Appearance vs. Reality (Guest Post)

In my high school English class, my teacher always told us to be on the lookout for clues that all was not what it seemed; to pay attention to characters whose inner thoughts were different from their actions, and to focus on the incongruity and what it might reveal about the characters, the story, or the world. I remember my teacher writing “Appearance vs. Reality” on the board over and over during the years I was lucky enough to be in her class. It has stuck with me, and I’m still attuned to it even when I’m watching movies or reading for pleasure.

Sometimes, I feel hypocritical even doing the occasional guest post on a fitness blog, because I feel like a total impostor; like the appearance I try to cultivate is hugely divergent from the reality. My relationship with exercise is on-again, off-again, I don’t excel at any sport (although I genuinely like a lot of them), and I’m not a nutrition expert. Some days, I feel like a total untouchable boss in the gym or in the pool, and others, I feel like an alien or a toddler who hasn’t quite gotten the hang of walking yet. I wish I could be someone who rode my bike everywhere (as it stands, I walk pretty much anywhere I can get in less than an hour and take the bus if I’m going any further). I’m a decent cook and like cooking healthy food, but have certainly been known to eat an entire pint of coconut ice cream* in a single sitting. I go through frequent cycles of “YAY I’M GOING TO EAT HEALTHY FOOD ALL THE TIME AND EXERCISE EVERY OTHER DAY” followed shortly by a crash where I eat takeout curry** every night for a week and forget what my running shoes look like.

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[Image description: A greeny-blue pint-sized carton of Mint Chocolate Chip coconut ice cream.] Seriously, you don’t understand how good this stuff is.

Conceptually, I know moderation is the key to avoiding these cycles, but I haven’t quite internalized that.

Because of this, I often feel like I have no business whatsoever in blogging—even guest blogging—for a fitness blog. It seems like the kind of thing that only people who really have their act together should do; people who have it all figured out and are here to impart some epic knowledge. Even though I’ve only done a handful of posts, I dread linking to them on my own Facebook page because I’m totally convinced that people who actually know me in real life will read them and go, “Pfft, what? Who is she to talk?” (I think this is my anxiety talking, but that doesn’t make the feeling any less real.) The impostor syndrome doesn’t end there; I’m convinced that someone will realize I’ve tricked my way into my PhD program, someone will notice that all the socks I knit are basically just variations on the same theme (so take no real talent to produce), someone will find out that I have no real competence in anything whatsoever. This is indeed a case where appearance does not align with reality, or so my brain tells me.

I try to manage my worries with an awful lot of private pep talks to myself (and a lot of support from family and friends). But there’s a Catch-22: I normally rely heavily on exercise to manage my anxiety and depression, but occasionally exercise turns into a source of anxiety. For the time being, I guess I’ll just keep rolling with the on-again, off-again cycle that I’ve come to know and love (?), but I sure wish I could shake the feeling that I’m not good enough and have managed to trick everyone else into thinking I’m something I’m not. Of course, things are further compounded by the fact that I do genuinely believe that it’s okay just to do things you like doing, regardless of whether you’re actually “good” at them. So then I worry that I’m being hypocritical, and I question why not being good enough is so troubling to me. If you truly believed that it was okay to do things you like doing, whether or not you’re good at them, the little voice says, you wouldn’t feel like such an impostor.

There isn’t any grand lesson or moral to be gained from this post. I just wanted to throw these ideas out there. How about you, readers? Does any of you ever feel like your appearance doesn’t match your reality?

 

*And let me tell you, this is one case where “vegan” is unequivocally not the same as “healthy.”

**Again, “vegan” ≠ “healthy.”

Black Diamond (Guest Post)

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When my friend Pamela heard her name announced for a gold medal in a national US slalom race last month, she was overcome with joy. She’s 55. She decided to start skiing again when she was with a group of women celebrating her 50th birthday, and raced for the first time since she was a teenager 2 years ago. Now she’s on the podium for the NASTAR championships.

Pamela is one of those people who can put her head down and accomplish anything she sets out to do, creating three books and a successful consulting and teaching life since she finished her PhD 10 years ago. She’s always been fit, but what she describes as a “leisurely exerciser,” with lots of walking, spin classes, weight training and riding her bike on Sundays with her wife along a lakeshore bike path. She certainly wasn’t racing — and then suddenly, in her 50s, was hurling herself down sheer ice on a black diamond run in Colorado, through giant slalom gates — and winning.

One of our recurring friend conversations is our relationships with our bodies as we’ve gotten older, and I’ve watched with awe and curiosity as P shifted from leisurely biking to  “I like knowing I can keep up with the 30 year olds in boot camp class” to “I just spent a lot of money on a speed suit.”  I asked her a few questions about this transformation — why racing, not just skiing, when you haven’t been a competitive athlete since you were a teenager?  How do you handle the fear?

“Why racing, why not just skiing at 55?”  she said.  “I love skiing, I love everything about it —  I love the equipment, I’m a total gear geek, I love packing, I love the research on the resort and studying the trail maps. It’s not just about the skiing, it’s about who you meet on the chairlift, talking about where you plan to go for dinner, hanging out in the hot tub . . . so many times I just stop in the middle of the run, and take in the vastness of the mountains, the cold, the sun.  

“I get so invigorated from a week of skiing – it clears up any muck in my life, being out there in the mountains – even up at the little ski area where I race on the weekends outside of Chicago – it’s just a trash heap they put artificial show on – even that is invigorating.  That’s skiing.

“Now racing…  if skiing is the wide angle lens, then racing is absolute narrow focus. The level of preparation and precision is so much sharper to compete.  You have to be able to turn where the gate is – it’s all strategy, tactics, skills.  A lot of people can look pretty going down a wide open run — but can you ski on a course?  I love going fast and it gives me an excuse to do it.  When you ski fast recreationally, not only do you leave your friends behind but you can get your lift ticket revoked.

“Competing keeps me in an aspirational mindset. It pushes me to work out more. I watch a lot of pro world cup racing videos – I’m always thinking about ways I can improve, work on my technique, form. Women seem to be more coy about being competitive – like, we’re secretly paying attention to how we did.  It’s not as socially acceptable to really care if you win.”

Now, I’m pretty adventurous with my physicality, but the idea of a vertical ice rink scares the crap out of me. Skiing, for me, is one of those things I don’t do because I’m afraid I’ll hurt myself and not be able to do the things I love, like cycling. I’ve been trying to understand how P handles that fear, especially after she had a concussion from a fall at the end of the season last year.

“For the championship, I really had to negotiate a whole new level of fear — it was a steeper course than I’d ever raced on. It’s water injected, and one that the US development teams use, so it’s meant to be icy so the course holds up and it’s very fast. It’s basically an ice rink.

“I’d never raced a black diamond in Colorado.  The night before, I couldn’t sleep. I was thinking, I have no business doing this, I could be seriously hurt, have I deluded myself into a really stupid idea – if I really hurt myself, people would be kind but they wouldn’t have a lot of sympathy. It’s not like I’d be hurting myself feeding the poor in Afghanistan – I’d be hurting myself doing something of my own volition that was stupid for a middle aged lady to do – there’d be some sorrow but not really sympathy.”  She laughed.

“The first morning of the championship, I had to put all of that out of my mind – I had to trust how much preparation I had done, had to think, I can totally do this. I strategized how to approach the trickier turns. I put the fear out of my mind.  One of the things I talk about in my work about organizational agility is the idea of “anxious confidence” — you have to embrace this in the starting gate. You’re confident because you have the skills, experience, knowledge. But you’re also anxious because you have to deal with the unknown — a set plan is not going to work for you.

“You have strategy and tactics – it’s having a plan but holding that plan lightly. My first run, I took the advice of all of the race coaches to just go – don’t leave anything on the table.  I got up some good speed, then hit a gate that was sheer ice, and I had a rather spectacular crash.

“It was my first run, total crash. I started to think, maybe I am in over my head. I wasn’t hurt but I was shaken. And you have to get up, ski down to the lift, get back up and get back in line, and race again so you qualify to continue the next day.

“Here’s what shifted the fear for me. After I wiped out we gathered just outside the finish area. Some of the women in my group who’d gone before me had wiped out in the same place. We started talking about ‘it’s steep, it’s icy, I went too fast.’ That little ad hoc group of women made a huge difference. Together we commiserated, regrouped, strategized and encouraged each other. We focused on ‘we just have to get through the next one.’

“On the second time down, we had already formed a few connections. We would cheer each other on as we slipped into the start gate, “okay Jane, go for it, ski fast – a little bit more, you go, you got this.” We started creating a holding space for each other. When you’re in a team that happens all season. For this race, without a team, we created it on the spot. 

“The championships were a stretch experience, I knew I was up to the stretch, and the challenge became how do I manage my fear and uncertainty?”

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Pamela ended up with a bronze in the giant slalom.  And then two days later, raced in the slalom competition that she had no expectations for — and ended up with the gold.

“That gold was just giddiness and pure joy.  There’s such camaraderie, the two women I shared the podium with, the crowd clapping – that moment was complete embodied joy and fun and realizing that it really was a result of an incredibly intentional year. Physical work, coaching, training, practicing.   It’s so fun to be in a community of equally crazy people – to race at my age,  you really have to work to find people in that tribe. And you see the people in their 70s and 80s who are still out there, who have every invitation from our culture and their peer group to chill out.  It’s incredibly joyful.”

(This is Part 1 of my conversation with Pamela — on Friday Pamela will talk about how her relationship with her body has changed since she started racing).

Pamela Meyer is an author, educator and organizational consultant living joyfully in Chicago and skiing wherever she can. Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who works as a consultant and teacher in the space of strategic system change in academic healthcare in Toronto, focusing on creating sustainable, socially accountable healthcare communities. She also co-leads a learning and development project for orphaned and vulnerable youth in Uganda, and takes every chance she can to explore the world. She also blogs at fieldpoppy.wordpress.com.

Woo hoo! 15,000 followers!

 

Thanks everyone for reading, following, sharing, liking, and commenting.

Welcome to our blog!

Here’s a little history of our ever-growing blog community:

We started the blog at the end of August, 2012.

Things were quiet in those first few months.

On May 13th, 2013 we welcomed our 500th follower.

On November 28, 2013, 1000 followers.

I think we lost track of 2000 somewhere in the middle.

On December 25, 2014, 3000 followers.

Then on January 27, 2015, 4000 followers.

Sometime in February we hit 5000 and then 6000 on March 28, 2015.

And April 29, 7000.

At the end of May, 8000.

On June 26, 9000.

And in July the big 10K.

In August, 12,000.

Halfway through September, 13,000!

Halfway through October, 14,000!

Halfway through November 15,000!

YAY!

And thank you all very much.

Why do I care? See Why I Love Our Blog.

Oh, and you can also like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

But why do that, you ask, since you can get the blog posts here.

We post lots of other fitness content on our Facebook page and there’s a lovely community of like minded people there. Come join in, if that’s your thing. We’d love to have you. Please share and help spread the word.

13,000 followers! Thanks everyone!

Thanks everyone for reading, following, sharing, liking, and commenting.

Welcome to our blog!

Here’s a little history of our ever-growing blog community:

We started the blog at the end of August, 2012.

Things were quiet in those first few months.

On May 13th, 2013 we welcomed our 500th follower.

On November 28, 2013, 1000 followers.

I think we lost track of 2000 somewhere in the middle.

On December 25, 2014, 3000 followers.

Then on January 27, 2015, 4000 followers.

Sometime in February we hit 5000 and then 6000 on March 28, 2015.

And April 29, 7000.

At the end of May, 8000.

On June 26, 9000.

And in July the big 10K.

In August, 12,000.

Now halfway through September, 13,000.

YAY!

Why do I care? See Why I Love Our Blog.

Oh, and you can also like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

But why do that, you ask, since you can get the blog posts here.

We post lots of other fitness content on our Facebook page and there’s a lovely community of like minded people there. Come join in, if that’s your thing. We’d love to have you. Please share and help spread the word.

A feminist fitness bloggers’ century ride to Port Stanley!

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Sam: I love cycling, I love riding with friends, I love introducing people to road cycling, and I love the trip out to Port Stanley. Win, win, win, and win! So when Susan suggested that we get in some rides together before the Friends for Life Bike Rally which we’re doing together (by the way, I still haven’t even reached the halfway point for my fundraising goal and it would be very lovely and much appreciated if you could sponsor me here) I thought immediately of that destination. I also invited a bunch of other Fit is a Feminist Issue bloggers along for the ride. Nat and Cheryl couldn’t come so in the end it was Kim, Susan, our friend Sarah (who’s promised to write a blog post in the future) and me. It reminded me of last year’s group ride,Four Feminist Philosophers and the Welland Canal.

London to Port Stanley is one of my favourite rides. When I ride 100 km, I feel like there ought to be a destination and Port Stanley feels like a reward at the end of 50 km. There’s Lake Erie and there’s coffee and a few places to eat. The ride just has a few rolling hills, nothing too serious, and you stay on quiet country roads for almost the entire trip. You can see our route here. I’ve been wanting to introduce someone to the virtues and charms of this ride after having failed in epic proportions with Tracy last year. (Don’t worry, our friendship survived.) See her account of the saga, Epic Ride and Some Reflections on Learning to Like the Bike. I think that if you don’t like that ride, you probably don’t like road cycling and so I was a bit vindicated by her more recent blog post Road Biking and I: Not a Good Match.

Anyway, we had a great ride. Aside from taking on the role of navigator and keeper of the map (not my usual thing) and getting us lost and adding an extra 10 km to our trip, I’d be keen to do it again. Our clue ought to have been that headwind! We had a headwind all the way there and then about a 1/3 of the way home, it came back. Headwind, no more tailwind. That should have let us know we had gone left instead of right and were headed back to the lake.

We ended the day in the hot tub and that felt pretty good too.

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Susan: 100km is a lesson for me in energy management. I am what one may call rather inefficient with my energy intake. While this advantages me in the patriarchy in ways that I’ll critique at some later date, it’s difficult for me when prepping and recovering from endurance activities. I had a spectacular time winding down to Port Stanley and back. I learned tonnes about group riding and started to grasp all I still have to learn skill-wise. I felt pretty good considering and I thought I was eating enough. But the next morning I felt like road kill. Flat and motionless. I have come to understand this is what happens when I create a profound calorie deficit over a one day period. Bottom line…I can’t be doing that. It’s brutal. Need more fooooood!!!!!

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Kim: This was the weekend of competing cycle invites: Sam and our feminist bloggers’ group were heading out to Port Stanley, the lakeside resort town south of London, while my and Sam’s formal cycling club, the London Centennial Wheelers, were ALSO heading for Port Stanley (though using a slightly different route). I had to decide which group to ride with, knowing each would be a very different experience. The club ride would be quick; I ride with the “B” group at LCW, which averages around 30kph on many tours, sometimes a bit less. There would also be a bit of ego involved in that ride; the male/female ratio in LCW is uneven, and I knew that, especially on the return journey, some of the guys in the group (and a few of the women too!) would more or less be racing each other home. (I wasn’t sure I was up for that on a Saturday morning.) On the flip side, I knew the bloggers would be a more social group, meaning a relatively steady but much slower pace; at the same time, that ride would be a chance to catch up with friends, share tips and best practices, and enjoy a lovely day in the countryside. Weighing my own competing needs (a fitness ride; a ride that felt good in body but also in soul), I opted for a hybrid: I would ride down to Port Stanley with Sam and co, then ride home alone at a quicker pace that fit my own training regime.

This plan worked perfectly. On the way out we held 20.5kph, partly because Susan and Sarah are a bit less experienced than Sam and I, and partly because we were heading straight into the wind most of the time. Sam and I took the lead, helping Sarah and Susan develop their drafting technique; this also allowed us to get our heart rates up and our bodies warm as we fended off the breeze. While riding in pairs, Sam and I chatted about life, work, and riding; I made her share some sprint tips with me, too. By the time we got to the Port, Sam and I had had two solid hours in heart rate zones 2 and 3, and we’d all had some great conversations and enjoyed some beautiful scenery. Then, we ate some yummy baked goods, drank some proper coffee, and I headed off home, retracing our steps and taking advantage of a nice tailwind. On the homeward journey I tried to keep my heart rate up around zones 3-4 as much as possible, and I managed a very respectable 31.5kph average. A perfect day, then: a long, slow ride that was also enormous fun, followed by a quick, pacy trip home that ticked one of my training boxes. Thanks, ladies!

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Sarah: I’m not the kind of athlete that has training goals and a regular schedule of activities to keep me in top condition. I’m an inveterate “weekend warrior” more inspired by camaraderie … and challenges. So when Sam put out the call for a 100+km feminist fitness bloggers’ ride, I couldn’t resist – even if it meant promising to actually (gasp) write something to join in the fun.

Aside from foolishness, the other thing a successful weekend warrior needs is enablers. Fortunately Susan lives close enough that I was able to squeeze in a couple of training rides chasing her, since a 5km commute to work is not enough to build the endurance (and what I fondly call “butt calluses”) needed for a whole day on the bike.

The 120 km round trip to Port Stanley was a ride of a lifetime for many reasons – perfect weather, smooth flat roads devoid of cars – but none more awesome than drafting behind cyclists who could easily outpace me, but instead patiently paused at the top of each hill to wait for my sorry out-of-shape self to catch up. I’ve never ridden so far or fast in my life – it felt a lot like flying (except the aforementioned hill climbs).

As one might expect for a weekend warrior, I did come out the other side a little worse for wear – bloodstained socks from a tumble after forgetting to unclip, nasty foot cramps in the last few km, but thanks to Sam’s unparalleled recovery regime (hot tub and ice cream) I did manage to complete a weekend warrior double-header by doing the Urban Land Institute’s Tour de Toronto (http://toronto.uli.org/events/tour-de-toronto-bike-tour-2015/) on Sunday. It took us almost as long to do a mere 40km, but there were a lot of stops for coffee, pastries, beer, and stories from industry experts about planning, developing and building some awesome new spaces.

I may have finished up the weekend with a long and impromptu nap. I blame the beer. And the enablers. Thank you all!

 

Welcome to “Sat with Nat” and “Weekends with Womack”

Tracy and me started this blog in  August 2012 to document our “fittest by fifty” challenge.

Back in 2012, we thought of the blog as a time-limited thing that we’d stop at 50. That would have been last August and September. But a strange thing happened over the course of the challenge: the blog got stronger right along with us. We’re both keen to keep carrying on. We love our community of readers, followers, commentators, and contributors. How fortunate we are to have such a strong group of feminists engaged with our ongoing dialogue about fitness and feminism.

We’re thrilled by our book contract, by our communities here and on Twitter and Facebook. We’ve also been lucky to have an incredible community of guest bloggers.

Some guests are more regular than others. And we’re about to entrench that tradition with the announcement that our two most regular guest bloggers are getting their own special slots.

If you’ve been following the blog for any length of time, you can probably guess who: Natalie Hebert and Catherine Womack. Natalie will be tagging her posts “Sat with Nat.” Catherine’s will be tagged “Weekends with Womack.” Here’s a bit of info about them:

Nat Hebert

I’m a self described fat feminist 40 year old mother of two teenage minions who loves her high energy life partner of 19 years. I love moving my body and sometimes do yoga, triathlons and dance like a fool. My next measure of success will be being more fierce and less fearful as I roll through my 40s.

You can find all of Natalie’s past posts here.

Here’s Happy Nat at the Kincardine triathlon:

nat

Catherine Womack

I’m an analytic philosopher, retooled as a public health ethicist. I’m interested in heath behavior change, particularly around eating and activity, and how things other than knowledge affect our health decisions.I’m also a cyclist (road, off-road, commuter), squash player, x skier, occasional yoga-doer, hiker, swimmer and leisurely walker.

You can read all of Catherine’s past posts here.

Here’s Catherine and me mid-ride at Niagara Falls:

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Here’s the plan (not set in stone): Natalie will blog every Saturday and Catherine on Sundays.

Usually I blog Mondays and Wednesdays, Tracy blogs Tuesday and Thursdays and our other wonderful guests post on Fridays

So that’s the new routine. Sometimes too we do Throwback Thursdays, featuring older posts. And sometimes I just have to say stuff cause it’s timely and then I just post away.

But the blog is meant to be fun and part of that fun is being flexible. We’re growing and changing and enjoying the ride. Hope you are too.

[This is the blog equivalent of a photo-bomb…a blog-bomb, maybe?–I’m thrilled to welcome Nat and Catherine, too!  You’re both awesome and I love what you bring! Thanks for joining us and here’s to Sat with Nat and Weekends with Womack. –Tracy]

Why I Love Our Blog

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I was chatting with a friend the other night, she’s also a guest blogger here, and I mentioned how well the blog was going. We’ve had loads of new followers lately. It took us more than two years to get to 2000 followers on WordPress and in the last two weeks we gained another 500. Readership is climbing steadily and that’s exciting.

She replied with a question: “I am curious about the blog generally and how you feel it benefits you. I know you are excited about the number of followers and it may seem self-evident as to why you are excited but. . .why are you excited?”

I sent back my powerpoint presentation about why academics blog and what’s so wonderful about it. I get asked to talk about blogging to other academics fairly often.

Here’s that pitch about the positive things blogging does:

  • Keeps me in touch with people all over the world
  • Makes our work accessible to the non-academic world
  • Helps to connect us with current events and things going on in the world
  • Academic writing often reaches very few people
  • Keeps you writing even when writing isn’t easy.
  • Helps you get over the perfectionist tendencies lots of academic writers have
  • Fun to publish so quickly when academic publishing is so slow
  • I’ve been invited to contribute to publications via my blogging and my blog posts are quoted in academic papers.
  • Terrific feedback: Like journal referees but without the rejection

Professor Roger Pielke Jr from the University of Colorado pointed out in his speech to the Lowy Institute last week, blogging has had a directly beneficial impact on his research:  (Blogging) is a remarkably powerful tool for refining ideas, for collecting intelligence, for making contacts. I get routinely better feedback critique from ideas, arguments, I put out on my blog than I do in the peer review process….”

See also Why academics should blog by Sam Roggevee and Why minority academics cannot afford to be silent.

But I realized that this wasn’t exactly what she was asking. It was more about this blog. Why does this blog get me so worked up? Why does it make me so happy? What’s the excitement connected to?

And that got me thinking.

Here’s what I replied: “In the case of this blog I really do think it’s important to broaden the range of conversations about fitness to include feminist perspectives. Why? I guess I think there’s a strong connection between agency and embodiment and that physicality is something that’s been denied many women. I loved Tracy’s recent post about physical fitness and her response to the Jian Ghomeshi scandal. Lots of our academic writing is read by very few people. It floors us to have thousands of people read a post. We also get a lot of email from women thanking us for being feminist voices…so much fitness material is pretty awful. And yet, physical fitness matters.”

Okay, a bit blathery at the end but I hope you get my point. Fitness matters. Feminism matters too. And for me those thoughts are connected. Fit is a feminist issue and I love our blog!

Hope you like it too.