Sam snubs the royal wedding and goes for a bike ride around Bremen instead

Truth be told, the wedding hadn’t even been on my radar. Bike riding in Bremen had been pretty much since I booked my flight. I was done work Friday but flying home on Saturday rather than Sunday, no matter which way I tried to do it, cost $1500 more. It’s not my personal money, sure, but I’m extra frugal when it’s university money/tax payer money that I’m spending. I didn’t watch the wedding but I’m sure the royal couple feel the same way. Given the government spending cuts and austerity measures in their country I’m sure it was an inexpensive, low key affair.

Upshot: I had a Saturday free to spend on my own in Bremen.

Yes, I was in the right time zone for the wedding. I didn’t need to set a 4 am alarm. But at heart I’m a serious person with political views about the monarchy and there are things I can’t set aside those politics to do. I know lots of you can. That’s fine. I haven’t watched a single royal wedding, not even Charles and Diana’s. I can’t enjoy Las Vegas or Disney ironically either. It’s just who I am. I’m with this columnist, if it’s a guilty pleasure I’m after there’s Netflix.

On a more positive note, I’m also someone who has been enviously watching people ride bikes in Bremen all week, getting more and more excited about Saturday. Each morning I walk by the hotel’s rack of loaner bikes and think about getting to take one for a spin. I’m here with other people though and they’re enjoying the walk to the university and so I just watched and waited for Saturday. I’ve been walking a lot here! 16,000 steps yesterday. My knee is tired and I’m ready to ride a bike instead.


Some observations about riding here:

Most everybody rides a bike. The word “cyclist” as an identity term just doesn’t make sense. It’s not a special thing that some people do. It’s just how people get around. Old people, young people, people in fancy clothes and heels, people in their athletic wear, professors, politicians, plumbers, and students.

There are great bike paths, separated from cars and from pedestrians. The bike routes are well mapped. They’re also well used and busy. While Cate is riding in one of the wilder places on the planet  I’m riding in the land of super organized bike infrastructure.

Today I was out on a Saturday morning joined by families on bikes running errands, lots of older people going about their day, and mobs of children riding around with friends.

People have great bike skills that at home only experienced “cyclists” have . On a cold day I laughed to see most people riding no-handedly with hands stuffed in coat pockets. Today it was warmer and sunny and I saw how they acquired those skills, using their phones while riding. Again, I think if you’ve been riding a bike since you were a toddler you get good at this.

Ditto the skills for riding in large groups of people. Most everyone seemed good about passing, shoulder checking, traffic light etiquette, etc. It was a bit hard for me at first to trust kids on their bikes but they knew how to do this.

Friends who walk here say to watch out for the bikes. On some sections of the bike path, it runs besides the walking path and you need to stay where you belong. Don’t accidentally walk on the bike bit, I’m told. Prepare to be yelled at in German.

Helmet use seems to be on the rise. I’d say about 1 in 10 people were wearing helmets. Mostly they were people who had lots of stuff and looked to be on bike tours or they were road cyclists, in kit, on fast looking bikes.

The bikes all look very sensible, with step through frames, chain guards, internal shifting, baskets etc. My hotel bike had both regular brakes and coaster brakes. It came with a rear carrying basket and a big lock. The seat height was easy to adjust. Fun and easy to ride around town.

Here’s some photos from my ride. Enjoy!


Canal with bike paths running along either side


Sam’s bike path selfie, no helmet! Messy hair


My hotel bike!


Bike path through the park. There were paved options as well.


More path through the park


Here there are pedestrians too


Here the bikes and horses share the path. Horses on the right, bikes on the left!


Cars! There was a lot of warning that there were cars allowed in this section of the park.


More signs!


Beautiful park with paths for everyone
Love these bike paths!


I stopped at a local bike shop and bought a German bike bag for my rack at home. They didn’t speak English but we all spoke bike so it worked out okay.
accessibility · disability · fitness · illness · injury

consider pain: why the social model of disability fails (reblogged)

We don’t reblog a lot around here but sometimes something just strikes me as so right and so important I want to share it. As I’ve been thinking about injury, disability, living with pain, and trying to come to terms with my left knee, I’ve been thinking about the social model of disability. Here’s Andrea Zanin on what the social model of disability leaves out.

I’m hoping to get Andrea to guest blog here about her return to yoga and biking and other things after years ago coping with pain and very serious health issues for many, many years.

But we can start with this. Thanks Andrea.

Sex Geek

pain punctuationToday I am spurred to rant about the social model of disability and why it’s inadequate.

The social model says, essentially, that disability, rather than being a characteristic of an individual, is created by society. On its surface, this is super useful. For instance: if a building has stairs, and a person cannot go up them because they use a wheelchair, then the disability is caused by the lack of a ramp, and by the lack of universally accessible design more broadly. Problems are also caused by ableist attitudes, both interpersonally and within larger power structures.

So far, I totally agree. When the built environment is designed on the assumption of a normative set of physical or mental abilities, then all who fall outside that set have trouble navigating it. Which includes almost all of us, eventually, as we age. It’s good for pretty much everyone if we shift the…

View original post 1,496 more words

accessibility · disability · inclusiveness · injury · traveling · walking

Bremen, so many steps, happy tears, and academic travel

It’s summer. I’m in Europe. It’s part of the rhythm and flow of academic life. What’s new? This visit I’m here in my Dean’s role rather than as researcher/writer/philosopher. We have an exchange program with the University of Bremen, involving faculty, grad students, and undergraduates. I’m here with the former Dean to meet the people and learn all about Bremen and the Bremen Guelph connection.

It’s also the 10th anniversary of their Institute for Quebec Canadian Studies.

Just as academic life has a pattern and rhythm so too does the blog. It’s time for the annual post about how much more I’m walking in Europe. Here’s my day on Tuesday.

15,000 steps is a lot of steps given that it included a full working day.

On the one hand, I love living even temporarily in a less car reliant culture. I love being part of a community in which exercise is part of everyday life. But I also worry about access and inclusion and where this leaves people who aren’t so mobile.

I raised the worry in this blog post about walking lots while at a conference in Berne Switzerland four years ago. I blogged about it again from Sweden two years ago (see here) also Scotland and Innsbruck, Austria also two years ago.

It’s a thing I note and wonder about and enjoy all the while worrying about disability. That said, European friends tell my worries about disability are unfounded. What’s your experience? Do you use a wheelchair? Have you traveled around European cities? How did you find it, recognizing that Europe isn’t one place?

The worry, well founded or not, got personal this year traveling to Germany with my injured knee. I noted that the agenda for my campus visit to the University of Bremen included a two hour walking tour of campus. I was frightened I’d have to decline. It’s a big change in self perception and identity.

And the big day of walking was fine. Thank you knee brace. I got all teary wth relief.

(The emotional moment was likely also due to the movers who’d been signed up to do our move phoning me to say they couldn’t do it after all. It’s the busiest weekend of the year for movers, they say, and my agreement made back in April didn’t count for anything. Sigh. Luckily the company who came in second for the bid was willing to take it on.)

But I have wondered how I would have coped had my knee not been in good shape. I’m going to have to learn to advocate for my mobility needs. Lots to learn. I also had an experience in the airport with airport security as my knee brace sets off alarms. I told them it would hurt to take it off and send it through security and they didn’t insist.

The one thing that did hurt was my feet. I haven’t been walking so much in sandals and the weather was warm.I ended up with blisters. The next day I swapped for running shoes and ended up looking very much like a North American tourist. The German women faculty members would have appreciated my Fluevogs. They wear great shoes but I’m not sure how they manage to combine the funky footwear with walking so much.

What do you wear when walking lots, when you’re in urban environments (not hiking) and want to look both stylish and comfortable?

athletes · eating · Guest Post · racing · running · sports nutrition · training

Aimée crosses a line (Guest post)

by Aimée Morrison

My half-marathon is in two weeks. I hit peak training mileage and intensity and the onset of summer heat at the same time. Naturally, my hydration and fuel strategy fell apart, and I had to buy a fuel belt, which is something I swore I would never do, but here I am. I’m thinking about why this has me so freaked out. Because I’m pretty freaked out.

The precipitating incident was last Sunday’s long run. My training group ran 20km and it was remarkably hot, all of sudden. Now, I had pretty easily run the same 20km the week before, and all the other runs before that. What happened this past Sunday, though, was: I didn’t have enough water in my tiny handheld bottle to compensate for the all the extra sweating the heat entailed, never mind the extra distance as we kept adding kilometers week after week. I also lost all my hunger cues because that’s what heat does to me and so I forgot to keep nibbling on my carb-and-chocolate baked bites that are my go-to run fuel. I also lost the pockets where I stashed these little snacks because I was now running without a jacket, so I hadn’t brought enough of them in any case. I just completely failed to hydrate and fuel anywhere near enough. I bonked at 18.5 km, and I had to stagger-walk the last 1.5km.

Which is how I found myself at the Running Room the next day, staring at a wall of bottles and bags and belts and bladders and cringing. I bought gels and reconciled myself to paste-food instead of solids. I bought a belt. It’s got a zip pouch for my phone, a quick-grab strap system for gels, and two-quick draw holsters from which I can quickly extract either of two fluorescent yellow 10oz water bottles. It’s got a non-slip strap that doesn’t bounce around on my hips, and a spot I can stash Kleenexes. It’s a fancy and expensive fanny pack, basically. I hated it on sight.

Well. Guess what? I’ve worn it out for my last three runs, and now I love it. It turns out that a steady stream of water and gels does keep me feeling strong through my whole run, and prevents me from feeling like trash in the hours afterwards. But I still feel really cringe-y about other people seeing me in it.

The thing is, I think I look like a jackass, some cross between a soccer mom with a purse full of snacks, a norm-core 90s dad, and some kind of ridiculously self-important non-athlete with more money than muscle endurance. Yeah: full on imposter syndrome, rooted in some pretty judgey thinking about soccer moms and 90s dads, and probably some worries that I now look exactly like all those other middle-aged fanny-packed women runners out there in their tech gear chugging along the Sunday sidewalks in their groups. It’s great that 25 year old me used to roll my eyes at those women in their sun-visors but I should rethink this practice at 45, when I am now clearly also a middle-aged woman with a whole hat rack of sun visors (so practical!) chugging along the Sunday trails with my group. It would be best if I could not reflexively hate myself for occasionally looking like … what I am. Ah, internalized ageism.

At the same time, I am kind of amazed at myself. How did I get here? This person with electrolyte sports drink in the left holster and water in the right? With gels on my hip that I greedily squeeze down my throat when I’m stopped at lights? But then I doubt myself: I’m just keeping a 7min/km pace—with walk breaks!—for a couple of hours in the middle of the city, not racing across the Sahara. Who do I think I am?

Increasingly, I answer myself firmly: I am a runner, putting in 35-45 km per week, across five days a week, doing hills, doing sprints, running big distances over long hours, in groups, with my husband, by myself. On my bonk run, my FitBit indicated I had burned something like 1350 calories over those 20km. I am very much entitled to my Endurance Tap energy gels and my electrolyte drinks. I am a pale and scrawny middle-aged woman with strong looking legs and a weak looking chin. I wear a fuel belt. I am an athlete.

You need a gel? I’ve got some extra, here in my fanny pack.

Aimée Morrison is on sabbatical from professoring in new media studies in 2018 and trying to achieve some healthy ratio of words-written to miles-run. She’ll run her first half marathon in Ottawa on May 27. With the help of 4 Endurance Tap packs, one bottle of electrolyte replacement, and one bottle of water, she finished this week’s 20km run in record time and without bonking, not even a little.

health · stereotypes · weight loss · weight stigma

6 things Sam hates about seeing doctors, as a larger person

None of this is true about my current set of health practitioners. But they took awhile to find. Right now I’m halfway between jobs and cities and I’m looking for a new family doctor to start. It’s tough. And here’s why!

1. They believe ridiculous things about me. See this article about doctors and bias against larger patient. “Much research has shown that clinicians have biases related to overweight and obesity, conditions that affect more than two-thirds of U.S. adults, Dr. Gudzune said. “[With] the magnitude of the effect of obesity in our country, a substantial number of people are experiencing health care disparities as a result,” she said. Studies have consistently shown that physicians associate obesity with such negative attributes as poor hygiene, nonadherence, hostility, and dishonesty, Dr. Gudzune said. “These types of attitudes are pervasive. It’s not just in the U.S. … [but] physicians across the world as well: Australian, Israeli, European physicians. … These attitudes have been documented as far back as 1969, and they continue to persist up until today,” she said. In surveys of primary care physicians, more than 50% view patients with obesity as awkward, unattractive, and ugly, Dr. Gudzune said. “They have less respect for patients with obesity. They also believe that heavier patients are less likely to follow medical advice, benefit from counseling, or adhere to medications, which are some of the things that are really critical in thinking about managing obesity,” she said. She added that these attitudes may extend to other health professionals, such as medical students, nurses, and nutritionists.” Not fun.

2. They prescribe weight loss for everything. The evidence bar is very low. If there’s even a small chance that weight makes a difference, they mention it.

3. They don’t believe my attempts at trying to lose weight. I just haven’t tried hard enough apparently. It’s as if once a have a serious medical reason, like putting off knee replacement surgery, I’ll snap to it, get down to business, and the pounds will just melt away.

4. They don’t have anything useful to say about how to lose weight. See this post on unwanted weight loss advice. “Why do doctors weigh patients and offer weight loss advice? Other than “eat less and move more” which is kind of like the weight loss equivalent of “buy low and sell high,” what recommendations do they make and why?”

5. But they recommend diets anyway even though the most likely outcome is that the patient weighs more at the end. In this post I wonder if doctors would do that with any other “likely to fail spectacularly” treatment. See Well intentioned lies, doctors, and the diet industry: If weight loss is impossible, ctors-and-the-diet-industry-if-weight-loss-impossible-then-what/

6. They never believe my blood pressure readings or my cholesterol levels. I’ve had a complete work up with a endocrinologist who gave me a clean bill of fat health but still, it’s an uphill battle being seen. See this post and this one.

I know Catherine and Nat have blogged here about issues with doctors. I often think, hey we’re all strong feminists with serious amounts of post secondary education and some good attitudes, we’re white, English speaking, able bodied, if we have problems with doctors what’s it like for other women who don’t share our bundle of privileges? If you’re a larger person, what’s the medical world like for you. We want to know.

weight lifting

Bigger, better, stronger? On women and weightlifting

There are various myths around size and fitness that just have to die. Take the myth that thin equals fit. Go die a fire-y death! How about the myth that large women can’t run or bike? Go jump off a cliff!

But the one that I find just puzzling is the idea that large women aren’t strong.  From the BBC: “Rebecca Roberts is “morbidly obese”, according to Body Mass Index (BMI). She’s also one of the UK’s Strongest Women. Newsbeat has been speaking to people who say that “bigger is better” – and that their size is an advantage in their jobs. Rebecca has overcome bullying during her childhood and says she’s learned to embrace her bigger size and weight.” See Bigger is better’: The weightlifter

But why is the strength of bigger women a surprise to us?  It really shouldn’t be.

We’ve written about it here. See Big women and strength.

Among other things it’s why there are weight classes in competition. The strongest women overall are also the largest. It’s why it’s sometimes to useful to think of strength relative to your body weight. You can disagree about the numbers but it’s why strength benchmarks use bodyweight as a guide.  According to 9 Essential Strength Benchmarks for Women you should be able to deadlift 150% of your bodyweight and bench 75% of your body weight.

That’s more meaningful than thinking of it in terms of bears. (I can deadlift something between a black bear and a panda, FWIW.)

But even large women known for their tremendous physical strength aren’t immune from the pressure to look smaller, to be lean and trim.

I was shocked when  U.S. Olympic weightlifter Holley Mangold decided to take part in the Biggest Loser. Read about it in this post From the Olympics to the Biggest Loser? Say it ain’t so Holley.

In the end she didn’t do that well on the show,Ousted ‘Biggest Loser,’ Olympian Holley Mangold.

And she didn’t make the next Olympic team, U.S. Olympic women’s weightlifting team complete; no Holley Mangold

There I wrote. “We say “strong is the new skinny.” But really, few people mean that. The strongest women, like the strongest men, are big. That’s why lifting has weight divisions. And we tend not to see pictures of strong women like Holley on the “strong is the new skinny” fitspo posters.”

I think we ought to start admiring really strong women and having a mental image of them when we say, “Strong is the new skinny.”

Here’s one more, closer to home. See B.C. nurse still the strongest woman over 40 in the world

At 42 years old, Ferguson has only been taking part in strength competitions for two years — earning  gold in the Master’s division of the North American Strongman Championships in 2015, then going on to claim either the top or runner-up positions in numerous other competitions in B.C., Canada and North America.

To win in Raleigh, Ferguson had to lift metal logs, run with a 500 lb. yoke on her back and deadlift a car as many times as possible in 60 seconds.


I’d like to be able to deadlift a car. It’s Bike to Work Month again and lots of people in my newsfeed are sharing this older clip of a very strong man moving a car out of the bike lane. A girl can dream! #goals


Running, walking, or just plain playing

On our Facebook page, sharing doesn’t equal endorsement. In fact, some of the liveliest discussions have been about areas of disagreement. I say, when asked, that I post items of interest to people who approach fitness from a feminist perspective. But it’s “big tent” feminism. We don’t agree about everything.

I usually browse through a number of news sites in the morning looking for things of interest to those who follow our page. The blog is Tracy and me but the Facebook page is pretty much (with occasional posts from Catherine, Cate, Nat, and Tracy) just me. Tracy is Twitter and I’m Facebook.

Mostly I love our Facebook page but sometimes I can’t take the criticism over the selection of items I post. It’s as in people thought it were a fulltime job curating our Facebook page rather than something I cram in between showering and breakfast!

It was in the spirit of “interesting idea but I’m not sure what I think of it?” that I shared this story about a Scottish school that gets kids out to run a mile each day.

Many of our page followers objected to framing this in terms of the “war on childhood obesity.” Agreed. I hate that kind of talk too.

Others hated that it was about running. Aren’t there other kinds of exercise? Agreed. Of course.

Finally, some people thought it shouldn’t even be about exercise at all. What happened to childhood play? Can’t kids have both?

I’ve written about this before on other blogs. See Let’s stop talking about childhood exercise over the Impact Ethics blog.

I know at my kids’ school pretty much all games that involved running around were ruled out for fears of contact and violence. No tag, no football or rugby, and in some schools no gymnastic moves. See No cartwheels for you! Just soccer remained. People who research children’s physical inactivity sometimes call this the “protection paradox.” We want to keep children safe so we make them sit down and stay still but that behavior has its own serious long term health risks. We’re not really protecting them at all.

When young my kids often exercised indoors at their desks. My son’s teacher had them dancing at least to fun songs like “New York, New York” as their QDPA (he told me). What’s QDPA, you ask. Quality Daily Physical Activity. Now, I’m not knocking dancing or show tunes. He wasn’t either. But it seemed odd to that we even needed the category of QPDA.

The next year my son’s new teacher introduced daily running for QDPA and he sent home notes saying he was shocked to discover that only a few of the kids could run 2 km. Most of them walked. But I am not sure what we expect if we keep children inside and then force them to run as a deliberate exercise rather than as part of play or a game.

Apologies to Facebook page readers who thought I was endorsing joyless daily running as part of the war on childhood obesity. That’s not my style.