over this post again, it sounds like I really suffered, and in the moment, I actually did. But I’m still really, really pleased I ran. The feeling of having finished made all the difficulties worth it! Even if it wasn’t a half marathon.

For what it’s worth, I finished in 1:22:32 and actually came third in my age group (it was a small race). Not bad, all things considered! I was on point with my splits (my goal pace was under or around 5:30mins/km) up until kilometre 8. My aim for the half marathon had been to do it in about 2 hours, give or take, and speed-wise I was nearly on track for that. Stamina-wise, I couldn’t have done it on the day, but I’m optimistic that if I manage to get through training without getting sick right before the race, I can do it – next time!

Fear · racing · running · training

Bettina doesn’t run a half marathon, part 1: imperfect training and disappointment

All of this summer, I’ve been so excited about my new bike and getting into cycling, I’ve only mentioned half marathon training in passing. I’ve done a bunch of shorter races by now, mostly 10k. After the last one, a 10k in the sweltering heat in July, I decided that maybe it was finally time to tackle the half. If I could run 10k in 30C and survive (though just barely), perhaps there was a chance I could run twice as far?

To be honest, I was super intimidated by the sheer distance. I could do 10k, but I’d end up exhausted, and at races that included a half marathon option, I always wondered how the hell it was possible to double my distance. But plenty of people were doing it, and some of my running mates were egging me on: “if you can run 10k, you can do a half marathon, no problem!” and “anyone who runs a bit regularly can do a half!”. They meant well, I know, but this sort of encouragement made my anxiety worse. What if I was the sort of person who could run 10k, but not 21? Or who could run more or less regularly, just not very far? I was really quite scared of the idea of trying to run 21k.

Photo of an unsurmountable-looking, ice-covered mountain face. This is how Bettina felt about the half-marathon distance when she first started training.
Photo by Stas Aki on Unsplash

I’ve always been one to avoid a challenge rather than risking failure, but it’s something I’m trying to work on: getting out of my comfort zone and push myself to take on things that are a bit of a stretch. Learning to maybe fail.

And so I scoured the web for an autumn half marathon with a flat course that was close enough so I could get myself there on the morning of the race. There was no way I was starting out with a hilly half. I settled on a small race around a former US Army base called the Franklin Mile Run. The US Army left a lot of its German bases in the 2000s and these areas are being redeveloped now, and the event website promised an entertaining and – I noted with relief – almost completely flat course. 29 September, I was on!

I started training “in earnest” following the aforementioned 10k race in early July, so I had ample time to prepare. I didn’t draw up a particularly sophisticated training plan: the idea was to run two to three times per week (ideally three), with one long run on the weekends, gradually increasing the distance up to 18k a few weeks before the race, repeat that a couple of times, and then taper the week before race day. I mapped out the long runs on the calendar, knowing I would hit my first 18k at the end of August. Then we’d go on holiday, during which I would do a couple of shorter runs and one more long run before tapering.

Initially, the long runs were tough. I had this mental block caused by my Fear Of The Distance (FOTD): I wasn’t going to be able to do it, it would be too hard – essentially all the negative self-talk that was trying to protect me from failure by sabotaging me, as Cate recently pointed out. It was also really, really hot. And so I would go out, afraid that I wouldn’t be able to complete my run, and any difficulty I’d run into – it still being too warm, being slightly uncomfortable in my gear, etc., would compound that feeling and leave me starting out jittery and nervous. There was one particular run, my second 14k, during which I hit a wall at 10k and spent the final 4k shuffling along in suffering, convinced I would never be able to run a half marathon. In hindsight, it was really just too warm that day. I should have taken something to drink and taken it easy. But at the time, it was quite discouraging.

And then one day, I ran 16k and was fine. I’d taken a water bottle and decided not to sweat it (haha!), and it really helped. A friend of mine, who has done several half marathons, had also given me an amazing pep talk the day before. Not the “anyone can do this” kind, but the “you, Bettina, can do this, I know how much you train, you’re clearly in great shape”, kind. After this successful run, I was much more confident. I even knocked my first 18k out of the park. By early September, I was ready. I was feeling strong, doing great for speed, the temperatures were finally coming down, and my FOTD had subsided. Then, we went on holiday, and I got sick. Not ideal, but at this point, two weeks out from the race, I still thought I’d be able to do it.

I got back, went to work almost recovered from my cold, and immediately picked up a stomach bug that was going around. A week and a half out from the race, it was getting seriously worrying. The week before – I hadn’t run in almost three weeks at this point – I was still not feeling 100%. The race was going to be on the Sunday. On the Tuesday, I had planned to do a trial 10k but didn’t manage to get out of work on time – it was also one of the busiest weeks of the year, of course. I finally got myself out for a run on Thursday. I did 10k, which went alright, but it was abundantly clear I wouldn’t be able to do the half marathon. I was gutted. I had been ready! And now, I clearly wasn’t.

It was especially disappointing because I knew I couldn’t just sign up for another half a few weeks later once I was fully recovered. Just two days after the race I was going to have a hyperactive parathyroid removed, which would keep me from exercising for several weeks. By this time, the season would be essentially over and I would likely have to wait until next spring for another go at the half-marathon distance. (There are of course winter races, but none of them meet my criteria of ‘no overnight stay required’ and ‘mostly flat course’.) But there was nothing I could do about it. I hadn’t done anything wrong, I had just been unlucky. I now know that I can do it, so training myself up for another go will be much easier. Still tough, ARGH. Double-, nay, triple-ARGH!!!

Luckily, the race had a shorter option and it was possible to downgrade on the day, so I decided that at least I was going to run something, even if it wasn’t a half marathon. Read on this upcoming Wednesday for the race report…

Have you ever had to bow out of a race (or another challenge you had worked hard for)? How did you deal with the disappointment? I’m curious to hear your experiences.

hiking · holidays · nature · traveling

Trekking in the Pyrenees, and not trekking in the Pyrenees

Last week I finally got my summer holiday. I really had to wait for it this year, but September did finally come! My partner and I went to northern Spain, where he’s from. We spent some days with family and friends, but we also spent three days hiking in the Pyrenees. In total, it was a five-day adventure because we needed to factor in two extra days to get there and back by public transport. As the owner of a hostel we stayed at put it, “people think there’s a motorway out here connecting everything, but that’s not quite the case”. I would say it’s definitely not the case. There’s one bus a day from the nearest larger city in each direction, if you’re lucky, and it meanders along curvy mountain roads, stopping at every village along the way. It was exactly what we wanted: to have some “us time”, just the two of us, in nature.

a horizontal white bar above a red one, painted on a tree.
GR11 signage: a horizontal white bar above a red one, painted on a tree.
a pole with arrow-shaped wooden signs pointing in different directions saying "GR11" and the names of different villages.
More GR 11 signage: a pole with arrow-shaped wooden signs pointing in different directions saying “GR11” and the names of different villages. There are three arrows, the middle one pointing towards the right and our destination on day one: Hiriberri.

For a bit of background, we decided to do a trek of three stages on the GR11 Transpyrenees trail. “GR” stands for Grande Randonée in French, or Gran Recorrido in Spanish (“long hike”), and is used to designate a network of long-distance hiking trails across Europe. The GR11, or “Transpirenáica“, runs from Cabo Higuer on the Basque coast all the way across to Catalunya and finishes at Cap de Creus. We chose three stages in Navarre (stages 5, 6, and 7), because the area is beautiful and was accessible by public transport from Bilbao (via Pamplona). The stages in this area are around 20 kilometres each and somewhat demanding mostly because there’s a lot of up and down, but no alpine mountaineering skills are needed.

Purple wild crocuses surrounding a silver thistle. This flower is a symbol of good fortune in the Basque region.
Pretty local flora: purple wild crocuses surrounding a larger yellow flower (a silver thistle, Wikipedia tells me). This flower is a symbol of good fortune in the Basque region.

The trail did not disappoint. On the first day, it rained in the morning, but cleared up by the afternoon. The next two days were beautiful weather: bright blue skies and sunshine! On day two, we had a lot of wind while hiking along an exposed ridge, but it was all safe and, have I mentioned, beautiful?

A wide path meandering along a soft slope, high mountains in the far distance.
A wide path meandering along a soft slope, high mountains in the far distance. The path wasn’t always this wide and flat though!

Also, cute villages! And nice country hostels and hotels!

a small hamlet nestled into a valley beneath a mountain
Cute village, exhibit (a): a small hamlet nestled into a valley beneath a mountain (that we hiked down and then back up on the other side!)

Unfortunately, we did what we usually do when we go on holiday and both got a cold. I don’t know how, but every time we’re on leave, at least one of us gets sick. I don’t know if it’s the germs on the plane, the change in weather, or the sudden lack of stress, or a combination of all three. This time, it hit my partner first, so by the time we were on the trail he was already recovering. But he kindly shared it with me, so on day three we actually had to call it quits. I was so congested I could hardly breathe, let alone hike 20 kilometres with a backpack.

I was so disappointed. But we did the sensible thing and took a taxi from the village we’d spent the night in to the next place, our final destination (Isaba). It was actually a fun taxi ride. The driver is also the local school bus driver and chauffeurs anyone who needs to go somewhere in the area, from school kids to drunk local youth during the village festival and hikers with head colds. We then spent the rest of the day wandering about and resting in the sun in Isaba, which also happened to be the nicest of the villages we stayed in. It’s surrounded by pine forests on steep slopes and consists of lovingly restored traditional houses. I would happily have spent another few days there.

A narrow cobbled street lined with traditional houses with wooden balconies on the left. A square stone church tower in the background and forest-lined mountains in the background.
Cute village, exhibit (b): Isaba. A narrow cobbled street lined with traditional houses with wooden balconies on the left. A square stone church tower in the background and forest-lined mountains in the background.

I’ll be honest, I’m still angry with that stupid cold that made us miss the last day of our trek. But what can you do? I suppose I should be happy I didn’t get really sick, so by the afternoon of that day I was well enough to take a short stroll around the area. But despite the dreaded lurgy throwing a spanner in the works of our trekking plans, it felt so good to be out there, largely on our own. In two days of hiking, we met exactly five people on the trail. It was a much needed respite from the current busyness of both our jobs and lives.

But still, I need to know: do any of you have any tips to avoid the dreaded holiday cold?

clothing · cycling · fashion · gear · stereotypes

Bettina shops for cycling clothes: too much pink and a happy ending

My partner and I are currently on holiday in Spain. At the time of your reading this post, we will hopefully just have hiked three stages of the GR11 Transpyrenees trail. That’s why the other day, we found ourselves last-minute shopping for some hiking equipment. We also had a quick look around the cycling section of the two large sports shops we visited (we had spare time and road cycling is very serious in the Basque Country, so we thought we might make interesting finds).

In both shops, we were taken aback by the differences between the male and the female sections for both hiking and cycling. The men’s sections were larger and much better equipped. In particular, the cycling section at one of the shops was so cliché it was basically a joke: it was about one-third of the size of the men’s section and everything, really, I swear, everything was fluorescent pink, or had elements of fluorescent pink on it. OK, I exaggerate. There was one fluorescent yellow jacket. One. No, not one model in various sizes. One. Single. Jacket. Unfortunately I didn’t take a picture, I was too busy bringing my blood pressure back down. Urgh. I often find myself getting annoyed at the lack of choice and, in particular, the lack of not-pink sports clothing for women, but this was out of this world. It’s not that I don’t like pink at all, I just don’t want all my gear to be hot pink! I’d quite like some choice, please. This was a public display of gender inequality in sports even at the most basic level, that of equipment.

Luckily, our story had a happy ending: we found a charming bike shop in the city centre of Bilbao, which kept its promise of “interesting finds for cycling in the Basque Country”. I bought one of their long-sleeve jerseys. The shop was the kind where you immediately start chatting to the guy who runs it, get competent advice and a sense of community. And they had the same-size shelf for women and men, with an ample selection of not-pink clothing. Yay!

Shot of a person from the back in a long-sleeved cycling jersey.
Bettina from the back in her new cycling jersey, which reads “Véloze Cycling Club Bilbao”, and looks sort of powdery pink in this picture, but is actually beige in real life.

I will say that it was also the sort of shop you might be hesitant to enter if maybe you were still a bit intimidated by a new sport, perhaps didn’t feel like you belonged just yet, or were self-conscious for any other reason. It’s not the kind of place where you can shop in undisturbed anonymity, which is sometimes preferable to one-on-one attention. It was also more expensive than the large multi-sports department stores we had been at earlier. It’s one of those annoying situations where you just can’t win: if you don’t have a certain level of privilege, you don’t make it into the shop that sells the good stuff, and if you go to the shop that might look more accessible in the first place, you don’t get much choice, either style or size-wise.

Oh world, you still have a long way to come.

commute · cycling · gear

Am I a cyclist yet?

If you’re a regular reader, you might know I bought a new bike a little while ago. Its delayed arrival tested my patience, but since I finally got it, I’ve been enjoying it very, very much. Here it is:

Bettina’s light blue bike leaning attractively against a rather unattractive garage door.

Before I took the plunge on buying a bike, I did some fairly exhaustive research. I didn’t want to sink a lot of money into something I wouldn’t enjoy. (What can I say, I was raised in the Southwest of Germany, home to the (in)famously loath-to-spend “Swabian housewife“. An icky and sexist stereotype if there ever was one, but nevertheless, something must have stuck.) I asked my bike-savvy colleagues. I interrogated my equally bike-savvy co-bloggers. I interviewed a friend who purchased my bike’s predecessor model a few years ago. Eventually, I settled on a gravel bike: I wanted something versatile that could take on my pot hole-riddled commute as well as, potentially next season, a first stab at a triathlon. I’m extremely pleased with my decision. My Cucuma Casca is a joy to ride!

I’m so smitten with it, I want to ride it all day long, everyday, to the point where this is slightly endangering my half-marathon training (a topic for another post). It is so light and nimble, and so almost-effortlessly fast. It makes riding up the hill to work actually enjoyable. Luckily, once I had placed my order, my partner got a bit jealous and purchased a gravel bike of his own, so now we both have a joint new hobby and I have a partner in crime! Just this past Sunday, we went off on a nice long ride, making the most of the wonderful late summer we’ve been having. Here’s my partner, trundling along on our latest adventure:

A cyclist on a bike path alongside a river with his back turned to the camera. The sky is blue and the path is part awash with sunlight, part overshadowed by trees.

What I do now is a very different type of riding than what I’ve ever done before. Here’s my old pair of wheels, which I still use for city commuting when I know I’m going to leave my bike locked up somewhere unattended for a longish period of time, like at the train station:

A black commuter bike with a basket on the rear rack, snow in the background

As you can see, old bike is very much a city commuter. It has eight gears and is fairly heavy. It has taken me on some longer rides as well, but it certainly isn’t speedy or good at mountains. For my current commute, I need “good at mountains”, and I want (at least somewhat) “speedy” for longer rides and the aforementioned potential triathlon. So far, I’ve done several longish rides, the longest being last Sunday’s 67 kilometres, lots of commutes to work, 5.5km each way, and a couple of rides to the pool for swim practice, which at 12 km each way is further away than it sounds.

Does that make me a cyclist now?

If your definition of cyclist is “a person who rides a bike with some frequency”, I’ve actually been one for a long time, since I was a kid. But if your definition is “a person who rides a bike for the sake of riding a bike in a sporty fashion”, then I’m essentially a complete newbie. I don’t use clipless pedals (yet?). At 40mm, my tires are way too thick for a proper “roadie”. I put fenders on my bike first thing, although they are the easily removable kind, should I tire of them. I’ve learned to appreciate the padding in cycling shorts and the pockets and longer back of a cycling jersey, although I don’t always wear one. I’m planning to try my hand at basic bike care myself, rather than letting others (my partner or the shop) sort it out. I’m planning to try out thinner tires next season. I’m ridiculously excited about my new sport. It’s a new adventure and I’m keen to see where it goes!

Bettina wearing a pink top, black bike shorts, gloves, sunglasses, a small trail running/cycling backpack, and a helmet, with her blue bike in the shade of a tree in a park.

I’m a cyclist, but a different kind than I used to be.

cycling · femalestrength · racing

Sports heroines: Fiona Kolbinger

I know promised a post on my newfound love of cycling last time, and a post on this you will get, eventually. But first, I want to talk about an amazing female athlete, a cyclist in fact, whom I find incredibly inspiring. I’m talking about Fiona Kolbinger, the 24-year old woman who just won the Transcontinental Race, a self-supported 4,000 kilometre bike race from Burgas (Bulgaria) to Brest (France). Please bear with me as I fangirl a little.

Fiona was the first woman to win the race, which was in its seventh edition this year. The race website describes the event as follows:

The Transcontinental is a single stage race in which the clock never stops. Riders plan, research and navigate their own course and choose when and where to rest. They will take only what they can carry and consume only what they can find. Four mandatory control points guide their route and ensure a healthy amount of climbing to reach some of cycling’s most beautiful and historic monuments. Each year our riders cover around 4000km to reach the finish line.

About the Transcontinental Race

Doesn’t that sound so amazing? And so hard? Fiona did it in 10 days, 2 hours and 28 minutes. She slept for about four hours a night. What a champ! (Personally, I couldn’t sleep for hours a night for 10 days without being in a 4,000km cycling race. I would be curled up in a corner snoring on day 2.)

Of course, Fiona being a woman, this is a big deal. Out of the 265 starters in the race, 39 were women. And one of them won! This is actually not all that surprising: women have shown again and again that they are amazing endurance athletes. In ultra-long distance events such as ultra-marathons, or ultra-long distance swimming, women have been managing to close in on the gap over the past decades. If you look at the record-holders for the longest recorded swim distances, there are a lot of women (note that this doesn’t necessarily have to mean they are faster than men, although there is a study saying that too, at least for swimming. But it seems they can often go for longer). [Update 11 Aug 19: The BBC just published a piece about women and endurance sports following Fiona’s win. It’s very interesting, a lot of this is apparently also down to how women manage these events emotionally and mentally.] Nevertheless, given that there were a lot fewer female than male participants in the Transcontinental, and given all the crap female athletes constantly have to put up with, and the fact that society makes it so difficult for women to excel in sports, this is a huge deal.

But back to why I find her so inspiring: Fiona is not just a badass athlete, she is also a cancer researcher! She’s an MD student at the German Cancer Research Centre‘s paediatric oncology unit. This woman is studying how to cure children from cancer. And in passing, she wins a 4,000km bike race. I can’t even.

In an interesting turn of events, the research centre she works at is actually in my home town. It is, shall we say, not one of the world’s worst research institutions. And she is not the only one around here. Just recently, I was doing laps at my local outdoor pool when a woman turned up only to literally lap everyone swimming in the fast lane, at what to her seemed like a casual speed . It was beautiful to watch, I had never seen anyone swim so efficiently in real life. She was wearing a cap with her name on it, so I couldn’t help but look her up afterwards. She turned out to be a former member of the German Olympic swimming relay. And, as per the next link that came up, she’s a physician at the local university hospital. There are so many inspiring female athletes who are also doing amazing other things.

Just why is it so hard to find them? Why doesn’t everyone know who they are? Yes, often they are unassuming. But also, they don’t get the coverage. This really needs to change. Fiona has received plenty of coverage this week, but I still want to bet that if you ask a random person on the street if they know who she is, you’re going to draw a blank.

Meanwhile, Fiona? When she’s not busy beating more than 200 men at cycling a very, very long way or curing kids’ cancer, she plays the piano, while still wearing her cycling kit. I rest my case.

climbing · men

Men explain things to me: the bouldering edition

This week, I was going to post about my new bike and commuting with it, but I’m afraid this is going to have to wait until another time (though spoiler: I’m loving it). Something happened to me this week that really annoyed me, and I need a space to vent.

Mansplaining apparently never gets old. When I prepare a post I always double-check it hasn’t already been written, or what the other fit feminists here think about a topic. Lo and behold, when I checked for “mansplaining”, a post from Sam came up from 2014: Men explain things to me: The Gran Fondo Edition. Five years later, enter the bouldering edition!*

I’ve written before about how bouldering is a social sport that is a lot of fun in a group, and it is. Even if it so happens that you show up at the bouldering gym alone, you will usually end up chatting to someone about a problem that you’re both working on. And most of the time it’s nice. On Monday, however, it so happened that I just wanted a bit of quiet time figuring stuff out for myself. It’s been really busy round here, we have visitors at home (whom my partner was taking care of for the day), and I needed a bit of space. So maybe it wasn’t the best idea to engage in an activity that usually provokes chats. Maybe I should’ve just gone for a run. But I wanted to boulder, so off I went.

A smiling Bettina hanging off a bouldering wall, enjoying the triumph of a solved problem.

Oh boy, did people talk to me. And by “people”, I mean men. Out of an admittedly small sample of n=3, 100% of the people to give me unsolicited advice on problems I was working on were male. I got so pissed off I left earlier than I normally would have, or else specimen no. 4 would have had a “CAN A PERSON NOT HAVE SOME SPACE IN HERE?!” thrown at them. I didn’t want a hypothetical specimen no. 4 to suffer thusly.

The most blatantly mansplainy exchange was this:

ME: *works quietly on a boulder problem, chickens out before the end because doesn’t want to slip and bite the wall*
RANDOM GUY (RG): But you almost had it, you just have to step up on the last bit!
ME: But I didn’t want to. If you slipped there, it would be really nasty.
RG: Hm, OK. But have you tried this problem? *points to problem next to the one I’d been trying*
ME: No, I haven’t.
RG: You should, it’s a fun one.
ME: OK, sure, I’ll give it a whirl.
RG: Try it, and then I’ll show you how.

I mean, seriously???!!! I hadn’t asked him for help, I hadn’t asked him what problem to do next, and I certainly hadn’t asked him to “show me how”. The conversation went on like this for a bit as I tried my hand at the problem (he wasn’t wrong, it was kind of fun, just not with a random guy watching and doling out “helpful” advice). Eventually, I sort of bowed out and scampered off to the other end of the gym. Yes, I enabled this guy by agreeing to do the second problem. But what does one do in such a situation? Is there a way of shutting mansplainers down without being rude? Or should one just be rude?

Interestingly, I have hardly ever encountered unsolicited advice-giving from women. Mostly, they either don’t say anything, or they wait till you ask. On rare occasions, they have said something along the lines of “Have you tried doing this or that? It might not work for you, but it did for me!” As in, not just telling me what I “just have to do”, and waiting a while until politely offering a possible solution, while being aware of the fact that it may not work for me.

Often, I’ll have an exchange with someone and a witty reply will come to me after the fact. This time, I’m still stumped. What would you have done? How do you all deal with this sort of situation?

*Others have written about this too, notably Kim in her post “Why I hate spin“.