Why I hired a running coach

Image description: Stopwatch in a white woman's hand with her thumb on the top button. The silver watch has a white face with black and red numbers and a smaller dial indicating minutes within the larger face indicating seconds. It is in the foreground against a background of blue sky and white wispy clouds.

Image description: Stopwatch in a white woman’s hand with her thumb on the top button. The silver watch has a white face with black and red numbers and a smaller dial indicating minutes within the larger face indicating seconds. It is in the foreground against a background of blue sky and white wispy clouds.

If you’re a regular reader of the blog you know I’m often switching things up. I also like to work with coaches and trainers. It keeps me motivated and accountable and helps me get stronger, faster. My latest switch-up is that I have taken a break from triathlon after deciding to quite the bike.

That means I’ve also taken a hiatus from swimming. I would keep swimming but lately I can’t seem to do the 6 a.m. thing and the triathlon swim is so popular that I felt bad taking up a spot that I hardly used.

So that leaves running, weight training, and yoga. I’m working with a personal trainer already for my resistance training and I’m all good with the hot yoga. Since the Key West Half Marathon, I’ve been training for the Around the Bay two-person relay. Two years ago I did the ATB 30K, and that was just a bit much for me. So I gave it a miss last year. But the two-person relay sounds do-able, at only 15K per person. Julie is running anchor and I’m starting out. Anita is running it too with Violetta as her anchor person.

My friend Linda is an amazing runner, personal besting still at age 68. She is a coach and trainer (you can find her at Master the Moments), so I met with her about my ATB plans and shared my goal of wanting to get faster. I’ve been wanting to get faster for some time now. But I confess that I am guilty of what Linda calls being a “one pace wonder.” I don’t have a enough varied paces in my training.

Linda’s training schedules for me have dealt with the OPW phenomenon, with a mix of interval drills for speed work, tempo runs at a steady pace, and easy distance runs. She based my recommended pace times (which vary depending on the type of run) on my race times at various distances.  No matter what type of training run I’m doing on a given day, the pace is always a bit uncomfortable. For the intervals and tempos it’s a bit of a harder push than I’m used to. For the longer, easier runs, Linda is sometimes recommending a slower pace than I’m used to. That can also be a challenge.

I’ve enjoyed working with a coach who outlines a new plan for me every two weeks with my goal race in mind. Linda has a positive and encouraging attitude and it’s good to have someone rooting for me and checking with me regularly. It also keeps me accountable and motivated.

It’s hard to know if I’m actually getting faster. I’ve so far not done the recommended runs perfectly as recommended, so it’s not clear that they’re having the desired impact on my speed.  But I plan to keep working with the plans Linda has given me after Around the Bay until I start seeing actual results.

I think it was last summer that I was going to concentrate on my 10K time. But it didn’t really come to much. This summer I’ll give it another go. I would love to be able to get my 10K to an hour. When ATB is over (It’s on Sunday), I’ll meet with Linda to discuss new goals and get new plans to help me meet them.

In short, I like working with a running coach because it motivates me, gives me training plans that are designed to achieve specific purposes, and keeps me more accountable. It’s also nice to be encouraged and pushed to do more or work harder than I would on my own (which is always the way with me — I never work as hard on my own as I do when I have a trainer or a coach).

How about you? Do you work with a coach for any of your sports? Why?

Scales in the locker room? Rebecca and Tracy say “yes”

Picture of a white upright white gym scale with a black platform to stand on and slider weights on the top part to move across to determine weight.I love it when Sam and I have amicable disagreements about some of the issues we blog about. It doesn’t happen a lot. We are boringly like-minded in so many ways. But when it does, we have fun with it. As we said to each other just yesterday, we’re each the other’s favourite person to disagree with. It’s always congenial and, because we each have a lot of respect for the other, we can live and learn from where we part ways.

The latest issue where this happened is the scales-in-the-university -locker-room-issue that Sam wrote about yesterday. She’s in favour of ditching them. 

Her two main reasons:

  1. They perpetuate the idea of a connection between exercise and weight loss. There isn’t.
  2. Some people with a history of eating disorders may find it hard to resist the allure of the scale.  It’s why those of us who don’t weight ourselves talk about putting the scale away. It’s hard to walk by.

Things heated up in the comments pretty quickly as Rebecca and I and a couple of other people jumped in to disagree.

Rebecca and I have both come out as having histories that include eating disorders. So it may seem odd that we actually support the idea of scales in the locker room. Here are some of our reasons, quoted from the comments.

Scales are for more than monitoring weight loss. 

Rebecca: Hmm. I seriously rely on my gym scale as an important tool when I am getting ready for competition. As a former anorexic with a propensity towards eating disorders, it is dangerous for me to have one in my own house – weighing myself has to be something I go somewhere to do. But I definitely need to monitor my weight near competition. I am betting tons of university students don’t have the space or money for a scale in their rooms or like me don’t want one, but tons of them are also engaged serious athletic pursuits and may need to know their weight. I think of the scale as a piece of equipment any well-equipped gym would have in order to support various kinds of training. We don’t want to get rid of all scales altogether because they serve various purposes, and gyms seem like just the right place to keep them for those purposes. So, I am in favor of them. And they have to be in locker rooms as precise monitoring often needs to be clothing-free monitoring.

Your post makes it sound like the only reason to weigh yourself is to see how skinny you are or aren’t, but this is really unfair. Weight is integral to lots of sports, and gyms are exactly the right places to manage that.

If the home scale is the main alternative, scales in the locker room are a better option.    

Tracy: I’m not opposed to scales in the locker room. For many, the only alternative is a home scale. But home scales have even more of a trigger factor for some of us with a history of disordered eating. For many years I could not even own one. I’m not a big fan of scales and weigh-ins. But to me the scale is similar to any other piece of gym equipment — it can be used or abused. It would be great if we weren’t weight obsessed. But overall, having scales in gym locker rooms is a better alternative than having them only available in homes or at the doctor’s office.

Rebecca:  [About the idea] that people should just buy home scales if they want to monitor their weight. I think that’s insensitive to the money and space restrictions of many students. But more interestingly, I’d rather see home scales become much rarer than gym scales, because I bet big money the home scales are much more frequently used perniciously and in disordered ways.                                                                                                                                                    

Having scales available only in doctors’ offices (as an alternative to home scales) is an unnecessary and unwelcome medicalization of weight and weight monitoring as a part of health monitoring.

Rebecca: [in response to a comment about doctor’s opinions about weight] My doctor is about the last person I want in charge of my weight…Weight should generally not be viewed as a medical issue at all, though as I comment below it can perfectly well be an athletic issue for totally normal reasons. Trainers and coaches need to know weights, not just doctors, and often more than doctors.

Tracy: [Y]ou won’t be going to the doctor every time you want to weigh yourself and weight isn’t necessarily something you want to have as a medically supervised part of your life, I assume.

Rebecca: The idea … that it would be better if we framed weight as a medical issue and as up to doctors to monitor is pretty disturbing.

Removing scales from the gym equates scales with weight loss in a way that is not helpful, accurate, or healthy. [variation on the first point]

Rebecca: People are making the exact assumption they claim not to like by assuming that the only reason to monitor weight is to lose it, and the only reason to go to a gym is to blandly ‘get exercise’ in order to get skinnier.

Rebecca: having a gym scale does not necessarily equate exercise and weight loss, unless you are assuming that the only reason to go to a gym is to get exercise in some broad sense, and the only reason to track your weight is to try to lose it. That last assumption in particular strikes me as pernicious in exactly the way you are pushing back against. People also use gyms to train for specific activities. Monitoring weight, not necessarily in order to lose it, can be a very important part of that.

Lots of things in the gym are possible tools for weight loss. Why single out scales?

Tracy: Getting rid of [scales] from gyms strikes me as the wrong way to go… It would be like not selling carrot sticks or green smoothies at the gym because people use them for weight loss, or not having cardio classes at the gym because people use them for weight loss, or not having gyms at all because people use them for weight loss.

In the end, we sort of landed, along with Sam, on the idea that having gym scales in separate cubicles, like toilets, would be a good compromise. That way it wouldn’t be like a siren call to unsuspecting people walking by because it would be hidden away a bit. We could also avoid the comments and assumptions people feel entitled to make when they see someone getting on the scale.

Rebecca (re. the cubicle idea): I would prefer that for all sorts of reasons including selfish ones. I am very self-conscious about having other people watch me weigh myself, because (1) I am naked, (2) I know that just as we have seen in this thread, people will assume I am weighing myself because I am trying to get skinny, and it pisses me off, and (3) following on (2), I know lots of women are watching me and thinking “she doesn’t have a weight problem,” and feeling either resentful or patronizing towards me or both.

Tracy: I’m the same. I would rather be alone when I weigh myself for all those reasons. People tend to make comments that are loaded with assumptions that make me uncomfortable.

Rebecca: Word. Comments or even just loaded looks. But the comments are the worst as they generally require some response.

Sam: I get “cheering me on” style comments which I hate. You can do it. Keep at it! Etc etc.

Rebecca: Oh ffs. Just f*ck off.

Sam (so polite): Yep. I don’t say that but I think it.

The other thing that came up is that often (though not always) gym scales are more accurate than home scales. Like much of the equipment we use, gym quality stuff is better. And like anything in the gym, we can use it for good or ill. It can trigger us, or not. Getting rid of the equipment won’t solve the problem.

So I ask again, what do you think of scales in the gym locker room?

Run if you want to run, don’t if you don’t; either way, do something else for strength too

Image description: three blue rectangles stacked on top of each other each with one word in it in white sans serif font. Starting at the top it says "It's your choice."

Image description: three blue rectangles stacked on top of each other each with one word in it in white sans serif font. Starting at the top it says “It’s your choice.”

Yesterday I read another one of those annoying articles that tell people they shouldn’t be running. This one was titled, “Why You Should Not Be Running.” In a nutshell, unless “you’re a competitive runner or cyclist who is serious about your sport,” you should be strength training instead of running.”

Before I outline the reasons, let me say up front: I disagree. In fact, I’m going to jump straight to my punchline: if you want to run, run. If you don’t want to run, don’t run. Whether you do or don’t, include strength training as part of your overall fitness routine.

Why does running get this bad rap all the time? According to the author, running is at odds with gaining strength. Actually, not all running is at odds with gaining strength. When we get to the nitty gritty, it’s “excessive amounts of endurance activity” that compromise muscle mass.

Yes, elite marathoners are wispy humans who carry little extra weight. But what if you’re not an elite marathon or ultra-marathon runner (since most of us are not)? By definition “excessive” training is, well, “excessive.” So maybe there is a more moderate approach that could work? I’m sure there are millions of us, myself included, who have running as a part of our overall workout routine and have managed to gain muscle and strength along the way.

Also, the author laments the high volume, low intensity workout of many endurance athletes. Well okay fine. But most endurance coaches, even of non-elite athletes, will recommend a mix of high intensity interval training, short distance tempo runs, and slower endurance runs. My new running coach (more on that in a future post) takes a strong stance against being a “one pace wonder.”

The balance of the article applauds strength training and outlines its benefits. Yes. It’s great. Especially as we age, strength training is an important component of a well-rounded routine.

“Well-rounded” is the operative word here. Strength training is important. It builds strength. It trains the muscles to work and it makes them grow.

One thing totally absent from this and most articles recommending that we give up running, is the joy factor. Do you like running? Does it make you feel good? If so, then why would you not just think about doing it smarter instead of not doing it at all.

Any article that says “you shouldn’t be doing X” where X is a popular activity that millions enjoy as part of their healthy lifestyle is just plain irresponsible. I’m not saying it’s not important to dispel some of the myths about high volume low intensity training. I agree it’s not the be-all and end-all of a good approach to fitness. But that doesn’t mean running is bad for you. It doesn’t even mean it can’t be combined with strength training in meaningful ways. And it certainly doesn’t mean that for some people, running is a source of joy and well-being that adds a wonderful dimension to their lives.


Celebrity diets: they’re still diets and they still don’t work

Colour image depicting the word If you know one thing about this blog, we are not keen on diets. Our main reason for being down on diets is that they simply don’t work. Yes, you can lose a few pounds. And guess what? If you’re like most people you’ll gain them back. And possibly more.

We get grief when we say that over and over. But it’s true.

What’s worse than a regular weight loss diet? A celebrity weight loss diet. Just because Oprah or Gwyneth or (back in the day) Suzanne endorses it or says it’s the diet they embrace doesn’t make it any more likely to work. And the celebrity endorsement, to me, just makes it more egregious.

I could relate big time to Jean Fain’s commentary, “The big problem with Oprah and other celebs who tout diets.” Fain is a psychotherapist who specializes in eating disorders. She says:

From where I sit, clean eating, lifestyle plans, weight management programs, juice cleanses, support systems… they’re all diets, and they’re all bound to fail. But with their intoxicating blend of impossible expectations, misguided authority and restrictive guidelines, celebrity diets are predestined to fail spectacularly.

Why are they predestined to fail spectacularly? Three main reasons:

  1. Celebrities don’t look like they do because of their diets. Remember, she says: Oprah has a team of trainers, personal chefs, and medical experts. And she still struggles. Gwyneth is genetically gifted. Both are rich enough to employ an army of people working to help them look amazing.
  2. Diets don’t work. We’ve reviewed this many times. Body adapts. Metabolism slows down, sometimes permanently. Famine response. Set points.
  3. Celebrity diets are even less likely to work.

Celebrity diets backfire big-time for all the same reasons and more. Diets of the rich and famous tend to be expensive, costing dieters time and money they don’t necessarily have. Some go to wacky extremes, eliminating such an idiosyncratic list of foods that social occasions become stressful events. What’s a restaurant-goer to order on Gwyneth’s 10-day detox, which excludes gluten, soy, dairy, alcohol, caffeine, red meat, white rice, shellfish, raw fish, peanuts, tomatoes, eggplant, strawberries, corn… ?

Celebrity diets are beyond doomed because of the toxic mix of negative comparisons, shame and self-criticism they inspire. As inspiring as it might be to watch your favorite celebrities diet down to size, the airbrushed photos of celebrity dieters looking like they’re doing better than you tend to make you feel worse and exacerbate the very eating issues their diets are meant to alleviate.

What does Fain recommend instead of the latest celebrity diet? Self-compassion. Not just paying lip service to it, like saying you’re compassionate to yourself and then spending your evenings counting calories or points. But actually giving yourself a break and letting go of the delusional thinking associated with diets, even celebrity diets.

Are you more or less likely to feel the allure of a diet that’s got a celebrity endorsement behind it?

Competition: menace or motivator?

We’ve blogged about competition before. See  for example Sam’s post “Who’s the Competition? She Is?” and my posts “The Competitive Feminist: the bad, the ugly, and the good” and “Feeling unmotivated? Get competitive.”

I thought about competition again today because I had a great workout, spurred on by the competitive spirit. When I got to my personal training session, I felt tired and uninspired for my workout. But when my trainer Paul said that he’d given almost the same workout to Kim earlier in the day and she did it amazingly, I felt a little kick. I wanted to do at least as well as Kim!

As a result of that little nudge, I managed to crank out four sets of fifteen chest dips (at body weight, not on the gravitron) coupled with some pretty heavy barbell shoulder presses for my first round of exercises. If not for the spectre of Kim’s amazing workout (which, for all I know, Paul wasn’t even being wholly truthful about but I doubt it because she is a machine), I would have maxed out earlier on those dips I’m sure.

So this got me thinking about whether competition is a good thing, a bad thing, or what. If you look around the internet, there are at least three prevalent ways of thinking about competition.

Number one: you should compete only against yourself

This color photo depicts a saying in block letters in black and red on a white background with faded grainy corners: "Look in the mirror...that's your competition."

There’s a lot of this type of thing out there, about running your own race, improving only against your own self, and not being in competition with anyone else. But this misses out on a key idea that is also quite prevalent…

Number two: competition motivates.

Picture of a quote on a beige background that looks like faded paper with a brown water stain on the right edge. It says "It is nice to have valid competition; it pushes you to do better." Gianni Versace

This is what got me going today. A sense of competition, not sure if it was “valid,” made me give it that extra push. In the end I have no idea whether my workout was in any sense “better” than Kim’s. It didn’t even matter. Just knowing that I was trying to do as well or better made me do better than I otherwise would have. Is that healthy? Is that valid? I don’t know. But it worked for me today.

Number three: there is something wrong with competition.

Color photo of blue sky with clouds over snowy mountains overlaid with "Competition is a sin" in white letters, and "John D. Rockefeller" underneath. At the very bottom, on a black strip it says "Brainy Quote."

What could be wrong with competition? A related idea out there is that it brings out the worst in people, makes them want to crush other people, and is just basically not nice. Why do we need to be better than others to feel good about ourselves?

Another way of putting it is something like:

White text on black background says "A flower does not think of competing to the flower next it it. It just blooms." Uncredited.

The basic idea: be like that flower. Just do your thing.

I’ve asked this before and I’ll ask it again. What do you think about competition and how does it work in your life? Is it something you feel positive about or does it bring you down? Do you compete against yourself, others, or not at all?

“Mindful drinking” anyone? Bonus: Mocktail Recipes

image description: this colour photo has three separate panels, each with a mocktail. The first is a light pink drink over ice in a frosted glass with a garnish of five blueberries on a clear plastic skewer and a spring of rosemary. the second is a red smoothie-style drink in a clear glass with a frosted floral pattern on it and a garnish of watermelon; the third is a low glass with a yellow drink over ice, garnished with lime and rosemary.

image description: this colour photo has three separate panels, each with a mocktail. The first is a light pink drink over ice in a frosted glass with a garnish of five blueberries on a clear plastic skewer and a spring of rosemary. the second is a red smoothie-style drink in a clear glass with a frosted floral pattern on it and a garnish of watermelon; the third is a low glass with a yellow drink over ice, garnished with lime and rosemary.

When I first read the headline about “mindful drinking” thought geez, there’s mindful everything these days! As someone who practices total abstinence, it almost seemed to trivialize the idea of mindfulness to think that it could be applied to the consumption of alcohol. But when I read further, it turns out that mindful drinking is closer to not drinking than anything else. And I like that.

According to the article, “Forget the hangover, under-25s turn to mindful drinking,”

Forget pub crawls – increasing numbers of young people are replacing beer and wine with “mindful drinking” – where abstinence, not alcohol, is all the rage.

A fifth of British adults under-25 are teetotal, according to the Office for National Statistics, and numbers are on the rise. Motivated by health and income concerns, this new generation are bucking the trend of their parents, and choosing to drink in moderation, or not at all.

To me, who knew only one non-drinker when I was in that age-range, the stat that one fifth of Brits under 25 are hardly drinking or not drinking is quite something. It’s certainly not thought to be the norm.

Often when I am at conferences or academic events, it’s more difficult to accommodate my  non-drinking than my veganism (yes, I am that guest — the horror!). What I liked most about the article about mindful drinking was its report that this trend is making pubs stand up and notice. They’re starting to offer a wider range of interesting mocktails and other non-alcoholic alternatives. That’s good news for more than the under-25s.

What is mindful drinking? According to the article:

“It’s about changing the way you think and feel about alcohol. For a lot of people, mindful drinking means switching to a lower percentage drink, cutting down for a week, doing a sober sprint, or trying out an alcohol-free for size…”

I realize not everyone has a problem with alcohol, but I do think that the default in our social world is that people will be drinking. And while drinking may have some social value and, for those who do not have a problem, might contribute to a pleasurable time, it’s hardly an essential ingredient without which it’s impossible to have fun.

So the idea of a more mindful approach that encourages moderation or even abstinence strikes me as a positive step and I applaud the young people who are stating to think differently about the place of alcohol in their lives.

Is moderating or changing your approach to alcohol something you ever think about? If you’re thinking of trying a more mindful approach to drinking, here’s a link to some delicious looking mocktail recipes. Cheers!

So you want to start a blog? Tracy’s tips

A couple of years ago I was interviewed at work for a short series on creative writing and blogging. I went for the taping and then promptly forgot about it. Yesterday, I stumbled upon my interviews on YouTube. Two of them were about blogging.

Since they seem to have disappeared into the ether with very few views (38 and 17), I thought I would post them here. In fact, there are some useful tips (if I do say so myself).

I firmly believe that blogging is an excellent way for writers to promote their own platform and generate a community around their passions. Sam and I had no idea when we started Fit Is a Feminist Issue how it would unfold. But we went with it and today we have built up a community around the blog that makes us proud.

If you’ve ever wanted to start a blog of your own, I hope you find these tips and suggestions helpful.

Here’s Part One of my comments on blogging:

And here’s Part two of my comments on blogging: