Feminist reflections on fitness, sport, and health
Author: Tracy I
Writer, feminist, vegan, runner, sailor, philosopher, yogi, sometimes knitter, co-founder of Fit Is a Feminist Issue, co-author of Fit at Mid-Life: A Feminist Fitness Journey (launching in April 2018, published by Greystone Books)..
Yesterday Cate mentioned that she’s been running “free” this week, meaning without gadgets. She’s just been running and getting into the moment of each run. Since I’ve been off running since the beginning of the month with that back injury (getting better!), I’ve of course started to think about how I might ease back into it when I’m ready, and gadget-free running is at the top of my list (along with very easy, very short and gentle forays outside, like way less than feels like a “workout.” So I dug into the archives for this #tbt abot running without gadgets.
We live in an era of gadgets and devices. On cold or rainy mornings when I take the bus to campus instead of walking or riding my bike, at least 50% of the other passengers are texting or checking Facebook, listening to music, doing something with their smart phones.
My latest gadget is my Garmin Forerunner 310XT GPS watch. When I’m out running, it tells me when to walk, when to run, what my pace is, how far I’ve traveled, how much time has elapsed. If I’m wearing the heart rate monitor, it reports my heart rate too.
When I get back, it shares the information with my Garmin connect account. I can see the map of my route and it tells me the distance. It lets me compare that with my performance on previous runs.
One night I got twitchy and irritated because I made the mistake of telling…
Last week I published about my back troubles that ensued a few days after Anita and I ran the Around the Bay 30K. Lots of people jumped in with sympathy, empathy, encouragement and suggestions. Thank you!
The best suggestion came from Susan and others who recommended I try an osteopath. I know some people have had good results with chiropractors, but I’m deathly afraid of the idea of a snap adjustment. And I was in so much pain there was just no way. So a week after the race I contacted an osteopath who a friend had recommended for my neck issues but I’d never gotten around to calling.
I knew Grace from yoga way back when I did Iyengar yoga and she was in my class. She used to be a nurse and she also taught Iyengar yoga, which is very precise. So o felt confident she had the right knowledge base that I could trust her with my back. By the time I went to see her a week ago, I was in excruciating pain by the end of every day. It usually felt a bit better in the mornings after I’d been lying down for the night. And then ramped up throughout the day until by the evenings it had me weeping and almost unable to move.
Grace got me at the end of the day and could see that I was moving in a hesitant manner by then. Hesitant in that way you move when a possible wrong move will result in searing pain that makes the legs go weak.
She had me stand and then slowly walk so she could size me up. Then she got me on her table…very carefully. And started doing very general manipulations of my body (the best being traction, when she pulled ever so lightly on my feet, which immediately released my back). I told Grace I’d been doing back exercises and stretching and yoga and had gone for a deep tissue massage. And in her view, those were all the wrong things, explaining why it was getting worse not better.
What was the right thing? Rest. Total rest. She showed me two lying down resting postures for releasing my back. They both gave me wonderful relief. She showed me how to get into and out of a lying down position without putting strain on my lower back. She recommended I not sit for more than 15 minutes at a time. If possible, she said, take a day or two off of work.
Things were kind of urgent because I was flying less than a week later (Sunday) for a short trip and then a week after that to China for work. When I saw Grace, the idea of sitting on a plane for any length of time seemed impossible.
So though I couldn’t take a day off until Friday, I did go into hyper rest mode as much as possible, lying on the floor with my legs up on a chair or in “constructive rest” with a heating pad and bolster on my lower abdomen to release the entire area and hopefully reduce the inflammation in my back. Grace suspected the inflammation was pushing up against a nerve and that’s why it hurt so much and get worse as the compression of the day’s sitting took hold.
Friday I went to see the nurse practitioner at my family doctor’s clinic. By then, after following Grace’s instructions for a couple of days I felt way better than I had. Thursday, hardly sitting (I even chaired a meeting at work standing up), I didn’t experience a single spasm. I told the nurse everything I was doing and she said “perfect!” So that was reassuring. Then I saw Grace one more time and she tweaked a few things and off I went. By Saturday I was feeling confident I could fly. Sunday came… no problem on my three and a half hour flight to the Bahamas.
I write this on Monday, a day (with Anita) mixed with work, walking on the beach, swimming, constructive rest, and measured amounts of sitting. I’ve had quite a bit of work reading to do, and I have done most of it in a reclining position on my bed, legs bent at the knees. China doesn’t seem impossible anymore.
And I’m a total convert to osteopathy after one round of appointments. Thanks, Grace!
As I write this I am in bed with a cold pack on my right lower back and just got a text message from a friend who used to be a nurse. It said, “do you think maybe you should see your doctor? It’s not getting better over time?” She was talking about my lower back.
Ever since a couple of days after my Around the Bay 30K two Sundays ago I’ve had almost no sustained relief from a pain in my lower back unless I’m lying down. And even then, to get into a lying down position is a slow and careful process that sometimes leaves me weeping. Getting up from it (or from a chair, or into / out of the car) is similarly difficult.
If I move wrong when sitting, standing, or lying down, I get a searing pain and my back and leg go weak, such that it feels as if they are about to give way. Needless to say, I have not run since Around the Bay. I also cancelled my personal training last week. I made it to one actual yoga class, and it felt good, but again I had to scale to my capacity, which meant forward bends and anything that involved getting up or lowering myself down required a modified approach.
I asked Sam whether I should blog about this because I was so pumped after Around the Bay and felt so strong in every way possible, that this back situation feels like an enormous disappointment. Quite the come down, actually. Sam said it’s real and an okay thing to blog about.
Damn right it’s real. I don’t think I’ve experienced physical pain this real in years. The kind that makes me cry. I’ve got great pain tolerance. I didn’t even cry when the dentist drilled into a raw unfrozen nerve during a root canal.
But I tend to be a bit private about pain. Not that I don’t share setbacks and difficulties with my friends. And not that I never blog about challenging times. And not that the people I work with aren’t aware of my delicate back situation this week (because otherwise they would be wondering why I’m walking so slowly and wincing from time to time for no apparent reason). I’m not one to suffer in silence. But it would never occur to me to tell my Facebook friends that I am in excruciating back pain this week. So blogging about it is a bit uncomfortable.
Truth be told, I’m not “rolling with it” particularly well. I mean, I thought and expected that it would resolve in time for me to go for an easy run on Sunday morning. But that was not realistic. I probably shouldn’t have walked home from work on Wednesday. And now, I just can’t even imagine running or walking any distance, or going to the weight room, or even doing a yoga class without taking it super slow and easy.
I’m seeing an osteopath after work today and I went for a massage focusing on that part of my back at the end of the day yesterday. And yes, I’m lying on an ice pack right now and I think I will pop a couple of ibuprofen caplets. I hope, as Susan said, that the osteopath will “gently wiggle” me “back to health.”
Meanwhile, I think this has helped me decide that perhaps, as much as I love running, distances like 30K are too taxing on my 54-year old body. When I do get back to running, I’m sticking with a 10K max for awhile (until Anita talks me into another half marathon or something).
How well do you cope with injuries that interfere with what you’d ideally like to be doing?
Yesterday Sam wrote a serious post about how most of her exercise these days is not fun. And she’s doing it anyway. I felt profound relief when she got to the part where she said she can still ride a bicycle (the thing that most makes her go “wheeee!”) and lift weights.
It made me reflect a bit on my own activities and how my definition of “fun” has changed from “fun” to “challenging with a bit of fun thrown in.” In honor of spring, I thought I’d repost something from my swimming days about doing these that make us feel like kids again. Lately for me that hasn’t been swimming (not fitting into my plans these days), but rather colouring books (the ones for adults) and photography (SO much fun). But even those don’t quite reach the fun level of the little swim sprint races I describe in this post.
The other morning at the end of a 6 a.m. training session in the pool, the coach told us to swim down to the flags about 3/4 of the way to the other side of the 25m pool. The point: to do group sprints from there back to the end of the pool, about 20m.
When the four of us in my lane got to the flags, we treaded water waiting for her countdown. Three, two, one…GO. When you’re used to pushing off from the pool wall, starting up from treading water feels odd. The first few strokes almost don’t take at all.
But you know what I learned as I powered out of the deep end and made my way to the end of the pool as fast as I could, lane-mates doing the same alongside me? I’m not bad at it. I gained momentum after a couple of…
Sunday was the Around the Bay 30K in Hamilton, Ontario. It’s a road race famous for a hilly final 10K, unpredictable weather conditions, and, as it’s slogan reminds us, for being “Older than Boston.” Anita and I have been prepping for this all winter, though we followed different training plans.
I adjusted my distance training for intensity after I got back from India. I blogged that I was nervous about that approach, but I stuck with it anyway, trusting my coach, Linda. Anita stuck with the distance plan, doing super long Sunday runs up to 28K. We went to Hamilton the day before so we could pick up our race kits and take it easy (hotel with a hot tub!). We met up with Helia, another friend who was doing the 30K with us.
Both Anita and I were surprisingly relaxed about the event. I didn’t feel a single bit of nerves or fear that I wouldn’t be able to do it. Anita’s goal was just to finish. Helia wanted to finish “without dying.” I was a bit more ambitious, wanting to beat my previous time (from 2014) by almost 10 minutes to come in at 3:30 instead of 3:40-ish.
The weather forecast kept changing–going from 6 degrees C down to a high of 2C by the night before, and when we woke up it had snowed overnight. As we walked to the race start (about 2K from our hotel), I predicted that the person with the most optimistic attitude (me!) would probably end up either complaining first (in fact, none of us ever complained) or falling behind (which I did).
It’s one of those races with a big buzz at the start line because there are something like 30,000 people gathering to do a thing that is one of those bonding experiences.
My strategy for any race is to divide it up into sections. For a 30K the most obvious division is into 3 10Ks. The course literally does go Around the Bay for 30K, taking us out of the city into the industrial areas that remind you that yes, Hamilton is a steel town, along the highway, through middle class then super wealthy residential neighborhoods, up a mean hill, then back past the start and into the First Ontario Centre Arena where the finish line awaits. Because it goes around the bay, the wind changes quite a bit, and it can get kind of chilly at times.
But despite waking up to snow, the roads were dry the full distance of the course and though it might have been cold at times without my running jacket, the jacket was just enough to keep me from getting cold in the wind. It’s always a relief to have dressed “just right.”
So, back to the 3x10K idea. Really, the first 10K was over before we knew it. I ran along at a comfortable pace, mostly with Anita and Helia, who were quite chatty for that first 10K. I try not to talk too much because it takes my energy away. But I ran just a few feet ahead of them and listened to their conversation for quite a few kilometres. A couple of times Angie, the clinic leader from my first Running Room Around the Bay Clinic in 2014, caught up to us and ran along for a bit until she stopped to take a photo. (her strategy was to have as much fun as possible). Then she would catch up again, run ahead, and we’d pass her taking more photos along the course.
Things got quieter at about the 15K mark, but we still kept up what felt like a reasonable pace. I didn’t have my Garmin with me, but I hit start on the chrono feature of my Timex, so if I wanted to, I could check how long we had been out. I mostly didn’t check. At about 20K, we entered some swishy residential neighbourhood, and that’s when the rolling hills started. They’re really not so bad, especially after the majority of the previous 20K being flat, and for every up you get a down to catch your breath. I stuck to my training plan of not walking up the hills even if it meant taking it to a slow jog.
It all felt good up to about 25K. Just before that point, Helia, who is a bit younger and a bit faster than us, finally decided to break away (I was encouraging her to do it sooner but she worried that if she turned on the turbo too early the hills might defeat her). At about 25k, there is a gradual up hill on a major road. It’s long, but not steep. It was there where my legs started to tighten up and I told Anita to leave me. I knew I had to stop and stretch it out because my quads felt as if they were going to seize right up at any second. It was a new feeling for me and I didn’t want to leave it unaddressed or make Anita lose her momentum on my account.
After stretching, I made it to the top of that hill without walking. Everyone always talks about the final hill in Around the Bay as the killer. The last time I did ATB. road construction changed the route and took that hill out. So I had not experienced it before. When I got to it, I didn’t realize I was there yet. I saw Anita up ahead, walking, so I gunned it (in relative terms!) to catch up, but as soon as I got there she was about to start running again, and I was having those “quads-about-to-seize-up” feelings in my legs again. So we said hello-good-bye. Anita disappeared up the hill and into the tunnel. I stopped and stretched again. And I basically had to give up my running up the hill thing at that point. I walked to the top. Maybe it was on account of being dehydrated, I thought. So I took some water. Or maybe I needed food. So I popped a chew.
The last 3-4 K are bit of a blur. I passed the Grim Reaper at the graveyard just near the 3K aid station where I slowed down to take some water and Gatorade. At that point my legs were pretty much done but I remembered Linda’s advice to keep to at least a jog. My cardio strength felt great. If my legs would have cooperated, I would have been able to go in to high gear for the final 3K. But the most I could do was keep moving.
Linda is big on counting rhymes as motivators. I couldn’t remember any of hers, so I made up my own, which I basically repeated for the final 3K. It went like this: “1-2-3-4, I CAN do more! 5-6-7-8, my legs FEEL GREAT!” It was simple and motivating, even though I did debate with the last part a few times. The internal dialogue went, “they do NOT feel great.” And then “shhhh…they feel great considering you’ve run almost 30K.” And then I started the rhyme over again. And again. And again. I didn’t have to contest the first part. I knew for a fact that I could do more, that I could finish that 30K without having to walk into the arena. Instead of listening to music, I stayed present to the event and that helped me stay focused rather than zone out.
The final stretch of ATB is flat and not especially picturesque. But you can see exactly where you need to go. It’s the only course I’ve ever done that ends inside. You approach the arena and then run down a fairly steep ramp and the next thing you know you’re inside, entering the arena, crossing the finish line. It’s kind of amazing how when I do these events I have just enough in my tank to get me that far. After that I was sort of staggering around, a little bit confused, maybe with a silly smile on my face because; DONE! and… FOOD.
The first thing they do is give you a bottle of water. Then someone handed me an empty grocery bag and then I entered the food area where they threw all sorts of things into my bag. And suddenly, I was really hungry and there was nothing I wanted more than that banana. Well, maybe I wanted to lie down a little more than I wanted the banana, but I knew I wouldn’t make it back up again, so I ate the banana as I was going upstairs to find Anita and Helia at our appointed spot.
I found Anita, or she found me. I desperately needed to stretch. We found Helia and her family sitting in the stands. Thankfully her husband drove the van to the venue because I do not think I would’ve made it the 2K back to the hotel if we had to walk.
We basically spent the rest of the day eating and not being able to walk. All in all, it was a brilliant event and though I had a tough final 5K, I call it a strong finish because I finished mentally more strong than ever before.
And not just during that final 5K. I was telling my friend Tara last night that I literally feel like a stronger person today than I did on Friday. When I do these things, like Around the Bay, that aren’t for anyone other than myself, it reminds me that I am strong and capable and confident and even sort of fearless. I loved my attitude throughout the race. I think this is the first time that I was with people and didn’t complain even once. Even when I had to stop and stretch I didn’t complain. I just got pragmatic about what I needed and took care of it.
I wouldn’t take this to mean that I’m rushing out to do another Around the Bay 30K (even though, since I beat my previous time I could actually get a 10% discount if I register for next year). I shuffled around today, having some difficulty getting up out of chairs and so forth. I have decided that my favourite distance is 10K. I like training for it and I enjoy the 10K events. I’m happy enough do to the occasional half marathon too. I mean, Sunday’s race didn’t feel difficult until the 25K mark, so if it had been a half, ending at 21K, I could have turned up the volume for that final bit.
This week is for rest and recovery. Stretching. Physio. Baths. Yoga. Gentle running later in the week. Sleep. Doing what makes sense this week also helps me feel strong.
The last time we polled readers about what kind of content we could do more (or less) of, someone requested more on things like meditation and rest. We have posted a few things about meditation (there is this and this and this and this) and more than one of us has found it to be beneficial. I have had meditation as a part of my life since graduate school, when I bought myself a copy of a book called The Joy within in the hopes of finding some peace. It helped, even though it was really hard at that time even to sit quietly, in silence for five minutes.
And that was before the internet. Before cell phones. Before streaming. Before “devices.” So few people had email back then that it was exciting to get a message (can you even remember those days?).
This past weekend I decided that I needed some silence. I usually enjoy silent retreats with a focus on meditation, but I won’t be able to do anything remotely like that any time soon. So when I noticed a couple of weeks ago that this past Friday night and Saturday were clear in my calendar, I blocked them off for a silent home retreat: 24 hours.
The first challenge was to keep them clear. How easy it is to allow things to seep into that open space in a schedule? It’s like a vacuum that wants to suck commitments into its void. But I did it.
The second challenge was to define my boundaries. I often listen to music at home. But if I was going for silence, then there could be none of that. Ultimately I made a list of what I could and could not do.
Permitted: meditation, cooking, reading (but not for work-only books related to meditation and spiritual practice), adult colouring (I have an adult colouring book I love), knitting (never got around to it), journalling, walking or running outside (alone, no music), naps, baths, photography (but no editing)
Not permitted: devices, communication, work.
I came home from my workout on Friday after picking up a new artwork, a lovely painting called “One Can Always Tango” by my talented friend Kim Kaitell. The firs thing I did was hang that painting with some music playing in the background because it wasn’t quite 7 yet and I wanted to be able to admire it on my retreat.
I finished that (which promised to be a bit more work than I’d planned because I put a hanging wire on the painting and needed plugs in the wall, so it required the drill and all manner of measurements and so forth…but by 6:58 the painting was up, the music was off, and the phone was in my bedroom night table drawer on airplane mode without wifi).
If you have a busy life with lots of activity in it, it’s tough just to stop–or at least that is my experience. So I started cooking. Chopping veggies is kind of meditative for me, so I grabbed a rutabaga and a squash, neither an easy subject to tackle on a cutting board, and my favourite heavy knife, and spent the first 30 minutes of my silent retreat prepping them to roast in the oven. I had some lentils and rice simmering on the stove at the same time. And when I opened the veggie drawer in my fridge, I found some portobello mushrooms that needed attention and got it in the form of sauteed portobellos with a soy-maple glaze. Okay, so dinner was on its way. While I waited for everything to cook, I snapped a few pictures of fresh flowers, one of my favourite photo subjects.
Next up: mindful eating.
By the time I finished dinner, it was already almost 9. Still not ready to sit quietly in meditation, I took out my adult colouring book. I’m not artistic but I absolutely adore colour. I started a page that said: “Today is going to be awesome” with full confidence that it contained an accurate prediction about tomorrow.
Without belabouring every moment, I can tell you that it was the best thing I’ve done for myself this month. By the end of the first evening, my mind had quieted. It felt good to go to bed (after a leisurely soak in the tub) without having to set an alarm. I almost always have a Saturday morning yoga commitment and Sunday run, so there is rarely a day when I don’t need to get up for something. I lay in bed that Saturday and just luxuriated for a little longer than normal.
Then I got up and sat in meditation for 30 minutes and followed that with some candid and much-needed journalling. I didn’t do a whole lot of anything that day — a bit more colouring, a bit more photography, some reading, several timed meditation sessions, a 30-minute run. I’d wanted a nap but I think by the afternoon my mind felt so quiet and I was at peace and feeling rested, so I didn’t feel the need. And that was after less than 24 hours.
By the time the clock was approaching 7 p.m. (and I did have a 7 p.m. commitment), I was so into my retreat that I didn’t want it to end. But I did one more meditation, a bit of journalling on my experience, silently expressed gratitude for the opportunity, and left the house to celebrate an occasion with friends.
If you think you’d like to try this, just google “planning a home silent retreat” or something like that and a few articles will come up. I used “How to Create An Amazing Silent Retreat at Home” as my rough guide. The whole thing felt like a loving thing to do for myself and I will be doing it again.
It’s funny how sometimes you just know you’re ready for a change. Somewhere back in January I had a strong desire to do something different with my hair. When your hair is short like mine, the only thing you really can do is grow it. But it was also blond, and I was starting not to like the blond anymore. Apart from the three hour costly appointments at the salon, I just felt like the regular bleaching wasn’t worth the trouble anymore.
I told my stylist about my decision and she got positively excited. So, slowly over the past couple of haircuts, we’ve been cutting out the blond. And last Thursday was the end of it. No more blond:
I mostly like it. It has made me feel liberated from a beauty regime that has taken up hours of my life for the past 20 years. Instead of being in the salon for three hours, I now only need to be there for half an hour. And that is likely going to reduce further because now that the blond is all gone and I’m back to my natural colour, I’m going to grow it a big (I said I needed a change!).
It’s definitely going to take a bit of getting used to. Of the many friends I have who are my age, the vast majority colour their hair or bleach it. I only know a handful of women in their 50s who let their hair go natural. I do see this as something of a political issue, in the sense that if we are all thinking we need to keep ourselves from going grey we stigmatize grey hair.
On the other hand, apparently there are people who pay good money and go to great lengths to have grey hair. Young people, even, if this Glamour article is any indication of the demographic. And there is a much-followed Pinterest board called “women who rock grey hair.” And on that board, most of them are “of a certain age” and they look awesome with their grey hair.
I hope more women in my circle decide to go for it too so I have some company in this. But meanwhile, that’s where I’m at these days where my hair is concerned. I know that there are many reasons people colour their hair. For me, it was simply to fend off the grey. And that runs counter to my resolve not to worship at the alter of youth, but instead to accept that as I age, I can expect to see some physical changes, and the natural colour of my hair happens to be one of them.
Anyone else out there gone from colouring or bleaching to allowing their natural grey (if it is grey) to shine?