athletes · blogging · fitness · injury · monthly check in · motivation · sailing · weight loss

Sam’s monthly check-in: What’s up, what’s down, the July version (CW: long, some sad bits, some discussion of weight loss)

Down, is of course, my knee

Saw the surgeon and his team on Monday. I’ve been crying on and off since.

The easy bits are that I got another shot of synvisc under my kneecap. What is it and what’s it for? “SYNVISC is a viscosupplement injection that supplements the fluid in your knee to help lubricate and cushion the joint. SYNVISC is for people with knee osteoarthritis who have not received enough pain relief from diet, exercise and over-the-counter pain medication.”

Read more here.

Knee injection

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I’m also still wearing the knee brace and it’s helping on days when I’m on my feet a lot. I spent the weekend in New York and even though I took the subway more than usual and hopped in a few taxis for good measure, I still got 13,000 steps in on Sunday including a walk through Central Park. Thanks knee brace. I did some shopping for more leggings for under the brace and for short skirts and dresses to wear over the leggings. The brace presents some fashion challenges and I’m warmer than usual with black leggings on no matter what.

Image description: A photo of Sam just outside Central Park. I’m wearing black leggings, sandals, a sleeveless black jumper and a purse over my shoulder. Also, a knee brace. I’m smiling and the sun is shining.

I’m still going to physio and doing lots of knee-supporting exercises.

I still meet the conditions for knee replacement surgery (in both knees actually though only the left hurts) but neither of the surgeons I saw recommend it. I’m too young and I’m too active. The surgeons made me laugh, which is something, given the general message they had to deliver.

They said they like to make people happy. The person they make the most happy through knee replacement is somebody who arrives in their office, sad and older. Someone who just wants to walk to the grocery store without pain, the kind of person who says they want to lead a normal life, get a decent night’s sleep, and not suffer all the time. Knee replacement apparently makes that person very happy but they said for someone like me it wouldn’t make me happy.

Why not? Because I want to regain function and their line on knee replacement is that you shouldn’t do it to regain function, you should do it to lose pain. Also, knee replacements don’t last very long maybe 20 years and I’m young. I want to do things like ride my bike and some patients after knee replacement have difficulty bike riding because they don’t have the full range of motion back necessary for riding a bike.

So, no.

Instead they discussed a different surgery called high tibial osteotomy. That surgery involves breaking bones and resetting them so I have a bigger gap in my knee cap on the side that’s in a lot of pain. It’s a good sign that the brace helps because this does surgically what the brace does mechanically. But it’s not a permanent fix. There’s a chance the other side of my knee will become painful as arthritis advances. So it’s good for 2-10 years maybe. Also, it’s big deal surgery. Like knee replacement it’s months and months of recovery. I’d trade off 10 years of active living without pain for six months painful time consuming recovery but I’m not sure about 2 years. There are no magic globes I can peer in to see the future.

I’m trying to decide. See them again in three months.

In the meantime my fit feminist friend Sarah is having that same surgery. Wishing her well.

But the other depressing piece of news from the surgeons was the strong recommendation of weight loss, both as a way of avoiding surgery and as essential to recovering from it. Either way I should lose a lot of weight. It will definitely, they say, help with pain relief. The pain is all about weight bearing. That’s why downstairs is harder than up. It’s all about force on the kneecap. And as far as motivation goes this is pretty horrible pain. Like pain that makes hard to think about other things.

Now as I’ve said before I wish that it were the case that medical reasons for weight loss changed the facts. But that’s not so. Your body doesn’t care how good, how “pure” your motivation is. It’s still tough. It’s tough losing weight and tough keeping it off.

I don’t have any choice but to try. The worse case scenario is that I lose it, gain it back, and more and need knee replacement surgery. But that’s the same worst case scenario I face now. I’ve lost significant amounts of weight in my life, 70 lbs in grad school, 60 when I turned 40. The trick, the hard part, is keeping it off. This time, if I actually lose weight, I’ll be unicorn training, learning the habits of people who actually keep weight off.

Don’t worry. This won’t become a weight loss blog. Likely I’ll save any angst, any updates, to my monthly check in posts. I’ll also add content warnings.

I thought about leaving blogging but making this pain manageable and movement possible is a big part of my life right now. And I’m very much still a fit, feminist just one who is coping with injury and aging and hoping to keep in moving.

Wish me luck.

Up, still Snipe racing

Our Snipe!

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It can be tricky moving around in a small boat in ways that don’t hurt my knee but I’m learning how to do it. I haven’t raced a small sailboat ever. All of my sailboat racing experience is on relatively big boats so this is new to me. With all the knee misery, see above, it’s good to have something new to focus on. It’s fun and exciting and lots to learn.

motivation · running

Petty makes me fast: A runner’s confession (Guest post)

by an anonymous academic runner

“Just a tiny brag. I ran a tempo run at a 5:33 pace last night, which is waaaaaay faster than I’ve ever done. 3.01km in 16:39. It felt so good to move that fast.

It felt good too because I was running right alongside the two very young statisticians, one of whom is nice enough and the other of whom is nice enough but very very annoying and loud in the vein of Dora the Explorer and said to me, after she asked what I researched and I replied “social media,” “Oh you mean NARCISSISM” and so I won’t let that woman run faster than me if it kills me even if she is 20 years younger than me.

Petty makes me fast.”

cycling · fitness

Sam’s bad knee cures Sam of a bad bike habit

I confess. I’m a masher.

I like big gears and slow pedaling.

I’ve written before about my ambivalence with the beast language that gets used to describe my riding style. I’d rather be a lightweight fast pedaling gazelle. But I’m not.

My cycling coach got a call one day from a friend saying his Garmin must be broken because the average cadence on his ride was in the low 80s. He wasn’t going slow. He averaged over 30 km/hr. But he got the speed by pedaling slowly in big gears.

I’m like that too. Yes, I can sprint and then I pedal faster but my usual road ride cadence is slower than that of those with whom I ride.

That’s not how cyclists are supposed to do things.

What’s mashing? What’s the alternative?

See here.

“Pedaling furiously (with a high cadence) on a low gear is called spinning, while pedaling slower (low cadence) on a high gear is called mashing. Both can get you to high speeds — so why do the best cyclists prefer spinning?

The prevailing theory is that spinning is a more efficient use of your strength and energy. Many cyclists revert to mashing, however, because it feels faster. But, not only does mashing produce more lactic acid, it predominantly uses what’s called fast-twitch muscle fibers, which fatigue faster than slow-twitch fibers (used in spinning) [source: Williamson].”

Why do I end up mashing? Partly it’s because I can. I have strong legs and can push big gears. Lots of riders can’t. Uphill it feels like my only option. I weigh a lot so I need the power.

The thing is it’s better to get spinning fast and then increase gears. Keep your cadence high. That’s what I do when I sprint.

When I was riding on the track on a fixed gear bike increasing cadence was the only route to more speed. A cycling coach at the velodrome suggested that when training I put a spinnier, smaller gear on my bike to improve my cadence. It nearly killed me. I had a hard time keeping up with my usual peers but it worked. My cadence improved and when I switched back to my usual gear I got faster.

So what’s happening now? Pushing big gears with slow cadence hurts my knee. Not a big surprise given all that’s going on with my knee. Naturally I’ve been moving into smaller gears and upping my cadence. I lost the cadence sensor on my bike a few years ago. I might just get it back and be deliberate about improving my cadence.

Watch me spin! Whee!


Run and read and repeat

I recently posted a story on our Facebook page about a school that had kids running a short distance each day. I had mixed feelings but readers of our Facebook page weren’t fans. I reminded them that I was sharing things of interest, not necessarily things we’d all agree about, and also that it’s unlikely we’d all agree about everything anyway. The blog and our Facebook page promote “big tent” feminism. Yes, play nicely but we don’t all need to agree about all things fitness and feminism related.

I blogged about the controversy.

I put it behind me until the other morning when I was attending a university community outreach breakfast. At 7 am, because it’s the sort of things deans do, I found myself eating croissants and fruit salad and drinking coffee with local politicians and school board leaders.

Here’s three deans in polka dots:

There was a panel discussion of the university’s impact on the local community and one of the speakers thanked our students for work they do in the schools. She talked about program that I’d never heard about before, a running and reading club.

You can read about it here

The Running & Reading Club Program takes place directly within local schools, and runs for two hours one day per week from October to June. The program culminates in the Start2Finish 5K Running & Reading Challenge and an awards ceremony recognizing each child’s achievement at the end of the school year.

What I like best about the run and read program is the combination. When I was in elementary school my identity was ‘bookworm.’ The local bookmobile librarians brought books especially for me. They joked about running out of books.

There was a running club but it never occurred to me that it was for me. I was an academic overachiever. I loved school. I loved books. I might have also loved running but in my day you were either sporty or you were smart. I was definitely committed to the latter. And I missed out.

By the time I got to high school there were high achieving school athletes. But by then another divide had emerged. The kids who did school sports and who excelled academically were wealthy. They didn’t work. I was thrilled to have a secure part time job. It didn’t even occur to me that if I didn’t I might be able to fit school sports or the running club in.

Anyway, I’m inclined to like the idea of run and read.

What do you think? Were you a smartie person, a sporty person, or both?


Our kids are failing at fitness: Why? (Sam has some ideas)

The news seems to be the same each year, another bad grade for Canadian children and fitness. See “Canada’s kids receive a D+ for overall physical activity levels. Find out how we can improve the grade in the 2018 ParticipACTION Report Card at”

What’s the issue? Over the years we’ve been thinking and writing about this we’ve had some ideas and suggestions. Here’s six of them:

First, we should think in terms of everyday movement, not exercise.

Second, we shouldn’t police gender and kids sports.

Third, we should stop protecting children and allow them to take risks.

Fourth, we shouldn’t assume that because kids do sports that they get enough activity in their lives.

Fifth, we should let girls do active things like ride bikes.

Six, we should think about physical activity broadly, not just running, but also playing outside.

A silhouette of children playing. Photo by Rene Bernal on Unsplash
accessibility · fitness · Guest Post

Guest post: Sam (the other Sam) rows for years and finally falls in and finds out it’s not so bad after all

Today after 3 years of recreational rowing. I finally fell in. I am surprised it took this long. This was also the first time, I have rowed with both a hat and sunglasses. Until today I had avoided taking anything more than water in the boat, specifically because I might fall in. Ironically, this morning I thought "you're not going to flip". Thankfully hat and glasses are fine. If you had to fall in today was the day to do it! Toronto is hot. I am not sure my running shoes appreciate the dip. I fell with full audience. I appreciate how helpful everyone was. It was surprising, but not traumatic, I credit that to those around me and the folks on the dock. I was able to get back in and still have a great row. The water was super calm. I can't even blame the water. Interestingly, my father used to do open water rescues; he mentioned that people don't drown because they can't swim, but the shock of falling in usually makes them panic or they swallow water and can't get air. His advice was not to panic and tread water or hang on to the boat. Today was not dramatic at all but I can totally see why folks would panic falling in. #realrowernow #row #toronto #torontolife #adaptivesports #disabledsports

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Sam is a recreational rower and sociologist.


218 in 2018: Halfway there!

As you all likely know I’m doing the 218 in 2018 challenge. It’s a simple challenge. The goal is to workout 218 times in 2018.

Our halfway mark is July 1. The halfway workout is 109. I’m at 108 and I’m about to get on my bike and ride 25 km. I think I’ve got this! Just under the wire….

Update: Almost 25 km ridden with Sarah this evening!

(Oh, please sponsor Sarah in the Friends for Life Bike Rally. I’ve made my minimum donation (twice over, thanks friends and readers) and she is just starting.)

What I have been up to? Biking some (but not enough), lifting weights, also dinghy racing, Pride marching, physio, and walking.

I counted a day’s worth of gardening. I’ve got a blog post in the drafts folder called “Does gardening count?” but since it involved shovels and a wheelbarrow and I got sweaty, I think yes.

Image description: A small sailboat on a trailer. Our sailboat. Our Snipe.

I’m actually less sure about Snipe racing but I counted that too. What’s the activity in it? First, there’s getting the boat in and out of the water. Even on trailer it’s work for me and Sarah. The hull weights 381 lbs. Second, there’s hiking. An excellent ab workout. Wikipedia defines hiking this way: “In sailing, hiking (stacking or stacking out in New Zealand; leaning out or sitting out in United Kingdom) is the action of moving the crew’s body weight as far to windward (upwind) as possible, in order to decrease the extent the boat heels (leans away from the wind). By moving the crew’s weight to windward, the moment of that force around the boat’s center of buoyancy is increased. This opposes the heeling moment of the wind pushing sideways against the boat’s sails. It is usually done by leaning over the edge of the boat as it heels. Some boats are fitted with equipment such as hiking straps (or toe straps) and trapezes to make hiking more effective. Hiking is most integral to catamaran and dinghy sailing, where the lightweight boat can be easily capsized or turtled by the wind unless the sailor counteracts the wind’s pressure by hiking, or eases the sails to reduce it.” Third, there’s a lot of balance required moving around in the boat. Finally, there’s a lot of pulling lines, ropes, halyards, etc.

I’m not sure what the rest of the year holds. Weights in the gym, for sure. Also bike riding. Also, more Snipe racing.

I’m trying to stay active everyday. See the Google Fit report below. That’s more than 1 hour of biking and walking each day. Not too shoddy, I guess. But I still feel like I’m missing something. I think it’s group activities and intensity. Mulling. Will report back.