athletes · Guest Post · health

On Squats and Snowflakes: How weight lifting was better preparation for childbirth than any Lamaze class (Guest Post)

Left: Black and white photo of pregnant torso with monitoring equipment Right: Black and photo photo of the author in the gym standing in front of the bar

by Nanette Ryan

On July 20 of this year I gave birth to my beautiful, healthy baby boys, James and Alec.  My pregnancy was not easy.  The first three months saw lots of queasiness, naps, and trial and error with foods that I could stomach.  In the second trimester I was hit by a cyclist while walking and rushed to hospital, and in the third contractions started too early and so I was back in hospital for monitoring, bed rest, and treatment.  For 20 days I was almost constantly on an IV of anti-contraction medication, I had 5 blood tests a day, injections, CTGs sometimes three times a day, and frequent invasive exams.

After 20 days in hospital I was briefly taken off my current anti-contraction medication to make time to prepare for the next round.  My boys wasted no time, and in half an hour I was in full labour.  As I was wheeled into the delivery room, exhausted and in horrible pain, I said to the midwives ‘I need something! Any thing!’  ‘What do you mean ‘you need something’?’ they said.  (I want a freakin’ stroll in the park, what do you think I mean!?).  ‘Something for the pain!’ I said.  ‘Drugs! I want the drugs!’  But there was no time, the babies were coming and I had to push.  And so I did.

As it was my first pregnancy I did a lot of reading and research leading up to the birth.  I practised breathing, did my kegels, and (naively) talked to other mums about what kind of birth I should ‘go for’.  The thing that prepared me most for giving birth, however, was something that none of the birthing books, conversations, or women’s health resources talked about.  It was weight training, and in particular, barbell squats and deadlifts.  Before I became pregnant weight training dominated my workouts, and I continued to weight train for as long as it was safe and comfortable when pregnant.

These exercises helped me in a number of ways.  Despite my extended stay in hospital, it gave me the physical strength to do what I needed to do.  It allowed me to trust my body, and it gave me the confidence to do it.  I had pushed my body, and so I was confident that I could push these kids out, like when you walk up to a squat rack with a higher weight than you’ve lifted before and think, ‘I’m going to fucking do this!’

Like so many things for women, the focus on women’s health and birth preparation is on the gentler side of things; focused breathing, gentle stretching, and light cardio.  Don’t get me wrong, these things have their virtues, including distracting women from what can be the horrors to come.  But birth, however you do it, is not gentle.  Women are not snowflakes, and the sooner we start emphasizing this the better.

Nanette Ryan is a PhD candidate in Philosophy at Georgetown University. She is primarily interested ethics, moral psychology, and feminist philosophy.

Image description: black and white photo of baby twin feet in rompers
Image description: black and white photo of baby twin feet in rompers
accessibility · aging · athletes · cane · disability · inclusiveness · injury · Uncategorized

Sam learns a new trick, walking with a cane, and worries about her own ageism and ableism

Wizard with long white hair and beard, stern expression, side view, holding wooden walking staff

I resisted it at first. When the physiotherapist helping me with my injured knee first suggested walking with a cane, I shrugged him off. “It’s not that bad.” But the truth was, it hurt. I just didn’t want to use a cane.

What exactly was I afraid of? Being seen as old, frail, weak? But that’s not what I think when I see other people walking with canes. Or is it?

Clearly I needed to confront some internalized ableism and ageism here!

A week went by. A friend who’s just had hip replacement surgeries, first one, and then the other, offered me her cane. She’s a fitness instructor at GoodLife. We chatted a bit about rehab and recovery and bonded over “being good at it.” We’re both compliant sorts. We do all the exercises, ice all the things. So why not the cane?

I took it to physio and asked for instructions. I already knew the counter intuitive thing. You use it with opposite arm to the injured knee. That makes sense since that arm swings with that leg.

I still wasn’t entirely at peace with it. I posted on Facebook that I probably chose a bad month to let more of my grey and silver hair show! The cane and the silver seem a bit much. I’m still struggling a bit with self-image here.

I’m channeling Marion whose birthday it would have been last week. She called her cane “nuisance.” Mostly she used it to direct people around and point at things. Could I work at being a bossy cane user? Probably not.

But the thing is it, it helps. I can walk further without knee pain. I’m slowly healing. Also, people are super helpful when they see the cane. I was worried that strangers would start engaging me in conversation about my injured knee but so far, people have just been super smiley and helpful.

The other day I even did a search for stylish canes! The two sets of cane imagery that resonate with me are wizards and their staffs (see above) as well as top hats and canes (see below)

How about you? Have you had experience walking with a cane? Love it or hate it?

A model, front view, on the runway. She's wearing a black suit with turtleneck and a top hat. Posing with hand in pocket holding a silver cane

athletes · race report · racing

Kincardine 2017 Race Reports: Sarah and Sam’s Turn, #kwt2017

Before the race, it's Susan, Sam and Sarah sporting ball caps and a scarf. Ready to run!
Before the race, it’s Susan, Sam and Sarah sporting ball caps and a scarf. Ready to run!

Sarah: I went into this year’s duathlon having hardly trained for the run at all, thanks to the springtime trifecta of bad weather, long hours at the office, and laziness.No personal bests were in store for me, so I went for a nice jog and a bike ride on the shores of Lake Huron, and learned some things along the way.

1) There is some weirdness in the final results. I assume this is of my own making – I started one age group late (with the 45+ crowd) so I could pace Sam for the beginning of her run, but ended up with a super slow result on the first 3km (26:30?!), and a guntime almost 3 minutes slower than Sam’s despite starting at the same time and beating her to the finish. I can only guess they used the “gun” for the start of my age group and added the difference between it and when I actually started. My inner competitor is frustrated that the result doesn’t reflect all the people I’d doggedly passed on the 2nd run, but if I really was just going for a leisurely run and cycle along the lake, I oughtn’t really care. Lesson learned, start with your age group!

2) Speaking of competition, I’m normally pretty anxious before any kind of race / performance test. Serious, focused, short fuse, can’t eat, etc. Kincardine is unique for me – staying in a tiny tourist cottage with Sam and Susan T, hanging out at the start with Susan F and Tara, meant eating breakfast and smiling while I stretched and warmed up. Lesson learned, the feeling of a community event built around supporting individual efforts is unique and to be treasured.

3) Sam passed me on the bike (no surprise there!) so I had a chance to play with my pacing as I tried to catch her. I had always supposed that I would be faster overall running 2-3 minute intervals with a 1-minute fast walk between – but I definitely gained more ground on Sam running at a steady (tempo run) pace. Lesson learned, worth it to just keep running if I can.

4) I’ve been learning that eating sooner and more frequently on long bike rides really helps to prevent the lulls in energy I start to encounter after the 1-hour mark, so I thought I’d try some quick nutrition (one of those performance energy gel things) during the transition from the first run to the bike. Lesson learned, there is no amount of water I can guzzle that will keep that gel from making me nauseated during the first part of the ride.

5) I also have trouble with my calves and feet cramping up – albeit on long ride more than running – and was curious to see if I would encounter them in the duathlon. I certainly did – at the beginning of the second run. Fortunately I had my usual cure, Endurance Tap (a Canadian-made salted maple syrup “gel”), in my pocket. I was able to walk off the cramps in a couple hundred metres, with (yay!) no nausea in sight. I think I’ll stick to these for future races.

6) For those nerds interested in numbers that remember Sam’s Sunday post about heart rate, here is my heart rate for the bike portion of the course – truncated a little because I didn’t actually start my Garmin until I was halfway up the hill that starts the course.

Average heart rate : 165

Max heart rate : 175

You can see that Sam and I both have maximum heart rates very close to the standard calculation of 220 minus our respective ages. I’m ten years younger and run 10 BPM higher. Our average heart rates were at 92-94% of maximum – even when I felt like I was “taking it easy” in the middle portion of the course to not completely wear myself out pedalling into the wind, I was still up over 90%. And otherwise you can see the effect of the hills on both our hearts.

Sarah is a duathlete that doesn’t actually like running. She is riding her bike from Toronto to Port Hope on the Friends for Life Bike Rally’s 1-Day ride with a few fellow Fit Is A Feminist Issue bloggers. You can sponsor her here.

Sam: For me Kincardine is one of those events that I seem to enjoy at any speed. I’ve been struggling with sore arthritic knees that get in the way of training for the run. Instead, I’m the Queen of Knee Physio. My goal has been to run slowly and pain free. And I did it. Sarah has been encouraging me to find a sustainable slow running pace and it seems to have worked. Her coaching efforts paid off at Kincardine and at the Pride Run a few weeks before that. As usual I had a blast on the bike even securing a couple of personal bests on the Strava segments on the course. Thanks tailwinds! But best of all this was doing the race with friends. Great to see Susan F, Tara, and Carolyn there. Susan T, Sarah, and I shared a funky little cottage nearby, so close we got to shower and clean up between the race and awards and prizes. Will I do it again? Sure. And next year, this Queen of Knee Physio even hopes to be able to train for it. Wish me luck.

All cleaned up after the race! It's Susan, Sarah, and Sam
All cleaned up after the race! It’s Susan, Sarah, and Sam

You can read more race reports here and here and here.

If you want to do it with us next year, we’d love to have you along! You need to get up early on New year’s Day though. The registration sells out in the first hour or so.

Bookmark it now and mark your calendars! It’s the Kincardine Women’s Triathlon and join the Facebook group for added reminders, (Facebook) Kincardine Women’s Triathlon.

 

athletes · fitness · race report · racing

Kincardine 2017 Race Reports: Susan’s Story, #kwt2017

Tara and Susan before the race start. Tara is wearing a red ball cap. Susan is wearing sunglasses and a bright blue t-shirt.

by Susan F

For the last three years, I have done the sprint duathlon. In 2015, I had not done any training and found the transition from the bike to the second run to be particularly troublesome. Last year I did some training in anticipation of that transition. However when I started the second run, my feet felt really flat and I had difficulty running. I attributed this to my somewhat overused running shoes and opted to finish the race in my bare feet. 

In hindsight, the problem was not my sneakers. In April, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. My symptoms include an inability to make my right foot do what I want it to do. I now think this is why I had difficulty last year.

I used to like running. Now I find it frustrating because it just doesn’t feel normal. I almost bailed on the race this year, but my cousin Tara convinced me to participate. I decided that I would enjoy the morning, hanging out with my friends and fellow competitors. I walked most of the second leg, enjoying the sunshine, the views of Lake Huron and the amazing support from everyone involved. Fellow competitors, volunteers and strangers on the street smiled, waved, honked horns, and yelled words of encouragement as I passed by.  I had fun.

I don’t know if I’ll do the race next year.  I’ll decide how I feel closer to registration but I might volunteer if racing  seems like too much.

Susan (left) and Tara (right) post race, smiling, with their medals.

Susan Fullerton, a lawyer working for the government, lives in Toronto. She is an avid traveller who has had varying levels of fitness throughout her life. These days, she’s focused on being a reformed hoarder, trying to make better choices about how she spends her time and money.

aging · athletes · competition · race report · racing · running

Competitor or Coach? (Guest Post)

by Claudia Murphy

I’ve been struggling lately with my exercise routine. In the last couple of years belonging to a fitness group has helped me to avoid a pit of depression, so I have been feeling perplexed that what seemed like a lifeline has now become quite a challenge. Even if I can get myself to show up, I don’t enjoy it or even enjoy having done it.

I am 65 and have been working out with a group of long distance runners for a couple of years. They are a great group of people. They have been very kind and accepting– downright encouraging. Even at my bluest, there is something amazing about high intensity workouts at 5:30 am with positive and affirming people.

But in the last few months, I have been facing motivation issues. There could be several reasons.

First, I have been dealing with a chronic and persistent pain in my left hip. I have pursued multiple diagnosis and treatment options, including orthopedics (MRI, cortisone shot), physical therapy, massage, chiropractic therapy and acupuncture. The consensus seems to be that my left hip and adjacent areas need strengthening. But in the meantime, running, walking, and yoga, and even sitting all hurt. It is easy to feel discouraged.

Second, internalized ageism has become a significant force in my mind. I am one of the oldest in my fitness group. Still quite competitive, I often feel as if I’m losing. I can’t run as fast as I used to run. I can’t run as fast as most of the younger people in the group. I haven’t yet figured out the antidote to this aspect of aging.

Third, I’ve been fighting a giant battle against oppression in the workplace. Here, I’ve had to be very deliberate in guarding against internalized sexism and ageism. I have had to consciously remember my own significance and value. I have had to repeatedly decide to quash the oppressive thinking. My vigilance has been focused on this fight.

In the middle of all of this, without awareness, negative self-talk crept into my exercise time. I found myself thinking “you are too old, you look ridiculous, you are embarrassingly slow.” And these thoughts seemed true at the time, even justified. I looked for evidence to support them. Is it any wonder that my routines became less fun, less satisfying?

I’ve had to become more vigilant about this self-talk. I can be my own coach. I can replace my own negative feedback with something more positive. I find it helps to aim for messages that are somewhat neutral while still being encouraging. My mind revolts against “you are the best” But “go Claudia” or “you can do it!” work pretty well.

I recently tried this strategy in a 10K race, with some mixed results to be honest. I had signed up to run as a member of a relay team in the 2017 Fargo Marathon. About a month before the race, we discovered that the legs of the relay were not very even. One team member would have been required to run 8.5 miles. None of the team members wanted to run that far. So we decided to switch our registrations to the 10K. Even this decision felt like a bit of cop out. Last year I had run a half-marathon at this time. While it is true that I had only been able to do so with the help of a cortisone shot, I still struggled to feel OK about running a 10K.

The night before the race I was still struggling with feeling positive about running. My husband held out the perspective for me by reminding me that not that many women my age could run a 10K. He also agreed to drive me to the race and to cheer me on. The day of the race the weather was perfect. It was cool and clear. We arrived early enough to witness the start of the race for both the marathon runners and the half marathon runners.

I had a good start and ran well. I kept my mantra forefront in my mind—“go Claudia.” Since we shared the route with either the marathon runners or the half marathon runners, there were people out cheering us on for most of the route. There was music blasting or bands playing, even though it was quite early morning. I had two young women tap me on the back as they passed me by telling me that I was doing well for someone so old. (BTW this is not a very helpful way to support an older runner.)

I finished in 1:12:09, 8th in my age group of women 65-69, 37 of us running the race. I was staffing a women’s leadership development conference that weekend and decided to wear my hoodie and medal throughout the day to force myself to celebrate my achievement.

Ageism is nasty. But it helps if I do not participate in my own oppression. This is an ongoing battle for me. I would like to be able to be my own best supporter. What strategies work for you?

Claudia Murphy is a philosopher who is semi retired but still teaching part time at Minnesota Technical and Community Colleges.  She is also likes to run, bike, garden, cook and knit.

accessibility · athletes · cycling · equality · feminism · fitness · gender policing · Guest Post · inclusiveness · stereotypes

Taking the Lane: Gender and Cycling in Toronto (A Panel Discussion)

On Thursday, June 15, I get to talk about my favourite topic in cycling. Something I like better than debating wheel size on mountain bikes, frame materials for road bikes, or what type of shifters to use on a touring bike. I’ll be chatting about gender and cycling with four excellent people of a diversity of backgrounds. Joining me at the Parkdale Library will be Katie Whitman, Community Cycling Champion and researcher; Lavinia Tanzim of Bad Girls Bike Club; and Sivia Vijenthira of Spacing Magazine, with moderation by Tammy Thorne of Dandyhorse Magazine.

For some of you, this will be an obvious topic of conversation. “Of course that’s still relevant!”, you’ll say, “Why would anyone disagree?”

But I know I get a lot of questions about why we can’t just talk about getting more butts on bikes generally. “Just shut up and ride your bike” is a comment we get all of the time in the advocacy world, whether it’s about centering conversations on women and gender nonconforming (GNC) people, or attempting to convince people not to ride trails when they’re wet.

Why do we need to have this conversation?  I have worked in retail bike spaces, as a ride leader and as a mechanic for the past decade.  And the overwhelming drone in the background has always been cis-male* voices.  If you make a bike event open to all genders, take a look around the room. The gender diversity is likely to be pretty limited, with the bulk of your attendees identifying as male. If you brand your event as women-only, you’re still very likely to end up with a cis-dude* or two attempting to gain access These interlopers will at times be very understanding, having missed the fine (or bold) print, and will at other times be dismissive, derisive, or downright aggressive. That’s cool, we can (and do) deal.

(*cis-gendered = someone whose gender identity aligns with the sex they were born with)

The Good

So why am I so excited about this panel and these spaces? What’s the difference at events intentionally directed at women and GNC people? For me, it’s all about the energy and a willingness to ask questions. As a mechanic, the most refreshing thing has always been a woman coming in with her bike and asking questions or talking about her experiences. Events or drop-in hours where women and GNC folks are the sole audience have a lot more chatting, laughing, whooping, and questions than all gender events. There are a lot of generalizations and assumptions about why this happens, and we’re going to unpack the heck out of that in the panel.

The Bad

Note that I never said women and cycling, I said gender and cycling. How many of you jumped right to thinking this was a conversation about women and bikes? One of the aspects I find most difficult in organizing programs for not-cis-men, is making “women’s” events open and accepting of the trans* and GNC community. All of the events that I run are GNC-friendly. They have to be, because I identify as GNC. But I struggle constantly with the thought that my events are still exclusionary, as they’re often labeled as women’s events. If it’s a women-only event, does that mean our trans* and GNC friends aren’t allowed?  Women and GNC events often get read as queer events. Does that mean straight, cis women aren’t allowed?  There’s a barrier no matter what we do. My employers may not go for me labeling events as Women and Gender-Non-Conforming. It’s wordy, which is a hard pill to swallow when you’re trying to make a catchy and easily communicable event. If you write your event as Women and GNC, you may scare some women away who don’t know what that acronym means and feel this event isn’t for them. Throw an asterisk in there? People don’t read things. The complications and variations are endless.

So What’s the Question?

We know we need infrastructure changes and programs geared towards lower income people and newcomers to Canada, so that people have a safe and supportive way into bike commuting. But recreational riding, my main squeeze? How do we make these spaces accepting of all incomes, gender identities, and sexual orientations? Can we do it with one club, or do we need multiple clubs to make sure everyone has space?

 

What do you think, Toronto? Who wants to talk about this with me? See you on Thursday, June 15th at 6pm at the Parkdale Library!

 

If gender identity is not your most important question, never fear. We’re going to talk about loads of things, including how to make streets safer from an infrastructure level, the importance of programs for youth and newcomers to Toronto, how to tie the suburbs into this conversation, and what the research says about all of these things.

 

——–

 

Event Info:

 

https://www.facebook.com/events/643794175823092/?active_tab=about


Join us on June 15 for TAKING THE LANE: GENDER AND CYCLING IN TORONTO! Pop by the 
Parkdale Library from 6-7:30pm for an a-one panel. The event seeks to unpack our city’s cycling past, where we need to go, and who is missing from the conversation? But at the end of the day the question is: how do we get more women and girls cycling?

There is a serious lack of conversation and action around intersectionality and cycling in Toronto. This event aims to highlight that many women and GNC people in the city do not feel comfortable cycling due to unsafe streets (a lack of infrastructure) coupled with a lack of outreach.


Alex has been working in the Toronto cycling community for the last nine years. A certified CAN-Bike, Professional Mountain Bike Instructor Association, and bike repair instructor, Alex would be so happy to take you for a bike ride. In addition to their role with Charlie’s FreeWheels, a charity dedicated to teaching youth how to build and ride bikes in Regent Park, Alex coordinates group rides and clinics with Sweet Pete’s Bike Shop and leads women’s cycling programs as a rider for Trek’s Women’s Advocacy program. You can usually find them with a posse of rad women and non-binary folks in the Don Valley mountain bike trails.

Follow Alex @legslegum on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook

 

 

 

athletes · fitness · Guest Post · media · motivation · movies

How the Amazons got me to go to the gym (Guest Post)

Like seemingly everyone else, I went to see Wonder Woman this past weekend, and I’ve got to say, it is one of my new problematic faves. For a couple of reasons that it’s problematic, see here and here and here. For a couple of reasons that it’s my fave, see here and here and, most importantly:

Antiope (portrayed by Robin Wright), dressed in leather battle gear, prepares to punch a WWI German soldier, who is dressed in an olive green military uniform.
Antiope, Diana’s aunt and the greatest general in Amazon history, fighting a German soldier during a battle on a beach in Themyscira.

There are plenty of discussions to be had about this movie, ranging from the sharply critical to the “OH MY GOD THE AMAZONS THO.”

This post will be closer to the latter.

For the uninitiated, the Amazons are a group of women warriors. They are the inhabitants of Wonder Woman’s home, Themyscira, a hidden island where no men live (and is thus a queer culture). The first twenty-ish minutes of Wonder Woman are set in Themyscira, but I could have watched an entire movie set there. The society is peaceful and just. The scenery is beautiful and a complete departure from the gritty, bad-Instagram-filter bleakness we have come to expect from the DC cinematic universe. And we get to watch the Amazons fight a lot. The Amazons place a high value on training for combat; they are fierce and intense and their training is rigourous. I don’t know about you, but I’d be quite intimidated by the sight of a band of Amazons riding toward me at full speed. They are hardcore.

Five women warriors ride horses into battle on a beach. The warriors and horses are wearing metal and leather battle gear. They are led by Antiope, portrayed by Robin Wright.
Amazons riding into battle. Intense.

It is unusual and inspiring to see so many strong women depicted side by side in mainstream cinema. Muscular women are often characterized as being overly masculine and unattractive. Though it should be pointed out that most of the Amazons in the film are relatively slender, and it would have been cool to have more diverse body types portrayed, it’s nevertheless refreshing that their strength is glorified, not mocked. The performers are also genuinely strong; many of the Amazons were portrayed by professional athletes, making the group “look like the female version of 300.”

The Amazons (and indeed, the whole movie) made me go back to the gym. Obviously, I’m not a professional athlete. It often feels like an overstatement to call myself an athlete at all. I don’t really follow any fitness regimen to speak of, I tend to have more of a boom-and-bust cycle than anything regular, and I bounce from running to swimming to weightlifting to cycling to yoga and back again with no real structure or plan. This doesn’t really bother me—I just do what I like doing—and when I get bored, move on. Sometimes, I will get inspired to try something new or return to an old favourite (usually swimming, which is my one true love, but often weightlifting/strength training as well).

This time, what inspired me was the Amazons. I couldn’t believe how badly I wanted to hit the gym after seeing the film, and how truly excited I was to work out. I wanted to lift everything: myself, weights, tires. Heck, I would have lifted other people if they’d let me. Let me tell you, during this workout, I Wonder Woman’d HARD, including doubling my personal best for holding plank. (Yes, I’m bragging, and yes, I’m still sore.) Fitspiration, or “fitspo,” isn’t always a good thing, but in this case, Wonder Woman was the inspiration I needed. I wasn’t working out because I thought I deserved punishment, and I wasn’t working out because I wanted to look like an Amazon (although that would be cool). I was doing it because, even though I know the Amazons are fictional, I wanted to be one.

 

Now, if only I could figure out how to get to Themyscira…