fitness

Exercise guilt. Let’s lose it. #tbt

The word “permission” has come up a lot lately in my conversations with friends: permission to do less, to let people down, to get it wrong, to make mistakes,…in a word, permission to be human instead of a perfectly programmed machine. Most of the women in my life struggle with giving themselves this permission. We look around as see that our friends are too hard on themselves and then roll our eyes when they say the same of us. Guilt is the unhappy tag-along that shows up when we don’t allow ourselves the breathing space required to be human. Today’s Throwback Thursday is about exercise guilt and how to lose it. Enjoy!

FIT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE

Not guilty stamp or seal, isolated on white background.Raise your hand if you feel guilty when you miss a workout. I blog a lot about missing workouts, scaling back, taking rest days, lowering our expectations, doing less, etc. This is a recurring theme of mine.

If someone “explored” my psychological commitment to that theme, they might uncover something like guilt-avoidance at its root. I want to reassure myself on a regular basis that it is perfectly okay to miss workouts because….drum roll please….I happen to miss a lot of workouts.

For me, finding a balance between rigid adherence to a plan and being totally off my game is a tricky business. Like lately I haven’t been making it to the pool for my 2x a week 6 a.m. swims. It’s so darn early. So. Early.

I used to be good at leaping out of bed and not giving it any thought. Last…

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fitness · Guest Post · hiking · winter

Pack up your snowshoes and trek it all away (Guest Post)

Image description: Long-haired blond woman (Wendy) with sunglasses, ski style hat, pink and black plaid ski jacket, smiling. In the background a medium sized black and brown dog standing in the snow, looking toward a footbridge, trees, blue sky with clouds.
Image description: Long-haired blond woman (Wendy) with sunglasses, ski style hat, pink and black plaid ski jacket, smiling. In the background a medium sized black and brown dog standing in the snow, looking toward a footbridge, trees, blue sky with clouds.

By Wendy Boucher

I’m 48, I have a phenomenal seven-year-old girl, I’m a Western science student, and my boyfriend of 2 years dumped me via email in October. The day after Christmas he tagged me in a Facebook post stating that he hoped I got coal for Christmas, quickly followed by a post announcing his new relationship (complete with loved up pics).

What did I do, you ask!?

Did I send a poisonous rebuttal? Cry in my ice-cream bucket? Call my girlfriends and formulate a plan to photo shop hearts around a pic of me and my super cute 38-year-old guy friend – who has a crush on me – and post it on my Facebook page? Nope. None of the above.

I threw on some lipstick, packed a light lunch, a big bottle of water, my iPhone, and… my snowshoes. My German Shepherd cross, Kyah, was down for the adventure so we dropped my girl off at her dad’s house, and drove to FanshaweConservation Area. It is there in the wilderness, trekking the 21k loop around the lake that I always find me. My independence. My strength. My love for myself. And I lose the marionette strings that those who hurt me have attempted to control me with – including social media passive aggressive shots.

The first 5 km found Kyah and I taking selfies amongst the many snowy footprints of other hikers. The scenery was a massive contrast to urban London, and the sun painted the snow silver. I was still frustrated but felt the anger begin to drift into apathy.

The second 5 km saw my spirits lift considerably. I saw far less signs of human life along our path which made me realize that not many people can walk this far. I am one of the elite winter hikers. I shout out, “I am woman”. My best friends are my strength and my loyal canine. Hear us roar.

Image description: Black and brown dog on a long leash on a snowy trail with low brush on either side. In the centre foreground a blue metal snowshoe, left foot, extending forward to take a step.
Image description: Black and brown dog on a long leash on a snowy trail with low brush on either side. In the centre foreground a blue metal snowshoe, left foot, extending forward to take a step.

When I reached the 10 km mark (which means I continue the 11 km to my car, or turn around and trek 10 km back to my car) I had been hiking for 2.5 hours. I was committed either way. I thanked my fitness level, the mental endurance I learned from 10 years of adventure racing, and the fact that emotional pain drove me to this awesome place of a natural endorphin high. I found myself singing “Let It Go” as I trekked amongst a long corridor of evergreens. I was the Snow Queen of the Fanshawe forest.

The third 5 km discovered the power within me. I found no prints in the snow, was forced to load myself onto my snowshoes, and my dog lead the way with her keen sense of smell. She guided me through the woods sniffing out the trail with her 300 million olfactory receptors. She became my compass as well as my social support. My strength was waning but my spirits were jubilant. “You’ll never see me cry… the cold never bothered me anyway.”

Sadly, everything but my strength fell apart after that. My water bottle was plugged with ice, my phone died, my dog began to limp from the ice between her toes, my snack was a cold solid rock (I totally forgot that everything outside freezes at -15 – and I am outside), and I was still 5 km from my car. I began to think.

Remember what happens when you work out? You tear your muscles, just a tiny bit, all over and this is what makes them stronger. Your tiny muscle fiber tears heal, and you get larger muscles. So, when you heal – you are stronger. So maybe in order for us to become emotionally stronger, we have to hurt a tiny bit all over. So maybe we need to think of emotional pain as the post-workout-aches, take an ibuprofen, and in a few days we will actually will be stronger, look fitter, be healthier, and be a better version of ourselves.

As I was thinking, I cut off the trail opting to take a country highway back to my car. I didn’t want to die in the woods as darkness was quickly approaching and my time in the cold was nearly up. A silver Audi pulled up alongside my popsicle self and that of my icicle dog. The man and his fiancé that I had spoken with an hour earlier in the woods recognized Kyah and I and recalled that I had told them where our car was. He jumped out and told me that I was a million miles away from my car. He helped me with my backpack, threw it in the trunk, and like a big brother, escorted me to the front seat of their toasty vehicle. We are all Facebook friends now. He has since told me that his motto is “leave no hiker behind”. Wow. There are amazingly helpful and unselfish men out there. My faith has been greatly restored by this one.

Kyah and I gratefully welcomed the warm drive back to our car. She was curled up on my lap licking her paws as the angel-couple and I chatted about our hikes.

Image Description: Left wrist with an electronic activity tracker watch showing 10:55; Total Steps 24,935; total distance 17.87 KM; Outdoor Walk: 15.03 KM.
Image Description: Left wrist with an electronic activity tracker watch showing 10:55; Total Steps 24,935; total distance 17.87 KM; Outdoor Walk: 15.03 KM.

Sure, I didn’t do the whole 21k trek, and I didn’t do it all alone. And yes, the powers-that-be had to send me help when I needed it. But guess what? I’m smiling. I made new friends. I’m healthier. I’m leaner. And I have a great story to tell. All because I channeled a bit of emotional pain and used it to fuel adventure, kick-start fitness, and promote a healed mind.

Get out there and tear some muscles.

Wendy is currently a student at Western University and studies Biology and Psychology. Her passion is ecology, animals, and outdoor fitness. Summers are spent mountain biking, paddling, backcountry camping, and hiking. Winters are spent snowshoeing and bird watching. Wendy has a seven-year-old daughter who helps keep her young and fit at 48. 

fitness · running · winter

Winter running? This year I just can’t even

It was only a month ago that I posted “Bracing myself for winter running…again.” I was all gung ho, talking about how once I got into the swing of it, I was all “yay!” about winter running. You can dress for it. You feel hard core. It’s great for bonding with others who brave the outdoors. And so on.

But this year I just seem not to be able to do it. I mean, I did that one run back in December. And then I went to the Bahamas for three weeks. I spent the majority of my time going for leisurely walks on this beach:

Image description: white sandy beach with sloping green hill on the left, turquoise gentle surf on the right, and a rich blue sky.
Image description: white sandy beach with sloping green hill on the left, turquoise gentle surf on the right, and a rich blue sky.

Here I am strolling with my parents (“strolling” is the operative word here, nothing too exerting):

Image description: Rear shot of Tracy's parents walking hand in hand on a white sandy beach, her Dad on the left wearing light blue shorts, a blue t-shirt, a plaid back page and a white cap, and her Mum on the right, wearing beige shorts and a long black t-shirt and black sun visor. Both are holding their shoes. Tracy walks along side in a blue boy-cut swimsuit bottom, a tank top, a faded khaki ball cap and sunglasses, carrying a fabric shoulder bag. She's turning her head towards her parents, and smiling.
Image description: Rear shot of Tracy’s parents walking hand in hand on a white sandy beach, her Dad on the left wearing light blue shorts, a blue t-shirt, a plaid back page and a white cap, and her Mum on the right, wearing beige shorts and a long black t-shirt and black sun visor. Both are holding their shoes. Tracy walks along side in a blue boy-cut swimsuit bottom, a tank top, a faded khaki ball cap and sunglasses, carrying a fabric shoulder bag. She’s turning her head towards her parents, and smiling.

As you can see, it’s warm. And relaxing. And there’s no “bracing yourself” required for this. So after three weeks of that I came back to cold and snow. And I actually missed the worst of it, but still.

The first morning I did a short stint on the treadmill, just to get the juices flowing again. The next day, I had a run scheduled but I noticed that we were due for a brief thaw the day after. So I postponed it until the day of the thaw, and ventured out in the brief window between too cold and freezing rain. It wasn’t bad actually. If the whole winter was going to be like that I think I could handle it.

But alas, soon enough the thaw froze over and the ground just became treacherous. And then windy again. And cold. I couldn’t bring myself to run outside on Sunday morning, so instead I went again on the treadmill.

I went to the beach later in the day on Sunday with a friend to take some pictures, but this time it was a much different beach experience because Lake Erie was frozen solid. There was literally no visible surf. See:

Image description: Red lifeguard stand with the number 3 on it, with some rescue equipment on a snow-covered beach.
Image description: Red lifeguard stand with the number 3 on it, with some rescue equipment on a snow-covered beach.
Image description: Lake frozen in brown and white uneven crests in the foreground, then leveling off to a white expanse towards the horizon, and a blue sky with clouds.
Image description: Lake frozen in brown and white uneven crests in the foreground, then leveling off to a white expanse towards the horizon, and a blue sky with clouds.

Does it not look cold? I admire winter runners. I’ve been one myself in the past. But as long as it remains windy and icy and cold I just can’t fathom spending any length of time trying to run outdoors. Don’t get me wrong, I like being outside. Tonight I went for a walk in the snow and it was just beautiful. But this year, for running, not so much.

If you have any words for me that might help change my attitude about winter running this year, please send them my way! I want to be able to get out there again, but realistically, it looks as if I’m going to spend more time this winter on the treadmill more than I have in the past.

fitness

“Exercise makes me feel powerful,” says Anita. Tracy agrees.

The other day I was chatting with my good friend and running buddy, Anita, who is in the UK for the year. We were talking about how we want 2018 to be the year we use our internal resources to build ourselves up rather than depending on validation from things or people outside.

This is something that I think a lot of people struggle with at times. We are bombarded with the idea that our success and worth as people is somehow measurable in terms of what we achieve, what people have to say about us, whether we have someone’s attention, and in the case of many straight women, whether we have the “right” kind of attention from men.

The “right” kind of attention is of course a complex thing. I mean, in so many ways that feminine allure is our worst enemy, and having our self-esteem depend on it to being appropriately recognized is arguably the source of misery and forgoing of power. Another friend of mine shakes her head at the idea that we, as women, have given so much of our power over to the good opinion of others.  One slogan that might sound pithy and trite but from which we can all benefit is: “what you think of me is none of my business.” This can apply in all areas, including the misplaced need to be found attractive by men (I realize this is not something all women seek, but I do think it’s deep in the psyche of many and it’s a problem that leads to all sorts of other problems).

Anita came back to me on the second round of our conversation with this gem: “Exercise makes me feel powerful.” Let that sink in.

I first got into working out with weights way back in the late eighties, drawn in by body-builder Gladys Portugues and her workout book Hard Bodies, acquired for $2.50 at a publishers’ sell-off when I worked a summer job at Doubleday in Toronto. In the preface (or was it the intro? we’re talking over 30 years ago) of that mostly how-to book, she talked about a woman who had started weight training in the midst of a nasty divorce. Week-in, week-out, she showed up at the gym a few times a week for her workout. For someone going through a tough life transition, she looked remarkably unfazed, happy even. The take-home message of that part (and I can’t recall if it was a story told in a sentence or a paragraph or a few paragraphs) was not so different from what Anita said: her workouts gave her back her power.

By the time Sam and I finished our Fittest by Fifty challenge back in late 2014, I had developed a whole new way of being in my body. I blogged about it a couple of months after my 50th birthday, in a post called, “Mine All Mine: How Getting Active Gave Me a Whole New Way of Being in My Body.”

There I said:

For the very first time in my life, I have a sense of my physicality as belonging totally and 100% to me.

I own these activities–every endurance run, every early morning workout in the pool, every struggle on the bike. They’re mine. I do them for me. Not for you or for my parents or my partner or because someone else/society/my employer/Oprah thinks I should. Nope. None of that. No one would blink an eye if I never did any of this stuff again. And yet I do it anyway because they’re things I want to do.

I talked about a confident sense of ownership over my own body. This was in 2014, in the wake of several women coming forward with sexual assault charges against a popular Canadian radio personality. Now, three years later, we’ve got #metoo, the de-throning of Harvey Weinstein, the Kevin Spacey debacle, and the “time’s up” campaign in Hollywood. We’ve Oprah saying there is a new day on the horizon. The Canadian radio host went to trial and was acquitted. But the conversation about sexual consent and coercion continues.

Getting active has an enormous influence on women’s sense of their own power. In 2014 I said about the newfound attention being given to conversations about consent and coercion:

So what does this have to do with a new way of being in my body? Well, you know, it just made me realize the extent to which it’s a rare thing indeed when a women feels confident ownership of her body — like she doesn’t owe anyone anything and she gets to say “no” and let it mean “no” (not “maybe” and not “let me talk you into it” and not “are you sure?” and not “maybe later” but “NO”).

And when we don’t feel that confident sense of ownership, it’s hard not to feel insecure about choices that may upset people or make them angry or, heaven forbid, disappoint someone or not meet their expectations. And hence the level of coercion and coaxing that lots of women endure (by the way, said radio host’s alleged actions were a lot more serious than coercion and coaxing).

And so to discover a domain where that shit doesn’t happen is like a small miracle, like finding an oasis in the desert or something like that.

And that’s what diving in with both feet into some athletic activity that I love has done for me. It’s like hello. Who’s been keeping this big secret from me?

More recently a more subtle discussion arose around Kristen Roupenian’s short story, “Cat Person,” published in December in The New Yorker.  If you haven’t yet read it, it’s fabulous. One of the things it depicts is a moment in which the young woman who is protagonist changes her feelings about a sexual encounter with a man midstream. She was into it, but now she’s not. But, as so many stories go, she went ahead anyway: “…she knew that her last chance of enjoying this encounter had disappeared, but that she would carry through with it until it was over.” Why? Well it was easier to go through with it than to try to get out of it, let the guy down, disappoint, what have you.

But that’s all bullshit right? I mean, we might know what that feels like, struggle with those moments ourselves, and still be clear that there is no reason for us to have sex that we don’t want to have. Ever.

If getting active can help us develop a confident sense of ownership over our bodies, or as Anita says, “make us feel powerful,” then maybe, just maybe it can be part of the movement towards a world where women don’t feel the need to succumb to that sort of pressure. And for straight women that means giving less of our mental real estate to what men like and want and more real estate to what we would like and want. And the confidence to assert that.

Does exercise make you feel powerful?

fitness

I still don’t want to be a Precision Nutrition VIP (and the temptation is gone too)

Image description: Red rectangular text box on an angle with
Image description: Red rectangular text box on an angle with “VIP” written in red lettering on a white background.

In July 2015, about six months after I finished what was then called Precision Nutrition’s “Lean Eating Program” and is now called “Coaching for Women,” I wrote a post entitled “Why I Don’t Want to Be a Precision Nutrition VIP (But the Temptation Is There Anyway).” At the time, I and many of my cohort were struggling to find our footing, to go it alone after a year of daily coaching.

As is to be expected, PN has a lot of repeat customers. It’s easier to stay on track when you’re paying a lot of money and getting regular input from a coach. This we all know. You wander from the program and suddenly the healthy habits start to slide. But the question I always want to ask is: Am I really willing to pay PN for the rest of my life so I can “stay on track”? The answer to that question, for me anyway, is always: No.

But they try. Every six months, when a new round of coaching starts up, they try. Yesterday I got a message about how this was my “last chance” to register for the VIP price of $97 US per month for a year. That’s 54% less than the regular price. For what you get (assuming that what you get is at least what I got, and probably a bit better now since I would assume they are always making it better), it’s not a bad price. You do get lots of info and some coaching and support.

The pitch is always the same, about how they have many repeat clients. You might wonder how you can turn this into a pitch. I mean, to me, having to keep repeating it might be an indication that it’s not really a successful program. But they promote coming back as “a great way to keep the results you’ve achieved.” And they are quite open about how they’ve got clients who come back two, three or even four times.

They even do the “use your name” thing to make it sound personal and intimate, like it’s an offer especially for me:

Tracy, if you could use help staying in shape, getting back in
shape, or reaching new heights…

…then we’re ready to give you additional coaching, support, and
accountability. We’d love to have you back!

Now, when I wrote about this back in 2015, six months after I finished, I was tempted even though I didn’t actually sign up. As the woman quoted in the testimonial in the email they sent me said, maintaining “results” is uncharted territory. It’s “scary.” And it should be scary, because all the research points to how difficult it is to achieve lasting change.

But this time I’m not even tempted. I’m not scared. And I don’t worry about keeping the results of my PN efforts. In fact, I’ve done far better in every area since I left PN behind, fully adopted intuitive eating, implemented a regular running routine with a coach to help me develop smart training plans, and started using a personal trainer for my weight training.

This is consistent with the thought behind PN that coaching helps us stay on track. I fully admit that when I have personal training booked and a running coach to be accountable to, I am much less likely to skip out on workouts. But neither of my people focus on weight loss as a primary goal. I mean, if that’s what I wanted, I’m sure they would. But the thing with PN is that they are fixated on weight loss, right down to the before and after pictures. Indeed, they have that blasted contest every year, where people vote on contestants for the “best transformation.”

They say it’s all about healthy habits. But in the end it’s about weight loss and looking a certain way. And they will never convince me otherwise. Given their focus, it’s not a program I can get behind because it’s inconsistent with my values. The over-emphasis on the visible transformation doesn’t work for me at all. Nor does the focus on tracking and on weight loss.

I consider it immense progress that I don’t even feel the slightest allure. That’s not to say that there is nothing redeeming about the program. In fact, I wrote a balanced review of it, talking about what I liked and disliked. The thing I disliked the most and continue to find offensive is the photo contest. I wrote about that here. I’m not alone in this. Sam has also objected to the photo contest. Sam also wrote a helpful review of PN after her year of coaching. She loved lots about it (more than I loved, that’s for sure).

But as someone who has finally grasped intuitive eating and has landed on a workout routine that I love and can manage, the idea of being given new rules about eating and of having someone else tell me what my workouts should look like (okay, someone other than Paul, my trainer), just feels like a set-back to me.

So no, I’m not interested in being a VIP even if the price is right.

If you’ve ever done PN or any other sort of online coaching, what was your experience and did you feel the need to repeat the program in order to keep the results (if you had good results)?

fitness

Welcome to Fit Is a Feminist Issue

We follow our analytics and “insights” on the various platforms we use — WordPress, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. And by all reports our stats are booming.

We are especially excited to welcome new followers. If you’re new to the blog you may not know who’s who and what’s happening. We post new content daily and we have lots of regular and guest contributors. If you want to see the general schedule we posted it in September.

Sam and I started the blog back in the fall of 2012, just two years before our 50th birthdays. Our goal: to be the fittest we’d ever been in our lives by the time we turned 50. And also to post about our continuing conversation about how to approach fitness as feminists. The blog has grown and changed over the past five years. The best part is the thriving community of like-minded people seeking an alternative approach to fitness that’s sprung up around it.

If you are new to us, we are delighted to welcome you to that community. Feel free to comment on our posts on WordPress, Facebook or Twitter. Follow us. Like us. Catch us on Instagram. Send us a message with suggestions about content you’d like more of (or less of!). Pre-order the book Sam and I wrote Fit at Mid-Life: A Feminist Fitness Journey. It’s coming out in April 2018, published by Greystone Books. Most of all, enjoy!

fitness · running · training

Why a Running Clinic May Be a Good Way to Start the New Year

Head shot of two smiling women (Julie left and Tracy right). Julie has long light hair and is wearing glasses. Tracy is wearing a multi-coloured headband and a neon pink running jacket. I resurrected this post from 2014–started but not finished. Today seems like a good time to finish it as many of us think about what we want to do activity-wise for 2018.

In our resolutions post I said I basically want to keep doing what I’m doing. It’s working for me and I’m feeling great — definitely in the best shape of my life, with the healthiest attitude about food and weight that I’ve ever had and a workout routine where I look forward to my workouts most days.

Over the years I’ve had excellent experiences with running clinics. I find them especially helpful to get me through the winter. When it’s cold and icy, it’s easy to hibernate. If you’re like me and can’t handle treadmill running for more than about 30 minutes at a stretch, then hibernating through the winter is not an option.

Enter the running clinic. My first winter running clinic was a 10K group that started in November and continued through to the spring. Having scheduled runs with a group helped me get out the door at least three times a week, whatever the weather. The camaraderie of slogging it out in a snow storm or a cold windy night makes all the difference. I have found that every group has its commiserators and its encouragers. Both offer needed support.

The year after the 10K clinic I signed up for the Around the Bay 30K training clinic. It followed marathon training more or less. That was the year of the polar vortex and I’m telling you, it was a tough commitment some days. But that clinic cemented my friendship with Julie, whom I’d originally met at the 10K clinic the year before. We have now been running friends for years and have done many an event together (including Around the Bay, both in the 30K and as a 2-person relay team.

Clinics are good for the info you get as well. Every group will have one night a week where a speaker comes to talk about shoes or nutrition or clothing and gear or injuries (prevention and treatment) and any number of other helpful topics.

Another great thing about them is that they cater to all levels. No matter what your pace, there are almost always others who run at that pace. Of course if you’re new to running you won’t start with a half marathon group. You’ll start with a learn to run group and build speed and distance from there.

Most local running shops have training clubs and clinics starting up over the next week or two. If you’re looking for a good way to get through the winter as an outdoor runner, check out the schedule and sign up.

If you’ve had a good experience with running clinics let us know. Enjoy!