fitness · motivation

“Just tell me what to do!”

Sometimes (actually most times) I am a big fan of doing what I want, not what I’m told to do. This extends to workouts, where I typically advocate choice, various degrees of challenge-options built in to the workout (like, if you want to challenge yourself, do this; if you want to take it easier, do this, etc.), and going at my own pace. Way back at the beginning of the blog I posted about doing less.

But other days I want to be told what to do and to feel as if I have to. That’s why I like coaches. This occurred to me during a workout with Alex last week (see Cate’s post about Alex), where they said we could do it or not do, depending how I felt. I actually didn’t feel like doing the thing they were telling us to do, but I also didn’t feel like being given the option of not doing it. That day, I was of the mind that if I didn’t want to do it I wouldn’t have signed up for the class.

As an advocate of doing less and setting the bar low that reaction of mine surprised me. But what it revealed to me is this: some days I want to push myself and without someone else calling the shots I would NOT push myself. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. Indeed, it’s probably one of the reasons many of us do classes or hire trainers or coaches—without them we would do less when we in fact want to do more. But we need that extra little push.

I’m not here advocating doing something we really don’t want to do. I’m saying that even the things we (or perhaps I should stick to “I”) do want to do in some sense can be tough to stick with in the moment when it feels hard. Writing is like this for me sometimes (though mostly I do not have a coach for that. But in the past I have worked one-on-one and in small groups with the amazing The Publication Coach, Daphne Gray-Grant). Working out can be like that too.

Undoubtedly it’s not news that we might sometimes need others to motivate us. This can be a coach, trainer or instructor. Or it can be friends or a group or what have you. Working out alone is sometimes great. I love my solo runs for example. But working out with others often for me leads to more effort. (And it’s always more fun.) And on the days where I go in wanting to put in that effort, I prefer not to be given the option of not doing it.

That’s not to say I want to be shamed into doing it (military style) or unreasonably pressured beyond my ability (like Cate described of a yoga class she attended recently where the instructor offered no variations). It’s only to say that sometimes I like having someone else telling me what to do even if it isn’t super fun. It feels good to meet the challenge.

Alex’s classes are great for that. And they motivate even though we are given lots of choices and reassured that we can even tap out if that’s what we need. They motivate because of their extremely high energy. It’s hard not to want to push a little harder when the instructor is super jazzed about what they’ve programmed that day.

Do you prefer to do what you want to do or to be told what to do or does it depend on the day?

fall · fitness · fun · race report · running

Tracy’s first running event since 2019!

After more than three years of not doing anything “official,” I signed up for a 5K and ran it last weekend. And it was a blast. A few of my running group did it too. None of us went in with big dreams and all of us had a fun time.

Image description: Six runners, arms linked, some with race bibs, five wearing medals around their necks, smiling, start line and fall foliage in the background.

Considering that my last event was the Around the Bay 30K back in 2019 (see my overly optimistic report of that ill-fated day here — it was ill-fated because the next day I had a back injury and shortly after that I had achilles issues and basically I didn’t run much again for about nine months), the 5K felt like an odd choice. Not because there is anything wrong with 5K, but because it isn’t a distance that I needed to train for since I run more than that regularly (our Sunday minimum is usually around 7.5 and we often do more than that). I’ve never done an event that I haven’t had to train for.

I also had difficulty deciding what my goal should be. I really haven’t gotten back on track with any regular routine since the ATB in 2019, and when I go out I go out for fun, not for fast results. So I decided that my goal would be to come in under 40 minutes. That might seem like an unchallenging goal to some, but I wanted something that I could actually meet. Indeed, a friend who hasn’t run since she was in her thirties literally laughed at me when I stated that goal, as if it was ridiculously easy.

On race day I felt good. It was a gorgeous autumn day and we met just over 1K from the start line and ran there as a little warm-up. Unlike events in the past, I didn’t need to concern myself with whether I could make the distance. I decided I would stick to my usual 10-1 intervals that I do every Sunday.

In the end, most of my group broke away from me within the first 500m, with one falling into place a little bit behind. I didn’t end up wanting to walk for the one-minute walking intervals, and I was pacing reasonably well all things considered. My chip-time was 35:19 and I felt strong–only mildly regretting that I hadn’t pushed just a little bit harder to come in under 35 minutes. In any case, it gave me a new goal for my sixtieth birthday, which is to try to shave a few minutes off of my 5K time and perhaps even complete it in 30:00. It was also a fun time for the group, all of whom were smiling at the end, as you can see in our photo.

If there is a moral to this story, it’s that going back to something I used to do, and keeping my expectations very low, can actually feel really good. Have you returned to something that you’d set aside? If so, I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments.

fitness · traveling

Guaranteed fun: Irish dance class in Galway

Image description: a group of women and men posing for a photo outside with water in behind them. Siobhan the dance teacher is in the middle front. The others are my photography tour group and I (the subset who did the Irish dance class).

I just got back from a long-awaited photography tour of Ireland for a couple of weeks and there were so many memorable moments with new friends and beautiful places.

But one stand-out experience that delivered an unexpected blast of sheer joy for all concerned was an Irish dance class in Galway, taught by Siobhan, who used to tour in the US with Riverdance. Her company is called Irish Dance Experience and one member of our small tour group booked it in advance. I signed up on a lark, not having met any of my tour group in person yet and not having a particular interest in Irish dance and not being an especially skilled dancer (though I enjoy dancing nonetheless).

By the time we got to Galway we had been on the photography tour for more than a week, so everyone knew and was comfortable with everyone else. That made a difference because despite Siobhan being an incredibly good teacher and despite us becoming better in just over an hour than we ever thought possible, we were all really going out on a ridiculous limb! We looked hilarious. But we rocked the dance with brooms and did a badass Riverdance finale. (you’ll have to take my word for it)

Anyway, we had an absolute blast and here is Siobhan’s Instagram post about our group:

That’s me in the blue t-shirt swinging with Joey from Texas. The entire group was smiling and laughing almost the whole time. The only other facial expression was perhaps intense concentration (Irish dancing requires counting and coordination). Siobhan said we did great.

There is more video, and watching it makes me laugh every time. But we made a pact that it would never be distributed for public consumption. I’m keeping up my end of the pact.

If you’re ever in Galway I recommend her class. So much fun.

P.s. Galway restaurant recommendation for anyone who appreciates the combination of Michelin stars and lack of pretension. Incredible food including outstanding vegan options. Ard Bia at Nimos: http://www.ardbia.com/

covid19 · fitness · self care · yoga

Tracy goes back to hot yoga

Image description: Ohm symbol commonly associated with yoga.

Long time blog readers will know that I absolutely adore hot yoga. I cannot explain why yoga in a hot room feels so much more satisfying to me than yoga at room temperature, but it does. And so it was a huge sacrifice when I felt the need mid-pandemic to take a stand and leave the hot yoga studio that I’ve been a dedicated member of for over a decade. At the time, I felt that they were making decisions concerning COVID that put their yoga community at risk and violated legal requirements that had been put in place based on recommendations from Ontario’s science table. I wrote about my decision here.

Well I’m happy to say that after more than ten months, I am back at hot yoga at the same studio. I don’t regret taking the position I did last October. Back in October I said, “I don’t know if I’ll go back or if they’ll have me back.” But now I feel that one of the things I’ve learned over the course of the pandemic is that I value relationships that I have built over time and I do not take them for granted. I may have disagreed, even strongly disagreed, with the official position of the yoga studio. But I am not willing to let their position on a temporary situation have permanent consequences for my well-being. To do so would have been a case of cutting off my nose to spite my face.

I have been feeling the itch to go back for some time now. So when I got a notice that they were offering a deal on ten-class passes, I purchased a couple. My goal is to incorporate it back into my life slowly, starting with a class a week. Last week when I went to my first class since October I consciously chose to go with one my favourite instructor. I got there early enough to take up my preferred spot near, but not right in, the hot front corner, and lie in savasana for a few minutes before we started. It was a yang-yin class, which meant it was only vigorous for half an hour, then completely and deliciously stretchy and slow for a half an hour. It felt so right to be back in the hot studio.

I know many of us had to switch up our routines during the pandemic, and some of those routines are permanently altered. But I’ve talked to lots of people who have been extremely eager to get back to their gyms and yoga studios and what have you.

Did you experience any big interruptions or changes in your fitness routines over the past couple of years? Have you gone back to anything that was put on hiatus? If you have, I’d love to hear in the comments about how it felt to go back.

fitness

(Why) is it relevant that the world’s fastest woman is a “mom”?

Image description: Shelley-Ann Fraser-Pryce, a black woman with long blond, green, and yellow hair, smiling on a running track, a gold medal around her neck, holding a Jamaican flag, spectator stands in the background. Image credit CTV News: https://www.ctvnews.ca/sports/shelly-ann-fraser-pryce-wins-record-fifth-100m-world-title-as-jamaica-sweeps-podium-1.5993234

Shelley-Ann Fraser-Pryce is the world’s fastest woman. A widely circulated article reports: “Running out of Lane 6, Fraser-Pryce led all the way on a gorgeous, 74-degree night in Oregon and crossed the line in 10.67 seconds.” Said article appears in both the Toronto Star and HuffPost, and in both it refers to Fraser-Pryce as “Jamaica’s favorite 35-year-old mom — the country’s most-celebrated 100-meter runner this side of Usain Bolt.” But the HuffPost thought her mom-status was headline-worthy: “Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, 35-Year-Old Mom, Is The World’s Fastest Woman — Again.”

The day of this news release, Sam posted the HuffPost article on the blog’s Facebook page with the question, “how do we feel about ‘mom’ being the thing in the headline?” How do we react to this feature of the world’s fastest woman being considered relevant to her athletic achievement? Is her achievement more profound as a result of her being a “mom”? Predictably, there is diverse opinion on this question.

Some people pointed out that giving birth is taxing on the body and requires a break from training, and so it is impressive indeed to achieve this record-breaking title after becoming a mom. Others commented that not all moms have given birth, and that the social meaning of mom or mother that really carries its weight in the headline is more complex. They suggest that it is impressive not as much for the physical demands of giving birth, but for the caretaking demands associated with motherhood coupled with the assumption that once you’re a mom you do not have time for other things. Finding time for other things is a feat in itself. For these sorts of reasons, some women identified with the mom-status and found it inspiring.

But lots of people expressed annoyance and irritation, thinking the reference to her maternal status is simply beside the point. More than one person commented that Usain Bolt’s status as a dad is not brought into the discussion of his athletic accomplishments and success, suggesting a key difference in the social identity of and expectations placed upon women who are mothers. Fraser-Pryce herself considers it an important part of her identity, and indeed is quoted in the article as saying her win is “a victory for motherhood.”

I myself had an initial negative reaction. My response to Sam’s question was: “It’s irrelevant and weird to mention that she’s a ‘mom.’ How is it any more relevant than if she’s a wife, accountant or doctor? The whole idea of the social role of ‘mom,’ with its many layers of often-oppressive meanings, as some sort of thing that makes her athletic achievement more profound than a woman who is not a mom is bizarre and problematic.”

But as I reflected further, my negative reaction was less about it being irrelevant, and more that it suggests something deeply troubling about our expectations of mothers (and not fathers) when we are extra-impressed that they ever achieve anything beyond mothering. I have seen this in my workplace, which is a fairly progressive setting in relative terms, where people still ask successful women with children how they have managed but NEVER ask the successful men with children how they have managed. There are powerful social meanings, assumptions, and expectations at play in the stark difference in how we consider women’s parental status as opposed to men’s in relation to their success in their careers. For women, it is an obstacle to be overcome, and career success alongside “motherhood” is heroic. This, I think, is what was working in the background when the HuffPost considered her mom-status important enough to be included in the headline.

The report in the New York Times does not emphasize Fraser-Pryce’s maternal status in reporting on her performance. But they do note more generally that her impressive world title count of five of the last seven 100m world title championships, approximated only by Jamaican compatriot Usain Bolt (whose paternal credentials are never reported) with three titles at that distance, “might have been greater, but she gave birth just after the 2017 world championships to her son, Zyon, in an emergency cesarean section.” In other words, she may have won more titles if she had competed in the years she was on maternity leave from her sport.

What do you think about referencing someone’s mom-status when reporting their athletic achievements?

fitness · running

Trying new things: Trail Running

With less travel these days, I decided to take a fresh look at what London, Ontario has to offer. I landed on a city-run trail running program and a basic skill Stand-up paddleboard (SUP) class, both of which I’m doing with Anita. Today I’ll take about the trail running.

The trail running program is a Learn to Run Trails (5K) every Wednesday for eight weeks. At $55 you can’t really go wrong even if you’re going to miss one or two of the outings. It’s listed as an outdoor/nature program, and part of the objective is not just to learn to run trails but also to discover and learn about our city’s trails, which are designated as Environmentally Significant Areas (ESAs). In the service of that, the city sends us an info sheet on each week’s trail. It’s a five-page PDF that describes it and talks about the ecosystem and wildlife in the area and what makes it environmentally significant. This week we ran in Kilally, and this is the first page of the info flyer.

Image description: info sheet on Kilally Meadows Environmentally Significant Area. includes a photo of the area and a description of its location and main features.

We had our first day out two Wednesdays ago on the literal hottest day so far this season, where it was in the high 30s C with a humidex of 43 degrees C. If it wasn’t the first night of a new program there is no way I’d have gone running at 6:30 pm that evening.

But at least 25 of us, mostly women, gathered at Westminster Ponds for a 4.5K in a shaded quite technical trail (I think that mostly means lots of roots, mud, winding parts, and ups and downs). Three of the four coaches were there, and they assured us that no one would be left behind or forced to push their pace. There was a coach up front, leading, one in the middle who sort of went back and forth keeping track of people, and one at the rear of the group making sure no one was falling behind.

We started off easy, with lots of pauses and walking (especially walking around the mud). The shade of the trees made it quite a bit cooler, but even so it was a tough running day and I immediately wished I’d brought two waters instead of one. The trail had quite a few muddy bits, and at the first one I realized I’d forgotten to wear my trail running shoes and instead wore my regular shoes for running on pavement. I will not be making that mistake again.

I mostly ran in the middle of the pack, sometimes falling back because I took more frequent walk breaks than some. It was uncomfortably hot and I was feeling it, and we hadn’t settled on any prescribed intervals (like this week’s 3-1s). We did a 2K loop and I was under the mistaken impression that because of the heat and it being day one, that’s all we were going to do. But when we stopped to regroup at the end of it, Terry suggested that we do it again in the other direction “if that was okay with everyone.” He explained how taking a trail in the other direction is almost like doing a new trail. Everyone was so darn agreeable about doing a second loop. Maybe no one wanted to be the naysayer. Granted, 2K is a pretty short run. But OMG.

Many walk breaks later, and quite a few short spurts of “I can make it to that tree” and “I can make it to that bend” and “I can make it up this hill,” and we made it. In all we were out there for just under an hour, which makes it the longest 4.5K I’ve ever done, but also the hottest. And on a trail.

We gathered in the parking area after and the coaches explained that every trail is different, and that in trail running you can’t really compare your times from one trail to another. They’re all different, and you’re bound to run a trail more slowly than the same distance on a paved pathway. Even the same trail can be quite different on a different day or in a different direction. They also challenge us in different ways, using more muscles because whereas in road running you are consistent in the way your foot hits the ground and your stride and so on, in trail running that’s not the case. You need to go over or avoid roots, adjust to different conditions under foot, watch out for tree branches in your face or on the ground, and go around (or through) mud.

This week we did a much easier, flatter trail in Kilally Meadows. It wasn’t quite as shaded but it also was considerably cooler (still about 30 degrees but less humid). We divided into two distinct groups this week — the fast and the slow. I chose the slow group, which the lead coach Joelle called “party pace,” and we did 3-1 intervals (3 minutes of running, 1 minute of walking), covering about 3.5K in half an hour or so. It didn’t feel nearly as brutal as the previous week, and I was able to keep up with the pace and the intervals without any trouble. I might try the other group some time but I liked being able to enjoy the whole experience rather than feeling like I was pushing the pace just to keep up.

I had some concerns about it being buggy, and especially about ticks, which lots of people are talking about this year. I bought a special “tick key” that removes them without breaking them off. Lyme disease is a risk when you pull out a tick wrong. They burrow and it is easy to break them, releasing the toxin that carries the disease (that’s my lay understanding of it anyway). But the coaches also assured us that if we shower when we get home, we’d probably be fine because they are slow to move and the burrowing takes about 24 hours. That was reassuring. But I did do a quick tick check anyway. And I sprayed myself down with deep woods insect repellent.

Anita and I are out of the habit of taking pictures every time we go out, so I have no photo of either night, so I can’t prove that we were smiling but we were. Trail running is a great way to get out for a run, learn about the city’s trails, and discover new places to run when it’s hot and shade is welcome, or when you just want a change of scenery. I’m excited to discover the other trails in the area, and definitely want to add trail running to my roster of activities.

Have you ever done trail running?

beach body · body image · diversity · fitness · inclusiveness · normative bodies · objectification · sexism

Inclusive objectification anyone?

Image description: Four panels each depicting a 2022 Sports Illustrated cover from one of the four versions of the 2022 SI Swimsuit Issue, from right to left Kim Kardashian, Ciara, Maye Musk, and Yumi Nu. Image from https://swimsuit.si.com/swimnews/sports-illustrated-swimsuit-2022-cover-models-kim-kardashian-ciara-maye-musk-yumi-nu

Every time the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue makes the news, I am newly and naively amazed that it still exists at all. In 2017 it made the news because it included a 63 year-old Christie Brinkley in a red bikini. I got on my high horse about that here: “Because if Christie Brinkley can pull it off so can anyone, right?”

That same year everyone applauded SI for including Hunter McGrady, whose fulsome curves defied the usual Swimsuit Issue body-type. Her inclusion was celebrated as a “breath of fresh air,” and I wondered whether anything having to do with the SI swimsuit issue is really a breath of fresh air. I don’t really think so, even if Hunter McGrady claims to be doing this not just for herself, but “but for every woman out there who has ever felt uncomfortable in their body and who wants and needs to know that you are sexy.” The same issue also included Serena Williams, a world-class athlete, to “prove” (to whom?) that a woman can be both sexy and athletic.

So this year we have a kind of repeat of all those themes — you can be curvaceous or in your seventies or have an unexpected “background” (their code for race or for ethnicity) and still we want to objectify you as a sexual object in one of our most popular issues of the year!

The editor in chief of this issue, MJ Day, doesn’t put it quite like that of course. Day says:

“We all deserve the chance to evolve. So in this issue, we encourage readers to see these models as we see them: multifaceted, multitalented—and sexy while they’re at it. The world may label them one way, but we want to focus our lens on all the ways they see themselves and how they own who they are. No matter your age, whether you’re a new mom, partner, sister, entertainer, athlete, entrepreneur, advocate, student, mentor, role model, leader or dreamer—or all of the above—we want to celebrate these women, their evolution and the many dimensions of who they are.”

(from https://swimsuit.si.com/swimnews/sports-illustrated-swimsuit-2022-cover-models-kim-kardashian-ciara-maye-musk-yumi-nu)

But in the end, despite all of their many dimensions and talents, these women are just reduced to their sexy-factor. I should note that I am not opposed to sexiness. I and several of us from the blog have been open about our boudoir photo shoots. What gets me with the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is the context. This is a magazine historically designed by men for men. And its main purpose is to cover sports news. What, I ask, do women in swim suits have to do with sports news and for whom are they striking sexy poses? If they want to do it “for themselves” they can do a boudoir photo shoot.

Instead of celebrating the objectification of an ever more inclusive range of women, I can’t help but thinking a more positive step for women would be getting rid of the swimsuit issue altogether. I don’t know any women who would mind one bit, but I predict a huge outcry from the men who look forward to this issue and a subsequent loss of a sure-thing revenue item for Sports Illustrated. As long as we are willing to get on board with the objectification of women for an audience the vast majority of which is straight and male, to celebrate it as something empowering for women, and to congratulate it for “breaking barriers,” we are going to be stuck promoting that idea that women — all women — need to be sexy-to-men to be acceptable. Surely we can promote inclusion without having to piggy back on that relentless message about what makes women worthy.

fitness

Spinning in the water

Image description: five spin bikes in a clear pool with a beach scene in the background. no people. Photo credit: Diane Jeske

I just got back from a few days of actual vacation in Cancun. On the first day, after settling in at the beach under some shade to read, my longtime friend and travel companion, Diane said she was going to go check out the spin class that was about to start in the pool. Yes, that’s “in” and not “by” the pool.

Not one to pass up an opportunity to try something new, especially when it is an unthreatening as a 30-minute spin class in an infinity pool beside a beach, I wandered up there with her.

The bikes look like spin bikes but they’re submerged. You can adjust the seat height up and down and the handles forward and back, depending how close you want them. The handles have two positions you can take: regular and sort of aerobar-style. There is a thing you can turn to adjust the tension from easiest to hardest. Of course you don’t wear bikes shoes that clip in. You slide your bare feet into a wide fabric strap that is supposed to keep them on the pedal and mostly does, but you can’t get the same solid up motion as you do when clipped in.

I’m not a regular spinner and I actually found the warm-up pretty exerting. When it was supposed to get harder by increasing the tension, I didn’t adjust mine much (which reminded me that one of the things I liked about the few spin classes I’ve done is that you can set your own difficulty level and it’s no one’s business but yours).

I’m not sure whether the bikes just weren’t very good or if spinning in the water is just not the activity for me. But I just couldn’t get a good rhythm going. The pedal stroke always stopped at the bottom. And so instead of a smooth cadence it made for a jerky and frustrating ride. This happened to Diane too.

For the novelty of it — spinning in an infinity pool overlooking the beach and Caribbean Sea in Cancun on a gorgeous day — I give it full points. But as an activity, let’s just say neither of us did it again. The next day we tried an aqua fit class. The day after that we floated around in the pool and did nothing. And the day after that we played in the waves until a lifeguard told us the red flag meant “no swimming allowed” and not “be careful” (it was ridiculous that no swimming was allowed that day. The sea was perfect).

As far as spinning in the pool goes, though I’m not likely to do it again, I feel fortunate and privileged indeed to have been able to try it in Cancun.

yoga

Not too late to start Yoga with Adriene’s January MOVE practice #YWA

Image description: photo of a dark-haired woman (Adriene) doing a reclining yoga pose on a mat on a hardwood floor, with a dog sleeping beside her (Benji), and a large window, trees and a portion of a handrail through the window.

I’m pretty late to the Yoga with Adriene party. After years of hearing about her from lots of different friends, I finally checked out her YouTube channel, replete with hundreds if not more practices of various lengths and various themes and focuses. January 2019 was the first time I did one of her 30-day “yoga journeys,” where she posts new content every day for thirty days. I loved it and am a convert. What a great way to start the year. I have found that the commitment really keeps me grounded in January. Adriene’s attitude is always welcoming and makes me feel good even on not great days. And both times I’ve done it I have found the final session, towards which the month builds, to be an emotionally powerful experience.

Yesterday (January 2) was Day One of the 2022 version: MOVE. It isn’t too late to jump in. If you’d like to do so, you can sign up here. The videos all stream on YouTube, so they are really easy to access.

And if you’d like to see the schedule, here you go!

Image description: 30-day calendar with six columns and five rows, each square stating a day (e.g. Day 1, Day 2..), a theme (e.g. HERE, OPEN…), and a length of time in minutes.

I started today and I loved the “HERE” practice for Day One. If you decide to join this year, I wish you all the best with it.

Tracy