Who’s up for a challenge with fit feminist support? Sign up today!

Image description: the word
Image description: the word “challenge”, each letter in a different coloured square.

Note from Tracy: There has been an awesome response! Thank you! Sadly, this means we need to set a deadline. If you’d like to be considered for the group starting on Labour Day please contact me by Friday, August 17 at 9 am Eastern Time with your expression of interest. Contact info etc below. 🙂

Hey everyone. Cate, Christine and I have an exciting new thing to offer to a group of willing volunteers! It’s our Fit Feminist challenge group (name still to be determined).

Here’s the basic idea: the group will be an online support and challenge group accessed through a secret Facebook page that only members of the group have access to. There will be a maximum of 20 members plus Cate, Christine and I in the first iteration of the group. Members will be encouraged to develop their own challenge and goals, based on the feminist fitness principles we promote on this website. So we won’t be supporting weight loss and dieting as goals.

The loose model is Sam’s and my “fittest by 50 challenge” that started the blog and that we document in Fit at Mid-Life: A Feminist Fitness Journey. We spent a bit of time trying to decide what mattered to us, and then we each picked a thing that we were training for. My thing was an Olympic distance triathlon by my 50th birthday. Hers was the Ride for Life from Toronto to Montreal. In between we did lots of other things, but having those big goals helped to focus our training.

Members of the Fit Feminist group can pick something like that, but there are other possibilities, such as a goal of doing something every day (as Cate did in her recent post about her July challenge), or the goal of training 3 times a week, or running a faster 10K (or running at 10K at all!), making it to the pool twice a week, or even of developing a new set of values around your fitness pursuits (athletic over aesthetic!).

In addition to helping everyone develop a goal (or at least providing a space where people can state their goals and have a gentle circle of accountability), the group will be there for mutual support and encouragement.

Cate, Christine and I will offer weekly focal points (possibly more frequent than that, we’re not sure yet). Some of these will be based on the “Try This” suggestions in Fit at Mid-Life: A Feminist Fitness Journey (by me and Samantha, published by Greystone Books, 2018). We’ll post some materials closer to the start date that articulate our approach, rules of engagement, and some other things.

The first group is a bit of an experiment, so we’ll be looking to members to help shape the process, format, and even the purpose. We’ll want suggestions and will be trying out a bunch of different things, some of which might work and others of which may not.

All three of us also plan to be members as well as facilitators.

We’ll start on Labour Day.

It’s an experiment. If it sounds vague and speculative, it sort of is. But we think it will be fun, and could be the start of something. The first group will probably be carry us through to December, so if you do volunteer you’ll want to be available for a 3-4 month commitment (I think…).

If you are interested, please email me (Tracy) with the subject heading Fit Feminist Group and a brief sentence or two explaining that you’re interested (and if you wish to indulge me further, why you’re interested /what you would hope for from the group). We’re capping at 20, so if you are interested, please get in touch sooner rather than later.


fitness · motivation · movies · training · triathalon

“We Are Triathletes” is an inspiring film but Tracy won’t be signing up for the Challenge Roth

Last night we had a special film event, one night only, through “Demand Film.” It’s an organization that sets up film screenings that only go ahead if enough tickets get sold by the deadline. The film was We Are Triathletes and it followed six athletes from four countries as they prep for and compete in the Challenge Roth, the world’s largest triathlon with over 5500 competitors, held every year in Roth, Germany. 2014, the year the film highlights, was the race’s 30th year.

I went with a group of people who have actually done Ironman triathlon events. I ran into a few people who I used to train with when I was doing the fittest by 50 challenge and getting ready for my Olympic distance events back in 2014. I think almost all the London, Ontario triathletes who weren’t training last night were at the movie.

In addition to following a diverse group of athletes–elite and age-group, men and women, and one para-athlete who had his legs amputated as a child, and the first Chinese competitor in –the film fills in some of the history of Ironman, including interviews with legends like Julie Moss, Kathleen McCartney, Dave Scott, and Mark Allen. It also gives great context for and history of the Challenge Roth, which really does sound like an amazing day for athletes and spectators alike.

Going in I had one worry, which is that I would find the film so inspiring that I would want to do something ridiculous like start training for longer distance triathlons (or any distance triathlons). But that didn’t happen. I did find it inspiring. It’s hard not to feel a little kick of motivation watching determined athletes train hard and hearing them talk about what draws them to the event, what race day feels like, and what it means to them to finish (let alone win).

So what happened was this. I am in total awe of anyone who has ever completed an iron distance triathlon. Whether it was the athletes in the film or the people I went to the movie with, completing a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, and then running a marathon is an incredible physical achievement. Timo Bracht, who won the men’s elite category at the 2014 Challenge Roth, finished all that in under eight hours (7:56)! Mirinda Carfrae, one of the featured athletes in We Are Triathletes, won the women’s event in 8:38:53. These are incredible times. So yeah: wow.

Despite being in awe and full of admiration, I really don’t have the desire to do that type of training, which the film made clear kind of has to take over your whole life. I mean, I found Olympic distance training tough to sustain, so I can’t even imagine staying motivated to train for an event like Challenge Roth.

But what it did inspire in me is motivation for the training I’m doing now, which is my 10K training. Time is closing in on my September 8th race, where I put my summer of fairly consistent training to the test. I’m not sure if I can but I would love to get my time under 65 minutes. We’ll see.

I think documentaries like this are amazing for showing what humans can do. It doesn’t necessarily mean you want to do exactly the same thing, but it can inspire nonetheless. I remember how Anita used to love watching The Barkley Marathons: The Race that Eats Its Young:

She liked it not because she wanted to do it, but watching the people do it inspired her to want to do her things.

We Are Triathletes was like that for me (but my friend Ed now wants to do the Challenge Roth, so clearly it has a different impact on different people). Here’s the trailer:

What about you? Do sports documentaries inspire you at all? In a particular way? Not at all?


“You’ve Lost Weight! You Look Great!” Isn’t a Compliment #tbt

From the archives. In 2013 the blog wasn’t even a year old and we were pretty focused at that time on getting our core themes out there. One of them that we have sustained throughout is the the theme of encouraging everyone not to preoccupy themselves with weight loss (their own or others).

This was not just for friviolous reasons. Fixating on weight loss as a thing that is assumed to be positive, policing others’ bodies in a way that makes it normal and natural to “compliment” someone when they’ve lost weight (even if you don’t know whether they wanted to–see our cautionary tale), and externalizing your fitness efforts so that your “success” is measured by the number on the scale, are just some of the ways we miss the mark when it comes to fitness.

Our aspirations for ourselves and hopes for others can come from a more loving place. One way to start on that new road is to refrain from offering “you look great, you’ve lost weight!” as a compliment.


compliment-42Last week, a friend reported how horrible she felt when someone in her workplace whom she didn’t know very well complimented her on her recent weight loss. As it happens, my friend is losing weight to prepare for a figure competition. But this remark made her question her “before” look.  In her case, her “before” body is the one she has whenever she’s not prepping for a competition because the competition body isn’t sustainable.  (see here for why that’s the case)

Implicit in the so-called compliment about weight loss is the assumption that you really didn’t look so great before.  But now!  Wowza!  Looking good!

There are lots of reasons to think that you’re not doing anyone any favors by trying to give them the “look at you! You’ve lost weight!” compliment.

1. When we think of it in that way, it’s not such a great compliment. It’s a set-up…

View original post 999 more words


Sam and Tracy do the podcast circuit

Image description: Sam in a black and white polka dot dress, short hair with highlights, on left, looking at Tracy in a black dress with a zipper, short cropped hair, on right. They are chatting to each other, making hand gestures and smiling, against a plain white back drop.
Image description: Sam in a black and white polka dot dress, short hair with highlights, on left, looking at Tracy in a black dress with a zipper, short cropped hair, on right. They are chatting to each other, making hand gestures and smiling, against a plain white back drop.

Since the release of the book, Sam and I have had a chance to do quite a bit of different media. Though live television can be exciting, and interviews that show up online and in print are satisfying in their way and easy to share, we have both really enjoyed the podcasts.

A podcast allows for a more in-depth discussion of the issues that we care about. Also, not that TV people aren’t real, but podcast hosts are more sincerely into the topic, partly because they, not their producers, are the ones who decide who they want to interview. Usually, podcasts, like blogs, are themed. The podcasts we’ve been on are all fitness themed.

Here are the podcasts we’ve done lately, all in one handy list:

Lazy Girl Running, with Laura — Episode 30, “Tracy Isaacs, fit feminist”

40+ Fitness, with Allan — “Fit at mid-life with Samantha Brennan and Tracy Isaacs”

Purposeful Strength, with Sarah — “Episode 68: Fitness is a feminist issue with Sam and Tracy”

Purposeful Strength, with Sarah — “Episode 69: Body Image with Tracy Isaacs and Samantha Brennan”

As I said, we enjoy podcasts a lot, so if you have one and you’d like to chat with us, let us know!

We would love to hear from you. What are your favourite podcasts?


In praise of community

Image description: 2015 Niagara Falls Women's Half Marathon pre-race, Tracy, Anita, Rebecca, Julie, and Helia smiling with arms around each other posing for the camera, wearing their race gear and bibs, with people under a canopy behind them.
Image description: 2015 Niagara Falls Women’s Half Marathon pre-race, Tracy, Anita, Rebecca, Julie, and Helia smiling with arms around each other posing for the camera, wearing their race gear and bibs, with people under a canopy behind them.

One of the most dramatic shifts in my life from when Sam and I started the blog in 2012 to now has been from solitary workouts to training with others. I got to thinking about this because Anita is back after a year in the UK! And we are running together Sunday. And Morgan who we used to run with but moved to Ottawa is joining us (just this once; she’s visiting). And Julie who we used to run with a lot but who has been sidelined from doing more than short distances for months is going to jump in for 5K of our 14K outing.

And then we’re all going for brunch. And I get a warm feeling just thinking about it because I really, really, really, really, really missed the Sunday routine. I didn’t even realize how much until we threw the plans together this morning!

I’ve done a lot of stuff on my own this past year. And I’ve stuck with it, partly through virtual mutual support with Anita, partly through Linda’s mentoring and coaching, and partly out of self-awareness (knowing that training is one of the pillars of my routine, and my routines keep me grounded).

But despite being an introvert who values alone time, I also love being a part of supportive communities. Most things are easier and more fun when done with others.

I reflect, for example, on how enjoyable it was to write the book with Sam. We look back and it wasn’t even what we would call work. Yes, we had to put in some effort, but the overall feeling when I think back on those times is how relaxing and enjoyable it was. And yet writers often regard writing as a daunting task. Writer’s block plagues the best of us.

Training can be similar. Sometimes, a long run feels like an impossible challenge (in prospect). But when I know I’m going out with friends it’s that much easier. It’s even something to look forward to. The longer the better (within reason) because more time to socialize!

My theme this week has been about helpful suggestions for people starting out or who might be in a slump. I talked about starting small. And that’s for sure. But finding others who you can train with is similarly smart. It’s motivating to have a meeting time where not showing up means you’d not be following through on a commitment. It’s easier to complete the tough bits with other people who are suffering through the same challenge.

And it’s gratifying to find groups of people who care enough about the activities we do to talk about them. Non-runners, for example, don’t really care that much (or appreciate what it means even) about intervals and paces and race times and the humidity that day when you had those repeats to do! But fellow enthusiasts will haul out their own stories. Over brunch. What fun!

I’ve also found great support and energy in the wider community that has sprung up around the blog. Sam and I often marvel at what has organically (well, Sam has worked hard at keeping many means of connecting with Fit Is a Feminist Issue going — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram — and managing the schedule, the guests, and maintaining a sense of community among the blog regulars as well) developed beyond what we ever expected when we set out to blog about our Fittest by 50 Challenge almost six years ago.

All this is to say that community holds us up. Yes, there are times where it has to be done alone. No one will climb that hill for you when you’re on your bike and struggling. No one can finish that marathon for you when you’re barely managing to put one foot in front of the other. And no one can push out those last two reps of the set but you. But even in those times, community can get you further. Maybe a more experienced or stronger cyclist will let you draft. Or a friend will join you for that last 5K and run in with you. Or your buddy who is spotting you on the set will utter a well-timed, “you got this!”

And in all cases, when there are people around you, you can share the achievement at the end–either in person or virtually.

When I consider now the importance of place my various communities have in my life, it’s tough to imagine how I got along without them.

How important (and in what way) is community to you in your fitness activities and sport?



Best advice ever (in Tracy’s world): start small

Image description: cork board with a crumpled blue post-it note in the lower left corner and a green note on top of a yellow note with a red pushpin in it. In block letters and underlined on the top note: START SMALL.
Image description: cork board with a crumpled blue post-it note in the lower left corner and a green note on top of a yellow note with a red pushpin in it. In block letters and underlined on the top note: START SMALL.

With all the book promo we’ve been doing, one of the most popular questions people ask Sam and me in interviews is “what advice do you have for someone who is just starting out on their fitness journey?” This is a great question because, as we hope is the case, a lot of people who haven’t got a routine going or perhaps who have never considered it until a milestone decade birthday (like 50!) started to loom on horizon, might feel the nudge and not know where to begin.

We have a couple of go-to pieces of advice that we have been giving. For reasons she has explained, Sam is not keen on saying “it’s never too late” anymore and she’s also given up on “if you don’t love it, don’t do it” as a piece of general advice (because: physio!).

I’m still keen on both of those. I fully agree that it might sometimes be too late for some things, but it’s rarely too late for all things. Yes, a day may come, but when that day comes for a person, it’s unlikely that they’ll be reaching for our book or any book remotely like it. And I agree with Sam that there may be some exercises that we need to do even if they’re not fun, and that not all aspects of all activity are always fun (like, intervals are great and all, but fun? I’m not so sure that’s the best description). But I still hold to the view that if you don’t love running, for example, try something else that you might like better.

Nevertheless, though I’ve said these things on TV and in our book and on the radio and on podcasts in and print media and on the blog, they’re not actually my favourite suggestions.

By far my favourite advice for anyone who wants to get started is: start small. We humans tend to like the BIG PLAN. One reason I used to hate running is that when I first tried it in my twenties, I started with five miles. That’s far for someone who has never run before.

When I resumed running over 25 years later, in my late forties, I started smaller than that. I ran to the corner, then walked. Then I ran another block. Then walked some more. Over time, I changed the ratio of running to walking, running for longer, walking for shorter. I may not be the fastest, but on the run-walk plan, I can go pretty far (like marathon far, or even more but I’ve never tested the more).  Lately, I’m trying something new, which is to run continuously with no walk breaks, for 10K.

But I didn’t start with that. And neither should you if you’ve never run. And if I fall off of my training, I go back to small efforts: 20 minutes. 3K. No time goals. That sort of thing. Because it doesn’t need to be a big overwhelming deal. The bigger goals (and bigger workouts) can come later.

That’s just one example. If you’re learning to downhill ski, start on the bunny hill. Eventually, if you keep at it, you will be able to manage the double black diamond hills if that’s a goal. If you’re learning to skate, you’re not going to do a triple lutz the first time you hit the ice. If you’ve never been to the gym before, an hour might seem daunting but ten minutes might seem totally do-able.

I’ve always been a big advocate of starting small and doing less than we think we should. Way back at the beginning of the blog, I posted about doing less and it’s been a theme I return to a lot. That original post is still one of my favourites because it’s gentle and humane, and we could all use a bit of that in our lives.

Later today I’m going to be on the Canadian TV show The Social (it’s on CTV at 1 p.m. and my segment is at 1:40 p.m. Eastern Time and I’m a little bit nervous because Sam isn’t going to be there with me).  And guess what, they’re probably going to ask me some variation on “what’s one piece of advice…?” And you know what I’m going to say (if I don’t get all flustered!)? Yep.

What is your favourite advice for friends who ask where to start?


Are your vacations also vacations from working out?

Image description: 3 pic collage with a sailboat in a foggy harbour at the top; underneath a pic of Tracy’s shoe and shadow on a beach on the left and a beach and pier with boats of various sizes, blue skies and clouds on the left.
Image description: 3 pic collage with a sailboat in a foggy harbour at the top; underneath a pic of Tracy’s shoe and shadow on a beach on the left and a beach and pier with boats of various sizes, blue skies and clouds on the left.

Yesterday on Instagram I posted some photos from my morning run in Newport, Rhode Island, where I’m aboard our sailboat in the harbor for the week. I wrote “training doesn’t stop when I’m on vacation, right?” Followed by my usual favourite training hashtags this summer “#10Ktraining #fitatmidlife #fitisafeministissue” and this week’s “#newportri”.

There are two schools of thought about vacations. My caption captured the first–a vacation is not a vacation from training. A Facebook friend expressed the other really clearly in response to my post: “Then it’s not a vacation.”

I’ve had vacations where my training stopped for various logistical reasons, rarely by choice. I have always come back feeling off track and have difficulty sometimes getting back on routine. My activity may vary when I’m on vacation, but mostly I like to keep up some version of what I usually do: running, resistance training, yoga. I feel better all around when I do that. And have a better experience of re-entry when I get home.

But the other school of thought — a vacation is meant to be a break from routine, and that includes workouts and training routines — is compelling in its way. It must be especially attractive to people who see workouts and training as obligations that aren’t really an enjoyable part of life. Then, of course, it makes sense we would want to take a break. Feel refreshed. Just do the fun things. That’s what a vacation is all about.

I get that but since I’ve started incorporating activity into my life in a way I enjoy, I feel deprived when I don’t get to do the things. Unless I’m actually recovering from a huge event and needing to take time out as part of my training plan (which normally means active recovery and not inactivity), I feel more deprived if you don’t get to do any workouts while I’m traveling.

Does your idea of a vacation include a vacation from training?