As I am recovering from a broken wrist, there are several physio exercises that I do on a daily basis. When a friend shared with me that she was experiencing some wrist and forearm pain from her increased computer time, it occurred to me that these exercises and stretches could be a contribution, so I created this video. I am not trained in this area, but I do know what a difference these are making to my recovery. I think they may contribute to some of you who are finding yourselves at the computer, more than usual.
Mary is a recently retired Elementary School Music Teacher, an Energetic Body Worker, an Access Consciousness Certified Facilitator and a professional violinist. When not involved in any of the capacities mentioned above, she can often be spotted in water, on a bike, or running to prepare for her next triathlon.
What’s different this time? We’re inviting you to join us. Read along and put your contributions in the comments. It doesn’t need to be a lot. A few sentences, a few paragraphs, whatever you’re moved to write.
This was a hard chapter for me to get through but that’s my issue, not the author’s problem. I am not the right audience for the discussion at hand.
Chapter 7 was about the motivation, benefits, and mindset for doing endurance events.
I am not wired for endurance events. I am not even wired for considering endurance events.
This may be, in part, due to my ADHD issues with time perception (lots of things already feel endless to me – I don’t need to take on extra ones) but also, I have a visceral negative reaction to the descriptions of the pain and suffering that are part and parcel of these events. I cannot wrap my mind around someone undertaking them on purpose. Even the descriptions make me frustrated and angry.
Is this a logical reaction? No.
Does it make any sense at all? Nope.
Would I try to talk you out of doing an endurance event? Also, no – because that’s your business. However, if you tried to talk to me about an event like that, I would probably have to stop you so you could find someone more positive to talk to about it. I wouldn’t want my issues to put a damper on your excitement and accomplishments.
McGonigal says that that what separates ultramarathons from masochism is context and I am just going to have to take her word on that.
Anyway, all of that being said, there was useful information for me in this chapter.
I appreciated the observation from hiker and author Jennifer Pharr Davis that you don’t have to get rid of pain in order to move forward. This idea has bounced up for me in a variety of contexts in the past and while Pharr Davis is primarily talking about physical pain, it also applies to other types of pain as well. I find comfort in the idea that sometimes you can have challenging circumstances AND still keep putting one foot in front of the other (literally or metaphorically.)
I did feel some connection to adventure athlete Terri Schneider’s discussion of her exploits. She describes how pushing her body to its limits felt joyful and how she felt freed from expectations about how a woman ‘should’ behave. As a martial artist, that resonated with me. I do enjoy a tiring class or belt test and I have definitely felt like I was stepping outside some ‘shoulds’ by taking pride in my punches and kicks.
However, the biggest feeling of connection and resonance for me started when McGonigal was describing her own experiences with wall climbing. Her description of a metaphorical ‘reaching-out’ to others for support when she couldn’t quite muster up her own faith made sense to me. And I enjoyed the resulting discussion of interdependence and how being able to offer and receive help is an added benefit of certain types of exercise.
After gritting my teeth through most of the descriptions (again, this is my issue, not an issue with the writing nor an issue with the people described) I was happy to have found this section at the end that let me relax into familiar territory and ideas that resonated with me.
McGonigal explores the mystical world of the ultra-endurance athlete in Chapter 7. The stories chronicle pain, suffering, determination and hope. These are lofty sentiments, sincerely expressed and wholly appropriate to explain the process of achieving super-human feats.
But what about the rest of us? I, for one, don’t plan on running 100 miles, cycling across country in less than 2 weeks (check out the Race Across America if you’re interested), or hiking the entirety of the Appalachian Trail. What is there for me to take away from these stories?
We are many of us endurance athletes, but of a different sort. Committing to a practice of running, swimming, walking, cycling, lifting, playing, training day after day, year after year, is most definitely endurance activity. We deal with aging, injury, illness, natural disaster, job loss, divorce, and depression. Life events can send us into distraction, despair, cynicism, and loss of agency.
Don’t leave yet! Here’s the good part: endurance is all about acceptance and hope. Acceptance that where I am is not the end, but rather a point along a line (maybe an undulating one) that leads me through my relationship with my body. The hope is for completion of segments of that line—new personal bests, recovery after injury or illness, or finding a new normal amidst a backdrop of very non-normal circumstances.
Endurance athletes like those McGonigal talks with strike me as special creatures with niche talents and unusual psychological makeups. They are cool to watch and hear about. For most of us, though, being an endurance athlete looks like life: get up, eat breakfast, put your gear on, pump the tires, and set off. You don’t know what it’s going to look like or feel like. But it’s what you do. That’s endurance to me.
Again, I liked the stories best. If there’s a reason to read this book, that’s it. There isn’t enough detail here about the studies that are mentioned to satisfy a reader who cares about research. That said, I’m not interested in challenging McGonigal’s claims and the stories are inspirational on their own.
A confession, while I am not an ultra-marathoner, endurance is in my sports repertoire. I’ve ridden my bike some pretty long distances. I liked that McGonigal’s discussion of ultra-races includes the community and connection aspects of such events. I’d never be tempted to ride my bike alone 660+ kms but I’ve done it lots now as part of the Friends for Life Bike Rally fundraising ride with hundreds of other cyclists. Recently I reviewed a book about a woman who rode around the world and for her, it was global community that sustained her.
But I know that’s not true for all endurance athletes and I wondered if some of the solo sorts might feel left out by this chapter. Cate has blogged here lots about her solo cycling adventures, also major endurance events, and while they’ve never tempted me, I know she’s not alone in craving that kind of radical independence.
Have you been reading along? What did you think? What bits of this chapter spoke to you?
I’ve written a series of posts about my favorite physical activities that all follow the same formula, “six things I love about x, and six things I’m not so sure about/wish were different.” I thought it might be handy to have them all in one place so here they are.
Mostly these days, for most of us, even those of us privileged to live in houses with decks and yards, with dogs, in cities and towns where there aren’t that many people getting sick and dying, there’s a sense of loss as we go about our lives. I know I’m pretty privileged in that I love my job even in this very strange working from home state. I’m still doing lots of meaningful work and I live with loved ones and we play word games and cook meals and bake desserts and watch movies. It’s not all bad.
But even for me, there is so much that I am missing. Mostly I miss my kids in a city a few hours away. I am not going to dwell on that. I am not going to talk about the list of cancelled events and trips and postponed plans.
Instead I am going to tell you about a new thing that I am doing that I am really enjoying, that might not have been possible in, as Cate calls them, the before times, and that I might keep doing after this is all over.
I’ve been riding my bike on a trainer in the virtual world of Zwift, casually, on and off, for a year or so. But mostly I’ve been riding with real world friends side by side, exploring Zwift’s virtual worlds.
When the pandemic became physically distancing and then that morphed into staying at home, I started riding in Zwift more seriously. I started riding in groups and even doing some races. Now I’ve even joined a team. And I love it.
What do I love?
In the world of riding with friends we all have tendency to default to a comfortable speed. It’s easy to end up always riding in the same heart rate/exertion zone. It feels comfortable. Instead now that I am back doing time trials and crits, there is definitely a lot of time in that uncomfortable, very hard zone. When I do social rides where we’ve agreed to stay at the same pace, it’s easy. Going slow is important and it can be hard to do. On the social group rides I’m happily in the endurance zone. I do some training events that are in the middle. It’s deliberate and the variety in pacing is good for me.
2. Now everything I’ve said about different paces would be true in the real world. But there are also things that are fun about racing in Zwift. No crashes! You can accelerate downhill without fear of death. I hit some ridiculous max speeds that just aren’t on the table for me in real life. I like descending and I like descending fast but in Zwift there’s no fear which turns out to be a nice thing. There’s no worrying about cornering too aggressively on the crit courses or getting tangled up with other bikes. It’s true that some of the skills are missing too but it turns out, in my fifties, I really like the no crashing part. Who knew?
3. I’ve been enjoying some of the gamification of bike racing in Zwift. Again, that’s new to me. It starts with my avatar. I liked choosing her hair and her sunglasses and she wears different clothes for different events. Now I’ve been riding for awhile I have a choice about bikes and wheels. I also like the features in the game like the power-ups. These include feather that makes you lighter, a draft boost that increases the draft effect you are experiencing by 50% for 30 seconds, and my favourite a burrito makes you undraftable for 10 seconds.
4. I like the community. There are cyclists from all over the world and while in real life I struggle to find people my age, my size, my speed etc riding and racing bikes, not so on Zwift. I like the chatty women’s group rides, especially The Swarm, but also the community rides, like the Herd with their goofy in ride games and quizzes.
5. Maybe it’s because we’re all avatars, maybe because the chat is heavily moderated (I don’t know about this) but I haven’t encountered any sexist, homophobic, racist banter. Again, I wonder about how much avatar limits affect this, but there aren’t even very many comments about size other then the self-deprecating sort.
6. The schedule of group rides and races is kind of awesome. There are events everyday, all day, for all different abilities, across all of the time zones. I’m writing this on Monday evening and I’ve just finished a Monday night race series and tonight’s event (3 of 6) was an 8 km time trial in Bologna. It ended with a solid 2 km of climbing with the tough bits at 14% grade. Ouch. But on the weekend I had a chatty social ride with the Swarm. Friday night is crit night. And I might do a midweek team trial. Don’t get wrong. I miss riding my bike with groups of real people in the real world. But racing? I think I really life Zwift and will stick with it.
You know that I left the gym early. I don’t remember when I last went but I posted about my decision to leave on March 9th. It’s been awhile since I’ve set foot inside the gym, the yoga studio, or the Bike Shed.
So I’ve been working out at home for awhile now. Mostly it’s all fit together pretty well.
Piece one of the puzzle is that I’ve been riding and racing my bike virtually. Hello Zwift! Piece two is that I’m back together with Yoga with Adriene, enjoying her Yoga for Uncertain Times series quite a lot. Piece three is everyday exercise walking Cheddar the dog.
But the fourth piece is not working out quite so well. It’s there but it’s a work in progress.
That’s at home strength training. I’ll confess we weren’t as well-prepared. We have a motley, somewhat random collection of tools. The one great thing is Sarah’s TRX which we mounted in the living room which is now combo home office for two and home gym for three. We also pandemic panic purchased a 25 lb kettlebell the day before the shops all closed. Sarah also has a lone 8 lb dumbbell from her injured shoulder physio days. And we own some resistance tubing with handles, one is not very much resistance and the other one a bit too much. You read about that purchase here.
My son is home from university and he’s regular gym goer. He usually lifts pretty serious weights most days of the week. I think at first he thought he’d wait it out but now he’s planning home workouts for us, scouring Instagram for ideas. I’m really glad he’s here.
It feels a bit like the cooking challenge where you’re given random oddball ingredients and asked to construct a meal. But he’s doing a great job.
How to make chest and triceps day out of this?
We’re making do but I miss the gym. How about you?
Once it warms up we’re going to hang the heavy punching bag in the backyard. Will report back!
Before the pandemic, I was already a regularZwift rider. In a recent women-only group ride, the chat turned to the limited range of available avatars on Zwift. One rider lamented the fact that recumbent bikes and hand bikes are not available as avatar bikes in Zwift, even though a number of cyclists use the game with these and other accessible stationary trainers.
The chat eventually turned to the related question of representation at ZwiftHQ. The assumption was that Zwift HQ must be predominantly male and able bodied, and that (an assumed) lack of diversity in the design room must be at the root of the lack of diversity amongst design elements for avatars. I have no insight into the design room at ZHQ, but I have thought a bit about how digital decision-making is made, and about the pros and cons of more representative avatars.
We know that lack of diversity in a given setting in the real world has detrimental effects on those with marginalized identities. And we also know that the online context does not automatically reproduce real world social contexts. Rather, the online context is an artefact, and it is the product of multiple choices – or, indeed, omissions of choice.
But, we cannot solve a problem if we do not recognize it. Feminist epistemology teaches us that we all make observations, and ask questions, from a situated perspective. From positions of privilege, some of us may make the mistake of assuming that our perspective is shared or universal. It is not. A helpful takeaway from feminist epistemology is that all perspectives are limited, but some perspectives are better situated to recognize these limitations. From positions on the margins, we have better levels of recognition that our perspective is on the margins, and is not universal.
In the design room, false universalizing has implications. The design team has set up a range of options. They presumably have reasons for setting up the avatar choices as they have. But the worry raised by the in-game chat is that some of the choices are merely omissions. The possibility that is troubling me – and was troubling a number of participants in the group ride over the weekend – is that the choices on offer do not seem limited to the design team. If there is no one in the room to alert the design team to the problem, they may be issuing that their perspective is universal. This is where the in-game chat could be useful.
The failure to offer a more diverse set of avatar options is a choice on the part of the game designers. The failure on the part of the designers at ZHQ – whether it is an omission or a deliberate choice – has implications for the choices available to users.
There are social game-related reasons to have a more diverse set of avatar options. It is damaging to women, people of color, and individuals with diverse abilities to feel excluded from the the outdoor and fitness industries. Damaging in the sense of exclusion from fitness, and damaging in the sense of exclusion from community. In this case, users are customers who pay a subscription. And if the game were more diverse, it might be more welcoming to more people. The outdoor industry has been pushed to recognize the problem, but Zwift is an odd hybrid between indoor and outdoor fitness worlds.
There are game-related reasons to include recumbent bikes: they are more aerodynamic on the downhill, but can be more difficult to manoeuvre on the uphill. So, they could offer a game-specific accessibility lesson.
At the user end, it can make you vulnerable to appear as yourself, and it can make you vulnerable to appear different. So, many are faced with a dilemma. It may be safer for many players to opt for a non-representative avatar rather than to out themselves as ‘different’. It can be safer to blend in. Anonymous or pseudonymous social interactions can be protective to those with marginalized identities. Being ‘different’ or appearing as ‘Other’ can make you a target.
Avatars are only ever problematically representative. They may allow affirming options to self-identify in various ways, and to thereby seek out community within the game. They may also create passing privilege and the ability to blend in, to be less vulnerable in the virtual world.
My take? The vulnerability of appearance and avatar choice ultimately has to be made by the user. Zwift is doing us a disservice if our identity is not available as an avatar. But the vulnerability that accompanies representative avatars has to be the user’s choice. A more diverse array of avatar options would allow the user to make the choice.
Jenny Szende is a philosopher, writer, climber, cyclist, mother, and follower of Yoga with Adriene in Toronto.