fitness

Book Review – Fit At Mid Life: A Feminist Fitness Journey (reblog)

I was looking for reviews of our book online last night and I was so happy to come across this review by a former student of mine Jordan Barnes. I enjoyed it so thought I’d share it here with you. Thanks Jordan!

The Human J

9781771641678

I recently finished reading the excellent Fit At Mid-Life: A Feminist Fitness Journey by Samantha Brennan and Tracy Isaacs. Full disclosure, I had Samantha Brennan at a professor in a graduate seminar at Western University and, her class being one of the highlights of my university experience, my opinion on the book might be skewed slightly. That being said, one of the things I loved so much about Dr. Brennan’s class was the way that she seemed to make a conscious effort to buck some of academic philosophy’s most obnoxious trends. This class made an effort to pursue objective fact while at the same time not being presumptuous enough to think we can just fire up our armchairs and will ourselves beyond the vail of subjective experience. This trend is continued in the Fit at Mid Life, which talks data, trends and fact while telling the compelling story of…

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Guest Post

Running Ten Kilometres in the Summer of 2018 (Guest Post)

By Amy Kaler

1. When I first realized I was doing it, that evening – I was running ten kilometres and would finish squarely in front of the building where I lived – I should have had the right music. I had my running mix singing through earbuds and in a perfect world I would have been hearing something triumphant, David Bowie’s “Heroes” or one of Bruce Springsteen’s anthems, or even something embarrassingly dramatic like the Rocky theme. What I had instead was Patti Smith’s cover of Bob Dylan’s “The Changing of the Guards”. It’s a great cover and I suggest you listen to it, but it doesn’t have the exuberant finality the moment at first seemed to require. “The Changing of the Guards” is a gorgeous, allusive song filled with fragments of enchanted landscapes: banners flying over fields and witches holding flowers and a town of merchants and thieves. It doesn’t really add up to victory and personal best, and that is why, in the end, it was the right song for the moment.

2. The moment was a long time coming. I am not an athlete. I inhaled the Cartesian mind/body dualism long before I had words for it. I knew from earliest childhood that I was a mind (or rather, an avid reader who was good at school, which seemed like the same thing) and therefore I could not be a body as well. I was no good at anything involving dexterity because I am severely left-handed, with poor vision in one eye and a vexing inability to locate objects in space, which I now understand as the proprioceptive equivalent of dyslexia. Ergo, I was no good at throwing or catching; ergo, I wasn’t athletic because I equated athleticism with gym class. I regarded people who were athletic in this sense with a mix of envy and mild fear, like the hearty fun-in-the-sun jocks of high school and summer camp. Later I learned about feminism and cultural critiques of normativity, and somewhere in there I learned the term “body fascism”, which I applied liberally (if inwardly) to anyone I didn’t particularly like who seemed to
be in great physical shape. (It didn’t occur to me that there might be something like “mind fascism” and that I might be doing it). So when I turned into a runner at 52, I was heading into terrain that I had never claimed as my own.

3. I don’t mean to tell this as an uplifting story. If the months when I started running were to be released as a biopic or an Oprah appearance or an Eat-Pray-Love narrative, it would be unsatisfying. There are no aha moments, and no inspiring struggles against odds. I started running for a few reasons: because I was getting really tired of yoga; because I had heard there was a runner’s high or a zone of exaltation and I wanted to get into it; because my life was swelling up with midlife stressors that wouldn’t go away and I’ve always believed that if you can’t do anything else, you can always do something new. And this was new.

4. So several evenings a week I went outside and started to run, and then when I started to feel pretty bad I ran a bit more, and when I felt worse I stopped. I had no training or learn-to-run program, and my only accessories were an MP3 player and a Strava app, which quantified and fixed my runs as little maps and nuggets of data. I was gratified that my first few runs weren’t disastrous, that I could keep asking myself “what happens if I keep going a bit more … and a bit more … and a bit more… can I do another ten steps? Yes I can. Another? Yes”. It occurred to me that if I just kept doing ten more steps, I might never stop. I might run forever. And the more I ran, the more I was drawn to the idea of never stopping.

5. Obviously I didn’t run forever. But one of the reasons I continue to run is to get to that place where it feels like I could run right off the top of the earth, a sort of disciplined wildness that had been within me all along, until my pounding heart and the trees sliding past called it out of me.

6. Before this descends in Women Who Run With the Wolves, I’m going to loop back to Patti Smith and the gorgeousness of “The Changing of the Guards”. I live and run in the eastern part of central Edmonton, midtownish, neither hip urban centre nor suburb. It was built between the 1930s and 1960s and is not especially beautiful. Rows of houses are interspersed with walkup apartments and utilitarian throwbacks to the days when people congregated in the neighbourhood – community league halls, schools, churches, mini-strip malls, now mainly underused. At the peak of midday it’s not full of people,
and by 9.00 on a summer weeknight, it’s very quiet. The streets are wide, the sunset is lit up faintly by the refineries to the east and the elms and conifers are dropping shadows around me. I know – something in the air or the light – that I’m up north and high above sea level. I pass fellow travelers I recognize from previous runs: the orange tabby with half a tail, the lone kid in the spray park, the taco truck parked behind the curling rink, but as it gets later these sightings trail off until it’s just me and a hundred different forms of dying light. No one will ever spin a fable about east-central Edmonton but running transforms it into a strange and marvelous world to inhabit, as vivid to me as Dylan’s images.

7. Is this feminism? Because I am a woman, does everything I do with strength and power become feminist? I don’t know. Certainly not everything in my life is done this way, which makes running important to me. Whatever else I do, I will always be the woman who ran ten kilometres for the first time when she was 52, and who could imagine herself never stopping, running right off the surface of the earth.

 

 

 

Amy Kaler is a professor and associate chair in the department of sociology at the University of Alberta. Her academic work can be found here: https://sites.google.com/ualberta.ca/amykaler/home?authuser=2. Her nonacademic writing about Edmonton can be found here: https://edmontonseries.wordpress.com/

boats · cycling · fitness · holidays

Biking and boating round two: Sam has a great day on the boat and the worst bike ride of her life

I blogged last summer about combining boating and biking.  It’s part of my effort to spend time seeing beautiful Ontario countryside by boat (thanks Jeff!) while also getting some road cycling in. That’s partly about fitness but mostly about pleasure. I like moving, not sitting, and the bike/boat combo seems like a great way to do that. In Europe there are lots of bike paths that run alongside the canals and there’s a whole tourist industry built around the boating-biking thing. It’s your mobile home on water that you meet up with at the end of each cycling day. No need to carry stuff. It stays in the boat. Got a non-cycling friend or partner? They can stay in the boat too. You’re both going to the same place.

Last year it worked really well. This time it didn’t work so well but the boating part was a lot fun anyway. The basic idea is sound. For us it’s not about following the boat by bike. What bikes allow you to do is go back and get your car and keep your car near to the boat for trip home. With all the locks and no-wake zones the boat isn’t making great time and so mid-afternoon it’s easy to bike back to where you started and rescue the car. That way when you go to leave the car is nearby.

On day 1 we started in Peterborough with the world’s highest hydraulic lift lock and with best of intentions of biking but we started late and Jeff didn’t have bike shorts and instead we motored on up the canal.

We had dinner out that night and stayed in Young’s Point, anchored where we could hear loons with some bonus cottage noises–playing children and personal watercraft. Zoom zoom.

Bikes at rest on the boat

The next day it was raining hard. But now we couldn’t avoid biking as we had to go back and get the car. Biking and boating involves bike trips back to the car and then shuffling the car on ahead. We waited the rain out until it stopped and then went on what was possibly the worst bike ride of my life. I don’t usually write about things that don’t go well. But this time, cottage country, I’m making an exception.

The main road we needed to ride on was busy and had an inadequate shoulder for riding on. Worse though were the people honking at us and passing too closely.

I got home and posted to Twitter

“Dear cottage country, Would it kill you to pave the shoulders? It might kill us cyclists if you don’t. I’m not asking for separate bike lanes, nothing fancy, but paved shoulders, please.”

“Dear cottage country drivers, We’re bikes, riding single file, just two of us. Speed 25 km/hr. You’re cars going 95 km in an 80 zone. You’re passing us and there’s a dotted line and no oncoming traffic. You’re allowed, in fact required, to leave the lane. Please pass safely. #opp.”

(You can follow me on Twitter. I’m @SamJaneB)

Later, we looked at a bike guide for the area and saw this road labelled, “High volume road, use appropriate caution.”

After the busy road there was my next favorite: gravel bike path. And it was followed by a construction zone that had us riding on the sidewalk. Just 3 km from our car I got a flat. Argh!

At first I thought the drivers just hated cyclists but later I drove a car through the area and continued to get abuse. Argh.

Bikes departing the boat. Ominous grey skies overhead.

The next day we could have ridden some more but I looked at the roads and decided to stay on the boat. It was a gorgeous day and we made the right call.

My highlights were the Kirkfield lift lock and Fenelon Falls.

And no one honked at us!

Sam and Sarah on Mazurka with Sarah at the helm

Lesson learned. The next time we plan a biking and boating adventure we’re going to check out the cycling options more carefully.

Check out Jeff’s boating blog here and follow his adventures.

fitness · training · weight lifting

Sam lifts heavy things in the wild

Sweaty selfie of Sam from moving day. Wearing a light purple tank top. Extremely messy hair. Smiles.

So usually I lift heavy things in the gym, either on my own, with a personal trainer, or lately with my son Miles who is starting university at Guelph next month.

That’s controlled and deliberate lifting. You know how much a thing weighs and you make a plan to lift it x number of times for y number of sets. Though sometimes the math is complicated. The other day I was lifting a 55 lb bar with 40 kg weights.

Lately though I’ve been lifting heavy things in the wild. What do I mean?

Well, here are some examples.

Tonight, I needed to move a washer and dryer set from the back lawn into the shed. We had a wheelie thing underneath it to get it as far as the shed so no problem but then there wasn’t enough clearance in the shed to get the thing and the wheels inside. Miles and I lifted it. I was cautious at first to make sure I was okay with the weight and then once I knew I was fine, carried it into the shed and set it down being careful not to trap my fingers.

Earlier this week Sarah and I had to get the Snipe into the water and out again on our own. We use a trailer and cradle and there’s a ramp into the water but the boat isn’t light. It weighs about 381 lbs. We did it!

And then there are all the boxes of books I’m moving here there and everywhere. My books don’t fit in the new house so some are going to my office at university and others are going to Goodwill. Books aren’t light!

Now lifting actual things is in many ways harder than lifting weights in the gym. Real objects are awkwardly shaped and when you set them down on the floor you need to be careful you don’t squish your fingers. Actual things rarely come with handles. You need grip strength to hold them. We’ve blogged about real world strength here.

Sam’s dog Cheddar napping on the top step in front of a giant heap of boxes of books. When it comes to moving, Cheddar is no help!

This everyday stuff is a big part of why I train with weights, I can lift heavy things in the wild, not just in the controlled environment of the gym.

Yes, it’s for bone health. Yes, it’s to maintain muscle as I age.

But it’s also for practical things like moving washing machines, sailboats, and books.

How about you? Do you enjoy your strength in practical everyday ways?

competition · fitness

Wow. Just wow. Sam watches Canadian women’s records being broken.

Sunday afternoon Sarah, my son Gavin, and I stopped by the Fergus Highland Games Festival.

Lots of the competitions are new to me. Tug of war is familiar, of course. But I was glad to realize, after my second or third time hearing it, that this competition was “sheaf tossing” not “sheep tossing.”

We really just wandered in to see what it was all about, hoping to catch some of the women’s competitions.

And we lucked out. We got to see Sultana Frizell, set the new women’s Canadian record in light weight for distance. The record is now 85 feet, 2.5 inches.

Later this amazing athlete set another record in the hammer throw.

I loved watching the different shapes and sizes of the competitors and seeing all of their different techniques too.

I don’t have a photo from the events yesterday but here is Sultana at the Commonwealth Games.

Photo from http://m.zimbio.com/photos/Sultana+Frizell/20th+Commonwealth+Games+Athletics/v0dWPHr0koN

Just as rugby and roller derby and power lifting are on my list of sports I wish I’d tried, so too are the lifting and throwing competitions associated with the Highland Games. This blog’s Sandi does it and I love hearing her talk about it.

It’s also a lot of fun to watch. I recommend it!

Here’s Sultana talking about the stigma of being a woman who throws heavy things. She laments not being seen as an athlete but rather looked at through the lens of normative femininity. People are often commenting not on her throws but on, given her size and strength, how remarkable it is that she looks like a girl/woman.

After we watched the women’s competitions on Sunday we also wandered over to see the animals on display.

They look a little overheated. We were too.

boats · competition

Sam and Sarah’s first night of snipe racing!

Our Snipe!

A post shared by Samantha Brennan (@samjanebrennan) on

Amid all the moving, new job busyness, and dealing with my busted knee, I’ve also taken up Snipe racing. See Sam tries something new: Snipe Racing

The snipe is a small, two person boat and there’s a healthy racing fleet of them up at Guelph Lake. Jeff’s been teaching Sarah and me how to sail and race the Snipe over the past month or so and Tuesday night we got to make our debut. There was no Jeff. He’s off on his big boat and you can read about his adventures here on his own blog.

How’d we make out?

We didn’t die, capsize, crash into any other boats, or drown.

We (mostly) successfully rigged the boat.

We got the boat into the water, and ourselves into the boat, and vice versa at the end. As with rowing there are times when this feels like the trickiest part of the whole thing.

We made all of the mark roundings.

The winds were tricky. It was great that it was neither dead calm nor blowing all the boats over but the winds were really shifty. Because the weather was unsettled we were happy to see that there were only a dozen or so boats out. Sometimes there can be twice that number and it gets a bit hairy at the start. In the end, it rained but only for about ten minutes. We got damp but not soaking wet.

From my point of view, we safely followed the fleet around the course at a respectful distance. In our last race we nearly came second last but the other boat got by us on the final run up to the finish. It was a confidence building experience. It was fun and we’ll definitely do it again.

Sarah had the much harder job of skippering. I was just crew. But we’re learning to work together, to communicate better, and next time we’re hoping to mess it up with the boats at the back of the pack. It’s good to have something that’s new, with a lot to learn, to distract me from all the things I’m not doing this summer because I can’t.

 

Guest Post

Failure, Fitness, and Feminism (Guest Post)

By Saba Fatima

Sam recently contacted me and asked if I wanted to write another post for the Fit is a Feminist Issue blog. I felt a bit paralyzed, because I had stopped exercising again. If any of you remember, I had written in May about exercising during Ramadhan, and one of the things I commented on then was how Ramadhan often resulted in me taking an irreparable break from exercise, and how this Ramadhan was different . Well, after Ramadhan, we left for Najaf and Karbala (Iraq) for a religious pilgrimage,

a brown woman standing in front of the entrance of a large mosque at night time.
Me at Masjid-e-Kufa in Iraq at 3 am at the morning, right before morning prayers.

and onto NYC for a wedding.

A man, a woman, and two kids sitting on a flower-decorated swing
At one of the wedding ceremonies in NYC

While I walked a lot in Iraq, I also started consuming high amounts of soda (it was readily available and it was super-hot).

Screenshot of the weather app in iPhone, indicating temperature of 105F in Karbala, Iraq.
the air was super dry and the sun was relentless.

Once we returned, I just couldn’t start again. I don’t have any excuse, I just didn’t want to, didn’t feel like I was in a routine, or something like that. In fact, I have gone back to consuming a soda bottle a day and eating quite unhealthily.

So I thought, what the heck would I write on? Too embarrassed to even respond, I felt paralyzed. Then fellow philosopher and a prominent scholar on disability, Shelley Lynn Tremain, posted this link to an article on her Facebook page Discrimination and Disadvantage, The danger of fetishizing failure in the academy. Something in that article really stuck out to me. “What I was inadvertently telling students with my cheeky art installation was that their failures don’t matter as long as they eventually succeed – and that success is narrowly defined as excellent grades.” Well, that’s how I felt about exercising. Writing a blog about how I didn’t exercise during such and such time would be wonderful, but only if it ends with some triumphant story about being fit and eating healthy, and how I was able to overcome it all.

Well, it’s a constant struggle for me and it doesn’t always have a triumphant ending.

Bio: I am an Associate Professor of Philosophy and the Religious Studies program coordinator at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. I am always in the process of getting/remaining physically active. I am also the mother of a 10 and 8 year old. I am concerned about social and political issues that Muslim Americans and other marginalized communities face and believe that our struggles have many commonalities. I am currently working on a book on an introduction to Shia Islam. You can find more about me at http://www.siue.edu/~sfatima/