fitness · meditation

Tracy is about to take meditation and unplugging to the next level

Image description: drawing of a cell phone inside a red circle with a line through it, indicating “no cell phones.”

Back in March I wrote about a silent at-home retreat that I did one weekend for 24 hours. I gave a detailed post-retreat report here. My focus that time was more on silence than on meditation, even though yes, it included some meditation.

When I re-read the report, I see that it also involved a lot of other things: reading, journalling, colouring, running, cooking, a leisurely morning without an alarm clock. I wanted to unplug and enjoy some silence. It was a great antidote to my normally over-scheduled days, but I sure did keep myself busy.

Tomorrow I am going on a ten-day meditation course at the Ontario Vipassana Centre. It will be my first time at the Centre and my first time in a meditation setting for that length of time. The Centre is dedicated to teaching Vipassana meditation, as taught by S.N Goenka in the tradition of Sayagi U Ba Khin. According to the website, “Vipassana is one of India’s oldest techniques of meditation, first taught 2,500 years ago. It is a practical method of self-awareness that allows one to face the tensions and problems of daily life in a calm and balanced way.” Some of you may know it as “insight meditation.”

The course will be taken in noble silence. “Noble Silence means silence of body, speech, and mind. Any form of communication with fellow students, whether by gestures, sign language, written notes, etc., is prohibited.” In addition to noble silence, there will be no opportunity for the sorts past-times I engaged in on my at-home retreat. Students may not read, write, listen to music, or engage in physical exercise other than walking.

Each day consists of about ten hours of meditation, with wake-up at 4 a.m. and the last session ending at 9 p.m. It includes regular breaks and rest periods. For the first three and a half days we will practice Anapana, a form of meditation that focuses on the breath. After that, we will practice Vipassana, “the meditation of mental purification through insight.” I’m not entirely sure what that means, but it’s a course, so I am sure I will learn (or at least be introduced to it in some manner).

I have no idea what ten hours a day of meditation feels like. It will no doubt be a challenging experience and I’m going into it feeling excited and curious. This will be the first time in over a decade that I have turned off my phone for ten days in a row. Totally off.

I also feel super fortunate. You have to apply for these courses and there is a long waitlist (especially for these prime summer courses). The course is offered at no cost, on a strictly voluntary donation basis whereby each student gets to decide at the end of the course how much they wish to donate. Only students who have completed one full ten day course are permitted to donate.

If you’ve had experience with organized meditation courses, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

clothing · fitness · gear · tbt

The Sports Bra Dilemma #tbt

Five years ago, I wrote this post about sports bras and how active women struggle to find the right one for them. At the time, lots of people shared their stories of “success” on the sports bra front. I figure it’s time for an update, since maybe there is some new product out there. I also just realized that I haven’t replaced mine in FIVE YEARS, so it’s not just the post that needs updating. It’s also my sports bra collection (still Under Armor and Champion). Read on, and please let us know what your best gear in the sports bra department is!


underarmor Under Armor Sports bra.

Lately I’ve been looking for something very specific in a sports bra: something that fits comfortably without chafing, provides adequate support, and dries quickly.  I have been fortunate in the first two categories, probably because I’m not all that busty anyway.  I find the under armor sports bras I’ve been wearing are just about right for me.  They come in different cup sizes and they have three different hook settings.

They have padding, which some of us object to. See Sam’s post on nipple phobia and padded sports bras. But I don’t object to a bit of padding. Except that it doesn’t dry really quickly. And after the triathlon swim, it’s not all that comfortable to do the bike then the run with a wet bra.

So I tried my other favourite, the Champion compression-style sports bra, in my last triathlon. I got a two-pack…

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body image · femalestrength · training · weight lifting

Tracy’s first day at a body-positive gym

Image description: Block letters on dark background that say: “BODY-POSITIVE FITNESS & PERSONAL TRAINING GYM” (from the BPM website:

I’ve just started in on one of the most wonderful privileges of an academic year: sabbatical and admin/study leave. This time around, I have accumulated 8 months of administrative leave (from my four years as Associate Dean Academic) and another 6 months of sabbatical leave that I postponed from four years ago when I took up that admin position. That means I have the next 14 months to focus on my research.

It also means I will rarely be going to campus. I’ll set myself up mostly to work at home. This is a long way around to saying why I decided to join a gym again. I have been doing personal training for my weight training workouts for almost four years now. It’s been great and I’ve definitely gotten stronger. But as much as I enjoy spending time with my trainer, Paul, I feel that on my leave I would prefer to have some community. I already have a bit of that with yoga and running. But yoga is only once a week (maybe I will increase it during my leave) and other than my Sunday mornings, I usually run by myself.

My friend Tara has had a great experience at a small gym that does personal training and group fitness. BPM claims itself as a body-positive gym. Tara started going to classes there in January and she has really committed to regular training since then. So it made sense for me to consider BPM, based on her recommendation and also that I already know (and really like) one of the owners, Chelsea. Added bonus, I can walk there from home in under ten minutes.

Yesterday was my first class, day one of my two week free trial. They have at least six classes a day, starting at 6 a.m. Then 7, 9:30. 12:15, 4:30, 5:30 and some days also 6:30. They are 45 minute workouts where you do a series of timed sets of various exercises. Each set is 35 seconds with a 10 second rest before moving on to the next exercise for 35 seconds, then the next and the next. After three rounds of those, you switch to another group of exercises that you work through the same way — timed sets for three sets.

Finally, we ended on a brutal set where we built from one, then two, then three, up to a sequence of eight different exercises, then pyramided down again until we were back to where we started. We followed that with a cool down.

At personal training I’m used to taking a bit more rest between sets and also lifting heavier. But the endurance and strength required for today’s workout really surprised me. I don’t know why it surprised me as much as it did — maybe because I consider myself to be strong. But the repetitions with little rest in between forced me to push hard to keep up. Sometimes I couldn’t keep up at all and needed to take a time out for a few seconds before resuming.

It was a humbling experience and I felt kind of weak, actually, In personal training I’ve been doing 3×13 pull-ups. Today we did something similar (she called them chin-ups) and I could hardly even do 6, with a band for support. I think it’s because of coming in the second part, after I’d already done three taxing sets that involved push-ups and burpees, among other things (lunges and some shoulder presses). Anyway, it was tough. I worked up a sweat and I am sure that I will be feeling it.

There were only 8-10 people in the class, all women. It’s not the kind of gym I’ve ever attended before. It’s very basic. You turn left at the top of the stairs and boom: you’re in the studio.

Besides being a tough workout, which I like, the body positive message felt good. Honestly, it’s been awhile since I’ve been to a gym class, but my memory is that there is a lot of talk about losing weight and “getting in shape” and looking good. This class wasn’t like that at all. It was focused entirely on doing the exercises at your own pace and strength. I felt encouraged and challengged the entire time.

I’ve already signed up for three more classes this week, as well as one dedicated strength training session for next week. The strength training classes are smaller than the “fitness bootcamp” that I attended. Strength sessions max out at eight people and I couldn’t find one with space in it until next Tuesday.

It feels good to work out with a group again. And it’s nice to be going to a gym where I can sometimes go workout with Tara. I’m attracted to working out with my peeps — I’ve got my running crew, my yoga crew, and may potentially get a little gym crew going. In any case, I appreciate the free two-week trial — that seems a rare thing these days, but it’s a great way to get to know a new gym. And knowing that all the classes I do over the next couple of weeks are free, I feel motivated to do as many as I can. I’m excited and hopeful that this is a going to be a nice element of routine in my leave, helping me add a bit of structure along with the benefits of a fitness community.

Are gyms with an explicit body-positive message showing up in your area these days? Have you tried one?


Serena speaks up: “It’s never been easy…but I think of the next girl”

Image description: Serena Williams in her controversial black catsuit with red belt, action shot from last year’s French Open, on clay court. (photo credit: Christian Hartmann/Reuters )

Many of us here at Fit Is a Feminist Issue are Serena Williams fans. We have watched her be body policed (see Catherine’s post on athleticism and beauty), clothing policed (see Mina’s post on the catsuit), and just generally treated with disrespect (see Catherine’s post about the infamous 2018 US Open).

In an oddly titled article — “Serena Williams poses unretouched for Harper’s BAZAAR” –Serena Williams offers a candid personal essay about her love of tennis, her success as a champion, and the challenges she has faced in tennis as a woman and an African American woman.

Serena Williams has been known to lose her cool on occasion on the court. She has taken umpires to task, thrown down her racket, been penalized for standing up for herself over a penalty she didn’t think she deserved. She has also dominated the game for 20 years already, more than holding her own in a sport in which she looks different from the majority of other competitors. She is a strong and muscular, for one thing. She is African American for another.

Last September she lost the US Open to Naomi Osaka. The loss came after a series of penalties against Serena Williams, including being docked a game for her outburst over previous penalties. In the Harper’s Bazaar essay, Serena admits that Naomi played the better game and that her own (Serena’s) behaviour detracted from Naomi’s moment as the US Open Champion and first Japanese player ever to win a Grand Slam. Serena writes that she knew she owed Naomi an apology, and sent said apology with further congratulations.

Naomi Osaka received the apology with grace and reassurance, so much so that it brought Serena Williams to tears. Osaka said: “People can misunderstand anger for strength because they can’t differentiate between the two. No one has stood up for themselves the way you have and you need to continue trailblazing’.”

Last week I wrote about Venus Williams in relation to role modeling and mentoring of the next generation of athletes. Serena Williams is similarly an idol of many up and coming young tennis players, and an icon in the sport. Her essay in Harper’s shows a degree of self-awareness, social and political awareness, humanity, self-confidence, humility, and concern for the next generation — “the next girl who comes along and looks like me, and I hope, ‘Maybe, just maybe, my voice will help her.”

In so many ways it’s precisely because of the hardship and challenges that Serena has experienced that she has been forced to “represent” and to see herself as a role model for “the next girl who comes along and looks like” her.

Men in tennis don’t have to see themselves in this manner because they are not scrutinized in the manner that Serena has been. She stands out when she stands up for herself because it’s not comfortable for women to do that. It’s not comfortable for African American women to claim their space and their voice the way Serena has. This is not to say none has done it before. But she has a particular position as a long reigning champion that has put her in a role that, though not chosen, she must embrace. As Naomi Osaka pointed out to her, Serena is a trailblazer. Blazing the trail isn’t easy, but it’s welcome, commendable, and heroic.

fitness · racing · running

Showing respect to the back of the pack

I read a story that could have been discouraging if left unaddressed, but turned out to have a happy-ish ending. The story was about the back-of-the-pack runners in the London marathon, who were bullied and fat-shamed by the clean-up crew, among others. But the race organizers investigated and made good. They offered free guaranteed spots to anyone who finished in 7 hours or longer.

The headline of the Runner’s World article about it reads, “Bullied London Marathoners Harassed for Being ‘Fat’ and ‘Slow’ Offered Free Race Entry for 2020.” What’s sad and discouraging about this story is that these runners were actually following an official pacer. So the race officially said it was okay to take 7 1/2 hours. So why was the course even being cleaned up before then?

I had this happen to me when I did the Mississauga Marathon. It took me close to six hours, and the last 10K were pretty much the worst 10K of my life. What I said then I still believe now: there is a certain kind of respect owed to people who stick it out for that long. Of course I am in awe of the speedsters who finish marathons in under 2:30, under 3:00, under 4:00. When you get into the 5 or more hour range, it’s a different kind of endurance that’s required. The mental game goes on for longer. The physical challenge drags on for longer.

I get that this is a choice. That those of us who are slower runners know going in that we will take a long time. But if a race has a window before which they announce in advance the course will be open, then the course should be open for that duration. When I did my marathon (my only marathon, and probably to remain forever my only marathon because it was a miserable experience in myriad ways–if you’re curious, here’s my report), they started packing up the course ahead of me. Since I was among the last few runners, that made it difficult to know sometimes where I was supposed to go. When I got to the finish line, they were out of food. I get that the volunteers had been out for hours. But you know what? So had I.

But at least I wasn’t harangued on top of all that for being slow or fat. That’s absolutely shameful because anyone who makes it to the finish line, or even close, deserves to be congratulated for their efforts. Likely everyone who enters a marathon, regardless of when they expect to finish, has trained for the event, has covered a ton of ground in the months leading up, is nervous, is excited, and is doing something rare and wonderful.

It’s good news that the organizers of the London Marathon recognized that this is not the race experience they promise. That’s why they did a thorough investigation and when the allegations of mistreatment turned out to be true, they sent around an email to those slower runners: “We are sorry that your race day experience was not to the standard we set ourselves. As a result we would be delighted to invite you to be part of the 40th Race Day.”

I hope that at least some of the affected runners take up the offer. For me, an offer of free registration for the next iteration of the event would not have got me to do it again. Regardless, the organizers’ response shows respect for those of us in the bottom few. And it’s a deserved and earned respect.

If you’re a slower endurance runner, has your experience at events like marathons been overall good or overall more challenging as far as race organization goes?


On inspiring, mentoring and being role models for the next generation of women athletes

I’m sure lots of people have read the story by now of Coco Gauff, the 15 year old who beat Venus Williams in round one of Wimbledon this week. It’s always exciting to see young athletes step into elite levels of competition and succeed. But there was something all the more poignant about this story because apparently, as they approached the umpire to shake hands, Venus did the good sport thing and congratulated Coco. Coco in turn, thanked. Venus, saying “I wouldn’t be here without you.”

I missed the match and I didn’t hear either of them interviewed, but this tweet just warmed my heart. Here is a young athlete who has just won against the very woman who inspired her.

It got me thinking back the Nike soccer video about dreams from a few weeks ago. It had a similar vibe, of the awareness of generations of athletes — of women – and how important it is that they support each other. The “elders” inspire and mentor. The youth aspire and show gratitude and respect. And everyone is a good sport about it.

Feminists and other social justice advocates have argued for the importance of mentors and role models in all areas. When we talk about importance of diverse representation in politics, in work places, in educational institutions, in movies, and yes, in sport, it’s because when we see people who look like us doing things, it makes it possible that we might too. And if we never do, then we often think “that must not be for people like me.” It’s not the whole story of course, but it is an important part of it.

And that’s the part that Coco’s tweet says so simply and straightforwardly. Venus Williams and her sister Serena have been trail blazers for women of colour in a sport that is mostly white. Their presence at the top of professional tennis for over a decade has changed the face of the sport. And it has shown girls of colour that professional tennis can indeed be for them.

Even if they never interacted before that day, Venus served as an inspiring role model for Coco. And Venus, accepting her defeat with grace, showed what it means to be a good sport. And that in itself is a type of mentorship, the kind that says, “This is how it’s done.”

Do you have any good stories of mentoring and inspiring the next generation?

fitness · motivation · training

On overcoming FOMO: How Tracy got over it without even trying

I had an amazing moment a couple of weekends ago when I went to cheer on my nephew, Cameron, do his first triathlon. In the car on the way to Welland very early that morning, I started to wonder if I was going to get there and start wishing I was doing it too. I mean, I had a few summers where triathlon was my “thing,” and despite giving it up because of my road phobia that made me dread outdoor bike training, I did love the events.

Image description: headshot of Tracy in run tank, ball cap, sunglasses, wearing ear buds, smiling, road and trees in background. Happy to be doing exactly what she is doing.

The amazing moment came when I arrived and saw everyone checking in and going for body marking and racking their bikes and setting up their gear in the transition area. No FOMO!

FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) has made me do many a thing. I did the 100 days of step counting the year after I said I would never do it again because of FOMO. I stuck with triathlon a bit longer than I probably needed to because of FOMO. But as I cheered on Cameron and his friend, Ahmed, I was truly excited for them. And proud of them. And the only thought I had that had anything to with me was: “I’m glad I’m not doing this.” This was despite recognizing that it’s a nice swim and an apparently flat and fast bike course, and an equally flat run.

This week Sam, Cate, Sarah, Susan, and David are all on a bike trip in Newfoundland. It’s a hilly bike trip and they cover lots of ground every day. There is a lot of climbing and some zooming fast down hills. Cate commented that I would hate it. I replied that I knew I would hate it even before they left. Hence the reason it never crossed my mind to go and it never crossed their minds to invite me. I only thought how fun it would be to meet them for meals.

In the past I might have actually signed up because hey, people I like are going riding together for a few days and wouldn’t that (maybe?) be fun. I have enjoyed watching their progress reports as they come in on social media, with lots of photos of colourful mail boxes and houses and beautiful scenery. And lots of complaints about the hills that reinforce my view (and Cate’s) that I would not like this trip.

This evolution out of FOMO is a big deal for me. I have recently heard of JOMO: the Joy of Missing Out. Christina Crook wrote a book about it. I like the idea a lot. It goes well with my commitment (or is it a yearning?) to do less.

I think what it means to me right now is that I’m feeling good about my choices. They make me happy. And I’m accepting that I cannot do ALL THE THINGS. And I would rather miss some of them than try to get excited about things I don’t actually want to do just because other people are doing them.

I am less than six months away from my 55th birthday. I am really done doing stuff I don’t want to do. Yes I realize that it’s not possible always to do only what I want. But when it comes to my leisure and fitness stuff, I am privileged to have choices. When it comes to travel, I am privileged to I have choices. And that means setting stuff aside when it doesn’t draw me in. Others doing it is not a good enough reason.

So there you have it. I have either overcome or outgrown FOMO. It is no longer a big motivator in my life.

How much or little does FOMO motivate you?